Sarah Thomas - 81.8 mile swim in Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona



  • HelbeHelbe Senior Member

    Words cannot convey the emotions required to complete the tracker marathon for this swim..but the strength and determination that Sarah will have required to actually complete the swim is out of this world. An amazing swim with amazing support. Way to go Sarah.

  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaSenior Member
    edited October 2016

    She already had an incredibly impressive body of work prior to this swim.
    Simply put, she's done swims most humans can't.
    This one, however, is way over the top.
    Love the targeted emphasis on zero current assist, and actually battled significant headwinds.
    Unquestionably, she now occupies that rarefied air among the greatest ultra-marathoners in history.


    Keep moving forward.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited October 2016

    Niek said:
    Now all we need is a screwed media manipulator like DN media contact to write about it and to show the world how it's to be done.

    Openwater swimming in optima forma!

    Well, there's this:

    I would have liked something longer, though.

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    dpm50 said:
    Well, there's this:

    Honestly, I think that's a really good article.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited October 2016

    The AP has expanded that article in the past couple of hours - it was originally just a couple of paragraphs.

  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    edited October 2016

    In support of @ssthomas' excellent swim, I think it is important to examine the claim of current neutrality.

    "All lakes and rivers drain to the ocean" was something I was taught so long ago that it was probably something I absorbed from a teacher I revered, and certainly without asking any questions. This swim made me question, however: how do you know/prove a swim is current-neutral?

    As I researched, I learned that there are lakes that do not drain to the ocean. They're called endorheic lakes. and Wikipedia lists them. (Lake Tahoe, interestingly, drains to Pyramid Lake in Nevada, which is endorheic.)

    Powell Lake doesn't seem to be endorheic, though.

    When you look at the wikipedia page for Powell Lake, the page identifies three primary inflow rivers (Colorado River, Escalante River, San Juan River) and one outflow (Colorado River). So it seems like there is a current running through Powell Lake.

    However, the wikipedia page also notes that the maximum length of Powell Lake is 299km, and that the residence time of water in that lake is 7.2 years. It means that when a water molecule enters Powell Lake, it takes an average of 7.2 years for it to leave. Residence time is often approximated/calculated by looking at inflow and outflow. So, I'm imagining that the average water molecule enters Lake Powell, and then drifts with the current, and exits 7.2 years later.

    Not all water enters at the head of a lake, so in order for the average to be 7.2 years, water entering at the head of the lake would have to (mathematically) take longer than 7.2 years to exit.

    These are strictly ballpark calculations. I'm sure the math is more complex than this (rainfall, evaporation, other rivers, etc.) We can use these numbers to estimate a maximum current, though.

    Even though this is certainly an overestimate, say that if water molecule entered at the head of the lake, it did take 7.2 years to travel 299km. That's 114 meters a day of current. Sarah swam for two and a third days-ish, so we might expect a maximum assist of 266 meters (again, an overestimate).... under typical circumstances. This water volume wasn't typical though. The wiki page says the water volume of the lake, when full, is ~30.0 km3. The page also says that on August 13, the water volume was ~16.5 km3, 55% of its "full" volume. Sarah reported the water level as still being low, so I imagine that that would reduce the water currents dramatically.

    Who knows to what level though. We were already starting with an overestimate, and this reduces it further. What might we be talking about here? 100 meters? Less? That's certainly not much of a net current, and I've got to imagine that it's either comparable or less than the currents one would experience in the ocean over that distance.

    I think it would be pretty darn challenging to prove any swim was scientifically current neutral. (If this was done somehow, I would love to know more!).

    Without offering anything close to a definition for our sport, I think we can definitely say that Sarah's swim was current-negligible, and offer our hearty congratulations. :-)

  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member

    Re current neutral: Karl Kingery, a dam engineer and swimmer of both the Channels Catalina and English this summer, was the math-y brains behind the swim. He came up with a number even lower than what @jena proposes above. I'll ask him to contribute his analysis for the record, as well as preserving some published data from the days of the swim (such as shown here and here).


    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.

  • Karl_KingeryKarl_Kingery Denver, COSenior Member

    In selecting Lake Powell, one of the main items that we addressed was the flow of the water through the lake. In order to confirm that there was in fact a negligible flow of water in one direction (as concerns the force that the water can exert on a swimmer); we looked at the historic record of inflows and outflows for the lake. This indicated that the lake operated as many western lakes do, filling in the springtime (April-June) and then dropping slowly the rest of the year. High inflows/outflows occur in April-June and low inflows/outflows occur later in the year.

