2022 Castle Mountain 10K Race Report
I swam my first 10K OWS event yesterday on Saturday August 27, 2022. Of course I had to maximize the difficulty level by registering for the Castle Mountain 10K at Wellington Lake, Colorado, billed as the highest altitude marathon swim event in the United States at around 8,000 feet above sea level. (https://www.mountainswimseries.com/events/castle-10k)
During the week before the 10K, I received two emails from the race organizers with ominous warnings such as:
“You can expect the water to be around 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. No warmer, and potentially colder. Please be a responsible swimmer.”
“You will not be able to swim as fast as you can in Denver or work as hard without losing your breath. For your own safety, do not wear a wetsuit that is too tight around your chest.”
I arrived in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, only about a day and half before the 10K, so the abovementioned emails didn’t exactly reassure me. Luckily I had spent most of this summer in Colorado, so I already had plenty of high-altitude open water swims under my belt before going home to Las Vegas for three weeks (and completing a relay swim across the Catalina Channel).
When I came back to Denver, I was pleased that I didn’t get out of breath going up the stairs at my mom’s house like I did after arriving in Colorado this summer. I did a short swim at Chatfield Gravel Pond on Friday morning, and my pace was great and my breathing fine. Normally I would have taken off the day before a race, but I hadn’t swam since Tuesday so I needed to get a swim in before the race.
Swimmers could camp at Wellington Lake the night before the 10K, but I didn’t. I left my mom’s house in Golden, CO at around 4:30 AM Saturday morning to drive to Wellington Lake. My oldest child wanted to come with me. Because I knew this race would be a loop swim around Wellington Lake with the same start and finish area, and thus no buses would be involved, I felt comfortable leaving him on shore while I swam.
The turn from US-285 onto Wellington Lake Road is easy to miss, even in the daytime. I’ve now been to Wellington Lake twice, and both times I’ve missed the turn onto that road, so I’ve had to turn around on US-285 and go back to find the road.
Wellington Lake Road is paved for the first few miles, then turns into rough unpaved road. You don’t need four-wheel-drive (4WD), but it’ll be slow going if you have a car. I made it fine with my minivan the first time, but borrowed my mom’s 4WD SUV yesterday.
We arrived at Wellington Lake around 6 AM, followed the Mountain Swim Series (MSS) signs which went past the lake, and turned into the Royal Elk Meadows camping area designed for camping swimmers, where we were directed to park on dirt. There were many tents and sleepy campers milling around when we parked.
It was rather cold, and I was glad I had worn sweatpants and a hoodie over my swimsuit (instead of my usual shorts and tank top), as well as socks and sneakers (instead of my swim sandals). I was also glad I made my kid wear pants instead of the shorts he insisted on, and so was he. You’ll definitely need sneakers for the hike between the parking area and the lake.
We parked and then walked on the half-mile dirt trail to the lake. We arrived a few minutes before packet pickup and race check-in opened at 6:30 AM, so we set up the camping chair at the shore for my kid to sit in and left our things there while we walked the short distance back to packet pickup.
I checked in and the race organizers were issuing three different color latex swim caps depending on which distance you registered for – 2.5K, 5K ,or 10K. The 2.5K swimmers had green caps, the 5K swimmers had pink caps, and the 10K swimmers had yellow.
I don’t like latex caps. I wore the same MSS-issued yellow race-issued latex cap for the 3-mile Carter Lake Crossing race in July, and it drove me batty during the swim. It kept rolling up and was uncomfortably tight. Thus, I had already vowed not to wear latex caps ever again. Fortunately, I had already brought a neon yellow silicone cap to swim in. However, they were marking the caps with your assigned race number using Sharpie markers, so I had to mark my silicone cap with my race number. That was a bummer, but at least I can buy another one for around $10. (Note to self, Google how to remove Sharpie from silicone swim caps.)
Our hands and upper arms were also marked with our number. I liberally slathered on the Coppertone Pure & Simple SPF 50 sunscreen that I bought at the recommendation of another marathon swimmer on this forum.
It seemed like there were many more wetsuit swimmers than those of us in swimsuits. There were also plenty of kids, dogs, and family/friends/supporters present, which made me feel better about leaving my kid on shore while I swam the 10K. We wished we had brought our dog with us instead of leaving him at my mom’s house along with my other kids.
The race course was a 2.5K loop around Wellington Lake. 2.5K swimmers would do one loop, 5K swimmers would do two loops, and we 10K swimmers would do four loops, starting and finishing at the same shore.
There were a total of six large inflatable pyramid buoys on the lake: (1) three yellow buoys at the start/finish end of the lake, two as part of the race course and one marking the finish exit; (2) two orange buoys at the halfway part of the lake; and (3) one yellow buoy at the other end of the lake, marking the turnaround point halfway through each loop.
The race organizers placed a raft near the start/finish end of the lake for fueling. You could give your fuel (bottles or bags, marked with your number) to the race organizers before the race, and they would put it on the raft for you to retrieve during the race. If you wanted to fuel, you would approach the raft, tell the volunteer your number, and they would have your fuel ready for you.
However, as a first-timer with only one 10K practice swim under my belt, I was worried about not making the 10K’s 4-hour cutoff time, so instead of putting fuel on the raft, I stuck Nu energy gels in my swimsuit. I had practiced this back home at Lake Mead and it seemed to work well. However, I hadn’t accounted for the altitude (which I’ll explain later).
At 7:45 AM, the safety briefing began. The race official warned us that “you WILL be out of breath while swimming.” We then got in the water up to our waists for the 8:00 AM mass water start with all 2.5K, 5K, and 10K swimmers.
