Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Swim’

Paihia to Russell

The most usual way of getting from Paihia to Russell (or more accurately from Russell to Paihia) is on a boat.  But once a year a bunch of salt-obsessed, neoprene clad freaks hurl themselves into the water to make the 3.3km crossing entirely under their own steam.

The Bay of islands is spectacular.  There’s no point in mincing words, it’s just lovely.  Paihia and Russell face each other across a big chunk of water, Paihia on the South western side and Russell to the North East.  Russell was once the capital of New Zealand before moving to Auckland and eventually ending up in it’s current home, Wellington.

This event was the first of the Ocean Swim series which I have taken part in for the last three years.   A small group of us have been training all the way through the winter in an attempt to hit the season in good shape.  It appears this worked better for some of us than others.

The conditions for the swim could not have been better.  The sun was shining in the blue sky and the water was flat calm – unheard of according to the locals.

My swim started off very well.  I was using a pacing device to keep a regular stroke rate and kept up a good pace for me for the first two km.  Then as I could see the far shore come closer my dreaded nemesis returned.  My leg cramps were uncomfortable but not fully developed.  I could feel my legs were in a ‘pre-cramp’ state that is still very painful but not that solid, full contracted painful that I know will happen if I make a wrong move.  this means my stroke has to slow, so I don’t have to kick as hard so I can manage the situation.  This means I finish the last km at a much slower pace, dropping right back.  In the end I managed 1h38m which is ok.  My average pace has sped up slightly over last years harbour swim and I’m higher in the rankings (although not by much really).   However, it’s difficult to compare different events because the conditions are so critical.

Ultimately though only around 600 people felt able to even attempt this race and some of those didn’t manage to finish, so to get the result I got is still a pretty special achievement that I’m quite proud of.

I’ve included a couple of photos from a sunrise photo shoot I did the day after the swim up in Taupo Bay where we were staying.  It was still, quiet and beautiful.

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Swimming took a new direction this summer.  A bunch of like minded fish-types from the evening swim class I use decided to join up on Sundays for an open water swim somewhere.  We usually swim somewhere on the East Coast Bays, starting around 8:30am and swimming for about an hour.

I’ve been gradually building my distance at these swims.  The first one I did, I think I probably did about 1.5km, having to turn back after a bit to ensure I didn’t get myself stranded.  Gradually the distances have pushed up as I’ve been able to keep up with the group more or less.

A few weeks ago I managed to get up to just under 3km which was the distance I swam during the harbour crossing, when I suffered terribly from cramp.  And that became a bit of a psychological barrier, which has haunted me since November.

Well I’m really pleased that I’ve managed to bury that demon well and truly with the swim I did at the weekend.  Starting at Milford Beach we were aiming for Mairangi Bay Surf Club.  I wasn’t sure of the exact distance but was aware it was over 3km.  the conditions were perfect, hardly any wind, blue skies and the air and sea temperature were lovely.

So we set off heading for a reef marker to ensure we avoided some shallow rocks off Castor Bay point.  Once we were all out to the reef marker we chose a good landmark (a big Douglas Fir on Murray’s Bay point) and set off.  Swimming about 100m off shore we made steady progress.  My mind wandered all over the place during the swim, but I managed to keep a pretty good course and chipped away at the distance.  Towards the end I could feel my legs going into what I call ‘pre-cramp’ stage.  This is where I can feel cramp knocking at the door, but it’s not quite there yet.  I know that if I have to do anything sudden or unusually strenuous or awkward my calves will go solid instantly.

But amazingly it didn’t happen.  I closed down the last few hundred meters and kept heading for the surf club building and eventually found the beach.  We didn’t take note of the exact time but it was around 1h20m.

When I measured it online later in the day I was fairly astounded and somewhat delighted that I’d done somewhere in the region of 3.7km!  I’d absolutely smashed my previous best distance and time.

It’s fair to say that I was a bit chuffed.

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Tired Swimmer

My legs have been hurting all week.  The cramp I suffered on Sunday really left it’s mark on my poor calves and up until yesterday they were like mahogany.  I got a fantastic massage from Absolute Body Focus yesterday and it’s made a world of difference.  I really do think that having a good sports masseur is worth so much more than a new gadget of gizmo to help your training.

See if you can spot the discomfort in my face in this very brief video of the end of the race on Sunday.

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Some people are just never satisfied are they?  Having decided that I wasn’t going to enter the Harbour Crossing this year, I caved in to text message pressure from the organisers to take part just five days before the event.  I was not sure I was fit enough and I didn’t want to enter unless I could better last year’s time.

In the 7 days before the event I’d done two open water swims.  A training run on the previous Sunday morning, covering about 1.6 to 1.7km and an event on Tuesday night covering 1.5km.  Sunday had gone well until I suffered from bad cramp and had to make for shore earlier than planned.  Tuesday I was really pleased with – a time of 26 minutes for the 1.5km.  They did warn us on the night that the course was a little short, but even so I was pleased with that.

So I get a text message wishing me luck (if I’d entered) and letting me know there were still places (if I hadn’t) and mentioning that it was a really good weather forecast.  So I caved in and decided I’d feel really let out if I didn’t at least try.