    In October, the flows into Lake Powell are low compared to the rest of the year. Using strictly an annual average residence time calculation (which is a good tool to approximate the rate and size of particulate sedimentation or overall average velocity on an annual basis) will overestimate average flow rates of water in a singular direction for a low flow period of time. Since the flow rates during Sarah's swim (10,000 cfs out of the dam) were less than they are in the springtime, using an annual average residence time calculation will give an estimated velocity higher than reality, since it has already lumped in the high springtime flows. This method also looks at the lake as a whole, rather than looking at specific locations (addressed later).

    Lake Powell held approximately 12.8 Million Acre Feet of water during Sarah's swim at a WSEL of 3610. This is over 4 Trillion gallons. The inflow into Lake Powell (mostly from the Colorado River) was about 10,000 cubic feet per second (75,000 gallons per second) during Sarah’s swim. At this flow rate (not annual-average), we are looking at a theoretical residence time of 13 years. In other words, it would have taken 13 years to replace the volume of water in the lake using the flow rate present during Sarah's swim. I will let others do additional math if they desire, but I would like to point to the uncertainty of using overly extreme significant figures. Regardless, any calculation used given the residence time method will result in an average velocity within the lake of 0.0 fps, even under spring flow conditions. Also, using a residence time calculation, while appropriate to determine the overall average velocity for a system, is not appropriate to estimate the velocity for channels between different bowls, bays or other bodies of water, where any theoretical velocity would have been at a maximum. It does, however, give an approximate average velocity to the entirety of the system.

    A maximum theoretical water velocity can be obtained by using a cross-section on the lake within the canyon, where water would have the likelihood of moving fastest. Water flow will be significantly slower in wider areas of the lake/canyon (Warm Creek Bay, Bullfrog Bay, Wahweap Bay, the San Juan Channel confluence, etc.) where water can dissipate and slow down and it will be faster in areas where the flow if focused through a narrow channel. This allows us to use the Q=VA equation to estimate a probable maximum velocity. Using this information, a maximum velocity of 0.0 fps at the narrowest location can be calculated. This velocity is clearly negligible and would have been washed out by local factors such as wind (which in this case was often around 20 mph towards the East (away from the dam) and against the direction of the swimmer. It is not unlikely that this wind caused surface flows moving up-lake. As we all know, a headwind can be a difficult thing to swim against.

    Also in preparation for the swim, Jamie Patrick made phone calls to local authorities to confirm our estimates. He stated that (posted with his permission):
    “I have spoken to many people about this, most recently the Sheriffs Marine Patrol and The Bureau Of Reclamation. Both state that the only water movement in the lake would possible take place well below the surface and claim that it is hardly detectable. So much so they do not measure it. The Sheriff laughed [when] I asked him. Bret Axlund, Lieutenant Ph: (928) 645-8873.”

    Further, during Sarah's swim, I piloted much of the swim and did not observe any significant flow in the water. It appeared that throughout the lake, the wind had a larger effect on the direction of surface water flow than the water itself did and when calm, objects did not have a tendency to move one direction or another as if pushed by a current. In other words, any theoretical current was drowned out by the wind and when there was no wind, no current was observed. The San Juan, Escalante and Colorado also all empty into the lake well away from Sarah's path, so there is no significant localized current that would have been present. Most of the water moving through the lake (and it is a lake) comes from its main inflow in the Colorado River, which dissipates most of its energy (and deposits most of its sediment) up near Hite. The water is also forced to turn around, bend along the channel and go into many canyons, which increases the resistance placed on the body of water, slowing any downstream movement down further.

    Given that engineering estimates and calculations, observed conditions, and local knowledge obtained through interviews all indicate that there is no prevailing surface current within the lake that would have aided Sarah in any significant or measurable manner, I would like to recommend to the Marathon Swimmers Federation that Sarah’s swim be recognized as being “Current Neutral.”

  • TomDockTomDock Bradenton, FLMember

    Thank for your detailed analysis Karl_Kingery Very interesting, So I guess it's a lake after all :)

  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member

    Many photo's of Sarah's swim available on this link

    PS if Karl's analysis of current in Lake Powell was beyond you, I had to ride home with that guy ;-) just kidding Karl, he did a yeoman's job , creating a course, piloting/navigating the boat (in the pitch black no less), pace swimming etc.

  • I'm not sure Sarah or Ryan do, but I miss this already. Loud cars, phones ringing, noise, smog.. no stars..
    Compare that to ... no cars, no phones, no smog and LOTS of stars and LOVELY LOVELY people.
    It was an adventure , in the truest sense of the word. wow. I said that a lot.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    suziedods said:
    I'm not sure Sarah or Ryan do, but I miss this already. Loud cars, phones ringing, noise, smog.. no stars..
    Compare that to ... no cars, no phones, no smog and LOTS of stars and LOVELY LOVELY people.
    It was an adventure , in the truest sense of the word. wow. I said that a lot.

