Two States - Two Days - Two 10Ks. The Deer Creek Reservoir 10K & Horsetooth 10K Race Reports

With Catalina looming on the horizon for next year, I decided to finish up my season with two 10K swims over a single weekend in two states. I regret having to postpone my double Golden Gate crossing, and the Little Red Lighthouse swim in New York City, but it became obvious that I needed to take care of my knee as soon as possible. It was limiting my training, and that compromised my preparation for Catalina in August of 2011. 

The races I chose were the Deer Creek 10K in Utah and the Horsetooth 10K in Colorado: both are special races in high altitude reservoirs. Deer Creek Reservoir is at an elevation of 5,417 feet, and Horsetooth Reservoir is at a nearly identical 5,430 feet.

While traveling to a distant location to attend a race can be taxing, it also has it's benefits. One of those is that you discover new and unexpected things along the way. One of the surprises I found on this trip was that, while I always imagine Utah to be hot and dry, at higher elevations it is surprisingly green. The upper Deer Creek Valley was just such a place.

DC Valley H-L

Photograph by Bob Needham

Typically, I like to go to the race venue the day before the event. So after arriving in Salt lake City, I rented a car and drove the one hour to Deer Creek Reservoir. The view of the reservoir in the evening was spectacular, and the weather promised to be perfect for the next morning's race.

DCL Evening H-L

Photograph by Bob Needham

There are always challenges that lead up to getting to the start line of a race, and this race was to be no different. For Deer Creek, it was scrambling in the final days before the race to find a kayaker who could  provide the required support. Thankfully, Race Director Jim Hubbard, among the many things he did to put on a terrific race, grabbed a neighbor who was willing to give up his Saturday and fill the role as my paddler.

The morning of the race brought ideal weather. It was projected to be sunny, and the water temperature was in the low 70's. I was excited and ready for what amounted to a two day event.

Test H-L

Photograph by Bob Needham

Deer Creek offers a 1 mile, 5K, 10K and an unusual 10 mile race. The diverse field which showed up for the 10K included fast swimmers, novices and everything in between. I would have enjoyed taking a shot at the 10 mile swim, but with a 6:30 pm mandatory meeting in Fort Collins I would only have just enough time to complete a 10K and hit the road.

Original 10K Group DC

Photograph by Jim Hubbard

After the 10K group photo, we lined up for our deep water start. Once on my way, I found the course to be surprisingly challenging. I swam straight into the sun rising over nearby mountains, and tried to follow an irregular shoreline into a deceptively deep cove. All in all, It made it very difficult to find a direct line to the first turn buoy at the end of the cove. Moreover, what looked like a half mile into the cove turned into more than one mile, and on the return lap, seemed even longer.

DC Josh & I

Josh Green (right) and I at the finish

Photograph by Jim Hubbard

I had a great race, and I would like to thank Josh Green for his pre-race encouragement, and for a fun middle of the pack, head-to-head race to the finish.  After 6.2 miles, he finished ahead of me by 1 second! It is this friendly competitiveness, and good natured sportsmanship, that is one of the great attractions of open water racing.

Immediately after the race I jumped out of the water, and drove the 7 hours to Fort Collins for the Horsetooth pre-race meeting that evening. I arrived with 10 minutes to spare. Once at the meeting, it became obvious that the race, which serves as a fundraiser for TEAM Fort Collins, exists because of great community support. TEAM serves the community by providing a comprehensive approach to the problem of substance abuse, especially among youth and families. It has been shown that substance abuse is an established risk factor for suicide and suicide attempts, so everything we can do to address the problem of substance abuse in youths can help in the prevention of suicide.

Race day once again brought beautiful weather and water temperature in the low 70's. We all entered the water at the south end of the reservoir for the start. Once on our way, we headed due north along the shore to the far end of the Reservoir for this point to point race. In the Horsetooth 10K drafting behind another swimmer is not legal, so the importance of race tactics is diminished and the strength of the swimmer becomes paramount.

HTL South H-L

HTL Nortth H-L

Photographs by Bob Needham

The race was going well and about 4 miles into the race, I hit a calm spot in the reservoir. I felt like I was floating on top of the water. Unfortunately, once I passed out of the still water, I encountered the most challenging part of my 2 days of swimming. My arms became heavy, and the number of strokes I was taking per minute dropped. I felt the pain resulting from the back to back 10Ks, and began to fall into a pace often referred to as your all-day pace. This is a speed that I could theoretically swim at all day. Definitely not fast, but something which will allow me to finish the race. However, it quickly became apparent that swimming at this pace would not lighten my suffering. So I resolved that, if I was going to suffer, I would at least suffer swimming as fast as I could. 

With the help of my support kayaker, I finished strong and was welcomed by cheerful volunteers and greeted by an enthusiastic Scoot Crandall, Executive Director of TEAM Fort Collins. His boundless energy was infectious, and I felt exhilarated having reached my goal of finishing my second 10K in two days. Once again, there were many people who helped me along the way, and I would like to offer thanks to Michele Pool & Joe Bakel for their pre-race support and encouragement. 

Last but definitely not least, I want to give special thanks to Steve Slaugh and Dave Raulston at Deer Creek, and Blair Hanna at Horsetooth, who as my support kayakers followed alongside me every stroke of the way.

DC Paddlers (small)HT Paddler (small)

On my way back to Salt Lake, I took a detour through Rocky Mountain National Park so I could drive over the spectacular Trail Ridge Road (12,183 feet). If you ever have a chance to participate in the Horsetooth 10K, or one of the other shorter races offered, don't miss the chance to  see the park from the top of the pass. Like anything worth experiencing, it is worth the effort. Plus, it is a whole lot easier than swimming a 10K.


Photograph by Bob Needham

Looking back, one is tempted to try and rate the 2 races against each other, but it's not possible. Each was a great event in a beautiful location. However, while the races were fun, in the end it was about the people. They were both  attended by great swimmers, run by terrific organizers, and supported by many wonderful and selfless volunteers. Likewise, people are what Bob Swims is all about. The people who may attempt suicide and those left behind in their pain asking why their loved one took their life.

Please join me in support of them, and in the effort to prevent suicide.

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