Coles Classic 5 February 2012

This race was on again, and it was good to do it for the second year running. However, this year I decided to enter both the one km and the two km race. I had entered early to save me some money and also to have the timing chips and swim caps sent to me in the post. This saved me having to queue up a few days before the race at a collection point in the city. I am at a loss to understand why the most expensive race of the year cannot organise the collection of caps and timing chips on race day. This is the only race where this happens: all other events seem to be able to manage it. Oh well that it is the way it is when a corporate group organises the race.

The race is advertised to be held at Manly Beach. What happens is that the start is at Shelley Beach with the finish at Manly for both events. However, this year the swell was up at almost two metres which makes the finish at Manly quite tricky. So the organisers made the decision to have the start and finish at Shelley Beach. This was a good call as a large percentage of the field only do this ocean swim each year.

I caught the first Manly Ferry from Circular Quay in order to make it to the start line in time for my wave start of just after eight am. There were a large number of people from my squad doing the event: some were only doing the two km, some like me were doing both the one km and the two km. and some were doing the nine km race from Dee Why. It was another glorious day on Sydney Harbour on a virtually empty ferry. I admired the view and thought about the upcoming swim. I was not nervous at all as I had swum here quite a few times, and I knew that the swell would not get into the one km course.

Start for some of the ladies

One of my work mates Ainslie had made a late decision to enter the one km event. She had asked me if she should enter the elite wave. I told her that she should as she would find that most of that wave would quickly swim away from her and she should be able to make it to the finish line before the next wave caught her. So she entered and found out that the requirement for the elite wave was to try to do it in under 15 minutes. She assured them she would try.

I was lucky to be in the second wave for the one km event. The course was out to Fairy Bower north to the point and then back to the beach. The conditions looked great with just  small wave coming through on the way back. I watched the elite wave start and noticed our coach on the left hand side of the course swimming in clear water by himself. A few of us thought this was a good idea so we moved to the left hand side of the start line. The gun went and we were off. I wanted to do a good time for this race and so swum hard to get into clear water. Fairly soon I had achieved that, so then I concentrated on looking at the sea life in the aquatic reserve, and also remembered to navigate.

By the time I arrived at the first buoy I realised that I was in the top third of my wave. I still had plenty of energy left for the return leg. I was pushed off the straight line course by the swell coming across the course, but I still was happy with my race. I had wondered if I would catch Ainslie, but she beat me to the finish line. The water was warm, the sun was shining, and I had finished in just over eighteen minutes, placing me in the top 150 of the 1,950 competitors, and in the top 100 of the 1,000 male swimmers. I was happy with that.

I know had almost three hours to wait for my two km race. In one of the more interesting arrangements, the organisers had decided that instead of the normal three minutes between waves, they would have ten minutes. So while the elite wave started at 10.30 am, my wave was not until 11.30 am, and the last wave would not start until 1 pm. Ocean swimming is not like road running: conditions change as the tide changes and the wind blows. It is a dynamic course so it is virtually impossible to have the same conditions for all. It would make it easier if the waves were only five minutes apart like they were for the one km event. The official reason given was to allow the slower swimmers to avoid the faster swimmers from following waves passing them.

I was hoping to do better than I had last year as well. I had by now swum in a squad for a year, and I knew my swimming had improved. It would be good to get an idea from this event on how much I had improved.

Finishing the two km race with the course in the background


The course for the two km race was different to last year as we would finish at Shelley Beach. It involved swimming to Fairy Bower, across to the point at Manly, down to North Styne, then out to sea, back across the reef to finish. I had swum this course just before Christmas.

I remembered the start last year where I was in the middle of the pack and pushed and prodded by those around me. So this time I worked my way to the front left of the wave. I knew that a large number would go flat-out when they hit the water, but would tire quickly. I let them go and concentrated on my own tactics, and resolved to enjoy the swim. By the time we swam off Manly Point I could feel the large swell pushing through. I was glad that we did not have to negotiate the beach break as it would have been carnage.

The swim this year was good, I felt strong the whole way and kept up my speed all the way. I even managed to learn from my earlier race and passed several swimmers on the last part by keeping left and not getting pushed off course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and knew that I had done better than last year. I had swum six minutes quicker this year to finish in just under thirty-nine minutes. But more importantly I had improved my placing from the top 50% to the top 25% of the field. I was also in the top quarter for my age group and the males. Wow a huge improvement on last year. This year I had swum both races, and last year only the two km event.

As I watched the swimmers who had done the nine km race I pondered whether that would be a possibility next year.

As other squad members finished we once again compared our experiences. I felt sorry for Shayne, she had to swim against Shayne Gould the 1972 Olympic champion.

The ferry trip home was a time to ponder on how much I had improved in the last year.

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