Race Report: Diamond Lake Open Water Challenge (Cassopolis, MI)

by Evan Morrison. 28 September 2010.

And now, a belated report on the Diamond Lake Open Water Challenge, in which I partook two Saturdays ago, September 18. I had been waiting on the official photos from the day, but no such luck. The images below I either took myself or scavenged off Facebook.

I hadn’t planned to do this race, but late last month I had one of those “Oh, what the hell” moments, and that was that. Even as the official Olympic marathon swim distance, 10K’s are still pretty rare below the elite level. And this one was less than a 2 hour drive from Chicago. I saw it as an opportunity to see what I could do in a casual setting, where I probably wouldn’t be racing anyone, in water that wasn’t 84 degrees - in other words, everything the Noblesville 10K wasn’t.

The venue: a bucolic lake about 20 miles northeast of South Bend, Indiana. The base of operations (registration, start, finish, etc.) - a small island in the middle of the lake. There’s no bridge to this island, so you take a barge across from the mainland.

On the barge, heading toward Diamond Isle:

Once on the island, there’s no beach or park area to speak of, so where did they set up the venue? That’s right - they borrowed someone’s lakefront house and dock! Registration: in the living room. Bag storage and body-marking? On the back deck.

DLOWC headquarters:

After the living-room check-in, the 10K swimmers hung out on the back deck, stretched, and in many cases, put on wetsuits. Though the water was 68F, 5 of the 8 men in the 10K wore wetsuits, and 2 of the 3 who didn’t wear them failed to finish. None of the 4 women in the 10K wore wetsuits, and all finished. There were also 5K and 2.5K races, which started later in the morning.

The deck scene:

The twelve 10K swimmers were set off en masse from an in-water start. I took it out smoothly, as I hadn’t warmed up beforehand. One guy managed to stay with me for a couple of minutes but pretty soon I was on my own.

And they’re off!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention- the course! This was really the only blight on an otherwise charming day. Just a single 1.25K-long line of buoys. You kept the buoys on your right going out, on your left coming back, and did it four times. Like a cable swim without a cable. And without the cable is key. Don’t get me wrong: There were plenty of buoys. Sighting was not the issue. The problem was, the “straight line” was not a straight line. I think it was straight at some point that morning (before we started), but it didn’t take long for the wind to blow them off their spots. Perhaps too much slack in the anchor tie? So eventually, it looked like this:

Whoops! The best part: The buoy arrangement changed each lap. What an adventure.

Back to the race… I put about 90 seconds between myself and my wetsuited challenger on the first lap. Then another ~30 seconds on the second lap. On the third lap I started to grind a bit and didn’t gain further. On the last lap I found a second wind and was able to tack on another 30 seconds or so.

Timers’ HQ:

I rolled through the pair of buoys marking the finish after 2 hours, 28 minutes, 50 seconds - pretty slow for a 10K but not half bad for 11K 🙂 My beautiful, sweet wife was right there to greet me - all the reward I needed after my fourth 10K of the summer.

For the next 90 minutes or so we hung out on the back deck while the rest of the field finished (including 5K’ers & 2.5K’ers). A local restaurant provided some delicious BBQ goodness, and in between mouthfuls the swimmers shared experiences. For many, this was a first open-water swim of that distance. Meanwhile, some other local residents took the opportunity to go for a swim:

Once everyone was back in the barn, we gathered in the living room for some brief words from the race director (Craig) and the announcement of results. Craig took the novel approach of offering substantial discounts on products from Hammer Nutrition and 2 X U instead of handing out medals. At first I sort of chuckled at the idea of having to “pay” for my own award, but given that I already use Hammer products, this was actually a rather valuable offer.

I hope the Diamond Lake swims will continue and prosper. The event has an extremely friendly, low-key vibe, and is a great opportunity for anyone looking to dip their toes in open-water or try a challenging new distance. For more veteran swimmers, there are certainly more interesting course layouts and more competitive fields… but it’s tough to beat this:

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On 2010-09-28 10:50:31, RLM said:
Great Race Report and wonderful photos. This event seems very, very special! A mid-west social.

On 2010-09-28 18:35:32, Evan said:
It was about as pleasant a day-at-the-lake as I could imagine, given that swimming 10K was on the agenda :-)

On 2010-09-28 22:17:49, Daryl Zernick said:
You guys will have to check out our Diamond Lake Michigan Facebook site!

On 2010-09-30 12:03:17, Evan said:
Thanks for the tip, Daryl!