Best Kept Secret in OWS

SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member
edited October 2014 in Swim Reports
I just returned from the Tex Robertson Highland Lakes Challenge. It's the second time I've traveled to Austin for this event, and it's a total gem! 5-day stage "race" in 5 different, beautiful hill country lakes along the storied Llano River. After skipping work for Swim the Suck and a week of vacation, I opted for just the last three stages ("Weekend Warrior" Division). Here's my report:

Stage 3: Lake LBJ (2.2 miles). A nice and short, 2.2 mile loop. Good thing, since I only got 3 hours of sleep (son's football game in Dallas ended at 9:30 p.m., followed by 3.5 hour drive to Austin). Conditions at race site were perfect. Calm, sunny, 70 degrees (75-ish water). After a much better than expected Swim the Suck, I was feeling pretty sure of myself, so I went out a bit stronger than I should have and started feeling it before we'd covered a mile. The second buoy (about 1/2 way) was a hairpin, so I was able to look back to see if should expect pressure heading back. No one close behind and the closest ahead of me (Kieth Bell, Race Director) was about 100 meters ahead and swimming strong, so I just accepted my position, cruised in and enjoyed the day. Time: 56:16 (1:31 pace)

"Hairpin" turn 2, plotting my line and checking who's ahead:

Coast is clear behind!

Looks like a steady cruise home is in order...

Stage 4: Marble Falls (3.5 miles). This stage is called "Swim the Canyon," and it is beautiful. Technically a loop, but lake is so narrow, its basically an out-and-back. Course takes you through a long, curvy canyon with high rocky bluffs on one side and steep green hills on the other. Because of the curves, you can't always see the next buoy and have to use surrounding geography and navigational experience to maintain your line (advantage: old guys). Quaint and Austin-quirky lake houses line the shores. It's easy to get lost in the beauty of your surroundings on this swim.

The outbound stretch:

After my sleep-deprived Stage 3, I promised myself I'd get some sleep before Stage 4. I break a lot of promises... Played poker in north Austin until 2:00 a.m. OUCH. Although my winnings were enough to cover my entry fee and related expenses, back-to-back races on three hours sleep? Ugh. I figured I'd make this an easy day. Besides, I couldn't have affected my finish order by going faster or slower the day before, why would this day be different? So that was my plan: I'd cruise this stage and soak in the abundant scenery, get some sleep and race tomorrow. A recovery day...

As I headed to the start area, I notice a half-dozen, hard-bodied college swimmers showed up, but had forgotten to bring any body fat. So much for plans... "Gotta teach these whippersnappers a thing or two about respecting their elders!" I avoided the rush at the start, took an outside line and a relaxed pace to the first turn (300 meters). Looked up as I rounded the buoy: 5 ahead. Based on the previous day, I knew who 3 of them where, so that meant 2 whippersnappers to catch. "Use the force, Luke. Your experience is your advantage. Find your rhythm, first, then slowly stoke the coals." After about 3/4 of a mile, I could feel the rhythm and it was perfect. I fought the temptation to push. Plenty of time. "Close your eyes, Luke. Feel the force."

Then something caught my eye. Just ahead, to my right, between me and the bank I was using to gauge my line: whippersnapper #1, 2 o'clock. I eased up even with her and we matched stroke-for-stroke for about a mile. She was the perfect pacer. Just enough to keep me focused, not so much that I had to really dig. 400 meters from the turn, I eased into a gradual, sustainable acceleration. Whippersnapper #1 faded and I pushed hard around the buoy and held my pace as I headed home. Felt fantastic. Water was as smooth as glass.

I'm on the left, whippersnapper on the right:

Turn 3, heading home:

Cruising to finish:

About half-way back, I could see a swimmer ahead on a bad line. "Whippersnapper 2, perhaps?" Looked like our lines would cause us to arrive at the final turn buoy about even, so I pushed. But 100 meters from the buoy, no one was there. "Hmm. Must have already turned. No one ahead or behind. Time to ease up and cruise in." But 15 meters from the buoy, the missing swimmer came out of nowhere to make the turn. "Wait, what?!" Believing it was whippersnapper 2, I "exploded(?)" in to an all-out sprint to the finish line, 300 meters away. But my mysterious adversary pulled away all the way to the finish, where I discovered it was not whippersnapper 2 (she whipped me by several minutes), but race director, Kieth Bell. At 20 years my senior, I was his whippersnapper and he taught me a thing or two about respect... Time: 1:33:31 (1:40 pace)

Stage 5: Dam 5K (3.1 miles, of course). Another beautiful venue and perfect weather. Wide open lake, essentially a triangle course. Kieth decided to combine two races into one by adding what is normally a stand-alone race (Dam 5K) into the final stage of the HLC.

The start:

Outbound Leg:

With the combo race, the field was nearly doubled to around 30, and all of the additions were strong to quite strong. I had to continually remind myself, to start slow and wait for the rhythm. Although I felt I was following the plan, the first mile was brutal. Maybe I went too strong, or maybe the accumulation of days got to me, but I could NOT catch my breath. It really freaked me out. Even after easing back to what felt like just faster than survival float and even switching to a gliding breast stroke for 50 meters, I still felt like I was hyperventilating. One ill-timed wave on my breathing side and I was a goner... I finally just stopped and rolled over on my back for 30 seconds in an attempt "re-set" my cardio system. But within 100 meters of resuming, I was back to feeling like I was being water-boarded. I actually started fighting the urge to quit!

About that time a kayaker pulled up along side of me. His kayak was running on a perfect heading and he seemed to be very focused on guiding me. His presence strangely lifted my spirits helped me relax. I poked my head up and asked, "you mind sticking with me all the way in?" "You bet," he said, without hesitation. Very nice. I paused briefly and gave him a 10-second run-down on how I like escort positioning "get on my right, keep your bow glued to the buoy and stay far enough back that I can see the entire length of your boat when I breath. No matter where I roam, you hold the line." He NAILED it! Every time I breathed on his side, not only was he in perfect position and laser-guided to the heading, but he had a look of complete focus and commitment on his face with his paddle poised for micro-adjustments, like a boss. His commitment to our ad hoc partnership gave me some seriously positive vibes. I relaxed and got into a three-beat rhythm, repeating "slow is smooth, smooth is fast," over and over again. Before long, I noticed my breathing felt normal and relaxed so I started ever so slowly stoking the coals until I was back at full-throttle, feeling strong and breathing normally. I powered the second half. Time 1:23:01 (1:42 pace, but probably more like 1/4 @ 1:40; 1/4 @ 2:00; 1/2 @ 1:30).

My boss kayaker deserves all the credit for this one. I searched everywhere for him afterwords to express my deep gratitude, but he vanished. I found a picture of him on the race facebook page and sent it to the RD to see if they could identify him for me. I'm going do ship him a case of his favorite adult beverage once I track him down.

This is a very fun race that you NEED to put on your race calendar for next year! There was a swimmer from Chicago (swims at Navy Pier) and one from Mission Viejo, both of whom were acting as "scouts" for their local OWS community, so perhaps this event will start getting the respect it deserves!

"Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
Have brought be down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."



  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    Nice report. I swam the HLC the first three years Sandy and Keith put it on. Loved the stage race format so much, I decided to put on a little event myself!

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

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