Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bucket List - Lorne Pier to Pub Ocean Swim

One of the reasons I chose running for fitness is that I am a terrible swimmer - in fact it would be fair to say I have a morbid fear of swimming. It is not exactly rational because logically I know I will be okay in the water but the simple fact is humans were not designed to breathe underwater so I don't see why when you are swimming and breathing hard that you should put your head under water.

Despite my issue with swimming I have wanted to complete the Lorne double since 2003. This event consists of an 8km Mountain to Surf run on the friday evening and a 1.2km Pier to Pub ocean swim on the saturday morning. So 7 years later the swim event is now based on a lottery system and in November 2010 I was sent a reminder to enter the lottery if I wanted to compete in the swim.

 I have never been very lucky with winning lotteries so I thought the chances were pretty good that I would enter the ocean swim lottery but not get a place. As luck would have it I was one of the fortunate few to secure a place in the Pier to Pub swim and I had just over 8 weeks to train for the swim. The last time I had been swimming was in 2002 when I did a crazy race series in Sweden called the Swedish Women's Classic - the swim portion consisted of a 1km swim upriver and some very bad breaststroke on my part!

It was clear that I needed to do some intensive swimming training and luckily my good friend Mr Kevin Cassidy was happy to offer some advice. I am in awe of Kevin's swimming pedigree he swam the English Channel in 16 hours. Because of the tidal nature of the channel apparently at one point he was swimming for an hour and not actually making any distance.

I met up with Kevin very early one morning at the Mentone Beach - so early in fact that it was still dark. We went out the water and I attempted to swim along the foreshore - of course I made sure that we didn't go out far and that I could touch the ocean bottom with my feet. I paddled along for a while with Kevin gliding alongside me and and it grew lighter. At one point I felt something touch my leg and I let out a screech - Kevin quickly turned around and identified the culprit, a jellyfish. This promptly ended our swimming lesson and Kevin commented that my technique needed some work but that he had seen people of my ability (or more correctly lack of ability) successfully complete the Lorne Pier to Pub.
I decided to bite the bullet and take some swimming lessons at my local pool. Fortunately it was an adults class and ironically enough some of the other students had even greater fears than me. I then started swimming a couple of days a week at the pool and threw in the occassional ocean swim at the Brighton Sea Baths.

I realised that a wetsuit was going to be an important part of my swimming success (the additional buoancy would give me confidence in the water). So when I saw an add to trade in my old wetsuit (that I had since I was 16 and could still stretch into) for a new wetsuit I decided to upgrade. In my shiny new black wetsuit I at least looked the part!.

The anticipation was building and fortunately I was able to do the run first and hopefully wear out some nervous energy on the friday night run. It was quite warm and very hilly including a fearsome uphill start but it was only 8kms. I finished the run in 44:15 and placed 50/152 for women in my age class (young at heart). This statistic is important when you compare it to my relative placing in the swim!!!!

I don't think I slept much that night, becoming more and more anxious about the swimming event ahead. The first challenge was finding a car park, the second was getting into my wetsuit. The swim event is coordinated a little differently to running with all swimmers starting in waves - groupings of participants based on gender and age, I would be starting out with 300 other senior females.  They lined us up and proceeded to explain that we would need to swim ~200m to the start line - I was concerned enough about making the 1.2km swim and now I had to do a 200m warm-up!!!

I wisely chose to hang at the back of the swimming pack, to avoid the race start pandemonium. The gun went off and we started and from that point on the only thing I could do was keep on swimming until my feet touched the ground.The rest of the group very quickly swam away from me and there were really only a couple of other swimmers close by. Fortunately the surf lifesavers were hanging around and I knew if I really got  desperate and in trouble I just had to raise my hand and they would come and get me.

Swimming is different to running and you really don't get the impression of moving across distance. The only way I could tell that I was actually progessing forward was the buoy markers and I eagerly ticked off the markers as I swam by. It was probably around this time that I was overtaken by the next wave of swimmers, which really wasn't much fun with a few pokes and prods and of course seeing how easily they got ahead of me! Sadly a second wave of swimmers also overtook me before I completed the swim.

After swimming for more than 30 minutes I finally touched the ground and though my legs were feeling like jelly I was able to start running and crossed over the finish line in 34min12sec. With this time I placed 298 in a field of 300 swimmers!!!! Although my time was incredibly slow it was a very exciting moment for me to have stepped up and faced a challenge that I was actually very scared about and to finally achieve that goal that I had been thinking about for over 7 years!

Lessons learnt:
1) I am a much better runner than a swimmer - stick to runnning
2) humans really can't breath under water
3) it doesn't matter how long it takes, acheiving your goals always feels good
4) it is good to challenge ourselves in areas that make us nervous and scared - it lets us know that we are alive and sets new benchmarks of what we can achieve
5) jellyfish sting when you swim into them

And finally I leave you with a quote that sums up my experience:

              "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." – John Bingham

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