15 hundred…15 years later

It was my first time in a while. It was not like the first time, because after you have done it many times, you never forget how to do. 15 years passed. I have dreamed often of doing 15 hundred again when doing taekwondo and trying to lose some of the 30 kilograms that I gained during my graduate studies in Seoul, but I had never imagined that it would have really happened. Just to add a drop of romanticism: it happened in the same pool of the 1999 swimming world cup, the one that I watched in awe on tv. It happened in a masters’ meet more similar to a time trial event than an actual competition, but nevertheless I wanted to be ready for the a distance which was my distance. Lightly tapered and shaved. 24hrs carb load. Motivationally charged. And only one goal: the new national record for my age group.

I wanted to do things well. I knew with a good approximation when my turn was scheduled, so I could time my warm up quite well. Oh let’s say better than I usually do. It took about 40~45 minutes, 2.4 km:
600 fs
200 (50 fs/50 back)
200 fs (25 fast/25 easy)
5 × 100 fs @1’20” (in 1’09”)
200 fs easy
3 × 100 fs @1’15” (in 1’09”, I didn’t feel ready yet, I needed a little something more)
100 easy
100 fs fast (in 1’04” without much effort, at this point I felt I was ready)
200 easy (time to get out)
I had a hot shower, I got changed and then I still had 50 minutes to wait before my event. My ugg boots and my wool beanie, two great investments for the winter months, kept me warm until the race. Then, 20 minutes before the start I had 35gr of dextrose and 5gr of bcaa in 300ml of water. I don’t think I really needed this, but it was an experiment. And I think it worked at least for the race time.

Take your marks…go! I was going to do the first 100 fast, and that was exactly what I wanted. I know myself a bit by now: if I start fast then I just slow down a few seconds but I hold the pace. However when I try to pace from the beginning I start too slow and I am not able to increase speed later. So my strategy: flat out and hold it. My splits:
100m: 1’02″96
200m: 1’07″68 (2’10″62)
300m: 1’09″50
400m: 1’09″43 (4’29″42; this is .3 short of the State record for the 400m fs. It will be for the next time)
500m: 1’10″50
600m: 1’10″00
700m: 1’10″21 
800m: 1’10″48 (9’10″74; this is new WA State record for the 800m fs)
900m: 1’09″25
1000m: 1’09″60
1100m: 1’09″75
1200m: 1’09″30
1300m: 1’09″28
1400m: 1’08″89
1500m: 1’06″28 (17’13″09; and this is new National record masters 35!)
Mission cleared. Of course, I hope to do better the next time since I was clearly too slow in the middle 500. This is also an encouraging step toward my ultimate goal: swimming the Rottnest. Ah…15 years ago my 15 hundred best was 15’46”.

2016/17 Open water season wrap up

No more open water races until October. It’s the off season now. It’s time to draw some conclusions and set new goals for the next year. 
I have been swimming since last August, but I started training in September. I swam twelve events from early November 2016 to mid April 2017, all between 1.5km and 5km. At the beginning of the season I did most 2.5km, because I didn’t feel I was ready for doing longer distances yet, but starting from January I entered mostly 5 km. I finished overall first in three races (Albay OWS 2.5km, Mandurah Australia Day swim 4km and Albany harbour swim 4km), and second in two (Fremantle port swim thru 2.5km and Coogee Jetty to Jetty 1.5km), but I was often first in my age group and sometimes I got good placements in the open category of the OWS series. Not only I reached my goals, but some of my results have been beyond my expectations, especially in the second half of the season.

My wife always says that if I enjoy racing, then I should go for it. An open water event can have a satisfying or a bad outcome, but you must enjoy it otherwise it makes no sense to jump into the ocean. At the begininng I signed up for masters swimming because I wanted to do pool events, however I entered my first open water meets becauase of the completely lack of masters pool events in the calendar during the summer season. At the beginning open water races were just a back up plan while waiting for the pool season, but now I can say that I enjoyed it so much that I want to turn open water swimming into my main focus. The reason is double. Firstly open water events offer me a new challenge every time, since open water is never the same. Secondly there is more competition. Competitive elites swimmers often enter ocean races and therefore it’s always a good opportunity for a reality check.

