Sunday, March 10, 2019

Rottnest Channel Swim 2019 Musings

Not as fast as everyone thought...but the question is, "did that get to your head halfway across - a paranoia that everyone else must surely be having a better day than you?"

NOTE: swimmers in blue = top 3 men's times / pink = top 3 women's times / yellow = Swim Smooth Perth Squad swimmers in the 2018/2019 season / green = Paul Newsome's 1-2-1 Video Analysis swimmers and users

Dear Swimmers

You'll note my tardiness in getting some response out about this year's Rottnest Channel Swim. Why? Simply because I've used the last two weeks to reflect on the results and also soak up all the feedback and stories from those in the squad (and wider afield) who did the event and their thoughts upon it.

It almost seems eerily ironic that I should have posted this article on Managing Expectation just a few days before the event, and this is also what I've held back with this year's summary too, in the hope that those of you now preparing for next weekend's Port to Pub event, might be in the headspace to try to soak up these views with 5-6 days to go before your big swim.

Whilst I'd highly encourage you to read the article above (about 2017), it basically breaks down like this (as did 2019):

  • weather forecast looks AMAZING
  • expectations about what might be possible RISE
  • excitement BUILDS - could this finally be my year to break XX hours?!
  • I'm feeling GREAT - I know this is going to be my BIG chance!
  • weather looks brilliant as you leave the beach and those not swimming are all MOANING about how they're MISSING OUT
  • you feel pumped - the energy PALPABLE
  • you find a good rhythm and the SUNRISE IS BEAUTIFUL
  • you tick off your first few feeds and all is ON TRACK
  • halfway across you check your time AND ITS NOT QUITE WHAT YOU'D HOPED
  • don't panic you tell yourself - could be JUST A BLIP?
  • next time check is still NO BETTER
  • maybe you're BLOWING UP or HAVING A BAD DAY?
  • panic sets in - EVERYONE else must be having a blinder, so why not me?!
  • you eventually get to Thomson's Bay, check out the clock and "on no!" WHAT HAPPENED?! Where's my SUPER FAST TIME?
...and that, as they say, is open water swimming at it's best - always unpredictable!

So yes, the weather was EXCELLENT but what about the CURRENTS - how do you know how these affected things?

First place to start - always look towards the winners: Solomon Wright set the course record in 2018, finally tipping under 4 hours. There's nothing to suggest he had a bad swim this year (he came a very creditable 2nd behind an equally great performance from Sam Sheppard and a further 7 minutes ahead of Perth "wonderkid" and one of my personal heroes, Rhys Mainstone), but he went 22 minutes slower than last year. That's nearly 9% slower on a day which, on the outset, looked just magic. Add that kind of margin to a 7 hour swimmer and you're adding nearly 40 minutes additional time. Furthermore, the longer you're out there exposed to the elements (SW wind picking up, possible strengthening of the current etc), and you can be assured that the conditions this year were anything but the idyllic conditions that we were all conjuring up in our heads. But therein lies the problem - our heads - when you're out there right in the thick of it, unsure of which way is truly west, or exactly how fast you're moving or what the currents are doing - the story so many of us tell ourselves when TIME IS OUR ONLY MEASURE is that we must be failing. How much of this then ultimately adds to our time and the feeling of how well we have or haven't done?

To this day, my biggest regret is my first ever solo finish in 2009. I desperately wanted to break 5 hours and felt I could probably fit inside the Top-20. I had done some training with David Cox (who went on to win the event) and I can recall our conversation on the start-line like it was yesterday: David told me "these brilliant conditions are ripe for the record, and I'm going to be the guy to do it!" - and yet he was one of only 5 swimmers to break 5 hours that year, finishing over 40 minutes behind the 2000 record of Mark Saliba. 40 minutes! Now David wasn't a dreamer - he was a brilliant swimmer - but I should have been looking at his result when I came across the line totally deflated with a 5h24m swim and yet I'd finished 6th male and 9th overall. I should have been chuffed, but I wasn't - I only saw 5h24m and in that I saw FAILURE. 

Of course, in the past 10 years and having coached many hundreds of Solo swimmers myself now, having swum the English Channel in 2011 in atrocious conditions and managing a time little better than "average" but equally smashing the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (46km) in 2013 with the overall title in super-fast speeds, I have come to really understand that there's really very little you can do out there other than trust in your training and manage your expectation when you're at it tooth and nail. Never assume that everyone else is having a better day than you just purely on your target times and paces. This is why we do so much training with the beepers to really dial in your paces so that you truly know what effort level you can sustain for whatever distance - if that results in brilliant times (like the Busselton Jetty Swim this year) because the conditions were so good, great! But if it means that your swim times were slower than expected at the Rottnest Channel Swim, then they are what they are. All you can really do is look at those around you as your benchmark - those that you've been swimming against all season and how they stacked up against you. But one thing's for sure - if you complete that swim, it's NEVER A FAILURE.

So, that all being said, congratulations to everyone who made it across to Thomson's Bay last fortnight and good luck to those of you trying again next weekend at the Port to Pub swim. Interestingly enough, the conditions for this Saturday are in stark contrast to two weeks ago - the wind looks set to be strong early on from the SW at this stage, so it'll be interesting to see how people's expectations fair this week in light of that... things for sure, YOU CAN'T CHANGE IT - you've just got to do your best and keep those arms ticking over until you get there!

Well done everyone - whether you be Solo, Duo or Team - what a brilliant achievement to have under your belt!


Your Proud Coach, Paul

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