    Ryan and I said we'd be happy to move to Lake Powell. We miss the lake. I'm happy to not be swimming. :-)

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    edited October 2016

    Hi everyone!

    First of all, I wanted to thank all of you who were cheering and rooting for me during this swim. There were times when I really wanted to quit, but knowing so many people out there were cheering and supporting me made a huge difference. When my crew told me the tracker server crashed on that 3rd day, I have to admit to feeling proud. (BTW, @evmo, how many people does it take to crash your server? Ryan wants to know.)

    I also wanted to do a little longer write up and share my experiences. I don’t blog and this is probably too long for Facebook, but I know you here at the MSF probably do care about all of the ins and outs of this swim, more than the average population.

    So, let me start with this: I’ve wanted to do a long swim for a few years now. When I finished my 50 mile Lake Memphremagog swim in September 2013, I knew I had more to give. I’ve always been a believer in discovering your potential and pushing your limits, and I knew that even 50 miles wasn’t my limit. If you CAN, you SHOULD, is my motto.

    In 2014, I planned a long swim in California. I trained my butt off, planned, etc. And then the weather was bad and after 2 attempts at rescheduling dates, I had to just call off the swim. It about killed me and put me into a major depression. That fall/winter, I gained about 25 pounds while sitting on the couch and reading all of the Game of Thrones books. I don’t think I swam for a month, and then barely once/week for all of October, November and December. Fortunately, I had a few swims committed for 2015: Loch Ness being the main event. As luck would have it, I was invited to ENDWET in June (2015), Craig and I decided to swim Flathead in July, Darren invited me to his 3 Rivers swim in Pittsburgh in August, and then Craig, Elaine and I knocked off Loch Ness in late August. 2015 really refreshed me and got me back on track. I lost most of the weight I’d gained and felt really good about pursing a really long swim in 2016.

    So, the search for somewhere appropriate began. I had a few requirements for a swim:

    1. 2015 really drove home the point that I prefer fresh water. If I was going to go big, I wanted it to be in a lake.
    2. I wanted a place where I could control the swim myself- my boat rental, my crew, etc. That way, if the weather was bad, we could easily change days. I also wanted to be able to make the decision if we started or not.
    3. I wanted a long lake so that I didn’t need to get out and back in for a double crossing (or triple or quadruple).
    4. I needed something that was definitely current-neutral.
    5. I needed something more than 80 miles. (Why 80? I knew that I could do 50 miles- and I wanted to find out my limit. I thought adding at least 30 miles onto my previous best would be a good start.)

    When it came down to it, there aren’t a lot of options out there. Lake Powell presented itself as a good option: warm water, lots of water, clean water, lots of amenities, easily accessible by driving from Denver, and there is a lot of data on it. My husband and I did a scouting trip over Memorial Day and I spent hours with Karl Kingery and Jamie Patrick discussing route. I don’t even want to know how many hours Karl spent creating our “official” route. There were a few things that went into the discussion of our route:

    1. Because the water level can fluctuate significantly in the lake, Karl needed to predict where the water would be in October and then plan the route around those predictions. I think in the end, he was off by about 9 feet. Pretty dang good.
    2. We also wanted the route to be re-creatable- so even if the water level was super low, my swim could be done again in the future.
    3. We had to define a particular starting and ending point, both on land. They needed to be recognizable and unlikely to move. Bullfrog and Wahweap are the two main marinas on the lake, which is why they were picked as the start and end. The lake officially begins at the Hite Bridge, but with the water level fluctuations, it was impossible to know if there would be enough water to swim that far up the lake (and to take a houseboat up there). I also considered swimming to the dam as the finish point, but decided I would prefer a land start and land finish.
    4. Very importantly, we needed to be sure we were taking the shortest route possible. Most websites will say that it’s 90-100 miles from Bullfrog to Wahweap, but since the lake is so windy, we knew we could save miles by cutting corners. The GPS tools to make sure we could navigate that route were really key, since one slight navigation mishap could add miles to my route. (I’m sorta afraid to look to see how close we actually were- that night navigation was pretty darn tricky.)

    Once Karl, Jamie and I had finalized our route, we shared it with my observers and Evan Morrison to make sure we had considered everything. Andrew Malinak did have a few suggestions for making the route more efficient, which we adjusted to our final route, which got us to the 81.8 miles.

    In picking Lake Powell, I knew the water would be hot. Temperature research suggested that late September/early October would be perfect. Of course, a cold front moved through the week of the swim and dropped our temperatures by about 10 degrees in the day and night. I will admit to getting pretty chilly a few times with the wind blasting me. I do suppose though that I’d rather have been a bit chilly than overly hot, so I’m not going to complain about how that part turned out.