This blog too was borned out of a reality check. I was impressed at how hard it was to swim in the ocean. Swells and cold water (as well as the Cottesloe rif) at the beggining appeared huge obstacles, and during the first races I couldn’t even swim straight, I couldn’t spot the course buoys, I couldn’t pace my swim. It was obviously a lack of training, but also a lack of experience. I learned a little something every event. I learned how to start better, how to spot buoys, how not to fear a bit of cold water (if you feel cold, it means you are not swimming fast enough!). My results got better with training and races under the belt, and I dropped 15 minutes from my first to my last 5k.

I set two goals early last November. They were to win the masters open water state championships and the masters open water series in my age group. I won my age group at the State champs, but I also arrived second overall after having been training for just 3 months. I went then on winnig not only my age group, but the overall masters open water series at the end of the season. I think that I can say “mission completed”. However, after one season passed, now I admit that there is not much competition in the masters open water series, even less if you consider my age group, thus these where not actually unachievable or extremely difficult goals. It was just a matter of swimming one particular event (the masters champs) and entering as many races as possible to get points (the series leaderboard). But I set to reach them at the begininning of my training, when I still had not things in perspective and did not know which results I could really achieve. Speaking about results, I was more surprised to arrive among the first three in the open category in the 5 km of two events of the Swimming WA OWS.

Now it’s time to put more weights on the bar and go for another attempt. The next open water season starts in Spring and for the next months I will swim only in pool meets. From October I will probably enter some of the masters series events and some race organised by surf life saving clubs, but the main goals from this moment are to swim to Rottnest (19.7k) and get a position “as higher as possible” in the Swimming WA open water series leaderboard. 

Last Ocean race before the winter: Albany harbour swim

A view of the harbour at 6am, from the finish line

They convinced me. It was not on my diary, it was not in my plans. They convinced me to sign up for the Albany harbour swim one month before the event. I didn’t think of adding Albany to my open water swimming race list because it’s far, I have to drive for five hours, I need to book a motel, the race is on Easter Saturday, the weather is usually bad and the water cold and choppy. But it is also usually one of the last event on the calendar, and then no more ocean races until October: eventually I decided to make the Albany harbour swim an excuse to go down south and wrap up my season.
Albany is a city with natural harbours. The 4k course of the race is a straight line cutting across Princess harbour, from the Albany yacht sailing club to the Anzac peace park, just next to the Entertainment Centre. The weather down south is cooler than Perth, visibility can be greatly reduced in the morning and sometimes the wind can be an issue. Since the race crosses the harbour, participants need a bit of logistic organisation to get their bags on the other side or to be taken back to the start to their cars. I was lucky that my wife was with me, and with some extra help from friends of my masters swimming club everything was sorted out.

The course map

I went down south on Good Friday, checked in at the motel in the early afternoon and then went to have a look at the start and the arrival locations. In books on open water swimming it is often written that talking with locals to get knowing some of the characteristics of the race field is important. At the yacht club I met one of the organisers who gave me plenty of useful information on currents, wind directions, water temperatures in the harbour and some other tips for the race. Really useful, I completely subscribe to the “talk to locals” suggestion. I also had a look around the Anzac peace park and then headed to Middleton beach for a quick swim, just to loosen up muscles after the 5 hour drive.

This was my second trip down south to Albany for a swimming race. This time I decided to be prepared and pack my own food for the two days. For a 24 hours carb up I had with me seven bananas, two bars of chocolate, and a small bag of rolled oat. I also made in advance a banana bread and a brownie, and I packed all of the former and half of the latter already portioned in single slices. A can of mackerel and one of kippers provided enough protein. I don’t like canned food and I usually don’t eat it, but you can have it in a motel room or in a car and it doesn’t need to be cooked. Before we were back everything was gone, except one banana. I already talked about the brownie breakfast in the post about the Coogee Jetty to Jetty, and I confirm: a slice of brownie (and one of banana bread) three hours before the race seems to work great for me.

