So Australia…

So my swimming blog upon which I was intending to document so many of my swims has been quiet for sometime…and even then it could never of been described as frequent, I never planned to document every swim (that’d be crazy!) but to of only managed two blog posts during Ned’s awesome camp and then NOTHING after? When you consider some of the cool swims of last summer and the epic adventures of Dave (full length of Loch Lomond in the meanest of conditions), Hazel (English Channel at age 16), Jeremy (Awesome English Channel solo) and Paul (Epic, epic Arch to Arc) that I was lucky enough to be invited on; that’s pretty rubbish of me. I always write something in my head while I am swimming but life seems to get in the way of it making it to the page…not that anyone cares anyway but I will try harder this year.

The start of 2015 sees me not wincing as I insist on ‘still getting my open water fix’ and dipping in the local sub 5º rivers of Narrich and the almost as fresh adjacent North Sea but instead luxuriating in the warm azure Indian Ocean that lovingly laps the west coast of Australia. Don’t get me wrong – I love the cold water when I’m in it, I’m addicted to the buzz and I adore the feeling of well being when I get out and feeling returns to my extremities but the getting in? Well let’s just say that a whole winter of swimming with the blazing sun on my back is a treat and I am counting my blessings.

So Australia; One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the comradery that accompanies swimming, you rock up in a new county, swim with a new squad and instantly you meet people with a shared love who you immediately are happy being neigh on naked with for hours on end and who make you feel welcome because of your mutual obsession – that, however you look at it, is cool. Oh, and they train in an open air 50m pool as the sun goes to bed. And do sets that include (I kid you not) ‘open water drills’ – I may never return home…it’s bliss.

Last Sunday saw my first proper Australian open water swim, a 5k race in the Swan River. Saturday night saw me (vaguely) early to bed but my regret at watching every single episode of River Monsters obsessively kept me awake a little – I genuinely believe tasks that scare me a bit are good for my soul so it was excited/scared awake but awake none the less. I know that 99% of the time he finds that the mystical man eating creature was a catfish that was busily causing earthquakes when it accidentally inhaled a swimmer but as someone helpfully pointed out at the start line – reaffirming my suspicions – this was breeding bull shark territory…

At the start of the race I popped in off the jetty (luckily the squeals of the lovely locals complaining about the ‘cold’ water amused me enough to distract any fear, though it was great not to be one of the tiny minority of skins swimmers as per usual in the UK), we lined up, waited for all of the swimmers to be present and off we swam as they signaled the start of the race.

I’m not a big fan of mass starts, I like a bit of space and this is never the case in the first few hundred meters when the pack are trying to separate out and mark their place but being swam over/swimming over/having you legs pulled/goggles knocked/someone in your swim line is all part of the fun so just you just swim it out…I seemed to be in a pack for the whole first stretch (1.25k, the race was two loops of a long rectangular 2.5k course), we were swimming into a fairly brisk headwind, the second loop saw the headwind increase dramatically and – other than the temperature – it felt a whole lot like swimming in the North Sea, visibility was really similar…a sort of grey/sandy colour water that was clear enough to allow you to just about see your hands in front of you; oh and the mass of jellyfish around and below you; brackish in taste; waves sufficient enough to lift you and drop you a little as you swam – enough to keep you on your toes.

I can tell you that, after the shark comment, the desire not to be swimming entirely alone is probably the reason people stuck in a pack. The idea of being a lone swimmer was initially a slightly uncomfortable one but within no time I was marveling at how calm it felt, how – as per always – the water and it’s inhabitants hold no fear for me – this brings with it it’s own buzz. Though it is a little more startling than usual when the person drafting you gets a touch too close and touches your feet as you’re in a blissed out dream state…!!

The jellyfish were in high concentration, brown and globby (I don’t think that’s the correct scientific term for them), I stroked them, poked them and impaled them during various freestyle rotations; you had no choice but to swim through them, into them, let them ricochet off your head if you were lucky enough to have your head titled so they slipped down your back…or onto your face as one of the more stingy little buggers did to me. OUCH! A jellyfish kiss, a jellyfish kiss, a jellyfish kiss – if you tell yourself this enough as you swim the sting hurts a little less. I don’t care what anyone says – I’ve picked a very sexy sport 😉 Reinforced by my friend later having to scrub down my back and arms with nail varnish remover in an effort to remove the seemingly semi-permanent race tattoos that had been applied that morning – there was no way they were coming off in the water!

Another high point of the swim was getting involved with the elite swimmers (people racing different distances and the elite swimmers all use the same course so there are times where you’re swimming in amongst swimmers in different races). I can only describe their approach as ‘noisy’, you can sense their approach before you hear the noise then they just fly past, I don’t consider myself a too shabby swimmer but these guys are something else, you almost have to just stop and admire as they zoom past…in any case forget trying to swim through them as they’re coming through – even if this means over you!

I wasn’t overly happy with my time, it was way off pb but it wasn’t a pretty or neat swim and to be honest I just wanted to swim it calmly and just see how my head was with the whole ‘could get eaten’ concept. All fine; actually felt really peaceful and I really enjoyed it, grinned for most of it in fact.

I need an ocean race next, the nice people at the swim team assure me that racing in the river is horrid compared to the sea and I really enjoyed my date with the river so I’m sure I’ll adore an ocean race.

Bring. It. On.

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