Monday 26 March 2012

Cole Classic: Dee Why to Manly 9km

The Cole Classic, Sydney’s premier ocean swim began 29 years ago as a 2km race at Bondi Beach. In recent years, the race has seen numerous changes, including a change of location from North Bondi to Manly Beach, a new corporate sponsor, Fairfax Media, and the addition of a 1km race. In 2012, the organisers decided to add a third race, Dee Why to Manly, a distance of approx. 9km.

News of this 9km swim reached me pretty quickly, and the dates looked perfect for my training and racing calendar. Race day was Sunday 5th February, exactly 3 weeks before Rottnest Channel, which would give me ample time to recover.  It would also allow me to have a good hit out with my support crew coming over to Rottnest. I was excited!

Every race and event I do, I learn something; about myself, about conditions, about my body, my head, etc. This was no different. In fact the learning began well before this race. Two weeks prior to Cole Classic race day, I had a 21km training swim at Balmoral Beach. This was a gruelling 6+ hours in rain, lightening and murky waters. It was not the most enjoyable training session! However I really pushed myself as I was keen to have a Rotto distance hit out prior to Rotto swim this year. Since I am building for the English Channel, and will be going upwards of 25kms in a session, I decided it would be great mental prep for Rotto to have completed the distance a month or so before the race. What I didn’t anticipate was the recovery time from this training swim, and that was a tough lesson. The day after the 21kms, I raced at Mona Vale and had a top swim. I was stoked. Training at the pool on Monday and Tuesday was no different. I was flying. It all came tumbling down on the Wednesday. I felt like I had been hit by a cement truck and at physio that day, Micael was trying his best to break down my muscle fibres that were so tight. I was exhausted, and literally turned into a zombie. I pulled out of the Australia Day swim and took some time out of the pool and tried to recuperate in time for Palmy to Whale Beach swim the following Sunday. Unfortunately here I made another mistake, and raced in the elite wave, lost the pack and ended up on my own for the entire race. I was still tired and had no ‘head space’ to race without someone pushing me, and the results showed. I was pretty disappointed.

At this point, the Cole Classic 9km was only 7 days away. I was pretty aware I needed some serious recovery, so spent the week very quietly. Early to bed, good food, easy sessions and went back to my favourite training place, Bondi, to settle my head and try to keep the demons at bay.  I was determined that I would be right for race day, but I needed to give myself a rest. It is very important to listen to one’s body – something I have learnt through swimming, and I knew that come the weekend I would know where I was at! I also knew that even if I was not in peak form for the Cole, that I would still race – the English Channel is going to be hard, I am going to have to swim tired, and I needed all the experience I could get.

This summer, Sydney has experienced the worst weather in my history. It has rained torrentially, there have been serious floods, it has been cold… basically Sydney residents are calling it the summer that never was. As a result, I am sure tropical destinations will be doing a roaring trade as Sydneysiders flock for sunshine and warmth! The week of the Cole Classic race was no different. It rained - a lot – I was expecting race day to be no different, however, forecasts appeared to be clearing for Sunday. We all hoped the weather bureau would actually get it right for once!

Towards the end of the week, I received a call from the Sydney Morning Herald, wanting to write a story on me and my Channel swim. It was pretty exciting! I met the journalist and photographer at Bondi on Friday morning and did a shoot in the rain. The money shot ended up being the one that was taken seconds before I was swept off the rocks! Too Funny!  The article was featured in the Sports section of Saturday’s newspaper and I was blown away with the article, the journalist, Lyndsay, had managed to capture a good chunk of my journey in the half page article. Let me just say, an article in the SMH was a ‘first’. I was pumped up, and the next 24 hours just built the adrenaline perfectly for race day.

And indeed the weather gods came through and race day was a stunning! We were surrounded with sparkling blue sky and calm seas. We headed to Dee Why for the race start, where I met my paddlers Joe and Becci.  Mum and Dad would be coming down from Pittwater in my support speedboat, a requirement for all solo swimmers. I checked in for the race and set up the boards with my feeds, smiled for the camera and attended the race briefing. Due to huge surf conditions, the finish for all Cole Classic races was moved from Manly Beach to the more protected Shelley Beach. The 9km course was a swim to Long Reef, back to Dee Why, then into Curl Curl, Freshwater and Manly, finally finishing at Shelley Beach. There were 5 buoys along the course to go around as well. The course involved swimming in at each of the beaches and round a buoy, which added an extra couple of kilometres to push the race out to 9kms.

