Thursday, March 9, 2017

So just how "hard" was the Rottnest Channel Swim 2017 and will the 2000 Solo record ever be broken?

So just how "hard" was the Rottnest Channel Swim 2017 and will the 2000 Solo record ever be broken?

Dear Swimmers

Following on from the very well received article last week Rottnest Swim 2017: Managing Expectation With Reality we are pleased to bring you this follow up article which aims to discuss and demonstrate statistically just how "hard" the 2017 event was in comparison to other years. 

This should be particularly interesting given how Saturday 25th February 2017 looked all set to be a record breaking day, in fact I vividly recall saying to the Channel Ten reporters how the conditions could see the mid to back pack swimmers swimming up to an hour quicker than "normal" (as was the view point of many people with the weather forecast). Even though myself and the prominent oceanographer Chari Pattiratchi from the University of WA's Ocean Institute correctly predicted the current and weather conditions with the instruction to definitely head north from the start line, I think the current proved to be much stronger than everyone expected. 

As we mentioned in the last blog, the "silent assassin" that is the current that lurks beneath, doesn't always give the impression that the conditions are necessarily "hard" per se (especially in comparison to notably rough years like 2003 and 2006 for those that can recall the event back that far), but as we found on the 25th times can become much slower than expected and this in itself makes for a "tough" day due to extra exposure to the elements.

One of the challenges with open water marathon swimming events is that the conditions can play a massive role on not just your finishing time, but also on whether you finish or not! Time to complete a set distance is always a quick and easy objective measure on how someone would perceive your performance (the first thing people will always ask you is "how long did it take you?"), but it never accounts for the conditions on the day. I remember swimming across the English Channel in September 2011 in prime physical condition hoping for a crossing time of roughly 9 hours, however, as I battled the 25-30kt SW winds (head on) and huge swell that day, my time of 12h14m (or 19m50s per km, which is barely "average") has never really felt like it was a just result for all the training, effort on the day and skill of my crew. When you view the conditions here you'll instantly sympathise with why it took me that long, but the record books only ever record your finishing time of course. Conversely when I won the world's longest and most prestigious marathon swim event (a 46km circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in New York) in 2013 in a time of 7h14m (or 9m25s per km, which is equivalent to Sun Yang's 1500m world record but repeated a crazy 30 times per continuously and without push-offs!), people who don't know the assistive currents of that race would assume I was superman or at the very least that I'd improved a LOT between 2011 and 2013! Whilst I definitely made improvements in those two years, I certainly wasn't more than twice as quick of course!

Bottom line, therefore, is that conditions are everything in open water marathon swimming. Judging your performance based on time alone is not very productive at all, but it does then beg the question, is there a way to statistically show within a large group of swimmers (like the Rottnest Channel Swim) some sort of scale of "hardness" for each year which is more objective than the simple subjective summation on the finish line of "that was a tough year" shared between competitors. Could you then even look back and retrospectively calculate what time you might have swum on a previous "good" year and equally can it help us identify whether someone like the Olympian Jarrod Poort who took out this year's race in fine style against the current, could have broken the 2000 record by Mark Saliba in 4h00m15s given more favourable conditions and even predict what time he might have feasibly done? The answer is yes…we think so!

If you love your numbers and your statistics you're going to love the solid work which squad swimmer Mike Fischer has put together single-handedly on this. The sceptics might also like to bring up the phrase popularised by Mark Twain:
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics!" 

…but that's OK, this is meant to be a little food for thought and perhaps some further solace for those of you who are still lingering on the feeling of under-achievement from this year's event. At the end of the day, we can't control Mother Nature, you can't change your results, but what you can do is try to understand how and why they were what they were.

Mike picks up the story and the detail...

Using data like this to draw conclusions always requires a few assumptions and the one that sits behind this analysis is that the field has been made up of swimmers with about the same abilities every year. There will always be faster and slower ones and individual performances on the day may vary from year to year, but overall we will assume that the field as a group is comparable from year to year. We have then generated graphs which show finishing time (or average pace) plotted against finishing position. The statistical "trick" we have used here is to consider the finishing position as a percentage of the overall field, rather than as an absolute number. This means that a swimmer finishing 150th in a field of 300 plots at the 50th percentile level, as would a swimmer finishing 100th in a field of 200 swimmers. This allows us to account for variations in the size of field from year to year and plot the data on the same axes.

Displayed as finishing time in minutes

Displayed as average pace in minutes per km

From Paul: interestingly enough I've always wanted to break 5 hours but have never yet done it. I have swum Solos in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Using the data of these swims above which were between 9 and 23 minutes over 5 hours and looking at 2014 as an example (a cracker year), I would have probably swum under 5 hours in 2014, but only just…so it looks like that is still a very challenging target for me personally!

