OWS 2017/18: Round 2 Busselton

This post comes with many photos, perhaps more than usual, which I think it’s nice anyway. The truth is that I simply forgot to write down a few words in advance, and now some week has passed and I do not remember much except statistics…so here it is, a visual description and a few stats.

Busselton was the second round of the OWS. I had never been there, and I must say that it is really worth a visit. The see near the jetty is amazing. Unlike the Busselton jetty swim and the triathlon event, in the OWS you don’t swim around the jetty, just beside in a trangular shape circuit. 

Now some stats. I finished 5th overall in the 5k event. 1st of my category and this was good to get some points for the scoreboard. I really enjoyed this race even if it was a bit more “physical” than usual. The only black spot is that this time I didn’t notice the 1st and the 2nd place swimmer swimming away, I just thought that the pack was leading, not following. My final time is 1h 04′ 04″, therefore I guess that this time the circuit was 5 real km. 

And now, since I do not remember much except some drafting, some “contact” near the buoys, and that I got some chafing despite the woolfat, let’s go visual.

Busselton jetty
End of the race (I am in the middle)
The finish line
Participants through the finish line

New season, new OW series: round 1 Cottesloe

Last year this race should have been my first after starting swimming again, but it was canceled for bad weather. Same bad weather this year again, but luckily it has not been canceled, only postponed one week. The ocean was indeed really nice on the race day, no waves, no chops, no particulary strong currents, no winds. I signed up for the 5k race and I really hoped to swim in a time near my PB; however…the position of the buoys has obviously been miscalculates and the race seemed to last forever. Bye bye PB. More on this later. First a rough summary.

Start of the 5k wave

I did my homework and I swam with the leading pack from start to finish. But this time I have been smart enough not to lead the pack, just drafting lovely staying in second or third position until the last 600m. All the kids, the young elite athletes I mean, at the end were far better sprinter than me, and I finished sixth, but at least I won my age group and I didn’t finished too far behind, just 20 seconds from the first.

Coming out of the water

And now some detail. I really enjoyed this race, and it has been awesome to draft to the side from start to finish. It has been much better than my usual draft to the toes. Who was leading tryied to escape at almost any buoy turn but actually nobody really succeed in breaking up the pack (7~8 swimmers) until the last half lap. I tried myself during the last lap to sprint away in a moment that the pace was low, but it didn’t work. Well, at least I know that I gave it a try. What broke up the pack in the last 600m was lapping the last slower swimmers of the 2.5k wave. At that point I couldn’t see anymore who was following whom, and who wa trying to sprint. But anyway, it was a lot of fun.

Almost there

About the course. It was supposed to be a 1.25k rectangular shape. However, as soon as I saw it from the shore something didn’t sound quite right to me. I couldn’t be sure, but one end was between the Cottesloe pylon and the groyne, while the other end almost reached Eric street. If the are approximately 700~800m from the pylon to North Cott SLSC, which is slightly past Eric st., then the course simply couldn’t be 1.25k. In fact the pack, from the 1st to the 8th, arrived all between 1h 18′ 17″ and 1h 18′ 40″ (my time was 1h 18′ 37″), we have been told that the split of the first lap was about 20′, which doesn’t make sense at all. At home later I checked better with google maps: one lap was about 1.5~1.6km, which makes sense with the splits and the final time, since it means that the final distance was somewhat between 6km and 6.4km. But it is ok, it was longer for me as it was for anybody else.

Medal time

Anyway, let’s get to what I learned. I realized that drafting to the side is better. I saved a lot of energies and I swam in the pack all the race (thanks Naomi for the tip). It is also a good position to not make people swimming away. I already knew that considering my characteristics and that I am swimming with younger swimmers that I am not going to win a race at the sprint. With swimmers stronger than me it is better to draft and to try, if it is the case, to swim away before the end. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time I gave it a try, and it did ‘t work. I still have to give another try, maybe next week at Busselton if it is the opportunity.

