I hope you are all enjoying the amazing weather and looking forward to a great Christmas! I'd just like to take the opportunity to thank you all for another awesome year down at the Claremont Pool with the Swim Smooth Perth Squad and to acknowledge all your hard work and dedication in the various challenging swim sets we've done this year (some 611 of them!!).
I often wonder how cool it'd be if we could have one of these for you to tap after each session:
...which would allow me to monitor which sessions were the most enjoyable on your part...but then I realise that sometimes, doing the hard stuff and the stuff you'd never do by yourself at 530am on a cold winter's morning, is a truer test of someone's grit, determination and commitment to their health and something that you should always feel virtuous about having done so. It never ceases to amaze me how relatively few grumbles we get (there are inevitably a few!) - most of you just get in and get on and perhaps this is a motto for life itself...
...do the hard stuff, get it done, make a change...
...and this is precisely what myself and Brad Smith had the opportunity to do a couple of weeks ago up in Nusa Lembongan - raising awareness of the plastics in the ocean issue facing Indonesia primarily and also the local education in the schools and businesses on how to tackle this problem for future generations.
Now, if I simply told you I was invited to head up to Bali last weekend as an ambassador and sponsor for a new SwimRun event there following my participation in the ÖtillÖ World Championships in December, and then showed you these few photos of where we were staying, you'd have a tough job of not deciphering this as simply a jolly holiday for Coach Paul as opposed to a work trip - and that's where you'd be right - this was so much more than simply a work trip, it was about making change happen and something I was super-proud to have been part of. Nevertheless, here are some of the views - stunning!
Tom Hickman (the event's founder and driving force for change in the way plastics are managed and recycled on the island of Nusa Lembongan) featured on our 2nd podcast (link: Podcast 2) and was a temple of enthusiasm for this worthy cause, bringing athletes and those wanting to help make change together for a fun-filled, insightful 5 days in this beautiful part of the world.
Tom's t-shirt says it all: Temple of Enthusiasm
This all being said, I couldn't help but feel a tad bit guilty leaving Mish and the kids at home and also you all on pool deck whilst I jetted off to sunny Bali, but I knew there was work to be done and a race to complete!
Day 1 - arrival:
We arrived in Bali and were immediately whisked off to our hotel in Sanur where we met all the other teams with this one shared vision:
10 teams of 2 had been selected to race the event and help with the charity work including:
- Annika & Peter - Annika is a multiple ÖtillÖ World SwimRun Champion who would be sure to be the ones setting the pace on Saturday's race which comprised 3km of swimming and 20km of running in the very oppressive Bali conditions of 32ºC / 90% humidity ambient and 33-34ºC water temperature (like a bath!). She was teaming up with Peter who was a cool 35+ minutes ahead of me and Andy back in September in Sweden and one of the top-ranked male SwimRunners in the world.
- Rosanna & Inge - both race at an elite level within triathlon and Ironman events and were super-acclimated to the conditions. Rosanna spent 6 years sailing around the world on a yacht with her young family and now lives an enviable lifestyle in Ullawatu. Inge did a fabulous and very memorable press-conference after the event, discussing the issues facing the Balinese.
- Jackson & Josh - self-proclaimed "digital nomads", these likeable lads travel the world on the strength of their respective 317,000+ Instagram accounts, documenting their travels and their eco-warrior mission which totally aligned with the mission of the Bali-Hope event. In many ways, they are doing what I was doing 17 years ago prior to arriving in Perth - living life out of a backpack but documenting it in a way with such professionalism that I was blown away. Jackson's Instagram account is well worth a look as is Josh's book "Why Don't You?", which at the tender age of just 22 is pretty darn amazing to have that level of insight. Despite living out of backpacks, these boys can really run (as we were about to find out!), as Josh won the inaugural Bali Ultra-marathon back in May which has to be run overnight given the intense heat.
- Andy & Kelly - Andy is a former swimming Olympian and Kelly is a model / actress who features in some amazing TV dramas (like Grise, HBO) and movies as well as being a brand ambassador for sun safety through Nivea - both Andy & Kelly are sponsored through the wetsuit company we part-own, HUUB Design.
- Kara & Nina - these brilliant ladies raised a staggering $10,000 USD (and counting!) for the Bali-Hope event and are super strong triathletes from Victoria. Kara did a brilliant job of facilitating the team bonding exercises that we all participated in to help break the ice and get us all focused on our objectives for helping the Nusa Lembongan region. She runs a fitness and strength training program on the Bass Coast, VIC, so knows her onions.
