Back for another year, the annual Cedar Hill Open Water Swim Challenge and Aquathon was ready to roll post-COVID. This is a unique event for the Dallas – Fort Worth area, as swim race options are limited to Swim Across America and…..that is it. Those interested in improving their open water swimming or who just love to swim can enjoy it in a competitive environment. There are two options; Open Water Swim or Aquathon (Swim + Run) with a variety of distances under each of those umbrellas. In 2019 I swam the 4000 kilometer (or 2.4 miles) OWS challenge and signed up for the same distance this summer. It takes place in late July in Joe Pool Lake in Cedar Hill, with water temperatures in the upper 70s to 80s. On the days leading up to the race it measured 87 degrees! It is a warm lake and very beginner friendly.
My packing list for race day included the following:
- Goggles (tinted recommended!)
- Extra swim cap (although we received a required swim cap for the race)
- Flip Flops
- Change of clothes (shorts / tank)
- Glasses (still paranoid about lake water + contacts)
- Hair ties and braided hair
- Drawstring bag with side zipper to store phone and keys in transition
- A full tank of gas for my early morning haul
- Cash in case I forgot my USAT day pass and/or for day-of packet pickup donation
5am – Alarm goes off, sip coffee, let Reus out, confirm everything is packed up. Thankfully with a swim race, the amount of things you have to bring compared to an ironman is almost nothing.
5:30am – Depart my home for Cedar Hill State Park, and ironically followed a truck with a jetski indicating it was a search and rescue team the entire way. Hopefully not a bad omen for the race?
6:10am – Bathroom FIRST upon arrival! This is a state park. Meaning, minimal bathrooms. The 3 stalls in the women’s bathroom took forever in 2019 so I wasn’t about to do packet pick up first thing when I had to go for the bottleneck first. And I was right, no line because everyone was getting their packed. I switched places with all the packet pickup folks and got my race day swag – my race swim cap, ankle timer, and commemorative towel. It always makes me laugh the intensity in the air for races. This is very clearly a hometown race, but you will still get the ~serious~ swimmers or triathletes that try to make it their whole life’s purpose.
6:30 – Transition was organized by distance and event, with all the aquathon (run + swim) folks in the middle of the area with swim flags indicating distance. 4K folks were along the perimeter since there was no urgent need to make sure we were fast in a transition that we were not participating in. Swim in and Run out were off a small dock / boat ramp next to transition and there was also pre-race swim warm up allowed off the shore of transition. Personally, I never warm up for a swim. Perhaps it is the adult swimmer in me that never learned why it is important nor have I really thought it would make a difference in performance. I dipped my toes in to get a gauge for the temperature and it felt like it a warm day was ahead. The race is never wetsuit legal, nor would you want to since it is such warm water. Most folks wore either their typical swim suit or a triathlon speed suit, more like a swimsuit material with longer legs/arms. I took this time to apply plenty of sunscreen as well, knowing how badly I was burned in 2019.
6:45 – Athlete briefing in transition. This was fairly informal, announcements over the loud speaker of where swim in and run out was, as well and making sure each athlete knew the amount of laps they need to take and where the buoys were in the lake. It was actually very important to get your eyes on the buoys, because unlike ironman, they were actually fairly small, and the third and furthest buoy called the “pineapple” for its shape and netting, was hard to see in the distance. The 4K swim consisted of 3 clockwise laps with 6 total buoys for sighting. I struck up a conversation with a woman who lives in Cozumel and swims in the ocean every day for exercise, can you imagine? Dream life. She was doing the same event and told me about other Texas swim races including on in San Antonio where a swimmer does 5K per day in each of the 5 lakes over 5 days.
7:00 – 4K athletes line up for race kickoff, we are up first!
7:09 – Helped into the water by volunteers and off to a start! The ramp we walked down into the water is very slick and shallow despite the carpeting the placed on it. They had us ease down one at a time and start swimming as quickly as possible because the depth was 1.5-2ft at the start. In the first several meters I grazed the bottom of the lake which I didn’t expect or remember from the first time I did the race in 2019.
Lap 1: Feeling good feeling strong on take off. My taper involved no swimming since the prior Wednesday, although some yoga since then. I was reminded of how much sighting buoys sucks when I would side breath, look up and stroke all in one motion. I’m not the role model of sighting so I’m sure there is a better way. The challenge with this race being clockwise and keeping the buoys on the right shoulder, is that you sight into the sun for half the race. The position of the sun is all or nothing on sighting, so in retrospect I should have brought some tinted goggles to wear during the race.
I usually take it easy on the first several meters, alternating between freestyle and breaststroke to get my bearings and not start swimming in the wrong direction. We were spaced out enough upon entry to wear I only bumped into 2 or 3 people along the first 2 buoys. Water was fairly calm to start given the race is in an inlet of the lake.
