Will and I arrived in Zurich on Friday 5th August, having driven across France that day. There are two different entry options for the Zurich marathon swim- one where a boat and pilot are provided for you, and one where you provide your own boat and support. We chose the latter, which meant that we signed ourselves up for a 2 day road trip across France with a kayak on the roof of our car!
[Since the Lake Zurich Marathon Swim is actually a race organized and run by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon team, the preparations for the the swim itself are different to any kind of solo swim. Especially any channel swims when you book a specific tide window, and get to go on the best weather day within that!]
We decided to stay in a town on the south-eastern end of the lake: Pfaiffikon near to the starting town of Rapperswil-Jona. The accommodation location ended up being half a dozen of one and six of the other kind of situation. The public transport in Switzerland is absolutely top notch, and the race organizers put on a coach from the end back to the start at the end of the day. We decided to stay nearer the start to give ourselves a slightly later get up time on Sunday morning, be closer to the safety briefing on Saturday, and because we were lucky enough to have my sister joining us who could move the car around for us during the race.
Incidentally, the safety brief is where the first of my tips for this race starts.
- Your photo will be taken for your finisher certificate! So if you are the kind of person who likes to do preparation for that kind of portrait, then this is your warning to do it.
- Although the instructions only say that the swimmer or a single member of the relay team NEEDS to attend, I would highly recommend that if you are providing your own boat pilot then they should attend too. There are a whole bunch of navigational hints and aids provided in the safety brief, which even though I took copious notes and photos: I couldn’t quite convey or pass on fully to Will.
On the morning of the event itself, boats with motors launch from the harbor in Rapperswil-Jona, but kayaks are pretty much left to their own devices to launch. If you are taking your own kayak, I would recommend launching at the bottom of the Haldenstrasse (see map below) so that you don’t have to carry all of your kit as far.
The pre-race prep itself was actually quite a bit more rushed than I had expected it to be. From either launching your boat or meeting your boat pilot (assuming you do it at 6am on the dot when the race area opens), you have exactly 1 hour until the start of the race. You may think that this is a lot of time, but in terms of getting ready, suncreaming, putting on grease, sorting goggles and hats, being corralled for the mandatory check-in, and then being shepherded into the water at 6:50am, it’s not very long at all! I forgot to grease, didn’t get time to do my banded warm ups, and nearly forgot to go to the loo. It’s a bit of a stressful morning if you’re a faffer like me!
But anyway, onto the race.
It’s a mass start, and although I found myself in a little pack of 3 people initially, it wasn’t too hard at all to drop back and to the side and give myself a bit of clear water.
The water temperature was 25-26°, and the air temperature about 18° at the start of the morning, peaking at about 25° in the afternoon. In retrospect we got quite lucky that it was such an overcast day, I’m not sure I could have handled the heat if the sun was blazing! On the other hand, we did not get lucky with the wind. The breeze was almost directly on our nose for the entire swim, at around 9-12km/h over the day. This made it pretty choppy and tough for me in the water, but also gave Will a navigational headache on the kayak.
Looking back now, my biggest tip for the navigation would be to stick closer to the shore, staying in the wind shadow created by the northern hills on the lake. Not only does this create flatter and easier water, but it would allow you to chart a much straighter course. Although we aimed straight for the entire swim, the wind flying down the hillsides blew us out into the middle of the lake pretty much continually.
Now, that was the logistics and strategy on top of the water with Will. In the water, I was having a whooole different race.
Hours 1-4 flew by. I felt strong, rested, recovered, well-tapered. I felt in myself that I was holding a great pace- I knew I was in my Zone 3 Threshold pace, so I was pushing relatively hard but I knew it was maintainable for hours.
And then, disaster struck.
I got in my own head.
We turned a corner, and I could see the midway point at Meillen. And I could see it was still at a minimum of an hour away. And I had been counting feeds (bad idea #1), and I knew that we were not going to make the halfway point in the time that I had wanted to.
Which meant I was going slower than I had expected.
