Category Archives: Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim

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: CableSwim.org.

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.

Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim 2010

Some of you may remember Janet Manning’s amazing Chris Geene Lake victory story from last year. Well Janet was back in 2010 and nabbed a 4th place finish in her very competitive age group.  Way to go Janet!  I don’t even mind that you beat me!

Another great Chris Greene Lake story from this summer is featured on the USMS Web site.  From the article:

Calvin Barnes, 86, and Richard Selden, 88, also made waves at the event. Barnes finished first with a time of 1:26:27.21 and Selden came in right behind at 1:27:32.40. The two men earned the distinction of becoming the only two Americans in the 85 – 89 age group known to have raced in a two-mile cable swim. They met for the first time at the awards ceremony, where they shook hands while being recognized for their achievements.

What it takes to win: a Chris Greene update

This year 19-year-old Abby Nunn won both the 1- and 2-mile events at the Chris Greene Lake cable swim.  According to Lane 9 News, “Nunn, a 2008 graduate of Deep Run High School, trains under Coaches Geoff Brown and Brent St. Pierre and has been practicing seven times per week, averaging 8,000 yards per practice.”

That’s 56,000 yards a week, right?  Back in May, I was feeling pretty happy with myself for doing 70,000 yards for the month.

A Chris Greene Lake Victory Story

There are a lot of different ways to win a race, and coming in first isn’t always one of them.  At the Chris Greene Lake 2-mile swim I was seeded next to Janet Manning in my wave. I heard her mention it was her first OW swim just before the race started.  Later, I learned that it was more than her first OW swim—it was a triumph against odds.  Here’s Janet’s story, with thanks to her for sharing it:

Janet Manning: Chris Greene Lake 2009

With apologies to Abigail Nunn with her impressive double victory, there was an even bigger winner at the 2009 Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim.  You might have seen her in the 2 mile race.  She was the crazy woman with the unremarkable time of 1 hour 4 minutes who was celebrating at the finish like she had just finished a marathon.  I am that crazy woman.  I probably shouldn’t have been alive to see that day, might very well have been paralyzed and certainly should not have been crossing the finish line of my first 2 mile open water swim.

My story is kind of amazing…I truly should not have been at this race.  In February, I had a pretty bad ski accident.  Hot dogging off a mogul, I miscalculated and caught my tips on the landing, diving head first into some very solid H2O.  I was, as a friend said, writing checks my 45 year old body couldn’t cash.  Fortunately I had on my helmet, but upon landing heard a crack.  My friend immediately called for the ski patrol, and I was transported to the hospital.  There, a CT scan showed nothing but possibly a degenerated disk.  I was sent home in a collar with pain meds.   The next day an orthopedic surgeon looked at my x-ray and concurred, probably just a muscular or ligament injury.   Take it easy for a few days and you’ll be fine, he said.  A few days later, I felt a pop followed by excruciating pain and went back to the doctor who put me on cortisone.  Two weeks later I was told to stop wearing my collar and noticed some major bruising on my chest that I had not noticed before.  An X-ray indicated a broken sternum.  By this time I was up and walking around with relatively minimal pain, but after two hours, I always felt pain shoot down my arms.  I tried to resume my life.  I travelled down to Annapolis to watch my daughters compete at their state championship meet, sitting long hours in the stands for three days.  I went to physical therapy, stretched daily and did my exercises religiously.  Still, I couldn’t shake the shooting pains.  My PT and several other friends in the medical field thought I should get an MRI because it had now been a month and I was still needing heavy pain medication to get through my days.  My orthopedist flatly refused, so I called a friend for a second opinion.  He immediately set me up for an MRI the next day.

Crazy as it may seem, the MRI [pictured below] showed that I had been walking around with a broken neck for about four weeks.  And it was a bad one: My C5 and C6 vertebrae had shifted .5 cm and the disk between them was crushed.  My neurosurgeon said it was a miracle I wasn’t paralyzed or dead.  I was in surgery the next day for 5 hours.

from Janet's MRI

I woke up sporting a titanium plate and 10 screws in my neck.  I have an impressive 6 inch battle scar down the back of my neck and a 3 inch one in front.  My neck mobility is somewhat limited, but there are no pity parties going on in my house.   I know am just about the luckiest girl in the world.  I had been in physical therapy for weeks with a broken neck and actually had traction done the day before my MRI.  With all that twisting, pulling and prodding, I cannot believe I am alive to tell this story.

After surgery, I continued PT but was not gaining enough range of motion in my neck.  I was also not happy about being so inactive.  I was on leave from my job as a teacher, going crazy from the lack of mental and physical stimulation.  A friend of mine was training for the Chesapeake Bay crossing.  I got to thinking…It wasn’t looking like I was ever going to be able to run again, but maybe I could start swimming  with a goal of crossing the bay by my 5oth birthday in 2014.   I had been a competitive swimmer through college; however, I had never raced a distance longer than 200 yards.  Would I be able to build the strength and endurance to try the one mile race by next summer?  My friend would have nothing of that sissy goal and insisted I amp up my goal to cross the bay (4.4 miles) in 2010.  Why not?  Looking online for a qualifier swim this summer, I stumbled upon the Chris Greene Lake cable swim.  Perfect for a beginner, I thought, with no chop or current to deal with plus the cable to help me go straight.  I joined MAC Masters in Frederick, MD and began my training.  I was not real keen on the idea of getting back in the pool and following that dreaded black line lap after lap again after a respite of nearly 20 years.  I had tried masters once before, but with no race goals, it was pointless and just no fun.  But this time it was different—I had a goal.

