29 February 2012

Swimming solo across the Rottnest Channel

It's been a strange few days since swimming across the Rottnest Channel.  I haven't found it easy to put into words, hence the blog post been a little delayed.  I feel a bit of an anti-climax to be honest.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but when you work towards something with such dedication for several months, you think that the world will shift or do something once you hit your goal!  It hasn't.  I remind myself, however, that reaching the destination isn't the goal.  It's achieving all the little milestones along the way.  To feel the achievement of what I've done, I need to think back to October 1st when I wasn't even swimming regularly.  I couldn't complete 400m without stopping to catch my breath.  I was struggling to wake at 5.30am and I felt scared.  I've achieved A LOT.  Swimming solo across the Rottnest Channel in 7 hours and 3 minutes was the culmination of so many little achievements. 

Onto the story of the day....

3.45am the alarm sounds.  I jump out of bed and the first thing I do is don my swimming costume. It's here! The day has come that I'll swim solo across the Rottnest Channel!

All the items I needed were prepared the night so it was just a case of following the routine.

Everyone else in the house stirred awake and fell about their roles for the day. Steve and my parents had to make their way to the Freemantle harbour to board my support boat at 5am. Meanwhile, Grant (my paddler) and I had to make our way to Cottesloe Beach for 4.45am where we'd start the race.

It was still very dark and the roads were eerily quiet.  Janet (Steves mum) came with Grant and I to the start to assist with the final preparations.  We arrived at Cottesloe Beach and unloaded the kayak from the car.  The beach was still fairly quiet but within the space of ten minutes it soon filled to an excited buzz of swimmers, paddlers and supporters!  Grant set himself up while I registered myself - picking up my race tag and getting my race number written on both my arms and hat.  I felt remarkably relaxed and excited.  Looking back, I must have felt very prepared for the challenge ahead.  Janet helped 'grease' me up with sun lotion and vaseline.  You really can't put enough of this stuff on!  

 All greased up and ready to go!

We bumped into Tamera from my training squad and it was great to get ready with her and head to the start line together.  The call came over at 5.30am..'First wave swimmers please make your way to the starting line'.  There were about 100 or so of us in the first wave (all females and seeded males).  At 5.45am, Colin Barnett (Premier of WA) blew the horn for the start!  And we were off..!

The water felt warm and smooth.  It was a barmy 26 degrees.  On either side of us were our paddlers.  I set a plan with Grant that he would situate himself on the far left hand side.  What unfolded, however, was the paddlers and swimmers soon mixing so there was no order.  I lifted my head several times to locate Grant, but with all the paddlers looking quite the same, I ended up putting my head down again and just swimming further out in the hope I would find him.  After ten minutes or so, I saw the balloons on the end of his paddle and we paired up.  The challenge was to then locate the boat.  Unbeknown to us, they had also had their own little challenge and by now were quite anxious about finding us.  I knew my role was to just swim and so that's all I did.  I kept on the course and left it to Grant and Dave (Skipper) to find each other.  Just then...there they were!  Out the corner of my eye I could see Mum, Dad and Steve waving at me..with big smiles!  I settled into a regular stroke and on we went!

 5.30am all the boats waiting for their swimmers!

The course across the Rottnest Channel is a direct line west from Cottesloe Beach to Thompson Bay.  There was, however, a southerly breeze and so the Skipper had to determine the best route across without taking too much deviation.  He decided on taking a northerly route which was the most direct.  We found most of the other swimmers went to the south and so for the for 3 hours or so, we were pretty much on our own.  I kept to a consistent speed.  My stroke rate (arm strokes per minute) was 60 which surprised me a little as it was 48 when I crossed the English Channel.  All those early morning sessions with Vlad squad had really paid off - I was actually faster!  

In the first kilometre of the swim I went head first into a stinger which gave me an unpleasant shock and a sting all across my face.  I thought to myself...'here we go...this is where the challenge begins!'.  I didn't hit another one though so I got myself comfortable again..until...wham...another stinger wrapped itself around under my arm and gave me quite a shock!  I relate the sensation of hitting one of these stingers to having a thousand hot needles suddenly slapped against you.  It's a shock..and a serious one!  Once you're over the initial pain, however, it becomes a rather pleasant distraction!  I was pleased to not encounter any more stingers but I must admit, I did appreciate the stinging which kept my focus away from what may lurk beneath!  

