I owe you quite a few blog updates. The blogging has taken a backseat lately. When I haven’t been at work, I’ve been swimming training. For the last 5-6 months I have been (secretly) clocking up miles in the pool. Since January 1st of this year, I have logged about 220km in the pool. I have been in training for a year (being 2014) of endurance open water swimming.
My main event for the year was the Guam Cocos Island Crossing swim – 5mile (8km) swim race. I’m pleased to say that I finished it and was happy with my performance.
The race was on Sunday June 1. The days leading up were tiring.
I got a massage on the Thursday night (I’ve enjoyed incorporating massages into my training routine).
Here’s a rundown of it all.
Friday looked like this: Start work at 9am (a little earlier than usual). Finished work at 5:30pm and headed straight for Narita airport. Lugging wheelie suitcase throughout Tokyo and up and down stairs was a bad move. Carrying suitcase upstairs strained my arms a bit. They were sore the next day. I needed to be in tip top condition for Sunday’s race. I usually travel with a backpack and usually don’t lug the wheelie suitcase around. Bad move, bad move. Flight was just after 9pm. Arrived into Guam at 2am.
In the early hours of Saturday morning at 3am, I checked into the hotel at Guam and literally just crawled into bed. What a long day. Swimming friend, Lisa, was also doing the race and had arrived earlier and was already asleep.
Saturday – having only gotten into bed at 3am, I reluctantly got up at 9am for a casual training session. We headed down to the beach and set off for a swim at Tumon Bay. The place was gorgeous. And the view from our hotel was awesome. I hadn’t been able to check it out earlier. The Bay area is beautiful – clear waters, sunshine. Amazing. We did a a slow relaxed swim. I cut mine a bit short as I was super exhausted, but Lisa continued on. I headed back in to the hotel to grab some food. It was about 11am, so it was more an early lunch. Then went back to hotel room to rest. I was a bit sleep-deprived and the heat was a bit draining. The sightseeing would have to wait until after the race. Before I knew it I had fallen asleep into a long power nap. Lisa woke me up at 4:30pm. Ugh, time to get up for the pre-race briefing which was from 5-6pm. We got our race caps and tshirts and a briefing (which was all in Japanese). As we had to register in Japan we were kind of lumped in with the Japanese participant contingent – we were all at the same hotel and had a separate briefing etc.
After the briefing we ventured off for dinner. Settled for a nice carb dinner of spaghetti at an Italian restaurant.
It was then time for an early night. We were in bed by 9:30pm, coz that’s just how I roll on a Saturday night! Next day was gonna be an early start and I had only managed handfuls of sleep at a time in the 24 hours prior.
Sunday morning: Lisa was up at 3am to do her pre-race getting ready ritual. I am not a morning person and I rolled out of bed at 4am and straight into my cossies. Got all my gear together and then we headed down to the lobby.
Pre-race fuel packing:
Fruit salad was breakfast, which I had purchased the day before. Plenty of fluids to sip on to stay hydrated – mostly water, coconut water and sips of gatorade as well. I didn’t end up eating the Cliff Bar and only ate one banana, although had planned on and should have eaten two. And some sports liquid (gel).
Here is what I packed for post-race replenishment:
Didn’t end up eating half of that stuff after the race. But better to be prepared. Basically we had to bring all food and supplies as there would be no opportunity to purchase anything after the race and the one-hour bus ride back. Better to have all the junk food on hand. Just think of all those calories that I would burn off and that needed to be replaced.
There was bus for the Japanese group that would take us to the race venue. Bus left at around 5am and we got to Merizo Pier – the south end of Guam at about 6am. I ate a breakfast of fruit salad on the bus on the way.
Merizo was about an hour away. Some pics of the coastline from the bus window along the way:
Weather and water conditions were looking favourable. Flat and glassy.
We arrived about 6am at Merizo Pier. Race time was at 7am. There were 2 course options: 4km or 8km.
The 4km race started at Cocos Island and you swam to Merizo. This has been the original race course for about 20 years. Swimmers are required to take the ferry across to Cocos Island. A ferry takes the swimmers across there.
Only in the last couple of years have they offered the 8km swim, which is start at Merizo, swim to Cocos Island and then back to Merizo.
Time to Grease Up courtesy of the Vaseline table:
Vaseline helps to protect against jellyfish and chafing.
We could see out to Cocos Island. And there was a rainbow. It was a good sign.
Water looked flat for now but it would change once we started swimming.
