Pier to Pub: Swimming In A Pack With The Thousands Is Great Fun

Hundred's of ocean swimmers grouped together as they swim the ocean swim event.
Pack swimming can be tough – check out our Top Tips below!

Lining up for the start of arguably the biggest ocean swim event as far as the number of participants go (5000 in total) was one thing that stands out in my mind about the 2012 Lorne Pier to Pub race.

With my adrenaline pumping, the amazing atmosphere and being surrounded by hundreds of people who were lining up for the start on the ramp, so their timing chips could be activated before they enter the water, was a great experience. Everyone was motivated to complete the course for many different reasons.

With a slight North easterly swell pushing towards the finish line and being one of the stronger swimmers trying to avoid accidently running into swimmers from the wave ahead of me, I decided to position myself wide of the buoy line (towards the end of the pier) for the deep water start.

My plan worked well and I was pleased with the way I swam. I completed the race in a little over 13 minutes was good enough to win my category (40-49 years male).  As soon as I crossed the line, I was given a ticket with my position and a time of when I needed to be at the presentation (which was only 30 minutes after I had finished the event).  The organisation of this massive event was fantastic.

Something else I enjoyed was watching the masses of swimmers of all ages and abilities coming in to complete the race.  The spectators who were lined along each side of the finish line, cheering and encouraging all participants, was also something I’ll always remember about this race.  If you were one of those people, good job!

If you are an ocean swimmer, I’d highly recommend that all of you give this iconic swim, held annually at the beginning of January a go. Yes, the water is a bit cool (16-17 degrees Celsius), however it is a wetsuit optional race, with many choosing to use one to contribute to making the swim more bearable and pleasant.

Thanks to the water safety people who made all of us feel safe in the water, the volunteers who worked behind the scenes, did registrations, handed out water, etc, to ensure the event ran smoothly and successfully, as well as the organisers from Lorne S.L.S.C.  I’m sure this event will still be going strong for at least another 32 years.

Top Tips For Swimming In A Pack

When you are in races where there are a large number of participants you will often find yourself swimming in a large pack full of people and feeling a lot like being in a washing machine! Use these tips to deal with pack swimming.

  • You can make large energy savings if you swim behind a swimmer who is a little faster than you. Get yourself into a position where the tips of your fingers are nearly brushing the toes of the swimmer in front of you. This is known as wash riding. When you are in a big group it is fairly easy to do and many of the swimmers used this strategy in the race to maximise their personal performance.
  • Learn to raise your head and shoulders out of the water higher than normal, but as part of your normal stroke, to get above the additional white-wash for clear air to breathe. Try it as part of your sighting technique.
  • If you’re not comfortable being in the middle of a pack, wait until the majority of swimmers have started and slip in behind them. Alternatively, try and start on the side of the group.
  • Be prepared to be kicked and hit by the arms of other swimmers – it’s pretty much enviable so be tough!
  • If you find yourself stuck in the middle of a pack and you don’t like it, don’t stop and breaststroke – you’ll end up kicking people behind you. Either make your way to the side, or stop and float vertically and let swimmers past.

Better Swimming – It’s All In Your Head!

Many swimmers, even quite experienced ones instinctively fight gravity to avoid sinking when they swim. We witness a kind of ‘survival’ stroke action, which is unsustainable over longer distances.

This ‘fight’ can be identified by a high head position, low hips and even lower legs. The resulting sloped body position causing a drag effect. Very tiring drag!

In contrast to this, when we achieve a balanced state in the water, we provide ourselves with physical control and mental calm. When we learn to relax, our bodies sink into the support of the water – not unlike the feeling of weightlessness.

How can you achieve a balanced body in the water?

Think of an old fashioned weighing scale, equal mass on each side, giving us balanced plates. Take a weight from one side and we get imbalance. One plate up, one plate down.

Check out this video:

How many times do I hear the comment ‘my legs just sink when I swim, I have to kick them so hard to keep them up, then I get out of breath….’

