Do not overestimate your race: OWS round 5 at Coogee beach

It should have been just a last 2.5km rehearsal before the Masters State Championships. I wasn’t aiming at an astonishing time, just at a honestly good one. And who knows? Maybe also a good placement in the open category. But really, more than anything else I just wanted to turn this Coogee beach round into one more good ocean competition under the belt. And it turned out the be a really good learning experience indeed.

What can go wrong?

The ocean is silent and you can hear just a light whispering breeze. Below the turquoise surface, starfishes sleep on the sand. There is a nice relaxing and favorable current when going and only some chops when coming in the 1.25 km loop, to repeat twice. Water is a refreshing 20C degree under a scorching 37C sun . As the merchandise guy is saying, “they can do the world record today”.

The ocean is gorgeous today

Most people signed up for the 5 km, not for the 2.5 km. We are not that many on the start line and the beginning is relatively easy. But just a moment after the horn sound one of us is already too far head, so I decide to keep the situation under control (am I able? Really?) and proceed on my pace, which is not completely relaxed but it’s still considerably low. I stay around the 2nd position for 200~300 meters (not sure, but that’s what I was assuming), until another swimmer appears on my right side.

I am somewhere in there

He seems much faster than me, but then I realize that I can easily keep up with his speed without much efforts (is he in my same category? He looks older than me…). I decide to stay just behind him, to draft and to see what happens (so sorry for lurking and touching you a few times on feet and legs, I know it’s not etiquette but it was not intentional). Sometimes we overtake swimmers from the earlier waves, but except this everything else proceeds smoothly and under control for other 1.8 km (there are some chops in the last tract, but that is part of the game). Pace is rising and now that the finish line is approaching it’s time to give it all. It has been a quiet, not too difficult, funny and interesting race, let’s wrap it up properly. What can go wrong?

What can go wrong:

Well, I have never been good at seeing buoys. And neither at recognizing them. And maybe I was in a hurry. Anyway, I give all my best at turning around the last buoy marking 80 meters from the out-of-water finish line. The problem is that it is not the last buoy. I swim several meters toward the shore before seeing a surf life saver raising her hands and pointing at me…and laughing…and then indicating another direction. I have gone the wrong way. I have wasted an incredible amount of time. A lot, really. I go back towards the real last buoy, I realize I still have 300 meters to swim, but by now I have already ruined my race. And even if in those real last 300 meters I get stung by a stinger on my left arm and shoulder, I am so upset with myself that I don’t mind (I was so angry that it’s likely the stinger got hurt instead) and eventually cross the finish arch on the beach. 2.5 km (maybe 2.8 or more?), 37’16”, 8th overall male, 4th in the open category (18~34 years old). And some light red marks on my shoulder. Today no time or position to take home, just lessons.

Satisfied of the ocean condition after a light warm up

Things to take home today
Buoys are of different colours for a good reason. I noticed once out of the water that the last buoy is orange and white, while the one I turned at is all orange. I need to become a better observer and I also need to learn that even on easy-looking races nothing is given for granted.

My next meet is in two weeks, I’ll be better going in advance to have a swim at Fremantle South Beach and check out there.

Draft is good for you. It makes things easier, but it doesn’t avoid the mistake of taking another direction.

Stingers are there. Some may hurt a lot, some others not much. Good thing to know. It was the first time ever I had been stung by a stinger, and I was lucky that it was a mild one. I need to be prepared for these too in the future.

Do not put in your earplugs too early if the temperature is 37C degrees: you will start sweating and you will have to put them in place again and again. Really annoying.

Thanks to the members of the surf life saving club. They set up the race field, they caught me going in the wrong direction, they gave me ice to put on the stinger’s souvenir. Thanks to be so awesome.

You are awesome guys, thanks
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Training November 29th, 2016

Photo credits to my wife

Ocean swim workout, 2 km (30′)
Notes: today I had the opportunity to find a buddy from the informal group to go swim together in the Ocean. The original goal was 4 km, but today wind was above 35km/h and swells almost 2m, so we were forced to reduce the distance and to swim just from North Cottesloe to Cottesloe hotel and back. What I realized is that now I feel less “cold” the water and I do not shiver when I come out, despite the strong wind. I also learned that when you swim in strong chops you just have to let go your body along with the wave, and do not try to resist the surf, because the water is always going to win. Let glide your body between the swells, and it will became an almost relaxing swim.

