Lake Toya swim

With swim number 2 behind me, I’ve got another ocean swim race ahead of me this weekend. Here’s a recap of last Sunday’s swim. I arrived in Hokkaido on Saturday morning only to be greeted by clouds and rain at Chitose airport. Upon arrival in Hirafu I had a hearty brunch.

Given the weather conditions for the day, Fi and I had a chocolate bake-off for the rest of the day, but that, my friends, spawns another blog post. In short, there was a lot of drinking and eating had on the Saturday, topped off with a night at the pub for trivia where several glasses sparkling wine and meat pies were consumed. On a very full stomach and a few alcohol units, I somehow managed to get up early on the Sunday morning.

Departing Hirafu at about 7.30am we made good time to Lake Toya. The weather was gorgeous. What a fine day indeed it turned out to be. It was about 29 degrees that day and the sun was out. Courtesy of the sun’s appearance I am now sporting a decent tan despite applying generous amounts of suncream. I’ve got a pretty severe cossie tan. It was a great day to re-visit Lake Toya. I swam in both the 800m and 1.5km swims last year, and was entered again for both this year. Unfortunately, my times were a bit disappointing. It was definitely a slow swim day for me, but not bad considering how little training I did and the amount of food and drink I consumed the day before. Probably not the best training diet. Don’t try that at home kiddies. A sensible diet and an early night’s rest is ideal the night before a race. Oh well, good times were had anyway. It was really quite a miracle that I did not sink in that lake. Lake Toya is a freshwater lake, so the swim was a bit of a struggle. We swam across the shoreline. And man, I really felt the distance in this race. First up was the 800m swim. The distance felt a lot longer. My time was 15minutes and 11 seconds for that one, and placed 8th in my age category of about 17 people. A considerable difference between that and the 800m swim at Atami beach which I did in 10 minutes. The age category was all females under the age of 39. That was a pretty broad group of competitors. I felt really slow in the water and the distance felt like forever. I think the salt water in ocean swims really make a difference. Either that, or I was carrying a lot more weight through the water this time around, coz I felt heavy in that water. That swim was then followed by the 1.5km. That was a struggle. Especially after doing so poorly in the 800m, I didn’t know how I was going to double that. It was two laps of the same course (which would make it 1.6km ja nai?). I was slow and felt like I had been swimming forever. The finish line didn’t seem any closer. Usually I guesstimate my time by the length of a TV show. This swim felt like the Director’s Cut of Titanic along with preview and credits. The whole time I was swimming that 1.5km all I could think about was “how the hell I am going to swim 4km?”. During the week I had sent off an entry for a 4km beach swim. That was more than double what I was doing now! That’s going to be a solid 1.5 hour of swimming in the ocean. 4km! What was I thinking! “I’m struggling to swim 1.5km so how the hell will I finish 4km!” What was also frustrating about this swim apart from being slow and sluggish in the water was the two ends of the course were marked by blue raft boats that we had to swim around, yet they had lifeguards in other blue raft boats that were paddling along the course, so every time I would look up to see how much further I had, I kept seeing these moving raft boats which were the wrong ones and kept thinking I less to go than what I actually had to swim. I spent over half an hour in the water moving my arms and legs. My time ended up being 32minutes and 38 seconds. Another disappointing time.

Because I had entered both races, I could only choose one which would eligible for placings. I chose the 800m as my main event. For the 1.5km swim I wasn’t placed in my age category, but rather was lumped into the Open category. I didn’t improve on either time from last year’s results. Oh well. I’ll just have to do better in the next one. At least I didn’t sink. I will admit that after the swim at Lake Toya, my arms were a bit sore and my shoulder and back muscles were a bit tight. Doing non-arm strokes for over 45 minutes is kinda tiring. Also it’s kinda funny but I also got a sore neck after this race.I think it might have been from straining when looking up to find the buoys and water markers. During the race, a couple of swans even crossed the course. I was careful to get out of their way.