While we're on that matter...there was a period of 5 minutes or so when I was sure something was swimming below me.  I saw a murky shadow come back and forth a few times.  I didn't raise an alarm as I didn't want to make it 'real'.  Instead I convinced myself that it was some seaweed or something I was conjuring up in my imagination.  After the swim I learnt that there were two shark sightings, both hammerheads.  The actual sightings were several kilometres from my positioning at the time, so my crew made a decision to keep it quiet.  They kept excellent poker faces which I'm thoroughly appreciative of!  The only other encounter during the swim was with seaweed..and plenty of it!  

 Good to keep some humour in the face of fear!

I planned to feed every 30 minutes.  On the hour I would have a gel and an electrolyte drink and on the half hour I would have a carb drink.  The first 3 hours went relatively smoothly but from 10km to 15km the swell really picked up and I found myself feeling quite queasy.  After every feed I felt more and more sick and so I started to put them off which in hindsight was not a good move.  My pace slowed from 15-19km slightly and I didn't feel strong which would have partly been due to not taking on the necessary energy.   

 Feed time

The closer we came to the finish, the more markers there were.  Dave's route across the channel took us right past the buoys and as we approached each one I gave a punch in the air - another kilometre passed!  There were buoys at 10km, 12km, 14km and every kilometre from there on to the end.  It's a strange sensation to describe..with hundreds of boats drawing together for the final 5km, there is a building excitement - a tension hanging that the finish is within reach.  I don't consider myself a competitive person and I tend to withdraw myself from situations where there is a competitive tension.  I couldn't withdraw from this one though!  It was either swim or sink and I definitely wasn't doing the latter.  I felt impatient that we were so close and yet there was still 3km or so to swim.  I could smell the end...and yet I still had an hour left of swinging my arms over.  Would this ever stop I asked myself?  There was a period about 17km or so when I kept stopping and popping my head up.  With so much going on I wanted to be a part of it..not buried face down in the murky water all on my own!  Stopping was getting me nowhere though..I had to swim!   

Swim Rose...swim!

Coming into the final stretch is quite a scene!  Hundreds of boats, paddlers and swimmers draw together as the course narrows to a 400m channel where the swimmer goes solo.  1000m out my support boat strips off.  I waved to Mum, Dad and Steve and they parted to make their way to the shore.  Grant stayed with me for another 600m and then parted himself.  I was left to complete the final bit of my own.  My arms wouldn't go any faster although I knew I was just on the edge of 7 hours!  I hit sand and staggered up.  I felt quite wobbly and a little dazed.  I was ushered through the finish arch by some volunteers who guided me to some chairs where I just slumped and gazed ahead.  I could hear cheers behind me as my support crew had run to the finish to see me over!  As I sat there, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion rise from the pit of my stomach and all of a sudden I was crying uncontrollably.  Where had this come from I thought?  The volunteers looking after me tried to console me, thinking I was disappointed with my time!  I was absolutely delighted with 7 hours (my estimated time pretty much to the minute!).  I think the emotion I felt was drawn from the fact I was able to stop.  The last few kilometres I had dug so deep. I had to keep focused. I had to keep swimming.  I had no choice.  The relief of being able to just stop and be ok was extraordinary.  

Solo swimmer!

So I did it! 7 hours and 3 minutes.  I swam across the Rottnest Channel.  I do remember having a thought around half way that this was a goal of mine when I first moved to Australia four years ago.  And here I was doing it!  I felt proud of myself.  I enjoy seeing a challenge through.  I enjoy the satisfying nature of having a goal that's out of reach but with hard work and determination it becomes a goal that you can grab with both hands and never let go of.  I've thoroughly enjoyed this journey.  I've made some fabulous friends in Sydney, I've tapped into a tremendous community of swimmers and I've enjoyed sharing my thoughts through this blog.  The biggest take out from this adventure of mine is the reminder that if you allow yourself to learn a habit, develop a discipline and maintain focus, then anything is possible....anything!

Thank you's

Dave (Skipper) & Anthony (Co-Skipper) - Dave, with his boat 'Gone', & Anthony led me on a fantastic course across the Channel.  An encouragement from the word go and a tremendously generous pair.
Grant (Paddler) - 'The Protector'.  Not for one moment did I ever feel vulnerable or in danger.  A perfect guide and motivator.
Mum & Dad (Support crew) - Who flew in from the UK to be on the boat.  So wonderful to see their faces smiling as I made my way across the Channel.
Steve (Support crew, boyfriend, motivator and all round legend) - A huge support throughout all my training.  Never grumbled once about my early nights, my early mornings, my 'no alcohol' rule, my anxiety and my need to always be in control! . Always there by my side right up to the finish.
Janet & Doug (Support team) - A tremendous support from start to finish, it was a delight to share the adventure with you.
Peter & Alison - For your invaluable support in finding a boat and all your encouragement.
You - You read my blog, you sent me messages of support, you encouraged me and you believed in me. Thank you!