Training November 28th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 6.3 km (1h 35′)

(warm up) 1000 fs;
4 × 400 fs @5’50” (200m slow/200m fast) +
4 × 400 fs @5’50” paddles (200m slow/200m fast) + 100 easy;
2000 fs pull buoy

Notes: this is the last week I am going to rise the volume of my workouts. Today I shooted for more than 6 km because I am planning to go out to the ocean tomorrow and I will likely swim about 4 km. Today I felt much less good than yesterday, maybe because either I did weight training this morning (rising the volume of my strength workout too until Wednesday) or because the water was too warm today. More likely both, as I wasn’t able to increase the pace and I also felt my shoulders heavy.

Training November 27th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 4km (1h)

(warm up) 800fs;
2 × 400 fs @5’40” (in 5’05″~5’10”) +
8 × 200 fs @2’50” (in 2’35”) +
8 × 100 fs @1’25” (in 1’15″~1’17”);
14 × 50 fs @45″ with paddles (1 fast/1 slow); 100 easy

Notes: today I did the workout “away”, not at my usual pool but at Claremont Aquatic Center. Nice swimming pool. A trained with a few people from the “informal group”. I didn’t want to do much after yesterday race (which was just 2.5km by the way) so when they suggested this was work I though it fitted nicely in my program.

On retirement and return

Despite what you may guess from the title, this post isn’t about superannuation. It’s just about a swimmer’s retirement from competitions and his eventual coming back years later. I just wanted to write a couple of words on how and why I decided to go back to swimming, although on a different level of committment compared to the past. I was inspired by  reading this article written by Julie Tullber for The Conversation. The author makes an analysis of what made possible Grant Hackett’s (temporarily successful) return to high level swimming years after his retirement from races. I don’t pretend to compare myself to Grant, we come from two different planets (and that mean to be still too close). I don’t even know whether I can call myself a swimmer in front of him. However, I was inspired by Hackett because he was my swimming hero when he was the king of 15 hundreds despite being just one year older than me. I still remember watching him in awe on TV during the 1998 Perth Swimming World Championships. Then, his return to high level competitions after training for just 6 months is amazing. This is undeniable. But this post is not about Grant, it’s about some motivational factors that push somebody back to water, after he has even forgotten whether he still has a swimsuit or not.

Rewind

Let’s go back some years. It’s 2001. I make one of the choices of my life: I decide to go to a university (relatively) far from home. But I don’t want to give up swimming, it is a huge part of my life, it helps me shaping my own identity. So I decide to sign up for a local swimming club. The first year everything is perfect and smooth: training is great, PBs crumble, lots of fun and also top marks at school. However the second semester of the second year I have a crazy class schedule: I cannot train with the same load/frequency I used to, and that I need in order to be competitive (for my standards at least). I have to make a choice: swimming or university? Together with my coach I decide to reduce my weekly training sessions for some months, waiting for a better tomorrow. Which doesn’t arrive. At the end the reason for slowing down first and eventually retiring is just a matter of consideration about the future.

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Before

A 20 years old male swimmer knows if potentially he can make it to the olympics or if he can just reach the final of an open national championship, maybe without making it neither to the national team. Sad but true. Dreams are fine, but when reality arrives, it may hurt. At this point logic reasoning tells you that a future in competitive swimming is short. By graduating instead one never knows, you may open yourself to endless possibilities. However I don’t decide to stop competitive swimming overnight. It happens slowly, and maybe it’s better. When I do my last competition, luckily I don’t know that day it’s going to be game over.

