If the idea of swimming a 1km ocean swim sounds completely impossible to you, well I am here to tell you that you could, if you wanted to. Regardless of if you don't think you could swim that far, find the ocean scary, don't have much swimming experience, or even have no swimming experience, you can get confident in the water, so much so that you could complete an ocean swim. You are never too old to try something new or get outside of your comfort zone. Here is my story on how I got myself and two other people from different swimming levels and water experience to successfully finishing a 1km ocean swim.
I have grown up on the beaches, I got my bronze medallion when I was 16, meaning I could be a volunteer lifesaver. So you could say that I am confident in the ocean. I find swimming comes much more naturally to me then running. I wouldn't say though that I am good at anything long distance. I am much more of a sprinter. My favourite race in the school swimming carnival was the 50m. Since I never considered doing anything long distance, I only did my first ocean swim two years ago, as it was practice for the first triathlon that I did.
So what I am getting at is that while I am comfortable in the ocean and swimming, I am not naturally geared for a 1km swim. I did a whole bunch of training for my first ocean swim, at the gym in a 25m pool just swimming until I did 1km. No matter how many times I stopped and how long it took me. It was frustrating and hard a times but I slowly got better. Finishing it was a really special moment, it was such a big undertaking for me and it felt so good to get outside of my comfort zone and try something new.
After not doing it last year I decided to sign up for this year, mainly because I found it really rewarding last time and also because I needed a goal to motivate me to get up and do something physical. However, this time I had a friend who was also looking for something to sink her teeth into, so I asked her to do it with me. We also had a friend who has just moved to Sydney from Vegas. We often ask him if he wants to come along to most of the things we do so that he isn't too alone. (We were the only people he knew before coming over.) So we took him with us to the pool for the first time where we discovered that he can't swim, and some how we convinced him to sign up the 1km ocean swim with us!
This is how the eclectic swim club was formed late last year! So instead of just me doing something alone, which is what I am used to, I had two over people with me, looking to me for how we should go about doing this as I had done it before.
Looking at what we needed to work on, I was a confident swimmer that needed to build up my fitness for the distance, my friend was also a very strong swimmer and I would say better at long distance than me, but had not done laps in a very long time so she too needed to work on her fitness in the water and while she is very experienced in the ocean she is actually totally freaked out by the open water because of all the sea life that is in there. She much prefers to stick to the beach where is just waves and sand, no seaweed, fish, jelly blobbers etc! For our vegas friend, he was not confident in the water, couldn't do freestyle and could only tread water for a tiny bit. He needed to learn technique, about waves, rips and currents, how to breathe and build up his strength and cardio in the water. Looking at all of this I had no idea how to get this group prepared for this. So I found a beginners training plan for the 1km on the Cole Classic website. It's a 9 week plan and we were 10 weeks out, so this gave me an extra week with the guys.
Here is a link to the program
We decided on 3 mornings a week where we would meet down at our local 50m ocean pool - Dee Why. Unfortunately we only lasted a week or so there until we got completely covered in sea lice from all the seaweed in Dee why. We found the South Curl Curl pool was also 50m and didn't have the same lice issue, so we stayed training here. This pool is much more exposed to the sea than Dee Why so we had many mornings where the pool was honestly like a washing machine! It was tough to swim in, but I think training in that was really helpful as we had a bit of chop on race day.
We followed this plan for the most part, but towards the end we more focused on just doing the 1km continuously. We didn't know what a pull boy was so we actually never did that too!!
The days where we had to swim in 100m or 200m goes my friend and I actually started to really push each other, try to keep up with one another. I think this was very important for our training, and a really big benefit over training by yourself. I never would have tried as hard if she wasn't there.
I also would have never swam sprints like that for training if it wasn't for this training plan, it was really an effective way to get my fitness up for the long distance.
