A few things that I learned at the Rotto swimmers seminar

The swimmers seminar for the Rottnest channel crossing is organised every year at the beginning of September. Since next year will be my first crossing attempt and the seminar participation is free I thought it would have been a good idea to attend. The focus of the seminar is to give swimmers a rough idea of what they need to be ready to swim the 19.7km channel. So how to get ready for the Big Day? With a team, a plan, and a few safety tips.

First of all, the seminar stressed that a good team is your chance of doing a good race, and doing it safely. You need a good experienced skipper, not just somebody with a license to carry a boat, you need somebody who can read the currents and who knows you characteristics as a swimmer. You also need a paddler, and paddlers are not only somebody that make you swim straight to the island, they must give you also psychological support. A paddler not up to the task may make you swim some hundreds meters more than needed. You also need a spotter. The spotter helps the skipper, and offers support to the swimmer. Can my wife be a spotter? Mmmm I am afraid that she would be a bit unreliable in that role, she has not experience of endurance swimming, and of boats. I love her, but I am also concerned with my safety. And I am sure she is concerned too.

Now, my next step will be to set up a plan with my crew. Here are the things that I realized must decided carefully: where to meet with the paddler, how to meet with the support boat, to which interval schedule the feeding, what to feed with, and more important than anything else…what swimming pace to hold. If you swim 20km maybe it is not a good idea to go flat out at the start (like I would do), you do not want to hit the wall before the 10th km. I am trying my Rottnest pace in my extra long sets and my help on the boat will need to measure my pace and let me know regularily my speed and my position. A few more woeds about feeding: this is the fuel, without fuel you don’t get to Rottnest. Somebody schedule the feeding every 30′, while somebody else every 20′; what is important is to eat before you feel hungry, because at that point is too late. Eat, eat following your schedule even if you do not feel like eating, everybody around me keep saying this.

One of the most informative part of the seminar was held by a doctor, an expert in hypotermia and polmonar oedema. Always good topic to have some knowledge about when you cross a 20 km channel in a 22 degree (or less) water and you do not have a considerable amount of “bioprene” like me. Well, I am mot skinny at all, but I am not well insulated either. It’s good to know that results from a research conducted on the Rottnest channel swim participants show that every hour spent in water rise hypotermia risk of 77%, while every added unit of Body Mass Index lower the same risk by 43%. It is quite intuitive that if you have a good layer of fat you are better isolated and that if you are faster you will stay less in the water, but here the trick is to find the sweet point between being fast and being fat. And it is not as easy as adding or dropping a “s”. For my goal, I would rather trying to be a few kilos less and crossing faster, than being a few kilos more. With some kilos less I truly believe you can cross considerabily faster, but unless you do not put some additional 10 kilos around your belly, I do not think that being a bit more heavy will make that huge difference against hypotermia. Of course, if you are already quite well insulated, then it is a different discourse. Another good thing to remember is that when you have hypotermia you do not realize it, it is like being drunken and your crew must recognize it and pull you out. If you have oedema, which is water piling up in your lungs, then you feel that something is wrong. At this point asking to be pulled out is a smart choice. Another good suggestion was to avoid seasickness pills because a sense of seasickness is most of time due to salty water in the stomach and seasickness pills are designed to work on the brain. The result is that the pills won’t fix the problem and instead they will make you dull. Actually, I can say that I have witnessed this happening.

There was another presentation that had some (few) informative parts, but overall seemed more similar to a long advertisment of the swimming program of the presenter than something really useful to take home. I learned quite a few things in the evening, and it is always good, especially those related to the safety and health side. There should be a specific nutrition seminar in a few weeks, a few months before the race, and that is definetely another interesting event to attend.

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September special endurance set: 15k

I scheduled my September long distance set for today, because it was the only Sunday in September available. I hope to be able to schedule the October one for the next month, but it looks hard. Anyway, today I started at 7:58am and finished at 11:34am. 3h 36′ minutes, not bad considering two “toilet stops” at the 5k and 10k marks. I swam in the indoor 50m pool, with not many people around and most important with a lane all for myself from the beginning to the end.

