by Chris Ostenstad
In the fall of 2019, I got this crazy idea: I wanted to swim the Skaha Ultra. I can’t say I know why I wanted to do it, but I felt like I needed to.
The Skaha Ultra is often known as the longest swim event in Canada.
Skaha lake is a familiar place to me. I had spent every single summer for 40 + years in OK Falls, which was a lot of time swimming at the Skaha south beach. Back then, it was a private beach at The South Shore Motel, now Kenyon Park beach. It is a place that holds many memories for me.
At the start of 2019, I had come off a 9-month training program for a Half Iron man, but after that event, I decided I would make a better swimmer than a triathlete. So I hung up my tri bike, threw away my runners, and bought swim gear. The rest of the year, I just swam; I had no purpose for how I swam, no training plan to follow, and I would go to the pool a few times a week and hammer out some meters.
When 2020 came along with Covid, I still managed to keep swimming. I installed a 10-foot pool in my backyard and started swimming on a tether. Soon after, the local pools began taking lane bookings, so I kept swimming and booked as much time as I could.
I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to complete the Skaka Ultra. I didn’t have any official training. I didn’t know what to do.
In the summer of 2021, I learned about Tri Balance. I attended a Total Immersion swim camp in Penticton, where the magic happened! Changing my stroke and my kick and slowing things way down made me go faster and farther and let me build my distance with minimal effort.
I finally found out how I would complete the Skaha Ultra Swim!
The morning of August 07, 2022, was the day! My most anticipated event ever.
I felt pretty confident that I could do it. After all, I had spent a year with Teresa, building a base, and all I needed to do was swim. No different than going for a little swim practice at my local lake.
When I entered the lake and waited to go, I just kept thinking… I need to focus on being calm and relaxed. The rest will happen…
As I was standing in the water, waiting for the horn to go off… I started to shake and tremble… what the heck is going on…… then I had to give myself some self-talk; it is only a swim; put faith in your training …swimming is your zen… and then, as soon as I hit the water… I felt that calm feeling I get every time I start a swim. The rest just went away….
My first goal was to make it to the 8km mark; I had 4 hours and 30 minutes to get there. After that, the rest… well, it should be a piece of cake.
I had all my nutrition planned and set, stopping every 30 mins to fuel. I tried Maurten gels, which are colourless and tasteless, and you had to chew them like jello, sounds weird, but they seem to work the best for me.
When I stopped, I stopped for less than 1 minute and would rotate between a gel, a bar & PB pretzels, and caffeine gel, then repeat.
We carried 4 litres of water on the boat in insulated bladder bags. One bag had plain water, and the other had water with tailwind added to it so I could take in extra carbohydrates. The best thing about the bladder bags is grabbing the hose off the front of the kayak.
After 5 hours, I made it to the finish line, greeted by my family & friends. I can’t believe I made it through, and as I must have told myself many times, I knew I could; I put in the time and training.
I took some time, sat on my parent’s memorial bench in Kenyon park, reflected on how far I had come, and hoped that my parents were there in spirit.
But my story doesn’t end here……. read on !