5 April was a holiday in Hong Kong, and the Sunday group did an extraordinary swim which I joined. The group started off at Stanley Main Beach together, swam to the buoy near To Tei Wan, and split into two. The longer group went round the peninsula and did 9.5 km, while the remaining returned to the beach and did 4 km. However, I couldn’t catch up with the longer group (as they swam at sub 1’40” / 100 m endurance pace) so I had to return, and only did 4 km. I was very sad afterwards, had my lunch, then walked to the ending point, Stanley Blake Pier, and welcomed them to the finish with some videos. I chatted with them and they thought my goal to do marathon swimming next year was too ambitious, and I should allow a few more years for that (actually I had some idea of doing it THIS year). However, I was thinking about channel swimming a few years later. I started to doubt whether I have really joined the right club as everyone seems to be so fast for my current level that I cannot swim with them.
Today, 7 April 2019, I and my coach Gary have an orienteering race on Peng Chau. As the race does not occupy us the full day, I got an idea of making Gary my support paddler, circumnavigating Peng Chau after the orienteering race and trying out the race protocol, feeding, etc. like we would in marathon swimming. The major problem was finding a kayak for that, but Gary finally settled the problem by borrowing an SUP which can be carried around, and he made it an OW coaching session, watching me and correcting my technique as we went.
We started off the beach in the bay on the east of the island, I swam and Gary followed me. At first he stopped me for a few times to give me stroke correction, then we continued the circumnavigation.
The circumnavigation was about 5.6 km and we completed in slightly more than 2 hours, including a few times where my coach stopped me for giving correction.
We had 3 feed stops along the route to practice feeding. At first we had some misunderstanding as my coach’s experience was some FINA level elite race where competitors turned on their back, grabbed and poured the feed, then threw and went, which my bottles with wide opening wouldn’t work in such scenario. However what I was doing was to “complete” the feed while treading water like how channel swimmers do.
As I had no prior experience in this, I was a bit uncomfortable at the beginning, and needed to catch some breath first before I drank my feed. Also I couldn’t complete it continuously as I still need to catch the breath in the process, and sometimes waves were going over. We definitely need to have more practice afterwards on that.
Moreover, we still hadn’t worked out a good method to signal feed time, and I only recognised by the action of preparing the bottle and throwing out.
Overall, he thought that my form was the best at about 3 km along the route. At the beginning I was not doing well what my coach said, but gradually improved as I got my feeling and rhythm. In the final km my coach noticed me my endurance was dropping and losing speed.
Also, my form had improved when compared to the pool sessions two weeks ago, especially my right arm (breathing side) was much better than before, however, my left arm (non-breathing side) was still lacking a bit.
Another thing I had to improve was my sighting. My coach said I swam much more than I should be. I swam the island clockwise and breathed to the right, therefore the island was on my breathing side. I was attracted by the nearby rocks too much and swam too near the island, entering some concave part of the shoreline. This was probably because I was not familiar with the island and didn’t know exactly what I should be sighting, which definitely won’t happen in race day as I would study the course beforehand.
After the swim, we discussed whether we would do a clean half relay together in October this year. He told me that the 1 hour and 45 minutes for the upcoming 5 km race may be achievable for me if I can keep the form today and do better in sighting, but still very far away to that group of westerners doing long distance training at under 1’40” endurance pace.
He watched the videos I took on 5 April, and thought that I should be aiming for the form of Edie Hu. He also told me that I should get my form right before I increase my training mileage, as the races have time limit which isn’t possible to muscle through without a good form.
To conclude, today was a good experience for me to start off my journey towards marathon swimming. My training goal was completely achieved. Thank you Gary for this friendly special session. We will definitely have more practice afterwards.
My next race will be the DWB on 28th April, 5 km with 1 hour and 45 minutes cut-off. I really hope that I can make it, which means a step closer to my marathon swimming goal.
A side note: We both did badly in the orienteering race in the morning. I didn’t meet my target of 700 points required to remain in elite class, the weather was so hot (air temperature was 27°C) that I was exhausted not long into the race and I couldn’t think clearly, and showed symptoms of overheating after the race, while he got DQed by passing thru a forbidden area.