Monday 21 February 2011

Rottnest Channel Preparation: time for another 20km's!

Rottnest Island is located off the coast of Perth, Australia, approximately 19.7km from the mainland. 21 years ago someone decided it would be great to hold a swimming race from mainland Australia to this island. Whether it was for the quokkas or the scenery or the beer awaiting in the pub on arrival, this race has grown so large that there are approximately 2000 swimmers involved annually in solos, duos and teams, and to get a spot in the race you have to enter your team in a ballot or guarantee your spot by signing up to do the whole thing solo.

I chose the latter... yes, I have become quite a fan of long distance swimming in the last 12 months, and I like to push myself bigger, faster, further, so it seemed like the logical next step was to take on Rottnest Channel. This will be my furthest distance swum to date.

With only 7 days til race day, I am feeling pretty excited, pretty nervous, pretty pumped, pretty scared, in fact pretty much every emotion one can feel I have felt in the last week. And I am sure there will be plenty more where that comes from in the final countdown...

The last four months have seen quite a lot of changes in my swimming world. Post Fiji swim, I have gotten more focussed on my technique and have been swimming 6 days a week. I spent a solid 6 weeks in December/January upping my km’s to around 8kms per session - clocking around 40-50kms per week, plus gym sessions, and trialling new nutrition.

People often ask: “How on earth do you prep to swim a 20km race?” Typically, my program has consisted of a good variety of distance sets. 3km warm up, 4km main set, 1km warm down, or squad set, followed by a further 3km’s, and once a week we would do a 12km set. I have been lucky enough to have a training buddy also going the distance in Louise Stevenson, last year’s Rotto winner. It has been fun having a swim buddy cruising up and down the pool for hours at a time, and has helped keep me going when I have gotten over it. For the general public swimming at our pool, I think we have provided entertainment as they wondered what the hell we are doing going up and down the Andrew Boy Charlton pool for 3.5 hours at a time, smashing down jelly cups and energy gels every half hour, which always provides a good conversation starter.

I think we have also caused a fair amount of annoyance to the leisure lappers as we cruise up and down continually tumble turning for 20-50 mins straight. The pool lifeguards have been super lovely and supportive of our training as well and we are now on a first name basis. I know a couple of them think we are completely mad as they watch our sessions, and I see some of them more than I see most of my friends! There are also quite a few peeps in the squad who’ve done Rotto before and a few coming over this year as well, which has been a great source of info and support.

Swimming for hours allows one quite good people watching. Highlights include: the guy who swam in his tighty whiteys - clearly had forgotten his swimmers, the many children tantrums on the sidelines including the one where the child was running away from its mother and didn't see the edge of the pool and ran straight in, the bizarre techniques and strokes some people manage to swim with, and the posing as people soak up the sunshine. Training in an outdoor pool also has the weather to contend with which means every day and every session is different, and Lou and I both managed to pick up a serious tan – although Lou’s is far better than mine!

Our coach Vlad Mravec has been amazing. Always smiling and always happy, always staying at the pool through our sessions, and yelling encouragement, and always keeping me realistic and confident in achieving this goal. His focus on my technique has really improved my swimming this season. My catch has probably been the main focus and stretching out each stroke, has made me more efficient which is key in long distance swimming. Vlad is also coming over to Rottnest to paddle for Louise, and it will be pretty cool knowing he will be waiting on the finish line.

To keep me from going insane following a black line, I mixed my pool program up with ocean swimming. Saturdays were typically my favourite session of the week – an 8km pool session followed by 1.5 hours ocean swimming with the BondiFit squad at North Bondi. The guys in this squad rock at keep me loving the water, laughing and loving life and keep my ego down. Thanks Harris and Damien. Coach Spot Anderson always manages to keep me on my toes as I alternate from favourite to sin bin on a weekly basis!
I also joined the Bondi Surf Club ocean swimming twice a week doing ins and outs which have been great fun and great training. Coach Steve di Lorenzo’s nightly Facebook messages to the squad have kept me entertained and inspired.