Which meant that I was going slower than I felt like I was putting the effort in for.
Which OBVIOUSLY meant that I was a fraud. A useless, slow, pathetic, failure, waste of space and time and money and a race place. Obviously. (I do know that this isn’t true, I promise. But you try convincing yourself of that once you’ve already started wallowing in the self-pity spiral… bad idea #2)
Eventually, we got to Meillen in a smidge over 5 and a half hours. Indicating a probable finish time of 11 hours, when I had estimated (and only planned feeds for) 9 hours.
Not taking enough nutrition: bad idea #3. Becky dug through every bag we had left on shore with her, and frantically put together emergency rations that would carry us through the extra hours of swimming. Even with that, Will had to change his fueling strategy to make sure that I had enough water and gels.
This got loaded onto the kayak while Will had a toilet break, and I waited out in the deeper water with the safety boat. A little sprint past a passenger ferry later, and we were in clear water and off on the second half of the race.
The second half was two distinct sections. The first, where we hugged the coast up to the top corner of the lake. We went neck and neck with a couple of other swimmers (W4, M51, M3), passing them and then getting passed again in return. I had a wonderful time breathing to the right and just looking at all of the lakeside houses, some of them were absolutely stunning!
Once we hit the corner, we struck off across the middle of the lake to try and make a faster direct line to the finish. In retrospect: bad idea #3. As soon as we turned the corner, we were out of any shore-side protection and heading straight back into the wind. If we had stuck closer to the shore, we probably would have swum less distance and been in a bit more of a wind shadow! I didn’t really notice the difference in the water, but poor Will in the kayak was having a hell of a time trying to steer us straight against the wind.
Eventually thought, we got up to the Lido that indicates the finish line. On Lake Zurich, no boats (including kayaks) are allowed inside the yellow buoys which indicate the swimming zones of the lidos, so Will wasn’t able to come into the finish with me. On the face of it, I understand why this is. However we always say in marathon swimming that it is not a solo sport- it’s a team effort. Will has been with me for every single marathon swim since Guernsey to France in 2021, and finishing Lake Zurich without him next to me was remarkably…. upsetting. Maybe it was my mental state, maybe it was the swim, maybe it was me being clingy. But nevertheless, I think that this was the saddest I have ever been finishing a swim!
But credit to the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, the event village at the finish was absolutely amazing. A balloon arch over the finishing dock, a fantastic compere interviewing the swimmers as they exited the water, music, decorations, home cooked curries, rice, breads, puddings, and a massage tent! The parking was also very easy near to the event village, which was fantastic for getting the kayak back onto the car.
Reading back through this blog before I post it, I realize that I have been quite… negative. I guess that to me, this feels like a pretty accurate representation of my mental state throughout the swim. But outside of my experiences, this was a fantastic and beautiful swim.
Water quality, cleanliness, clarity: 9/10 not quite Mediterranean sea in July, but amazing
Scenery: 10/10 absolutely stunning
Pre-swim information: 8/10. Some maps hand drawn, but all provided and very useful
Getting to the start: 5/10 a bit difficult if you’re taking your own boat
Provisions at the start: 9/10 food provided, changing rooms, showers, tables and chairs. Would have been amazing if I had organized my time better!
Getting to the finish: 10/10 very easy
Event village at finish: 10/10 homely, cute, amazing food provided, exceptionally caring team, massages were incredible.
I wouldn’t normally score a swim like this, but I hope it highlights what an amazing event this is! And actually for me, this writing exercise has helped me to separate my mental struggles on the swim, with the beauty of the swim itself. People regularly say in marathon swimming that the swim is 20% physical and 80% mental (which I don’t agree with, but that is a whole another post……). And this really hit home for me on this swim. The next day I was compeltely fine, virtually no muscle soreness, no fatigue, no illness or injury, nothing. The entire struggle was in my own mind. Learning to manage this and get through it is going to become a huge part of my preparation for Geneva next year I think, and I’m excited for the challenge!
Onwards and upwards, team. X