12 mile Finger Lakes swim report 2023

ryansryans northern VirginiaMember

Here’s a recap of my 12-mile Finger lakes swim in July. This was my longest swim to date, both in distance and time in the water. My first marathon swim was completed on the 6-mile course the previous year, I wanted to return and successfully complete the 12 miler.

Given the distance, I needed to ensure my feeds were thoroughly tested through training. My experience from completing STS in the fall of 2022 led me to explore and evaluate more. I had consumed only tropical orange Ucan powder as part of my feeding during STS. This worked, but I felt more exhausted towards the end of the swim, surprising given the amount of base swimming I had completed. This led me to experiment and ultimately, I added Maltodextrin to the powder which worked well with my stomach. My plan was to use liquid feeds only based on 3.5 scoops of powder with 4 tablespoons of Maltodextrin in each bottle. I found 32 oz Pogo chug bottles to work well and have an easy flip top for efficient feeding.

The morning of my swim started with a 5am breakfast consisting of a big bagel, peanut butter, banana, and some mix to wash things down. I’m not sure I’ll ever get comfortable eating this much at such an early hour. I know it’s necessary but it’s a lot of work to eat before the real work begins!

Knowing the distance, I greased up with Destin and Vaseline at the suggestion of a friend and mentor. I had never practiced this, so I was a bit nervous trying this for the first time on a longer distance swim. As the sun blazed down between the clouds periodically throughout the swim, I was glad I was protected. This combination worked well and will be repeated in future swims.

I had a great kayaker on last year’s 6 miler who returned to guide me this year. This was a big boost to my confidence as we had fun together which relaxed me a bit so I could focus on my stroke. After a safety briefing the kayakers launched and the swimmers quickly followed.

All 6- and 12-mile swimmers begin in Clute Park in Watkins Glen, NY, and swim clockwise north past the salt mine. At the six-mile marker you cross the lake and then swim back down the other side past Hector Falls, finishing at Clute Park.

The water conditions were pleasant with temps in the low 70s with some cold spots throughout the swim due to the depth of the lake. There were some gusty winds at 10 mph from the south at the start that provided a push as we headed north. I got into a rhythm and my plan was to swim for 40 minutes before taking my first feed. Time passed quickly, I took my first feed of 8 oz. and began repeating every twenty minutes till the end of the swim.

Crossing the lake, the winds continued making for sporty conditions and reminded me of swimming across the Chesapeake Bay. A lot of chop and waves which temporarily made my kayaker disappear behind the water only to reappear on the next breath. I had held back some on the first six miles so I could really dig deep getting across.

One of the keys to finishing the 12 miler was crossing the lake before 11am. The race director was in contact with a group of boaters who complete a “poker run” down one side of the lake starting after 11. Navigating high end racing boats, all swimmers had to be on the other side before the boaters started their run. I was able to get across though the noise from those boats and others was louder than anticipated. My kayaker reassured me, so I just kept swimming. As the day continued more boat traffic picked up along with corresponding waves.

I recall looking around during my feeds, seeing another kayaker and swimmer behind me, then beyond me, then way in front. I reminded myself this is not a race, it’s me, I’m swimming and just to be present. This can be harder than it seems at times and something I’ll need to work on. The good news was that the winds at this time were calm.

My kayaker grabbed my attention as we passed hector falls at 9- or 10-miles in. I stopped, removed, and cleaned my goggles, and took in the view. Awesome, but I still have more swimming to do. My feeding strategy was working, though at this point I had been swimming for a fair bit and my stomach felt like a blender. I kept feeding (and peeing) which is all good staying hydrated, but the sloshing around in my stomach was increasing. My mood was good, I just focused on counting American Flags flying from the lake houses I was swimming by. I knew I was making progress, but I didn’t want to ask my kayaker about time, occasionally I asked about distance. She was positive yet vague, I appreciated that in retrospect.

At some point the race director approached from a pontoon boat and was talking to my kayaker, she urged us to stay tight as boat traffic continued. I kept swimming. Later, how much, I don’t recall, the pontoon boat returned to shout out “less than a mile to the finish”. No more feeds, head down all the way into the finish.

I finished the swim in 6 hours and 35 minutes; roughly 33 minutes or so a mile. I was happy with the result.

What I learned:
• Lakes, though flat, still create waves from wind and boat traffic. Obviously too many I’m sure, new to me.

• I need to continue to train my brain and stay present. Sloshy stomach and negative thoughts began to creep in with a crack of confidence. I reminded myself to refocus on the present, blow bubbles, and be neutral, chill, be present now. This worked, but I have more work to do here as distances and conditions expand.

• I can swim 12 miles so I can swim further.

Thanks for reading!



  • ismuqattashismuqattash Long Island, NYMember

    Congratulations Ryan!

  • abeabe australiaMember

    well done Ryan and great to read your thoughts - i have a big one in Feb so always good to see what someone else goes thru

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