The first couple of graphs show these plots for each of the last 10 years, together with 2003 and 2006 and you will see that they all have a very similar shape, albeit that they are "shifted" vertically on the time/pace axis. The "S" shape curve reflects the fact that every field has a group of "gun" swimmers (typically around 10% of the field), a middle group (from around P10 through to P80) and a group of "steadier" swimmers bringing up the rear. The one exception is the toughest year, 2003, where the start was delayed by an hour due to conditions yet the cutoff times weren't altered. That means that the slower "tail" were either timed out or finished but didn't have their times recorded. We have replotted the data slightly to take this into account, but all the other data is exactly as the times were recorded – so every dot on the graph represents a swimmer walking out of the water at Thompsons Bay.
If we assume that the field has around the same abilities each year, then the "shift" in curves from year to year must be due to a combination of environmental conditions, with the ones towards the top (ie. The slowest) being the toughest years and the ones towards the bottom being the "easier" years (ie. The fastest). This ties in very well with anecdotal evidence from swimmers who have competed in multiple years, although this analysis allows us to be a little more quantitative. It is important to note that we can't separate the effects of swell/wind/current etc., but are looking at a combined effect of all the environmental factors. 
Having done this, we can then start using the data to draw some conclusions:
The first is the "degree of difficulty" (DoD) of each year's swim. If we assume that, on a scale from 1-100, the fastest years (2000 and 2014) are a "1" and the toughest year (2003) is a "100" we can then see where each year falls on that scale. Rather than use a single figure for each year, we have looked at the "gun" group, the middle group and the steady "tail" separately, characterizing them by the P20, the P50 and the P80 time/pace respectively. We have done this because although the curves have an overall similar shape there are subtle, but potentially significant, differences. As an example, look at the 2000 data where up to around P65 (corresponding to those who finished in a little under 7 hours) the field had a great swim. The curve becomes much steeper at that point, suggesting that something (either a current or, more likely, the sea breeze) has slowed the back end of the field significantly. The same trend can be seen in the data from 2006 where an already tough swim became increasingly difficult at P70 (corresponding to around 8hrs 30 mins) and 2009 at P40 (around 7 hrs). Unfortunately it always seems to get harder for the second half of the field (a steeper curve) and never easier…. 
We've then plotted the "degree of difficulty" for the front, the middle and the back of the field in a number of different ways; a simple bar chart, a "pinwheel of pain" and a "triangle of torture". Using the data to rank 2017, the quick end of the field had it the "easiest", with a score of 33%, although it still ranks as the most difficult swim since 2006. The "visible" conditions in 2017 were close to perfect, but the "silent assassin" has clearly had a major impact, even on the elite end of the pack. The day didn't get any easier unfortunately and the curve stays very steep through the middle of the pack with a P50 DoD of 54%. There is an interesting steepening of the curve at around P40, corresponding to a finish time of around 7 hours (around 1pm or so). This corresponds to the time at which the current was forecast to increase dramatically on the CSIRO data. Remember that a current of 1 knot equates to around 2km/hr so, assuming a swimmer was staying on or parallel to the rhumb line, for each kilometer they were traveling over the ground they were actually swimming close to 1.5km which may be the cause of the slowing of the field. The trend increases towards the back of the field, where it was a seriously tough day at the office, where the P20 DoD is 76% and close to both 2003 and 2006 in hardness, albeit for very different reasons.

Demonstration of which years have been the most "difficult" in the last 17 years (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 data omitted given specialist cases of 2000 - a known good year and 2003 / 2006 - known tough years. 2007 was cancelled due to bad weather)

The slower you are, sadly the harder the tougher years are for you as well compared to the pointy end of the field. This demonstrates how much of an advantage an early start time can prove to be also!

As above - the slower quartile receive the brunt of the environmental elements each year!

At the very sharp end of the field, we have plotted the winning time/pace against the P20 time/pace, with the latter being a "proxy" for the conditions. The data shows a nice linear trend as you would expect, with the tougher years having correspondingly slower winning times. There are, however, two exceptions to this trend; Mark Saliba in 2000 who finished in 4 hours and 15 seconds and Jarrod Poort in 2017 who finished in 4 hours 12 mins. Both of these swimmers "outperformed" the rest of the field by a considerable amount, making them the absolute standouts.

It is also possible to "reverse engineer" the environmental conditions out of individual performances and estimate what time a swimmer could have achieved had they performed the way they did in 2017, but had actually swum in a different year. This is certainly pushing the data a very long way but it brings up some interesting numbers. In particular, we have looked at Jarrod Poorts winning time in 2017 and estimated what times he would have swum  in each of the years we have looked at.

The data shows that had Jarrod travelled back in a time machine and swum in 2000, putting in a comparable performance to this year, he would have finished in around 3 hrs 48mins. Indeed, the graph shows that he would also have beaten the 4 hour mark in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Unfortunately the data is not predictive – meaning that we can only do this type of analysis after the race is over. So the mantra of anyone planning to swim a solo is to hope that it is a good year for conditions, but train as though it will be a tough year and then recognize that every year will be different, although you may not know it until you are well into the crossing. Ultimately the conditions are likely to have far more effect on your time than you expect, with variations of up to an hour at the sharp end, 2 hours or more in the middle of the field and up to 3 hours towards the back of the field and swimmers who can consistently hold a "race pace" of 20min/km in a good year, may struggle to achieve 25min/km in a more difficult year.

