Our projected finish time was 43 minutes, which is pretty casual for a 2.1km swim in open water. At the start line, Tracy Anne and I slipped into the water for a few warm up strokes to get accustomed to the ‘feel’ of lake water (What?! No salt??). The water was cooler than we anticipated, but after so many training swims in the chill of the Pacific, we were almost thankful it wasn’t warmer. Cold we could handle!
Making our way in waves (no pun intended) to the start line, the all-familiar start-line butterflies of anticipation kicked in. Whoops and hollers along with wet-handed high-fives were shared as 100 of us (in our wave) entered the water to swim to the start line. Last minute sighting reminders were uttered: “Aim for the 2nd mountain peak until you can see the finish line arch, then sight directly for it, and GO!” Easy peasy.
BANG! Gun went off, and we were a mass of kicking legs and swinging arms. It was a typical wave start in the water. I could see Tracy Anne every time I breathed right; it was just like training at home…. except the waves and chop were being generated by 98 other people instead of mother nature. As the pack started to thin out, Tracy Anne appeared again on my left. We were swimming in unison until something happened. Something that not one of the neither 900 swimmers, nor race organizers were prepared for.
We were about halfway. Things had been going according to plan. It had gotten a little windy bringing up some chop, but it was nothing compared to the conditions we were used to swimming in at home. Sighting had taken us to where we were ‘supposed’ to be, and the arch of the finish line was clearly visible. It was time to shift gears, and finish strong. Except the swim suddenly got hard. I initially chalked it up to wind, and being unaccustomed to the ‘feel’ of lake water. But as every stroke and sight attempt seemed to distance me further from the finish line as the previous one, I had to stop and look around me. Was I alone? Was I off course? What was I doing wrong?
I wasn’t alone. I had lost Tracy Anne, but was surrounded by other equally confused swimmers. I had caught up with a few of the swimmers from the 2 waves before ours, ‘wow’ I thought, this is different. I mean it’s not unusual to catch up with the slower swimmers of different waves, but this was a totally different scenario. There were too many of them. I wasn’t THAT fast.
Head down, I kept swimming. Rhythm and breath my ally, relying on the fitness and mental toughness years of ocean swimming and triathlon training had given me. Turning off all thought, I went into full-focus of the swim. Reach, catch, pull, reach, catch, pull, reach, catch, pull, breathe…. sight…repeat. The finish line was a mirage (Tracy Anne’s description post race), and I wondered where she was. Was she ahead of me? Behind me? Had she tapped out?
FINALLY, the arches of the finish line were within reach. Instead of coming straight on to them as I should have been, I was parallel to them, swimming shoreline. The beach was lined with concerned faces as nervous race organizers did their best to figure out what was happening in the water. (Map shows the start/finish of usual swim route…it’s usually pretty straightforward)
Dizzy and tired, I crossed the finish line in 1:23, double my projected time. Even at double, it placed me in the top third of finishers. 44/141 in my age group, and 151/531 of women. Fifteen minutes later, Tracy Anne crossed in a time of 1:38 placing her in better than the top half. 61/136 in her age group, and 214/531 of women. Over half of the 900 swimmers would finish with times over 1:30, 2:30 and 3 hours, with a little over 200 needing to be rescued from exhaustion and cramping. Final DNF numbers are conflicting, but reports range between 264 to near 300. One racer shared her GPS map of the swim, showing her distance as 4km with a hard push north responsible for the additional 2km distance. No wonder everyone was swimming double time and meeting his or her Ironman swim times... we all were swimming Ironman distances.
So, what happened? It not only had us swimmers baffled, but race organizers as well. Never had water conditions seemed so great, but been so bad. Never had they needed more than 90 minutes to have every swimmer safely complete the distance. Never had they needed to pull more than 20 swimmers out of the water. NEVER. Had Ogopogo finally had ENOUGH?! Was she (he?) getting her (his?) revenge after so many years of allowing swimmers to pass through her kitchen? (This part of OK lake is said to be the kitchen of Ogopogo). Were we (swimmers) supposed to BE lunch?
I received an email shortly after the race from organizers offering up their best theory on what happened that morning. Turns out the water event was most likely what’s known as a Seiche Wave. A whaaat? A Seiche Wave. (Water nerds: for Wikipedia's description follow this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiche. It's actually really cool.)
The email described it as such: " In short, a Seiche wave is a stationary wave in a body of water caused by a change in several factors including atmospheric pressure, seismic activity and wind.... The strong and sustained winds running parallel along the long narrow shape of the lake days prior to and the morning of the swim created a current running north. The narrow point of the lake where the ATLS occurs (near the Bennett Bridge) focused the wave/current to be stronger there. The bridge itself further narrowed the opening increasing its velocity. This Seiche wave pushed the swimmers north up the lake. "
To back this theory, race organizers contacted Dr. Ian R. Walker of the University of British Columbia Okanagan's Earth & Environmental Sciences and Biology department. He confirmed: "It is quite likely that a seiche was operating at the time of the swim. The potential for strong seiche-induced currents at the floating bridge is exacerbated by three things: 1) The bridge approximates the midpoint of the lake, 2) The lake is much narrower at the bridge than along much of the lake’s north-south axis, and 3) The lake is much shallower at the bridge than throughout almost the lake’s entire length. As a consequence there is potential for large volumes of water being directed through the constriction at the bridge during seiche events, producing strong currents."
BOOM. There it was in black and white. An answer as to why we were rocked so hard that Saturday morning. But really, it's still just a theory. It IS possible that Ogopogo was sending a message to us all, that finally, she'd had ENOUGH! That this time, there were TOO MANY COOKS IN HER KITCHEN! :)
Click below to read the full article by race directors:
Click to read another news article from the Kelowna Capital News: http://www.kelownacapnews.com/news/268141712.html?mobile=true
CBC Radio interview: http://www.cbc.ca/radiowest/2014/07/24/strong-current-proves-difficult-for-across-the-lake-swim/