I was feeling good until I hit the third buoy to make a right turn. You turn directly into the sunrise and get blinded immediately. Completely blinded. I popped up here just to get bearings and treaded water. I spotted several kayaks along the way so just used them as my sighting points since I couldn’t see the bouy anyways. I made it to the turn and headed back happy to regain my vision again.
The three buoys that send you back to shore on the second half of a lap were at the furthest point away and more sensitive to any wind in terms of chop on the water. It was a little bouncier on the return side but nothing uncomfortable.
Lap 2: Felt good swimming buoy to buoy with mild fatigue setting in. When I hit the furthest buoy and turned into the sun for a second time, I got the pro tip from a kayaker nearby when I once again popped out of the water to tread for a minute and figure out where I was, full hands over eyes to see in front of me. The kayaker pointed out one large tree on the shoreline that was in the same direction as the buoy that I could sight off of, with no other trees around it. Bless you kayaker! I used the tree line to help move me to the next blind buoy.
When I was coming back in on my second lap, some less helpful kayakers were chatting and blocking my line of sight on the return buoys (oof yall). I paused, looked around, and they realized they were being doofuses. One even apologized! I’ll take it. The chop had also picked up significantly here. There were movement I felt my whole body rise and fall with the surf where it seemed like I was swimming with no true forward movement. It is interesting how different open water and pool swimming can be. Separately, the one jetski I followed to the race would occasionally buzz around to check on swimmers and that creates enough wake to feel in the water and be bumped around by it.
This lap always takes the longest mentally, but brought it home and was ready for the final lap.
Lap 3: Chugged along with a little bit of chop fatigue, sun fatigue, shoulder fatigue but with a great attitude of almost done. The sun had risen a bit more, making the blind turn a tiny bit easier with the last lap, then when I was rounding the buoys to make the return trip, the chop was HUGE. How did this happen? It was a little difficult on lap 2, but it picked up significantly with the wind and I took a few mouthfuls of lake water to the face while swimming through it. Not the smooth water from the start line I was looking at before the race started. Everything seems more significant when you’re in the water itself, so I’m sure the actual waves created by the wind were not that large, however it was messing with my mental state how I kept moving up and down as I was likely swimming in place. The last stretch seemed to take forever.
9am – Race over! Two volunteers helped pull me out of the water and I kid you not – the same exact time as 2019. 1:45 to complete the 4k! I am always happy to finish a race healthy and in good spirits, but this time I was a little surprised by. In the last two years my swimming has improved dramatically. It was funny to see the same clock time come out of it. Ah well, I know I am consistent! 😉
9:15 – I strolled up to the finish area and munched on some chocolate chip cookies and orange slices, filling up my water bottle as well. They were announcing age group winners of the aquathon and handing out frisbee trophies for the winners, super cute to see all the people congregated and cheering on the winners. I saw my new friend back at transition who also agreed the chop was more than expected. She pointed out how all the swim flags were flowing strongly in the wind, something I didn’t realize was causing the chop in the first place.
9:30 – Snapped a selfie and was outta there! There were still several aquathon folks racing as I headed out in my car, so there was a slow and steady traffic flow around the athletes to make it to the park entrance. I didn’t mind, mostly felt bad that there was only one way in and out for cars and athletes. Driving on the race is less than ideal and athletes always take priority.
Results: There were 31 athletes that completed the 4K challenge, the average age of 49 and average chip time of 1:43:27. Athlete’s times ranged from 1:01 to 2:27 so there was a wide range of swimming skills and speeds. Funny enough, I was the third youngest person to complete it at 28 years old. Two swimmers (one man, one woman) had me beat at 27 years old. Certainly not a “young person” sport I suppose. My own results as follows:
- Chip Time: 1:45:55 / 2:39 pace
- Overall Place: 19 of 31
- Gender Place: 9 of 14
- Age Division Place: 1 of 2 (woohoo! 😉)
I really enjoy how the Cedar Hill Open Water Swim Challenge is a unique race to the Dallas Fort Worth area. There are few opportunities to open water swim in a coordinated even like this, and I absolutely love it. The 4K distance is a challenging one, and I wish there was some event in between the 1500M and 2.4mi (4K) distances. The race director of Tri-Now does a great job maintaining the hometown feel during the race.
It is a great distance to dip your toes into if you’re thinking of doing a full ironman. At this point I have done the full running distance and swimming distance of an ironman, so it is something I know I am physically capable of, however I don’t like biking that much lol!
Have you done any open water swimming or swim races? Let me know which ones you enjoyed!
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