The harbour seen from the yacht club, a few moments before the start

If you exclude that I couldn’t really swim straight passed the first 1 k, there are not exciting things to report about the race itself. I lead from the first few strokes to the end and I finished the 4k first in 49’26”, which is not bad I think. However wind was southeasterly and we were swimming south to north, so the waves helped a lot. Sometimes I was even feeling like surfing, but I realized later that I was being pushed east because I kept on the left the yacht marking the 1st km but I could barely see far on my right those of the 2nd and 3rd km. I should have realized that swells and the rising tide were pushing me off course before a boat from the rescue service approached me indicating to go more west. I probably ended swimming more than 4k, but since I won the race it is still ok. I must just be smarter the next time. The water was a bit cold, around 18~19 degrees, but nothing you cannot stand for 4k. I put on some wool fat on my upper body (because I didn’t want to mess up with my race jammers) and I really felt some difference at the beginning, but thanks to the jammers I felt the legs warmer anyway. Once the race was finished, I managed to resolve shivering and some cramps with a hot shower.

My wife and I decided to stay down south just for one night, but we couldn’t go back without a proper lunch. And by “proper” I mean that half of the cash prize that I got for the swim was spent for the lunch at a marron farm in Denmark. It was also a way to thank my wife who follows me in all my races, she is fantastic.

Self reward for the victory: a marron plate

Two steps head: Shorehaven 5k and Coogee 1.5k

On my way to Coogee, early morning

My last two open water events have been quite different: the first was a 5k while the second was an open water sprint, a 1.5k. In the first one I swam almost more than half race alone, nobody to follow and nobody following. In the second one I drafted for a few hundreds meters, then I decided that it was time to go, and I lead a small group of three until the final rush. Two quite different race conducts with the common thing that my only tactic has been a no-tactic: sprint at the start, hold it as long as you can and see what happens.

Shorehaven: ready to go

Shorehaven. This is my last 5k this season. Let’s just enjoy it, I have nothing to lose and nothing to win anyway. Sound of the siren. Go. Sprint. All buoys are in sight and the pack starts getting shape. The pack…I am not IN the pack, I am leading the pack. I am not supposed to be here. Slow down? Keep going? I feel good and I have nothing to lose, so just keep going. Second turning buoy, who is this guy coming up? It doesn’t matter, just swim side by side with him, I still feel good. First lap turning buoy, oh Jesus everybody looks like overtaking me from every side. White chops, some elbow, a few kicks. Well, draft draft draft…draft… … …draft…it’s another half lap done, turning buoy in sight but no draft anymore. They have gone, bye bye. Did I blew up after 1.5k? Did they just flew away after 1.5k? It is not important now, I must take home the last 3.5k. Keep this pace. Keep this pace. Don’t slow down. It’s hard when your only reference is people from slower waves, but don’t slow down. “Give up” is not in my dictionary. And after all, I don’t not feel that bad either, I am not hitting the wall. Not yet.

Out of the water toward the timing arch

End of the race, out of the water arrival, run through the timing arch: 1h 00′ 08″. Wow, what a time! PB! Was the course 5k? It’s more than 2′ improvement from two weeks ago in Rockingham, where I was already wondering whether the course length had been calculated correctly. Who cares, let’s take home my new best, the seventh place, and a little medal for the third place in the open category (18~34, even if I am 35).

