Saturday, 29 January 2011

Bloody Big Swim - Bloody Big Effort

Last year I swam this 11.2km event without a wetsuit and came 3rd overall only 6 minutes back from 1st place. This year I was hoping to go a little better and was prepared to sacrifice the moral high ground and don the wetsuit.
Training had been going well since an enforced 2 week break (while recovering from the flu) at new year. Some good sessions in the last two weeks making me think I was getting back to the form I had before xmas. My big rivals would be my training partner Peter Thompson and last years' winner, marathon swimmer John Van Wisse. I had a surprising boost to my title hopes with the news that John was swimming in a relay team this year and Peter had decided to only swim in his open water swimsuit and not the full wet suit (focusing on the Rottnest Channel swim next month). Quietly confident I hoped this might be my year!
I had great support from Rob Davis my paddler who had escorted me last year and knew me and the course well and I even had a boat crew lined up courtesy of the Frankston Yacht club - so all the boxes were ticked this year!
We lined up at Frankston beach for the start at 9am on Saturday the 29th Jan, and although I didn't recognise any other serious competitors there is always that nagging doubt some young gun would pop up from nowhere and nail it.
My strategy was fairly simple - to go out at a good steady pace, not to get too swept up with any excitement in the first km and hopefully build up a reasonable lead in the 2nd half of the swim, coast in for the win in about 2 and a quarter hours! As with many plans this went out of the window fairly early.
When the starting siren sounded one swimmer shot off like he was being fired out of a cannon! He sprinted into the water and by the first turning buoy was already opening up a reasonable lead. I was in second place but could see Peter was just behind me. My title ambitions seemed to be dwindling into the distance fairly early on and I knew that the pace the lead swimmer had set off at was too fast for me. If he could maintain that he would win comfortably, I hoped he might fade at the end but by then he would probably be too far away to catch.
Peter was soon tapping my feet and within a kilometre we were side by side swimming stroke for stroke. We have trained like this in the lakes, Peter breathes to his right and me to my left so we line up next to each other and push each other along in training. I was a little put off by the thought that I really should have been quicker than him given I had the more buoyant wetsuit but we were pushing each other along at a good pace and we settled in to this arrangement feeding at the same time and encouraging each other to keep the tempo up.
By an hour and a quarter (just over half way) our paddlers informed us we were about 100m behind the lead swimmer which wasn't a lot, probably just over a minute but still quite a margin to catch up at that pace. We set off again, each time one of us slowed a little the other one got slightly in front and forced the other to pick up the tempo so we kept up a really consistent speed, I felt I was going as fast as I could maintain over the distance. We had a last stop at 1hr 45min and were told we were only 60m behind now but struggling to get closer, Rob encouraged us to push if we wanted to catch the front runner. With a last word of encouragement to Pete we pushed on knowing we were probably only 2km to the finish. I could see the lead swimmers' paddler and boat and it looked like we were getting steadily closer, with 20minutes to go I started to believe we might just catch him and I tried to step up the pace. Having swum side by side with Pete for nearly 2 hours I could see I was just starting to edge ahead and although I felt a little guilty leaving my training partner and friend I was desperate to have a crack at the win. With about 500m to go I had drawn level with the lead swimmer who having been told he was being caught had tacked across to our line and tried to jump on my feet. He hung on for about a hundred metres but slowly I started pulling away from him. By now I was getting seriously fatigued and I thought I might have timed my run too early. I could just see Pete making a move behind me but he was still 15 metres off my feet. The last thing I wanted was a sprint up the beach, getting passed in the last 50m was a dire thought. So as I rounded the last buoy and turned towards the finishing line, about 100m away, I kicked with all I had and as soon as the sand was within reach I was duck-diving and then sprinting through the shallows. I crossed the line about 13 seconds ahead of Peter and just under a minute ahead of 3rd place. As it turned out he was a young gun who had beaten me in several shorter ocean swims earlier in the season. He was a very fast swimmer over the 1 and 2km distances but on the day the longer distance was a just too far for him and after 7km he had started to tire.

(3 swimmers sprint finishing!)

So a very pleasing win in 2hrs and 9minutes, Peter swam really well and would no doubt have won had he worn a proper wetsuit. I was very happy to have had such a hard fought win, and to catch the lead swimmer in such an exciting manner right at the end.
Many thanks to Rob my paddler, Matt the boat captain and my support crew; my wife Vickie and my parents who came down and found it much more exciting than many of my long swims!

(final sprint up the beach)