Yesterday it looked like the forecast was just plain wrong.  By the middle of the afternoon it was overcast and starting to rain.  Not what I’d ordered…  I picked up my race pack from a very congested Copthorne Hotel in Auckland.  It was looking like I was in for a long wait, but was very lucky because the line for my bib number (silly name really because you don’t wear a bib…) was almost empty.  So I skipped past the queues and after grabbing my pack, picked up a new pair of goggles at the SwimT3 stand. I love these guys.  I bought my wetsuit from them two years ago and they took such care helping fit it and get me setup for my ocean swimming in New Zealand.  And do they take advantage of being at the race pack pick-up by edging prices up a little?  No, in fact they applied a 10% discount across everything instead…

So what about the race?  Well the weather cleared and the morning was glorious.  I was sat on the deck at 7am eating porridge listening to the birds in the trees that were feeling not a breath of wind on their leaves.  I could picture the harbour – in it’s gentle, mill-pond like state, beckoning 1300 eager swimmers into it. 

After being dropped off it was clear that it was going to be a nice day, although the water conditions turned out to be not quite so mill-pond like.  As with last year the start is done in waves based on estimated time.  I was in the fourth wave this year, hoping to improve on last year’s time.  Only a minute apart I was soon following the rest of the pack around Bayswater Marina and out into the harbour.  It was all feeling good.  I was very pleased with my stroke and felt like I was making good progress.

I had real trouble sighting the first buoy so I just headed towards the pack ahead and kept going in roughly the right direction.  I got course corrected by a lifeguard after 15 minutes or so because I was drifting to far towards the bridge and away from the set course.  I picked a new landmark and pressed on.

It’s amazing how for the majority of the race there is no-one around you.  In a pack of 1300 people you’d think it would be all thrashing arms and legs.  Far from it, for the majority of the crossing I was on my own (maybe something to do with my erratic navigation).  I felt like I was doing really well as I approached the last buoy in the the open water, I’d even started to pick up some other swimmers.

It was somewhere around this point – about 30 minutes from finishing maybe – that someone swam over me.  Not a big deal, they just clipped my legs and it happens.  However, I tensed up and my reaction caused both my thighs to cramp up horribly.   I took a few minutes to slow down and do some different kicking to swim through it and cleared the cramp.  But now I had a problem.  The other muscles in my legs decided to join the party.  So if I tried to put on any power through my arms, I’d have to kick to stabilise with my legs and one after another my calf would go, then I’d clear it, then an ankle, then the other calf.  For the remainder of the swim I was concentrating purely on kicking out whatever cramp had just hit.  I’m pretty sure it crucified my pace for that last section and as I approached the steps I was actually a little worried that I might not be able to stand as I left the water.

The last section of the race is through the newly refurbished part of the the viaduct harbour and it makes a great end to the race.  You swim under the new opening bridge and round to some new steps that lead down from the refurbished Wynyard quarter area and make a great place to finish and to spectate.

I didn’t even see the clock because my legs were so sore as I managed to stand and hobble over the finish line.

In the end I did finish ahead of last years time.  Only by a minute or so by the clock time, but last year’s course was shorter.  So if you adjust the time to make it a fair comparison my time this year of 1:27:56 was about four minutes faster than last year’s adjusted 1:31:42.

So I’m delighted I went for it.  I’m delighted I beat last year’s time.  I would have preferred to hit somewhere around the 1:10:00 mark and who knows, without the navigation and cramp blunders I would have been nearer to it.  But they are all part of the event.  So for another year that’s the harbour crossed.  Whenever I look out at the stretch of water between Bayswater marina and the viaduct harbour I feel very very satisfied.

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Ok scratch that…

I changed my mind. Weather forecast is good and on reflection I put in a reasonable swim on Tuesday. The opportunity only comes round once a year so I’m going to go for it!


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Not this time…

In 3 days time approximately 2000 people will swim across the Auckland Harbour in a once a year opportunity that heralds the start of the ocean swim season.  I completed this 2.8km race last year in 1h30 minutes coming in fairly close to last… but I came in.  I’d trained very hard prior to the race and although relatively new, had worked on my technique as well.

This year I won’t be one of those making the crossing.  I had a long spell out of the pool due to illness and recurring back pain.  I’ve now learned that carrying on swimming through the back pain is actually the best thing for it.  Counter-intuitive, but it really helps me cope.  The time away from swimming has meant that I’m a few weeks short of being it for the race.

I did a 1.7km swim at the weekend which I was very tired by the end of and worse, my calf cramped and seems to have actually pulled the muscle.  I then did a 1.5km event on Tuesday night, finishing in a not too shabby 26 minutes.  If I had the stamina to do two of those in a row, I’d pick up a very reasonable Harbour Crossing time of under and hour.  But I’m simply not ready.  Possibly another couple of weeks and I’d have been good, but not this week.

I’ll keep doing theState Beach Series on Tuesday nights at Takapuna and I may enter the next ocean swimevent between Paihia and Russell in the Bay of Islands. That’s a little longer at 3.3km, but I’m confident I can be ready if I keep putting the effort in.

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