- Lezlea & Adele - both Lezlea and Nina are very good runners but were a little apprehensive about how the swim might go - they needn't have been. Myself and Brad took the girls for a practice session a couple of days before the main event, focusing on some simple cues to keep the stroke working well and them working well together. Something worked as they did really well! Both ladies are ex-pats living in Bali for a good portion of each year and met each other in shared-space work environment in Canguu.
- Patrick & Fanny - we were staying with Patrick and Fanny, arguably the two strongest competitors in the field, both specialising in crazy CrossFit-style regimes and generally doing amazing things with the strength of their bodies. They had a fair bit of SwimRun experience between them also having tackled the super-tough Rockman race in the Pyrenees, France. They were racing as "Team Lost" and have a simply massive social media following - well worth a visit to some of their cool videos here.
- Isobel & Wayne - Wayne goes by the handle "The Rogue Adventurer - Going Places, Running Races" and his tagline "in order for us to grow and learn we MUST take on challenges that radically expand our sense of what truly is possible" really epitomised what we were all about to take on there in Nusa Lembongan. Isobel is a fellow Brit hailing from a similar part of the UK to me (i.e. very hilly!) so I knew she'd be up for the challenge of the tough Bali conditions.
- Kyron & Logan - Kyron also completed the inaugural Bali Ultra-marathon back in May and had returned to Bali with his eldest brother Logan who currently lives in Perth. Both are originally from New Zealand and have a thing about the Haka dance (see below). Logan's story was arguably the most inspiring of the entire team - a big unit and someone who was purely there to complete rather than compete, but Logan's "win" wasn't the physicality's of the race itself, but the fact that he'd overcome serious drug and alcohol addiction, time in trouble with the police and to use his own introductory words, "I've basically not been a very nice person most of my life and have f&*ked most of it up!" to be with us in Bali. You couldn't help but admire the guy, who now works with AA here in Perth's northern suburbs. Here's Logan crossing the finish-line on the Saturday - talk about a release of pressure:
Day 2 - transfer to Nusa Lembongan:
Arriving on Nusa Lembongan
With Andy Wibowo, Olympian
Getting into the swing of island life!
We travelled over to Nusa Lembongan and got a real feel for the place, including both the climate (hot and VERY humid!) as well as the level of plastic pollution in the streets and on the beaches (off the charts!). Coming back to this view though made it hard to imagine why things were ever left to get this bad:
...less than so!
Day 3 - education: REUSE, RECYCLE and REFUSE:
After a morning fine-tuning our race gear for the following days's race, it was off to a local primary school to aid with the efforts of educating the young children on better ways to manage their waste, including: REUSE, RECYCLE and REFUSE.
We were invited into the children's classrooms and involved in a round-class discussion about the issues of plastic mis-management. We also had the chance to help the children create posters with recycled material to further help them understand what needed to be done. A highlight for me was helping the older children use Microsoft Excel (I'm a geek, what can I say?!) to create a spreadsheet to work out just how much waste was being generated and collected in their local area each day - 3 tonnes! Staggering.
What was really sad was the realisation that despite every child clearly understanding the message, the hope that they'd be then able to take this message back to their families presents a huge cultural / generational issue as often their voices simply aren't heard once back at home (so we were told).
Before leaving the school, we were each presented with a special gift of a ceremonial sari and an individually drawn thank you letter to each of us for helping out. It was lovely.
Brad receiving his gifts
We then headed over to the local recycling plant, Waryu Segara, to get an appreciation of the mammoth task they are facing with the clean-up of the island - off the charts:
Day 4 - race day:
By the time race day finally rolled around, my whole perspective of what I was actually over there in Bali to do had changed completely.
If you'd asked me before I had left, I'd have told you I was over there to race with Brad in the idyllic locales and to do a bit of "charity work". Of course, I'd have told you that the charity work was a big deal (to justify my trip up there and make me feel less guilty about going), but to be perfectly frank, prior to being involved with the Bali-Hope event, I was very ignorant to the issues we are all facing with the over-use, mis-use and mis-management of plastics in our environment. I'd gladly accept a plastic bag at Coles rather than remember to bring my re-usable hemp over-the-shoulder affair.
Recycling was something "other people do". I felt slightly justified in this knowing that I'd lived for 5 years in the City of Stirling, Perth, where it was discovered that for 3 years (despite Mish enforcing us to separate waste at home), we had to put it all into one wheelie bin which supposedly the city would further separate at their end. Of course this seemed non-sensical to me and when I found out they hadn't actually been doing that, it further felt like a waste of time me doing "my part". This was the conversation I always then had with myself, sad but true.
