mar 13, 2011
Sydney Harbour Swim Classic, Sunday, March 13, 2011
Sentimental in Sydney - Aquagirl comes of age
The time had finally arrived for me to cross the border and be schooled in a lesson of open water swimming in NSW. I truly couldn't wait. A little fish in a little pond in Melbourne, I was ready and waiting for the opportunity to frolic in the warm waters of Sydney and test out my open water racing skills, along with the many hundreds of people who share the love of this sport with me.
I had visited Sydney seven years ago to collect my PB in the Half Marathon and found the experience of running across Australia
s most iconic bridge so bloody exciting, that I stopped half way across the bridge, mid race just to look at the views.... How could I not? With my danger music "Eye of the Tiger" playing in my head, I crossed that bridge filled with exhilaration and ran over the finish line at the Opera House, to top off a sweet personal victory. It couldn't get much better than that. Or could it?
Here we are seven years on, injury has taken its toll and I am no longer a runner or a type A compulsive try-athlete but I was making my return to Sydney to compete in an event that would surely stay in my top ten of "Most excellent things in life to do" list. I was making the return that I never thought I would.
A pre-dawn drive to the airport with trusty training partner, navigator and now new twitterer Alex (@ascreen84), saw us touch down at 10.30 and brunch at Circular Quay by 11. Life was good. Sydney was showing us her best weather with clear blue skies, warm breezes and a sun that warmed my back and helped a smile blossom on my face that barely left my dial for two days straight. Hasty negotiations took place whilst soaking in the views of people climbing the bridge, and a game plan was hatched. Off to Manly we went.
Our day was spent getting the most out of our all-day travel ticket and found us on a ferry to Manly, and a train/bus combo to Bondi later that afternoon, two for the price of one! I've read many swim reports about Manly, watched endless shows about Bondi and always wanted to visit them both so that's exactly what we did. These two popular beaches saw us frolic and play for ages. My face was sore from smiling so much. I was in heaven.
Saturday was a day where I took carbo-loading to new heights... in a ridiculous kind of way. My body clock was way out with a 4.30 start and all that activity had made me ravenous. I broke my promise of not eating cheese or drinking coffee for Lent within the first hour of touching down, twenty Hail Marys for me. All we did was eat and play, eat and play, with the full stop for the day being an iced chocolate and warm apple crumble that evening at ten o'clock at The Rocks. Forgive me father for I have sinned (but it all tasted SO good.) A restless sleep meant an early rise but I was good to go. An early morning look out from the balcony left me with some quiet time to check in with how I was really feeling; anxious, excited, scared, elated, pumped. I can deal with that.
A coffee and a muffin (ten more Hail Marys and an Our Father thrown in for good measure) and within minutes we were at the Opera House. One word: Stunning. The water was like glass, the breeze ever so gentle and the conditions perfect for swimming. Clear emerald green water was the icing on the cake, how could this not be a good swim?
We registered for our 1km swim and were surprised not to be given our transponder for the two km at the same time. That's just how they do it here. Up on the grassy knoll arrived Mr and Mrs Jones (@Ride_Industries), past winner of the James Squire carton of fun, and it was so good to see some familiar faces. (Simon spent a week with @BikeBoy_1 and me in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under, he's seen the best and worst of me, believe it!) Hugs and kisses all round, and I was starting to feel a little more at ease. Apart from this being a swim in the harbour, which is exciting enough, it was also going to be the first time I had met the aloof (!!!???: os.c!) Mr Oceans and his delightful Mrs Sparkle, despite having written for the website for a year now. I also knew that many of our growing swimming community and fellow tweeps were going to be there, travellling far and wide for this event, more reason to be overwhelmed by this all. And that feeling was growing by the minute.
There they were, with trademark hats and unmistakeable stature, Mr and Mrs O. I was relieved to finally find them and felt from the moment that I saw them that I've know them for a life time, and not just our short history of a year. I moved over and introduced myself and felt instantly like I was being swept up in the warmest blanket that existed. These two lovelies made me feel like I was one of their own.
The introductions went on all day and I'd have to say that for a big city I felt like I was at home. I found James (@tacomaJim) quite by accident, and John (@WoJoBungo) close by his side, delightful Liz Hill (@swimbikeknit) and her friend, @MaitlandSwimmer and his wife, Julie, just to name a few. @Coach_Charm found me after the race which was a real buzz and the ever talented Sue Kearney shared some of her stories later in the day at lunch at Perama. It was more like a reunion than a first meeting.
Before we knew it, it was time to move onto the ramp and get our race faces on. But I couldn't find mine, nor could I find my danger music... No "Eye of the tiger", no "Chariots of fire" ... No nothing.... It just wouldn't come to me. I stood around, with this pulsing, buzzing group of sea dwellers and took a deep breath, I could hardly catch it; my heart was truly racing a thousand miles a minute. Alex took one look at me and asked if I was alright. I looked at him and those huge sails behind him and lay my hand on my chest, I was utterly overwhelmed and a little bit shell shocked. I had a massive dose of performance anxiety. What if I come last? What if I see a shark? What if there's a huge current out there that I haven't even considered? What if I look like an idiot in front of all these new people I've met? What if I swim in the wrong direction? My racing thoughts were interrupted by Alex's "Come on, let's just get straight into the water,", he said, and with that, he jumped in without looking back. I reacted instantly and did the same. Thoughts of sharkies left me once the water splashed onto my face, as if they'd bother eating me. If I came last, so be it, I am a small fish in a very big pond here. Currents? Deal with it if/when you swim into it. Wrong direction? Act like a cow and follow the herd, I've done it before plenty of times and I'll do it again now.