    I also did a lot of wind research- I couldn’t find any definitive way that the wind typically blows. It comes and goes in all directions, so starting at either end seemed like a gamble. I was obsessed with checking the wind forecast the week before the swim. I swear it changed hourly. On Monday, the wind was blowing so hard from the south, but was predicted to die down for my swim, minus some wind on Tuesday afternoon. As I learned, that forecast was WAY off. I kept wishing I'd swum the route the other way... Also, on the way home, the wind blew against us the entire time. So, just goes to prove there wasn't much I could have done on the wind. I gambled and I lost- but I still made it!

    The trip started on Thursday: Ryan left work with our small boat on a trailer. On the interstate on the way home, he hit a bump and the boat went flying on the highway like a kite. He had to track it down, drag it across the freeway and then reattach it. He met some nice police officers in the process- who all sent me their best wishes. We’re super lucky the boat didn’t hurt someone or become so damaged we couldn’t use it.

    On Friday, we had to put our 14 year old dog down. It was awful and sad. This swim was off to a GREAT start.

    On Saturday, I did my final open water swim and had breakfast with a bunch of my swim friends here. My mom, her boyfriend and my sister arrived at the airport and I picked them up. We did our grocery shopping and packing. There was SO MUCH stuff.

    On Sunday, all of my crew started to converge: My Denver crew left and began the journey to Lake Powell (it’s about 7.5 hours from here). My group made a pit stop at Arches National Park. Scott and Alex arrived in Phoenix and drove to Wahweap.

    On Monday, Jamie, Suzie and Andrew met in Las Vegas and met up with Scott and Alex in Wahweap. They took a boat the entire length of the Lake to meet the rest of the crew at Bullfrog- they were all freezing and windblown by the time they arrived. We had a team dinner at 7:30 where we went over rules and procedures. And then, I attempted to sleep. :-)

    Tuesday, we had planned to start at 8 am. I think we started officially at 8:21. Not too bad for the biggest swim of your life. The house boat, which was my main support craft, couldn’t leave the marina until about 10 am. So, I started the swim with the Sea Nymph and the larger powerboat. Ryan and Andrew chilled on the Nymph and Mom, John, Jamie, and Melody cruised on the larger boat. We had my first feed after 1 hour and then every 30 minutes for the rest of the swim. The houseboat arrived on schedule, so everyone was together the rest of the way after the first few hours.

    That first day, everything went very smoothly- water temp was around 68, but not very much wind. I will admit that I was freaking out already. About 3 hours in, I started telling myself how dumb I was and how impossible this task was. I didn’t say a word to my crew. In fact, I think I said less than 10 sentences for the first 24 hours of swimming. My feeds were fast, stroke felt great, and minus some lower back pain, everything was fine. No point in complaining yet. I enjoyed pointing out to my crew where Ryan and I had camped on our scouting trip in May, including the spot where Ryan fished naked in the dark.

    Tuesday night was tough. It got dark by 7:30 and the sun didn’t even peak around the top of the ridges until 7 am the next morning. The wind picked up and made things a little chilly. The house boat had to learn to navigate in the dark and there were some close calls with rocks in the middle of the night. It was hard. All night, I was still telling myself I’d never make it. I started thinking things like, “If I just swim for 24 hours, that’ll be good enough” or “If I just make it to my 50 miles/30 hour mark from Memphre, I can say I went my furthest distance.” Really people, this is bad form on my part: Normally, I’m so good at taking things one feed at a time and just staying in the moment. I give myself a failing grade on this swim on that part!

    One thing that kept me going through that first night was how amazingly beautiful the stars were. I even managed to see 1 or 2 shooting stars through my goggles. At 1:30 am, my mom came on the Sea Nymph and was so chipper and happy, she made me feel better. My crew had read me riddles through the first day, but had stopped in the middle. I asked for some more riddles, and we did them most of the night. (For those wondering: in prep, my mom had asked all of my Facebook friends to give a riddle on how they knew me. I had to guess who they were from the clues given.) My mom and Ryan were WAY off as to when we’d start to see daylight, and I enjoyed laughing at them at each feed that came and no sign of the sun. It was still hard. Really hard. Because I knew the route, I knew when we hit where the Escalante River came in. Ryan had made it that far in his little boat in May, and we had estimated that to have been 25 miles out. It discouraged me to think I’d gone all day and most of the night and had only hit 25 miles. I did ask Ryan about it- and he reassured me that our original estimate was off and that it was over 30 miles. That made me feel better.