With the two swims behind me, it was time for lunch which was a delicious spread put on by Jojos. The lunch is worth the swim. Of course, most sane people would skip swimming 1.5km and just go to Jojos instead to eat their food. This year’s NAC t-shirt was also a really nice colour compared to last year’s grey t-shirt. Swim number 2 done and dusted. This Sunday I’ll be off to Chiba for a beach swim. That’ll be swim numero 3. I much prefer beach/ocean swims. It’s a standard 1km swim which is the minimum distance I swim whenever I go to the pool. I would like to do it in under 20 minutes as a personal goal but will prepare myself for a time anywhere between 15-25 minutes. Will let you know how it goes. I believe rain is forecast for this weekend though.

race gear

getting my race number texta-ed on my arm

Lake Toya on summer Sunday morning

in the water


Off to Hokkaido for swim # 2

Most people get woken up by an alarm. This morning I got woken up by an earthquake at 6am. Such is life in Japan. Awake and albeit reluctantly, I hauled my ass to the pool for one last “training session” before the weekend. Open Water swim race number 2 for summer 2010 is this weekend, on Sunday. It’s been a fortnight since my last open water swim race. I’m travelling up to Hokkaido for this one heading up tomorrow morning.

This event is the only open water swim race in Hokkaido, and I use the term ‘open water’ deliberately in this case. This swim is not an OCEAN water swim. It’s in a lake. More specifically a volcanic caldera lake – Lake Toya, a beautiful lake in a nice onsen town. Here are some interesting facts about Lake Toya: – Lake Tōya is said to be the northernmost lake in Japan that never ices, – and the second most transparent lake in Japan. – The 2008 G8 Summit was held here This particular swim event is a private/non-official race in that it is not endorsed or organised by the Japan Open water swimming association. This race is run by a local adventure/outdoor company in Hirafu/Niseko.

This swim is kind of close to my heart for several reasons. Firstly, Hokkaido was my first experience of Japan ever. I first came to Japan as a uni exchange student and I was placed at Sapporo University (not my first preference at the time). Our flight from Sydney was to Chitose airport in Hokkaido so I never even landed on Honshu before arriving to Japan. I lived in Sapporo for one year. It was where I first fell in love with Japan and knew that I would return. After graduating from uni I was back to Japan on the JET program. I also visited Hokkaido again during that time.

After finishing JET, I then moved back to Hokkaido and lived in Hirafu, Niseko (a major ski resort town) for a year and a half. Sunday’s swim race is called Big Swim Toya and it is hosted by NAC (Niseko Adventure Centre). I lived within walking distance of NAC and spent some time there. They have a great restaurant/cafe called JoJo’s – it’s a beautiful casual, spacious restaurant with delicious food to boot. They have a little shop and an indoor wall climbing facility too. They also run heaps of activities and tours all-year round like rafting, snowshoeing etc. In addition to the Big Toya Swim event, they also put on the Hirafu 10km Trail Run which I also competed in last year – the most gruelling 10km run over. It’s not a road run, it’s a trail run – up and down mountains and ski slopes. I also competed in this same swim last year, so it will be nice to do it again and hopefully improve my time from last year. So there you have it – me and Hokkaido go way back. I always like going back to Hokkaido – it’s also one of the most prettiest prefectures in Japan in my opinion. In fact, Hokkaido is awesome – great climate, powder snow, awesome coast line, great onsens, majestic mountains, delicious seafood and miso ramen, gigantic national parks, festive festivals, pretty flowers (Furano and Biei), home of Sapporo Beer and Royce choco, etc etc, stop me now… So this Sunday’s swim at Lake Toya will be a little trip down memory lane.