Coogee, the 1.5k walk to the start line


Coogee. Last open water race of the season. Give it all, it’s just 1.5k, just a sprint. And come on, fifteen hundreds used to be MY race. It’s just a quick swim from there to here, from “jetty to jetty”. Yes, from there to here, and now I am talking with this really fast guy while walking 1.5k to reach the start at the other jetty. I don’t have a clear tactic, I never have one. I just start fast. Sprint. And then keep it. Keep going and try not to blow up. This is exactly what I will do. Horn sound. Sprint and high elbows because all these guys trying to getting head by pushing me down really suck. The pack is getting shape, and this is a nice pack, I mean there is a bunch of fast swimmers in this race. But today the pack doesn’t look like a “pack”…it’s more like a row. I am third. Great, nice draft, I am not putting in much effort, wonders of the draft maybe? I could go. I can go. I go. I am second but…the leader has already gone, I can just see his white chops in the distance. Nobody to follow and overtaking this other guy maybe has not been a good idea. But here I am and let’s play this game. Luckily this is a 1.5k straight race, just keep in sight the jetty over there and go head. Go head. Go. Now I am realizing that an open water straight race presents a little problem: no guess on how far I have gone and on how much is left. But the jetty is getting bigger and bigger, it must be a few hundreds meters to go now.

1.5 km final rush

I feel hands touching my feet. I knew they were there. I don’t know how many they are and how much they have left in their tank. It’s time to sprint. I will touch before them. You will never get me. I slap the arrival beam. Before them. Whoever they were. Second place in 16’59”. Good. Oh, yeah good.

Walking away after my 16’59”

P.S. I have still to figure out what happened at Coogee. Everybody was recovering from the Rottnest crossing, while I was not. However I am happy of my swim, under 17′ on a 15 hundreds…after 15 years and in open water. I put on my new baths, race jammers (Jaked Keel) instead of my plain common jammers (Orca). And I had a “new” breakfast: homemade chocolate brownie instead of my pre-race oatmeal. An additional energy boost for sure. I also tried some fast carb gel just before the race. Can a new bath, a slice of brownie and some carb gel explain a 16’59” on a 1.5k?

Sky above Coogee

Another go at 5k: OWS Rockingham round

The long walk to the start buoys

My Rockingham round of the OWS in one word: surprise. I was surprised by my time, and I was surprised by my final position. Plus, I learned another thing that surprised me as well. Still improving, still learning, still making good experience, still enjoying the race: I couldn’t ask for more.

My final position. I arrived 5th overall and 3rd in my category. Now you may think “well, and so?”. Well, if you exclude the Albany round where not many people were around, Rockingham it’s my best placement to date in the OWS. It’s an improvement, and every tiniest step forward is always better than a step back. Also, I turned 35 in mid January, but since we are half through the season I am still racing in the open (18~34) category. A (small) medal in the 5 km in a OWS round: at the beginning of the season something that I had never considered. This alone was worth the day.


Getting my reward for the day

My time. I was fast, but everybody was fast actually. Really, winners in all distances came in pretty quickly. You can have just two explanations for this, either the condition of the ocean was great or one lap of the circuit was less than 1.25 km. Maybe both, however I would bet that the circuit was shorter. Sea conditions also were great indeed, I had never seen such a flat ocean before. However this alone cannot explain my 12’24″/km pace, which I can barely hold in a pool training session on a 1k timed. No way I could hold it in the ocean for 5k. My time was 1h 02′ 06″, which officially is my PB. Let’s say another step head instead of a step back, but I am not giving it much weight.



Always remember to return the transponder!

Pack and draft. The start was quick and the first three flyed away just after a few hundred meters. I though that I wouldn’t have gone far if I had tried to hold their pace, and I let them go. Or I should say that they just went. I was left with my training buddy and another guy. Nobody in front, nobody behind. Soon it was clear that we were going to stay together until the end and see who was the best sprinter. By the way, I was really glad to hold the pace of my training buddy, because it meant that I was doing a good race. And also I know that I wouldn’t have been wrong if I had followed them. As so it was. The three of us. Sometimes going in a straight line, sometimes side by side, sometimes touching each other feet, sometimes putting some distance, but always all togehter. For the record, the guy won the sprint, but I came in before my training buddy.


