Defending my fat Mom
Yeah, I'm one of those kids that ended up fake laughing to those jokes when I was a kid. My mother actually was pretty obese when I was a kid, and I didn't like the way those jokes made me feel. I didn't say anything back then when I was a small wimpy kid, but now when I hear a different kind of “Yo Momma's so fat...” joke, I feel I need to stand up and say something.
No my Mom's not obese anymore. She's quite thin and worked hard to stay that way. But the Mom I feel I need to defend and one I love dearly is a body of water: The Great Salt Lake.
In 2008 when I made the commitment to myself to swim the English Channel, I looked at the various local bodies of open water to train in. I started out with Bountiful Lake. The problem there was that it's ½ mile between the sewer treatment plant, and the dump, and all the water that goes into the gutter in Bountiful/Centerville also makes its way into Bountiful Lake. For an entire year, I dealt with the “crap” that was in that lake, but it got to be quite unpleasant. The convenient location of Bountiful Lake was the dominant reason to swim there. So I started to research the Great Salt Lake as the best alternative.
Newspaper articles all over were warning about high mercury levels in the Great Salt Lake. I introduced myself to the valleys biggest expert on the Great Salt Lake: Dave Shearer, the Harbormaster of the GSL State Marina. Dave has spent his entire life on, and around the lake and literally knows the lake like the back of his hand. He told me that the water itself was fine, and that the mercury levels had to do with the birds that eat the bugs and brine shrimp. He told me you can't get mercury poisoning by swimming in the water. You have to ingest the bugs or the bird meat to be concerned about mercury. I took his word for it and started my training.
Looking back, training in the Great Salt Lake was the best move I've made in my relatively short open water career so far. When training for a marathon, would a runner best be advised to run outside in various weather conditions, and along different routes of incline, decline, wind or hot and sunny conditions? Or would it just be best to run at room temperature on a treadmill set at 2% incline with a fan blowing gently while watching CNN? While it's better than nothing, the ideal scenario would be to train in the harsh conditions, or at least in reasonably similar conditions as the event you are training for.
Those who train under the harshest conditions, will be the most prepared for anything that mother nature hands them. If she is in a good mood, it'll be a piece of cake. If not, hey, no big deal, it's just another training day!
That's what the Great Salt Lake did for me. The high salinity made the ocean water seem sweet and barely salty. It made the waves and swells in the English Channel seem puny. It made the chaffing nearly non-existent. And the cold water? It was refreshing!
So when I hear someone say, “Oh I heard that the Great Salt Lake....” blah, blah blah. It makes me cringe like a really bad Yo Momma joke. First off, I don't doubt that some may have heard about someone's bad experience in the Great Salt Lake, but let me ask did that person with negative comments swim only once in the Great Salt Lake? Was that person prepared? Then let me ask you, what are your goals as a swimmer? If it is to swim in fresh water the rest of your life, or to swim in chlorinated 83 degree water, then sure, the Great Salt Lake may not be a good fit. Training aside, let me tell you some of the most memorable and beautiful mornings I will ever experience is when I am out in the Great Salt Lake and the sun is just coming up over the mountains to the east. Truly a picture you'll capture in your mind for life. But if you are training for a potentially rough open water swim (and unless you have a crystal ball, you cannot accurately predict your next triathlon won't include rough conditions), the Great Salt Lake hands down is THE BEST PLACE TO TRAIN if you live in the Wasatch Front.
I've heard almost all the fat momma jokes about the lake. Forgive me if I ruin the punchline. But first let me first tell you my background with the Great Salt Lake. As of March 19th, 2013 I have logged over 263 miles in the Great Salt Lake and currently hold the record for the longest non-wetsuit assisted open water swim in the GSL. I have more experience swimming in the Great Salt Lake than I dare say anyone currently alive.
- “I've heard the water is dirty” - This totally depends on where you swim. Typically the Salt Lake Open Water club members swim either near or around the Great Salt Lake Marina/Black Rock/Saltair area, or at the North end of Antelope Island. Both areas are very clean and I personally have rarely run into anything out in the lake. I can't say that for Bountiful Lake, Pineview, or even Bear Lake.
- “Oh the smell! And the bugs!” - There is a time and place for everything and the Great Salt Lake also has its prime season. The months of July through August are ones I will avoid thanks to the overwhelming prevalence of brine flies. The brine shrimp don't bother me at any time of the year, but to breath to the side and get a brine fly down the throat is quite unnerving to say the least. So yes, I don't swim in the summer time in the GSL. Also, it's like swimming in a hot tub during those months. And unless you plan to swim a marathon swim in South America, there's no point to swimming in super hot water infested with thousands of little bugs. However, during the other months, there are very little to no brine flies. The strong salty odor is also associated with the overabundance of carpet algae and brine flies. So during the summer months I don't blame you one bit for turning your nose at the GSL. The beauty about the Wasatch Front is that there are still many other opportunities to swim in open water, although not quite as conveniently located.
- “I've heard that your tongue swells up like a big balloon!” - yes this one is true if you plan to swim more than a few miles. If you're doing a one mile training swim, you might have some irritation, but it won't swell that bad. Personally I can only handle swimming in the GSL every odd day to give my tongue a break from swimming on a typical 4 mile training day. On the off days I'll either pool swim or swim at Pineview Reservoir.
- “What about that Mercury that keeps popping up in the news?” - I was nearly harassed about this topic by a University of Utah professor. He warned that I was going to get a disease swimming there due to the mercury. I went to my Doctor and he sent me to the lab for a blood test for mercury. Although it would be pretty cool to a mutant mercury guy with powers to melt myself when a bullet came at me. No, I'm a normal guy and my mercury levels were all normal. Here are the results of my lab test.
|Would you could you swim in Salt?|
I would invite you to join our group that swims on a regular basis out in the Great Salt Lake. After you've swam there at least 6 times, you'll either be hooked, or have enough respect for the lake and those that are passionate about it to quit passing on those fat momma jokes.
Please join the Salt Lake Open Water facebook page for regular updates on weekly swims in many lakes and reservoirs throughout the valley. We're all safer when we swim together and better off when we push each other to excel in the open water.