Squad Swimmer Francesca Perugia all zinc-ed up and ready to roll!
I hope you had a great weekend and if you were involved in anyway with the 2020 Rottnest Channel Swim, I hope you have some of your own great stories and experiences to share!
All up we had a total of 37 Solos, 20 Duos, and 24 Team members out there on the day, plus about the same again skippering, paddling and assisting on the boat deck. It’s so great seeing so many of you get behind this iconic event!
The Elephant In The Room: “Perfect Conditions”
OK, so let’s start off by discussing the elephant in the room - the so-called “perfect” conditions that faced the swimmers on the morning of 22nd February.
2020 proved to be a year pumped-up in anticipation much like our two reports on the 2017 swim:
1 Managing Expectation With Reality
2 So Just How Hard Was The Rottnest Channel Swim 2017?
Rather than regurgitate these reports here (as the conditions and slow times proved to be very similar), if you’re feeling a little disappointed with your times this year, these two reports from 3 years ago reportedly saved many, many swimmers many, many dollars on seeking psychological counselling for what they believed was a “poor performance” given how supposedly “good” the conditions were; that’s really not that much of a joke - some people were really put out by this, and here’s why:
Everything you would have read and even “felt” before the race looked like it was going to be a smooth ride across to the island, but as we set off through the Fremantle Harbour and out into the lumpy ocean conditions with a much stronger wind blowing than predicted to collect our swimmer (186 - Bec Johnson from the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre), we knew immediately that it wouldn’t be a fast year. Relaying this information early on in the race to Bec allowed her to accept and be “at peace” with that fact rather than let expectation start to run away from reality.
When I swam the English Channel in 2011, the very best piece of advice anyone gave me as we set off into the 25-30 knot headwind was from former English Channel record holder Lyndon Dunsbee “mate, get ready for a long day out there today - a 12-14 hour swim would be a “good effort” today”. I had hoped to be closer to 9 hours that day and was in prime condition, so hearing this from someone I trusted immediately allowed me to settle down, relax and get on with the job in hand, however long that was going to take. And of course, this is what open water swimming is all about. Like Forrest Gump said, “life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you’re going to get!” and in many ways open water swimming is the same - we are at the beck and call of Mother Nature - our nemesis ultimately proves to be our own mind that plays with the thoughts “it was supposed to be great out here today, it doesn’t feel great, my times are slow - I bet everyone else other than me is having a ripper of a day!”
So, if you haven’t yet looked back at all the fantastic stats and charts from the two links above and are still feeling down on your times, check this summary from the 2020 swim by Julian Mills who swims with squad coach Ross Robertson:
Now, what the above chart does not account for is the massive level of Solo participation this year with some 415 finishers from a start list of 450. This is much bigger than previous years, and as per the trend from this wonderful stats site http://cspf.co.uk/solo-swims-statistics-2 about the English Channel where the average swim times have actually been getting slower over the last 40 years despite participation and success rates sky-rocketing almost threefold. Why is this? Well, as we discussed last week in our podcast with English Channel World Record Holder, Tom Gregory, who in 1988 swam the English Channel at the age of 11 years and 333 days, it’s quite possibly a factor of more less experienced swimmers taking on the challenge, rather than seeing the event as “only for supermen” as they might have done in previous years. This of course is a great thing for the sport, but why we also need to be careful about how much we read into these summary statistics.
So, if we have to be cautious about looking at summary statistics, what can we use to know if we have had a good swim or not? Sometimes, relativity is your best course of action, but even then (as we’ll discuss in a moment and this Thursday’s podcast with special guest, Bec Johnson who successfully completed swim 1 of 3 of her “Life Without Limits” campaign for the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre) this can be problematic as how do you know if you had a blinder but your squad mate had a total shocker, or vice versa?
Anyway, here’s how our swimmers did:
Peach = top-3 swimmers for context* / Yellow = 1-2-1 clients (or remotely advised athletes)
*plus Simon Murie (who many, many of you will know as owning “Swim Trek” whom we’re currently organising a formal partnership with as we speak - stay tuned!). Here’s me and Simon pre-race (yes, yes, he’s quite a bit taller and more handsome than me 😉):
The “Totally Bonkers” Award (red stars) goes to Nathan Linehan and Coach Ross who both swam to Rottnest (20km), Rode Across Rottnest (20km) and then Ran Back Across Rottnest (20km) to be two of only 5 athletes this year to complete the annual "20/20/20 Extreme Triathlon":
Stroke for Stroke!
Massive congratulations to all of you, with a special shout out to Kristy Brackstone and Rachelle Doyle who individually won their respective Age Groups (40-44 and 45-49) - love your work ladies!
We also had Top-10s from:
• Ben MacKinnon
• Nathan Linehan
• Ross Robertson
• Fletcher Barr
• Vaughan Davies
• John McCann
• Nicole Whitehead
• Bec Johnson
• Francesca Perugia
• Manue Hooper-Bue
• Lorraine Driscoll
These are exceptional results everyone!
