Tag Archive: 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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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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Whew, what a scorcher! The weekend here was forecast to be a heat wave, and the first official day of summer didn’t disappoint.

It was actually kind of strange, overcast, threatening to rain, but hot and humid. It made the water seem cooler and it was kind of weird to stand up out of the water and feel like you were emerging in front of a hairdryer!

I swam with the intermediate group to keep an eye on as many of my mentees as possible. It’s pretty amazing to see how far some of them have come already. From finally having the confidence to ditch the wetsuit, to diving in without panicking, to really getting in and starting to swim faster, to working out how to swim in a group with arms and legs flailing everywhere. Sadly (for me…good for them) I’m starting see some of the naturals taking off and already swimming faster than me!

As a consequence we’re starting to swim further and faster at training and it’s definitely starting to feel like a workout! We did the “chase the board-rider” sighting drill again this week, herded like a school of fish!

Unfortunately no photos this week after the Pentax leakage debacle of Friday night. Luckily Saturday afternoon consisted of a trip to the camera store and a bit of a new purchase, so there are plenty more photos in the future.

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!

Finally! We had some amazing weather for the Can Too beach session this week. Just glorious. So good that I’m going to put the photos up first!

 

What a day! Clear water, small rolling waves and sunshine!!! It was great to see such big smiles and people finally getting the idea of how glorious ocean swimming can be!

I swam with the intermediate group and we were focussed on sighting and swimming straight. Definitely something I still struggle with and that can make such a big difference to a swim. For my personal hints and tips on this topic, I did write a two-parter post on this exact thing recently. You can find part one here and part 2 here.

We finished up with an exercise that I think is really fun as well as a good for developing sighting skills. For this to really work, it’s best to have a board paddler and one of our amazing water safety volunteers (who are awesome, btw) took up the challenge.

The point of the exercise is to swim towards the board. Sounds simple? Well it would be if the paddler didn’t keep moving around! It ends up being quite fun and feels a lot like being part of a school of fish as we zig and zag and collectively change direction in the water! I’m reasonably certain the paddlers have a bit of fun doing it too, herding the swimmers around in circles like sheep!

It was a little chaotic…but isn’t that one of the joys of swimming in the ocean instead of the pool??

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

The Warm Up

Every swim, no matter whether it’s in the pool or the ocean, we start with a warm-up.
I usually tend to skip over that part of training when I write about my sessions, as, honestly, it’s not the most exciting bit. That definitely doesn’t mean that the warm-up isn’t an important part of training (and races, for that matter).

In the ocean, the warm-up serves multiple purposes:

  1. Acclimitisation. Getting you actually into the water, especially if it’s a touch on the chilly side! Many people find themselves a bit breathless when they first dive into cold water, but it does pass. So it’s better to get that over and done with before a race or taking off into deep water for training.
  2. Getting the lay of the land (or the sand). The problem with the beach is that it’s always changing. Banks build up, holes and channels constantly move and reinvent themselves. It’d be super easy to turn an ankle if you charge straight in without doing a quick check of what’s really in front of you.
  3. Other reconnaissance. You can tell a lot by looking at the conditions before you swim, but not everything. Rips, sweeps, fast-flowing channels, waves dumping harder than they look…it’s worth taking it easy at first to figure out if any of these are present and where, then you can adjust your entry and exit from the water, and your choice of where to swim accordingly. In race conditions if you can find a rip either side of the start line it can be well worth running to where that is and riding it out…it can save a lot of time and energy!
  4. Getting your body warmed up and ready to go. I’m no expert on these things, but it does seem to me that starting off a little slower and getting the muscles worked up to intensity gradually would be less likely to cause an injury that going gung-ho straight off the bat.
  5. Get the nerves out of the way. I can get quite nervous before the start of a race…mostly just excitement and build-up of energy, but it can make me a bit jittery. There’s nothing like diving under that first wave of the day to make everything feel suddenly quiet and calm and focussed on the water and the swim instead of the nerves.

The warm-up may not be the most exciting part of your swim, but it’s still something that you should do every swim, training or racing, no matter what.

After getting inspired and talking about swimming straight last week, Saturday’s swim proved the perfect opportunity to practice the skills needed to pull off this difficult feat.

As I mentioned in the report on Saturday’s training, there was a surf ski race starting at Bondi around the same time we started training. For this race they had put out a couple of buoys for the turn around the south end of the heads. Too good an opportunity for us to pass up at this end of the season! Coach Zoe set us out from the middle of the beach headed straight for the buoy…just like in a race!

This really got me thinking about three ways you can improve your ability to swim in a straight line. The first two are fairly simple, but I’m pretty sure I can manage to ramble at length about the third!

Firstly – Breathe bilaterally. I know lots of people hate doing this for various reasons, some people find it difficult, and it’s not always possible (especially in open water if you have a big swell or break on one side), but really, it’s just common sense that if you’re breathing evenly to either side, there’ll be less opportunity for any bias in your stroke to really veer you off in one direction.

Secondly – Good, even technique. Just about everyone has one arm (and leg) stronger than another, but focussing on good, even technique at training will also reduce any bias in either direction.

The third, and arguably most significant thing you can do to swim straight, is to work on your sighting.

Sighting is the technique we use in open water swimming to allow us to have a look where we’re going regularly without having to stop or slow down, or drop our body more vertically in the water than completely necessary.

Technically speaking, sighting involves lifting your eyes above the waterline ever so slightly…literally just enough to get a look in front of you. Ideally (in flat conditions) the rest of your head should come out of the water. This is because the more you lift your head, the more your body drops in the water, and the more drag you create.

Here’s a great video showing a swimmer doing a pretty good job of it….

Of course, the bigger the waves, the harder this is to do. You may need to look up a bit higher, but a good trick under these conditions is to do your sighting when you’re at the top of a wave, not in the trough.

