Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bondi to Watsons: or swimming treadmill

I think what I love most about marathon swimming (anything above 10km counts so I’m claiming marathon swimmer status) is the sense of adventure. Each time you are exploring, pushing boundaries and discovering something new.

There was a moment in the 9km Cole Classic (about the 7km mark) when everything clicked, everything felt good and I thought “this is what I’m meant to be doing”. I’m not fast, I’m not a born swimmer, I was once overweight and totally sports averse. So that was a pretty profound realisation.

I just effing love it. 

This was to be one hell of an adventure. Swimming past the safety of Bondi bay, around Ben Buckler, along a very long sheer cliff to the heads of Sydney Harbour, through the heads to the protected harbour beach of Watson’s Bay.

More importantly, this was going to be a shared adventure. I knew 8 of the solos on the start line and 1 x duo and 2 x teams. I knew all of the IRB guys supporting the swimmers and 3 of the paddlers. Party swim!

 But I couldn't do it without my incredible support crew. People who are willing to give up their own time and effort to help you achieve their dreams. They are just incredible.

To Pia, my paddler, JP my driver and Liz my crew - thank you!!!

Race day dawned with perfect conditions. Flat, still and not a breath of wind. I was quietly confident. I got down to the club early to help with IRB set up. I had a precise timetable of where to be when, when to eat, when to drink and when to sunscreen up. This helped get the nerves under control. Even when my cap split on the start line and I was about to have to swim in my 4Seasons cap I had underneath. (Lesson learned from Joe’s experience – always double cap).

We’re off. We head to NZ to meet up with the boats, which thanks to the 4seasons flag is a breeze. I recorded this as 1.5km off the centre of the beach and that was the last time my watch worked accurately. We then swam for an hour to get back to Ben Buckler. We started rounding the cliffs at the 1.5 hour mark. The previous day we had swum to the same point in half an hour. Demoralising to say the least.

Belying the outwardly perfect conditions the current was running against us at about 2-3km / hour. I swim 3.3km / hour at time trial (pool swim of 1km) pace. At times I went backwards.

The IRB crews direct us further out from the cliffs to try and avoid the currents. We’re making creeping progress and I’ve pulled ahead of Adrian and Liam, surprising the hell out of myself.

It would be fair to say that if I never see that bloody North Bondi smoke stack again I will be happy.* There’s an antenna to the north of it which I made, took a feed, ended up back at the stack and had just pulled past when the lifeguards came by to say the 4 hour time limit was up and I had to jump in my boat to be taken past Hornby lighthouse.

I jumped in the boat, sipped some tea, ate some of the cake I’d baked for my team (greatest endorsement ever of my baking was the speed with which the other IRBs returned when word passed around about the cake being shared), sang some Whitney Houston with Liz and warmed up. A quick IRB trip later, with Pia being towed behind on her board and having a whale of a time we passed Hornby lighthouse inside the harbour and I dove back in.

Such a relief to be making progress again. I put the hammer down and headed for home. One by one I swam by my fellow 4Seasons duo and team swimmers. Such an encouraging sight.

The finish line was one of the more incredible experiences of my life. I swear my supporters from 4Seasons, Bondi surf club, Can Too etc. had literally taken over Watson’s Bay. I was completely overwhelmed by a thoroughly gorgeous mob of hugs. Many of whom hung around to relive and recount the experience. I am still overwhelmed at the support I received. Special thanks to Harriet who provided life support – hot chocolate and a towel.

4:40 minutes of swimming alongside some of the nicest people and the most stunning scenery. Can we do that again please?

Next year, Gadget, next year.

*Interestingly, I would hear the exact same sentiment in San Francisco three weeks later from Simon Dominguez who had the same experience.

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