Early season swimming (and the start of the SCAR 2019 journey)

The last week in Wellington has been stunning. You know it’s almost summer when half of Wellington heads to the beach after work to briefly enjoy some sun before sunset.

It was the perfect week to up the distance a bit and get out for some sea swims in in the evenings. I had been maintaining some good distances over winter (20-25km a week) but with summer on the door step, I’m now looking to step this up. The other week I officially entered the SCAR swim in Arizona and training now feels like it’s started. I partly put this down to Phil Rush counting the number of weeks that I have to fit my training into (I had been working in months prior to talking to him).

SCAR swim is a fairly epic challenge. It will be four days of swimming in four lakes in April 2019. It adds up to over 60km in total with the longest day (the third day) being a 27km swim). While I’ve done a few swims now that are around 20km, this will be another level. I’ve wanted to do the event since another kiwi swimmer participated a few years back and really enjoyed both the event and meeting swimmers from around the world.

It’s been quite exciting to be ‘starting my training’. I put this down to two things: (1) I’m training up to do an event that I’m really excited about and challenged by, and (2) it’s a really cool time of year to be swimming.

I was discussing this with one of my swim mates this morning over breakfast and I thought I could quite easily pull together a list of reasons why we love the start of the swim season:

  • Water temperature: this time of year is when you feel the rewards of those winter sea swims. For most swimmers 15c is still on the chilly side but after swimming in cooler termperatures, 15c is fantastic! The sea is starting to feel warmer, you can swim longer but it’s still cool enough to give you a bit of an endorphin hit.
  • You’re allowed to enjoy the spa: sticking with the temperature theme, the upside of the water warming up is that the spa becomes an option after a swim (a spa at colder temperatures is not a sensible option). Similarly, you can survive ok if your swim mates choose an outdoor table at the cafe for the after swim breakfast (as happened this morning).
  • No jellyfish or salps – Provided it hasn’t rained heavily, the water around Oriental Bay in Wellington is beautifully clear and free of jellyfish or salps at this time of year. These creatures tend to arrive with the warmer water and you really do want to make the most of not having to share the harbour with them.
  • Outdoor swimming pools – It’s not all about the ocean and it’s been great to have got a few swims in at the Thorndon outdoor pool. A few of us are also planning to travel to the 50m Wainuiomata pool over summer to get some long sets in. It’s surprising the difference between an indoor and outdoor pool mentally for swimming long sets.
  • Planning adventures – This is terrible for your credit card but a lot of fun. This is the time of year when you think about entering different swim events and booking flights. You do look forward to this over winter so there are inevitably a few controversies when you find out your favourite events have had changes. (I’m not a big fan of Swimming NZ right now after they got rid of the 17.5km swim option at the January Epic Swim in Lake Taupo). Most exciting has been booking flights to America for SCAR!!
  • Getting serious: This is the time of year when everyone is thinking about their big goals and getting serious. One of the great things right now in Wellington is that there are several swimmers planning big events (including Cook Strait, Taupo and Waiheke swims). This is great for recruiting training buddies to do the long training swims with you.
  • Return of the tracker dot – The first Cook Strait crossing for the season occured the other day. It was a reminder how much us swimmers enjoy following each others’ adventures, often by following a dot on a map. The tracker was gripping viewing over the last few hours of the swim with the Brisbane swimmer almost swimming on the spot with the current changing.

Definitely looking forward to summer! I think we’ll be back to some cooler temperatures next week, but that’s ok because we’ve had a small taste of what’s to come.

Getting the training in for Waiheke

In March I’m planning to swim 20km from Waiheke Island to Auckland. This is a fundraiser swim for the rescue helicopter which Westpac are getting alongside and supporting. I haven’t done a fundraiser swim before so it’s great to be using my swimming to not only challenge myself but to get others behind what is a great cause.

Despite swimming this distance before at Rottnest, I’m not going to underestimate the challenge. Many of the swimmers did not complete the distance last year with conditions making it tough for both kayakers and the swimmers. This means my next month needs to be focused on training.

After my last blog, it was suggested I share more about how I train and achieve my goals. I haven’t done this much, partly because I’m not sure I’m the best person to learn from. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just feeling my way along. I’ve tried before to stick to training plans but you don’t need much to derail these.

My training however isn’t completely directionless and if I think about it there are a few guiding principles that normally work well for me. They might work for others too.

Get in the water: Always a good place to start. I’ll be trying to get in the water 5-6 days a week. These aren’t necessarily long swims. If you google it, there’s a bit of commentary out there about swimming often vs swimming big. I’m not sure there is a perfect formula though.

Out of the water activities help too: When I was in London the pool I went to only opened at 7am which didn’t allow for very long in the water but outside the pool I was walking approximately 50 mins everyday. Every bit helps when you need the fitness and endurance to be in the water a long time. In Wellington I’m now incorporating about 30 mins of cycling during the work week – not part of my swim training but still helpful.