I competed in the 800m and the 1.5km swim back to back last year, and will be doing the same again this year. Lake Toya is a freshwater lake, so again these are different water conditions to what I’m used to. For one, the water temperature is a lot colder. Wetsuits are a given at this one. I don’t wear a wetsuit. I don’t own one, and even if I did, I wouldn’t wear one. Plain old togs do me just fine. Also, there is no salt content in the water, which means less bouyancy than an ocean swim. I know my times are definitely going to be slower. On the upside, there is virtually no current. The water is very flat, still and cold. It also means that the water is also quite pleasant to drink should you accidentally gulp some of it. I recall from last year that the water was quite tasty. Cool, clean and fresh – the way water should be. So it’s been two weeks since my last race event. I’ve done a little bit of training. Not as much as I would have liked. The first 800m event I’m not too worried about. I will be fresh so my time will hopefully be ok. My goal is to improve on my 800m swim time from last year which was 14 minutes and 39 seconds. The catch-22 here is that the faster I swim the 800m the greater rest time between that race and the start of the 1.5km swim. But the faster I swim, the more tired I’m going to be for the 1.5km race. From memory last year, I had about a 20min break between the two which was not too bad. As for the 1.5km I don’t expect my time to be so great, just average. After having already gone flat out in the first 800m event, I’m already going to be a little tired by the time I have to compete in the 1.5km. All up, it’s 2.3km all on a Sunday morning. The 1.5km is basically two laps of the first 800m course. If I can improve on last year’s time I’ll be pleased. Not 100% confident that I can pull it off though. Here was my 2-week swim plan in the lead up to this event after the first Atami race: In bold was my planned training schedule (i.e what I told myself I should do). In parentheses next to it is what I actually ended up doing.

July 12 2km swim (nothing. did not go to gym -I was actually sick after the Atami swim)

July 13 1.5km swim and 45min walk(1km swim + 250m swim)

July 14 1.5km swim and 45min walk (nothing)

July 15 1.5km swim and 45min walk (45min walk (4km) and 30min cycle)

July 16 2km swim (45min walk (4km)

July 17 3km swim and walk/cycle (1.5km swim)

July 18 Walk (5.5km walk) J

uly 19 1.5km swim and 45min walk (nothing)

July 20 2km swim (45min walk (4km))

July 21 gym closed nothing

July 22 1.5km swim and 45min walk (1.5km swim and45min walk (4km) – stuck to the plan – yay)

July 23 2km swim ( swim)

July 24 no swim. Never swim the day before event (will be sticking to the plan)

July 25 Lake Toya Swim Day Race event: 800m and Race event: 1.5km

The above suggests that:

a) I am way too optimistic when I plan my training schedule

b) I am an unrealistic goal setter

c) I am an underachieving lazy human being

d) I spend way too much time blogging about swimming than actually swimming

e) I should take up walking as a sport because I spend more time walking than I do swimming

f) all of the above I blogged a breifly about the Lake Toya swim last year. You can read that old post here. If you should feel so inclined to participate in this swim next year, info can be found on the NAC website here. If you email them (English or Japanese) they can send you an application form in the post. You can then pay by furikomi. Application form, documents etc are available in Japanese and English. double entry for both swims is 8500yen. One event is 5500yen. This cost includes a t-shirt and yummy all you can eat bbq lunch feast and a participation certificate. Also the chance to win heaps of lucky dip prizes. Placings also receive prizes. NAC do a great job of putting on this event. Super organised and friendly staff. You can even camp at Lake Toya the night before. Kudos to the competitors who sleep in a tent and then swim the next morning. I prefer the comfort of a bed the night before a swim race.

Bex made a video of last year’s Toya swim race. You can watch it below: WARNING: A most unflattering video of me. All my wrong angles (why is it always the side angle???) and I’m wearing a swimsuit in pretty much nearly every scene…not a pretty sight coz I ain’t no skinny bitch. I like my food and lots of it too! You were warned. Oh, and I hate my voice too. Maybe I should go drown in Lake Toya rather than actually swim in it. Clearly I belong behind the camera rather in front of it. So apart from me starring in the video, the video is great. Very entertaining and big kudos to Bex for making it. Thank you, Bex! It was actually a fun day and I’m looking forward to doing it again this weekend. I’ll be sure to be blogging about it next week. Here’s hoping for better weather this time around. Last year was wet and rainy, grey and overcast. The lake was kinda eerie with its low mist. So at the risk of personal embarrassment I am going to upload the video. (Video duration: 5min, 24 seconds – – – 5 minutes and 24 seconds that you will never get back from your life again). (Just tried uploading directly onto my blog. Exceeds my blog media file limit. Will upload to Youtube)