Happily I discovered that two other women from my neighborhood were also swimming at the Chris Greene Lake event.  We all enjoyed the camaraderie of driving down to Virginia together.  Sarah, the most experienced of us, offered tips.  Kathleen and I laughed at how just the week before we had both swum our first 1650 time trial.  Now here we were entered to swim 2 miles…in a LAKE!  Crazy, middle-aged women….What were we thinking?

So later that morning when we all met up at the finish line, I think my friends were the only ones who understood why I could barely contain myself.  After all I had

Janet Manning with friends after a victorious finish

Janet Manning (in blue, on right) with friends Kathleen Igo (left) and Sara Levine (center) after a victorious finish

been through in the past four months, I had just done the unthinkable.   What a high…You know, winning is a relative term.  Achieving one’s goal, whether it’s to place first, drop time or just finish can make you feel every bit a winner.  And now I’m hooked on open water swimming thanks to that positive first experience at Chris Greene Lake.  It’s the perfect sport: real nice supportive people, great exercise and a feeling of accomplishment every time you step out of the water.  Hope to see you all again next year!

Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim 09 – Race Report

Results from 2009 Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim are available online here or download Chris Greene Lake Results 09.

If you want to skip the synopsis, you can go directly to the 2009 Race Report:

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 (this year, it’s in Lake Placid) 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.  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.  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, though this year it was a perfect temperature.  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.

How we trained: Allison had to miss CGL this year due to schedule conflict.  Since the Bay swim I’ve been focusing more on shorter distance, 3000-4000 meter workouts with more emphasis on shorter, speed-focused sets.  But it’s only been a month since the Bay, and the week immediately after was really just recovery for me, so what I’m saying is that I’ve really only had a couple of weeks with this speed focus.  And speed, of course, is a relative term, but the point is that I’m trying to go faster.

Nice features: Even in a championship year, this is an extremely well run and  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.

2009 top finishers: Just so you know.

In the 1 mile race, the overall winner was 19-year-old Abigail Nunn with an age group record time of 20:02.38.  The men’s winner was 18-year-old Luke Robbins in a time of 21:46.62.

In the 2 mile race, having put in a good warmup with the 1-mile, Abigail Nunn came back to be the overall winner again, and broke a 12-year-old age group record (and set a new CGL women’s record) with a time of 40:39.67.  The first place male finisher was Chris Stevenson, yet again breaking his own age-group record to finish in 41:03.05.

Web site: CableSwim.org.

2009 Race Report

2009 conditions included pleasantly cool water and a lightly overcast day that quickly turned sunny, but not oppressively hot.  There were about 100 swimmers registered for the 2 mile race, and 63 for the 1 mile (which was first), with some of those swimmers registered for both.

Although it is possible that you, our reading public, are all agog for the moment-by-moment details of my particular swim, I suspect that what you’d really like to know is information you might generalize to your own swims.  So here goes:

1) Preparation: I didn’t eat enough.  Chris Greene Lake is pretty much a sprint, but instead of keeping that in mind (sprint=energy demand) I let myself get lulled by the relatively undemanding distance into being very unfocused about eating the whole week.  It’s not like you need to stuff yourself, but the week before a 2-mile sprint race is not the week to be saying, “oops, forgot to eat dinner again.”  Race day is too late to make up for this, and yet I didn’t really eat enough on race day either, and when my blood sugar crashes, it really crashes, and I am thereafter useless.  Everyone seems to have a different eating strategy, but I think the key is to have a strategy.  And practice it in training, and stick to it come race day.  I’ve decided that part of my future strategy will need to be planning out my eating for the week before so it’s not something I keep forgetting to get around to.

2) Pacing: I am good at maintaining a steady pace over a distance.  What I realized Saturday is that I’m not so good at estimating what that pace is.  Amy (a fellow member of what I am here and now officially dubbing our Local Cohort) set a goal pace and checked her splits at every 1/4 mile turn, which was smart!  Why can I never remember these things in the middle of a race?  I am almost positive I went out too fast, and if I’d taken my splits I’m pretty sure they would have shown me doing the second mile slower than the first.  That second mile really hurt, too, and I had to resort to the desperate maneuver of doing a Gu Roctane (which I’d stuffed in my suit before the race in anticipation of the coming to unfortunate fruition of #1 above, “Preparation: I didn’t eat enough”) with 3/4 mile to go just to make it to the end with any shred of decent speed left in me.  And what did I learn from all this?  That I will be focusing in my training more on “feeling” my pace—what level of effort translates to what kind of time?  What level of effort can I sustain  in a nonstop swim? Also that I will try to remember to set a goal pace and check my splits to see if I’m on track.

3) Sighting: Someone told me last year that the “cable” is not actually straight, that it curves a bit, and after 2 years of wobbling around trying to follow it, I have decided in the future just to sight along the rope without trying to stay right on it. On the “out” leg I was always finding myself ten feet off from it and trying to correct for that, and on the “in” leg I was always blundering into the rope.  (John, another of our Local Cohort, got some rather nasty rope abrasions).

4) So what, I still had fun: even though I was clawing my way to the finish and my arms kept begging me to just stop already. My goal for 2009 was to go faster than 2008, and I did by more than a minute. That wasn’t as much faster as I wanted to go (see “Pacing”), but it was faster.

4) 1650 to open water: It’s very hard, possibly impossible, to guess how your pool time will translate to open water time, but CGL gives you the best setup for comparison, because it’s a measured course with no external factors like current to affect your time.  A browse of the seed and finish times suggests this very broad formula to translate from your 1650 pool time to the CGL 2-miler: double the 1650 and add 5-10 minutes.

2009 Results