Rottnest Channel Swim Report & Photos

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The Rottnest Channel Swim is an iconic 19.7km open water race in Perth, Western Australia - Swim Smooth's coaching homebase. It's our favourite event anywhere in the world and every year we train a large group of solo and team swimmers for this fantastic race. If you plan a trip over to Australia and feel like a real challenge, why not aim to do the race yourself in 2012?

Last Saturday was the 21st edition of the event and we thought you might enjoy some of our team pictures from this great race and enjoy reading Paul Newsome's race report from his solo crossing and his thoughts on racing in open water. Warning - it's a bit of a monster post so grab a brew and enjoy the read! Click on the pictures to see them larger.

Swim Smooth!

Dear swimmers,

Congratulations to all of you who successfully completed the 21st Rottnest Channel Swim on Saturday! We had 29 soloists complete the race and another 64 swimmers in duos and teams - a record for the Swim Smooth Squad. You can see our team results here. As usual it was an awesome event and this year we had seemingly perfect conditions - the recent heatwave giving us warm flat water and only a light north easterly wind. The expectation in the build up was extraordinarily high with many of you expecting some very fast times.

Ceinwen Williams proved for the second year in a row that she's got what it takes by finishing 3rd lady again to two top-class swimmers - we're all very proud of you Ceinwen - you did awesome:

Ceinwen finishes:

As you'll see from the results, we had real depth this year within the squad with ten solo swimmers from the squad finishing together in highly commendable times between 6h20 and 7h00 which is just fantastic. It is the shared goal and camaraderie that was inspired during all the hard training sessions that made this squad so successful this year, so hats off to you guys!

Some of the SS squad finishers! :

The stand-out performance this year for me has to be that of Paul Downie who first attempted the swim back in 2009 when we first ran our Solo squad with just 13 swimmers in total. That year Paul went through a very rough patch and suffered with very sore shoulders with about 4km to go to record and eventual time of 9h16. This year he absolutely smashed it and recorded 6h51 - nearly 2.5 hours quicker! Truly brilliant. This will give Paul great confidence going into our English Channel Swim attempts in six months time.

The two Pauls outside the pub after the race :

Also smashing his PB with a very well deserved time of 6h37 was Wayne Morris who strung together the perfect race finishing superbly with a massive sprint to the finish - nice job!

Andrew, Ceinwen, Wayne and Paul. All four are training for English Channel solos this summer :

Sadly, Susanjane Morrison was pulled from the water with just a few kilometres to go after having inhaled quite a bit of seawater. We wish her a speedy recovery and hope that she can bounce back next year in a similar manner to Paul Downie from two years ago.

Well done to all our Solo swimmers who took part in the event - your commitment and hard work over the course of the program has been truly inspirational to me and I thank you for the great times we've shared's going to seem like a quiet few weeks ahead!

After his great race Lawrence took the opportunity to hug every girl he could find! :

The awards ceremony :

All the soloists who completed the 19.7km crossing :

I know from talking to you at the pub afterwards that many of you were disappointed with your times. Me too. Looking back now the conditions were far less favourable than they seemed with the race winners finishing at least 30 minutes slower than they are capable of swimming. The reason for this seems to be the northerly current that materialised on the day and although not super-strong it was present throughout the race, not just when we got close to Rottnest as it normally is.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to share with you a few thoughts of my own about this year's race. You know me, I love my numbers and this objective feedback as you just can't hide from the reality of what they tell you - good or bad. The key is in learning how and where you can be better next time.

A quick bit of history: prior to Saturday's swim I have done three Rottnest Duo crossings and my first Solo swim in 2009 just 6 days before we had our first child, Jackson. In 2009 I was really hoping to get close to breaking 5h00 and trained very diligently for it, averaging around 40km per week in training. That year I felt I executed my best possible race and got my nutrition spot on. However, I exited the water in 5h24 and was immediately dissatisfied with my result based purely on my time. In retrospect though, conditions that year saw a strong North to South current in the last few kilometres really slowing progress with the winner only doing 4h40. Like this year it looked set to be a great day for fast times as well but sadly this proved not to be the case and most people left feeling a little deflated. That's what open water swimming is about though, it's a sport totally open to the elements and good planning and strategy is critical to a successful swim.

