I arrived on Thursday and spent the day with Peter Hendricks and Pat from "Swimwell" - an Australian branch of the "Total Immersion" school of swimming developed by the now legendary Terry Laghlin. Some of you may recall that back in September when I realised I was no where near fast or effective enough as a swimmer to even vaguely contemplate success at The Channel or any other marathon event, I took a month off normal swimming and tried to rebuild my technique from scratch using Terry's DVD. I swam an hour of drills per day for 30 days, and managed to go from struggling to swim a two minute 100m, to cruising at 1:45 easily. Whilst I've continued to improve over the last 6 months, improvements have been hard to come by, and I've become increasingly frustrated at not knowing how to get faster. I've known what I should be doing (e.g. fixing my catch), but not how. So, after lots of research I decided to spend a day with these guys. We did three sessions - including lots of video analysis, drills training, and an open water session. It was brilliant, and I can already feel some serious differences, and importantly when doing long open water sessions, I now have four or five "focal points" that I can think about and work on for periods, allowing me to constantly fine tune and adjust my weaker areas.
The rest of the squad I came to Melbourne with have already noticed the difference, and I was comfortably able to keep pace with guys whose bubbles I've been eating for months! Somehow seeing (on video) the things I do wrong, has enabled me much better to connect with them, and deal with them! Thanks Peter & Pat!
Now, the other reason for the trip was a cold water training camp with Vladswim, and all the other Sydney based swimmers aiming for the Channel this year.We had a gruelling agenda (thanks Vlad) including three hours with the "Icebergers" at Brighton on Thursday morning, two hours yesterday afternoon, and 6-8 hours today with the "Black Ice" crew (complete cold water nutcases).
By Melbourne standards the water is still relatively warm at 14-15 degrees celsius. However, the water is never this cold in Sydney so it was a real shock to the system. Swimming with a constant ice-cream headache, numb hands, occasionally the "claw" where you can no longer hold your hands stiff to catch the water, and numb legs, is a very new and unpleasant experience! Remember there are no wetsuits involved, just Speedos, cap and goggles.............
All Channel applicants have to certify that they can swim at least 6 hours in water that is 16 degrees celsius or less, to today's swim was to be the qualifier for many of us. We started at 6am, in the pitch black, with the ocean illuminated only by the stars (which were sensational). Amongst the 12 or so of us, only three had flashing lights on their head (must get one), so for the first hour or so we played a ridiculous game of "follow the leader", stopping periodically to either aim for a green flashing light (fellow swimmer), or yellow flasher (navigation pile / buoy!). Very bizarre indeed, particularly given we're in the open ocean!Anyway, for me the first three hours was mentally immensely tough. As usual I was searching for excuses to justify getting out. To her credit coach Charm talked me down (or more accurately yelled at me) and kept me in the water. I was very glad i stuck it out, as when the Sun came out and rose in the sky, everything seemed to improve. I swam well, and could have carried on beyond the six hours required. I did however get out though, partly to preserve myself for next weekend's ordeal, and partly because I had a free pass for Qantas lounge and I was desperate for a meal, beer, and shower. Couple of points to make here; the Qantas food and welcome is exceptional, and just what I required (four helpings of wholesome pasta with boutique pale ale); the shower's great but if you're tempted I strongly recommend reading the small sign which says you need to go to reception to get a towel, BEFORE getting into the shower.........I had a hysterically painful experience trying to dry my tired, sore, sunburnt body with handtowels........!
Anyway, later this week I'm off for another challenge at the opposite corner of Australia! 700km west of Darwin (in Northern WA) is Lake Argyle. A mammoth body of water, this stages one of the most scenic marathon swims in the world. I will be one of nine people swimming 20km, which will be a massive challenge in fresh water (less buoyant therefore more plough-like than boat-like). Apparently the lake is full of fish and freshwater crocodiles. I've been told I'm too big for them to find appetising.........let's hope so!
More next week. Ben