Wednesday 11 April 2012

Rottnest Channel 2012 - dodging the sharks and boats!

The 2011 Rottnest Channel Swim was my biggest swimming achievement last year. I was very keen to improve on my results in 2012. I arrived in Perth from Sydney with Mum and Dad on Wednesday morning, with the race due to start on Saturday at 5:45am. I was exhausted when we got to Perth. Two days before I had arrived back in Sydney from a work trip in the USA and was now dealing with a good dose of jetlag. So we spent the next three days relaxing and recharging the battery.

Buoyed with the experience of having completed the race in 2011, we knew the layout of the course, we knew the format of race day, we knew what we needed to prepare and we knew what we were missing. It made for a far better journey in 2012, having a handle on it all. Mum and Dad once again were my boat crew and powwowed with Joe, my board paddler, who had arrived on Thursday morning, planning race, navigation and course. Team Tori was now ready, set to go!

Thankfully, we didn't actually see this guy, but this photo
was taken in Rottnest Channel in the months before
Rottnest Channel Swim from Cottesloe to Rottnest Island is the largest annual open water swim in Australia attracting some 2300 swimmers: solo’s, duo’s and teams of four. It is also one of the most notorious great white shark areas, with two attacks results in death in the previous 3 months. This year 221 solo swimmers had signed up, an increase of 23 swimmers from 2011. Entry for the duo’s and teams are done by ballot the preceding November. Vlad Swim Squad had submitted 15 solo entries, and a team. There were also two duo teams from my BondiFit squad, and my sister Bel, was paddle support for one of them. With such a large number of friends swimming this year, I knew it would make for an extremely fun event, and I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone!

Since November Vlad had had us all on a pretty full on program. Combining Vlad’s programme with my extra long swim training for my Channel swim was pretty tiring. Juggling work, play, family and friends and training was a challenge, but I was determined to keep balance in my life despite my large goals. One sacrifice I did make for the seven weeks before the swim was no alcohol. With so many of my friends acutely aware of this year’s ultimate goal, as well as the groundswell in pregnant friends, I was surrounded with support.

Overall, my training consisted of six pool sessions a week, and a further two ocean swims, with at least one long three-six hour swim most weekends plus an ocean swim race every Sunday. Around 40kms a week average, at the top end 55kms a week. I also did 2x yoga a week, boxing, and to mix it up a bit, 2x squash matches a week. I am the fittest I have ever been, with 56kg of muscle on my body according to my latest DECSA scan (the average female has 40kg of muscle). As well as muscle, there is also a significant extra amount of fat since 2011, due to the requirement for insulation for the English Channel. Until July, there are no restrictions on my diet, and I have thoroughly enjoyed eating anything I wanted.  Doughnuts, pizza, cakes, coffee, scones, chocolate….it is no surprise that race day saw me 9kg’s heavier than 2011, and boy could I feel it getting into my race suit. I actually felt a bit like a pork loin with string around me thanks to the suit seams being ultra tight!

Preparation for race day was fairly relaxed. We picked up the last few resources, organised boat pick up and drop off points and times for race day, attended the official race briefing, had some swims, and packed our race day kits. I was still really tired, and hadn’t quite got my spark back two days out from the race.

Meanwhile, the weather was causing havoc.  The long range forecast was not looking favourable and a lot of our squad were having freak outs about the race being cancelled. The last few years the long range forecast has said the same thing, and every year people are concerned the race will be cancelled, however in the last few years the weather on the day has been fine. I was pretty sure it would be fine, although this year it was quite windy during the week before the race. If it was rough I thought it would give me some great experience for the Channel.

Race day morning came and it was a beautiful day. The race was on and I was pumped. Probably as pumped as my neighbours – my least favourite people for waking me at 2am with what sounded like a lear jet taking off in my room, and followed by the party which just wouldn’t end.

Mum and Dad were off to meet our boat at Point Walter and Joe and I began the walk down to Cottesloe beach with the board decked out with my equipment.

I was a lot calmer this year. I had been through the process before so it was just a case of enjoying and soaking up the atmosphere. I was careful not to repeat last years mistake of greasing up with Vaseline and then getting some on my goggle lens.  I found my spot on the starting line and peeled the little protective films from the lens as I headed to the water!

I warmed up – the air was a lot colder than last year. Mental note to bring a throw away jumper for next year! Joe and I had set our meeting spot as the buoy past the first buoy where you can meet your paddler. This worked well for us last year as typically everyone meets up at the first buoy and it is very congested. Arriving at the second buoy I was still in the middle of the starting channel so had to wave to Joe to meet me. It is a very funny thing to watch the start of Rottnest Channel swim – everyone starts in a straight line and as soon as they hit the water, everyone starts swimming to the sides. There is this massive channel of openness in the middle where no swimmers are. Such a dream. I decided to take advantage of it this year!