    However, by the time Wednesday morning arrived, I’d pretty much talked myself out of completing this swim. I wasn’t ready to tell my crew though. The daylight did provide some encouragement, but as soon as the sun came up, the wind started to pick up. At the 24 hour mark, I stopped to reapply lanolin and had hoped to mentally reset myself. The wind was so bad, I thought I was literally going to drown. My crew gave me lanolin in a plastic baggie and as I was trying to get it onto my armpits and shoulder straps, waves kept breaking over my head. I had a bigger feed to drink down. I think it took several minutes just to drink it all- I kept having to stop because waves were choking me. I had planned some solids at 24 hours, but it was so windy I declined. I’m still not sure what made me keep on at this point- I already wasn’t happy. My crew assured me that the wind would die down as soon as we went around a corner. It did, a little. But, all day on Wednesday, I just got nailed. I’d stop for a feed and feel like I was getting pushed back. A few crew members got in and pace swam with me, which helped. (Sorry, but I can’t remember who and when, really… I know Andrew swam about an hour on Tuesday, but no one else on Tuesday. Ken was with me for the 24 hour feed stop and I think he was in for a few hours. He got in a dusk and again in the middle of the night Wednesday night. I know Karl was in as well, but not sure when…).

    At 30 hours and 30ish minutes I had my breakdown. I knew it was 3:30 pm and that I had hit the mark of my longest swim. My sister Melody was in the kayak. Scott and Alex were in the Sea Nymph. The wind was howling. I was done. I was miserable. So miserable. I was cold. I was tired. I was done. I thought I wasn’t even halfway and knew how much the wind had slowed me down. (It really does take everything out of you, that wind- it’s harder on your shoulders, your core, your breathing, your drinking....) I remember telling Melody that the wind was sucking my will to survive right out of me. No one could tell me the forecast for the wind. I was remembering how much the first night sucked. I hadn’t warmed up since the night time, since the wind was cooling me off and I felt like a second night was impossible. (The water was warm, I’ll admit…but that wind!) I took my goggles off. I told her I was done. Melody stayed calm. She told me to swim one more feed and she’d get a forecast for me. Ok, one more feed. I was crying. One more feed.

    At one more feed, my husband came out in the kayak. He hates kayaking, for the record. But, there he was….all smiles and ready to be super sweet. I went through my list of complaints with him again. He had an answer to all of them. Still crying, I agreed to go another feed and he’d help get me something warm to drink. Get me some solids to try. Assured me the wind would die down at sunset, which was only a couple of hours away. He reminded me that I signed up for hard and that I knew it would be. I did tell him that I knew I signed up for hard, but that I didn’t sign up for miserable. I told him I’d been miserable for so long and that I couldn’t take it anymore. He said to keep going.

    One more feed. I’m still crying. He brings me a warm feed. He tells me they have a plan for the night to get me through it. He told me that my sister Rachel (at home) had put out the request on Facebook for some well-wishes and promised to bring them to read on the next feed. He asked if I wanted something warm to eat. That’s when I asked if they had any risotto from dinner left over. (I’d made the meal schedule and knew that was on the menu for Wednesday night.) He said they hadn’t made any, but were happy to make me some.

    Next feed: out comes the risotto. It’s literally heaven on earth, in case you’re wondering. The hot and savory after the sweet from my liquid feed was amazing. Just a few bites sat so solidly in my stomach. It made me burp, but that’s ok. :-) While I was eating the risotto in the sunset, Ryan read me several words of encouragement from my Facebook friends. It made me cry again- but for a good reason. Something in that moment reset, and I was ready to keep going at all costs.

    During the next hour or so, I could see the crew getting ready to prepare for the night. (I called it "initiating night protocol” in my head.) Ken came out and swam through the sunset with me. I knew what time it was, based off of the previous night. So, I started to count down hours in my head that I had to be in the dark. 12 hours to sunrise. 11 hours to sunrise. 10 hours to sunrise.

    The wind did die down a little during sunset, but it picked back up again as the night wore on. The first 6 hours of darkness went by pretty quickly. The second 6 hours did not. The wind was rough. It was foggy, so we couldn’t even see many of the stars. Navigation was tough. I was familiar with the route from the time that Karl and I had spent on it, so I knew roughly where we were. I knew they were having issues with sighting and rocks. I was worried we were off the route and swimming out of the way. I tried not to worry about it and to let my crew handle it. Jack and Ken swam at some point in the night. I had to poop around 4 am….my first time needing to do so on a swim. Ryan laughed and laughed at me. At some point, we could see the glow of lights from Wahweap, but they were far, far away.

    I had been worried about night #2 the most, since planning this swim. I’d been told to expect to hallucinate. We added some electrolytes with caffeine in them starting at sunset on the second night. It helped a lot and I was amazingly lucid all night. My crew was impressed that I could remember when my Advil was coming (something else to look forward to). During this second night, where I thought it would be the worst, I was able to keep a grip- stay calm, stay positive, and to keep going. I tried telling jokes to my crew or making odd statements to make sure I was keeping my mind sharp.

    And then, after a particularly rough patch of navigation- it was light. It was about this time that we got word that the tracker broke- and I did feel a sense of pride when my crew shared that with me. They also had communicated a few times that the local news channel was following me. Every piece of motivation helped!