The course marked by about 15 buoys was a curved route, not the most straightest direct route. And the 4km and 8km swimmers all started at 7am. So the 8km swimmers had to make sure to stay right of the buoys so we wouldn’t swim into the oncoming 4km swimmers.
I guess it doesn’t look too far….
Water temp was warm about 24-25 degrees. My ideal water temp although for a long distance race it could have been a bit cooler as it definitely got warm out there as we were swimming. Air temp was in the 30s.
Ready or not:
Number #302. Mind the 4am bedhair that I’m rocking. Not looking my finest in these pics.
Pre-race selfie. All greased up. Goggles. Check. Swim cap. Check. Cossies. Check. Shoulders. Check.
Just after 7am we were off. There weren’t many of us in the 8km swim. As it turned out, only 28 of us. This meant that most of us would be swimming our own race as we’d all be spread out over the 8km swim. They had a couple of hundred swimmers in the 4km swim though. I started off ok. The water was nice and I was really enjoying the swim. It was fun for about the first 2km. There were lots of buoys to follow so that made sighting easy but then they seemed to get further and further apart. I kept swimming but goddamn it that island did not seem to be getting closer. I started to worry a little. I was not getting closer to the island at all. Was there a current? Was I getting pushed back? Was the island being moved further back? Was I moving at all? Were my arms working? Was this all a dream and the alarm clock was going to go off any minute? Sadly the latter was not the case. Nothing to do but keep pushing forward a little stronger.
Lots to think about when you’re swimming 8km.
I thought to myself: “by the time I get to the island/halfway point that will only have been 4km and I have to do it again to go back”. The thought of doubling that and doing another 4km was overwhelming. I even half-wished I would get stung by a jellyfish just so I would have a reason to quit the race. The 4km was mentally tough even though I do 4km most days at the pool. I had trouble sighting the turnaround point. Where was that last goddamn buoy? I didn’t want to miss it because that was where the drinks boat was going to be. Surely enough I saw it. There was a kayak sitting by the buoy. Boy, was I happy to see that. I swam up to the kayak and grabbed a cup of water. I stopped for a mini break whilst treading water. I had two cups of water, and took a gel (I had carried 2 gels with me tucked into my cossies. One for the 4km and one for the 6km point). I asked the guy for the time. It was 8:12am. Alright. Not bad. Was happy with that. 4km in 72min. I had beaten the cut-off time. There was a 75min cutoff time to reach the halfway point. I actually cleared the 4km in about 60-65min because the race hadn’t actually started until about 7:10am. Buoyed by the fact that I was within the cutoff and that I could see a handful of other swimmers behind me, I continued on. At the risk of sounding like an Nike ad, “Giving up is not an option”.
“You’re halfway done”, I told myself. “It’s all downhill. Just take your time going back. It only took you an hour to do 4km. The total race time cut off is 2hr 45min, so you’ve got another hour and half to do the last 4km, and you’re not last. There’s a bunch of people behind you. You can do it”. I entertained myself with thoughts of all the food I was gonna eat after the race. The massage to look forward to. The sightseeing. And oh, the retail therapy I would indulge in after the race. I was going up to hit up the shops as a post-race reward. I almost made a deal with myself before this swim race that I could get myself a Macbook Air if I finished this race. But I decided to save that for passing JLPT level 1 this year. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be getting a Macbook Air this year. Anyway, I digress. Swimming is awesome for thinking a million thoughts. At least I didn’t have to count laps. Counting 4-5km worth of laps in a 50m pool gets pretty monotonous.
Swimming back to the Guam mainland was harder physically but mentally fine. Sighting was a big problem for me because basically all you saw was the giant landmass of the Guam coastline and from Cocos Island it was hard to spot at what landpoint you should be heading for. We had been told to look for a high mountain/peak with antennas/power lines. Do you know how small antennas are when you are 4km away? And floundering in the water, no less. And when you are shortsighted! One of the best things I had done in the lead up to the race was purchase myself prescription lens goggles. What a world of difference they make. If you knew where to aim for, for the finish spot, you could straight-shot the distance back, but if you couldn’t, you could follow the buoys but that was going to be a longer distance. I ended up following the buoys for most of it but kept well clear right of them so I would be in better alignment for the finish goal.
Everything was getting tired. Shoulders and elbows were getting sore. Even my upper legs were weirdly getting sore. Prior to this race, I had never actually swum 8km in one go. The furthest I ever got to was 7km in a single session, and a couple of 6km sessions. I did do 9km in one day but there was split over a 5km morning swim and a 4km afternoon swim, so 8km in one go was definitely testing me physically. I found the first 4km tough mentally though.