We hope you have enjoyed this analysis of the 2017 Rottnest Channel Swim - please feel free to share with your friends. Comments / feedback to 



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Making Smooth, Smoother! Common App / Sign-up Queries...

Dear Swimmers

I hope you had a great long weekend - the weather has really been putting on a show for us!

Now that autumn is almost upon us, why not take the opportunity to grab yourself a $30 discount on a 1-2-1 Video Analysis & Stroke Correction session (either Initial Consult or Follow-up within 6 months) during this great weather using the code autumn2017 for the dates:

  • 6th April
  • 12th April
  • 24th April to 23rd May

  • …with Head Coach, Paul Newsome.

    To book and take advantage of this great offer, please either use your Squad App or visit and search for the dates above.

    Making Smooth, Smoother!

    I just wanted to send over a simple list of 20+ common queries with regards to your 1-2-1 / squad session payments, the squad app and signing-in at the session etc to make your user-experience even more smooth. I hope this helps - it's designed to be as exhaustive a list as possible, so please have a quick read through to help answer your common questions, especially if you're very new to the Swim Smooth Perth Squad.

    If you're travelling along just dandy, you can ignore this message of course!

    Here goes:

    Downloading the Squad App

    • you can download the iOS version of our Squad App here
    • you can download the Android version of our Squad App here

    Logging in / Passwords

    • when opening the Squad App, please ensure you are logged in as otherwise your session details won't show - to do this use the Menu button in the top left and tap the login key and enter your details et voila! You're in!
    • can't remember your login details? I can't reset these for you, you'll need to use the forgot password link on the login panel and then follow the prompts

    Email / SMS Reminders

    • not receiving SMS / Email reminding you of your sessions (i.e. 121s / wait lists etc)? Login to the Squad App, tap your name in the top left, tap the edit button on the next screen (the pencil by your photo frame holder) and ensure your email and mobile number are correct and that you have the email opt-in button checked.

    Not using the Squad App (just using a computer)

    Signing-in on Pool Deck

    • if you have received an email saying you weren't at a session but you were this is simply because you haven't logged in using the iPad on the side of the pool. Whilst we make every effort to double-check this list (especially at peak times) to ensure you don't get this email please sign-in when you arrive.
    • at times when the iPad can't be used (weather / battery), we will of course endeavour to check you in (arriving punctually helps with this process).
    • if you receive the advice on the iPad "See The Front Desk" this is because you're either out of credit (please top up) or because your session payment hasn't reconciled properly (see below "Reconciliation"). In either case don't panic, if you're on the list to swim, hop in and we'll sort it out afterwards.

    PAYG (BLUK) - Pay As You Go, But Let Us Know!

    • Permanent Members: you are operating on an OPT-OUT basis, i.e. you have up to 12hrs before the session to opt-out of the session so as to free your spot up for someone else. Leaving it right to the last moment runs the risk of this window closing and you essentially having then made a late cancellation (the cost of a session) - please help us by cancelling out as early as possible.
    • Non-permanent / Wait-list Members: as the permanent member's 12hr window closes, so too does the opportunity to gain a place in the session unfortunately, so effectively you will know if you're in or not up to 12hrs before the session itself. You are thus operating on an OPT-IN basis until a spot comes up for you and then like a Permanent Member have to OPT-OUT if you can no longer attend. Please note that due to the last minute nature of the 12hr window you might get offered a spot right at the last moment and then not have time to OPT-OUT if you can no longer attend. How to manage this issue? Cancel out of any wait lists you know you can no longer attend as soon as you know! Thanks!

    Wait listing

    • The easiest way to start accessing sessions within the Swim Smooth Perth squad is to go to or open your Squad App and add yourself to a session even if a wait list is in place.
    • The wait list process is proving very effective indeed, so even though you might see 10+ people ahead of you when you sign up for a wait list, there's still a very high chance that you will get in as people start to opt out close to that 12hr window. Gone are the days when people used to joke that "someone has to die before you'll get a space in the Swim Smooth Perth Squad"! In the last 18 months we have increased the capacity of the squad by 30% without once having an over-susbcribed session due to how the system handles permanent members with those on the wait-list.
    • The system assumes that if you are still on the wait-list for a session prior to the 12hr window closing, that you want to attend the session even if you confirm or not. Please be quick to indicate if you cannot attend by either responding "N" to the SMS or opening up the app, visiting My Waitlists and cancelling your spot there. Equally, please remove yourself from a wait list as soon as you know you cannot attend to avoid this issue occurring.
    • If you are offered multiple wait list spots at once, sometimes your SMS notification system might only confirm you for the most recently added one. If you intend to attend all of them, don't worry as you'll be added in anyway (even if it shows "unconfirmed") - but if you can not attend one any longer, just opt-out from your Squad App as you would any other session by navigating to the session in question and selecting "cancel class".
    • Don't like the uncertainty of using the wait list, as soon as you have accessed the same session via the wait list 4+ times in a row, shoot me an email to to enquire about a permanent spot in that specific session - this shows us there must be space if you are picking up regular spots like this.

    Why do I never show as being in credit despite having just bought some more sessions?