I edged towards the start line and slowed the breathing down. Alex just smiled at me and the nerves were all but gone. I think we even laughed a little. Ah, that felt loads better. And with that, the race began.
I hadn't decided in my mind whether this would be an event (like the Pier to Perignon) or a race where I was out for swimming supremacy, so I settled for a compromise. Find a rhythm, get into the auto pilot groove and make sure I look for a different sight or land mark with every breath. I spotted the harbour fire boat saluting the swim with a huge water fountain spouting from its hoses. Fort Denison glistened to my left. Beautiful ferries ploughed along carrying mountains of people. Yachts cruised past. Centrepoint tower stood tall and straight. High rises and buildings tickled the skyline and then there were the sails; those mountainous, egg shelled arcs that graced the foreground, guarded by a steadfast Harbour Bridge behind. Now I wasn't out of breath, this was just breath-taking.
The 1 km flashed before my eyes and then it was over. One down, one to go. I rose out of the water to hear the voice of Mr.O calling for me but I couldn't spot him and made my way straight for the timing pad. (Mental note: climbing stairs and running isn't so good for those with low blood pressure.)
I made my way back to the registration area to collect my new transponder, but trusty Alex had already collected me; that's just what a good training partner does for you; spares you of the queues.
I had a drink, greeted another new friend, collected Mr and Mrs Jones and headed back for the pontoon. This race was an entirely different story for me. Relaxed, pumped, excited, energised. Alex and I jumped in early (or rather I jumped in like a Victorian hoon and did a horsey off the pontoon to splash as many as I could) and rose up out of the water laughing. I just cracked me up. I positioned myself right on the line, knowing I was going to go through a first round UFC fight for the first 100m or so, but I didn't care. Treading water, I spotted Mr and Mrs Jones bobbing around in the water together before the race, what a wonderful thing to share with your partner in crime. Pity my Paul is the family brick; I felt jealous of these two instantly. (Good for them.)
I spotted a lady in black on the finish ramp taking shots of the start, and was later introduced to her as Coach Charm. Boy, did she have the best seat in the house to watch this race, jealous again. The worst thing about swimming is that I can't take shots at the same time, must get me a husband who can take sports photography... Hang on I've got one of those. Must BRING husband who can take sports photography.
As expected, the upper cuts and left hooks were aplenty at the start of the race, worse than I'd even experienced at Lorne, but a bit of biffo doesn't scare me off. Not so many breastrokers in this race as the 1km, maybe a few more hardcore racers and not so many beginners in this distance. This event is certainly a great venue for beginners purely because of its location and not being in "open" water, plus if this was the swim they chose for their debut into the swimming world, I guarantee they'd be hooked for LIFE!
As with the 1km, the race seemed to flash before my eyes and as I rounded the last red buoy, I felt a little disappointed. Is this really the end? I didn't want it to be. I lost the race face and just stroked long and strong and took my last few deep breaths, drinking in the Sydney Harbour sights. This was bigger and better than I had ever expected. I was blown away by this whole experience and felt the same elation I had once felt as I ran over the Harbour Bridge with the Chariots of Fire theme song playing as my danger music. Two more strokes, two big steps and a quick run over the timing pad and my race was over. And there was Alex waiting with a smile and even a little cheer, and that ended my Sydney Harbour Swim adventure.
My results were respectable and I didn't come last, bonus! But for this little fish in a big pond, I got so much more out of this trip than decent results. I'd been accepted into a fold that made me feel more like family than a visitor. I'd renewed a sporting accomplishment that I didn't think I'd ever have the chance to capture again and lastly it cemented my thoughts that this community we have and this amazing sport that we share, is second to none. It's just that simple.
Many thanks go to those of you who have shown an interest in my visit to Sydney. And to those people I met and shared thoughts, laughs with or a meal , I consider you one of "my people" and hope one day you'll travel south to try one of our Victorian swims (if you pack your wetsuit, I won't tell, what happens on the trip, stays on the trip wink, wink.)
I write this report with post event blues and strong withdrawals but I've taken myself off to the bay for a recovery swim this arvo and feel a little better. Time now to look forward to my next race on Sunday and refocus.
For a few photos see my Flickr stream (link below), but I'm sure @glistenrr is going to dazzle you with postcard perfection.
Thank you again Sydney. 'til next time Thrill Seekers,
Check out Glistening Dave's photograrphs...
Click on Thumbs For larger size shots and Click on Page Number For more shots
Check out Aquagirl's photo gallery on Flickr... click here
And check out Angela van Boxel's photo gallery on Flickr... click here
Pics by Nicole Chester (@Aquagirl72) and James Bennett, who also took the Queenscliff pics.
Long Reef pics by Glistening Dave, Bengt Jonsson, and oceanswims.com.
oceanswims.com uses Olympus cameras, this time the Tough 8010 and PEN E-P1 (and an iPhone 3G).
Follow us on Twitter - @Aquagirl72, @KAOSVIC, @glisstenrr, @thesevas, @oceanswims, @Ride_Industries, @jamesgos
Have your say and tell us what you thought of these and other swims on the oceanswims blob... click here
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