Training with some of Sydney’s best ocean swimmers has been fantastic. And being a part of that community with such a range of swimmers has been really fun and great learning. We have raced most of the 1km and 2km ocean swims along Sydney's beaches and over the last few weeks the hard training has finally paid off and I have got some great results for me, including the satisfaction of beating Commonwealth Games winner Geoff Huegill - ok, yes it was a 1km race compared to his normal 50m butterfly, but a win is a win!

Add into the above training regime: regular massage, a ton of herbal supplements, no alcohol so far this year, 6 weeks off coffee, a reduced social life, and a heap of support from my family and friends and that sums up my life for the last few months!

In the lead up to every major goal, one also faces a number of challenges. This race has been no different. In mid November, I tore my calf whilst running across a sandbank at Bondi. It was a grade 2 tear which landed me on crutches for 10 days and left me swimming with pool buoy and bands for 7 weeks. Forced into strength training like that was probably a blessing in disguise, but rather frustrating nonetheless. I also recently changed jobs, and am currently in week 4 of my new role, which has required me to balance training whilst settling in. Thankfully, my new work has been really supportive and my team is awesome. On a health front, I discovered I was fructose malabsorbant in September 2010. This means I now live on a wheat free and low FODMAP diet - which is actually an improvement of the gluten free diet I have followed for the last 3 years, however fructose has become quite an issue for me as pretty much most brands of sports fuel and rehydration etc all contain fructose! I have hunted around and seem to have found a brand (Shotz) that delivers without fructose and have been busy trailing that over the last couple of months so fingers crossed all bodes well for the race.

But now the prep is done and it’s race time as we head over to Perth tomorrow and psych up for the challenge ahead. Once again I have an incredible support team coming over and am extremely lucky and grateful to them all. My parents will be running the boat on the day, kindly donated by a cousin, Andrew Gorman, whom I have never met but whom has heard “I like to swim a lot”. He has been amazing in providing us with so much info and support for the race, I am truly lucky to have a family like this. Mum and Dad have spent the last week charting the course and getting all the technicals ticked: GPS, shark shields, navigation, weather, radios, compasses etc. Realistically they do a lot of the work whilst I race to make sure I take the best and most direct route possible from start to finish. I just put my head down and swim. Thankfully they have years of boating experience under their belts, and although this is their first time on Perth waters, I am sure they will be great.

Alongside me whilst I swim is also my board paddler Joe Dickson. Probably one of the most supportive and enthusiastic people to have on one’s team, Joe has been focused on this goal with us since the Bondi- Watson’s Bay swim last year. His constant encouragement and preparation has been fantastic, and knowing that he will be managing my race drinks and nutrition on the day and relaying course direction from the boat is extremely comforting.

And that wraps up Team Tori. There are also a bunch of other mates coming over, either to swim in teams or duo’s, and even a couple of friends coming over from Sydney to watch me finish a 22km race (thanks Hugo, Kate and Gilad!) I hear the beer and the view from Rottnest Hotel over the finish line is a great way to spend a day! I am so excited that I’ll be able to share this milestone in my swimming with so many friends and my family.

The race kicks off 5.45am Perth time on Saturday 26th February 2011, and I am hoping to finish somewhere between 6 and 7 hours, depending on conditions. My ultimate goal will be to beat my 2009 Half Ironman time (6hr 14mins) but it’s hard to tell at this point what will happen on the day!

I’ll have my live GPS tracking device on board, so for those keen, you can track my position at 5 minute intervals from 8.45am EST Saturday. And knowing that people may actually be watching the little flashing symbol moving will definitely help keep me going when I hit a wall!

So, all that’s left is the taper, carbo loading and a 19.7km channel crossing!

Postscript: Last session in Sydney and we got to welcome the Queen Mary 2 as we trained... it was literally 50m from the pool edge... VERY COOL!!!