Fast Forward

12 years later. In the meanwhile I move from one continent to another, I complete my post-graduate studies, I gain 30 kg, I start strength training, I lose 28 kg, I get a job, I change workplace, I move to another continent again. I am happy with my job, my family and my morning strength training routine. Then on a “cold” August Sunday morning (we are downunder here) my wife, who doesn’t even swim, suggests to go to the swimming pool. But not to any swimming pool. To the swimming pool, that of the 1991 and 1998 Swimming World Championship, that of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett. I think about it a while, then I consider it an opportunity to do some cardio, so I start checking if I still have a swimsuit and my old Swedish goggles somewhere. The following Sunday I go again. And then again. And then also on a mid-week day. Then mid-week days become two. Then…I am back. I think to sign up for some competition, I look for a masters swimming club. I commit to training and eventually I start doing swimming races.

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Now

I set goals. I am hooked again. I am extremely far from what I used to be and how I used to swim, but after less than 5 months of training I am doing better than I had ever imagined, and this is enough motivating for me. What made all this possible?

Past preparation for the 15 hundreds. This has been accounted for Hackett’s return, so somewhat may apply to me too. Simply, if you swam a lot, your body will never forget it. A retired swimmer is always a swimmer. You just need time to oil your joints, clean up your cardiovascular system, and get muscles running again. How long does it takes to do this? And to which level can you be back? Maybe it depends on your age, but for sure your body can be back if your mind wants it. One of my old coaches once said that if you stop for 6 months, you can call yourself an ex-swimmer. He was wrong. Once you are a swimmer, it’s forever.

Taekwondo for 3 years, followed by 4 years of strength training. Even if I have been training for less than 5 months, I did taekwondo and I am still religiously sticking to strength training. This somewhat helped me with mobility, flexibility and strength development. And also it kept my musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems working. I just need to do heaps of laps to grease the groove.

I make time for swimming. I committed to training because I manage to make time for it. Swimming is not clashing with other aspects of my life, which was one of the reason I quitted when I was 20~21 years old. Of course, I wake up at 4:20am to make it fits into my schedule, but this is exactly what “making time” means.

The need to redefine myself in a new place. Who experienced moving to another country already knows: if you live abroad, you often need to create a new identity for yourself. Swimming is contributing to this; it’s helping me in redefining myself with an identity in harmony with where I am living now (by meeting new people and by making me feeling part of a community).

That primordial desire for competition. This highly depends on each of us, but I always enjoyed competitions. They make me feel alive, just like the taste of challenges. Competing, struggling during the race, sometimes (few) winning while other (many more) loosing…all this strengthen incredibly body and mind.

The masters swimming environment. In masters swimming you can create pressure for yourself if you want, but you really need to want it. The environment is not creating pressure upon you. You are independent. It’s your responsibility to be ready for a meeting, but at least you participate only if and when you want it.

There is no single reason why I am back to the pool and to swimming races. I don’t know whether this is going to last in the future (I hope) or coming again to a (temporary) stop, but I enjoying being a swimmer again.

 

 

Training November 25th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 5.2 km (1h 24′)

(warm up) 1000 fs;
15 x 100 fs @1’30” (50m sprint/50m slow) +
12 x 50 fs @50″ (25m sprint/25m slow) +
12 x 50 fs @50″ (1st 10 strokes sprint, then slow);
1000 fs paddles and pull buoy; 500 (25m kick/75m pull buoy)
 

Notes: Altough I increased the volume compared to last week Friday, this was still my weekly speed workout. It’s good to work on volume and long distance for open water races, but it’s even better to do some speed along with endurance and strength, to have a more rounded training program. Despite increasing the volume since last week, I kept the workout fairly ligth because 1) I did a strength session earlier in the morning (presses, deadlifts and rows) and 2) I signed up for a 2.5 km open water race tomorrow at Coogee.

Training November 24th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 5 km (1h 15′)

(warm up) 1000 fs;
3 x 500 fs @7’15″/7′ with paddles/8’15”;
2 x (400 fs fast @5’40” + 200 fs slow @3’20” + 300 fs fast @4’15” + 100 fs slow @ 1’45”);
500 slow (1st 25 m of each 100 BF)

Notes: early morning workout together with the informal group at the swimming pool. I am feeling better day after day, it’s quite motivating. I came in the 400 in 5’05”, which is not that bad considering that just one month ago I was struggling coming in 5’20”. This workout was not too much difficult.