The water was definitely choppier as time passed, compared to the morning’s glassy conditions. Not strong chop, but small and steady and there was definitely a current as the tide picked up. It was a beautiful swimming location though, ideal for beginner endurance open water swimmers.
Finish ramp in sight. I was so happy that I had finished it. Done. Completed. Survived. Hell yeah. This had been a bucketlist swim for a while and I was glad it was over.
Lisa had finished 13min prior to me, and took some photos of me coming into the finish line:
In good form, even 8km later:
Shaky legs: Feeling weird to be vertical again.
Start and finish point:
I loved how they had an ambulance ready and waiting at the finish line. Perfect. There was my ride home.
The post-race selfie (to compare with the pre-race one): Feeling pretty damn happy.
I was super happy with the achievement of swimming 8km. Was very pleased with my time of 2hrs 23 min (and 55 seconds). I got 4th female overall. And Lisa and I dominated in our age category. She took 1st place and I took 2nd place. I even scored me a medal! Fancy that (although am still waiting for that to arrive in the post due to a medal mix-up and someone took my medal home). There was also a 20min difference between myself and the 3rd place woman in our age group.
Mind the swollen goggle-y eyes:
There were only 28 starters for the 8km and I came 14th out of all the men and women. About a third of the men were all military dudes as well, so I was up against a strong bunch of swimmers. I’m not your model swimmer. I’m basically a 30-something year old, overweight office worker. Am not tall nor lean nor even that fit, so was happy to just to swim 8km just to finish the race and swim the distance. And let’s face it, it was an excuse to go to Guam. So basically right in the middle. Pretty much an average swimmer but beat half the people there. Such results were unexpected but I was super happy. I had been super worried that I wouldn’t make the cut off time. And I had never swum 8km before either.
My tongue and lips were feeling super funky.
Cocos Island conquered. Looking pretty damn pleased with myself:
Post-race thoughts: They recommend that you be swimming on average 25km per week in training prep for this swim. Whoa. Really?! I had only been doing about 15km per week. The swim conditions were favourable, I thought, compared to a rougher water ocean swim. I didn’t come across any jellyfish which was awesome. Although jellyfish are a problem for this swim. Water was clean and clear. I got few stings/bites from sealice etc which caused some discomfort during the swim. I didn’t do the swim as comfortably as I thought I would have. So yes, I definitely recommend swimming 20-25km a week. I could have trained more, but time constraints make that difficult. I actually felt like I did a lot of training for this swim, but if I had wanted to finish in a faster time and to do it more comfortably, I definitely would need to train more. For my goals, what I did was sufficient and doable. More training would have led to an imbalance in my lifestyle. For 8km, I always knew I could do the distance. It was more a matter of could I do it in the allocated race time limit. I could potentially have shaved off a couple of minutes if I had wanted to. eg reduce rest/fuel time at the turnaround point. Between the 4-8km mark up, I was also taking periodical sips from my second gel. I also took my time in the second half. The second 4km took me about 10 minutes longer to complete than the first 4km.
Overall though, I felt pretty good considering, after the race. I drank lots. Didn’t have much of an appetite until a couple of hours later. It took several hours for my tastebuds to adjust again. Lips were swollen and pruny. I will admit that I must have peed been about 8 times during the race. This is why I love open water swimming as opposed to a pool. But by the time I got out of the water, I was in dire need of an actual toilet. An 8km swim in the open water is definitely going to cause some bowel movement.
It was then back onto the bus for the trip back to Tumon. On the way back, our bus temporarily broke down along the side of the road.
Race started at about 7am and I was done and out of the water by about 9:30am. The day had barely even begun.
Back to the hotel room, for a much needed shower and relax time. We then had a big celebratory lunch.
Cue meat coma. Needed the protein, what can I say.
Thank Guam for US-sized portions!
And I enjoyed a well-deserved massage later that evening. The poor shoulders and arm!
So that’s my main personal big swim race challenge for the year done. I think I’ve decided that I want to do a destination swim every year. It needn’t be a long swim, just a destination swim race.
I have also stupidly signed up for a 10km swim race later on this yea…well, actually in a couple of weeks time. And not just one 10km swim race but 2! One of them is not until later on though so have another 2 months to train to get up to 10km. Ugh. I blame my housemate. Somehow I’ve been roped into doing them. Thus, the swim training continues. Why do I do this to myself?
Local news wrap up of the race.
And I appear in photo 26 of the photo gallery. Not. At. All. Flattering.