Thursday, March 13, 2014

SWOG mark 2

I started this SWOG (swimming blog) to chart my conquering of my greatest fear (open water swimming). I still get bloody terrified on occasion but it no longer paralyses me, or brings on panic attacks.
I’m starting it again because I’m starting to do some long distance swims and one of the most useful things I come across in preparing for these races are other swimmers’ accounts and thought others might find mine similarly useful.
So a little about me:

  •          Started swimming at 18 months. I have a certificate for swimming 1.2m under water. It was kind of a big deal.
  •          Sometime around 2007 I started struggling to put my face in the water when swimming in open water.
  •          2008 I had my first full blown panic attack swimming the swim leg of a sprint triathlon in Sydney Harbour. I couldn’t breathe. I swam the whole 400m without putting my face in the water. I used to have swimming lessons at Greenwich baths, not 2km as the crow flies. Fear is completely, totally and utterly irrational and illogical. And must be tackled head on.
  •          So I joined the amazing Can Too. I tackled those fears again and again and again. I learned to love ocean swimming. I became addicted.
  •          With Can Too I completed the 2010 2.7km Palm to Whale swim and set my sights on a 5km ocean swim and becoming a Bondi Surf Lifesaver. Eventually I got there.
  •          I’m really, really slow but very steady.
  •          I’ve done 5 Can Too swim programs,1 run program raised $10,000 and most importantly, returned the favour and helped others get through the break and learn to breathe out underwater.
  •          I tried swimming from Bondi Beach to Watson’s Bay (about 11km on a good day) through the heads of Sydney Harbour and was thwarted by the currents.

  • Bring on Rottnest

    Sunday, March 9, 2014

    Narranderra 10km swim.

    On the road to Gundagai

    The big one. 10km. 5 x 2km laps up and back of Lake Talbot – a flooded creek outside of Narrandera. Bondi to Watson’s is nominally list as a 10km – but I don’t know anyone who has recorded that distance. (I understand there are insurance implications for owning the actual distance)  Nonetheless great to get an official 10km swim under my belt.

    There are exactly  4 x 10km swims in the entirety of NSW across the entire open water swimming season (October – May). Only of one which gets a featured spot on (Bondi to Watson’s). One is an obscure Penrith swim in November that clashes with a featured 5km (Umina), one is the Vladswim organised laps of Balmoral at Christmas (both of which clash with Can Too) and the other is Narrandera. A tiny town an hour to the west of Wagga Wagga.

    Having said that, demand for these swims isn’t exactly huge either. Despite there being no boat or paddler requirement (the swim provided paddlers for you) there were exactly 5 swimmers doing the swim. 4 from Sydney and 1 from Dubbo. The race organisers knew our names, ages, and everything was exceptionally well organised.

    We were paired with paddlers, who set up our feeds (feeds!! luxury!), herded down the astroturf lined steps into Lake Talbot to start bang on 9am.

    Wollongong Swim

    First lap, everything feels tight and I realise I’m in trouble having gone out too hard at  the 1km Wollongong swim last night.

    I become obsessed with trying to get my stroke perfect which for me means:
    • breathing every 3 strokes
    • breathing into the “bow wave” meaning neither my goggles nor my mouth emerge more than halfway from the water
    • head positioning whilst in the water (look down),
    • rotation, rotation, rotation
    • a full extension with proper hand entry in the 4 o’clock position (my right hand does some kind of flamboyant wiggly thing upon entry)
    • proper catch – as though your arm was going over a barrel
    • fluttering kick (I have a fairly kick driven stroke, ordinarily long distance swimmers aim for a 2 beat kick but I think I’m a little faster – not necessarily a good thing)
    • engage core (crucial in flat, fresh water) to ensure buoyancy (your arse should be in the air, wiggling around like it just don’t care) and reduce the drag of your legs.

    Needless to say, on occasion, this all went to crap. But this is what keeps me occupied for most of the long swims. Chloe McCardel, legend long distance swimmer whom I met at a university debating tournament in 2004 when I printed her swim schedule for her, was once asked what she thinks about when swimming. Music? World Peace? She replied she’s too busy thinking about her stroke. What her head, arms, body and legs are doing. That endlessly repeating check list is absolutely the best way to pass the time.
    Despite everything being tight from the get go, it never descends into pain and on occasion it actually feels good.

    The water is more transparent than Cohuna last week but I still can’t see my Garmin in the water so I’m reliant on my distance alarm to tell me when to feed. I feed every 1.5km. Ordinarily you’d grab your bottle, roll onto your back, take a few sips and swim on. The lake is so short you can stand for feeds. It takes me about 4 goes to work this out. Not exactly Channel rules.
    I change paddlers 3 times over the course of the 3:52 it takes me to swim 10km. Each time they are just so encouraging and lovely. They’ve never met me and volunteer to support the town’s Riverina Rush sports festival. Amazing.