Weekly mileage goals: I roughly track weekly mileage to gauge whether I’m doing enough. For a 20km swim I try to keep my weekly mileage above 20km a week. I’ve been comfortably sitting at or above this lately as I’ve been making the most of summer and getting the longer swims in. I might try a week or two up close to 30km but I’ll see how I go. Keeping to weekly mileage goals is always harder in winter.

Get your long swims in: As aluded to above, some will swear against doing too many long training swims while on the other hand you’ll find swimmers in Dover over a UK summer consistently fitting 6 hour swims in. For me long weekend swims can be good if you aren’t getting the mileage you’d like during the work week. But most importantly, they help you prepare mentally for the distance. (They can also be quite fun with others – 4 of us swam 9km on Saturday out from Freyberg).

Allow recovery: Sometimes you just need a sleep in. Resting up is particularly important before the big event (tapering).

Don’t freak out: Your training could always have gone better. In the end of the day you just need to jump in and trust youself to swim the distance.

I haven’t mentioned nutrition. I don’t really pay too much attention to this even though I should. At the moment, my guiding principle is probably ‘enjoy eating’. There is probably something to say about what you’re eating. I think I’m ok on this front but maybe I should think about it more.

After Waiheke I might look at other bodies of water I can conquer. The distances quickly escalate and look scary. I will probably need to pay a bit more attention to my training and refine this a bit. I’m sure the basics will remain the same though. But for now, let’s conquer Waitemata Harbour.

Final note: Don’t forget to support my swim in March. Link to donate is here: https://chopperswimchallenge2018.everydayhero.com/nz/rebecca-s-epic-chopper-swim

Perfect conditions for Saturday’s 9km Freyberg to Hataitai return.

Kapiti to the mainland

One of the longest running ocean swims in New Zealand is probably the Kapiti to Mainland 5.6km swim north of Wellington. It’s only small and organised by the local swimming club with volunteers from the boating club.  I’ve wanted to do this swim for a little while but it proved elusive. Last year they couldn’t get a good weekend which lined up with tides so it didn’t end up being run. This year the swim was scheduled for a month ago when I was in Australia so I thought I’d missed out again. Fortunately for me (not for others) the swim was called off and rescheduled.

There were 10 of us swimming this year.  Conditions were a bit touch and go yesterday but the forecast improved enough for the swim to go ahead.  We headed out to Kapiti island in the rain for a 10.30 race start. I didn’t really know too much what to expect after that. The swim is more or less in the Cook Strait so I definitely wasn’t expecting a straight line.

The advice was to go hard for the first part of the swim. I’d like to think I had a good pace but I didn’t help myself not following the boat as well as I could –  zigzagging along. I’d love to see my course but I didn’t give my watch long enough to pick up gps signal before the start of the race so wasn’t able to make a map. I might work on the whole navigation thing.

The race was certainly varied. The start was in beautifully clear water at Kapiti island. Away from the island a little swell kept things interesting. Then a good current  came into play closer to the island. I managed to go from being on the left of the course to quite a bit right (the swimmers behind were pulled further right/south). The last 1km was then a bit uphill to the finish line.

All up an enjoyable swim and the water was still quite warm (18c). It is April though so this will be one of the last swims of the season – just a couple more in Auckland.





Going for a short dip (Wharf to Wharf swim)

The countdown is on! I’m flying out to Perth on Saturday for my 20 km Rottnest challenge.  It’s all very exciting – evidenced by the fact that I am packing several days early (I never do that).

To make sure I’m well rested I’m not doing too much in the way of mileage at the moment. The local Eastbourne Wharf to Wharf swim this morning was perfect for this. The swim itself is only 1.25km.

It is great to be able to support this community swim. Though I must say I must have appeared pretty crazy and hard core to the few people I struck up conversation with. A 20 km swim is a bit longer than a 1km swim!

Overall conditions were pretty good. A southerly came in as the race start creating a little chop but nothing major. And as with all short swims when you are a distance swimmer – I was only just starting to get into the swim when it ended! Second female overall so I didn’t do too shabby. A group of us then chose a cruisy return swim to push up the mileage slightly.

And of course followed by coffee at a local cafe.



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.


Hataitai to Freyberg


The Auckland Fur Seals


The Wellington ocean swimmers

Capital Classic

This morning the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series came to Wellington for the Capital Classic. Out of all the series swims the ‘Capital Classic’ is arguably the best (on a good day anyway – you can’t beat Wellington on a good day). I spend a lot of my summer travelling to swims outside of Wellington that it’s quite nice to have such an awesome event in your own back yard.

The event itself was 3.3km. It had a good 2km stretch out to the lighthouse letting you settle into your stroke without having to worry about turning buoys. Around the light house you then headed for the fountain (a stretch that is fairly familiar to us Wellington swimmers) before trying to up the pace to the finish line.

