It was my first 5 km ever in open water. Well, it was still in a lake and the water was pretty calm, but nevertheless “open”. Champion Lake is a man made lake used as regatta centre. Before getting there I was a bit worried. People from my informal training group warned me that the water is usually uncomfortably murky (well, it was), and a quick search in Google showed that the place has not certainly shining records in regards to bacteria level controls. However, thinking that in Australia “safety first” is always a huge concern, I thought that they would have postponed the race in case of any risk. At the end, water turned out to be murky, but not as much as I had feared. It turned out to be even warmer (20C degrees) than I had thought. I had such bad expectations that when I realized it was not that bad I felt quite relieved indeed. I also think that this contributed to my approaching the race in a more positive mood.
Approaching the meeting
This race had two sections: a Western Australia Open Water State Championship and a public entry. I signed up for the 5 km (of the public entry, of course) a few weeks ago. I wanted to test myself on a 5 km without any kind of pressure. This race was the ideal one. In the public entry my category was “open”, which means 18~34 years old. No masters categories, no masters series tally points to consider, nothing. No concerns about my final placement. No worries about chops or rough water. No fear of ocean beasts. And thus (almost) everything went well.
1st 1.25 km section. My wave includes public 2.5 km and 5 km race participants. I don’t want to be punched, I don’t want to be pulled or pushed. I also don’t want to do a super fast start as the week before. I want to start slowly and, if there is anything left in the tank at the end, I will see at that point what to do.
So I decide to start a little behind the front row. Take your marks…go! The start is a bit of a mess, but not that much. And I don’t mind staying behind and overtaking people one by one. The weather is nice, the atmosphere is good, my mood is wonderful. The only small problem is that the water is murky and I cannot really see whether somebody is in front of me, I have to rise the head so often. The group reaches a first buoy and I ask myself why nobody is turning around…well it was not yet the turning buoy, so straight head with my pace. I am not feeling cold either. By now, at least.
2nd 1.25 km section. I reach that huge red turning buoy. By the time I arrive there swimmers are not in a compact group anymore, and going around the buoy is not that difficult. After, another straight swim: I keep on at my pace, and I am still overtaking people. I know that it’s meaningless, because there are also people participating in the 2.5km in my wave, but overtaking people and at the same time not seeing anybody overtaking you is always good for the mood. Suddenly…a problem: I start shivering. I am shivering and I am not half through the race yet. I try to convince myself that the water is not cold, that also “kids” (athletes in the state championship category) are doing what I am doing and if they can do it, I can too. Shivering stops. I don’t know why but seeing people on the pontoon for the 10 km refeed look extremely cool.
3rd 1.25km section. Shivering starts again. Oh my god, I hope this finishes soon. I regret the decision of wearing briefs instead of my beloved jammers for this race. Anyway, I keep thinking the same positive stuff as before and the shivering calms down. Now I want to increase the speed a bit, so I decided to go and overtake those green/orange/blue caps there. I don’ see many people around me now, those over there head of me must be from earlier waves. I realize now that reaching other waves feels good, even if meaningless from the point of view of the competition. Spotting the red turning buoy over there is another boost of energy and makes me increase my stroke rate, and between the two turning buoys I overtake this last group of swimmers.
4th 1.25km section. In the last section I cannot see anybody else in front of me, but also nobody is coming up from behind. I rise my pace as much as I think I can keep it steady until the end. It also help me stop shivering, which started again after the last turning buoy. Luckily, in this second lap too seeing people on the refeed pontoon makes me feel good and remembers me that now even kids are doing what I am doing, and maybe even more (the 10 km). I am able now to see the orange buoys by myself (I have to, as there is nobody to follow). And now…there…those small buoys marking the turn around the island just before the finish line. I try to swim as fast as I can, toward the white board of the in-water finish. I want to slap that board…but I realize that what I am am able to do is just to touch it softly. 1h 15′ 05″.
Out of the water. I grab the banana that the volunteer hands me and I try to walk toward my wife. Maybe is for the shivering during the swim, but I have leg cramps and I cannot walk…I cannot sit down either! Well but it is finished…I finished. The feeling is good, I enjoyed it. Of course I want to do it again.
Things to take home today
Don’t make a fuss at the start. At the end I finished 3rd in the open category (18~34 years old) and 4th overall (public entry). I was not that much concerned about the position, I was more focused on the time. 5 km in 1h 15’05” is not far from the pace of 1.6 km in 23’13” I did one week before at Lake Leschenaultia, but in that race I started super fast and then I was on the wall. Hence from Champion Lake I take home that “slow and steady win the race”. With an add: not too steady, if you have something left in the tank approaching the finish, go balls out or you will regret it.
Positive thoughts do make a difference. I was shivering while swimming, which is nothing good, but by thinking that it’s not possible to feel cold in 20C degrees water I have been able to manage the problem. I also became aware that if I think about something else, like “let’s swim better”, “let’s try to breath on the other side” or “let’s go and overtake those swimmers there”, then I don’t shiver anymore. Keep being positive, and good things happens.
Don’t become your rival. Before considering the challenge of other swimmers, consider yourself. Do not create pressure upon yourself without a good reason. It simply doesn’t worth it. Stay concentrated, but relaxed.
P.S. two quick notes
- I didn’t do a water warm up, just a dryland one based on small jumps and heaps of stretching. For two reasons. Firstly, I was going to start slowly anyway and a first 5km open water could have been a long way to go (for me). Secondly, it was a bit difficult to access the water, just a small group of state championship participants did a short water warm up just before the race briefing.
- I didn’t take with me my energy bars. Instead I had my usual honey water bottle and a lot of bananas. I did a nice carb up on Saturday, then on Sunday I had rolled oat with honey, dried apricots and dates, a banana and a mango for breakfast at 4:30am, then one more banana one hour before the start at around 7:20am.