    • Permanent Members: when you buy a new block of sessions, these will automatically be reconciled against future booked sessions which often creates a bit of confusion as to why you seemingly have no available credit. In order to hold your permanent spot, this is simply how this has to work. For example, you swim with us 3 times per week, 50 weeks of the year - as such you have 150 booked sessions at the start of each new year (August). Unless you have bought more than 150 credits, you'll always show on the system as having 150 unpaid visits less the ones you have credit for, i.e. 25 credits in this scenario would appear as 125 Unpaid Visits. You will be prompted via an automated email when you are down to 3, 2, 1, 0 sessions truly remaining.
    • Non-permanent / Wait-list Members: as you have no permanent bookings in place, your account will always read true for how many credits you have available less any that you have just been added to from the wait list in the future as these are being held for you.

    Running low on credit / expiry time

    • You will receive an email (assuming you are opted in: see Email / SMS Reminders above) when you are running low on credit or low on available expiry time to use your credits. Please top-up as soon as you are able which will halt the automated emails counting you down.

    Buying more sessions

    • Even if you have your card details logged in the system, when you are low on credit you'll still need to put a payment through using the "Buy Services" option. We do not have permission to put through an unauthorised payment without your consent (you'll be pleased to know!).

    Emergencies are not lie-ins...

    • Emergencies happen - if you have to miss a session due to a last minute emergency, please just let me know via email to and I will re-credit the session for you (this doesn't include lie-ins unfortunately!)

    Reconciliation (the bane of my life!)

    • On Thursday each week I have to go through and manually reconcile the next week's visits (typically 350!) given how dynamic the system is with people dropping-in / dropping-out etc. Sadly this is how the system has to work in order to hold spots for the Permanent Members of the squad (there is no work-around). As such, if your details appear to change with respect to how many sessions are showing in credit / unpaid, this is normally why. Don't panic, it's us fiddling around at the back end.
    • The system is geared-up to be an incredibly extensive database and as such every action that you or we take on your account is recorded as it occurs to the second. Given this we are able to easily reconcile any issues or queries that you may have, so please don't be afraid to shoot me an email to and I will check up for you.

    Mailing list / keeping posted

    • to be kept regularly updated on all squad news please ensure you have entered your email details at in the top-right blue box and for last minute notices the Squad App also allows me to communicate via the means of a pop-up notification on your phone too. If you are receiving this email but have never received the Squad Blog before to your email address, you are not registered and need to do this yourself (again for privacy opt-in legislation).

    Hope this helps! Thanks for your time. 


    Monday, February 27, 2017

    Rottnest Swim 2017: Managing Expectation With Reality

    Dear Swimmers

    A wise person once said, the only bad race is one you don't learn anything from. The 2017 Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim provided plenty of learning opportunities and then some as challenging north-south currents disguised a much tougher day than what the anticipated good weather promised.

    I was privileged to have an excellent vantage point of the entire race from the front of the field again with one of the swimmers I advise, Brad Smith (3rd this year overall). In the first 30 minutes Brad was leading the entire solo field in the Champions of the Channel event, including olympic marathon swimming super-star Jarod Poort who eventually went on to win the event in 4h12m: 

    This tweet at 28 minutes into the event shows Brad in 1st place with the words "Keep Your Cool!" echoing ominously to avoid him blowing up!

    It's been an honour to work together with Bobby Jovanovich to aid this great swimmer Brad Smith towards his goals over the last 3 years

    Brad's quick start was possibly an over-compensation for last year's event where he placed 2nd overall but believed he went out a bit too steady (I beg to differ of course!). Having this vantage point allowed me some deep reflection time amongst the chaos and stress of trying to lead a top athlete towards the very front of the field. This combined with the past 48 hours or so of reflection and feedback and listening to everyone's highs and lows has allowed me to compile the following musings which I am hoping will help you make sense out of the day that was supposed to be "perfect" but for many, many of you, resulted in being anything but! 

    It's only now, with all the objective and subjective facts from the day, do I feel properly versed in what actually happened out there.

    It all started in the Kitchen:

    I had a fair few duties as Ambassador and Head Coach of the Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim once we'd touched land in Thomson's Bay, but given the heat and exhaustion from the day and jet lag from the last weekend of coaching in the UK, I made an early exit on the 4pm ferry back to Perth once I knew that sadly not everyone was going to make it (more on that later) and also because I didn't want to miss Jackson's 8th birthday weekend celebrations:

    Paul (right) with 2nd place team (5h22m) in the Lavan Legal Charity event and Richie Strahan (left) from the Batchelor. I had lunch with Richie - I'm not sure if my coaching aspirations really impressed him that much but my winning of the UK TV Show "Blind Date" (25 million viewers in 2001) certainly did: - you have to laugh!

    So I arrived home early and collected a few brownie points all round until myself and Michelle got talking in the kitchen about one of her best mates and previous duo partners, Karlee. Prior to moving south of the river, Karlee used to train with the Swim Smooth Perth squad, but this year has had to follow our Rottnest Solo Program by way of the She's done a great job of keeping me posted with her progress and would regularly do some of the open water training sessions with coach Sally and coach Cyndy, both of whom raved about how well she was swimming so fast that she would drop them in their wetsuits!