Also part of the art of sighting is to figure out how often you need to sight. As a general rule, you should sight less, rather than more often. Even if your sighting technique is pretty efficient, it’s still going to create more drag than not sighting at all. the trade-off, though is that going off course is worse again! So you need to continually reassess throughout a race (or training swim). If you’re pretty confident in your ability to swim straight because of your technique you would usually sight less, but if you know you’re a bit prone to the zigzags, by all means check more often.

Conditions also have a part to play on sighting. If there’s a swell or big waves or a rip or a current of anything else driving you off course, by all means sight more often.

The other part of sighting, is a bit of an art form rather than a technique. Generally when you swim, you don’t get much elevation above the waterline, and buoys really aren’t that big most of the time (and some of them aren’t in particularly contrasting colours, either!). Add waves or a swell to that equation, and it becomes really hard to spot that buoy when you’re sighting. What to do?

The trick is to line up the buoy with something you can see easily from water-level and from far away. This can be any number of things – outcrops, buildings, cranes, tall trees, flags, shade sails…the list goes on. Please don’t pick something that moves, though! Clouds, boats, lifeguards, other watercraft or water-users all have a tendency to move so don’t make particularly good landmarks.

Once you’ve chosen your (non-moving) landmark, swim towards that, until you have the buoy firmly in your sights. When you round a buoy and head in a different direction, pick a new landmark and start the process again. Simple, right? Well, not always, but the principle always remains the same.

Here’s another great video with some examples of techniques for swimming straight….

Swimming straight is so important. if you think about it, I might be a slower swimmer than, well, a whole lot of people, but if I can manage to swim in a straight line in a race I give myself a pretty major tactical advantage. I swim less distance and expend less effort.

I loved this video from Swim Smooth (Here’s the full article.):

Such an interesting look at how bad we all innately are at swimming in a straight line. Also a good lesson for anyone who only does pool training to compete in races that don’t have the ever-present black line to show the way.

In some races it’s easier to swim in a straight line than others. There is a long list of things that might make it difficult:

  1. Conditions. It’s harder to see the marker buoys when the waves are bigger.
  2. The course. Some races have interesting courses. The Cole Classic (most years) starts at Shelley Beach (which is at right angles to the finish line at Manly), then you swim across the bay, and pull a hard right out around the point into open ocean to pull a left at a buoy you couldn’t even see from the start line. And check out the course from last year’s Tamarama to Clovelly swim. Trust me, it was a looooooooong way between the 2nd and 3rd buoys…all the way along that cliff face!
  3. Non-Symmetrical swimming technique. As the swim smooth video points out, bilateral breathing is a good start on this. Technique training should also help. My personal observation is that it’s good to be able to be a bit flexible with these things…adjust for different techniques with different breathing patterns.
  4. Other swimmers (part 1). Depending on the layout of the wave starts, especially if you’re not a fast swimmer, you can spend a lot of time with other swimmers overtaking you. Your choice about getting out of the way, fighting them off or trying to jump on their bubbles for a draft, but regardless, it always has the potential to make you lose focus and drift off course.
  5. Other swimmers (part 2). As you can see in the previous points, it’s surprisingly easy to find yourself are little lost out there, where you haven’t seen a buoy in a while and you’re not really sure if you are swimming straight or not. There are swimmers in front of you, possibly even stretching out in a line. Aha! You’ve found the right way to go! Crowdsourcing is the way of the future, right? BZZZ Wrong! Those swimmers in front of you have been swimming in e same conditions you have. The same course, the same wave height. What makes you think they know where they’re going any more than you do? You should always plot your own course. Always. Pretty much no exceptions. The only thing worse than swimming off course, is swimming off course because you followed the random stranger in front of you.

Wow. Sounds impossible, right? But never fear, there are definitely some things you can do to improve your ability to swim the elusive straight line around the course to the finish.

How? Well I think that probably requires a whole post of its own. So step one is to watch this space. 🙂

Oops! Missed a week…sorry. I’m assuming anyone who’s really seriously and strictly following the Ky Hurst training program I’ve been posting here has probably signed up themselves and isn’t too upset that I missed a week and am posting two at a time here. Right? Right?

Anyway, here are the two latest weeks…

week 5 on active recovery and week 6 on the taper.

Interestingly, in the last two weeks of the plan he talks about active recovery and tapering to ensure you are rested and in peak form for a goal event.

It’s a good point that a lot of people don’t get when training for any type of event. Essentially, any work you do pays off about 2 weeks later. The catch here is that it’s not like a test at school…you can’t do a last minute cram and train like crazy in the last 2 weeks before an event….it’ll do you more harm than good!

Once you hit those last two weeks you really want to be doing just enough that you are staying comfortable in the water and maintaining a routine. The focus is really on resting and eating well and sleeping well to ensure you can really output maximum energy on the day.

I have, on occasion taken this approach. Particularly the first year I swam, I followed a very specific training program geared towards a particular goal swim, and I definitely did a proper taper before the event.

More recently, however, during summer it’s not uncommon for me to be racing just about every weekend. Last season I spent 13 individual days racing and I didn’t start til after Christmas. Under these kind of circumstances (crazy ones? well, maybe) the line between training and racing does start to blur after a while.

Regardless, my strategy involved taking it fairly easy at the Saturday sessions before a race, and weighing up how far, what the conditions would be like and what else was going on week to week. For a big race somewhere in open water (as opposed to a course that is entirely inside a bay) I’ll know that I’m going to need more energy than a short course at Bondi. Regardless, the principles of active recovery are really important here. I’ll make race day the hardest swim of the week….and then it can do double duty as a training day for 2 weeks later!

If you’re looking for them, here’s week 1 and week 2 and week 3 and week 4

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