    As I swam into full daylight, it hit me: No matter what happened, we were going to finish this swim. I shared this tidbit to my crew at 48 hours. I had made it through 2 nights, my arms were NOT hurting- so even if I lost an arm, we were going to get there.

    As the morning went on, I reapplied some Desitin to my face and shoulders for the first time. I added a bit more lanolin. The sun was warm. The wind was calm. I was HAPPY. Like, legit happy. I was thawed for the first time in a few days. I started to dilly dally a bit. My feeds were taking longer, my stroke rate went down. But, I was enjoying this swim full for the first time. Try wrapping your head around that: I swam for 48 hours and wasn’t very happy. It took 2 full days to relax and enjoy it. I don’t recommend that from a mental perspective, but I'm grateful that where I expected it to be the hardest turned out to be the easiest.

    And then, I asked for a distance update. We were 2 hours further out than I thought. I realized that I might be making some of my crew miss flights because I was just out here horsing around. So, I turned the jets back on. Granted, the jets were only working at low speed, but it was an improvement over the previous hours. I asked Karl to get back in and give me a work out. He did. Later, he said he was impressed with my pace- it was what he’d expected me to be at 6 hours, not at 53 hours. He swam for an hour, and then all of a sudden- we were there. We made our way through the cut, very carefully. There was a lot of boat traffic. And then, we were in the bay. This huge, gigantic bay. There were a million boat ramps and my crew had a good time figuring out which one to head to, but once we got our bearings, off we went.

    That bay was the longest part of the swim. I kept looking up (another no-no), but the ramp didn’t get any closer. Then, my crew started to Facebook live, and I knew we were getting close. They almost squished me a few times, so Suzie made them back off a little. I was laughing. I was smiling.

    And then, we were done.

    The bottom of the lake always comes up so quickly at the end. I did a few breast strokes to make sure I was shallow enough to get my feet down. I wanted to make sure I was as deep as possible for my first step, knowing it would feel really strange. I wasn’t sure if I could stand, so if I fell, I wanted to make sure I didn’t actually fall and hurt myself. I put my first foot down very carefully. My feet were tingly. My ankles were stiff. Slowly, the next foot went down. Another slow step. I did lose balance when I was about at thigh depth, but I recovered. And then, I was out. Past the water line. DONE.

    I can’t even express the joy that came in that moment. Joy. I made it. My crew made it. WE made it.

    My towel felt so good. Taking out my stupid friggin ear plugs that makes it so hard to hear was the best feeling in the entire world. And then, sitting. Sitting on solid, warm ground. AH. SO GOOD.

    My cousin took my blood pressure- very normal. My heart rate was 85. I was a little shaky, but not too bad. We took pictures and chatted and enjoyed the moment.

    I walked over to the houseboat and waited for the generator to warm up- I ate a few cookies, Melody gave me some water with electrolytes in it, I ate some grapes. I talked to someone from the AP and scheduled a longer call for the morning. Finally, we thought the water was warm enough for a shower. Ryan and I got my stuff together, but the water was not warm. My crew made a snap decision to get me a hotel room. So, they drove me up to the hotel, still just wrapped in my towel. I think it was maybe an hour post swim before I got into the shower.

    Ryan joined me to help scrub all the desitin and lanolin off. We made it halfway before I started to get woozy. I sat in the shower while he did his best, but eventually, I had to get out even though I wasn’t all the way clean. I dried off, got my PJs on, and peeled my contacts out of my eyeballs. (God, that hurt my eyes!) I literally collapsed on the bed. After about 15 minutes of laying there, I decided to turn my phone on. I texted and went through Facebook for about an hour before I decided it would be in my best interest to sleep. I was very shaky, so Ryan got me 3 large bottles of water and some Advil. I texted my friend Michelle, who I had seen post giving birth a few times and remembered how shaky she was. I asked her what her doctors did- she said just to drink lots of water, stay wrapped up, and not to eat anything too quickly. Seemed like solid advice and I finally relaxed enough to sleep. I slept hard. I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to pee. It was a journey to the bathroom. I didn’t quite make it back from the bathroom- I knew I was going to fall, so I laid myself down on the ground and called for Ryan to come get me. He picked me up, got me back in bed, and I slept again. I woke up at 5:30 and needed to pee again. It wasn’t so bad this time- I made it there and back without incident. When the kitchen opened at around 7:30, I sent Ryan for food. I was starving. He came back with an omlette and toast. It was SO GOOD.