    Round and round we go. Luckily the lake is surrounding by beautiful bushland which gives you lots to look at. Sighting is incredibly easy in the flat water and with the rainbow umbrellas of the pool complex behind the buoys at the far end staying on track is pretty easy.

    On the third lap I am lapped by the leader, who turns out to be the only other female in the field. What a great way to celebrate International Womens Day! She later tells me I looked more relaxed than any other swimmer she’s ever seen. Out for the equivalent of a Sunday stroll / swim.

    This is a good thing.

    By 7km I’m yet again, feeling fine and stronger than throughout the race so I start putting the hammer down. The entire 8km up to the turning buoy I inch towards the next swimmer ahead of me. He swims incredibly wide (my coaches were all in my head emphasising the importance of sighting and being thoroughly vindicated) whilst I swim straight as an arrow. He stops to feed at 9km (having only fed twice in the race). The best advice I have received is feed early, feed often. Those feeds you don’t feel you need in the early stages really pay dividends towards the end. So I skip my feed. He again swims wide and I catch him, with a 20m buffer as he needs to straighten up. And I fly home.

    I struggle to stand up on the steps though. 10km is a bloody hard slog!

    Presentation ceremony. I get to stand on a dias! Who saw that coming? And then there was a lot of watersliding at the super cool waterslides of the Lake Talbot Pool Complex. 

     Bonnet Breakfast of Champions!

    We backed it up with the Broulee swims the next day. Awesome swims and awesome road trip!

    Monday, March 3, 2014

    Melbourne Madness!

    First time out for this new, privately run swim at St Kilda. 5km followed by a 1.2km. Luckily for me it was disorganised chaos as my flight ran late. Floyd is a swimmer and promoter and suffers a rare blood condition so organised a swim to raise funds for Royal Children’s Hospital.

    That is not nearly as easy as I might have made it sound and the whole thing ran horrendously late but everyone's attitude was to be admired.

    The 5km was 4 x 1.25km laps around St Kilda Bay which was a gorgeous 20 degrees but wetsuits were the order of the day – and I followed the trend. It ended up being about 5.6km as one of the turning buoys was so close to shore it had to be moved as we were all stroking the sand as we swam by. Some amazing views, the far industrial shore of Port Phillip Bay. Luna Park. St Kilda “surf” club, the beautiful pier and the long beach. Love a good view.

    I was very, very ready to finish and finish last.  Hopped out and the race organiser offers 400m entry. So off I go again. Had a rubbish start. But a great hit out between the 5km and 1200m. And wonderful swimming without the wuss suit!
    Very high knees required for the very long sand bank

    Yet another lap for the 1200m. Had a cracking race. Thoroughly startled by the fly board (you know the water propelled pack James Bond uses in Thunderball – yeah that) which makes the weirdest sound through the water.
    The photographer took a photo of a twist in my strap rather than tell me ... 

    Finally finished an hour and half after anticipated and head to Echuca for the evening.
    up early for the Cohuna (another hour’s drive) Bridge to Bridge.

    This swim has been running for 21 years down Gunbower Creek (an offshoot of the Murray River). It starts at one bridge and finishes at the main bridge in town 8km later.
    The current is an unbelievably huge advantage in this swim. I was incredibly stoked to finish the Cole Classic 9km in 2:51. So you can imagine how incredibly excited I was to finish this swim in 2:22.
    Swimming down a river is a delightful, peaceful experience with ever changing scenery and unusual challenges for an ocean swimmer. Fresh water so no buoyancy. Every single swimmer bar 2 wore a wet suit to cope with this. So, yet again, I did too. 

    One of the things I love about swimming is how little kit is required. Goggles, cap, cossie. Sorted. Not so as you progress but I digress.

    Sighting an endlessly shifting water course is totally different to sighting a headland or a buoy. Luckily, for the entire swim I had a lovely swimmer, Lauren, within sight and her dad paddled just behind her making a relatively easy mark. Swimming over submerged logs made for a fun obstacle course.

    But the hardest thing was the opacity of the water. I wear my beloved Garmin 910XT in almost every swim. It was my birthday present to myself last year when I did the Can Too run program. It’s a cracker of a GPS watch, and the most accurate swim watch going (according to the experts at 4Seasons). It does loose satellite reception disturbingly often but when the water is so murky you can’t see your hand in front of your face it doesn’t really matter. I really had no idea how much you sight  using underwater markers. Very discombobulating.

    As I said, swam the whole way with Lauren in sight, finally caught her at the 1km mark and we spurred each other to sprint to the finish (which was a boat floating next to the bridge).

    So lovely to have company. And not only that, we weren’t last! Second and third females overall.

    Such a wonderful way to see a whole new part of the country. Super friendly country hospitality – everyone was delighted we’d come from Sydney. Not to mention the Devonshire tea!

    We returned to Melbourne via wineries. One of which was literally out of wine, but very pretty