What I talk about when I talk about swimming…

Before there was Murakami, there was Carver – Raymond Carver that is. I can totally see how Murakami was heavily influenced by him. If you’ve ever read Murakami Haruki’s “What I talk about when I talk about running”, you’ll know that he borrowed that title from Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories called “What we talk about when we talk about love”. My favourite short story in the collection is “The Bath” which also appears in Murakami’s short story collection “Birthday Stories”. Bath…pool…water…swimming. Everything is connected. So you know that I love food and eating, and to look at me I am no athlete by any definition, but all this eating can take a toll on one’s physique. I try to maintain this balance by swimming. Funnily enough, all that swimming makes me wanna do, is eat more.

Lately, I’ve been swimming…a lot…sort of…trying to?… My summer goal for this year is to get back into some ocean swimming races. I used to do it (ir)regularly back in Sydney in my uni days. I had a couple that I liked to compete in, in particular the Bondi Cole Classic (from North Bondi to South Bondi beach and back – I believe this has now been moved to Steyne/Manly Beach) and also the Sydney Harbour swim. The Sydney Harbour Swim is the only sanctioned swim that allows participants to swim from the Sydney Opera House to Fort Denison and back right in Sydney Harbour. It’s pretty iconic. Ocean swimming as you guessed it, takes place in the ocean. It’s probably more accurate to describe it as Open Water swimming (that is, not a pool) – these Open Water swims are usually in oceans, harbours or even lakes. They involve swimming long distances usually between 1 to 5km. I have been swimming since the age of 5. I practically learnt to swim before I could even speak English (English being the second language I learnt).

As I kid in swim school from the age of 5 – I used to dread going to swimming lessons after school at Guildford Pool. Butterflies would literally swim in my stomach. I liked the pools, and I liked water but I hated swimming lessons! The teachers were old and really strict back in the 80s. As I grew older, I learnt to love swimming. It was something I had grown up with, and it was something that I didn’t totally suck at. As is typical in most Australian schools – swimming lessons at some point are compulsory. I remember compulsory swim lessons in Yr 5 and Yr 6, and when I got to high school – our school had its own pool, so again swimming was a part of the curriculum. In the junior years of high school I also kept up swim squad training, clocking up several km’s a week and then Saturday morning competition. The problem with all this swim training was that I was always ravenous as a teenager. I had an insatiable appetite (I still do). Swimming really stimulates the appetite. I wasn’t really that good a swimmer competition wise. I’m not really a fast swimmer – more an endurance swimmer. I am cursed with slow twitch fibres which means I will never be good at sprint sports or speed. Endurance is more my thing.

As I got older – Yr 10 onwards, I gave up all competitive sports (swimming and netball). It was the time to focus on studies, School Certificate and HSC etc, and also time to get a part time job after school and on the weekend – leaving little time for sports. That said, though, I still enjoyed swimming for leisure and would often swim on my own on a regular basis. I refused to give up swimming altogether. Later in uni, I got my AustSwim and Bronze Medallion qualifications etc, and become a pool lifeguard and qualified learn to swim instructor. I worked at various pools in the my local district. Every now and then I would compete in an ocean swim, or a team triathlon with my friends in which I naturally do the swim leg. Swimming is one the things I love I do and always try to make time for. When going on a holiday I will religiously pack my swimmers and goggles – just in case.