Roll on to 2011 and I had assembled a brilliant crew for my second attempt at getting close to that magic 5h00 boundary. Nathan Thompson was to be my official skipper and key organiser as per 2009, Jan Kolbusz was to be my driver and boat owner, Adam Young was to be my coach and faithful photographer, Aaron Milward my brilliant paddler, friend and motivator, and Andrew Hunt my key GPS / Navigator. All of the crew worked seamlessly during the event and without doubt, it was Andrew's superb navigation skills which got us over there in a near-perfectly straight line. If you take a look at the plot from my GPS (worn on Aaron's wrist), you'll see just how straight that line is, particularly from 3.5km into the event once through the melee of the start:

If you're really geeky like me, you might want to have a look at the file in Google Earth :

However, you'll never be a true swim geek unless you can download the file into Training Peaks and extract all the data to give you a graph of your speed :

Looking at the speed curve we see:

• 0 to 50 mins : approx 14'00" per km (my goal pace, but when I was feeling particularly sluggish)
• 50 mins to 3 hrs : approx 15'30" per km (when things started to pick up and I was holding good form)
• 3 hrs to 4 hrs : approx 14'30" per km (when I started to peg other swimmers back)
• 4 hrs to 5 hrs 23 mins : approx 17'00" per km (when I was powering at my best)

The significant drop off of 90 seconds per km after 50 minutes is very interesting, especially as it happens so quickly and at a time when I was just starting to find my groove too. Could it have been an early current? Who knows. The crew started to feedback to me where I was in the field and who I was chasing at around the 3 hour mark, so maybe this spurred me into action at that point.

So, why show you all this? Well, I think it's always interesting to know exactly how far you've swum in open water. My paddler was wearing the GPS watch and correcting for the 400m I swam at the start without him and a little more for the finishing shoot, we believe we did a total of 20.6km. 900m longer than the point to point distance of 19.7km, which sounds way off course but I think the general plot on the map indicates this is not the case. I spoke to many swimmers yesterday who claimed to have swum over 25km due to being pushed south by the current!

The speed curve is interesting. I am definitely swimming the fastest I ever have going into this event, having recorded some significant recent PBs over 1500m (18'28"), 5km (65'15") and 10km (2'19") in the last three weeks and was confident I could swim at about 14 minutes per km which would see me averaging around 14'30" per km with feed stops - good enough to break 5 hours for the crossing. If anything was lacking from my training it was a bit of mileage, I had only been able to consistently swimming 22-24km per week due to work and family commitments, with my peak week being 30km. My 10km result a few weeks back suggested I was well on target with things though. However, as soon as I hit the water I just felt flat and wasn't able to find a good rhythm until about 7km into the swim. This may, or may not, have helped me as normally I set off too quick and tend to blow up.

After the 7km mark I felt like I was getting stronger and stronger and as reported by my crew was making up good ground and passing a good number of swimmers after my relatively poor start to the race.

The crew started to feedback to me where I was in the field and who I was chasing at around the 3 hour mark. I was hammering in the last 90 minutes of the swim and made up five places in that time but was only swimming at 17 minutes per km. I think it's a safe bet to say that the current at this point was particularly strong for those of you a little demoralised by your times.

Was I happy this year? Physically I don't feel like I had my best swim this year but mentally I felt like I was able to really tough it out which will be very important for when I attempt the English Channel on the 5th September (twice the distance). I've always felt this has been a weak side to my preparation and racing in the past so it's a good feeling to think that this is maybe getting better as I'm getting older. At the end of the day I didn't get close to the 5 hour marker but placings-wise I did finish exactly where I thought I should and I did manage a 65 second P.B. in the process, so it's not all bad.