I'm not an eco-warrior (nor do I profess to being - even now), but seeing what we saw in Bali and having the interactions that we did with the community and their education has profoundly affected my approach to how I see things now that I'm back in Australia. Suddenly, Day 4's race seemed superfluous to the bigger picture of what we were truly there for - to help raise awareness by being willing to literally swim and run our way through litter-laden idylls - getting wrapped up in a floating black bin liner as we practiced-swam our way across to Cenigan was the real eye-opener here! I thought it was a shark!! I'm not sure which is actually worse!
And so to the race, and true to my point about it being somewhat superfluous, here's what happened in a blow-by-blow bullet account:
- the plan was for me to the lead the first 500m swim as I've been swimming well lately with all the gear on. The mission was to try and stay with the Swedish pair of Annika and Peter, but not pull ahead...we knew the attrition rate would be high given the climate!
- 200m into the first swim and Brad literally gets snagged on a fishing line, unable to progress any further - the Swedes disappear and I'm left dragging a dead-weight in the water until we unclip our tether which races back to me at a fine old rate of knots into my stomach
- once clear, we give chase, but the damage has been done and we've already surrendered 30+ seconds to Annika and Peter PLUS in our stress we fail to pick up our hydration for the first run (9km in the sweltering mangroves)
- I eventually tow Brad back up to Annika and Peter (she says candidly "ah, so nice of you to join us!"), but we're always on the back foot, trying to recoup hydration and plenty of ice at each aid station which the Swedish team do significantly better than us each time.
- by the end of the 9km run section, we are neck and neck with the world champions and heading into the water. Brad takes the lead and tows me across the Cenigan straight in order to recoup a bit from the effort we sustained on the run. Annika and Peter power ahead and put about 20 seconds into us.
- we are now running the 8km loop around the very hilly Cenigan but again make ground on the savvy pair ahead of us. We mimic their every move. When they started walking up the hugely steep climbs, so too did we.
- we hit our first hurdle - the marshalls aren't sure which way to send us and we lose 2-3 minutes literally waiting for them to radio through for instructions. Brad's confident that we'll remain ahead of 3rd place (Josh and Jackson) - I don't share his positivity and sure enough they reel us all in and then take the lead.
- by this point I'm melting and start to struggle - thank god for the additional swim at the top of Cenigan - a chance to "recover", "cool down" but most importantly use our swimming strength to move back ahead of the boys and onto the heels of Peter and Annika.
- we still have 3km to the next long swim and I'm suffering big time - survival mode completely.
- we reach the last swim (1000m) still (just) in 2nd place, and make a concerted effort to pull ahead of Josh and Jackson who were running like demons!
- we lose further ground to Peter and Annika who have raced the perfect race, but hold onto our lead over 3rd place (but are running very scared up the last 2km climb) to finish second overall and a much needed beer!
- we are not quite sure of the time gaps, but suggestions were about 2 minutes between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and 3rd.
- we wait for everyone to finish and see Logan do his Haka - amazing emotions all around!
3km swimming / 20km of running in the hot, hot sun!
Watch the race recap here (60 seconds)
The swim to Cenigan
Brad pulling me home!
Walking up one of the massively steep climbs on Cenigan with the Swedish pros, Annika and Peter
Girl power! Annika rightly front and centre!
Goosebumps moment - Logan's Haka
Collecting 1st male team prize (2nd overall)
With the champ!
Day 5 - getting our hands dirty / homeward bound:
What's the best way to recover from such a tough event? Spend several hours in the baking heat picking up rubbish with the local school children of course! In all seriousness though, looking out at our final day's challenge seemed insurmountable but through the combined efforts of everyone involved, we did such a sterling job that a local land owner pledged on the spot to dedicate some of his land for a better managed refuge collection area - amazing!
Getting our hands dirty!
Jackson looked like the messiah and had a similar sort of presence about himself - great guy!
Annika showing us how it's done!
Getting down and dirty!
It was then time to head home and back to reality.
I'd just like to say a massive thanks to everyone involved, especially Tom's superhero team of Andie, Kirsty, Margs, Debs and everyone else who made this such an amazing life-changing experience. We hope to be back again in 2019 if you'll have us?!
Paul & Brad
P.S it's still not too late to donate towards this very worth cause: https://balihopeswimrun2018.everydayhero.com/au/team-swim-smooth#