Tour de Highland Lakes

By Steven Munatones

HIGHLAND LAKES, Texas, October 27. THE world of open water swimming is rapidly developing in many different and innovative ways.

Bob Placak of the RCP Tiburon Mile attracts dozens of world-class swimmers to race in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay for a $10,000 winner-take-all cash prize.

Morty Berger of the Manhattan Island Foundation manages 11 different races of various lengths around New York City, adding two professional races in 2009. The European Open Water Swimming Championships held individual and team time trials this summer where the swimmers and 3-person teams start at one-minute intervals.

The Clean Half 15K Marathon Swim Relay in Hong Kong started a "carbon-neutral" option for its relay teams where the swimmers used an outrigger canoe as their escort boat.

And, the sport's innovation continues in Texas.

Stage racing, like the Tour de France, is standard in cycling. But, it has taken on a whole new meaning in Texas.

Keith Bell and his wife, Sandy Neilson-Bell organize a series of races in the Austin area including the new Highland Lakes Challenge. This Challenge is a five-day open water swimming stage race held in five different lakes just northwest of Austin.

The winner of the Highland Lakes Challenge is the person with the fastest cumulative time over the five races. On Day One, the athletes compete in a 4-mile race in Lake Buchanan. On Day Two, they do a 2.6-mile swim in Inks Lake. On Day Three, they race over a 3-mile course in Lake Marble Falls. On Day Four, they continue with a 2-mile swim in Lake LBJ. And, on Day Five, they finish up with a 3-mile swim in Lake Travis for a total of 14.6 miles.

Swimmers can also enter the individual stage races or compete in the Weekend Warrior event that is held on the last three days of the Challenge on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

This year, there was no holding back Collis Williams (38) who won comfortably in 5 hours 47 minutes and 22 seconds over second-place Dave Barra of New York in 6:02:03 and Bell in 6:05:15. Williams won each of the five individual stages and handily beat defending champion Barra's previous course record.

The big blue Texan sky held up throughout the event.

"The weather was gorgeous," said Bell.

As one can imagine in the rolling hills of Texas Hill Country, the character and characteristics of each lake swim took on its own personality. A good example was Stage Four in Lake Marble Falls.

Bell colorfully described the race, "The swim…is amazing. We swim under the [Highway 281] Bridge, follow the winding river through the 150-or-so-million-year-old canyon, past an incredible boulder that leans off the shore over the lake, and take quick glimpses of interestingly designed docks and houses as we swim to the dam. Then, we round a buoy and make our way back, swimming under the bridge again as we swim to the finish. It's one of everyone's favorite swims."

The other stages had their own personalities.

Bell said of Stage Two in Inks Lake, "What a beautiful swim. The water was slightly colder than Lake Buchanan, but nice. The scenery was outstanding. And though the Lake was almost like glass…the curves in the river made finding the most direct course, even in this comparatively narrow lake, a little tricky."

As Robert Alford, who won the Weekend Warrior Challenge agreed, "It doesn't get any better than this."

MONSTER CHALLENGE TOP 3 – Cumulative Results after Stage 5
1. Collis Williams (38) – 5:47:22
2. Dave Barra (43) – 6:02:03
3. Keith Bell (60) – 6:05:15

STAGE 5 (3 miles) – Sunday, 10/26/08, Lake Travis
1st — Collis Williams (38), 1:08:22
2nd — Dave Barra (43), 1:09:33
3rd — Keith Bell (60), 1:09:58
4th — Robert Alford (44), 1:10:00
5th — Sharon Smith (50), 1:13:59
6th — Ryan Timmons, (30), 1:15:39
7th — Brad Grulke (42), 1:23:04
8th — Ed McGlynn (46), 1:29:00
9th — Chris Considine (35), 1:30:32
10th — Bill Dailey (46), 1:32:15
11th — Alexis Reynolds (29), 1:35:52
12th — Scott McDonald (42), 1:41:24
13th — Jeremy Denbow (32), 1:42:39
14th — Don Halloran (47), 1:55:58

STAGE 5 (1/2 mile)
1st — Leslie Bauer (32), 16:42
2nd — Kathy Ellins (55), 17:45
3rd — Susan Leonard (46), 19:03
4th — Nina Hunley (54), 19:09

STAGE 4 (3 miles) — Saturday, 10/25/08, Lake Marble Falls
1st — Collis Williams (38), 1:05:18
2nd — Andrea Nunez-Smith, (14), 1:07:27
3rd — Dave Barra (43), 1:07:54
4th — Robert Alford (44), 1:08:22
5th — Keith Bell (60), 1:08:36
6th — Sharon Smith (50), 1:11:36
7th — Brad Grulke (42), 1:18:30
8th — Chris Considine (35), 1:29:23
9th — Bill Dailey (46), 1:29:50
10th — Scott McDonald (42), 1:30:31
11th — Alexis Reynolds (29), 1:30:56
12th — Jeremy Denbow (32), 1:43:09

1 mile
1st — Leslie Bauer (32), 32:21
2nd — Susan Leonard (46), 36:46
3rd — Nigel Stewart (33), 45:03

STAGE 3 (2 miles) – Friday, 10/24/08, Inks Lake
1st — Collis Williams (38), 42:39
2nd — Dave Barra (43), 43:44
3rd — Robert Alford (44), 44:45
4th — Keith Bell (60), 45:27
5th — Sharon Smith (50), 46:52
6th — Brad Grulke (42), 50:40
7th — Chris Considine (35), 59:13
8th — Scott McDonald (42), 59:33
9th — Bill Dailey (46), 1:00:53
10th — Jeremy Denbow (32), 1:03:38

1000 meters
1st — Leslie Bauer (32), 18:46
2nd — Susan Leonard (46), 20:30

STAGE 2 (2.6 miles) — Thursday, 10/23/08, Inks Lake
1st — Collis Williams (38), 1:00:46
2nd — Keith Bell (60), 1:03:44
3rd — Dave Barra (43), 1:08:26
4th — Ed McGlynn (46), 1:18:09
5th — Chris Considine (35), 1:27:17
6th — Bill Dailey (46), 1:28:24
7th — Jeremy Denbow (32), 1:37:16

1/2 mile
1st — Leslie Bauer (32), 15:49
2nd — Susan Leonard (46), 17:52
3rd — Daisy Duerson (33), 18:17

STAGE 1 (4.4 miles) — Wednesday, 10/22/08, Lake Buchanan
1st — Collis Williams (38), 1:50:17
2nd — Dave Barra (43), 1:52:16
3rd — Seth Huston (44), 1:54:12
4th — Keith Bell (60), 1:57:30
5th — Chris Considine (35), 2:38:06
6th — Bill Dailey (46), 2:43:08
7th — Linda Callaway (55), 2:57:06
8th — Jeremy Denbow (32), 3:07:34

1 mile
1st — Leslie Bauer (32), 36:36:25
1st — Kathy Ellins (55), 36:36:25
3rd — Susan Leonard (46), 44:10:99