Lake Tahoe Acclimatization time

SbaetzoldSbaetzold MinnesotaNew Member

I have signed up to swim the length of Lake Tahoe July 21-22.
I am 28 years old and swim roughly 25,000 to 40,000 yards a week. I have many ultramarathon swims under my belt, I usually feel a little winded after 10+ hour swims with some intensity.
I live at an elevation close to sea level.
I have done hikes between 2-5 hours up to 12,000 feet without too much trouble.
I have done a swim meet at 5,000 feet and only slightly felt the elevation.

What tips/experiences are there for how many days and activities I should do before planning my trip?

Ideally I would go out a week before and test my high elevation swimming abilities, but I’m trying to conserve my vacation days.

Would 3-4 days before my swim be enough time?

I know everyone has a different experience, but what does everyone think?



  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CASenior Member

    I believe I went up there something like 3-5 days ahead and was mostly fine. The advice that was given to me was to make sure to stay very very hydrated from right before you leave, through the swim.

  • SwimUpStreamSwimUpStream Portland Oregon Member
    edited January 2023

    When pursuing high altitude swims, I’ve trained in an altitude room. It’s not so much to physically acclimate, as it is to experience breathlessness and learn how to react to it. This is like cold water training; and calming the panic. Your brain learns it can continue to function when to aren’t 100% oxygenated. Our bodies have an alarm system that is set for low level stress for protection so by experiencing dyspnea under an aerobic setting and not giving in to the monkey mind when it tells you to quit is key. Learning how much to hold back, how to actively recover, and how to build is also going to also help your Tahoe swim. All these things can be practiced in an altitude room. As for your body acclimating physically (production of more Red Blood Cells to care more O2 that will take longer than 3 days, Still from day one at Altitude, signals are sent to the kidneys for erythropoietin production, which tells the stem cells to differentiate into RBC. More days, better physical acclimation.

  • LakeBaggerLakeBagger Central OregonSenior Member

    Given everything you said, you should be fine getting there whenever is best for your schedule and enjoyment of the experience.

    Like Abby said, stay hydrated and try to get as much rest as you can. My (very minimal) understanding is that you get more adapted the longer you’re there (up to 14 days), but the first 2-3 days you may be more vulnerable to dehydration and sleep disruptions due to your body beginning to adapt. By 5-7 days, you’ve achieved some of the adaptations, so people start feeling better by then. Some athletes looking to be at their most competitive might arrive either the day before (to avoid a few nights of potentially bad sleep) or stay the whole week before.

    All that said, as solo swimmers, is it that important if you shave a few minutes from your time… Also, finishing a big solo swim can depend a lot on how enjoyable the entire experience is more so than the most tippy top physiological state of acclimatization you may find yourself in. Swimming in the lake a few times during those few days will undoubtably boost your confidence, far outweighing any potential physiological detriment caused. Hence why getting there whenever you want is really the best advice.

    Do work on your VO2 max training, at least 1-2x/week so you can build that, as the pace you can travel at a steady state will be the thing most influenced by the altitude. Then, give yourself flexible expectations regarding your pace for the swim. Worst case scenario, you’ll just go a bit slower than usual. Be prepared for the water to feel 2F lower than at sea level. And throw in some breathing on 3s, 5s, and 7s and you’ll be fine. Have a great swim, come back and tell us how it goes!

  • jendutjendut Charter Member

    Hi I will give my 2 cents, having swum the length of Tahoe several years ago with zero acclimatization- we spent one night in San Francisco then straight to Tahoe and swam that night. Elevation affects everyone differently and I don't know of any predictors, except perhaps previous experience, which will help you guess what will happen. For me, it was far more than a few minutes longer of a swim or a little shortness of breath or 2 degrees. It was more like an extra 90 minutes (accounting for the time spent throwing up) and ten degrees. And I wasn't short of breath til the next day when I could taste the wildfires in my throat and I started to settle in to the altitude.

    I was very affected by temperatures which should have been just fine (and still are - at sea level!). My tolerance for cold was far far less (I had never had teeth chattering on a swim and I have done Boston Light 6 times) and also my seasickness/migraine situation was extremely bad (and it was not very rough). My swim started at sunset and it was the longest night EVER. The good news is that that swim gave me a ton of useful moments and awareness of strength that I didn't know I had. The bad news is that it was NOT a regular 21.5 mile swim- for me. Everyone is different and I have no experience at elevation to compare to this one- just wanted to throw a cautionary wrench in ;)

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    I live below sea level and have been out to swim in Lake Tahoe twice. Both times I was there a full 4 days before swimming and that worked fine for me. I would do a 1-2 easy mile swim maybe 2 of those days and breathing was super hard. I know it’s expensive and cost you vacation time but the odds are that without that acclimatizing you’ll have a shitty swim and really then why bother. It can be hard and still be fun but not being able to breathe is never fun.

  • Kari33Kari33 PennsylvaniaNew Member

    I swam the width last year and I am returning in July for the length. I echo what others have said re: hydration and acclimation time. I got out there 4 days before my swim, went on a few hikes, got in the water for some easy shakeout swims, and overall I was okay. Recovery was what felt a bit wonky.

    It's absolutely stunning out there. It is like swimming in a painting. Enjoy it!

    I recently read this article on acclimation strategies (note: it is female focused). Interesting stuff: Female Performance at Altitude

  • sarahcassidysarahcassidy Las Vegas, NVMember
    edited February 2023

    I too will swim the length of Lake Tahoe in July. My swim date is July 17, so I booked a weekly rental in South Lake Tahoe for July 14-21.

    I'm doing the Portland Bridge Swim on July 9 (which was probably dumb of me to sign up for), so I'll fly to Reno on July 10, then stay in a hotel in Carson City July 10-14 and swim/taper at the Carson City Aquatic Center until it's time to check into the South Lake Tahoe rental. I looked at staying in Lake Tahoe July 10-14 too, but hotels/motels were either too expensive or too seedy. Carson City's elevation is 4,802' which isn't much lower than Lake Tahoe at 6,225'.

    If anyone wants to split a Lake Tahoe hotel/rental during July 10-14, or meet up for a swim during July 10-21, send me a message! I would love to meet up with fellow marathon swimmers.

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