Category: Strategy


With the end of the Ocean swimming season and my goal race now behind me, there will be no more race reviews for a while.

I did think, though, that it might be worth touching on a few more general things about racing, rather than the individual events.

Pre-race preparation is a big part of getting the best out of your performance at any event. I’m not talking about training or necessarily what it takes so that your fitness is up to scratch, but more the short-term lead-up to optimise your performance on the day.

Here’s a bit of an overview of what I did in the lead-up to my goal swim, the South Head Roughwater. This is the big prep I do for a big event. In the height of summer when I’m swimming every weekend, and the distances are shorter, I do an abridged version of this, but the basic principles are the same.

A week or 2 beforehand.

  1. Stop drinking alcohol. I probably don’t need to do this quite so early…but mentally it helps me focus and feel really prepared.
  2. Really focus on my diet being nutritious and high in protein. Cut out any junk food. I try to eat at home during this period so I can cook healthily rather than eating out and not knowing how much oil or fat or salt is in my food.
  3. Taper. About a week out I still swim, but start taking it very easy. At this point I don’t want to wear myself out or risk an injury, and any training really isn’t going to add to my fitness.
  4. A trip to my osteopath. I have a dodgy shoulder, and swimming generally helps, but if it needs a tune-up I’d rather do it a few days before a big event. Before the SHRW my shoulder was definitely niggling so I went on the Wednesday before. I see Grant Brush at City Clinic near my office and he’s a genius. He’s a keen swimmer as well so kind of gets what I do and how to work with it.

The night before

  1. Pack my bags. The last thing I need to be doing early morning before a big stressful event is looking for stuff (or worse…finding out I forgot something once I’m there and need it). I make sure I have everything I need, plus spares, and warm gear for after the race.
  2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Obvious, but easy to forget if you’re a bit nervous.
  3. Carb loading! I love my carbs, but generally try to keep carb-heavy meals as a “sometimes food”. The night before a big event, however, game on!
  4. Goggle prep. Goggles are a pretty key part of any event. If they leak or fog or are uncomfortable they can bother you the whole time. My pre-race routine may seem a little over the top, but it definitely works. I used this method before the SHRW and did not have to adjust my goggles a single time in 2 and a half hours of swimming.
    • Wash well in dishwashing liquid, focussing on the lenses and the seals. This gets rid of any residual sunscreen, sand or salt that can cause problems with the goggles sealing.
    • Thoroughly dry with a clean tea towel.
    • Spray liberally with anti-fog spray into the inside of the lenses. Rub around well with a clean finger.
    • Rinse well with clear water. The film will remain but you don’t want any of that stuff ending up in your eyes.
    • Let sit a couple of minutes and then dry thoroughly again with your tea towel, and you’re ready to go.
  5. Garmin – make sure it’s fully charged, any previous records are downloaded, and it’s ready to go.
  6. An early night. It may seem elusive due to nerves, but it’s good to have a decent night’s sleep behind you on race day. I find a cup of chamomile tea helps send me off.

The Morning Of

  1. Early rising. I like to get up earlier than I need to. I hate feeling rushed. It also gives me plenty of time to…
  2. Have a good breakfast. And let it settle. I need something in my stomach before I swim. My go to is a slice of toast and a hard boiled egg from the fridge (I usually do a batch and keep a couple handy for the weekend). Alternately, if I’m home on my own on Friday nights my go-to meal is a frittata or quiche. If there’s a leftover slice floating around they make a good pre-swim breakie too. The key is to not try anything new on the morning of an event…the same thing I eat for breakfast before training sessions is the same thing I’ll eat on the big day.
  3. Check the conditions. Actually this one belongs in all the categories… I have a collection of weather and surf condition apps and websites that I use. I don’t know that it helps, but I like to feel prepared, mentally, for what’s out there.
  4. Mix up sports drink etc. My philosophy is that I’ll only use sports drinks sparingly, and only if I’m swimming longer than an hour. My preference is for coconut water (Cocobella plain), but I’ll also use Staminade from powder as both are lower sugar than the other options out there.
  5. Leave early so there’s no rush to get to the beach (or wharf). The last thing I need on top of nerves is to be worrying about running late!

