March 1-2, 2014

Melbourne Swim Classic and Barney Mullins Classic, Freshwater


Book 5: The Year of Mixing Things Up

Chapter 11: New Kids on the Block

 freshwater 14 rain front
The proscenium arch descends, as the curtain, at Freshwater.

Check our movie from the Barney Mullins Classic at Freshwater... click here

I may have been responsible for strongly encouraging (read, conning) a pirate team mate into taking on his first five kilometre swim this week. Let’s think about this…. if you can easily cover 3.2 km at Port Melbourne to Williamstown the week before and smash out 2.8km at squad on a regular basis at the high end of your vomit scale, five kilometres should be a piece of cake, right?

We were again spoilt for choice with two organisations running events this weekend, with a smorgasbord of race distances to have a crack at. Following this year’s racing focus, I headed off to St Kilda with said conned Pirate team mate “Bones” to experience the new kid on the block, the inaugural Melbourne Swim Classic. Sentimentally, I’d usually have headed to one of my local beaches for the ‘Club to Club’ swim (Edithvale to Aspendale) supporting two lifesaving clubs looking after our bay shores, but I left that in the capable hands of other pirate team mates, while I tried this new event on for size.

You couldn’t have ignored this swim if you’d tried. The marketing of this privately organised race has been relentless, with a marquee set up at most of the other races over the season, spruiking this virgin event. Facebook has been flooded with #swimspirational quotes, as has Twitter. Driven with a charity fundraising emphasis, the main idea of this race has been to “bring new people into the sport of open water swimming”. Numbers for yesterday’s swim were generally healthy at 313 participants over six different distances: 5km, 2.5km, 400m, 100m, a 4 x 400m club relay (although looking at the results, there were no participants in this race) and the ever popular 1.2km that had the largest attendance with 180 swimmers. Set next to the St Kilda Safe Harbour on St Kilda beach, with the board walk (the soon to be finisher’s chute of the Melbourne Ironman) and the St Kilda Sea Baths beside, the grassy knoll had a swim festival type of feel with tables, chairs and umbrellas set up, a huge blow up slide for the kids and 7m water trampolines for the some splashing good fun (not that they were in the water while I was there).

The five kilometre and the two and a half kilometre races were the first to start, with thirty-one and forty-eight participants in each race. Registration for our race didn’t open until half an hour before the proposed time (a much too short time line in my experience) and consequently the race start was delayed for half an hour, citing water safety wasn’t ready (not off to such a great start). We were there an hour and a half before our race started and things did seem to be running at a very slow pace, with not much even set up at that time. Unfortunately for competitors like us, timing can be an issue; lots of people rely on a stable timeline to arrange pre-race nutrition and preparation. Loads of us are creatures of habit and have a pre-race ritual to go through; it’s hard to do that while you’re standing in a line of twenty people plus at that time.

Race briefing was on the boardwalk in front of the beach (also not a great location as the general public are moving through that area on their roller blades, bikes, scooters, skateboards, with their prams, dogs and their lattes in hand). This briefing needed to be supported by a race map for all to visually see (not provided anywhere) or an IRB to move through the course for competitors to see the direction and the actual buoys to swim around. I noticed there were LOTS of questions about where to swim and the direction to go in, a sign that the briefing wasn’t clear enough.

Five short minutes later (not really long enough to warm up) we were off. Luckily for me, I’m a swimmer at the rear so I had other people to follow; the course soon became clear to me. This five kilometres race was split up as: 100m + 4 x 1200m + 100m. It ran anti-clockwise and very close to shore (the second buoy, later moved, was in shallow water and allowed swimmers to porpoise around it.) Rachel (a newbie swimmer about to attempt her first 400m swim) tweeted me before the race wondering about the water conditions; it was perfectly calm early on with a slight chop moving through by lap three. I wore a wetsuit again, jelly fish being this superhero’s kryptonite. I did encounter a few as I passed through the laps but wasn’t wigged out like last week.

freshwater 14 03 dh
But it's noice in. (Glistening Dave Photograrph.)

The lifesaving crew from Portsea Surf Life Saving Club circled around and around with us so we were never on our own. The lying down yellow turning buoys were a bit tricky to spot along the course, but bright orange guide buoys were effective. At one stage on lap three I really thought I’d lost the plot and was seeing flying people out to sea. “This is not good Chester,” I said to myself. “Maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew?” I went through my usual self-awareness check: eyesight was fine; I could still see the other competitors just in front of me; I wasn’t dehydrated as I could still feel a full-ish bladder; My arms felt relatively good and my technique was not dropping too much; I could still keep a count in my head and not miss numbers and I was definitely still making forward progress. Maybe I was hallucinating? It got the better of me and I stopped swimming for a minute and looked. No I wasn’t seeing things, off to my right just forty metres from me was a man fly boarding, being thrust up into the air by a high pressure water throttle system that launches the rider up, up, up into the sky. I’ve seen a lot of things whilst swimming; I certainly didn’t think I’d see that!