When I moved to Japan, one of the first things I did was suss out all my pool options. In Sapporo, as a uni exchange student it was the Konami Gym centre, in Namie it was Refure pool, in Hirafu it was the Alpen Hotel. I was even teaching swim classes during my summer in Hirafu. Pools are my little wells of life. Now in Tokyo, it is the local fitness chain centre I have joined. I love swimming. And the body loves swimming. It’s so good for you. It’s good for your breathing, it’s an all-body workout – your legs are moving, arms are moving, head and neck are moving. It’s a good aerobic exercise and whilst it’s not the best for strength (better off with weight training), it’s a decent resistance work out with your muscles working against the water it can be quite a body toner. And it’s no/low impact and stress on the body. I’ve never known anyone to have suffered from a swimming injury (unless of course you don’t know how to swim, in which case results in drowning). The water is cool, fresh and invigorating. Swimming is a great stress reliever too (although occasionally I am prone to pool rage – more on that later), and helps regulate your respiratory system. It’s also therapeutic and one of the best exercises you can do for physical rehab.

I used to be a volunteer swim teacher at the Children’s hospital in Sydney for the NSW Asthma Foundation. Swimming was deemed to be good therapy for kids with asthma. On Saturday mornings, at the kids hospital – asthmatic kids could receive breathing and swimming lessons from volunteers as part of their asthma management. Also good for knocking over a hangover too, although you don’t want to be too hungover. When I injured my arm snowboarding, I was off the ski slopes for a good few weeks. The pool was my saviour.

With swimming there’s options – you can freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, sidestroke, or just walk in the pool. With jogging – you can either run or walk only. Furthermore, swimming can be enjoyed all year round because it can either be outdoors or indoors. As far as most sports go, it’s also a pretty cheap one to take up. A pair of togs, goggles, a cap (all of which won’t break the bank) and the couple of bucks for pool entry. Now sports like skiing, snowboarding etc require expensive gear and safety equipment. Every pool I’ve ever joined also offers membership or bulk coupons which give you a little bit of a discount or saving. Pool entry is what people would spend a cup of coffee on each day. It’s affordable. I think that those who do not have private health insurance should at least get a yearly gym membership. Both are investments in your health, especially in the day and age of rising obesity and health-related problems. If you can afford both, even better (luckily I do!). Why plan for the day when you suffer from cardiovascular disease when you could prevent it altogether with daily exercise.

Now, just a quick word on pool rage. This is the part where I vent a little. The “pool” experience in Japan can be somewhat frustrating at first. I have (reluctantly) learnt to deal with it. Here are some things that really get up my nostrils (thereby “irritate” me) about swimming and pools in Japan:

– no jewellery or accessories are allowed in the pool. This means no rings, earrings, necklaces or watches. You will be chased down by the pool attendant and be forced to remove them. If you can’t remove them, they make you tape it up. Believe me, I have seen Japanese men with wedding bands that can’t be removed from their finger so they have to cover it with tape. The tape is provided at the pool too. Occasionally when I have forgotten to remove my earrings, I’ve had to tape them up. How could they even see my earlobes when I’m swimming up and down the pool?? I’m actually pretty sure that one of the obasans that were slowing me down, dobbed me in. (Do people say “dobbed in” these days??? Wasn’t sure what to use in the alternative. Any suggestions?)

– the wearing of swimming caps is compulsory, but the crazy thing is, is that they don’t make waterproof caps in Japan (well I think they do, but they’re really hard to find). Swim caps in Japan are not made from latex or rubber or whatever is. They’re made of a nylon fabric. The whole point of the cap in Japan is to prevent hair getting in the pool, rather than to prevent your hair getting wet.

– everyone must swim in the “right” direction. Up the pool on your right, and down the pool on your left. I once went to this insane pool where you had to swim up in one lane, duck the rope and go down in the next lane. So one lane was for one direction, and the other lane for the other direction. Yeah, sure this meant that two swimmers could go side by side (swim abreast) in the one lane, but having to switch lanes to return in the opposite direction is crazy!!! That doesn’t make for very productive lap swimming when you have to stop at every end, and duck the lane to go back.

