Peterson completes 36-mile enduro swim and finishes top five

Peterson completes 36-mile enduro swim and finishes top five

Detroit Lakes high school swimming standout Kaitlyn Peterson recently finished her senior year, but rather than take a break from activities and prepare for college, she trained and competed in the longest swimming race in North America Saturday, June 19, in Grand Forks.

The Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET) is a 36-mile down-river, ultra-marathon swim where solo or relay swimmers travel from rural North Dakota to the finish in Grand Forks on the Red River of the North.

The 2021 DLHS graduate finished impressively in fifth place clocking a time of 14 hours, 31 minutes in the river.

“I was pretty good through most of it,” Peterson said. “Towards the end, I was just ready to get out of the water and be done with this. But through most of it, it was pretty good. I had lots of fun.”

It takes a special kind of person to find the fun in swimming for 14 consecutive hours, but part of that enjoyment is the culmination of all the training it takes to get into that competitive shape.

Peterson swam 40-60,000 yards per week at the DLCCC pool over the cold months before getting into the lakes this spring and summer.

On the weekends, I was trying to do at least four-hour swims,” she said.

The pool provides the ability to train year-round, but is definitely different from swimming in open water.

“The big difference is walls,” Peterson said. “You’re not doing flip-turns ever. You’re just completely swimming under your own power. When you’re open water swimming it’s a lot easier to find your rhythm and groove because you’re not being constantly interrupted by hitting the wall every time.”

Peterson had to overcome a different wall, of sorts, to get into the race after finding out about it three years ago while competing in triathlons in northern North Dakota

“I asked my mom if I could do it the year after and she told me no, absolutely not,” said Peterson. “I waited until I was 18 and signed up for it this year.”

Peterson’s longest effort prior to the race was a 10-mile training swim a fortnight before the event and 30,000 yards in the pool, which is equivalent to about eight hours of swimming. Her first dip in the Red was literally just that.

“I had never been in the Red River before,” she said.

The race begins at Belmont Park, North Dakota, near Climax, Minnesota, and ends in downtown Grand Forks,

“Going into it, it was 100 percent about finishing,” Peterson said. “I was pretty confident throughout half the race because I knew I would be able to swim through that. After that, I was completely unsure about where I would finish, how I would do, if I would finish. It was just finish at that point. Fifth place just ended up being a really nice surprise.”

She competed against 18 other solo swimmers, of which, only a dozen completed the 36 miles.

“Through the first 20 miles it was pretty consistent,” said Peterson. “After that I started to slow down a little bit, but you just find what feels good and keep going for about 14 hours.”

Former Laker swimming standout Quinn Bakken, (Class of 2017), was Peterson’s support paddler following her throughout the race, providing water, food and other necessities.

The duo started swimming together at the end of Peterson’s junior swimming season in 2020. Peterson had to do a little convincing to get Bakken on board to do the race as a team. Once agreed, the two started training together regularly.

“He’s just been by my side the whole time,” she said. “He’s been making sure I get in the pool and get my yards in.”

Sarah Thomas, a 38-year-old from Conifer, Colorado won the race in 13 hours, four minutes in her third time competing in the event. That time was about an hour slower than what was expected due to the pace of the current, something that affected all the racers.

“The River was so slow this year that nobody knew how long it was going to take,” Peterson said. “Everybody was slower than normal so nobody knew what to expect.”

One thing each swimmer could expect was feeling uncomfortable at portions of the 36-mile course.

“After 20 miles, everything began to hurt and from then on it just became a mental game,” said Peterson. “It was a big sense of relief to finish even though I couldn’t walk that well.”

Peterson was the youngest competitor in the field and the second 18-year-old to finish since the race expanded from 27 miles in 2012-13 to 36 miles starting in 2014.

Annaleise Carr of Walsh, Ontario, is the youngest to complete the race at 16-years-old in 2014.

The endurance test is something Peterson would repeat if time allowed.

“I don’t know in the near future I’d have the time to train for it, but I would 100 percent do it again,” she said. “Right now, I’m taking a break for a couple weeks before I get back in the pool again,”

Peterson will be back in open water competing at the Point to La Pointe Cliff Swim in August, a three-mile swim in Lake Superior.

In the fall, she plans to attend the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

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