A new Open Water season: Cottesloe Cold Water Classic

Cottesloe beach before the race

I think it is called Cold Water Classic because it is technically still Spring and the Ocean is supposed to be still “fresh”. The reality is that the water was around 19 degrees, so it was not extremely cold. Moreover, it was a sunny day and the air was 32 degree; therefore the last thing I had to bother about was the cold. Yep, definetely not an issue. I didn’t participate in this event last year, but it raises funds for research for leukemia and it is also the very first open water race of the season, so I simply couldn’t miss it. A sprint, supposed to be 1.6 km, from North Cottesloe to the Cottesloe pylon and back. Also, I wanted to check my conditions at the beginning of the season and I have to say that I am happy for (a few) things, but less happy for others.

Waiting the start

First the good news. The most important of all, it was fun. Really, I enjoyed all the race, I felt alive…but also a bit less alive the last 300m. It’s ok, it is part of the game. At least I know that I gave all. I also swam smoothly at least until past the half race, when the position of the second last buoy required to swim near the shore…too much near the shore, almost where waves break. This disrupted much my swim, but again, it’s part of the game. At the end the winner was smarter than me, and even if I had lead for more than 3/4, he and a group of other four swam further from the shore and were less affected by the waves. Good for them that they spotted the last buoy before I did. I came in sixth, 12″ from the first place. Mine has not been a good tactic, but at least I think that I did a good time (19’23”, and it was 1.7km, gps checked).

The course…at least my interpretation

And now the bad news. One is my total lack of tactical skills. This is not a news itself, since it’s something that I already knew. But I had the confirmation that this aspect didn’t improve. It’s sad, but it’s true. On one hand I know my characteristics (I am not a sprinter, and I am not good with changing pace); on the other I know that to arrive in a better position at the end I must avoid to sprint at the beginning and leading all the race. I must follow from the beginning and sprint at the end. However, what worried me even more is that the last 300m were really hard. The reason can be anything: sea conditions, position of the buoy, hitting the wall. Or maybe a mix of all these.

Homework? Well I think I will start training the last 400m. How? I already tried a moderate-high pace set, with the last of each distance swum as fast as possible. I can also introduce more negative split set, or doing repetitions where I do several hard laps followed by slowing down the pace. Most importante, I really need to learn how to change pace, not only to increase the pace, but also to slow it down.

Approaching the finish line

800m freestyle: my second national record

It was my first short course (25m) meet, and it was also my last for 2017. Not because I hate racing in short course. Well, I don’t like it that much either since I am really weak at turns. I said, it was the last because there are no more short course meets this season that I am willing to enter. I signed up for this just because it was an opportunity to do a 800 freestyle. And I wanted to do it well. Maybe I was not aiming at swimming in the best shape of my life, but I had been swimming between 40k~45k/week for the previous 4 weeks, and so this meet it was a good opportunity to slow down a bit on the mileage and see whether I could swim a decent 800.

As for all masters meet with distances above 200m, this too was set up more like a time trial than a proper race. What I did differently from the 1500 freestyle last June is the warm up. The meet was due to start at 12pm, but I decided to warm up at 10am at my usual pool because my wife wanted to go to there to the gym in the morning. I swam 2.6km and I felt quite good. After we went home first, I had some dried figs and then we went together to the meet pool. My wife comes with me because she likes doing some timekeeping at masters events. Anyway, I had another quick short swim (900m) in the meet pool and I was ready and warmed up. Below are the splits of my race: a picture is worth more than a few words.

800 short course split time

I have not been very regular, and the central part is too slow. This maybe allowed me to finish faster, but there is still room for improvement.

8’48″60 is the new Australian record for my masters category, so I am happy with the result. The 400 split is also the new record for Western Australia. Good time test overall. Next goal is (for me) a 800 freestyle long course in September, one month or so before the much waited open water season.

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