    Furthermore, the following chart shows how despite a dip in performance in early January due to a bout of gastro, Karlee was in great form and tapered perfectly for the event:

    Given all this information then and the fact that I knew Karlee had finished 11th female overall (a great result!), you'll appreciate how when Michelle said "Karlee did awesome, she did 6h45m! That's so quick for her first ever solo!" I must have frowned and muttered something like "that's not quick Mish - I expected her to be at least an hour quicker than that!" and unwillingly unleashed fury in the kitchen.

    Even by this point in the afternoon, even I hadn't grasped just how challenging the conditions had been out there for everyone. So whilst it nearly cost me a punch to the gut for seemingly disrespecting the missus's best mate, really, it was simply a case of not knowing all the facts.

    Side note: even Karlee is waiting for the blog report to make her "feel better" about her performance, so I'm obviously not the only one who thought the times were massively slow. More on that in a moment though...


    You'll note that there was absolutely zero hubbub in the media and local chitchat about how the event might be cancelled because of foul weather in the lead-up to the event. This almost always happens before Rotto. This year? Non. The weather and winds looked amazing and highly conducive to some fast times. I was getting particularly excited myself to see the prospect of Jared Poort perhaps breaking Mark Saliba's 17 year old record of 4h00m15s given his prowess and the forecast conditions:

    The day before: buzzing about what was possible...

    The morning of: even more excitable?

    Here was the diagram I drew up prior to the 5.30am squad arriving at the pool on Friday 24th February indicating how I had seen from that currents were going to be running in a southerly direction which, combined with the forecast north easterly winds, would see swimmers being gradually pushed south in much the same way as happened in 2009 (my first solo) for those of you who remember that year. The aim therefore was to try to capitalise on the conditions and avoid being pushed too far south by taking a northerly line instead:

    My schematic (posted and liked many times on social media) showed the need to stay north

    Totally unbeknownst to me, that same morning the following article was published in the West Australian by a prominent oceanographer saying exactly the same thing (just call me "Doc"!):

    The fastest predicted route to Rottnest? North - damn right!

    But whilst it was acknowledged widely that the northerly current would be running, I don't think anyone had predicted quite how strongly. Here's a viewpoint from squad member and Rotto stalwart, John Turner (JT):

    "That was a tough day, made worse by forecasts. Not just yours, everyone's. The normal things we all worry about are temperature, wind, swell and  stingers, with current not getting too much of a mention. I know very little about these things, but current might well be the 'silent assassin'. Maybe because we don't see it? I remember impressive pictures in 2015 of swimmers riding high on breakers with whitecaps etc, but my time on Saturday was worse than 2015!" 

    Two of my favourite open water swimmers, Jared Poort (left) and Rhys Mainstone (right) after a cheeky bum-slap on Cottesloe Beach. I like to think they're saying something along the lines of "we're going to kill this today - look how flat it is!"

    The trouble is, expectation can be a literal killer in the isolated, lonely world of open water marathon swimming when you're not quite sure if you're just having a bad day or if everyone else is suffering the same as you. JT again:

    "I spent most of my swim yesterday thinking I was having a total nightmare whilst everyone else must be enjoying the predicted record sub 6 hour times etc as forecast. I had anticipated going through 10k in 3 hours, but it took 3 ½! Worse than that, I think 10-12km and 12-14km both took about 50 mins, so we were only doing about 2 ½ km an hour. That saps spirit. Every hour you swim, you are 'losing' 1km compared to expectations." 


    Firstly, here's the link to all the results from the day to devour over:

    But if you want a simple snapshot of what went "wrong" from the perspective of managing expectation with reality, consider these three simple facts:

    Data compiled and published on Facebook by swimmer Bob Tarr from Perth City (whom I've been assisting with stroke development over the last 4 or 5 years and who finished a very commendable 8th overall in the solo division)

    Data from JT's last 7 solo swims - it was his second slowest solo time, but his highest relative finishing position - indicating the times are almost irrelevant with respect to performance

    Mike Fischer (solo swimmer from the Swim Smooth Perth Squad) gets pushed significantly south (nearly 1km south of the rhumb-line) after 12km of swimming. Sadly, Mike didn't make it. I mean he's not dead or anything, but he didn't make it to the finish and withdrew at 16km after swimming on the spot for 2hrs (more on Mike in a bit).

    Here's more from the philosophical JT:

    "It's one of the tortures of the event that you are pretty much completely alone and cannot take any solace from the shared misery of others!! If you're running uphill in a marathon, at least you can see others in the same position. It's only when you get on dry land that swimmers start to gain a perspective on things." 

    Coincidentally, had you swam across to Rottnest today, you would have had the exact opposite current conditions:

    These arrows were pointing north to south on Saturday and quite viciously too!

    From my perspective on Brad's boat, I couldn't be sure if his quick start was what caused a slowing from 12 ½ minutes per km in the first 5km to 15 ½ minutes per km around the 8 or 9km mark, or the current, as it appeared that he was also losing ground to Jared and Solomon up ahead. With Tim Hewitt and Jaime Bowler breathing down our necks at this point just 50m back, I gave the instruction to Brad, "9km: the race starts now!" to which he promptly accelerated admirably and put 10 minutes into Tim and 20 minutes into Jaime in the final 10km - that's smoking hot and easily cemented 3rd place on the podium.

