It happened… after a couple of seasons of jealously watching others swim Lake Taupō I finally dived in myself. This blog is my attempt to capture mine and Bre’s journey across the lake. While I will try and capture what a special and amazing journey this swim was, the closest I will get is… the most amazing swim!!
How it started
Lake Taupō is our freshwater swimming mecca in New Zealand. Us swimmers will make a trip to Taupo at least once a year for the annual Epic Swim in front of the Taupō township. Last summer a few of us went one extra and spent New Years at the southern end of the Lake, based out of Turangi. The ‘unofficial swim camp’ was probably less swim camp and more social New Years with a few swims in the mix for a few of us training for biggish swims (I was training for my SCAR swim at the time).
Having just completed Cook Strait and not needing the training at all, Breanna Ward joined our unofficial swim camp last year. She was sneaking just a little more swimming in before taking on a big cycling challenge. As often happens with swimmers encouraging each other, Bre and I first mooted the idea of a tandem swim of Taupō at camp. Bre then went off cycling and I focused on my SCAR goal. But the seed of an idea had been planted.
After easing back into swimming over winter (post-SCAR), I decided to make Taupō my next challenge unsure if Bre was still thinking the same. Thankfully Bre had had enough of cycling adventures and was back into swimming and keen. I was relatively relaxed about when we would swim and was thinking I would ask if there was a slot on the end of the season to leave plenty of time to train back up. My being relaxed had the opposite effect when Bre suggested that we do the swim before she went to uni. After a check of Phil’s calendar we were soon signed up for one of the first slots of the season.
As it turned out, another Wellington duo had also signed up – Tom and Jeremy – which worked out great for training and motivation. With some of the wider Wellington swim community, we always had one training swim or another planned. As with my SCAR journey, I discovered how fortunate I was to very rarely train alone.
Fast forward (or this blog will be too long) … the day before the big swim, Team Re-Bre made its was up to Turangi. By this stage the nerves had calmed down for me and if anything I was excited to be getting in the water. We had managed to assemble a super crew – Bre’s mum, Tanya, and swimmers John, Laura and Corrina – in addition to Phil Rush, Mike and Captain Dick who would excellently guide us across the lake.
There was no mucking around that afternoon when we arrived in Turangi – it was all about getting our food and kit ready so we could get it on the boat and relax for the evening. Poor Laura arrived desperate for a bit of a rest and I was already assigning her little jobs.
We knew we had to be up at 2am to get ready for the start of the swim so we needed some rest but it was so hot! Turangi was having a mini heat wave and our little house was baking. Add into the mix all the excitement of the swim and it wasn’t very easy to sleep! When it did come 2am everyone was surprisingly chirpy and ready to paint us white with zinc. I learnt afterwards that most of the crew went straight back to sleep as soon as they were on the launch.
Marathon swimming is not a very glamorous sport. At 3.30am in the morning we were a funny sight – covered head to toe in nappy rash cream (zinc) with sandflies being attracted to us (sandflies stuck in nappy rash cream is not a cool combo). We were glad to get in the water!
The first couple of hours of the swim were dark. There was no moon and my only points of reference were the IRB (well lit up) and a little red light (Bre). I’m sure I zig zagged a bit during this time while struggling to judge the distance from Bre and the IRB to keep. This time seemed to zoom by, I was focused on just getting into the swim with very little awareness of my surroundings. I didn’t even seem to notice the chop come up.
There was no sunrise as it was a grey cloudy morning. Gradually I could properly see Bre swimming next to me, rather than just this red dot, as well as Phil and Tanya on the IRB.
Light… and chop
We seemed to settle into the swim alright. At the three hour mark we had a crew change on the IRB which brought new faces – Mike and Laura. The next three hours would have had the most chop. Chop was never in the game plan – while Bre had been good at ‘visualising’ the swim and the different conditions, I hadn’t managed to get past imagining the best case scenario – perfectly flat, good pace etc.
I didn’t realise until afterwards how much this chop would have slowed us down. But we were getting down to business and so were largely unfazed by the conditions.
Our feeding plan was well followed in this portion of the swim (and the next) which was good. Feeding was going to be important – I knew that Bre was liable to get swim grumps if she got hungry. Sure enough, Bre quickly got the reputation as having a 28minute stomach and not wasting any time at getting to the IRB when 30 mins came around.
