Swim Thru. The Swim Thru Perth is said to be the oldest open water race in Australia, the 2017 event was the 98th. Claremont masters swimming club is the organizer now, and it is also the masters swimming team that I joined just the week before the event. This year the meet was part of the Masters Swimming Western Australia open water series and also the Swimming WA OWS. It awarded cash prizes for overall placements and several other minor prizes for masters age-group categories and teams. Since it’s now a classic, even if you didn’t see the top of the top of Western Australian elite swimmers attending this year edition, you could still find a good representative of pretty fast guys (and pretty fast girls too).
Matilda bay. It should have felt like swimming on home ground. Matilda bay is just in front of the university where I teach, and the race course was at a less than a five-minute walk from my office. But the truth is that I had never swam in Matilda bay before. And if the weather is windy (and it was), and you swim in Matilda bay, I learnt quickly that you must consider two hostile variables. The first is choppy water. Matilda bay is still part of the Swan river, not yet the open ocean, and small but frequent and irregular chops can get really annoying. Really. The second is…jelly fishes. Plenty. Not dangerous, they don’t sting you often, but you can feel them on your palm while swimming, which is also pretty annoying. But not as much as choppy water.
A short 5k. 5km are always 5km, never shorter and never longer. Of course, somebody said that in open water swimming you never swim the exact distance: most of the times more, seldom less. But even if it has been my first salty water 5k, before and during the race I thought that it was not that long. For the records, I think we swam a bit more than 5k. I said “we” because I stayed in (the rear positions of) the leading pack from the start until the finish line, and for some reason unknown to me we kept all direction and turning buoys at a certain distance. I decided to follow the pack and rely on its leaders’ experience, as I don’t think I would have been better than them at following a faster route.
Impressions from the pack. I am happy that I swam in the leading pack. I drafted all 5k, but this also means that I held the pace. It was not extremely fast but neither too slow, just right. At the end the pack (8 swimmers) arrived all within 30 seconds, with just 8 seconds between the 3rd to the 8th swimmer. Sprinting at the end of a 5k has been a new experience, and I finished 6th overall in 1h 06’44”. I tried to go faster at the last 300~400 meters, but I guess that everybody else did the same because I couldn’t swim away. The pack statistics was heterogeneus: 6 males and 2 females, 6 “grown up” (over 25 years old) and 2 “kids” (more or less 18 years old).
Behaviour of the pack. It is incredible how you have an ocean to swim in, but in open water races you always end up swimming over each other. I think I must take this as it is. I accept that somebody may touch my feet; it may happen that I swam over somebody else’s legs. I understand bumping into each other occasionally. But the younger the swimmer, the most he/she seemed to play a bit dirty. I don’t want to play dirty, especially with kids who are half my age. It is not correct, and it doesn’t make sense at all. They may be faster than I am, but I am pretty sure that I am stronger than they are and my body is thicker double theirs: if they push me they are just annoying, if I push them…well I said that I don’t want hurt anybody.
Things to take home from Matilda bay. Firstly, as usual more experience. And this time even more confidence that with good conditions I can swim with the pack, if it is not too fast (of course, we are not talking of Australian nationals here, but of modest size open water events). Secondly, a chafing on my left leg, due to the seam of the right leg of my jammers. It never happened with this swimsuit, I think I put it on with seams in an odd position. I bought vaseline, I had it in my bag. Let’s use it from now on. Many people at races use an anti-chafing balm stick, they say it is less messy and I should really consider to give it a try. Thirdly, the prize for the team victory (awarded to the first team with 4 swimmers crossing the finish line), and the prize for the master category 35~39: a swim towel (small size, quite useful), a sport bottle (already lost it at the pool), a backpack (already have many) and some nice vouchers for swimming equipment and accessories (always useful to buy training suits).