The 278.8km man
It was an apparently routine post on Facebook, from Mike Cochrane, a web developer in Auckland who is between jobs right now -
"Today fly Auckland to Wellington...
Ferry to Picton
Stay overnight then Thursday boat to Ship Cove
Ship Cove to at least Black Rock Campsite
Friday complete Queen Charlotte Track to Anakiwa in time for 4pm boat back to Picton
Hopefully walk on to a ferry back to Wellington
Saturday Scorching Events 2km swim
Sunday New Zealand Ocean Swim Series 3.3km and 1km
Fly back to Auckland Sunday afternoon/evening
Apart from all the walking and the connections, the thing that got our attention was the combined 6.3km in three swim events over two days in Wellington.
A couple of weeks ago, Cochrane travelled from Auckland to Lake Taupo, a couple of hours south in the centre of the North island, where he took part in the Epic Swims -
"My age group placings from Saturday: (Cochrane posted on Facebook)
5km: 7th (1:30:25)
10km: 4th (3:13:27)
2.5km: 6th (0:53:53)
Giving Epic Epic 17.5km 8th overall, 4th Male (5:37:35)
Then Masters 2.5km Classic Sunday: 1st in Age group (00:39:36)
Thanks to all my swim friends for an awesome weekend away! - feeling exhausted at Lake Taupo."
Back in October, Cochrane flew from Auckland to Melbourne, then hopped on a train east to Morwell where he swam in the Victorian OW Champeenships. On the Saturday, he swam 10km in 3:12:48.2, and on Sundee, he did the 5km in 1:29:33.9. Then Cochrane hopped on a train into Melbourne, on a bus to Tullamarine, and flew back to Auckland.
Cochrane is a man possessed by a goal: like many of his Kiwi comrades, he's become fascinated by the fine ocean swimmers tallies, and has set himself a target this season of breaking 200km in formal events over the course of a single season.
When we inaugurated the fine ocean swimmers' tallies around ten years ago, the winner was Andrew Burke, a bloke from, of all places, Bathurst, a couple of hours inland in central western NSW, who over the course of that season swam (from memory) about 76km. But he drove 14,000km over the course of the season to get to and from swims. Wherever we bobbed up along the coast over that season, there was Andrew, usually with his wife and daughters in tow.
We've barely seen Andrew since.
Since then, the total distance completed by the tallies winner has crept up gradually, until last season, when Nick McCouat, from Sydney, racked up 185.1km from 43 swims. McCouat had set himself the task of winning the tallies some way through the season. Second place last year was another Kiwi, Geoff Carter, almost 45km behind him.
Over the last few years, as the seasons draw to a close in some parts of Stra'a and NZ, it's looked for a while as if a Kiwi might win them. The reason is to do largely with two mid-week swim series in Auckland, one on the south side of the harbour, the other on the north side, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The swims offered aren't long, but because they're run weekly, the tallies build.
Sadly for the Kiwis, they've never quite managed to win. Their season ends in April, while the NSW season runs through until late May, when South Head offers 11km. Ditto for the Wessna-Stra'ans, who've done well throughout the season by virtue of the series of longer events run by WA Swimming around Perth. In last year's tallies, six of the Top 10 in the fine ocean swimmers tallies were Kiwis. One was from WA, and three were from NSW.
It's hard for anyone from other states to do well because their seasons are relatively short.
But this season, Mike Cochrane, who is single and in his 30s -- his window is open -- has set himself the goal of breaking 200km.
As a web developer, Cochrane obviously is a skilled project manager. He has his season mapped out on a spreadsheet, listing all the swims in which he intends to take part, their web addresses, contacts, and entry details. When we met with him in Auckland in October, he'd already entered most of the swims, and he'd booked his travel and accommodation.
Cochrane began with Magnetic Island last winter, before Samoa in August. We met him first in Fiji, at Mana Island, in September, where he did 18km over two days. When we met him later in Auckland, he was up to 67.8km, with the home seasons yet to commence. As of today, Cochrane's running tally is 144.3km.
