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Canyon Lake Swim – September 30, 2017

“Winning and losing is all part of the game meant to teach you a lesson…” Yeah, right…so why did I decide to participate in Saturday’s Canyon Lake Open Water Swim and what did I learn from my loss?

In the past two years, I have done four other AZ Open Water events, all in the spring, and generally have enjoyed them all. They are well organized events, not very expensive, and good practice for upcoming open water swim events. I’m always among the oldest participants, and while I’m not fast I’ve never been last. In fact, twice this year I’ve placed 1st in my division for 3K and 4K open water swims (race details on Webscorer). However, Canyon Lake on Saturday was a very different experience. I placed 6th out of 6 in my division for the 4K. The winning time was 33 minutes faster! My average pace was up to par, but my competitors were significantly faster this time, and I was aware of that from the very start. Very frustrating, but I pushed on. So why did I decide to participate? I’m still wondering about that.

Some history…

I started swimming at Canyon Lake in April 2011. It was my first open water experience in Arizona, and thanks to friends Katie Kenny and Karen Blumer it was wonderful – I never felt any apprehension! I continued making regular trips there, typically by myself, until recently (which I talk more about later in this post).

Canyon Lake Arizona

Canyon Lake is one of four lakes created by dams on the Salt River. It has a surface area of 950 acres and an average depth of 130 ft. Surface elevation is 1,660 ft.

Canyon Lake Arizona, Tonto National Forest

I typically have swum at either the Acacia or Boulder recreations areas. Motorized boats are prohibited at Boulder, but it can also be a lot weedier in summer. And, when water temperature hits low to mid 80s I find it uncomfortably warm. My preference has been for colder water, anywhere from upper 50s to mid 70s.

Kathleen Bober swimming at Canyon Lake Acacia recreation area

Kathleen at Canyon Lake June 2014 – water temperature mid 70s

Kathleen Bober swimming at Canyon Lake Acacia recreation area

Kathleen at Canyon Lake January 2014 – water temperature 56F

In the spring of 2016, I participated in the Arizona Open Water Swim at Canyon Lake. I was training then for The Great North Swim in England, which required wetsuits, so, for the first time in Canyon Lake I wore one. Wetsuits can be great – they improve buoyancy, which can help you swim faster (good blog by Evan Morrison on the speed advantage of a wetsuit); and, they offer some protection from the elements. I did say “some.” I was one of many people that day who developed swimmer’s itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, which appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites. Fortunately, it was a mild reaction and the rash was only on my neck.

Since then, I have swum at Canyon Boulder Recreation area on two other occasions, including this past Saturday’s event, and each time have gotten swimmer’s itch. It’s interesting, though, that I did not get infected when I swam at the Acacia recreation area in February and March last year. The Boulder area generally has more weeds around the shoreline and is more shallow, where larvae are more likely to be present. Will I continue to swim at Canyon Lake? Possibly. But, not far from Tucson are two other great options: Patagonia Lake State Park and Parker Canyon Lake. I’ve been swimming there regularly over the past few years and, so far, have never been infected at either of those lakes.

So what did I learn from my loss? I love open water swimming, but I’m reluctant to participate again in events that are primarily focused on speed. It’s useful to test yourself against others, and I realize you only get faster by swimming faster, but I want something more. The events I’ve enjoyed the most have been longer, point-to-point swims (like Slam the Dam 8K), charitable or ‘swim for a cause’ events (like Great Chesapeake Bay 4.4 mile), or ones in beautiful locations (like Bermuda Round the Sound). I’ll never be one of the fastest swimmers, but that doesn’t mean I can’t compete well in distance events. So that will be my focus in the future – becoming a marathon swimmer in 2018!