I'm sure many of you might be feeling the same way about your swim if you were off pace with where you expected to be this year. I'd encourage you to go through and spend 15 minutes or so simply jotting down where you could improve for next time. This will be really useful. Looking at my notes after my 2009 race my goal was to see if we could improve my navigation as I felt everything else that year was pretty much spot on for a first attempt. Whilst I don't have the records to prove this was the case though (no GPS in 2009 to compare against), I do feel this was achieved and without my crew's awesome support on the day I'm sure I'd still be out there swimming to India! Thanks guys, you were great!

OK crew, have some nice recovery time after the race and see you all over the next couple of weeks at the pool and on the beach.


P.S anyone got any tricks to overcome that horrible salty / swollen tongue problem?



Anonymous said...

Paul. Great write up. Thanks. My name is Andrew, I came over from Melbourne and we met on the beach at Cott on the friday morning. I'm also booked for EC this July.
I really enjoyed the swim (not the stingers) but I was pretty unhappy with my time. I'm not fast but I swim a consistent 18 - 19min km which I can do for hours on end. . My stroke rate didn't drop all day (70 per min) and I felt my pace was consistent too but I finished at 9 hours. After making the first 10kms in 3hrs I was hoping for 7. Last year in a duo we found the current was flowing south to north so this year we stayed south of the fleet. Bad choice in hindsight.(Guess I will have to come back in a few years for another crack)
I also got very bloated. I was feeding on Maxim as a trial for the EC. I'd be keen to hear more about your feeding plan. Sounds like it worked well for you.
Btw heavily diluted mouth wash at each feed works wonders to stop the swollen tongue and throat.
All the best for the channel. Andrew

tim said...

This post was a wonderful way to start the day on the West Coast of the US.The output graph shows the complexity of ocean currents.Race organization was very impressive. Wish we did them like that up here! Thanks for taking the time to do such an excellent write-up.
My sons and I dig Swim-Smooth.

TriScott said...

Congratulations Paul, and all the rest of the Swim Smooth crew. It sounds like a marvelous (and very difficult!) event, certainly one where just completing is a triumph in itself. I would love to take on such a challenge some day!

Unknown said...

Hi Paul,
Great Post, even Greater swim! Thanks for the details additional details.
I also completed the swim on Sat in 8.49. (I sat next to you during the Photo) I was I was also disappointed with my time, (hoping for a 7-7.30). Suffered from a very sore shoulder at about 12k mark onwards(never have shoulder pain usually) and also a memorable fish feeding episode at around the 9km mark.
We also noticed the current all day. My (super excellent) skipper thought this was the tide coming in, (it was one of the highest all year at freo).
Thanks also for sharing about the awesome efforts of Paul D & Wayne M. This fills me with confidence for another crack in a few years.

My self and another successful 2011 soloist are hoping to be able to come down in the next few months to chew the fat and ask for your professional opinions including your stroke filming service etc.
All the best to you and the other swimmers preparing for a Channel crossing.

Richard said...

Last comment was by Richard.

Anonymous said...

We always eat pineapple after we scuba dive, and that seems to help the salty tongue.

Paul said...

Thanks for your well wishes everyone - now just the small task of taking on the English Channel on the 5th September - watch this space!



Anonymous said...

This website was forwarded by a friend - thank you for your post and pointers on the mental challenge of meeting your goals realistically. It's difficult setting a time frame for a swim when the current and wind directions can be changeable no matter how accurate our weather services try to be. I am doing my first ever solo 10 mile swim here along the beaches of NC. I don't know what to expect, but the jellies and swollen tongue don't sound great to me. Thank you for the tips on what to do for the swollen tongue - I imagine I'll just keep swimming along when I get stung by a jellyfish. Kindest regards and good luck in September! Leanne

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