2 × 800 @12’/11’30” +

3 × 400 @5’30” +

2 × 500 @7′ +

4 × 300 @4’20”

2 × 800 @11′ +

3 × 400 @5’25” +

2 × 500 @6’45” +

4 × 300 @4’10”

2 × 800 @10’30” (paddles) +

3 × 400 @5’15” (paddles) +

2 × 500 @6’30” (paddles) +

4 × 300 @4’05”

I felt fairly good through the whole set, despite some tireness in the triceps. I also did some distances with less rest than I had programmed, like the second set of 800s and the last set of 500s. I held a pace between 1’17~1’18” until the end, except the sets with paddles which were slightly below 1’15”. I had a carb jelly at the 5k and a carboshotz at the 10k. For drink I prepared a maltodextrine drink bottle and an electrolytes one, both of 700ml, but I drank just half of both.

My version of cold water swimming

Reading and talking here and there I realized that the meaning of “cold water” is extremely flexible, and it depends on each individual. The FINA rules say that if at any point of the course the measured water temperature is below 18C degrees, then athletes are allowed to wear a wetsuit. As far as I know, 18C is also the average temperature of the English channel in July. The Meditteranean sea near the coasts of Italy in the summer can be 25~26C degrees, which is like my swimming pool. The Indian Ocean here in Perth is around 21~23C degrees in February. I think that depending on what you are used to, what is defined by “cold water” can be different. Then, you can also see photos of people jumping into iced pools, but I think that those are another story. My own personal definition of cold water is “if I come out and I am shivering, then the water is cold”. Unluckily, I found myself shivering for anything below 20C degrees.

I need to adapt to cold water. I am not afraid of swimming 20k to Rottnest island, I am afraid of staying some 5 hours in 22C water. When my friends introduced a Saturday morning river swimming session, I was the first raising the hand and stepping head. The Swan river in August is 15C. I had never been in 15C water before. Last week Saturday we did a short less-than-3k session at the pool and then we went down to the river. Mission: swimming 1k. Result: mission failed. We stayed in the water for less than 10′, we swam maybe 400m. It was not cold. It was COLD. And we also did a huge mistake: we didn’t wear any swimcap. No guys, don’t jump into 15C water without swimcap, it is not smart. At the bottom line, we decided to go back for the headache. And once out, my leg started shivering and stopped only 10-15 mimutes later, after I turned on the heater of my car. Anyway, I did ‘t reach my goal, but it was also the first time. The first step toward adaptation. I am lookin forward to go even just 100m further the next time. Maybe with a cap on.

August 6th, 14k long set

My monthly “long sets” are getting longer, and from now on I will have to do these extra miles on Sundays. Which has some advantages after all. Firstly, since I usually do a weekly carb up on Saturday, on Sunday morning I am full and charged. Secondly, since it is Sunday, the pool opens at 8am and I get a couple of extra sleeping hours, which always helps. Thirdly, the pool is not crowded. Well, actually except the 5:30am~7:30am time slot, the pool is never crowded. Plus, on Sunday morning I have to train alone, because nobody shows up to share at least a few kilometres. This can be boring, but I think that it turns into a kind of mental training too. After all, you don’t have friends together with you when you swim to Rottnest.

So I started a few minutes past 8am, and finished at 11:20. Not bad. Of course, all freestyle. Here is the set:

800 @12′

3 × 500 @7′

4 × 300 @4’20”

700 @9’30”

3 × 400 @5’30”

4 × 200 @2’45”

8 × 100 @1’25”

800 @11’15”

3 × 500 @6’50”

4 × 300 @4’15”

700 @9’15” (paddles)

3 × 400 @5’15” (paddles)

4 × 200 @2’35” (paddles)

8 × 100 @1’25”

