I did DWB TT, my first swimming race today since the COVID pandemic began in February. It is a race using interval start that drafting is not allowed. The actual course length was 2.67 km and I completed in 0:57:39, 62nd place out of 111 completed participants. By cross-comparing the results of MMIC last year (there are 23 participants who did both), I remained at the same level.
My original training plan before the pandemic was to do technique and speed training from February to April, and gradually build my endurance such that I could complete Vidösternsimmet 21 km in August to conclude my first training block. Then I would take a break of about 1 – 2 months with minimal swimming because of hot weather in Hong Kong, and start another training block in November, building to 25 – 30 km over the winter until March or April.
When the pools were shut in February, I still continued open water swimming at that time but I started to lose speed already. The pandemic escalated all over the world by mid-March. Initially I still had hope and continued training, but by May it seemed that the race in August was unlikely to go on so I started to wind down my training, and after it was officially postponed, my training was at an all-time low level. In the summer months, I only swam about 6 km per week, sometimes with only a single open water swim at the weekend and nothing else, compared to about 15 km in the year before when I was preparing for my first marathon swim. I had deteriorated so much by July that I could no longer follow the group I was swimming with, including Ali, Stefano, etc. since April, whom I could keep up when I first joined. July and August were my darkest months when pools were all shut while Hong Kong was at the peak of COVID wave, beaches were fenced off, and the ocean was too hot for me to do anything serious, and I should be doing my longest marathon swim (21 km) if the world were running normally.
The pools were reopened on 18th September but the water was still too hot for any high-intensity training, initially I only did drills and technique work, then I returned to the Tuesday squad at HKU, and by October I started doing short intervals as well. I also took a lesson with Chung Ho (a Total Immersion coach based in Yuen Long who brought me overnight improvement last year) again. As I got back into the water and the temperature started to go down, my speed was returning as well. In October I could lead the group I swam with since April, and by the end of the month my interval times in the pool were matching last year already. The race I did today confirmed that I was at the same level as last year one more time. I felt that I was ready to start my training season from November.
However, because I has already stuck for a year and lagging behind my original pre-COVID plan (most importantly I haven’t done any marathon swimming since Cold Half in January) while my pilot booking for my Channel swim next year can’t be postponed, I need to catch up the missed progress in this winter. One of my dream swims is the round Hong Kong swim, which has just be done by Mayank Vaid in 18 hours with bike and run afterwards as he’s a triathlete. The following is an excerpt from my earlier post last year:
I noticed that there have been no Hong Kong swimmers (in terms of nationality) completed the English Channel, or any of the Ocean Seven, or any of the channels / solo channel-style swims I knew, not even the “home” swim Hong Kong circumnavigation (the 3 round Hong Kong swimmers are Australian, British and American respectively) (although I know a Hong Kong swimmer who has done the Gibraltar Strait in wetsuit). All the Hong Kong marathon swimmers I found out only do races, most of them are elite swimmers doing FINA 10 km races. I started to think about who might be the first Hong Kong swimmer rounding Hong Kong Island and I could only think of very few possible people, like Chun Kong Mak, who do long-distance open water swimming and also are Hongkongers. I also daydreamed about my dream swim – a Hongkonger and HKU alumni training in HKU doing Hong Kong circumnavigation swim, starting and ending at Sandy Bay near HKU training base Stanley Ho Sports Centre, how magnificent this swim is symbolically! However it was still too early to realise it as I didn’t have enough experience yet (with only one marathon swim in a lake which was not cold), and still need one more winter to build my experience and endurance (as summer in Hong Kong is too hot for me to swim for long). If I perform well in winter 2019 – 2020, I may realise my dream the earliest winter 2020 – 2021, depending on my other life goals like having a year of working holiday in Europe, swimming the English Channel, etc., which any of them require great budget and dedication.
Now, the English Channel has been swum by Chun Kong Mak, and my exact dream swim has been done by Alex Fong. Moreover, the cost of doing an HK360 has really put me off, and given that I’m lagging behind my original pre-COVID training plan so 42 km is out of reach in this season, therefore I have to give up my dream swim completely. (One of the reason to do it early 2021 is to be a rehearsal of my Channel swim, to judge if I am ready to swim the Channel or not). However, I still want to do a shorter rehearsal swim in similar condition with lower cost that allows me to determine if I am ready to swim the Channel. Therefore, my plan now is to do 2 MSF documented swims in the season. The first one will be in December, about 16 km in length, preferably in sheltered water with kayak support only. The second one will be in February, about 25 km in length, in open sea with motor support, preferably with night swimming as well, undertaken exactly in the way a Channel swim is done. If I feel good in February I will be ready to swim the Channel in September.
Apart from building my distance, I will also need to get faster as well. As mentioned above I’m still at the same speed as last year after interruption of training, so it’s now hopeless for me to catch up my idol Edie who is 18 L% faster than me, while in 2019 I improved by 6 L% when compared to 2018. I really hope that I can get some improvement after I put in my training this season, hopefully that I can get my open water speed to 3 km for an hour (now I am only at 2.78 according to today’s result – 8 L% away from that). My main concern for a channel swim is that I am afraid I’ll be washed away by the tide when I’m approaching France, and getting some speed will help me to break it and make the landing.
That’s my plan in the coming winter and I will see what happens by February when I will decide if I will continue my solo Channel plan or switch to a relay instead.