For most of the swim I had just focused on getting into it and finding my groove. The 6-7 hour mark however was different. Before the swim I had heard about Motutaiko Island that was roughly at half way and how it messes with your mind. I had decided to ignore the island but it wasn’t that easy. At the 6-7 hour mark it was still a bit grey and choppy, we weren’t near the island, I was starting to feel my muscles (though not as bad as Bre who was starting to have shoulder issues) and I was about to swim further than I had before (my longest single swim before this would have been 6.5 hours).
The enormity of what we were doing dawned on me. I then thought about how much respect I had for others who had swum this lake – ‘how on earth did they do it?’.
Thankfully I don’t think I had long enough to get grumpy. Once we were at the island the sun burnt off the clouds and the lake flattened off to give us glass-like conditions for awhile. The water visibility was amazing and you could see the rays of light cutting through the lake. We were far from shore and you really got a sense of how special this lake is. It wasn’t hard to switch my mindset to focus on enjoying the day.
Finding our mojo… and the smorgasbord
The third quarter of Lake Taupō is suppose to be the hardest mentally. It was probably the easiest for me mentally. I felt like we were only just getting started. With the water flatter we were finding our mojo but still swimming together and consistently. We got reports of the crew (not on the IRB) going for a swim off the launch so we knew they were enjoying themselves. We also started to get some of the messages from over social media so I knew the team had been busy posting on Facebook and that a lot of people were following our swim.
When Mike and John came on to the IRB for the fourth shift of the day, we threw the feeding plan out the window. Gone were the gels and in were the peanut butter sandwiches and lollies. Apparently when they were getting ready to feed us they started to open up every container in anticipation of us choosing anything. Bre’s 28 minute stomach had become a constant watch of Mike to see if he lifted up a drink bottle – even if it was his own. (I’ve been like this in previous swims but wasn’t too bad in this one).
The landscape started to change in this leg of the swim as we got closer to Taupō. While we could see the township, I knew it was still a way off. It seemed like forever until we were actually into the bay with 8km to go – it hadn’t helped that we swam against a bit of a current getting past the point.
With about 5km to go (not that I quite realised how far at the time), Phil came back on the IRB and declared that we were on the home straight with the flood gates on the dam open and were going to pick up the pace. We somehow had the energy to lift our pace and were soon joined by Mike again on the second IRB (which had been on stand by in case we needed to separate). After two feeds I realised that this was quite a long home straight!
You’d think our spirits would be great coming into the end but I struggled at the 1.5km to go mark. It had already been a long home straight and another 1.5km felt like an eternity. I started to think about how I would feel when I finished and the best I could think of was a Lord of the Rings analogy – when Frodo and Sam are on Mt Doom surrounded by lava, exhausted, and Frodo says to Sam ‘We did it. It’s done.’
Everyone was on both IRBs at the end as we approached the yacht club. It was great to have the whole crew there and cheering for us. Slowly the sand started to appear and before we knew it we were walking out of the lake. We managed quite well not to face plant and even answered a question or two from locals. One family asked us (or I thought asked us) if we had swum from Lower Hutt, and we answered ‘no, just Turangi’.
It was a very long day – just over 14 hours (final time 14.09.03). It was awesome to be finishing with Bre. This swim had been a team effort from the very start, we had trained together and both set out to swim and finish together.
Post swim – often neglected in swim blogs
My Aunty who is based in Taupō came down to cheer us on at the finish and helped get us back to Turangi with a friend. Before we knew it (but after a good attempt at de-zincing) both Bre and I were planted firmly on the couch while our crew organised everything around us. While pizza seems to be the food of choice for many swimmers, we had opted for potato fritters and champagne. After an exercise of coming up with bizarre motivational phrases, Corrina had left Bre with the phrase ‘dig deep and you’ll find a potato’. So Bre was thinking about potatoes and I just wanted salty, carby goodness.
Apparently Phil had told our crew that we would wake up at 2am in need of more nurofen and dehydrated. When I woke up at 1.53am I remember thinking ‘damn Phil, why do you have to be right’. Bre had woken up slighly earlier, and then we were both awake at 5.30am. You’d think after a big swim like that you wouldn’t have any issues sleeping! (And as it turns out – my sleep a couple of nights later was absolutely amazing!).
Our adventure and fellowship ended the next morning at the Tokaanu hot pools. It was lovely being able to relax in the water and attempt to loosen up the muscles before we headed back to Wellington (or in Laura’s case – New Plymouth).
What an incredible experience.