24 February 2012

Getting a taste for what to expect on Sat'dee!

I'm in Perth!  One step (or would that be armstroke?) closer to Rottnest Island.  We're staying in a beautiful cottage in Freemantle - my whole support crew.  There's my folks who have flown in from the UK, Judy & Charles, Steve's parents, Doug & Janet, my paddler, Grant, my boyfriend, Steve and me the swimmer!  Last night we hosted a BBQ and met the Skipper Dave and his Co-Skipper Anthony.  I feel absolutely 100% confident in my team and I'm really excited to share the day with them.

I've put together a vlog post for you this time - a way for you to feel closer to the experience.  I hope you enjoy! Click here or image below

Follow me @roselevien for updates during the swim!

16 February 2012

Staying in control

This morning we had a 4km set ahead of us.   It was pretty laid back, nothing too strenuous - 1500m warm up, 4x 50s, 100m, 4x50s, 100m, 5x 200s and finish off with a 1000m cool down.  We were reminded by our coach Vlad, that's it's not about the muscle anymore..it's all about the mind.  This is where I confess and say that I got out after 3km.  I couldn't finish it.  For the whole time by mind was whirling with negative thoughts, I was convincing myself that I can't do this.  It felt damaging and so I just got out.  I know that's OK as it's best to acknowledge those thoughts, deal with them and then move on.  I just thought I'd share this as now is probably the toughest time for me at the moment, it's the hardest part of the whole challenge!  

If you know me well, you'll know my habits leading up to something big.  I'm very good at planning and organising (hence Event Manager!), but I do get nervous and stressed on the final run up to an event, a big swim, a dinner that I'm hosting...  I start to lose focus and doubt myself.  My body tenses and this has a knock on impact with my health.  I am incredibly lucky with this particular challenge to have THE Steve Hopkins by my side who has been a tremendous support in reminding me to relax and trust myself

So my focus over the next 9 days is...keeping the focus!!  I've taken a day off work tomorrow to enjoy myself.  I'm not training in the morning so I can have a sleep in!  I've then booked a facial and hair appointment and I have a date with my gorgeous boyfriend in the evening.  It's going to be a opportunity for my mind & body to rest.  I have to trust myself that I can done all the preparation required and I am able to achieve this.  There's nothing else to worry about!

Keeping the focus!

14 February 2012

What does one take on a 20km swim?

I think it will surprise many the amount of 'stuff' needed to complete a 20km swim.  I often get asked the question..'Do you eat..and how?' and 'You wear a wetsuit..right?'...  Let me break it down for you here...

What do I eat?

1. Food.  Ocean races often start very early.  Rotto starts at 5.45am so I'll probably wake about 4am and throw something back like a mashed banana on wholemeal bread with a dribble of honey!  Throughout the swim I'll be using gels as my main source of energy.  Energy gels are essentially concentrated drinks of about 100 calories each, and nearly all need to be taken with water so that they digest properly. I'll consume these every 45 minutes or so depending how my energy levels feel.  I also enjoy a chocolate bar or two when I'm swimming in the sea!  There's something about eating chocolate with a bit of salty sea water!  Try it some day.

2. Fluids.  Plenty of them!  I'll have an hi-carbohydrate drink already made up beside my bed so when I wake I'll reach down and start drinking! Throughout the swim I'll likely alternate between a hi-carb fluid and an electrolyte mix.  Maintaining the level of electrolytes in my body is vital as a decrease can cause things like cramp and de-hydration.  In ocean swimming it's often the case that the sea water you consume along the way has enough salt in it to replace your electrolytes, but they're so important it's a risk to not take an additional supplement!

What do I wear?
I'll be wearing a standard swimsuit, one swim-hat, goggles and ear plugs. There are regulations around what you can wear.  This is the last year that swimmers will have the option to wear a swim skin which is handy in protecting your body from the stingers, keeping the sun off and also keeping you warm if you're prone to getting cold after a few hours swimming.  I've decided not to wear one of these suits.  I enjoy feeling the water against my skin and being at one with it so if that means suffering numerous stingers and getting some interesting tan marks, then so be it! 

