Go Greene: Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim

CGL 2008

The annual Chris Greene Lake 1 & 2 mile cable swims take place this year on July 11 in Charlottesville, VA (you can still register online through July 6).  Whether you’re a seasoned open-water veteran or you’re considering your first open water swim, Chris Greene is a great choice. (And new this year, the Virginia State Open Water Championshps for USA swimming swimmers 7 and older.)

What we like about Chris Greene:

Friendly atmosphere—everyone is welcoming and and ready to share tips and open water swimming stories.

Beginner friendly—The water is warm and there are no currents, waves, tides or jellyfish to worry about, and it’s easy to sight along the 1/4 mile cable (which is actually a rope strung between posts).  There’s ample race support for safety, and swimmers are started in waves of only 10 (seeded by 1650 time), which means you IMG_0750won’t be having to fight through a sea of elbows and kicking feet.  And you can choose either a 1-mile or 2-mile race, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, sign up for both.

Nice setting—with a sandy beach, bathhouses, and a tranquil lake surrounded by woods, it’s a great place for a swim event.  And don’t forget that post-race social.

A measured course—As the Chris Greene cable swim web site notes, “Because a cable swim is measured and surveyed to precisely ¼ mile (440 yards), the one and two-mile cable distances are the only open water events in which USMS maintains national records.” Thanks to that measured course, this is one of the very few open water swims in which you can accurately compare your swims against each-other from year to year.  And the 90-95 age group record is still open, though Richard Selden, current record-holder for 85-89, is gunning for it when he ages up.

Storied history—the race has been going strong since 1977.  Many swimmers return year after year.  For more on the history of the swim, click on the “history” link on the CGL Cable Swim web site.

IMG_0742We talked with Dave Holland, who has been race director for Chris Greene since 2005, to find out more about what it takes to put on an open water race.  And for more CGL, you can read our 2007 race report here.

OWS: How long does it take to get all the logistics for a race like this straight?
I didn’t appreciate how much work goes into an open water race when I was a swimmer.  As a race director, I can tell you that there is quite a bit that goes on behind the scenes.  Planning an open water race is more complex than a pool event because all of the variables are unfamiliar and more difficult to predict.  The paperwork, seeding, timing, course set-up, and volunteer recruitment are very time-consuming.  At Chris Greene, we are heavily indebted to the Albemarle County staff.  They install the cable, store some of our gear, provide lifeguards, open the facility, and allow us to invade their beautiful park with hundreds of swimmers.  Charlottesville is a ninety minute drive for me, so I have to be very detailed in packing.  The insurance liability requirements have gotten more stringent over the years. The best part of the job is talking to the swimmers.  There are many people IMG_0861who come back year after year, and sometimes there are special arrangements that need to be made.  I’ve gotten to meet some interesting personalities and I do enjoy that social interaction that comes with being the contact person.

You’ve been the race director since 2005. What is/are the biggest challenge(s) you face as RD?
The biggest challenge for me is recruiting enough volunteers.  It takes a lot of people working a lot of hours to pull it off.  I’ve been very fortunate that VMST (Virginia Masters) folks have always risen to the occasion.  In the end, it’s a community of swimmers helping swimmers.

Do you have plans to grow CG? Or are you happy with the size of the race?
IMG_0985I’d love to attract more participants to CGL, but I don’t have any desire to make it bigger for the sake of being bigger.  I love the tradition and simplicity of the race.  It’s the same course year after year, so you can compare your times to yourself.  I am proud that we can continue to be available to swimmers of all backgrounds and ages at an affordable price.   It’s a great setting for a race and I always come away from it feeling the same way the swimmers do:  tired yet inspired.

Are Lake Placid and Chris Greene the only cable swim courses in the U.S.?
There is a cable swim in Indiana that dates back as far as CGL.  That’s the Glen Hummer Huntington Mile.

Some years the USMS cable swim championship is at Chris Greene, and some years it is at Lake Placid. If you set a record in a non-championship year, does it still count?
Yes, as long as the race is sanctioned, the records count.  Last year we had several records in the 1-mile event even though it was not a “national championship”.  This year we are offering both 1- and 2-mile events, and any records set will count even though we’re not hosting a national championship event (It’s at Lake Placid this IMG_1155August).  Next year’s 2-mile event is scheduled to be a national championship again at CGL (July 10, 2010).  The advantage there is that we usually attract better competition nationally, so there are more records set.  The older you are, the more records you can set.  Richard Selden is the oldest person ever to swim a 2-mile event  in a sanctioned race (85-89 age group).  He is 87 and is signed up to swim again this year.  (The USMS records can be found here,)

The “cable,” I discovered, is really a rope. Do you have to replace it periodically? Does it stay in the lake year-round?
The cable only stays in for a few days each year.  Albemarle County stores it for us at a facility near the lake.  It takes them two days to install it and winch it properly.  It will need replacing in a few years.

Any tips or strategies you can suggest to our readers for a cable swim?
David McCulloch (age 78) once advised me to “sprint from the get-go”, and that did seem to be good advice.  I find that it’s a great mental challenge if you push yourself hard, so you might as well push through that pain threshold sooner rather than later.  If you can draft on someone who is even-paced , it is very wise.

However, what you do on race day is not nearly as important as what you’ve done to prepare for race day.

This year introduces the first State Open Water Championships for USA swimming swimmers. Are you seeing a growing interest in open water swimming in our region? What are the challenges you see, as both a swimmer and a race director, in growing OW swimming in our area?
There does seem to be more interest in open water.  The addition of the 10K race to IMG_0987the Olympics and the accompanying publicity seem to be helping.  The challenge in growing this unique sport is funding, finding proper venues, and getting people trained properly.

Any good stories/anecdotes about Chris Greene from the years you’ve been associated with it? Shirley (Loftus Charley) or Mike (Stott)  probably have some good ones.  I love watching the rivalries that go on for years and years.  I get a real kick out of watching two old guys race for the finish line and then share a handshake and a laugh about it seconds later.

(Photos courtesy of Julia Toos.)

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2 responses to “Go Greene: Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim

  1. This was my very first OW event. I recently started swimming again as part of my recovery program after breaking my neck skiing in Feb. My goal was simply to finish the 2 mile swim and happily I did. The Chris Greene Lake Cable swim was such a well organized event. Many thanks to all the organizers and volunteers. I will definitely be back next year.

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