I had shared my race strategy with Rachel via tweet before I began “Start – Swim – Finish”, and that’s exactly what I did. I was met by Bones, who finished well before me, looking a little vague but smiling all the same. Five kilometres felt like an eternity today. He asked me, “Do you think you could keep on swimming and go further?” I replied, “If I had to save myself and swim a further kilometre, I could (but not very quickly or happily)”. He agreed. Maybe there were longer races in us yet?

Speaking of longer races, Floyd (race organiser) tells me that a ten kilometre race definitely is in the planning stages for next year. We’ve discussed whether it would be a point-to-point race or an eight lap course. Personally, after today I’d definitely like to see a point-to-point race. Trying to keep a count of four laps is difficult enough, let alone eight. Larger numbers would see that course very congested, too, and, talking to a couple of five kilometre participants post-race, they probably wouldn’t enter an eight lap course for the boredom factor alone.

freshwater 14 course cook
CanTooer Kim Cook's course at Freshwater... Kim says, "I clocked in at 1.7k exactly. The organisers clocked it at 1.6 apparently.  Mark Ellis, as always, clocked more than me at 1.8+ (draw your own conclusions about satellites or swimming direction - after I consistently clock less than him each swim! Do I swim straighter or have different satellite stations?!)".

The 1.5km race, with its one hundred and eighty odd competitors, had an unusual point of difference with its age groupings: 12-14,15-17,18-35,36-45,46-55, 56-65, 65+. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it broken up that way. I couldn’t stick around for this race so can’t comment on how it went but I’d love to know what other competitors thought. Many of the podium place getters from other swims were given a free entry to this event in their prize packs, so it had the potential to be a highly competitive race.

Overall, I enjoyed the race but I’d like to see some improvement on lots of logistical things before it grew any bigger. It had a great festival feel and reeked of great marketing strategies but does need to fine tune from a sports event perspective, and it felt a little out of touch from a participant perspective (small things like having the fruit waiting at the finish line for competitors, rather than in the goody bag that is now stowed away in the “clock room”; sugar and food are high on a person’s list of needs straight after a five kilometre race.) I’m sure the organisers are more than aware that Victoria has some extremely stiff competition when it comes to excellent open water swimming events and I’m hoping they’ll look for and take on board the feedback given to make next year even better that this year’s event.

It was also wonderful to see my new twitter friend Rachel enjoyed her race, completing her first 400m race successfully. Awesome work, Rachel! Glad to see you, too, have some bigger plans for your open water swimming future.

This race has set the wheels in motion for Bones and I to consider longer races in the future. I mean, how hard can a ten kilometre race really be? (She asks after a night of painful shoulders and not even making it close to eight o’clock, crashing and burning by five pm). I certainly missed not doing the Mt Martha five kilometre in January and being at the Rottnest Island race this year so maybe it’s time to set the bar a little higher and go a little longer?

Next week, I’m heading off the Sorrento for the ever delightful Pier to Perignon. Four kilometres of picturesque swimming along the bay coast line to Portsea, what a stunning way to start to draw my summer /autumn racing season to a close. This race has nothing at all to do with mixing it up and has everything to do with just swimming… for the love of it.

Just a few photos from today, rather overcast first thing in the morning as you can see... click here

Results... click here

Till next week Thrill Seekers,

Longer…. Stronger.

Nicole Chester


Barney Mullins Classic, Freshwater

Swimmin' in the rain

freshwater 14 01 dh
Show us your huddled masses, and... we'll show you a piece of art from Glistening Dave.

Looking through the results from Freshwater today, we notice there were 47 punters who entered this swim, but apparently didn't turn up. That's 47 no-shows, or 13 per cent of the field who entered online. How could this be?

It was a dark and stormy night, sort of, and a grey and rainy day. There always are some punters who, for whatever reason, don't bother or can't make it on the day despite their best intentions. Rain makes for more of them, of course. After one swim last season that was run on a threatening, grey day – but not rainy, as it turned out – one mug emailed us seeking his money back because, he claimed, he'd got the date wrong after being misled by Sure. More like, he woke up to find a grey sky and couldn't be bothered getting out of bed, so he thought he'd try it on. As it turned out, the day was quite noice.

Some punters don't like or couldn't be bothered swimming on a wet day. We say, those punters don't know how good it can be.

Before today's swim, we tweeted a pano of the sea off Freshwater as a rain front moved in. It was pure drama, a heavy curtain of thundercloud – well, it looked like it could have been thundercloud – descending on the stage that is Freshwater, like a proscenium arch lowering ominously on a poorly received play.