In Auckland in October, his projected entry costs for the season were around $NZ2,200, which means each of his's targeted 200km will cost Cochrane a bit over $NZ10. He expected accommodation to cost him $NZ3,900, and are fares and other transport around $NZ3,500.
As of today, Cochrane says he's entered 75 swims (completed 38 at an average 3.8km). He'd planned to do 81 swims throughout the season, which ends on May 31, although there are some clashes so he may not get them all in. The projection now may be closer to 74 swims and -- if he does them all -- 278.8km. So far, he says, he's paid $NZ3,500 for entries, spent $NZ7,500 on transport, and $NZ5,000 on accommodation. He has only a couple of nights left to book. He's been to Stra'a twice (Magnetic Island and Victoria), and is heading back to Perth next month for the Rottnest Channel Swim. He's been to Fiji once and Samoa three times, with two more Samoa trips to come.
Some people spend their money on beer; some snort it up their nose, albeit not ocean swimmers.
"I could be saving for a house instead of swimming. This year, it will be a savings-neutral year."
How does he do it?
"I know what my body can do. Most of it is beating the mental barrier."
The surprise to us is that Cochrane has never had a siwmming lesson. He's never done a squad and he's never had a coach. He rarely swims in a pool. Most of his "training" swims are in Auckland's eastern bays, which is generally flat water with little, if any swell and negligible visibility. It's a harbour. You can't see the bottom, or anything much, in a harbour.
"I'd rather be out there doing 3km in the open water than up and down in a pool. It's quiet and peaceful. My phone doesn't ring.
"Me and a pool is not not the thing. Smooth water is boring. My stroke goes to pieces. I'm better in swell and chop.
"It makes me focus. I have to work on my technique.
"In Melbourne (he means Morwell's Hazelwood Pondage), I found my forearms getting sore. Then I realised I wasn't kicking. So I brought my kick back in and I fixed it."
You might wonder whether Cochrane is a bloke with issues, such as obsession, but he doesn't come across that way. He sees his little challenge as his project for the year, useful when he's between jobs, particularly. And when he's achieved it, he will move on. Most of the winners of the fine ocean swimmers tallies over the years have been like this.
But Cochrane is a geek, and we can call him that because he acknowledges it himself (his personal website is mikenz.geek.nz). When we met him in Fiji in September, he was trialling a device that fits over the goggles and tells you whether you're swimming off course. It's GPS-guided, and when you round a booee, you head in the direction you wish to swim, and after a few strokes, the device picks it up and tells you when you drift off course. That fits with the IT background, perhaps. Since then, he's acquired a 3D printer which he's used to print "a simple gimbal" fo rhis feeding pole. Check it out... Click here
Unlike many of his compatriots, Cochrane likes to swim newd (sans wettie), which we respect.
One of the aspects of the fine ocean swimmers tallies that captured the Kiwis' imagination is the prize of a trip to Vanuatu or Fiji for the winner. Last season, in recognition of their ultimately futile efforts, we introduced a special travel prize for the 1st New Zealander, won eventually by former HR director with the Kiwi Bill, Wayne Annan. While we heard little from them over the d'tch throughout the season, we certainly heard from the runner-up at the end, furious that we'd added a swim that that swimmer hadn't known about, while Wayne did. It allowed him to clinch the title, the argument went.
We knew then that they were paying attention.
Last year, Nick McCouat couldn't take the travel prize, so it slipped down to 2nd placegetter on the tallies, another Kiwi, Geoff Carter. This year, Mike Cochrane has known from the start that he won't take the prize, either. He's planning to do the 8 Bridges Swim over 120 miles in the Hudson River, in New York, from June 7-14, which is precisely when the Vanuatu Open Water Swims take place in Port Vila followed by Espiritu Santo Swim Week.
On the strength of that, he could win the tallies again next year, too.