What protection do I use?
Strange question you may be thinking..!  Once you enter the water you're on your own!  That means that no one else can touch you and you can't get back on the boat to sort something out.  Everything needs to be done before you dip that toe in!  Two important items of protection for me are:

1. Vaseline.  I cover myself in it!  I don't hold back, I literally get hands full of the stuff and smother every inch of my body.  It reduces any kind of chaffing and also provides some tiny barrier from the stingers!  

2. Sunscreen.  I start applying this from the moment I wake up so my body absorbs as much of the stuff as possible.  7-8 hours in the Perth sun without the ability to re-apply sunscreen is definitely going to give me some interesting tan lines but I can reduce the burning effect by lathering on as much of the stuff as possible.

What other useful items do I take?
  • Panadol.  Helps relieve tension headaches or painful shoulders!
  • Sea-Sickness tablets.  Yes!  I get sea sick when I'm swimming  Sounds bizarre but it's a huge reality for me.  During my English Channel swim I was throwing up for 6 hours.  Apart from the risk of de-hydrating, it's actually very unpleasant.  I managed to pull a few stomach muscles by constantly being sick and so I'm hoping that I'll be less vulnerable to it this time round. 
  • Antihistamine.  Great to use if you react to stingers..and I do!
  • Stingose.  Again..great to relieve those stingers!
  • Ventoline inhaler.  I have asthma and so it's vitally important I have one of these close by, although I've never experienced any kind of breathing problems with swimming.  It's actually said that swimming is the best sport for asthmatics..looks like I chose well!
  • Warm clothes for the finish.  A warm hat and clothes are important.  Although it's likely to be 30+ degrees in Perth, after 7-8 hours in the sea, the body temperature may have dropped very slightly.  The body can also continue to lose heat quite quickly after a swim, so keeping the head and chest warm are important steps to a full recovery.
What does my crew take?
The all important crew!  I couldn't do it without them..and so..it's VERY important to keep them happy! Sitting on a small boat for up to 8 hours is no easy feat. They'll have a big bag full of food and plenty of water. They'll also have a whiteboard in case they fancy writing me a message or two!

Any other questions please fire them at me @roselevien or email roselevien@gmail.com.

11 days to go!

8 February 2012

Trust yourself

I'm reading a book at the moment called 'The Speed of Trust' by Stephen M. R. Covey.  Last week I met with a former colleague, Andrew McKenzie, to share what we've drawn from the first few chapters.  We both established that within the first chapter alone, we were already looking at our relationships at work and at home and how the word 'trust' now seemed to have a connection with pretty much everything we do.  As the book claims...it's the one thing that changes everything.  The reason I raise it here is because earlier this week my swimming coach bellowed out to me... 'Trust yourself Rose!' 

When I started my training for Rotto back in October I quite rightly placed myself at the back of the slowest lane.  I did struggle to keep up and I had to stop often to catch my breath.  The last time I'd trained in a squad was four years ago, leading up to the English Channel swim.  After a few weeks my strength returned and I felt at ease with the water again.  After about 3 months, I was the fastest in the lane.  What I reflect on now is my behaviour everytime I arrived at squad - even though I was the fastest in the lane, I would still place myself at the back and often get very frustrated at the fact I couldn't go my normal speed.  I didn't trust myself that I could lead the lane and keep the pace!

While reflecting on how I handle swim squad, I've looked back at how I do the same with so many parts of my life.  I vividly remember a parents evening at school when I was 15.  We had a 1-2-1 with my history teacher, who I greatly admired.  He said 'Rose often knows the answer, but never raises her hand to offer it'.  I used to sit in class and wait for someone else to speak the answer..just in case I got it wrong!  Sometimes we'd wait a couple of minutes..even when I knew the answer but never said anything!  Fifteen years on I don't think I have changed this about myself, but I think my increased confidence has guided me to where I am now.  I have wondered in the last week, however, if I truly trusted myself, what is the extent of what I can actually achieve.  Have I jeopardised my potential purely because I haven't trusted myself?

This is a big lesson for me and something I'll be reflecting on for quite a while.  Meanwhile..I'm now swimming in lane 2 and I will make a conscious effort to trust myself and see where it leads!

"Trust yourself..you know more than you think you do"  
- Benjamin Spock

Swimming in Oulu, Finland, where the water temp is -0.1 degrees

27 January 2012

I care. And so I swim.

I'm a big believer in that if you're doing something extra-ordinary for yourself, use the opportunity to give something extra-ordinary back! 