It was foreboding, of something. Shortly after, another punter tweeted a pic taken at Freshwater beach, of a grim scene beset by rain. "Not the best day for an ocean swim," the tweeter tweeted. It certainly looked that way.

freshwater 14 rain ajw
Tweeter's view prior to Freshie swim is not encouraging.

But it was interesting to see that this punter tweeted again, this time after the swim, with the same grim pic, but this time the comment, "Rainy but fun swim today at #FreshwaterSwim Water was so warm and clear!"


And that's the wonderful thing about days such as these: All those punters who woke this morning and, to grey, ominous and spitting skies, rolled over and went back to sleep, missed the joy of swimming in the rain.

You're going to get wet anyway, of course, but there still is the run down the beach -- a jaunty, gay gambol prior to the race -- to the start line and the schlepp back up after it, inevitably less energetic, not to mention the issue of where you leave your stuff. Freshwater is good like that: the club throws open its doors and welcomes us mug punters in: it makes its auditorium available for gear stowage. So, no worries about what happens to it during the swim.

freshwater 14 02 dh
Diehards. (Glistening Dave Photograrph.)

There's also the issue of the storm water drain at the northern end of the beach, just next to the start line. On a day like this, there's always a flood of flotsam emerging from the drain, despite the grills at its exit. In the runout in that northern corner, it doesn't hang around long and whooshes out to sea, just as we swimmers do once we're in it. We didn't spot much apart from a few leaves tody, though. Freshie organiser Linda Wiadrowski reckoned that was because Friday's rain cleaned up the streets and it's all gone by now. There certainly was little evidence of nasty stuff in the sea once you got moving.

Indeed, the water was clear. We had the most evocative view of weedy, corally rocks as we glided over them, outwards, outwards towards the ocean, sometimes in water less than a metre deep, the swells swirling around the rocks and pushing us gently back and forth. Even way out past the pool, even past the point, we wafted over the rocks and weed, in water amongst the clearest we've enjoyed this season.

We remarked on this last week after Bondi: about how clear was the water. It continued, despite the rain, at Freshwater, which could have been Clearwater. (Perhaps the locals could get another petition going to change the name again.)

Every season has a clarity peak. We remember the Cole at Manly a few years back, when the water was so clear there seemed nothing between you and the bottom. At Manly! Deep ocean outfalls have done wonderful things for the beaches nearest the city centre. Every now and again, you get such days, usually when least expected, and that makes them all the more satisfying.

It is a remarkable thing that the water on rain days so often is very clear, just as it's also often very warm. We don't know the temperature today, but it would have been around 24C. Did anyone have a thermometer on their persons, who could tell us? Sometimes, this is a comparison thing, that the water seems warm because, on a rainy, chilly day, it's warmer than the air temperature: it's warmer in than out. Today was so warm, the sea so comforting, that it was being like wrapped in your favourite blanky when you were a little kid, and on those cold winter mornings, you just didn't want to get out of bed. It was comforting, and reassuring, and you felt secure.

It takes a day like today to produce these conditions. The heavy cloud and the rain evens out the light, so you don't have the extremes or the harshness of light that makes the southern hemisphere light usually so different from the northern hemisphere. There was little wind, too, so the water was smooth, but with a swell rolling through, the bigger as you got farther out to sea. But that meant that the wind – and there was no chop – left the water unshaken, not even stirred, so it remained clear. The even light above the water surface meant you had even light below the surface, too, enhancing the clarity.

Mrs Sparkle remarked to a friend that the water was so nice, she didn't want to get out. We felt a bit like that too, as we did at Bondi. Sure, it rained, and the clouds threatened doom, but what a lovely swim we had. And the 13 per cent missed it. Some people have no idea...

And a footnote: We told the story in our weekly email newsletter of John de Mestre, the Freshwater member who won the first inaugural Barney Mullins Classic, run 23 years ago when John was 28. John won the 20th, too, when he was 48, and whom do you think won again today, now 51? Yes, him again. And when we say, he won, we mean, he won outright. Not just his age group. The whole shebang. His dad would have been proud. At the preso, de Mestre made a comment about his dad, who passed away last year. And he said a few words about Barney Mullins, in whose memory the swim is name. Barney Mullins taught de Mestre, and many other high profile names, how to swim in the surf and the sea. He taught me, de Mestre said, where to swim and how to swim according to which way the sea was running: how to read the sea and use it to your advantage. "He taught me how to swim smart, not just hard," he told the crowd.

Results... click here

Have your say about any and all these swims on our blob... click here


Check out her blob from Freshwater... click here

See, real people win our prizes

fos series freshwater 14 squire winners
Looking mightily pleased with themselves, two winners of our James Squire prizes, given away at each swim in our fine ocean swimmers series... Peter ("Man of Steel, except when it comes to lice, and jellyfish") Thiel (left), who won the grog at the Malabar swim, and Jeff Marunger, who won at Freshwater.


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