Buoys. In perfect sea conditions I am now good at following and turning around buoys. And I also learned that you can pass direction buoys on either side. Yes, I confess that I am realizing this at the end of the season, but at least I got it now. I also learned at looking carefully at all buoys before the start and memorizing their shape/colour. I know this is the basics of open water swimming, but I am still on the step side of the learning curve.


Getting ready

Bad. What was bad of that race was mixing up after just one lap with the 2.5k wave. Not all people in the 2.5km was bad of course. Only one of the was. Yes, exactly, one swimmer in the 2.5km wave decided to be annoying and aggressive, and I finished the race with an elbow on my teeth and a dark mark under my eye. I don’t see the point of being aggressive even if you are in the same race, and I truly think that being aggressive when you are swimming a different race it’s indeed quite stupid. However, that is going to be the topic of another post.


Swim on Australia Day: Mandurah round of MSWA OWS

Sometimes you don’t win, but you are proud of your race. Some other times you win but you are not satisfied, you are not proud even if you were the first crossing the finish line. I must confess, the Mandurah open water event was an easy win because nothing, and nobody, pushed me. And I am not proud of my race because…actually it was not challenging.

Start of the green caps wave (the 4km)

I think that on Australia day you have the largest choice of open water events of all summer. Most people were participating at the Sorrento round of the Swimming WA OWS. Sorrento has always been called the Rottnest reharsal with its possibility to do a 10km to qualify for the Rotto Channel crossing. More than 900 people gathered there to swim a distance from 1.25km to 10km. Many of those I trained with were there. So if Sorrento is so popular, why did I decided to go to Mandurah? Well, I had more than one good reason. I didn’t sign up for the Rottnest channel crossing, so I don’t need to do any qualifying 10km. Too many people means that the race become quite messy, and personally I don’t like it. The Sorrento round gives points only for the OWS series, and I am not competitive enough in that series (not yet at least). On the other hand, the Mandurah event was a Masters Swimming open water series event, and my goal for this season is to win this series. I just headed down to Halls Head’s beach simply to pursuit my goal. From this perspective, I can say “mission completed”.

I think this is near the finish line

I won, I gained points for the Masters Swimming open water series tally, I got my prize. So why am I not satified? Becaused I didn’t push. I didn’t becuase the situation didn’t require it. Unlike the Swim Thru Perth, which was another masters event, here in Mandurah the average age of participants was much higher than mine. I lead from the first stroke to the last one, and I completed 4 km in 54’29” , which is a slower pace than the 5km at Matilda bay four days before, but nevertheless I finished almost 4 minutes before anybody else. But I didn’t really push myself, lack of motivation maybe, but it’s the truth. So I am happy of course. Happy, but not satisfied.

Getting out of the water

The only things to point out about the race is how I followed, or better, how sometimes I couldn’t follow the course. It was a rectangular of 1km lenght, to repeat four times. Unlike most open water courses on Western Australia coasts which are oriented north-south, this was oriented east-west. The race held in the morning at 8:30am meant sunlight straight in the eyes for half of the course, and the glare made direction and turning buoys almost invisible. Fortunately one of the paddlers followed me for all the race, I think because I was leading, and he pointed me in the right direction a couple of times, when I was almost heading out toward the open ocean (first lap), or heading too inward the rectangular course (second lap). From the third lap I nailed the direction, finally.

Things to take home? A nice red mark on my left arm (still visible after 12 days), a present from a stinger I met during the warm up lap at 7:30am. I am getting used to stingers and jelly fish. I also take home a good training day in open water, one more opportunity to learn how to keep a pace without drafting. And also…I bring home with me the cash prize, which I already invested in a couple of “grown up” race jammers. Racing jammers don’t swim for you, but I still believe that their placebo effect sometimes can make a difference.



My first salty water 5k: Swim Thru Perth

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 and Perth CBD.

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.

Look at the camera…smile!

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.

Chafing on my left leg, the day after.

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).