    We had to be out of the hotel by 11, so I slowly showered and and we made our way back to the houseboat. We pulled out of Wahweap at 1 pm, motored to the dam and then started the journey home. We docked over night in the middle of the lake and then rushed home on Saturday. It was fun to see the parts I swam through in the dark. We made it back to Bullfrog by 4:30 pm on Saturday. It was 6 by the time we unloaded and were on the road. We stopped for dinner in Hanksville and for gas in Glenwood Springs. We arrived back home at 2 am. My mom and sister had to leave at 4:30 am for a 7 am flight. Oops. I spent Sunday sleeping and unpacking- and now I’m back at work.

    Also, I said this on Facebook before, but I should reiterate- this swim would not have been possible without my crew. At one point, I remember saying, "We did it!" Someone tried to correct me and say, "YOU did it." Not true- this was a WE effort.

    Crazy how at week can go by and change your life and yet you’re still at work doing what you do. 

    Thanks again for the support- this was way bigger than I ever imagined. I’m good on long swims for a while.

  • Love you SS Thomas and Ryan Willis. We don't say it enough and we don't act on it enough.
    You are more than a rockstar, you are a wonderful person.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    Thanks, Suzie! I take more pride in being a good person than a rockstar! We love you, too! SO GLAD you were part of this adventure with us!

    That was a lot of !!!!, but I mean them all.

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    @ssthomas - I'm completely in awe. That is a truly amazing accomplishments. Congratulations.

  • JaimieJaimie NYCMem​ber

    OMG and you had your contacts in the whole time - that's crazy! I am SO glad they did bring you to a hotel in the end - I was honestly horrified when Andrew said they were just putting you back on the boat! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    jmm234 said:
    OMG and you had your contacts in the whole time - that's crazy! I am SO glad they did bring you to a hotel in the end - I was honestly horrified when Andrew said they were just putting you back on the boat! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    Contacts didn't hurt until the very end when I was taking them out. I did rip one the morning before the swim. Thank goodness I always travel with extra ones. That would have sucked.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    Speechless with admiration and respect, Sarah.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited October 2016

    OMG! LOVE the report, @ssthomas !!!! Maybe send to a magazine like USMS SWimmer or Outside? That a human being is capable of stretching limits to that extent is just amazing!

    Yesterday, I indulged my other sport and ran a 15k road race undertrained! When I would get tired, I thought of your 56 hour swim and said, "self, suck it up! If Sarah can swim 56 hours, you can run a race that will take less than two!" Definitely gave me a burst of energy! :) It's so cool to hear these stories. I'm a kid among big league swimmers on this forum, and I keep on getting inspired, want to stretch my own limits. I'm at 8 miles now, and when I first started posting here, my longest was 5.4. 82 miles is way out of my wheelhouse. But reaching for a little more each time.... that is what this forum inspires me to do!

  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest

    Geat write up on your transforming swim....very few get to test those sorts of mental and physical limits..Joseph Campbell called it the hero's journey....going into the unknown and coming back to tell us what it is like...Two Fins Up!!!


    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • Sarah4140Sarah4140 DenverMember

    Love reading the whole story @ssthomas and was so glad to help a little by assisting with the last weekend of training swims--as I said on Facebook--you are an inspiration for swimming and (more importantly?) for life!

  • Sarah Thomas, Thank you. Really. I don't even know what to say, but I know I have this huge swelling feeling in my heart. I feel so grateful for your example. You went for it. You made it happen. You did it. My favorite words of yours .. "I was HAPPY. Like, legit happy." Love to you and the team. Respect.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Great read, well worth everyone's time.

    I am so embarrassed to say I totally forgot about your mom's FB message asking for riddles till I read it here. Sorry I didn't add one.

    I will repeat what I said on my FB and blog: you're my super-hero.

    But after reading this, I have got to say: What you did was awesome, stellar, incredible, not soon to be forgotten. But your crew: O.M.G! They are the best. How they kept you going, kept you motivated through the dark times. Wow. They are first class. Congrats on your swim and especially congrats on setting up such a remarkable team.


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • Hi All - I am about 70% done with the video of Sarah's amazing swim. I hope to have it up by Friday. I have goose bumps putting it together. As one of her pilots on this amazing journey, I must say that my life has forever changed.

  • I am in complete awe! Way to go Sarah, you are a true superwoman!!!! Once you have recovered I know we are all waiting anxiously to hear all about your accomplishment! I think we found our cover girl for the 2017 calendar!

    What an astonishing achievement!

  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member
    edited October 2016
  • lakespraylakespray Senior Member

    I keep posting these items as they get published. But more positive press for Sarah.

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    I liked the Facebook interview with @ssthomas. My mind has still not recovered from this swim. She seems to have recovered quite nicely. My mind, not so much. I don't have the words to express how monumental this swim was in my view. Her little 10 hour workouts on the weekends put things into perspective. I try to grasp knocking off a 10 hour swim for a workout. That's merely 20% or so of the Lake Powell swim. Kids these days...