All of our DUO swimmers managed Top-10 placings in their respective categories with a notable overall win from Brad Smith and Jack Wilson. Given that these boys can hold (quite comfortably) under 1:10 per 100m in a 5-10 min change-over swim, their average pace of over 1:20 per 100m again points towards a slower than “usual" year. Squad stalwart, Rob Franklyn and his partner narrowly missed out picking up the top of the podium in the 100+ category - well done gents! I was very impressed with the way Jeremy and Vinka rocketed past us in the dying stages of the swim to also claim 2nd in their category as did Bill Adlam and his partner in the 100+ mixed. Despite a dodgy shoulder, Steve Sammut and his partner managed a very commendable 3rd spot too.
This year we didn’t have so many swimmers racing in the TEAM event (I know any of you are holding out for the Port-to-Pub swim in 4 weeks), but well done to Alen, John, Tom, Shannon, Vanita and the comeback-kid Paul Chambers for your efforts out there - hope you had a blast!
My View - Bec Johnson - CEO of Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre:
I was very privileged to spend the day on the boat of Solo Squad Swimmer Bec Johnson as she made her bid to complete the first of the following within the next 2 months:
1 Rottnest Channel Swim (19.7km)
2 Port-to-Pub Ultra-Marathon (25km)
3 Rottnest Channel Swim Double (~40km)
Bec was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 17 and is on a mission through her work as CEO at the “Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre” to prove that it’s possible to Live A Life Without Limits (www.lifewithoutlimits.com.au where you can donate). I have been so in awe of Bec’s commitment these past 12 months towards this goal that I jumped at the chance of being involved. When Bec asked all her support crew last weekend in our final team briefing “what’s your motivation to assist with this campaign?” all I could come up with was that I wanted her to get across safely (we all did) and that I was simply curious about how her fuelling strategy was of absolute paramount importance and what this looked like in reality.
Bec with squad swimmer Mark Wallis before the gun!
We’re going to get Bec on our podcast later this week to discuss that strategy in finer detail as - through discussion post her brilliantly successful swim and P.B on the weekend (when most - as discussed above - were slower than expected) - we believe that there’s a lot everyone can learn from Bec with respect to managing glucose levels for better performance, but that this doesn’t just happen on the day, it starts way back with the right approach to your training and pacing strategies too. This is where Bec’s “win” this weekend really came from - not what happened on the day, but in all the planning and preparation that went with it, simply because she has to live life this way. Incredible.
Vince Connelly MP even had this to say about Bec “The Powerhouse” Johnson today in Federal Parliament: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=124768488976428 - go Bec!
I couldn’t refuse a photo of this!
We elected to follow the “go north” advice of Bureau of Meteorology expert and 20th place finisher, Bob Tarr, whom I’ve been advising in a 1-2-1 capacity for a number of years and also through various squad sessions over the years. In fact, our GPS trace via the www.mapswim.com tracker was almost identical to Bob’s - we could see where he’d been about an hour before us and just followed this line. It proved to work very well.
Bec set a steady 18-18:30/km true swimming pace and a perfectly consistent 64spm stroke rate and essentially dialled that in all day. We’d stop every hour to monitor blood glucose levels to ensure they were in the right range and intervene with small doses of glucose (in the form or gels or liquid) if they weren’t. Bec’s speed through these transitions was exemplary and the whole team got involved in the process - it was great! Just before the 12km mark (and after verifying it with the Race Director) I hopped in to keep Bec company and we swam stroke-for-stroke up until the 18km marker. I really enjoyed this, but had to be really mindful that what had made Bec’s crossing so successful so far was the consistent pace she’d set herself - if I were to try to lift her pace we’d run the risk of chewing too much glycogen which could be catastrophic, so this was as much about simply keeping another swimmer company as it was chivvying their pace along.
There was never any doubt that Bec would make it across and everything was cool, calm and collected on the boat. Bec’s two paddlers (Liam and Edel) were just brilliant and Amy (on comms and medical support) was always in control. Rob did a brilliant job of keeping to the line we had pre-agreed upon and I was mainly in charge of Speedo bum-wiggle-dances on the boat to keep Bec entertained.
Once we’d made it across, I was super impressed with how quickly Bec recovered (again, testament to her in-depth planning and the right type of training). She looked fresh as a daisy almost instantly (as you’ll see in the picture journal below).
I’m really enthused to share a deeper dive into Bec’s swim with you all, but will save that for the podcast later this week where we’ll bring in a couple of industry nutrition experts to discuss this as well. Stay tuned!
Well done everyone, here’s some closing pics - enjoy and ’til next year!
Glucose levels trending downwards (as to be expected) but we had to be a little careful in the final hour where Bec got slightly low
We swam north of the rhumb-line, taking advice and inspiration from Bureau of Meteorology expert and 20th place finisher, Bob Tarr
Ominous skies at the 10km (northern) mark
So, so strong and always consistent with pacing (18min/km), stroke rate (64spm) and smiling (x 1,000)!
We would go live on Facebook every 30 minutes with an update for the thousands of people around the world inspired by Bec’s story
After verifying it was OK with the Race Director, I hopped in from 12 to 18km to keep Bec company - I loved it!
Bec’s post-race recovery was phenomenally quick!
I think the beard needs to go!
Me, Liam and Edel (missing in action: Amy on comms and Captain Rob)
Back to reality and no rest for the wicked! After a day that started at 3am and after 2 full weeks pulling 16hr days with the Certified Coaches, I arrived home wanting to collapse but had Jackson badgering me to build a skateboard ramp - and so we did!