I held a good pace on the swim which I was pleased with, going a few minutes faster than last year (but also longer so I’m not sure what happened there!). Others had good swims too save a few knocks from other swimmers.

After the swim I stayed at the beach with others, enjoyed the sun and watched the 1km and 300m swims. It is encouraging to watch the shorter swims knowing that many people would have only recently got into swimming. At the end of the day it isn’t about the distance or time that you are doing but the challenge that you set yourself.


The start line


Start of the 1km


Wellington on show for the finish.

Secret speedsters

The big training miles took a back seat this morning to a 1500m swim as part of a team triathlon. MartinJenkins where I work had two teams entered in the field of 10 (the vast majority of participants were individual entries).  We also had an old work colleague in another team making for some friendly competition.  Not surprisingly I was one of only two non wetsuit swimmers (triathletes love their wetsuits).

Prior to the event everyone was careful to qualify their abilities and manage expectations. My swimming colleague had jokingly (or was it seriously?) planned to hold my leg and get a tow, one colleague had reportedly been tapering since 1992, another had the goal not to be lapped, I notified the team about my distance training and it’s likely impact on the short ‘sprint’ distance and my old work colleague had always been very understated about his swimming ability. 

All that was put aside once we got underway however with the teams getting serious. No one lapped anyone and with both teams within 20 mins of each other we picked up 3rd and 4th place. Not too shabby.


The secret speedsters.


The teams wave.

Swimming to the wrong bay

Despite swimming in Wellington for sometime I’ve never actually managed a swim on the south coast. It doesn’t really seem that welcoming – cold, rugged coastline and not as convenient (for me anyway).

To mark Wellington Anniversary day and to escape the pestering northerly a group of 13 of us and acoupleof kayakers decided to swim from Lyall Bay surf club to Tarekena Bay. We were to look out for the Ataturk memorial. Tarakena Bay was apparently chosen for the memorial because the beach and cliffs resemble the terrain of Gallipoli.

We had a leasurely swim along Lyall Bay to meet up with the few swimmers who were keen on a shorter trip. It was then a long slog out to the point. After that the home straight so I put my head down and headed in.

I forgot we had to look out for the memorial and as I was coming in I wondered where everyone else was and why this bay didn’t really look that hospitable. I was quite far in by the time I realised I had gone the wrong way so I stuck with it and got out here thinking the walk around to the next bay would be a piece of cake (rocks and bare feet are never a piece of cake).

Reflecting afterwards we decided that given we were swimming to a Gallipoli memorial it was quite fitting that one of us should mindlessly swim into the wrong bay.

4.4km in the end, slightly shorter than it should have been.


The start at Lyall Bay

The mental game

Rottnest island is only a month away now. That means it’s the business end of training and theres no excuses for not getting the mileage in. Add to that Wellington Anniversary weekend and you have three good days to put in some decent training.

All very well in theory until you look at the weather forecast! A persistent 30 knot northerly that looks like it has no end. After trying the airNZ website in the hope of finding some last minute flights to Auckland that weren’t expensive (they were) I had to accept the reality that I was stuck in Wellington for the weekend and that meant a long pool swim was on the cards.

Long pool swims are a mental mind game. I slept in and procrastinated about getting to the pool, eventually making in down in the afternoon. Then when I got to the pool I was negotiating with myself “Rebecca you probably don’t need to do that long a swim… just see how it goes”.

It wasn’t that bad in the end. Once I was in and swimming I just focused on the set I was doing. I also focused more on my technique then what I would in the ocean. I chose a pyramid set that increased by 100 each time and after reaching 1000m I had conquered the mental game. I still had quite a bit to go I was on the home stretch.

10km under the belt yesterday and a further 4.5km this morning. I’m quietly satisfied. Now to keep that training up over the next few weeks (though here’s hoping

Venturing to Makaro/ Ward Island

I don’t know much about Ward Island in Wellington Harbour but my googling tells me that Makaro and neighbouring Matiu (Somes Island) were named after Kupe’s daughters (maori legend). Cool little fact for the day.


(Little Ward Island in front of Somes Island).

12 of us set off from Eastbourne to swim to, then around and back from Ward Island. Conditions were perfect and the sun came out which was a nice contrast to yesterday. All up it was a 4.5km swim with the island being just under 2km away. A bit of a current slowed us down on the way back with times being about 5 mins slower but can’t complain. We were very grateful for a kayaker and SUP who kept an eye out for us in the stretch of water that can get a few boats.

One of the great things about doing a group swim like this is the people you meet. One of the swimmers had taken the initiative to plan the swim and invite others in our Facebook group. I knew most people there but there were a few new faces which is always neat. And of course, one of the best parts of the morning always has to be coffee/brunch afterwards at the local cafe.