It’s what is happening at the other end that needs attention. When your head is high, or you’re looking forwards, your legs are likely to sink. It’s an action re-action thing – Newton’s 3rd law, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (that has a negative effect on my swimming!! Hmmm!)

And then….. when your legs sink, your brain tells you to kick them to keep them up. Which in turn, sends our oxygen consumption and heart rate through the roof! Not so good!

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re swimming up hill, hauling your body mass through the water. Just like the video clip?

Neutral Spine

When we walk around during the day, or sit (correctly) with good posture our spine is said to be in a ‘neutral’ position. This is exactly what we need to do when we swim.

Can you imagine what you would feel like if you walked around all day, with your eyes looking up, your neck extended back? Yet this is what most of us do when we swim. Ouch!

Just let it go! Let go of that tense neck position and let your gaze release down to the bottom of the pool, feel the crown of your head leading the way through the water, not your forehead.

Try this ‘Push Off’ Drill

Push off from the side of the pool, arms relaxed and in front of your shoulders. Kick your legs, try to keep moving. Hold your head with the water line on your forehead, looking forwards, arms stay out in front. Stand up calmly before your breath runs out.

How does it feel?

Repeat. But this time, after a few meters, drop your head, release your neck, let it go, look down, don’t force – just release it.

What sensations to you feel in your body? Which position feels better?

Finally push off again, arms relaxed and in front of your shoulders, with a neutral relaxed spine, gaze down. Kick gently. Repeat several times so that your brain is rewired to this new position.

How did our swimmer in the video go?

Check out his progress after we did some work on balance, and other key TI elements.


How Far Could You Swim Out To Sea?

I had a private lesson today in which I was helping a participant overcome her ocean anxiety.

One of the challenges was the transition from the relative safety of the shallow water, to the deeper water behind the wave zone.

Today we made it out a lot further than yesterday, we hung out for a short time to acclimatize, and then when the anxiety came back we made our way back to shore.

We’ll keep working on this and in no time she’ll be swimming out through the waves and along the back like a seasoned pro!

The sun rising on the horizon over the ocean.
Swimming off towards the horizon – how far could you swim before you got too anxious?

But this got me thinking…

Managing Cold Water Swimming Injuries

A man diving into an ice water pool.
This might be a bit too cold for swimming…

As official Physio’s for the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Ironman and Ironwoman series we often find ourselves in colder locations (like Portsea, Vic) and despite what many think, in terms of Physio, the biggest concern for competitors in locations like Portsea is not the surf, but in fact the cold.

To be even more specific it’s not the air temperature but the water temp that knocks so many athletes around and can do far more damage than most would be aware.

This is true for anyone who swims in the cold water. Cold water immersion is the quickest way to cool the bodies core temperature. It’s why when you need to cool your beers at a party it’s far better to throw them in a bucket of ice and water, than put them in the freezer. Even though the freezer in temperature is cooler. (Just a tip for young players).

When these top ironman athletes are racing multiple times over a day it creates a problem for them to stay warm for the full day. The biggest concern is Hypothermia and what so many people don’t realise is that dehydration speeds the process of Hypothermia up. By having decreased fluid in the body, it is not able to generate the same heat to stay warm and so cools faster. For this reason remaining hydrated and constantly sipping on a drink bottle in the cold is just as important as doing so in the heat.

Hypothermia is also one of those conditions that far too many people don’t realise they are suffering from it until it is too late. So prevention is far better than treatment.

Once you become too cold the body has to work extra hard to stay warm, which in turn means you are using far more energy to race and stay active and so you fatigue quicker.

Muscle functions deteriorate with shivering as well, and you lose of fine motor ability, progressing to stumbling, clumsiness, and falling.

The other concern is that all soft tissue, like muscles, tendons and ligaments, are elastic in nature, and so lose elasticity when cold. So their ability to stretch and repeatedly contract is reduced, and by continuing to force it increases the risk of a tear or snap.