    The trouble with all of this is that the slower you naturally are and the later you started after the leaders, the more susceptible you would have been to these currents on the day. The trouble is (especially as a solo swimmer), you'd never have been aware of that, only that you were massively under-performing based upon your expectation. Psychologically, this is never going to be a favourable thing for anyone. Last bit from JT:

    "It would be fascinating if 5,10,15k split times were available, just to see how one's position fluctuates during the event. As a swimmer we are oblivious to what's happening around us. I came 96th but have no idea whether my position improved or worsened during the swim. Maybe have checkpoints like they do in orienteering/rogaining?" 

    Learning Opportunities:

    I think there are three key take-home points in all of this:

    1. the beauty of open water swimming - especially channel swimming - is that it is unpredictable. It's an adventure. You never know what you're going to get and Mother Nature can be a wickedly cruel b***h when she wants to be! You have to prepare for every eventuality.
    2. your crew has a much better viewpoint on what is happening than you do. Trust them. They might not necessarily know what the implications are on your time or your finishing position but so long as you and they have heeded the words of the "experts"* then really it's down to you to keep those arms turning over as long as you can and as quickly / powerfully as you can until you reach your goal
    3. you're never going to accurately know how everyone else is going so don't waste time worrying about anyone else but you. That being said, "shared solace" on Saturday might have been a wonderful thing for many people.

    * interesting fact - despite the massive publicity that the predicted northerly current got, upon arriving at the beach at 4.30am and watching everyone set-up, there were still more kayaks and support boats aligned to the south-side of fleet than there were to the north. This spelled disaster for many even before the race began in my honest opinion. Did people distrust the information or did they simply downplay it? Who knows, but even if you did start and head north, it was still a very challenging day and possibly in many cases an average of 60 minutes slower than what could have been expected on a "normal" day.

    An Ode to Everyone who didn't finish:

    Firstly, if you, your duo or your team did finish, a massive well done. I absolutely guarantee that you've been sat there frowning though since you finished about how tough it was, how you'll never do it again and how your times were seemingly "rubbish", but quit that thinking right now, OK! I'll never forget 2009 as my first solo swim. I wanted to break 5 hours, that was my only goal. I got caught in the same northerly current as Saturday and swam into Thomson's Bay in 5h23m. I was mortified. So miserable. I couldn't even acknowledge my 38 week pregnant wife Michelle who'd come across to the island on a hot day as I was so bitterly disappointed in myself (yeah, that idiotic). It wasn't until I saw that I had finished 6th overall that I began to feel better and to date, it's probably still my best ever performance across to Rottnest and it was my first. Don't be a grumpy geezer like me, recognise what you have achieved however long it took you to get there, because you know what? Not everyone did make it.

    Sadly four of our solo swimmers didn't make it across to Rottnest this year. When I arrived home after the event I felt flat, drained and totally deflated and expected these four swimmers to feel equally so. Not at all. Not one iota! I have spoken to Jodie Edwards, Sue Oldham, Mike Fischer and Greg Madden and they are all incredibly philosophical about their experiences and all got to or past the 15km marker buoy. There's even talk of "unfinished business" which I am both proud and incredibly impressed to hear. Well done guys! Your tenacity is infectious.

    I think Mike says it best though in his piece below, "What An Alternative Ending Looks Like":

    This is what an alternative ending looks like (Mike Fischer after 16km)

    What An Alternative Ending Looks Like:

    "If I rewind to lunchtime on Saturday morning, I had had the perfect start, hooking up with paddler and boat as planned and cruised past the 10km mark on schedule after a little over 4 hours. The only hint of the problem to come was that I was around 200m south of the southern marker, rather than hugging the northern marker as per the pre-race plan. Soon after 10km mark the current really kicked in though and I kept getting pulled further and further south. By the time I was level with the 15km mark I was around 1km south of the rhumb line, swimming NNW, with the island in sight over my left shoulder every breath, but still getting taken further south. A 1knot current is around 2km/hr and I wasn't swimming much faster than that by then and so decided to call it a day at around 16km when it became clear that I just wasn't going to make it. My Garmin decided to stop recording my location at around 12km but Ive been able to recreate my track from the boat data and you can clearly see the effect of the current. I was actually only around half a red-mist session (an RMS is now an official measure of distance...) from the closest point of the island when I got onto the boat and in that moment lots of things run through your mind, but none of them involved the word "failure". I'm sure that some people with brains wired differently to mine may see it that way but to me it was just an "alternative ending" to an amazing adventure that really crystallised for me why I swim and why I think about the 500km of training which led up to the day as an amazing experience in its own right. 

