While the participation levels in open water swimming events may not (yet) rival those of a triathlon or marathon, they are clearly increasing, and that has generated a lot of discussion on what constitutes a “marathon” swim, and what would otherwise just be a long swim.
By adding the 10km open water event to the Olympics FINA has influenced that conversation, and the 10km distance is probably the shortest distance that anyone would give serious consideration to calling a “Marathon” swim.
After doing a bunch of shorter swims and relays in 2010 and 2011 I wanted to step it up notch, and do a “Marathon” swim, so taking the FINA definition I went looking for a swim. My main criteria were:
- Ocean Swim
- >70F water temperature
Lake swims still seem a little like cheating to me, and while I swim in the San Francisco Bay I was not confident of my ability to handle 4 hours in really cold water.
After a bit of searching I found the South Head Roughwater swim in Sydney.
This swim met my ocean and temperature criteria, and as an expat Australian had the added benefit of allowing me to visit family on the trip. I like to build my trips to Australia around some kind of event (birthday, wedding etcetera) and a swim certainly gave me a good excuse for a trip home.
At the time I signed up for the swim I was training with a Masters swim team at the University of San Francisco so was getting 12,000-16,000 yards a week in. To prepare for the swim I simply added in some long weekend swims, unfortunately the USF pool is configured as a SCY pool on the weekends, so had to do my 11,000 yard sessions one 25 yard length at a time 😛
This was going to be my first swim where I was going to need to take breaks for sustenance while still in the water, so whenever I did a long swim I was also testing out some different feed options. I eventually settled on GU Roctane, mostly because I was already using Gu Brew for regular training sets. It also comes in convenient one serve packets which was going to make life easier for my brother who was crewing for me.
While I was training for this event I had the great pleasure to meet one of my heroes at a book signing, the amazing Lynn Cox. Reading “Swimming To Antarctica” while I was training for my first open water swim was one of the big inspirations to continue my swimming journey.
Logistically the toughest thing about the swim was organizing an escort boat. While my brother lives in Sydney he doesn’t have a lot of maritime inclined friends, so I ended up chartering a small boat at not inconsiderable expense. Given all the other expenses (flying back to Australia etcetera) it was not the end of the world, but if I ever do the swim again I’d want to try a little harder to find a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone who has a boat.
I flew into Sydney mid week to allow a few days to get adjusted to the time zone (though I’m normally pretty good when flying west) and to get some swimming in at Bondi. I was staying with my brother and his girlfriend right across the road from the Icebergs club which is up there with being one of my favourite places in the world. The swim from Icebergs to the other side of Bondi and back ends up being a mile, so it is a great spot to do laps for training.
The event briefing was the Friday night before the event at the finish. A number of the participants were sporting Rottnest Channel Soloist jackets, a swim that I was definitely aspiring to – the Southhead swim was my way of testing the waters to see whether I could handle training for and participating in longer swims.
The race organizer John had a refreshingly direct manner at the briefing, emphasizing safety and de-emphasizing competition, which is the kind of event I like the best. He was somewhat nonplussed though when one of the participants asked what would happen if their swim cap fell off…
For various logistical reasons I was without transport at the briefing however an expat American swimmer was kind enough to give me a lift back to Bondi.
Continued in Part 2