A good example would be to get two rubber bands, put one in the sun and the other in the freezer for an hour.

Then after the hour stretch both the rubber bands and see what one stretches easier. You could also see how far you could stretch both until they snapped. Invariably the cold rubber band will be stiffer and snap a lot easier than the warm one, and this is the same with your muscles.

So despite the obvious thrills and spills that can sometimes be created by the big Portsea swell, the real danger and the real key to mastering Portsea has to do with how you manage the cold water. The winners and losers will largely be decided by how well each athlete handles the cold and not just the swell.

Don’t Stop Swimming Because Of Sexy Shark Attacks

Shark Attack!

A surfer was attacked by a shark at Avoca Beach on the Central Coast this week. Aerial patrols have since spotted several sharks in the area ‘aggressively’ chasing schools of fish. The result was massive media hysteria in the newspapers, on the television news and on the radio. For what? An ‘attack’ that didn’t even require stitches and was the equivalent of a mild dog bite?

So what’s the big deal? Well, sharks are sexy and a good sell. We’re all afraid of them and when it comes to fear factor, they’re hard to beat. Two people drowned in rip currents over the holidays, but it barely rated a mention. Rips aren’t sexy.

So let’s talk about the so called shark problem because many of you are probably ocean swimmers or about to become one. And let’s face it, long distance ocean swimming on a glorious sunny day is a fantastic experience until you suddenly see that shadow play on the bottom. It’s probably a cloud, but then again, it could be a…Great White!

I know it’s hard to believe, but sharks live in the ocean. It’s their domain and we’re just another source of food to them.  There’s no aggressive and malevolent attacks or man-eating sharks out there, just big fish looking for a quick meal. And most shark attacks consist of a single bite, because the shark realizes pretty quickly that were not a great source of meat and moves on. Yes, many of those bites can be horrific, but many of them are minor and the chances of it happening to you are minuscule, even if you swim in the ocean every day for the remainder of your life. The odds are well in your favour.

Records on shark attacks in Australia have been documented for a long time, tracing back to the 1700’s. Since that time, an estimated 877 attacks have occurred, of which 25% (215) have been fatal. But in more recent times, shark nets have been introduced offshore and in the last 50 years, there have been 52 fatalities due to shark bites. That’s an average of 1.04 per year.

Purple dye highlights a Rip Current at Tamarama

Let’s put this in perspective, on average about 87 people drown along our coast each year due to various reasons, mostly rip currents. Seems to me there’s a lot more to worry about than sharks.

So I hate to blow the Jaws bubble that we all have lodged in our heads, but sharks just aren’t something we need to worry about too much. Enjoy your swim and get those images of thrashing red water out of your head.  But if you do see a shark zooming in for the kill, attack it first. They’re not used to it. That’s my theory anyway.

10 Tips For Preparing For An Ocean Swim Event

An elderly man putting on his fluro green cap before his ocean swim event.I’ve been to more ocean swimming and surf life saving events than I can remember, and through all those events I’ve managed to lock down my own pre-race prep so I’m ready and raring to go every time.

Here’s my top 10 tips for preparing for an ocean swim:

  1. Before leaving home ensure you have all swim wear (goggles, swimmers,etc), towel, warm clothing, sunscreen, hat, adequate nutrition (food, water, etc) and check weather prediction for the day.
  2. Arrive in plenty of time to allow time for registering and a proper warm up.
  3. Observe the race course and racing conditions.
  4. Plan entry and exit paths (quickest way to first turning buoy, landmarks e.g. buildings to aim for on the way in, etc).
  5. Avoid long periods in the sun where possible.
  6. Keep warm.
  7. Hydrate before you race.
  8. Keep calm and relaxed.  If you find you are too tense take 3 big breaths.
  9. Wash out and then spit in your goggles to ‘antifog’ them, then rinse them well to ensure a fog free race. Note: Don’t clean your goggles with sunscreen on your hands.
  10. Enjoy the race!