The start of another year for those living in Sydney is dominated by the fireworks at midnight. It is estimated that 1.5 million people find somewhere on the harbour to watch the display. When the weather is friendly it is magical, and this year was one of the best. A balmy evening, with a full moon, a gentle breeze to blow away the smoke, and everyone happy and friendly. After being in Sydney for a few years, we decided to head out and watch the display again, and what a show. The city is blessed to have such a magnificent harbour to use as a backdrop; as well as the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House which play a leading role. It is one of those days when the bridge is closed to traffic, but no one complains about the inconvenience.
In addition to the masses on the foreshore worshipping the illuminated sky, there is also a large armada of pleasure craft that flock to the water to get a good position. The picture below shows the vessels bobbing inside Bradleys Head, with its prime view of the spectacle.
What a night, with all the best that Sydney has to offer.
However, all good things must come to an end, and it was back to morning training at Clovelly Beach in the eastern suburbs. Though, when it is as nice as this you do not mind trying to swim and run off some of that over indulgence. Now I choose to swim rather than run, because well the water supports my weight, and I find running puts a strain on my knees and hips. When my weight is north of 100kg, it is not a pretty sight seeing me running in my speedos. So I apologise to all those trim squad members who had to divert their eyes as I was moving over the ground at a pace just above walking. It was fun swimming from the ladders to the beach, and then running back to do it again. I would pass some people in the water, and they would pass me on land. Symmetry.
Seriously though, I do have a New Years Resolution and maybe this is the year that something will happen.
I had done several sessions in the pool at North Sydney to try to get some laps under my belt before the first swim of 2013. North Sydney Pool sits almost under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and was the location for the Australian Swimming Titles in the 50s, 60s and 70s. As a result the pool has a world record in that it is the pool in which most world records have been set, I think it is somewhere in the eighties, with names like Murray Rose, Dawn Fraser, John Konrads, Shane Gould, Michelle Ford and many others.
I had entered a swim at Black Head on the mid north coast of NSW. I had never been to this beach before, but had heard good reports about it. The beach is about 300 kms north of Sydney or about a 3.5 hour drive in light traffic. I hit the road at 4.30 in the morning and watched the sun rise to burn off the light mist in the lower lying areas. Arrived at 8 am after undergoing a random breath test in Sydney (though it was far from random when I was the only vehicle around). The beach looked gorgeous and inviting.
I sat down and caught up with some familiar faces from the other swims I had done. I had entered both swims today, as it was only $35, and having to come all that way, I may as well do two. The short swim was advertised as 700m, and the long swim was 1500m.
I sat under a tree near the beach and watched the buoys being placed for the course. It was a stunning day, and the water was a warm 22 degrees.
The 700 m swim was a rectangular course going counter-clockwise. As there were only 100 or so entries for this swim, there was only one wave, and we all had the same yellow caps. The race started and we all moved into the water with varying degrees of confidence. I had started at the surf club end as I figured this was the shortest route to the first buoy, even if there was a large amount of seaweed to wade through. Out to the second buoy and I noticed there was a small chop, but my technique was holding up ok. I was keeping up with those around me, and even passed some less confident ones who had to stop to see where they were going. Around the fourth buoy and it was time to start going fast. Only one problem, the body refused to understand and seemed incapable of increasing the pace. Getting into the beach was fun, with no wave to assist. When I stood up for the run up the sand, I realised I was tired. So I jogged up gently, resolving to save it for the longer race. My place was in the top 50, so I was in the top half of the field. Not bad for the first swim of the new year with my added in-built flotation.
The 1500 m swim was timed to start about an hour after the first swim. This gave me time to eat the watermelon provided, and swig down some cold drinks that the volunteers handed out.
Back down onto the beach for the start of the longer swim. Once again the small field of 140 was in one wave, and once again the course was rectangular swimming anti-clockwise, finishing on the beach behind the start line. The tide had dropped over the last hour, so the waves seemed smaller to me, and this proved to be the case in the water. I had decided to take it easy at the start, with a gentle jog into the water, letting the others go hard ahead of me. Some I soon managed to swim around, but most of them where too far ahead for me to catch today. I enjoyed the swim, and used it as practice for lifting my head to sight whilst still stroking, and even managed to breathe to both the left and right. On the reach back to the finish line, I did manage to improve my pace and even felt comfortable (unlike the short swim), passing some swimmers. I caught a wave, but it got its revenge by gently picking me up and inverting me in the water, just like a big tumble turn. I came up smiling, and then caught the next wave into the beach, catching up to some others. But they ran away from getting to the finish line. Oh well a top 100 placing was not a bad outcome for the day.
The surf club people were friendly and generous, and the free bbq helped. It was good to see that these sorts of places still thrive, and it was good to support them for the day. If you get a chance to do some of these smaller swims, I would recommend it. So different to the atmosphere at the swims in Sydney with that excess of competitive spirit.
So eight hours of driving, just over 600 km on the road, and two enjoyable swims. The national broadcaster was my companion in both directions, and I even managed to hear the end of the Third Cricket Test with a win by Australia over Sri Lanka with Michael Hussey almost hitting the winning run in his last test.
Back to the pool this week, and back to regaining condition, form. Just a quick mention to my pal the irish surf muppet: the challenge is on to get under a century.