The first Sunday in February is the date for the Coles Classic at Manly Beach in Sydney’s northern suburbs. It is named after the Coles family who started the event at Bondi, before it was moved to Manly. It is now operated by one of the oldest newspapers in the country, and they like to proclaim it as the largest swim in Australia. Well it is the largest in NSW, but its mantle is in danger of being passed on. This year there were just under 3,700 swimmers overall the three events on the day: the one km, two km, or nine km races.
I had not intended to do this swim this year, as I had planned to travel up to Caves Beach near Newcastle which had an event scheduled for the same day. However, that event was cancelled ten days before the race, so I decided to go to Manly and compete again. This is the third time I have done the race, and this year the organisers shortened the gap between the various waves to five minutes, making the day shorter. My wave was timed for 11 am, which meant I could get the nine am ferry from Circular Quay. This must be one of the most scenic ways to get to a swim, with the beautiful harbour glistening in the summer sun.
I arrived at the beach with plenty of time to spare, and saw the end of the nine km race from Dee Why. Maybe another year I could try do that swim. The beach was abuzz with the ocean worshippers, but it appeared a number had found a new place of worship when compared to the numbers from previous years. The good thing about this event is that it is designed for the novice swimmers and the experienced swimmers. The race starts at Shelley Beach, and goes north towards Queenscliff before turning south to finish at Manly; a distance of two km. In previous years the surf was too big, so the race started and ended at Shelley Beach.
I had swum with the Bold and the Beautiful gang on Saturday morning to get a taste for the conditions on the course. This also meant that I could pick up the cap and timing chip the day before the swim. For some reason the organisers of this swim are convinced that swimmers cannot pick up their cap and timing chip on the morning of the swim. Bad luck if you can’t make it to the prescribed pick up points on the two days before the swim.
A large number of regular swimmers refuse to take part in this race, because they are not happy with the organisation, and the suggestion it is run for a profit. While I respect their point of view, I think they really miss out on the a swim in a stunning part of Sydney.
I left my gear in the squad tent on Manly Beach and walked to Shelley Beach through Fairy Bower. This gave me a chance to watch the earlier waves as they started their two km race. There were a few others from the squad in my wave, so we decided to go to the left of the course as that looked like the clearest line to the first buoy. My previous experience in this race told me to keep away from the pack at the start to avoid the pushing, shoving, kicking and punching.
The gun started and off we went, though not with the same alacrity of the younger men in the earlier waves. In fact it was almost pedestrian, but maybe I have just become used to it. I looked up quite often to make sure I was on the right line to the first marker, as the swell tried to gently push us further left. I made it to the first marker without much trouble, and I was interested ti see who had gone too fast. Sure enough there were swimmers coming back to me as I moved up a gear and concentrated on a good strong catch through the chop. It was so much fun swimming into the breeze with a nice little swell coming from the right. A great time to breathe on the left and watch the beach scene go past.
Before long I had made it to the half way point, keeping up with some swimmers around me. As we turned towards the beach the small wind swell pushed in like twigs. Oh this was fun. But too soon we had to turn left and head back towards Manly, but this time the wind was with us. I had noticed that the second last buoy was around fifty metres closer to the beach than the last buoy was. So I changed my course and aimed directly for the last buoy off the point at Manly. This caused some consternation as two water safety board riders got in my way.
The last buoy was soon near me, and I turned right to head towards the finish line. I was hoping to catch a wave today, as there was some to be caught. But like always I seemed to come in between the sets, so I had to swim all the way in, though I did manage to pass other swimmers. Into the shallows, onto my feet, and then the sprint up the beach to the finish line. Unlike previous years I had enough fitness and energy to run.
So I had finished the Coles Classic for the third time with a time seven minutes quicker than my previous best. I had finished in the top third of the field which I was quite happy with. A good hit out as my season gets underway again. Overall I thought the organisers had done a fairly good job, with medals for all finishers, and well organised marshaling and starting. If only they could do something about getting the hats and timing chips.
Next week another swim, with a race scheduled for Bondi. So in three weeks I would have raced at the Opera House, Manly and then Bondi. Wonder how many worshipers will show up next weekend? If the conditions are like this, they may get more than the 1700 swimmers in my two km race at Manly.
So it was back on the ferry to go back home, a nice way to travel.