Chris Greene Lake: a first-timer primer

Here’s a quick primer on the Chris Greene Lake Swim for those of you who will be swimming it for the first time this year:

The event: 1- and 2- Mile lake swim at Chris Greene Lake outside Charlottesville, VA. Chris Greene regularly serves as the USMS National 2-mile Cable Swim Championship, but even in a non-championship year, should you set a national record, it counts.

The Course: The setting is a small lake in a public park, so this is one open water race where you don’t have to worry about extraneous conditions like wind or waves affecting your swim. However, if you’re from a land of crystal-clear lakes or sparkling ocean waters, know that the water here is the same murky greenish-gold of every other Virginia open water venue.  It’s perfectly nice, clean, spring-fed water; that’s just the way you get it in VA.  You’ll see your arm in front of your face and that’s about it.

The course is a precisely measured 440 yards, marked by a rope stretched between posts and floated by small buoys. (The header photo for this blog is from the Cable Swim.) You swim down one side of the rope and back on the other (which means an about-face turn at each end)—2 complete loops for the 1-mile swim and 4 for the 2-mile. Waves of ten, seeded by 1650 time, are sent off in 30-second intervals. The finish is at the same end as the start, between two inflatable buoys.

USMS sanctioned event? Yes, so you’ll need a US masters swimming license to participate.

Wetsuit legal? No

Qualifying time/swim required? No, but you do have to be able to complete the 1 mile within an hour or the 2 mile within 2 hours. You seed yourself in your race entry form by entering your 1650 time.

Novice-friendly? Yes.  With a sheltered lake setting, small wave starts, comfortable water temperature and relatively easy sighting, this is a great swim for first-timers, but year after year it also attracts seasoned veterans at the top of their form as well.

What you have to contend with: The water can be quite warm–expect from the high 70s to low 80s.  Other than that, about all you have to worry about is the occasional floating weed and the possibility of a rope burn from getting too close to the cable.  You might also want to keep in mind that the hard-core swimmers treat CGL like a sustained sprint; if your 2 mile time is in the 55-plus-minute category, expect to be lapped.

A word on sighting:  Before my first Chris Greene, I figured having a cable to follow would make sighting a cinch.  Kind of like a lane line, right?  So the first two years I swam it, I couldn’t figure out why I kept finding myself ten feet off the cable on one leg and blundering into it on the other.  Then someone told me that the cable is not quite straight.  It curves very slightly inward as you swim along the beach side, and therefore bows out just a bit on the lake side. Last year I switched my strategy to sighting forward along the cable, and this proved a more effective strategy for swimming a reasonably straight line.  Some people seem to have mastered the knack of hugging the cable coming and going; whatever their secret is, I haven’t figured it out yet. At any rate, sighting is definitely easier in this than in pretty much any other OW race I’ve entered, but you’ll still have to sight forward.

Nice features: This is an extremely well run and, even in a championship year, very friendly, low-key event. Chris Greene Lake features a pleasant sandy beach, plenty of parking, and a bath house with running water (including cold-water outdoor shower). Good post-race food and friendly people too.

Web site:

And a final tip on buoy turns: You do a 180 around a slippery wooden pole at each end. There are a variety of strategies on display, and you can always just kind of paddle around it; any way you slice it, the turn is a momentum-killer so your goal is just to lose the least amount of time possible. This spring, the USMS Swimmer magazine had an article (with pictures) on buoy turns.  The technique is illustrated in the video here, although you’ll have to roll through another 90 degrees at Chris Greene (one more spin?)  I tried this turn technique at my last race, however (which was a 90-degree turn) and it worked pretty well.


One response to “Chris Greene Lake: a first-timer primer

  1. Pingback: Are You Ready for Chris Greene? | Virginia Masters Swimming

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