So there you go…mostly common sense, but it’s a routine that’s done me well in the 30+ events I’ve swum over the past 3 years!

 

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If you’ve arrived here without part one of this post, you can read it here. the upshot is that Bel and I were at the pool, down to the wire, to see how we would go swimming 5km in one go as a final deal-maker or -breaker before entering as a duo in the South Head Roughwater.

The event has a cutoff – 5 hours.If the team can’t complete the race in that amount of time, they will be recorded as a “DID NOT FINISH”. That’s a long swim to record a “DID NOT FINISH” so, as you can imagine, we really don’t want that to happen. My goal for this pool swim was to complete the distance in under 2 hours…just to give us plenty of wiggle room (plus Bel is quicker than me) to account for conditions on the day.

I wore my Timex, which will record up to 50 splits. This had the double advantage of keeping track of how many laps I’d done (I get bad at counting the more tired I get), and collecting the times for each of those laps. And if you know me, you’ll know I love data nearly as much as I love to swim.

And my favourite thing to do with data is? Put it in a spreadsheet! Chart it! Analyse it!

So that’s what I did. Click on the chart below to get the full view of how the swim went, numbers and commentary (otherwise known as the little voice in my head when I swim) combined.

 

5km chartAs for the time I swam? 1 hour, 59 minutes and 4 seconds! I did it!

Bel and I finished up with a coffee and getting our entry in. Seems it’s all going to actually happen!!!! I’m equal parts excited and scared, but looking forward to the challenge.

The bit I haven’t really touched on too much is that this is all for a good cause (other than providing your reading material). If you’d like to support the valiant efforts of Cure Cancer Australia you can help me reach my fundraising goal here.

 

Exactly 2 weeks out from the South Head Roughwater. Crunch time.

Since the end of last season I’d been thinking about pushing myself a bit further and the Coogee To Bondi 5km kept popping  into my head as the event to do it. By the start of the season I’d decided that I wanted to train for the event, and that’s exactly what I did. Double-up sessions back to back , and keeping focussed on consistently training 5-6 times a week.

I was doing pretty well and on track to be ready when in February, 8 weeks out, the website advised the event was postponed with an alternate date to be announces. A bit later this changed to the event being cancelled altogether for the year.

Nooooo

After the initial disappointment (eventually) wore off, I put my mind to finding a plan B. There are not many long course ocean swims around, and there was only one that was even as a possibility…doing the South Head Roughwater as a duo. That’s 10km total from Bondi to Watson’s Bay.

southheadmap

This, however,  presented a couple of challenges.

      1. I needed a partner to swim with me. Someone who was a good enough and fit enough swimmer to do the distance, but who wouldn’t be put off by my slower pace.
      2. To even enter this event, you need a support boat. It’s in the rules.

Proving, once again, that wine really does solve everything, a conversation at the post-season Can Too Mentors and Captains celebratory drinks resulted in a plan. Team BelJack was formed as Bel S and I agreed to swim as a duo, and we brainstormed a couple of support boat options. Right before we solved all the rest of the problems of the world. 😉

Fast forward to this weekend. We have our boat and driver (pilot? Captain?) confirmed, but have put off actually taking that step and entering our team. Whilst I’ve done plenty of longer swims and double-ups whenever I’ve raced this season, I actually hadn’t done the full 5km distance and I really wanted to get that under my belt before I could feel really confident that I’d be able to do the event. With that in mind we had talked about doing a 5km pool swim. Initial discussions had involved doing this at the Icebergs pool as it’s ocean water and same temperature as the ocean. Seems our choice of days was poor, though, as it was the launch of the winter season there and they throw ice-block in the pool for a penguin swim!

Des Renford

It seems we needed a Plan B to train for our Plan B.

Instead we headed to Des Renford Outdoor pool, where we were lucky enough to secure a lane each to ourselves.

So how did we go? How did I go? What time did I do? And what was that inner voice up to all that time in the water?