I think that I hold roughly the same pace for all the 14k, except maybe for the first 800 to warm up. I felt still enough strong at the end and I decided to drop some seconds from what I programmed for the rest times of 400s and 200s with paddles. I did all the program a set straight into the other, except for a (really needed) toilet stop at 7k. I had an energy jelly from 32GI during the stop, and through the set I alternae drinking some dextrose with electrolytes and electrolytes with bcaa. I prepared a 700 bottle of both mixtures, but I drank only half of both. This time a tried a pair of new goggles. I have always been happy with my old school style swedish, but I don’t think they are the best option to race 20k in the Indian ocean. I purchased a pair of arena swedix first and a pair of Jaked spy, which are both a “Swedish” style, without a real gasket but they get slightly softer on the part of the lens in contact with the face. Well, the Arena Swedix are comfort fit, they don’t leek and I like them. I still don’t understand well the split lens, but in a pool it makes no difference. However I tried them in open water yesterday, and the split lens makes sighting a task almost impossible. No way you can use those goggles for open water. So this morning I tried for the first time the Jaked spy. Good, like the old school swedish, I had them on for 3hrs and 20′ and no issue. Except for a small leek for 200m after one hour, but I think that it use due to an issue not related to the goggles (maybe I just squized or moved the muscles of my face too hard). If they are fine in open water as they are in the pool, these are going to be my Rotto goggles.

July 2nd, 13k long set

Maybe for somebody 13k is not an extra long session, but for me at this point it is. I really hope it will come soon when I will remember this with a smile as a medium distance. This is part of my idea of doing a “long” set once a month (or somewhat less than a month), adding a km each time, with the goal of covering the distance of the Rottnest channel swim roughly three or four weeks before the event, next year in February. Anyway, today’s set started at 5:35am and it took 3hrs and 10′. I wrote it as a 6.5km pattern to repeat twice, with longer (800m) and shorter (100) distances to vary pace and rest time.

600 @9′
4 × 400 @5’40”
4 × 200 @2’45”
800 @11’30”
4 × 300 @4’20”
15 × 100 @1’25”
600 @8’30”
4 × 400 @5’30” (paddles)
4 × 200 @3′ (pull)
800 @11’30”
4 × 300 @4’20”
15 × 100 @1’25”

At the end I felt much better than the 12k set a few weeks ago. This time I also tested some kind of “feeding”: I prepared two 750ml bottles, one with electrolytes and 5gr of bbca, the other with electrolytes and 25gr of dextrose. I drank a bit of both during the session, but really slowly. I finished the last 200ml of the dextrose bottle at 11.5k, but at the end I still had half of the other. Half through the session I had one maltodextrine gel (32GI, I like this brand) and at the 10.3k I had a small 5gr caffeine gel. I really didn’t need the caffeine gel, but I may need it in the future for longer distance and I wanted to test it in advance. Anyway, overall everything seems to have worked without any side effect.

June 13th, first long swim session

This is the inaugural post in the section “Road to Rottnest”. In this section I will uploal stuff more specifically related to my preparation for the Rottnest channel crossing. I will post here ad hoc training sessions (like this one), results of my experiments with long distance swimming nutrition and all that funky and cool stuff that I will learn until, during and after the Big Day. 

This first post is about today’s long swim session. I am planning to do progressively long swim session (over 10k) one or twice a month along with my usual training. Here it is today’s one (12k):

800 fs @12′ (to warm up a bit)
2 × 600 fs @ 8’30” 
5 × 200 fs @2’50”
10 × 100 fs @1’25”
800 fs @12′ (band)
2 × 600 fs @9′ (band)
5 × 200 fs @3′ (pull + band)
10 × 100 fs @1’25” (pull + band)
800 fs @11’20”
2 × 600 fs @8’30”
5 × 200 fs @2’50”
10 × 100 fs @1’25” (fins)

I felt ok until 9~10k, then the fatigue came in. The overall pace was not extenuant, but I felt particularly tired the last km, even if I was cheating with fins. Lessons learned today: volume is not useless, sometimes you need quality, some other times quantity. Today I realize that I cannot certainly think of doing 19.7k in the ocean with swimming only 5~7 quality kilometres each session.