Monday, February 24, 2020

Rottnest 2020 Squad Results - some tremendous performances in some very "un-fast" conditions

Squad Swimmer Francesca Perugia all zinc-ed up and ready to roll!

Dear Swimmers

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!

The top-line:

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”

The Elephant In The Room:

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:

…the further to the top-right of the chart, the slower the swim was on any given year both for the fastest swimmer and for the average time of the Solo field. So for 2020, only 2009, 2017, 2006 and 2003 (the latter two being brutal years on the very verge of cancellation) have been slower years for the majority of swimmers in the last two decades. More interestingly, if you swam 2018 and 2020 (as many people frequently do alternate years), the average time was close to an hour slower!!

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 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.

The Results:

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!

Proud Swag!



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 ( 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: - 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 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! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Good luck to our Rotto swimmers and a bit of inspiration in the form of an 11yr old boy!

Hey Swimmers

Hope you've had a good start to the week and if you've made it down to the squad sessions over the last 10 days that you've benefitted from the added assistance of the 10 coaches we've had on pool deck - their assistance with the 7am Monday Pure Technique Session offering plenty of stroke correction advice to every swimmer, was a particular highlight for us.

We just wanted to take this opportunity to wish those of you competing at the Rottnest Channel Swim this Saturday the very best of luck. The conditions look great at this stage with a light ENE wind shifting to NW in the early afternoon with the possibility of a bit of drizzle in the morning (40%).

I'll be assisting squad swimmer Bec Johnson with swim one of three of her amazing marathon swimming campaign as part of her "Life Without Limits 2020" bid to raise awareness and funds for Diabetes WA. Bec will also be swimming the Port to Pub 25km swim and then a Rottnest double attempt a few weeks after that. Totally amazing! You can find out more about this here:

...and on the ABC radio interview here:

And if you're looking for a little inspiration for this weekend in the form of our podcast last week with the world's youngest ever English Channel Swimmer, Tom Gregory, who swam the Channel in 1988 at the age of 11yrs 333 days (!) why not have a little listen here - you'll be very glad you did! Here's the link:

Finally, this age-old article on tips on how to avoid (and deal with!) shoulder issues this weekend, take a look here:

Good luck everyone and see you on the island!


Sunday, February 9, 2020

56 Swim Smooth Squad Swimmers Smashing it in Busso!

Hey Swimmers

Now I know why it's felt so quiet up here in Perth this weekend - because 56 of you were smashing it down in Busso at the Jetty Swim instead - well done!


Some brilliant results I have to say - check them out here:

An absolute stand-out performance today from Mary Tennant (Lane 1 M/W/F at 9.30am and godmother to my son Jackson!) who completed the 3.6km course in 1h17m55s which is an average pace of 2:09/100m. Mary competes in the 60-64yr age category and has been swimming with me in various squads since about 2002 when I coached up at Challenge Stadium for the Stadium Triathlon Club. What makes this such a stand-out performance is that I'd estimate Mary's CSS pace to be about 2:14/100m, i.e. 5s/100m slower than she managed to hold for nearly 3 times the statutory CSS distance (1500m) AND in open water!

There were PBs left, right and centre, and whilst she normally thinks of herself as a cyclist and triathlete and more of a "reluctant swimmer", Nat Laurendeau shows us she had the goods to take out the Age Group win in the 50-54yr category, as did Kristy Brackstone in the 40-44yr category and Viki Shelver in the 65-69 Age Group.

Our strongest male performance was from Coach Ross who averaged 1:22/100m (about his CSS pace) with another fine effort from Jeremy Hadfield to finish 5th in the 40-44 Age Group category.

Some great results all round everyone - very proud of your efforts - I think I shall have to get down there myself next year (having only done this event of nearly 2,000 swimmers once before).


Don't forget, we will have 10 coaches including myself on pool deck at every session for the next fortnight. These are some of the best swim coaches on the planet who've been hand-selected by yours truly to take our Swim Smooth Coach Certification program and thus go on to run their own Swim Smooth Squad in their locale. To date we have 50 coaches worldwide and the interest in this program is only getting stronger, which is great news!

You can read more about these coaches here:

Make sure you get registered early for some of the key sessions over the next fortnight to avoid missing the coaches whilst they are here.

We have good availability in tomorrow and next Monday's Pure Technique Session and in the 9.30am W/F sessions and next Saturday at 5.30am, but all the early morning midweek sessions have in some cases over 25 people on the waitlist, so if you cannot attend and have a spot booked, please be courteous to your fellow swimmers by cancelling early to allow them to benefit from such an amazing coach-swimmer ratio.


Over the next fortnight, we'll be getting you all to test some exciting new wearable technology* and software we've been developing to both give you greater insight into your swimming form and to allow the coaches to learn more about the effectiveness of your training. If you didn't see this article on Friday (well worth a read, it's been getting some rave reviews online: LINK) AND you think you might have hit a bit of a plateau with your swimming performance of late, we are certain that the combination of these two aspects of your swimming might shed some light as to how you can make some further inroads with your swimming. We know you'll be excited to get involved with this.


That's it for now, see you on pool deck in the morning!