Watch this space for part 2 where all your questions (and some you haven’t even thought of yet) will be answered.

Another beautiful Saturday morning rolled around with sunshine and balmy water. For a bit of a change, coach Zoe conducted the session from a paddle board.

A group doing lifeguard training conveniently had a couple of cans out, so we mainly worked on sighting for the session. It all seems so easy. In theory.

In practice, however, when you’re only head-high out of the water, and if there’s a bit of a swell, those things can look tiny and be impossible to find.

The photos below were from the beach,and even from that perspective you can see just how small those suckers look!

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You can only imagine how much ore difficult it can be on a rough day. However sighting well and therefore swimming straight can really make a lot of difference on race day, so we tend to seize any opportunity to practice the skills needed.

With a coach on a board it was the perfect opportunity to do the exercise where we swim towards a moving target. It’s a lot of fun, and feels just like being in a school of fish changing direction as a whole!

Despite my best intentions, the ongoing home renovation saga and the inevitable post-public holiday workload, I missed training all week this week.

Thanks god for Saturday mornings, and training this week did not disappoint!

The water temperature at the moment is so stunning. It really makes swimming such a pleasure.

The session was my second favourite thing (after body surfing!) to do…a swim safari!

Today we headed to the South end, which we do less commonly than the North. I think it’s a little more technically challenging (Wikipedia just told me that ” While the northern end has been rated a gentle 4 (with 10 as the most hazardous), the southern side is rated as a 7″), and the south end is where the surfers tend to be, and that can be a challenge for us (nobody wants to get hit in the head by a surfboard).

Like the North end, there is a famous rip that can give you a sweet ride out if you know what you’re doing. It’s known as the “backpacker express” because of the Backpacker’s hostel across the road. Or the numbers unwary backpackers who have taken a ride on it! If you look closely at the first picture of us getting our briefing on the beach below, you can see the “Dangerous Currents” sign in the background…and if you look even harder at the second picture you can actually see the rip itself…the deceptively calm looking spot where the waves aren’t breaking.

The joy of a rip, though , for ocean swimming, is that if it’s going in the same direction you are, it gives you a significant boost in speed. And if you know not to swim against the rip, when you’re coming back in, that’s a significant gain.

Once we were out in the rip, we did a swimming tour of the reef along the edge of Bondi Icebergs. There were loads of fish around. Schools of surface-swimming silvery garfish parting around the swimmers, tiny stripy things darting around, a massive blue groper darting out from under a rock to give me a bit of a start, and all manner of speckled and coloured fishies sharing the warm waters. Glorious! (I tried taking photos, but the sky was a bit overcast and they were moving pretty fast…not sure my blurry shots add anything so I’ve left them off).

We did our swim, into the “boot” (a boot-shaped rock), and out and around to the point, back again, and then were faced with two options…

First option was to swim out to the other side of the rip to get back in. Benefits: Safe, flatter swim, chance of catching a wave in. Risks: Surfers!

Second option was to shave along the very edge of the reef inside the rip. Benefits: Shorter distance, lots of fish, more to see. Risks: Running into rocks.

The group split. I had a think about the high tide and caught a flash of Zoe’s orange rashie heading down along the reef, and decided on that option. And it was completely worth it.

I swam with Fiona (I think everyone else took the surf option) and we skirted the reef pretty easily most of the way, surrounded by fish. There is one kind of hairy bit, it’s a narrow channel between two shallow rocks, where we had to swim in single file. It was pretty fun, though, as coming out the other side there was a massive school of fish right underneath you.

The risky option paid off, as well, as we were back on the beach well before all but the fastest swimmers who took the other option.

Ah, such a good session. Good for the soul!

There was bad news and good news on Saturday. the bad news was that there’s no more Can Too training for the season. The good news was that lots of Can Too swimmers showed up to do the 4SEASons swim on Saturday morning. I’m certain the 9am start, and the title sleep-in it allow for helped! As did the looming goal event for those doing the 1km and/or 2km the next day at the North Bondi Classic.