– showering/rinsing is mandatory prior to entering the pool. Valid for hygiene reasons (although I maintain chlorine is gonna kill any germs that are in pool). This isn’t something that is compulsory in Australia.Pools in Japan, have a shower walkway/doorway that you have to walk through in order to enter the pool. This means that towels cannot be brought into the pool area. because they’re ultimately gonna get wet when you go through that walkway. Leave them in your locker or shower room.

– overtaking of another swimmer is not allowed. At various pools, if I’ve ever overtaken a slow swimmer, I have always been chased down by the pool attendant. This countlessly means that I am stopped by slow swimmers. I am forced to walk or stop swimming. The majority of pools however usually have a slow and a fast lane, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s one lane fits all. This is even more frustrating because you’ll get backstrokers in amongst the freestylers! The pool I go to has only three lanes. One lane is a walking only lane. The Japanese love just walking up and down the pool. So much so that there is a lane dedicated to that. The other two lanes are swimming lanes, but if there happens to be an aqua class, all lanes swimmers are then lumped into one lane. And if you can’t overtake a slow swimmer, this is very painful, not to mention a disruption to my laps.

– Another thing I have noticed about a few pools in Japan (not all though) is that they are poorly designed with the locker/change rooms and the pool on separate floor levels. I’ve been to a few pools in Japan which involve a flight of stairs. I think that this is one of the most dangerous designs for a pool. Wet, slippery stairs. I mean really!!! It’s a real hazard for people to going up and down stairs that are wet and slippery. There should be a minimum amount of distance between a pool and the change room. The less distance, the less chance of injury. I mentioned earlier that swimming is one of the safest exercise you can do. This is the exception. I reckon more pool accidents happen outside the pool than in the pool (i.e. by running or walking on slippery surfaces).

Phew. What a vent. In fact, I think I need a swim in order to relieve some of that stress. And thus that nasty vicious cycle begins. I go swimming to relieve stress, only to get stressed at the pools, and then needing to swim to relieve that stress…. Ah, yes – there is so much to say about swimming (despite the above vent).

I love water. Drinking it, bathing in it, showering in it, floating in it, washing with it, swimming in it. Water is vital to my life. I’m an Earth sign (being a Taurus) and the earth needs water to survive. Water is the earth’s nourishment. I think that is where my attraction to water stems from. The innate astrological desire to be near water. I love going to the beach and some of my favourite destinations in the world or places that I have lived are either port/harbour cities, or are along the coast (eg Hamburg, Sydney, Namie, Yokohama, I’ve lived in island countries – Australia and Japan). My favourite animals are also water creatures, my favourite animal being a penguin. (I also like fish, and dolphins). Water is so freeing, cleansing, purifying. Swimming too is all of this – for the mind and body. Metaphorically, I am an island (the earth) with the need to be surrounded by water. Ocean swimming is also a lot more challenging than pool swimming. You can’t fear depth. (Pools in Japan are also really shallow – they are usually at a depth that can be walked i.e feet touch the ground, the whole length). The thing about ocean swimming is that it’s a lot more unpredictable than swimming in a pool, for obvious reasons. The main factors are current/tide, absence of swim lanes, a lot more backwash, and colder water temps.