The surf at Dee Why was pumping. I love surf and big conditions! The race had 19 competitors, smaller numbers no doubt due to the requirement to have a support vessel. At 8am, we were off! I had a great start, and was 3rd overall out through the break overall. My surf swim training with Spot Anderson clearly paid off.  I checked off at the first checkpoint, located Mum and Dad in my support boat, while my paddlers, Joe and Becci joined me on either side. From here it was relatively flat conditions to Manly. Due to the continual rains of the week preceding the race, the run off from the streets and drains of Sydney had turned into a thick, dirty, smelly, white froth as the seas churned against the cliffs. Navigating the course buoy to buoy was actually quite difficult, but thankfully I had my support paddlers and boat to assist in directions.

From the surf break to Long Reef I had a great line, we were swimming into the sun, which was not so nice, but my paddlers could see the course and it was only a km before we rounded the buoys and headed back south. At this point, a pack of huge men (and when I say huge, I actually fitted under each of their armpits they were that big!) came up on my left hand side at the turning buoy and headed off – I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to hold them but my goal was to keep between them and ahead of the rest of the field.  We buoy turned and headed back to Dee Why, at this point it felt like I was swimming in a huge arc, however, my GPS shows I had a straight line. It is very interesting to see how the currents and sun glare can throw your orientation whilst swimming. The race was going well as we left Dee Why. The scenery was amazing, but unfortunately I didn’t get much chance to enjoy it during the race as I am a left breather and the scenery was on the right. The photos my crew took are awesome though and I am kind of disappointed I missed out!

After we headed round Dee Why headland, we lost my support vessel and Joe for a good 12 minutes as they faffed around doing boat things and setting up the shark shield.  Becci and I went ahead. Becci did an awesome job ploughing a route for me through the foam. It stank so badly of dead seaweed and BO… not an enjoyable odour! It was quite a sickening sensation breathing in the putrid smell. However, so far, the race was tracking well. I was doing an average of 16 minute splits per km, feeds were going well and I felt reasonably good. It is incredible how much a sunny day adds to the enjoyment of marathon swimming! Looking at my GPS course after the race, I can see that my support crew did an awesome job navigating me around the beaches and buoys and headlands. Joe and I were enjoying getting our race rhythm back together as well, since we knew Rottnest was only 3 weeks away.

Throughout most of the race, I had two male swimmers sitting approx. 20 meters behind me and I was pretty keen to keep them there. Their boat was hovering up ahead of them so it was constantly in my peripheral vision. It was annoying, yet also pushed me on! After approximately 2 hours we were on the final stretch. I could see Shelley Beach ahead. We passed the last checkpoint and headed towards the beach. I was expecting having to dodge a huge amount of swimmers however it appeared that we had beaten the 2km wave starts to the end of the course so it was calm and enjoyable. The official vessel came past and Joe found out we were first female with approximately 800 meters to go. I flew over the reef, even catching a little runner! Hitting the shore was a great feeling. The crowd were cheering, one of my friends had made a sign “Go Tori” which I saw as I came out of the water, and as I looked up at the finish line I saw the big blue ribbon across waiting for me. It was pretty awesome! I crossed the line with a double fist pump (anyone who has done triathlons with me, knows all about the double fist pump!) and was thrilled. My time was 2hr 24 mins, which was between my goal of 2:15 – 2:30, and I felt good enough to keep going after. Love the endurance! Overall, I was 7th finisher out of 17, 1st female out of 5. The 2km elite women hit the water 6 minutes later. Definitely looking forward to this event again next year with a bigger field. The course is an absolute cracker and the conditions were sterling this year. Massive congrats to the organisers for such a well run event!

Post race high continued with interviews with HG Nelson and Neil Rogers on the microphone and then the presentation with the famous Cole Classic plates. It’s funny to think that when I did the Cole Classic 2km for the first time in 1994 at the age of 12 and came 45/48 in my category, I never thought I would ever get to hold a plate. Four years ago it became my goal to win a plate. Now I have three. It’s amazing what a lot of training, dedication, determination and an incredible support network will achieve. Massive thanks to Mum and Dad for running the boat, Joe and Becci for paddling and my Coach Vlad for all the preparation, as well as all my friends and colleagues who continue to support me.

Next stop, Rottnest Channel!