Above all, the good weather stuck around, giving us a glorious day for getting in the water. The sun was shining and there were even pods of dolphins swimming in the bay! I was hoping they might come over for a bit of a closer look at the crazy humans thinking they could swim (it’s happened once before), but for today we had to be satisfied with watching them from a distance.

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We swam a medium distance, with a slightly shorter session. This was for the benefit of those really wanting to save their best for tomorrow’s race. There is benefit to a bit of a taper in training if you have a big event you want to do your best at. It means you’re going into the event at your peak, not tired or sore from training. As a general rule, you don’t gain any extra fitness in your last two weeks of training, and hopefully by then any tweaks to technique are well and truly embedded, so it’s a matter of eating well, not drinking too much, and doing any last emotional and psychological preparation you need to. Keeping up your presence in the water is part of that, and I have to say, it was a pretty easy task on a day as lovely as Saturday. Especially with the return to beach training of the truly-inspiring Fiona!

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Saturday was Australia Day. Regardless on where you stand on the politics of the day, everyone pretty much agrees that if it’s at all possible, the thing to do on Australia Day is head to the beach. Unsurprisingly, Bondi is a popular choice and even early the beach was full of punters.

There was no Can Too session because of the public holiday, and just the one 4SEASons session….but we had invited along a bunch of our friends in orange and it was a pretty massive group that weaved its way between the sunbathers down the to the edge of the water.

After last Saturday’s run in with big waves, a few people were keen to work a bit more on that aspect of their swimming, and the weather helped out by providing some reasonable surf.

At the end of the session, quite a lot of people hung around. My friend Steph and sister had come down again, and we were joined by a few extras as we played in the waves and generally had a bit of fun. Such a nice thing to be able to do to celebrate a holiday!

I did a couple of wave-catching 1-on-1 sessions with Steph and Sonja who were still getting the hang of it. Seems they were both struggling with the same sorts of things.

My advice if you’re struggling with catching waves is that there are 2 key things.

  1. Timing. Get some practice somewhere you can stand, and watch the waves coming in towards you. Try a fraction earlier or later. See if you can pick how fast the waves are coming and get a feel for how the undertow tugs back just before the wave hits. These are all cues you can use to figure out the right timing to get on the wave. To early and you lose momentum, too late and you’ve missed it. Just right and you’ll be smiling all the way to the sand!
  2. Speed. Ideally you want to be going about the same speed as the wave. No point lifting your feet at the last second and hoping it’s going to be a sweet ride straight in. You need to really throw yourself into it. Dive horizontally as you jump on the wave. Push-off hard. And keep kicking, and stroking (one-handed works for me) while you’re on that wave to really make the most of it.

There are plenty of other tips and tricks once you’re on a wave, but if you’re really struggling I’d start with these. Getting there is a good part of the battle! Once you get it right, you can feel it working and running you all the way to the shore. It’s pretty amazing….for me pretty much always followed by wanting to do it all over again!

Sunday was the Bondi To Bronte 2.3km event. I had my new camera and was keen to take it for a bit of a swim before and after the event, so I thought what I might do here is a bit of a run-through of how an event like this actually works for a competitor. If you’ve never swum in an ocean swim race, I’m hoping this might give you a bit of an idea of how it all works. Obviously, all events are different and they all have their own special way of doing things, but this is the story of how it went on Sunday…..

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Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach

Ahhh…Friday was hot and steamy in the city. A Friday night swim was definitely in order…especially after I hadn’t managed much swimming during the week due to the finger/door incident of last Sunday.

This Friday was a bit different to usual training. We went to Bronte beach instead of Bondi. Outrageous!

Don’t worry, though, we aren’t finding a new home, there was a very specific reason for the change. On Sunday, quote a few swimmers were planning on swimming the Bondi to Bronte event. We’re pretty familiar with the start, but we did some specific circuits, practicing coming in where we expected the race to end. We also had fish and chips in the park afterwards 🙂

As a special treat my sister decided to join us for a refreshing dip too!

