Flathead Swim Series (July 14-16, 2017)

The Flathead Lake Swim Series is in a class of its own. Launched in 2014 by marathon swimmer, Emily von Jentzen, this weekend-long event offers serious swimmers several race options to test their limits. Many compete in all four races: 5k (Friday evening), 10k (Saturday), 1 mile and ½ mile (Sunday morning). The unpredictability of race conditions is what makes each open water race unique and so much fun. Last year’s windy 5k was followed by a sunny, calm 10k on Saturday, but I was just happy to make shore on Friday night, wrap up in a large, warm quilt and feast on delicious barbecue fare.

Serious, seasoned, and trained open water swimmers shot away from me within a few strokes, many completing the 5k course in little over an hour. The water was a chilly 65 degrees with offshore winds increasing as the sun neared the horizon over this spectacularly beautiful lake. I chose to skip the feeding station on the first leg of the race, a mistake not to be repeated this year.

Winds that sped us away on our first leg became menacing as we turned back toward shore for the second half. Buoys bobbed out of sight in high waves; kayakers pointed the way with paddles held high. At least one buoy blew off course in the strong winds and had to be retrieved by ready boaters. More experienced competitors triangulated on landmarks, avoiding the glare of the setting sun. Note: On sunny days, wear dark goggles if possible.

This summer, I’ll be back for the 5k, anticipating challenges and hoping to finish sooner. Then it’s on to Coeur d’Alene for the Steve Omi Memorial race, Sunday, July 16. For anyone not ready for the Flathead Lake Swim Series, or just seeking to ease into the season, the Omi is just right, with water temps in the low 70’s and a short one mile course never far from shore. Hope to see you there! // (Susan Hales)

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