And that's exactly what I'm doing here.  In my efforts to cross the Rottnest Channel, I'm asking friends, family and colleagues to support me by making a donation to World Vision Australia.

Funds raised will go towards providing life-saving food aid and relief essentials in countries where people are in desperate need of assistance.

Did you know that EVERY DAY 925 million people wake up without enough food to eat?  It's hard to comprehend what that actually looks like.  Think about the people in your office, the people in your neighbourhood, in your city, in your State.  Think about the entire population of Australia and multiply that by a whopping 42!  I still find this hard to grasp.

My target is to reach $2000 for World Vision which will help them distribute up to $20,000 worth of food aid.  That's enough to feed 400 families for one whole month.

Do something extra-ordinary here:

"I can't do everything for everyone, but I can do something for someone" - Bob Pierce, Word Vision Founder
More information on World Vision and how the above appeal works click here.

26 January 2012

An epic swim..for more reasons than one!

I'm a bit slow in writing this up but couldn't pass without reporting on the epic 5 hour swim last weekend!  This was and will probably remain the longest swim we'll do in the lead up to the Rotto swim.  I'll start with my preparation the night before.  I have to be honest and admit I do get quite nervous before these swims even though I've done many - especially leading up to my English Channel swim.  The anticipation mainly about what the conditions are going to be like makes me quite anxious.  My routine essentially involves drinking lots of water the day before so I'm fully hydrated.  Eating a good carb dinner like spag bol and most importantly getting an early night!  I lay out all my kit and 'feeds' the night before so I don't have to think in the morning.

For this particular swim I was picking up Marty, a fellow Rotto aspiree and we made our way together to Balmoral Beach.  We got there just in time to organise our feeds with Charm - ensuring that our bottles and gels were labelled with our names and the number corresponding to the hour we wanted feeding!  I can't help but make it sound like feeding time in a zoo...which is basically is!

Our course for the 5 hours covered a 3.5km lap.  There were about 15 of us that started together at 7am.  We tend to form ourselves into smaller groups based on our speeds.  I'm generally quite slow so don't always complete the 3.5km lap before the faster swimmers come back.  On this occasion we had a few paddlers with us which was great!  It's reassuring to have a paddler next to you and means you can 'get in the zone' without having to worry too much about boats or those 'guys in grey suits'!

We practiced our 'feeds' in the deep water which meant that every hour Charm came out on her paddle board with a floating 'bar' full off gels, bananas, drinks and sometimes chocolates!  We hustled around the floating bar like seals knocking backs our feeds so we could be on our way again.  It's good to practice quick feeds as when you're in the Channel, it's easy to drift off course if you're not head down swimming.

Feeding time!

Yes, that's me...!

A question I get asked all the time with swims of this distance is 'What do you think about?'.  It's actually hard to recall what exactly I think about on these swims, mainly because the thoughts last only a minute or maybe less until I'm thinking about something else.  They vary from things like...'Is that a boat engine I can hear?'...to...'I wonder what I should call my next blog post?'.  I learnt very early on in my English Channel training that I can't expect to really think something through while I'm swimming.  I remember trying this on a four hour swim in Dover once.  I was trying to solve a work issue, but it drained me and meant I couldn't find that comfortable zone.  I ended up getting out after an hour and sitting on the beach watching everyone else complete the swim.  I was devastated and from then on, I decided that on longer swims I would 'switch off' and not commit to thinking about anything.  Just swim.  

I felt great on this 5 hour swim.  I found my rhythm and after about 2 hours I felt myself getting stronger which is exactly where I want to be.  The first couple of hours are always a bit tough.  the body is warming up, everything feels sore and the body feels like it's fighting the water a little.  I enjoy longer swims, as you hit that moment when you feel at one with the water.  I love this quote which sums it up...
"The water is your friend...you don't have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water and it will help you move." - Alexandr Popov
So, a wonderful swim but it wasn't without it's challenges!  The biggest one for me was dealing with all the sea lice.  These aren't exactly 'lice' - they are immature larval forms of parasitic flatworms - they become trapped underneath your bathing suit and proceed to penetrate your skin and sting you!  They were everywhere!  And I felt them stinging for the entire 5 hours.  I then proceeded to do all the wrong things when I left the water and spent the following two days wanting to rip my skin off!  Needless to say, I now know what not to do when I get stung.  If you haven't heard about sea lice..check it out especially if you're prone to allergic reactions!

Oh..it's all a learning experience and I'm embracing it all!  4 weeks to go!