Broad of the Month: Sarah Thomas

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Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

In 1988, the Proclaimers famously sung they would walk 500 miles and then they would walk 500 more. In 1988, Sarah Thomas was five, almost six years old. A year later, she joined a summer swim team and has been swimming ever since. This August, she swam 104 miles in Lake Champlain, a lake spanning New York, Vermont, and Quebec, to break her own world record (82 miles set in late 2016) for the longest, non-wetsuit, current neutral, unassisted swim. It took her 67 hours, 16 minutes, and 12 seconds.

Five hours faster than she expected.

Over her thirty-five years, Thomas has swum many more than the 1000 miles the Proclaimers said they would walk for the love interest in their song. Unlike the Proclaimers, Thomas doesn’t complete her marathon swims for anyone else. She swims because she loves to and because she can. The day before her 104 mile swim, she posted this on her Facebook page which sums up her motivations perfectly:

Thomas, Portland River swim, July 2017. PC: Ken Classen. 

Thomas, Portland River swim, July 2017. PC: Ken Classen. 

For me, swimming is about testing myself mentally and physically. It's about doing things that are fun, but also hard and sometimes scary with a huge possibility of failure. OW [open water] swimming is about pushing myself and seeing what happens when I go beyond what I've always thought of as my limit.”

The 10K that Changed the Game

Thomas, who lives in Conifer, hasn't always been an open water marathon swimmer. As a child she swam at a lake near her grandparents’ home in Oklahoma but only raced in a pool in high school and college. She grew up in Texas where she says, you just don’t want to swim in lakes. It’s because of the snakes. Definitely a good piece of information to remember, broads.

Despite this lack of open water experience, ten years ago, Thomas decided to enter the Horsetooth Reservoir 10K (6.2 miles) swim in Fort Collins and give it a try.

On finishing the swim, she thought to herself: “I’ve found it. This is what I am supposed to be doing.” And so there it was; Thomas’s love of marathon swimming (any distance over 10K) was solidified. Over the next ten years, she has competed in numerous 10K, 20+ mile, and 50 mile swims including the Catalina Channel Swim, The English Channel swim, a swim around Manhattan Island, and across Lake Tahoe. On her swim across the English Channel, a pinnacle of marathon swimming, she reflected: “There is magic in that water...It was a very special experience.”

Sure, I'll Break a World Record Today

Fast forward to October 2016 and Thomas arrives at her 82 mile swim in Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado river straddling Utah and Arizona. This solo swim, beating the previously held world record of 77 miles by Australian Chloe McCardel, challenged Thomas mentally in ways that almost led her to throw in the towel. She shared how she found herself in a very dark place mid swim and how she told her sister she was having a melt down (yes, badass broads also have melt downs). However, with the help of her crew and 100s of supporters - friends and strangers following her progress on Facebook - she beat down the darkness and finished triumphantly in 56 hours.

A day and a half after her monumental achievement in Lake Powell, her husband looked over at her during their drive back to Colorado and said “100 miles?” He knew she had more. And so did she. In every race or swim, Thomas tells me she always learns something to take away and apply to her next adventure to make it better. This is a good lesson for all of us. Every experience, good or bad, can teach us something.

Tackling a swim at dusk with her team's support. PC: Ken Classen. 

Tackling a swim at dusk with her team's support. PC: Ken Classen. 

Apply What You Learn and Go Farther than You Ever Thought You Could

Thomas’s 104 mile swim this August was an out and back in Lake Champlain from Rouses Point, New York to Gardner Island, Point Bay Marina, Vermont. She swam for three days, and three nights. Sixty-seven hours without sleep. In this swim, although 22 miles longer, she didn’t experience the dark moments she had in Lake Powell. Her 104 mile swim report explains it best:

At exactly 8:30 am, after my normal Desitin and Lanolin routine [sunscreen and anti-chafing cream], I stepped into the water at the public boat launch at Rouses Point. At Powell, this moment had been terrifying to me. This time, I was filled with anticipation and excitement and knowledge.”

Her mind was in a different place because of what she learned from her Lake Powell swim: don't enter the water afraid of what might come. Take the swim stroke by stroke, moment by moment. Couple this mentality with a supportive crew and a determination like no other and the result is an amazing feat of athleticism, grit, and resilience. She pushed her limits, and won.

How Do You Top 104 Miles?

Great question. And of course Thomas is going to. In September 2019, she is all signed up to take on the English Channel crossing four times. Yep, your read that right. Four times. Chloe McCardel, who set the 77 mile record is about to try this in a couple of weeks. She would be the first person to do so.

Marathon swimming is full of women power. The top three distance records are held by women—Thomas and McCardel--and women are routinely out swimming men at the 10K distance and above. So broads, grab your swim caps, or running shoes, or whatever it is your heart and mind wants. Jump right in and test the limits of what you think is possible. You may be surprised at what you can achieve.