Bronte Beach is quite similar to Bondi in a lot of ways, but in some ways it’s also quite different. The beach in general is much steeper. It’s a climb up to anywhere and the water’s edge itself is quite steep so the water gets deep very quickly.

The sand at Bronte is much coarser and more shelly than Bondi. I know this because I body-surfed right up to the beach a couple of times and ended up with a not insubstantial amount in my swimmers!

Bronte is a bit smaller than Bondi, and has more of a central rip instead of the two you normally get round the corner. A lot of fun grabbing that little express right out from the middle!

Unfortunately I did have a bit of a drama…my trusty (well maybe not so much in hindsight) Pentax decided not to work while I was in the water. When I got it home I realised why….the whole thing was full of water and the battery had leaked. The whole thing was toast. Boooo.

There’s an upside to everything, though..I did a bit of research on the weekend and made a new purchase so watch this space for a review of my shiny new camera!

Let the games begin!!!!

First race of the season…it was very exciting, a bit nerve-wracking, and the beginning of what should be a great summer ahead!

Apologies in advance…I’ve been on work training for the last couple of days, and would have liked to have finished writing this up a touch quicker. That whole work thing interferes with my swimming so much, It’s outrageous!

Highlights

I carpooled with the gorgeous Vanessa, who lives in the same apartment complex as me. a) she’s a superfish fast swimmer b) she’s lovely and c) she grew up in the shore and had a bunch of local knowledge to share about Cronulla…including parking options!

Thanks again to Vanessa for the local knowledge, but the perfect timing of the race was a major win. Too early you can stress out, overthink, wear yourself out or feel like you need to wee when you don’t actually have to go. Too late and you can stress out, over think, under think, wear yourself out, or feel the need to wee when you don’t have to go.

Beautiful day. After so much crap weather it was nice to have a bit of sunshine, and the 1-foot waves seemed like a walk in the park compared to recent conditions.

Free goggles!!!!!! Yep, lots of exclamation points for this one. Seems a nice silicone cap and a pretty decent pair of goggles were included in the entry fee. Score! Made for really good value for money! Us ocean swimmer go through more goggles than you might imagine, and these were pretty good. A very pleasant surprise indeed.

Low numbers. I think total swimmers in the 2km event were about 102 total. this meant very little hassle with start line tussles and the usual argy-bargy.

I felt pretty good with this race…strong and consistent and I didn’t feel negative or struggle at all throughout the race. In general I’m feeling like I’m pretty much ready for this season!

Well organised. Registration was easy, kit collection was even easier, the course was well marked and there was adequate water safety. All good.

The single wave start. Small race, meant for the first time ever I got to start with all my friends! And since I’m one of those people down the back, mot of my friends were also there to cheer me on at the finish (makes me feel a bit like a rock-star!)

Best of all, somehow, by total chance, for the first time ever, Ronene and I swam almost the entire race pretty much side-by-side (yes, I am aware there were quite a lot of commas in that sentence. Why do you ask?). I’m normally a touch slower than Ro, but the crazy training regime is obviously paying off and I was doing pretty good time (for me) and keeping up. It was pretty awesome having someone to swim with, and worked out in the end when a nasty calf cramp right at the end pulled her calf muscle (yes, again! The other one this time). I’d gone in for a dual arm raise for the glory dash up the beach to the finish line, but it ended up being handier as a crutch as she hopped there instead!

Here’s a photo Paul snapped in that exact moment….

First place = Friendship!

First place = Friendship!

Room for Improvement

The 2 lap course. I dunno, jut personal, but there’s all that ocean out there…were you short on buoys? I don’t get it. I just prefer a bigger course with one loop instead of doing the same thing twice.

Condition-wise, the water was a touch chilly. And one side of the triangular course had a bit of chop. Nothing really problematic, but since we’re here…

How did I do?

2km = 44:47. Not bad for me (and the same time to the second as Ro!). It’s not a great time int he scheme of things, but given where I came from, I’m super-happy…and I had a brilliant time overall!!!

The verdict?

Sensational start to the season! Can’t wait to see how it all unfolds! Nice work Cronulla, lovely race.

More?

More photos on Flikr

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