    There are actually a whole raft of reasons why I swim and I think that is why it is so different to most (all?) other sports; I love the feeling of being in the water, particularly the ocean or the river. The first dive under a wave, the first few strokes as my arms slot into the "right arm-left arm" rhythm or the feel of cold, crisp water on my face as I take off into the river. The incredible experiences, such as being the only person on a beautiful beach at dawn as I started a long, pre-work, swim, seeing a large Eagle Ray glide underneath me or watching as a pod of dolphins cruise past. I don't think I have a competitive bone in my body, but I do compete - against myself. There was a moment after 7.5km in a very rough 10km at Mullaloo where the beach was 30m away and there would be no shame to hop out early, where I pushed myself to turn right at the marker knowing it would mean another hour or so bashing into a 25 knot sea breeze, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, both mentaly and physically - and I did. Swimming is so good for my head and many times I have walked into the water with a thousand different things buzzing around, all of them needing attention and all of them telling me that I shouldn't be swimming now but should instead be going into the office to deal with them. It's incredible how often I would then get out of the water an hour or two later after a long, meditative swim, with the familiar "bubble-bubble-breathe" mantra for company and realise that I had been able to come up with solutions to half of them while I was swimming and that the remainder didn't actually need solving in the first place. In many ways, I think that swimming is what has kept me sane over the past decade or so! 

    Finally, and most importantly, is the friendship and camaraderie that seems particularly unique to the swimming fraternity, at least in my experience, and which manifests itself in many ways. The numerous morning sessions at Claremont pool with your ever-present advice, support and challenge from the pool deck as I knock out yet another session are an essential part of my daily routine now. Then there are the friends who regularly swam with me, or unexpectedly popped up beside me on a long swim, just to keep me company for part of it. Or the ones who hung around long after they have finished their own swim to join me for a coffee after mine. Or those who paddled beside me for hours, both on the day and in training, keeping me fed and watered. The ones who I laughed with on an unseasonably rainswept beach where it was so rough that I kept getting washed unceremoniously onto the sand every 100m or so only to dive back in and bash out another 100m. On my own it would have been torture and I would probably not have got into the water, but somehow seeing those other caps bobbing around turned it into an adventure, and the coffee afterwards was really well deserved. And the friends who turned up at Cottesloe beach on Saturday morning to make sure that I was fully covered in wool fat, vaseline and zinc and the ones who texted and messaged me during the day and into the evening to see how I was going and to check that I was OK. As I said, those are the moments that I will really treasure.

    So for me, my black line isn't about the destination, whether it be the finish line at Thompson's Bay or Swanbourne or Mullaloo, it is about enjoying every stroke of the journey (even if they aren't as Mr Smooth as I'd like them to be!) and laughing at as many of them as possible, even on those "Mega" days when there there are stingers and shark alarms….! Who knows where mine will head next but I know that I will always have one to follow and without wanting to get too philosophical about it, I think that the trick will be to see it as just that - an amazing journey which sometimes has alternative endings along the way."


    Fortune telling and the Wednesday / Friday / Monday 9.30am sessions this week...

    Dear Swimmers

    Fortune teller? I posted this early on Friday morning's 5.30am session (and subsequently all over social media and even on the Channel Ten news during an interview I did for the station on Friday afternoon) regarding the likely conditions on Saturday's Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim and the need to head north:

    This was then literally published in the West Australian Friday morning also (good to know my advice was congruent with that of a professor, just call me "Doc"!):

    So, firstly, congratulations if you made it across to Rottnest on Saturday in some pretty challenging current-based conditions disguised as "perfect" in the lead up to the event. Expect a full and comprehensive write up and results on this in the next day or two - keep posted!

    9.30am swimmers:

    Secondly, the following adjustments have been made for the 9.30am squads this week and early next whilst I am away down south:

    • Wednesday 1st March at Sorrento Beach with Coach Sally at 10am to 11/11.15am for some longer ocean-intervals and a few fun ins / outs (but not too much running!)
    • Friday 3rd March at Claremont Pool at 9.30 to 10.30am (originally planned for Sorrento Beach) with Coach Sally - we have 4 to 5 lanes in the 25m pool scheduled to run a higher-intensity session to contrast with Wednesday's session
    • Monday 6th March at Claremont Pool at 9.30 to 10.30am with Coach Ross (Tuesday PM's new coach) for a pure technique session as normal

    Hope that all makes sense and is not too confusing for you in this dynamic period with the pool carnivals going on etc.



    Thursday, February 23, 2017

    Good luck for Rottnest Swimmers and a few scheduling pointers!

    Please read - important scheduling information contained herein!

    Dear Swimmers

    Firstly let me congratulate and wish luck to all of those who will be making the 19.7km splash across to Thomson's Bay this Saturday! I will of course be in attendance hopping between the media boat (due to my commentary and social media commitments for Karma Resorts) and last year's 2nd place finisher, Brad Smith (whom I advise). It looks set to be a great day!

