A marathon swim to Devonport

This weekend was the last big swim of the NZ swim calendar, the Auckland Marathon Swim. This year’s 10km event was actually 12.5km. As the course is tide assisted, the last thing the Masters Club organising the swim wanted was for swimmers to feel short changed.

The course started at Mairangi Bay, tracked along the bays, around North Head and into Devonport. I was very fortunate to have my kayaker from my Waiheke swim offer to kayak for me so had both a local and a pro to navigate and support which was fantastic.

We all knew that there was a bit of a south westerly on the forecast but that was at the back of our minds as we started the swim. Conditions in fact couldn’t be better with the sea like glass. Some of the Aucklanders were nervous about water temperature with recent drops but at 19c it was still above average Wellington summer temperatures.

As the race started we got away from the coast and into the current. I felt fast and could feel the tide assistance. The flat conditions didn’t last very long though. As I got close to my first feed I could sense conditions starting to change. It wasn’t choppy yet but I knew it was coming.

We continued to make fantastic progress and at my second feed my kayaker informed me that we had got to Takapuna. I’m not that great with my Auckland geography but this sounded positive and like we would complete the swim in no time at all. I had to adjust my expectations slightly when on the third feed my kayaker informed me a second time that we had got to Takapuna (he had got Milford and Takapuna mixed up at the previous feed).

As the water started to chop up I didn’t let this bother me and focused on my stroke. North Head was beginning to be in view so I figured that the end was in sight. This can be the most challenging bit of a swim, thinking you’re getting close when you actually have quite a way to go.

My kayaker seemed to be managing the conditions well but it was definitely a tougher event for him compared to Waiheke where conditions couldn’t have been better. At one stage (around North Head) he did make a comment that conditions were a bit hairy which made me think about some of the less experienced kayakers battling through. It sounds like it was almost more challenging being a kayaker in some parts!

I feed every 30mins which is also my way of keeping time. I had anticipated 5 feeds and hopefully under 3 hours for the swim. My fifth feed was as we approached North Head and in my mind I calculated that I was on my final feed and ‘just around the corner’. How wrong! My sixth feed was also at North Head so I’m not sure how much distance we actually covered in that 30 mins!!

On the final leg I could sense myself getting grumpy with the swim. Devonport hadn’t been ‘just around the corner’ and it was still a decent distance after North Head to the finish. As the swim finish came within sight we thought we better follow other swimmers and head around the buoy that was out from the beach. This seemed like extra unnecessary swimming when I just wanted to finish (and it turns out no other swimmers took that route after us!).

All the grumps were forgotten at the finishline. It is quite satisfying when you complete a swim that challenges you like that. It was much slower than I thought (3h35m) but I didn’t do too badly, taking out first non-wetsuit woman and first woman overall.

A number of swimmers didn’t finish and got a tow to the end. They had an even more challenging swim. They all swam 5 hours in conditions that were getting worse the longer the swim went on.

The Masters Club declared it well and truly a 13km swim.

Swimming from Waiheke Island

The 20km Waiheke to Auckland swim started a couple of years back and is a bit different to your usual swims as its number one purpose is to fundraise for the rescue chopper up in Auckland. This year they had 75 swimmers raise ~$115,000 which was amazing. A couple of celebrties in the mix (Sir John Kirwin in the water and Brad Butterworth on the water) helped bring attention to the cause.

The swim started just after the sun came up in Matiatia Bay on Waiheke Island. It was still dark when we arrived and it was threatening to rain but as the sun came up we knew we were in for a fantastic day. We must have looked an odd bunch with the locals rushing to catch the ferry to work a bit puzzled to see the collection of swimmers, kayaks and boats on the beach on a Monday morning.

It was great to have a good number of volunteers making the swim happen. Richard, my kayaker was one of those volunteers who put his hand up. There were also a number of other boat supporters who were out on the water to help ensure a safe and successful day. I’m sure the volunteers enjoyed the day as much as us which was great.

The swim headed out from Matiatia and passed by Motuihe Island, Motutapu Island, Browns Island and Rangitoto Island before heading into Mechanics Bay. As I got going I felt great, I must have been well tapered and the tide was with us. Then about a third of the way into the swim it got even better when another swimmer and I and our kayakers got up close to a couple of orca whales. It’s not everyday you see these creatures so it was pretty special.

It must have been when we passed Motuihe Island that I first got sight of Auckland’s Sky Tower – I could now see our destination but I knew it was still a long way to go. The second half of these big swims is always the hardest. I was still feeling good physically but mentally I made the mistake of watching Rangitoto Island not move.

‘Bean Rock’ is fairly well known landmark to the Auckland swimmers and when my kayaker and I made it I thought ‘we’re on the home stretch now’. I knew the Auckland swimmers swam here in one their swim events so I naturally thought it was a couple of k from the finish. This helped me mentally but I didn’t realise we still had a quarter of the swim to go.