We headed towards the “icon vessel”, a massive old schooner Llewyn, where Mum and Dad would be waiting in the speedboat. Joe’s job was find them. My job was to keep swimming.  I was keen to find a good rhythm early on. Last year I made the mistake of taking the first 8kms pretty cruisey – 17 mins per kilometre, this year I was determined to sit on 16 mins. I surprised myself and belted out 15-16 mins per km for the first 12 kms! There was a nice little swell behind us for the first nine kms and I used that to give my head a boost and established a great rhythm.

The race seemed to go a lot faster this year. Maybe it was something to do with stripping 38 minutes off last year’s time, but it seriously went fast. This year the water quality was pretty ordinary. Last year you could see the bottom for the majority of the race, whereas this year was a lot murkier. There was hardly ever a sighting of the ground. Joe and I had a perfect rhythm going, well practiced three weeks earlier in the Cole Classic, and I just focussed on getting length through my strokes and trying to block out the wall I anticipated would come. Notable moments in the race were passing the 10km buoys, and then when my boat and support paddler had to stop as Joe was cold and had to switch wetsuits. I was left on my own swimming for about ten minutes. It was the scariest ten minutes! I had no other boats around me and I was just swimming really fast and freaking out in my head about sharks! The split when they came back was one of the fastest of the race! I gave Joe the biggest smile when he came back and said something along the lines of “Where have you been, I was freaking out!!” (I was probably shrieking at him in reality, but he just smiled back, knowing exactly what I would have been freaking out about) Around this time, I miscounted my kilometres, so when I hit the 16km mark, I repeated that twice by accident in my head, and then before I knew it I could see Phillip Rock, 18km, which signalled I was 2kms from the finish. It was all in from then. I smashed myself raw to get the fastest kilometre splits I could and came home in 15 mins splits for the last three kms. Gold. I hit the beach with absolutely nothing in the tank. It was an awesome feeling. Result: 12th female, 44th overall out of 221 solos, and a time of 5 hours 45 minutes (an improvement of 38 mins on 2011).

I hung onto the ‘finishers’ fence for about 40 minutes. I literally couldn’t move. I was so dizzy and out of it. I was on such a high from having smashed my 2011 time and beaten my personal goal of sub 6 hours by a whole 15 minutes. I watched three of my training mates cross the line and we were all a bit unco trying to get our speech together, so there was mainly back slapping and hugs instead. It was nice.

My support crew were anxiously watching for a repeat of the 2011 post race crash, and were feeding me bananas and muesli bars and water. We headed to the Rottnest Lodge and checked in so I could get out of my suit and re-humanise and then we had some lunch while I slowly came back to earth. Then it was back to the finish to watch the last of Vlad Squad come in and then to the bar for celebratory drinks.

Prize Giving was at 5pm sharp. We had the solo finishers photo and then were presented our trophies. It was an interesting choice this year. A 3D crystal on a plastic base, embedded with a disco light. When you turn it on it flashes many different colours up through the crystal! It says “Rottnest Channel Swim 2012 Solo Crossing”.  One for the pool room!

Massive and huge thanks to Mum, Dad and Joe, who continue to support me through all these crazy races, and to the rest of my friends and family who are always so positive in their support. My coach Vlad deserves a huge round of applause, he continues to help me conquer the distances faster and stronger than ever, and helps me find my love of the water whenever it temporarily disappears. The rest of my squad, especially all the guys who I have been training specifically for Rotto with (Justin H - 5:24:42, Kirsty T - 5:43:12, Damien S - 5:49:31, Chris B - 6:01:29, Wayne A - 6:02:55, Lawrence S - 6:10:04, Tamera L - 6:19:37, Alistair N - 6:20:36, Dennis O - 6:30:04, Marty F - 6:35:25, David O - 6:40:53, Rose L - 7:03:27, Penny O - 7:16:30 and Ben Hutt - 7:32:43), its been such a highlight having the same goal as 14 others in our squad, and there has always been company for any long swim, any day of the week. Sharing the excitement and thrill as we all achieved our goal together has been pretty special! Congrats to everyone and thanks so much for the awesome camaraderie over the last four months!

Celebrations in the bar continued until a massive 9pm for me…. And I slept like the dead that night, except for the sensation of constantly rocking as my head hit the pillow!