Whistler's Fiona Halliwell was the first woman out of the water in the 78th annual Bay Challenge last Saturday, a nine kilometre-plus open-water swim race from Sandy Cove in West Vancouver to Kitsilano Beach.
It was Halliwell's first time swimming that distance, coming just two weeks after she placed second out of seven swimmers in her age category in the 4 km Canada Day Challenge at Sasamat Lake in Port Moody. The Bay Challenge swim was more than twice the distance and involved crossing the shipping lanes into Vancouver.
"It was really windy and choppy at the beginning, but once you were out in the shipping lanes it was calmer and nicer," she said. "Then we got into a headwind and cross-current heading to Kits, which was interesting, kind of like swimming uphill. It definitely made the swim longer."
To put the conditions into perspective, the overall 2009 winner set a course record of one hour and 44 minutes on the swim a few years ago, but finished over an hour slower on July18. Halliwell, who expected to finish in just over three hours, came in at 4:05, while other swimmers were still arriving 40 minutes after her.
Halliwell used to race competitively, but has wanted to do a long open-water swim since she was a teenager. She contacted fitness trainer Christine Suter last September, and she put together a program to build up to the Bay Challenge.
Halliwell did most of her swimming in the pool at Meadow Park, but also managed a few lake swims in Alta Lake. Nothing even close to nine kilometres, and nothing that gave her wetsuit a proper test.
"At some point in the race I realized that there's a reason why open-water swimmers have their own style of wetsuit and don't just use the generic kind," she said. "I finished with some very impressive chafing marks on my neck."
Halliwell was supported by her family on a friend's boat, stopping a few times to drink some liquid. She wasn't allowed to touch the boat during the race, so her supporters had to toss her a bottle attached to a string.
She didn't eat anything the entire way, despite the fact that the average person can burn over 600 calories an hour while swimming at a moderate pace.
Halliwell isn't planning on doing another 10 km race any time soon but is considering other races up to 6 km in the future, like the Kits Challenge.
"I really enjoyed the swim and being out on the ocean, but it was a little long by the time it was over," she said.