My local pool in Tokyo is an indoor heated pool with a water temp of 31 degrees which is way too warm for my liking. It’s almost like a tepid bath. Ocean water is usually about 19 degrees. Swimming in cold water is a bit of a shock to the system and your body struggles that little bit more to move. The body’s muscles are lot more flexible when warm. Cold water temperatures are going to work against you. The current or tide too can either work for you or against you. I’ve been in some swims where the current is so strong, that no matter how hard or fast your arms and legs are going, you’re not moving anywhere, the current keeps pushing you back. This wears you out and slows you down. For example, I’ve swum a 1.6km swim in a harbour. My time for that swim was in the 40minutes. A pretty slow time for me, considering that in a pool in 40 minutes, I would have been able to rack up 2km. In the open water, there are no swim lanes, and your sense of direction is warped. It’s really hard to see where you are going and where you are headed, with only a bouy or two off in the distance over the waves. You could be swimming off an angle which adds metres to your actual distance swum, and then you struggle to get back on course. There’s no black line on the bottom of the ocean floor to direct you. Also there’s no pool walls to push and kick off from every 25 metres. In an ocean swim race, you’ve also got a lot of people which means that people are kind of swimming over the top off each other and it can get a little rough with arms and legs flying about, getting kicked, or elbowed. I’ve had my goggles kicked off my face before. A beach start, particularly at an Aussie beach, can also be quite tiring. You have to run from the sand into the beach and into oncoming waves. It can take a couple of minutes before you even get out pass all the waves to start stroke swimming. Ducking and jumping the waves is all part of an ocean swim.

Something else about ocean swimming which differs from a pool, is the water. Chlorine vs salt water. Salt water makes you that little bit more bouyant which is why sometimes you can actually swim a bit faster than you would in a pool. The downside, is that you surprisingly end up swallowing a lot of that salt water – what with all that splashing, and kicking from the other 100 people around you, you’re bound to get some of that in your mouth. By the end of the race, you’re pretty dehydrated. It’s not like jogging or walking, where you can have a bottle of water on you. Salty/sandy water can also give you a rash. I had never thought that you could get a rash from swimming. Learnt this the hard way in my very first ocean swim race. This is why Vaseline comes in handy. Apply to armpits, neck, and inner thighs before the race. There’s also a lot of marine life that you might encounter during an ocean swim. I’ve been in a few swims (in Oz) where you see lots of jellyfish. In my experience, they’re pretty harmless. You just swim right over the top of ‘em. In Oz too, there’s also the very real threat of sharks and bluebottles. I was stung once by a bluebottle as a kid. I was just entering the beach and had gotten knee-deep when one wrapped itself around my knee and stung me. I couldn’t walk for a week. I suffer really bad reactions from stings. (I am also allergic to bee stings). Not everyone will suffer the same reaction. Oh, the joys of ocean swimming. It can be kinda scary sometimes swimming out in that vast unknown liquid vacuum of an ocean. Yes, ocean swimming is a challenge – mentally and physically. I like ocean swim races because there’s a start, an end, a whole lot of time to think about things in between. It’s kind of funny and interesting how many random thoughts and ideas go through your head when you swim (whether in an ocean or pool). If you had a random group of test subjects who were told to swim continuously for 30 minutes and their brain was hooked to a machine that could read thoughts, I bet there’d be numerous random thoughts floating around. Swimming, interestingly enough, is also one of those activities that you have to do alone. Sure, you can go along to the pool with a friend, but the act of swimming is a solo one. You can’t swim with someone and chat to them as you would if you walking or jogging with a friend. You can’t really even listen to music. You swim with yourself, and against yourself. It is best enjoyed alone. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s one of the things I like swimming. Being in a little bubble in my own pool of thoughts without the need to converse with anyone or listen to external stimuli (no iPod, no phones, no tv, no sounds) for a 30 minutes a day). It’s my form of meditation almost. Of silent fluid movement.

This summer, I have decided to compete in at least 3 open water swim races in Japan. Hopefully I will end up doing 4 or 5 though – at a rate of one ocean swim per fortnight, which will take me into the next two months. To compete in one swim per week is a little strenuous on the body and social life. Coincidentally, the swims that I will be competing in are in different prefectures of Japan. This is great – I’m combining travel (weekend trips away with a spot of sightseeing) as well as a swim race (exercise and healthy competition is good for oneself). 3 swims. And 3 prefectures. At a minimum.

I was lucky enough to come across the Japan open water swim association websites which list all the ocean swim races around Japan. I’ve been obsessed with scouring these websites.

The first website is: Open Water Swim Japan (link here). This is my favourite one. It’s pretty and nice. It’s also the most comprehensive one in terms of all races throughout Japan. The Race Information tab lists all the open water swims for the year (the primary months being March to September, with the bulk of the swims in June and July).