The water was cold, but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t bother me, and it didn’t seem that much colder than the open water I’d been swimming in all summer. I guess that means my cold water acclimatation training (including cold showers) paid off?
I have to laugh at one aspect of the safety briefing. The race official had emphasized that “this is not a full body contact sport.” But the first loop consisted of exactly that – plenty of elbowing, kicking, jostling, and generally bumping each other.
At the one yellow buoy at the other end of the lake marking the turnaround point halfway through the loop, I saw a pink-capped 5K swimmer cheat by turning around well before the buoy even though the race official told us to keep the buoys at our left at all times or we’d be disqualified. No kayakers were close enough to see this happen, which was disappointing. That wasn’t fair to the other 5K swimmers.
Another 5K swimmer weaved all over and kept bumping into me. She also bumped my Garmin Swim 2 watch hard enough to hit the “stop” button but luckily it didn’t stop tracking my swim, instead giving me the “resume/save/discard” screen display. If it had stopped my swim completely and made me start over, that would have been upsetting because I really needed the full tracking for pacing purposes due to the 4-hour cutoff. I hit “resume” and did my best to stay away from her.
The race organizers were right and that it was more difficult than usual to catch my breath while swimming, even with my usual bilateral breathing. I kept breathing to one side more often than the other, so I had to keep reminding myself to do bilateral breathing.
When I completed the first loop, we rounded the first of the two yellow buoys at the start/finish end of the lake four swimmers across so I got thrashed again. I looked at my watch and saw that I was at around 51 minutes, so I felt better about making the 4-hour cutoff, especially since the yellow buoy marking the finish exit was right after the first of the second buoys making the start/finish end of the lake, so I didn’t even have to go around the second buoy to get to the exit. That meant that after I completed the fourth loop, I only needed to pass the first yellow buoy and then swim directly towards the yellow buoy marking the exit.
At this point, the 2.5K swimmers got out. I hit the interval button on my watch halfway between the first and second yellow buoys at the start/finish end of the lake.
According to my Garmin app after the race, I completed the first loop with a distance of 2,731 yards, a time of 53:11.7, and a pace of 1:57.
Now that the 2.5K swimmers were out of the lake, I had enough space from other swimmers to fuel. I took a Nu gel out of my swimsuit and floated on my back while trying to eat it, but my face kept getting doused with water, so I turned back over and ate the rest while treading water. When I finished the gel, I rolled up the empty packet and stuck it back in my swimsuit. However, the exertion of eating the gel left me even more out of breath than I already was from swimming. It took me a while to get back into the zone.
I fueled half an hour later during the second loop when I saw my pace slow from 2:00 to 2:05 per 100 yards, but again was even more out of breath afterward and struggled to get back into the zone.
I completed the second loop of 2,642 yards in 53:15.5 with a pace of 2:01.
Okay, no problem, I’m still under the 4-hour cutoff time. The 5K swimmers got out and the 10K swimmers were spread out. This allowed me to relax and enjoy the swim and scenery without having to watch out for other swimmers. I fueled again during the third loop, and again, I was more out of breath. Plus I’m not a coffee drinker and don’t regularly ingest caffeine, so I didn’t like how the caffeine in the Nu gels made me feel. I decided to skip the rest of the gels and not fuel again.
I completed the third loop of 2,650 yards in 53:46.7 at a pace of 2:02.
I didn’t fuel at all during the fourth loop, and even passed a couple of swimmers.
I finished the last loop of 2,696 yards in 55:40 at 2:04 pace and staggered out of the water, then stopped my watch as soon as both my feet were out of the water.
Overall, I finished the race in 3 hours, 35 minutes, and 52 seconds with about 24 minutes to spare under the 4-hour cutoff. I asked one race organizer what my official time was, and it was 3:36.08, so that was only a few seconds longer than my watch time.
I saw two swimmers that I met this summer, Larry and Michelle. They both won second place in the 5K – congratulations if you're on MSF!
My kid had so much fun playing with other kids that he forgot to take pictures and videos of me swimming like I had asked him to. That’s okay, I’m glad he met other kids and had fun.
My next marathon swim is the Horsetooth 10K in Fort Collins, CO in two weeks. I learned that I don’t like ingesting gels while swimming, so I need to look at liquid fuel options for Horsetooth.
The Castle Mountain 10K results haven't been posted yet. I keep refreshing mainly so I can find out the last name of a fellow 10K swimmer I met yesterday. Her name was Jax, she was from Los Angeles, she was visiting her adult children in Colorado, and was also doing Castle Mountain 10K for the first time. We talked about doing an ocean swim together in CA since I live just a few hour from her in Las Vegas. However, the number I got for her was incorrect, so if anyone knows Jax, or Jax is on here, shoot me a message! Otherwise when I find out her last name I'll look her up on Facebook, etc.
I'm a noob (newbie), so I'm not sure if this write-up is remotely helpful, but hopefully it is. It was a hard swim, but Wellington Lake is stunningly beautiful. Camping there overnight looked like fun. I'd do it again.
Thanks for this awesome report @bresar and CONGRATULATIONS on completing your first marathon swim!
Thank you!! I'm glad you liked it. And oh yeah, I can officially call myself a marathon swimmer now, right??
Awesome race report @bresar ! The Castle event is my favorite and I was sad to miss it this year. Thanks for making me feel like i was there.
Such a great report, @bresar . You write so well. Congratulations on your first 10k, marathon swimmer! Looking forward to your next report.
Thank you, Sophia and Katie! I like to write, so I'm glad you both liked it.
Jax found me on Facebook so we're now in contact!
Wow. That photo. As I sit at my desk in Oxford, UK, I just want to dive in!