The Rottnest Channel is a 19.6km swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island. It has officially been going since 1991. In 2004 I completed my first Rottnest Crossing in a Team of 4. At the time, I said to my husband (Ben) “I would never want to do this Solo. How mad?!! Maybe a duo”. Soon after kids came along and the yearly goal became a 2km swim in an Adventure Race every November.
In 2012 a friend asked me to do the Rottnest Crossing as a Duo... I said to Ben at the end, “I think I might want to do this solo" and he just shook his head!
So it began.... My plan was to keep on swimming at least 3 times a week after the Duo and maintain good basic swim fitness. My body did not agree and unfortunately I had two lots of surgery and could not swim for 6 months. So September came around and it was time to get back into training for that annual 2km swim. However, I was still undecided about attempting the Solo crossing. At the pool I bumped into a fellow Aussi Masters Swimmer Steve who decided for me that I was going to do the crossing and he was going to train with me. My friend Paul offered to paddle for me and Ben asked a friend from work who owns a boat if he would be my skipper for the day. As luck would have it, Ben met Jacqueline and after a discussion she offered the support of OWB and assisted us with much needed financial assistance.
The plan! September, October and November were all about getting my fitness up. Trying to fit in 15 – 20km’s swimming per week in the pool, Ben and I both doing shift work, kids and life was challenging. I needed to be seriously organised. Excel spreadsheets are the way to go! I was mainly swimming when the kids were at school. But some days it was all a quick hand over. I would finish work at 2, swim till 4, home, Ben off to work, dinner, kids to bed…ahh.
My swim club trains twice a week in the evening so when I could, I would train with them. That often meant Ben was at work so my mother-in-law was roped in to kid wrangle, friends were roped in, and occasionally they came to the pool with me and watched. December, January and part of February I was up to 25 plus km per week. School holidays made it difficult to get the km’s up. My mum came to visit and help out. Taking on this sort of challenge certainly became a whole family experience and I could not have done it without them. The kids had stopped asking what I was going to do every day. The answer was always “Going swimming”. The two weeks before the swim was “tapering” (which is a big reduction in training) Wow, free time!
The training! According to Steve, the best way to get fit...lots of butterfly! Steve started me out on 4km swims 5 times a week. Every swim had some butterfly in it (I think the minimum was 4 x 50m fly). By December we were at 5 to 6km swims 5 times per week. Saturdays were 5km beach swims. I was lucky to get a variety of people to train but was often on my own. The waterproof MP3 player was a good investment! The start of the week would be 5 or 6 x 1km sets and then by the end of the week more into sprints and lots of short sets.
As I was a first time Solo entrant I had to complete a 10km qualifying swim within 4hrs 15min. I entered in the Sorrento Swim which was at the end of January. 3hrs and 4 min later I crossed the finish line. Happy with the knowledge that I could now do the Rottnest Swim I was thinking gosh, that was only half way!
Injuries. In December I started getting a numb right arm/hand and it was really affecting my training and confidence. I could barely pull through the water and could not push myself. I had visits to my physio and Chinese Acupuncture with cupping. Amazing stuff! All my nerve tightness and tension was released. I did, however, look very battered and bruised from the cupping. I kept up weekly treatments along with chiropractor adjustments. After the 10km qualifier my left shoulder/tricep was very tight and sore. Time for some deep tissue massage as well!
The week leading up to the swim was resting and carbohydrate loading. Carbo loading is not a lot of fun! Pasta, pasta, pasta, rice repeat! It almost makes you feel ill and with only doing a small amount of training you feel quite bloated and yucky. All that stored energy should all help on the day!
The Big Day. It was an early start. Up at 3 am. Sunburn cream on, breakfast then more sunburn cream. Get kids up and off to Cottesloe we go. Dropped off the kayak and headed to registration. My mum had the fun job of covering me with wool fat. It is supposed to help with the stingers and providing an extra layer of warmth during the swim. I was feeling quite calm, surprisingly! From this point on it was all up to the weather and my preparation. It is quite an amazing vibe on the beach. The crowd progressively grows the later in the morning it gets.