As for our vegas friend we first started with showing him how to correctly swim freestyle. We had been trained as kids so we took for granted how you actually efficiently swim freestyle! The big thing for a beginner is getting them comfortable with their face in the water. Not to be looking up, but only looking down and to the side to breathe. It seems to be a natural thing to want to keep your face out of the water but the problem is that it throws your whole body on a diagonal slope rather than being parallel with the surface. So long as you are on a diagonal, you are not going to move forward very easily and you will use up way too much energy just trying to stay afloat.
So step one was getting the face in the water, step two was making sure one hand always stays up front until the other hand comes to meet it. Letting your arms slip down will take you out of your stroke and more into a doggy paddle. To keep gliding through the water, you always want one arm straight out in front at any given time.
Step three is learning to breathe while swimming. For beginners you really want to stick to two strokes a breath, this will ensure that they don't get too out of breath which is the biggest thing that will tire you as a swimmer. What helps with this is to also never hold your breath, when you take a breath to the side you are breathing in and when your head is down you are continually breathing out through your nose until you come up for the next breath. As I learnt as kid, always make sure you are blowing bubbles out of your nose when your face is down!!
The last major step is kicking. I found that beginners try to kick like they are treading water - while in freestyle! Kind of like they are trying to ride a bike underwater! Always ensure that the legs are almost straight and the main hinge of the kick comes from the hips no the knees.
So I tried my best to teach these things to my vegas friend, but like all boys, at first he didn't want to listen. When I swam past him and saw an issue I would tell him, show him what he is doing and what he needs to do, then force him to do it!! Eventually he understood that getting into the correct technique will ultimately make swimming easier even if at first it seems harder or scarier.
As he got better at his stroke and fitness we had to push him to do more laps, most of the time he was doing just over half of what we were. Also getting him to challenge his fitness by not stopping so regularly was a big one to prepare for the race. In the open water there is no where to stand and have a break!
About halfway through our training I took both of them for a swim in Sydney Harbour to get used to swimming outside of the pool. I was most worried about our vegas friend so I got a body board and strapped the leash to his ankle! This way it would just float behind him but when he got tired he could rest on it. It actually worked really well! I didn't expect that my other friend was going to freak out about the water so much. She was positive that something touched her and bit her then she started to really panic. She wanted to get out straight away! I had to get her to look down in the water and see that there was nothing there and that everything is ok!! It was quite the eventful morning for me between the two of them!
The last top tip for getting yourself swim ready is to practice in an ocean pool if possible. Not only is it free, but it will get you used to the salt water - as you are bound to swallow it from time to time! By not having lane ropes you are also practicing on swimming straight and with a variety for conditions you will have days where the surf is breaking over and this is valuable experience for an ocean swim.
What I learnt for this experience is that while training wasn't always easy it was always fun with these guys. I have always done challenges by myself, this is the first time I have trained and done something with friends, and it's been the best experience, to share the highs and lows, to be the cheerleader for these two when they too couldn't think they could do it, and the share the glory together on race day. So I really encourage you to create your own swim club and get some friends together.
So, how did we all go?! Well for vegas, not only did he finish, he didn't stop and got a really respectable time. He just swam to his pace that he could maintain and it worked a treat. For my friend, she had zero freak outs about all the fish! Apparently she just didn't look! By the end of training she was very fit and got a really amazing time alongside me. As for me I managed to bet my last time from two years ago by 2mins and didn't have a freak out in the water when everyone is swimming over one another at the start line (which I actually did last time)!! (hot tip, go the left or right of the pack when going into the water this will help you have a little more space and and will make it less likely that you will get swam over the top off!)
If we can all do it, I am 100% positive that you can too. Everything that you can't do is just something you are yet to do. So no matter what level you are at in swimming, I dare you to try it, something you have never done before. Round up your friends, follow this training plan and take a challenge together, it's not only good for you but the bond you have with your friends.
If you are in Sydney, I highly recommend starting with the Cole Classic event in Manly. It starts in the calm and protected waters of Shelley beach and you follow the coast line around to Manly beach. I find this course a good one for first timers because you are not swimming out through a break into deep waters.
Happy swimming! AK xx