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited October 2016

    I was thinking about those stickers that you see on the cars of runners and triathletes--26.2, 70.3, 140.6... (and sometimes the humorous touch, 0.0)--and it occurred to me that 81.8 SWIM would have a nice ring to it! :)

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    dpm50 said:
    I was thinking about those stickers that you see on the cars of runners and triathletes--26.2, 70.3, 140.6... (and sometimes the humorous touch, 0.0)--and it occurred to me that 81.8 SWIM would have a nice ring to it! :)

    I have often considered doing those little number things but on a blue background instead of white. It would be subtle but cool. 81.8 would fry both runners and swimmers though...

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    I had this thought after I did 50 miles in Lake Memphre a few years ago. I remember thinking at that time that no one would understand/believe it, even with some mention of swimming on it. Non swimmers totally don't get this whole marathon swimming thing. :-)

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    ssthomas said:
    Non swimmers totally don't get this whole marathon swimming thing. :-)

    A lot of pool swimmers don't really get it, either.

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

    I had a really interesting conversation with a guy sharing my lane the other day, who was completely freaked out that my main set included a 1K time trial at the end of it . Our workouts were pretty close in length, but his idea of "distance" was anything over about 200 yards. He actually tossed his last set and swam it with me. He said it gave him lots of food for thought about what he could do.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    ssthomas said:
    I had this thought after I did 50 miles in Lake Memphre a few years ago. I remember thinking at that time that no one would understand/believe it, even with some mention of swimming on it. Non swimmers totally don't get this whole marathon swimming thing. :-)

    When I moved to Virginia in 2012, I got a vanity plate: 10K SWIM.

    Dropped the girls off at swim practice at the Y one day and a man sitting out front asked me what the license plate meant. I told him that I had swum a 10K. He had trouble believing it. "That's over 6 miles. Not possible." When I told him I had also swum 10 miles (StS), he started arguing with me that 10K is not the same as 10 miles. I gave up trying to explain marathon swimming to him.


    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • What about a sticker that says 120...for those that have completed 8 Bridges... THAT would make people scratch their heads.

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    edited October 2016

    Niek said:
    I think the correct one would be 131.6 km 81.8 miles 70 NM

    It's a distance over water-> nautical miles

    In the USA marathon swims are generally measured in statute miles.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    Niek said: isn't only USA.

    No, but Sarah is American. ;)

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • JamieJamie Member
    edited October 2016

    Hi all - Thought I would share a video I made of Sarah's Swim. Hope you enjoy.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    Amazing, Jamie! Can't thank you enough for the time you spent on this! (Plus the 56 hours you drove on a boat while I went swimming...)

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    jeez, that wind made it look like you were on a treadmill.

  • As Molly Nance says.. SQUEEEE!!! That was mind blowing. And I was there.. and no.. no.. I'm not crying.
    Sponsored by Hard Work , Dedication and Sacrifice. BRILLIANT

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    curly said:
    jeez, that wind made it look like you were on a treadmill.

    And I was thinking the video didn't do it justice... HA! It was like that FOR. SO. LONG.

  • So, the video is GREAT but this inquiring mind needs to know--

    Sarah--WHERE did your husband get his fantastic tshirt??? I need to acquire this one for the husband!!!

  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNSenior Member

    I'm a blubbering mess watching you finish. Fantastic job. You're someone we all admire for this effort. Congratulations once again.

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited February 2017

    Documentation for Sarah's swim is now available here:

    The original handwritten logs were submitted within 24 hours of swim completion; and we already had the GPS data thanks to their use of

    After a tremendous team effort involving Sarah, her documenters @malinaka and @suziedods, her navigators @Jamie and @Karl_Kingery, and her photographer @lakespray, here is the compiled, formatted finished product

  • Well, someone doesn't like jazz :)

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber

    That'd be Suzie! Ha! ;-)

  • Sarah4140Sarah4140 DenverMember

    IronMike said:

    ssthomas said:
    I had this thought after I did 50 miles in Lake Memphre a few years ago. I remember thinking at that time that no one would understand/believe it, even with some mention of swimming on it. Non swimmers totally don't get this whole marathon swimming thing. :-)

    When I moved to Virginia in 2012, I got a vanity plate: 10K SWIM.

    Dropped the girls off at swim practice at the Y one day and a man sitting out front asked me what the license plate meant. I told him that I had swum a 10K. He had trouble believing it. "That's over 6 miles. Not possible." When I told him I had also swum 10 miles (StS), he started arguing with me that 10K is not the same as 10 miles. I gave up trying to explain marathon swimming to him.

    Iron Mike--I saw my doctor a day or so after I swam the Horsetooth 10k and told him what i'd done--he paused and said "no, not possible--how did you swim that far without stopping??" :)

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