Nearing the end, I could start to feel my arms tiring but I still had some energy to put into the final stretch. My nose was a different story – fill of salt and making my eyes water inside my goggles.

Auckland’s below par water quality meant that we finished at the Marine Rescue Centre at Mechanics Bay rather than Judges Bay. It was exciting to hear that I was the second solo swimmer in (after another Rebecca) and the first non-wetsuiter. I had been hoping to break 6 hours but a bit of tide assistance meant I overshot that goal and swam 5 hours 20 minutes in total.

Richard, my awesome kayaker
Orca!!!!

Auckland Marathon Swim

This morning I ended the 2015/16 swim season in the best way possible – with the 10km Auckland Marathon swim. I missed out on this swim last year due to bad weather and then this year the weather forecast had been a bit marginal so it was great that everything went off without a hitch today.

The swim left from Glendowie boat club before heading around the head to Ladies Bay, through to Tamaki yacht club and then into St Heliers (well trodden ground for some of the locals but not us out of towners). Some flat water to the head then a bit of swell before flattening off again. I came in second non wetsuit woman keeping a pretty consistent pace and was grateful to have an awesome kayaker who was almost braver than me, tolerating some nippy rain showers.

This swim wasn’t big and flash. Like many of the swims that I’ve been lucky enough to take part in this season, it came together because of organisers who are passionate about swimming and want to see the sport grow (thanks especially Wayne!).  It’s great to be able to support these swims.

It’s been quite a season and I’ve covered some good ground – Vanuatu (if last winter counts), Russell/Paihia, Nelson/Tasman, Taupo, Rotorua Lakes, Christchurch, Perth, Mount Maunganui, and not to mention the number of swims I did in Auckland and home in Wellington.  I’ve also regularly met up with a great bunch of swimmers who are just as crazy as me about their swimming. It is very easy to get the swim bug and you quickly find that no two swims are the same.

Not surprisingly I’ve decided I should have a frugal May!

Taking lessons from Rangitoto

I think I’ve had writer’s block for the last wee while. My latest swim was actually over a week ago – swimming from Rangitoto Island in Auckland to St Heliers. So this blog is a little late. Maybe a sign that the end of the swimming season is approaching. Or else it is that good things take time.

Rangitoto has to be one of my favourite Auckland swims (maybe the favourite). I definitely prefer it over the large Harbour Crossing swim in December which tends to be short, crowded and usually at the start of the season when I don’t feel like I have my ocean swimming mojo going on.

When I was thinking about how to sum up the swim for this blog I had in my mind the swims that came after it. The 4.6km Rangitoto was on a beautiful April morning in Auckland – the water was warm and flat, and while not too crowded a swimmer behind me seemed to enjoy reminding me every now and then that I wasn’t alone (usually when I slowed down). My first swim back in Wellington after Rangitoto was different, it was quiet, at least 3 degrees cooler and the water was deceptively choppy and washing machine like. I loved both swims even though they were both very different.

No two swims are the same and you take something different away everytime. As much as I moaned about the taps on the toes after my Rangitoto swim (I somehow seem to love peace and quiet during a race which isn’t usually a good race strategy), I needed those taps on the toes to keep me honest. I was tempted to cruise it but I had to pick up the pace – I wasn’t going to let someone who had been drafting me beat me!

I suppose there is probably some deep life lesson here (not that I’m usually analysing my swims for life lessons!). Do you master one thing by doing it again and again? Probably not – you probably master it by doing something different and learning from that different thing.

This weekend is the Auckland marathon swim. I will probably be on my lonesome for this one so I might imagine having someone annoying on my toes to keep me on my pace!

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Two pods of swimmers and a school of jellyfish

I’ve done two more swims since swimming at Rotoma on Saturday. One was a 2.2km recovery swim with the Auckland fur seals out from St Heliers to loosen up the muscles. The other was 4.5km from Hataitai beach to Freyberg beach this morning with the Wellington ocean swimmers to make the most of beautiful weather and a public holiday.

I have been following the fur seals regular swims on Facebook for sometime as Roger posts updates to the Did you swim today Facebook group. The group swims all year around withsome members swimming together daily. I had never actually swum with the group before yesterday. This is despite Auckland seeming like a bit of a second home over summer with the various ocean swims. I opted for the short easy option as a recovery. Coffee of course followed. 

The Wellington ocean swimmers group is less longstanding but it’s growing pretty quickly. We started the Facebook group to connect up swimmers in what seemed like quite a fragmented swim scene. There were 14 swimmers in the water today with another small group on our tail.  As we regrouped along the way we made a pretty impressive bunch.

On one of the stops on the Hataitai swim we were greeted by moon jellies. There weren’t too many and they were probably preferable to the Auckland sea lice. thinking it might help me prepare mentally for Australia, I actually made a point of patting one of these jellyfish (silly I know). There was one jellyfish thrown at another swimmer but not by me.

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Hataitai to Freyberg

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The Auckland Fur Seals

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The Wellington ocean swimmers