The Idea Evolved
Endurance athlete Natalie is no stranger to swimming, biking, hiking, and running for long periods of time. She’s competed in many endurance events including Ironman Canada, Skaha Lake 11.8k Ultra swim, and the Lost Soul Ultra 50k run among many other ultra events. In 2019 she had registered and trained for the Portland Bridge Swim, a 17k swim in the Willamette River, but the 2020 event was cancelled due to COVID restrictions. Once pools started re-opening in 2021, and she could again swim regularly, Natalie decided to revisit the sport of marathon swimming. She did some research and set her sights on a Lake Tahoe True Width 19.3 Marathon Swim.
This would be the longest continuous swim she had done to date and her first attempt at an official marathon swim. What makes a marathon swim official you ask? Typically, the following rules apply:
- Swimmer only wears a swim suit, single cap, and goggles. No neoprene is allowed.
- Swimmer may wear a simple timing device but smart watches or any watch with GPS is not allowed.
- Once the swim has started, zero contact can be made by the swimmer with the support boat or anyone in it.
- There is a very specific starting and finishing point on the shore that an official must observe & validate.
In late November Natalie learned that she did indeed get a spot to do a True Width Tahoe crossing in mid July of 2022. With nervous excitement she was back in the water training again. In January 2022 I started her on an official training plan to ready her for her 19.3 km swim. I should mention – around this same time, Natalie also agreed to be part a Grand Cache Death Race Relay team with the event falling two weeks after her marathon swim. When I questioned this decision she said: YOLO! Below you will find Natalie’s account of her Tahoe crossing. Enjoy!
“We flew down to Lake Tahoe a week before my date to swim the true width of the lake – 19km. The weather was beautiful – hot, sunny and dry. I did a few short test swims leading up to the big event. The water is cold, crystal clear and very blue. Feels like swimming in Hawaii but without the salt, swell, or sharks. My swim was booked for an early Friday morning start. My husband Kevin acted as my crew member. We met the captain from a company specialized in marathon swim attempts and an observer from the Lake Tahoe swimming Association
who would track the swim for ratification. We discussed marathon swim rules as we got ready: no wetsuit, no touching the boat or another person, no flotation devices of any kind (even a tow float), and no GPS watch or any other pacing devices. The only equipment allowed is a regulation swimsuit, regular swim cap, earplugs and goggles. This was not a race but an attempt to swim a recognized course.
I woke up at 2:15 to get to the boat for our 4 a.m. meeting time. Once we had all the details ready we motored over to the beach. I jumped in and had to swim to the beach and clear the water prior to starting. It was dark still but the moon was full. I could see the bottom of the beach for the first few strokes just by moonlight – super beautiful. The water temperature was 15.5 degrees celsius so a little shocking to jump in. I wore a blue light on the back of my goggle strap and a green glow-stick on my swimsuit. They are different colours so that the crew team can tell which way you’re swimming in the dark.
As I swam, the boat stayed a short distance away. The captain used GPS to drive a straight line right across the width and my job was to use the boat as my guide. I had to sight the boat rather than the opposite shore.
Kevin fed me every 30 minutes.
He threw me bottles of food, hot tea, water or gels using a long rope with a glow-stick attached. My goal was to feed in 30 seconds or less to reduce getting cold and drifting off course. Although Lake Tahoe is freshwater, it’s a very big, deep lake that creates its own currents.
I watched the sunrise over the mountains and just kept plugging along. It was hard to eat so early in the morning but it got easier. My shoulders held up. No pain just tired. The water got warmer and the sun felt good. In fact the whole swim went by very quickly. When we got to the beach at the other end I had to clear the water – both feet out and I was done! The whole swim took 7 hours and 48 minutes. It was hard climbing back into the boat with my wobbly legs.
And I was cold quite quickly!
I had a hard time lifting my arms for the next two days but overall had just a really great day. Highly recommended!
- Aimed for 200 calories per hour during my crossing
- Used Tailwind endurance drink, gels, sweet tea – all liquids as I find it too hard to chew and swallow while swimming
- Alternated drinking water mixed with cornstarch, salt, and lime powder as a long-burning complex carbohydrate
- Covered myself with two layers of high powered sunscreen, zinc on top, and two types of anti-chafe cream (Chamois Butt’r and Aquaphor)
- Trained three to four times a week swimming and three or so times a week running
- My longest swim leading up was 13 kms in 15 degree water, no wetsuit
- Swam in lake Windermere, BC for training as soon as the ice melted! Used a wetsuit initially and then ditched it around 15 degrees to help acclimatize
- Practiced drinking while swimming alot, even when in the pool. It’s hard.
Thanks so much to Mary for the brilliant coaching and excellently constructed plan.”
Thank you Natalie for sharing the details of your Lake Tahoe True Width experience withs us! If anyone is interested in learning more about open water swimming please check out Natalie’s website, Wild Canadian Swimming or you can find her on instagram @wildcanadianswimming. Good luck Natalie at the Lost Soul Ultra next weekend!
Here’s the scoop on the Grand Cache Death Race Relay event Natalie did 2 weeks after her Tahoe swim:
“It was SO FUN. Did relay with my husband, sister, sister’s partner, and brother in-law. I did leg 5, the final leg. It was 18km starting at 10pm ending at 1am so mostly in the dark. Cougars chirping in the bush. Steep climbs. Couldn’t see due to the dark and brush so pretty exciting 😂. The vibe there is so amazing. We’re going back next year to do the marathon which is leg 1 and 2 – 42km a lot of vertical.”