The second website is: Open Water Japan. (Link here). This is the Japan International Open Water Swimming Association. The first website, will often refer you to this website. This website however does not list all the swims through Japan. To then enter the majority of the swims, you will be referred to this registration site: Sportsentry (link here). This website lists a whole bunch of sports and events, for which you can enter and compete in. It is not limited to swimming. Some private swims will have their own website and registration method.

For keen runners you’d probably be familiar with Runnet (link here). They also have a Swimnet website (link here) which overlaps with a lot of the information from the first two swim websites. Swimnet however also lists combined swim and run events if you’re into biathlons, and other swim races which are more pool-related rather than ocean swims. There’s a whole world of sports out there to participate in. It’s all about having a goal, and seeing it through to the end. Doesn’t matter if you’re first, second or last. If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s setting yourself challenges and goals regardless of your level or ability.

So far, I have officially registered for 2 swims, with a couple more pending. My first swim kicks off this weekend. It’s only an 800m ocean beach swim in Shizuoka prefecture. Starting off small and building my way up. This is the best way to do it. Don’t want to go out too hard too fast. This swim is the Atami Sun Beach race event. The race options here were pretty limited. The choice was either an 800m swim or a 3.2km swim – nothing in between. I’ve opted for the 800m, but will be ramping up the swim distances thereafter. I bought a new pair of swim goggles just a couple of weeks ago. First new pair in about 6 or 8 years. Made me realise how on earth I ever saw underwater with my old pair. Memo to self: replace goggles on a more regular basis.

I’ve done very limited training for this weekend’s race. I am confident that I can pull a decent time (not great, but decent) without a lot of training. I know that I can go the distance, but unsure of my timing. I would like to do it in under 15 minutes but it really depends on the conditions. Last weekend’s 17km hike was not a good idea a week before an ocean swim. Even four days after the hike, my muscles are still really sore and tight. I’m not in the best condition this week for my first ocean swim in about 5 years, let alone an ocean swim in Japan. My first real swim in a Japanese beach. Should be an interesting summer. Wow. When I talk about swimming, I can talk a lot.


High Tea at the ANA Intercontinental Hotel, Tokyo

Another Sunday, another high tea in Tokyo. I’ve been going at a rate of one per month. This time we headed to the ANA Intercontinental hotel in Akasaka (accessible from the Nanboku metro line) Spending a few hours in an luxury air-conditioned hotel eating cakes and sweets with a cup of tea is a perfect way to escape the heat and humidity of Tokyo in June. Skye and I each brought a friend to join us for a ladies afternoon tea – spreading the love one cuppa tea at a time. The ANA Intercontinental hotel serves afternoon tea between the hours of 2-5pm in the Atrium Lounge, although you can lounge about for as long as you like. It was surprisingly very busy. There are a choice of two afternoon sets – the bread set or the sweets set. We all decided on the sweets set. As usual, there are an assortment of teas to choose from, with free hot water refills. Most places that offer afternoon tea should give you pot refills. The biggest disappointment with this venue for afternoon tea was the absence of scones!! The height of rudeness. How blasphemous to exclude the humble scone from an afternoon tea. The scones are the best part. Big points lost right there. It was still a lovely set though. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the sandwich. It was just the one sandwich but it was triple-decked so the salmon mixed with the ham wasn’t really to my liking. Much prefer when the sandwich fillings are on separate sandwiches. Oh well. As lovely as it was, it wasn’t a very “traditional” afternoon tea (no scones!). The sets are 2950yen per person (3 tiered platter plus tea) plus tax. If you make an advance reservation for the weekend, you will get 10% off the bill. It cost us 3000yen per person with the discount. The Peninsula Hotel and St Christophers Garden remain my two favourite places to date in Tokyo for high tea. But there are still many more places to review. All the details for afternoon tea at the ANA Intercontinental hotel can be found here