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.