    As ever, here are a couple of quick final preparation tips for you:

    1. Tips to manage shoulder pain this weekend: 
    2. My Top-10 race video tips for the day: 

    Schedule changes / additions:

    Please be aware of the following additions / changes to next week's training schedule:

    • All sessions tomorrow, Friday 24th February, will run as normal with a special shortened set for those of you racing on Saturday
    • On Friday 24th February at 8am, I will take the opportunity from a late cancelled 1-2-1 to pop down to Cottesloe Beach (meeting on the grassy area adjacent to the northside of Indianna Tea Rooms) to offer some words of advice, visualisation and a final dip in the Indian Ocean if you are around…might even get chance for a quick coffee also before the 9.30am session
    • After the Wednesday 1st March 5.30am Red Mist Endurance Session I will be taking a few days R&R with Michelle's Canadian family down south returning to the pool deck on Tuesday 7th March. Sally will cover all the sessions in my absence per last weekend's mega-quick UK coaching visit
    • Wednesday (1/3/17) and Friday (3/3/17) 9.30am sessions will be held at the slightly later time of 10am and will be at Sorrento Beach as a fun open water skills session due to a carnival at the pool at these times - details of where to meet at 
    • There will be no session on Thursday 2/3/17 at 6.15pm due to an evening carnival at the pool

    Thanks everyone and see you on Rotto for a well deserved celebratory drink - go get 'em!


    Monday, February 13, 2017

    Wow! What a great fortnight with the coaches!

    Dear Swimmers

    I hope you have had a great weekend and well done to this of you who survived the Busselton Jetty Swim yesterday - I heard the conditions were epic!

    Later on this week I shall be jetting off to London for 4 days to be the keynote speaker at the world's largest triathlon expo at the ExCeL centre:

    We have been invited by swim gear company Finis (who make all the paddles and tempo trainers we use here in Perth) to activate the Swim Zone over the 4 days which basically means myself and my team will be non-stop swim coaching from 9am to 6pm for the 4 days! This year they have built an entire pool within the conference centre which should make for some very interesting demonstrations and tutorials for the +30,000 swimmers and triathletes they are expecting to see over the weekend! I literally fly in 2hrs before the show starts and leave a couple of hours after it finishes! So short is this trip that I won't miss a single Wednesday Red Mist Endurance session.

    Still, I should be well prepped because as you know we've spent the last 2 weeks training up the next batch of Swim Smooth Coaches here in Perth, pulling many 14+ hour days to ensure we bring them to the standard we require. 

    Since we started this process in 2010, over 3,000 international coaches have applied to start this journey to become a Swim Smooth Coach, with only just over 300 of them being selected to attend the first stage (a 3-day Coach Education Course in various worldwide locations - every one of which I've attended to deliver as Head Coach) and then of those 300, only 30 have been invited to travel to Perth and go on to full Certification with us. So the coaches that you met recently are in that top 1% and travelled from:

    1. John - California, USA
    2. Linda - Florida, USA
    3. Mike - Kentucky, USA
    4. Shangrila - L.A, USA
    5. Kristina - Alberta, Canada
    6. Mary - Calgary, Canada
    7. Laura - Kent, UK
    8. Peter - Rhode Island, USA
    9. Roy - Taipei City, Taiwan
    10. Jana - Boksburg, South Africa

    …and ably assisted and mentored by Emma and Adam from the UK of course!

    They have just left, so it's going to be a bit quiet on the pool deck this week! Their tasks now are to complete the assignments and examinations we have set them to show us of their learning and pragmatic application of all the work we have covered here in Perth.

    We started the two weeks coaching a very special young man (15yo Harold) who'd flown down from Hong Kong just for a swimming session with us. You can read about his amazing story and see his 8.15s improvement over 100m to win an international invitational meet in Hong Kong this last weekend here:

    …the video analysis / ramp test is well worth a watch if you have time.

    Anyway, I thought I'd leave you with a few photos from the coaches course last fortnight and a thank you for being so supportive of what we are trying to build here. Back in November - given that our next focus is building the North American program especially - I had considered shifting this two week course to Montreal, Canada instead (where one of our coaches runs a complete carbon copy of our program here in Perth), however, seeing how well you all gelled with the coaches and that Claremont Pool is very much the birth place of the whole Swim Smooth program, you'll be pleased to know that we will be keeping the annual training program right here in not-so-sunny Perth:

    Wednesday, February 1, 2017

    A reminder for 9.30am Friday swimmers this week...

    Dear Swimmers

    Per the schedule of open water swims for the 9.30am squad this February / March due to closures of the pool for carnivals (see full schedule here:, this Friday sees our first open water swim up at the new shark net at Sorrento Beach.

    The session will start at 10am and run until 11/11.15am depending on the weather (which is looking great!). By all means please bring a wetsuit if you wish and be prepared for lots of fun and a small amount of (optional) beach running.

    Sorrento Beach is a 26 minute drive north of Claremont Pool. We are trialling this first session there given the brilliant shark net facility, offering up to a 1200m loop in which to swim.

    A couple of you have mentioned that you have a kayak or SUP you could bring along - as there will be a whopping 13 coaches there with me - it'd be great if you wouldn't mind bringing something down as we can use these to assist you and create man-made markers in the water.

    Here's some maps so you don't get lost.

    Park in the car park just north of the Sorrento SLSC if there is space:

    Meet us by the small stone groyne indicated by the purple pinpoint in the image below. The red triangle is 1200m and follows the inside perimeter of the shark net - it's a great facility!

    See you there!