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Endurance race in open water set at Applegate Lake

A new endurance race arrives in Southern Oregon on Saturday, but competitors won't have to worry about scorching heat.

U.S. Masters Swimming has chosen Applegate Lake as the venue for its annual Open Water National Championship race, with Rogue Valley Masters Swimmers as the host club.

"We (RVMS) have been hosting an open-water competition for the past 25 years," says race director and Ashland resident Andrew Gramley. "The location is attractive to people — it's a nice lake — and the water temperature is a key element."

With the water temperature expected to be about 73 degrees on race day, Applegate Lake offers conditions where neither overheating nor hypothermia are expected to be problems. Competitors are not allowed to wear wetsuits.

The 10-kilometer race, which begins at 8:15 a.m., includes four loops around a set of buoys. Competitors must pass on the outside of all buoys. Easier said than done.

"Navigation is hard — you have no roads — and buoys are 400 to 500 yards apart," Gramley explains. "It's quite different from chasing the black line (at the bottom of a pool)."

Some swimmers will let the person in front of them do the hard work of navigation, which can have additional benefits.

"There's a similarity here with bicycle racing," says Gramley. "Drafting "… you may get swimmers of similar abilities together for much of the race "… you get in this pelaton where you're swimming in water that's moving with you rather than water that's standing still."

In addition to navigation issues, endurance swimmers are prone to dehydration and hunger, so a special aid station will be set up near the start to assist thirsty and hungry competitors — a table set in four feet of water so swimmers won't have to test their land legs en route.

"If they so choose, they can stop and get water or Gatorade ... or whatever they've set on that table," says Gramley. "They'll get it themselves. We're not allowed to hand it to them or help them in that way."

With an estimated finish time of 21/4 hours for the leaders — and 41/2 hours as the cutoff time — the aid station will be a welcome sight.

Eighty-six swimmers, most from the Pacific Northwest, signed up for the race. For swimmers who want a shorter challenge, 5K and 2.5K races start 10 minutes after the 10K. Registration for the 10K is closed, but day-of-race registration is available for the other events. A full or one-day USMS membership is required.

For those new to open-water swimming, special demonstration races — 1,500 meters and a sprint relay — will be held Sunday at 9:30 and 11:20 a.m.

For information, call Gramley at 206-660-6322.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.