I was in the first wave of swimmers off the beach at 545am. All the female entrants and the fasted men hit the water first. 2nd wave was the remainder of the men and then it moves to duos and then teams. The paddlers have to wait out in the water at the 500m mark. There are some fabulous outfit’s worn by the paddlers trying to make then stand out in the crowd! My paddler was wearing a lovely pink wig! It was quite a rough start this year. Good swell and choppy. It was really hard to get a good swimming rhythm going. I found my paddler at our discussed point and from then on all I had to do was follow him. First we had to find our boat. The Leeuwin Sailing Ship is at the 1500m mark and if you do not have your boat in sight by then you cannot go any further. Thankfully Paul was onto it and away we went. The first few km went fairly quickly. There are so many swimmers and kayaks and boats to watch out for. Nutrition plays such an important part in a marathon event so I was taking in energy gels and electrolyte drink every 20minutes. My paddler had a small esky with food supplies. As you are not allowed to rest on anything he had to pass the food to me. Eating is easier in liquid format via squeezy bottles.
Around the 5km mark I was starting to get sea sick. I had had tablets to stop this but unfortunately they did not work. I was not able to keep anything down from 5km to around the 12km mark. At 9km stomach cramping was quite painful and I was really wondering if I was going to be able to complete the swim. I remember asking my paddler how many km I had done When he told me 9 I felt quite devastated because I wanted to get out but hadn’t even reached the 10km mark. I remember thinking I cannot get out, could not let myself, Steve who had trained with me, Ben, the kids, Jacqueline and OWB as well as everyone that had helped me down. So, on I went. I actually have no memory of 9km to 12km. I was perhaps a little hypothermic, definitely dehydrated and getting very tired. No food equals no energy!
I asked my paddler where we were at and he said 12km. I thought wow, maybe I can do this. I was starting to feel a little better. Watermelon was staying down and I was getting some electrolytes in as well. Things were looking up. The ocean had also calmed down a bit by then and we were getting a little bit of an easterly. The drop in chop certainly made a difference. With 5km to go my left shoulder decided it didn’t want to play anymore. It became very difficult to get my left arm out of the water. I had to drag my left fingers along the water and change my breathing pattern so that my right arm could do most of the pulling. I lost a lot of time in the last 5km as I really slowed down.
With 1500m to go my boat pulled away and then at 600m to go my paddler had to leave me to it. It is quite an amazing feeling to stop and look at that final 1500m and think, I have done it. I have really done this! When you hit the beach and take a moment to make sure you can stand up it is all a bit surreal. I was surrounded by people that had completed it in teams and duos. They were all so happy and excited. There are also so many people at the finish line cheering everyone one. My Aussi club was out in force and had been patiently waiting for me! I crossed the line in 7 hours and 24 minutes. I said never, ever, ever, ever, EVER again!
My shoulder has ended up being a massively enlarged Bursa. Rest is my friend and no swimming for a while. The whole 5 plus month experience has been interesting and challenging. I did this firstly for myself. To challenge my mental and physical strength. Secondly, to show my kids that, if you want to do something then do it. Make the time for it. Put the effort in. The reward is worth it. There were many times I could have stopped training or pulled out during the swim but once I have decided to do something I hate to not complete it. Maybe taking on a marathon swim was a little excessive but I really did enjoy it.
Next year I mentioned to Jacqueline that I may sit on the sidelines and coach/mentor a younger team through the Channel Swim. As I have now found out being a part of the OWB family, you have to be tenacious and go after your dreams. In closing, remember how I said "never again"? Never say 'never', the OWB expereince has shown me that we don't know what great experience awaits us around the corner! Who know's, I might be swimming next to you in the Channel in 2014.... Are you up for the challenge? If you are then email OWB at firstname.lastname@example.org