Lake Rotoiti Swim

Being your best is not so much about overcoming the barriers other people place in front of you as it is about overcoming the barriers we place in front of ourselves.
Kieren Perkins

For some reason the Lake Rotoiti swim was on the horizon all year. The swim itself was, in some ways, meaningless. But it nevertheless acted as a symbolic emblem of what so many people strive for in sports - Once thought of, you either complete the outing or choose to walk away from something that once seemed impossible, but was now seemingly within your grasp.

The symbolism of the swim didn't end at just completing a swim the length of a lake at 2,000 feet. No. Lake Rotoiti is (apparently) the coldest lake in New Zealand during the winter, and I had the 'pleasure' of a colder than expected dip in March when I swam the width of the lake in March. That swim was, at the risk of sounding dramatic, some of the most terrifying 16 minutes of my life, with the cold waters and absolute darkness beneath me hiding anything it wanted. I decided to return to face this moment once again. Only this time it would be on my terms, with not the width of the lake to be overcome…but the entire length. Lake Rotoiti is 7.6kms long.

My focus in terms of swim training was aimed at the 2kms I would complete at the 2010 Taupo Half Ironman, so longer swims would arrive, but only in this context. Half Ironman would come and go, leaving me happy with my efforts…and smashed. Thus Christmas was all about recovery, as my mouth infection was coming along nicely and at it's peak I endured an ulcer the size of your thumbnail at the back of my throat. Endurance cycling was now on the horizon again, so my plans of 'lots of cycling' were scrapped - I was in Blenheim for a week and did about 80kms in total. A holiday in every aspect.

Swimming though had one last outing in 2010. I figured that with my focus switching to cycling after the holiday I wouldn't get the chance to do this swim again for quite some time.

So it was that plans were confirmed, an early start had, and the trip to Lake Rotoiti safely carried out. We had speed down to the end of the lake by 7am, and all that remained was getting the wetsuit on and discussing the game plan. Unless tides are involved, swimming is fairly simple as far as strategies go - You swim until you need drink / food and then you signal. It was a quick briefing.

Looking around I marvelled at the huge eels that circled around the wharf. I expected to see them, and much thought was given to their presence on this swim. Nothing is ever given to you when you compete in a larger event, and I needed to decided how much I wanted to reach the end of the lake. The eels are protected and get BIG, so I decided that even if I saw them on the swim I'd carry on and get the job done. Besides - The way I saw it, I was the biggest eel in the lake. Hopefully.

The start of the swim was pure magic. A calm mist lay over the entire southern end of the lake and the water was slightly warmer than I thought it would be. I had also done basically nothing for nine days, so was well and truly rested. Feeling good I took it easy for the first five minutes, then switched to breathing every three strokes. The pace and effort then picked up, as I knew these sheltered waters would last until the midway point, with white caps and a head wind to follow. This is how it turned out too.

The start was perfect.
With the folks doing a great job in the boat I simply focused on swimming and occasionally waved out for a drink. It's amazing how much time you have to think on a three hour swim, and feeling calm in the water it was all positive. Little in the way of reflecting over 2010's efforts were thought about, not the Ironman in March, or the Wellington marathon, nor even the Taupo Half Ironman. No. I simply watched the shadows in the trees and imagined what it would be like to walk through the trees at that very spot. Or occasionally I would simply use the reflection from the rising sun to know where I was heading, with no sighting carried out for two to three minutes at a time.

There existed only two landmarks for this entire swim. Firstly the base of Mount Robert (which meant the end of the sheltered waters), and then secondly the finish. Pretty simply stuff. Except that Mount Robert is HUGE, and that 'almost being at the base' still leaves a lot of swimming until you are actually 'past the base'.

The game plan extended itself to thinking about 'attacking' once I reached the choppy water. Basically switch from three stroke breathing to two stroke breathing. Yeah, good one. Several mouthfuls of water later, and feeling decidedly out of breath I realised that I had been pushing along at a decent pace already, and the status que was getting me to the finish at about the fastest pace I could…with blowing up before the finish. It was also during the open water that the power was noticeably less available. The fatigue and lack of training were evident, but I would be fine. I sure as hell wasn't stopping, that's for sure.

After an hour I still felt fresh.

Then the waters calmed slightly once again. Still a slight headwind, but now I focused on a red vehicle parked at the foreshore. The finish line was literally in sight and I now thought about picking up the pace once again. So for the last two kms I breathed once every four strokes. Not usually an option for longer periods of swimming, but the body (and breathing) were now adjusted fully, and I was quite surprise at the relatively ease of pushing the pace while getting less oxygen.

With the end now getting clearer I had a quiet chuckle about the $3 to $4 fees for the local crowded pool, with this - the biggest pool of all - free to anyone who dared. The only cost was petrol for the boat and the occasional fright of swimming into a branch…thinking the eels had decided I was worth eating. I wouldn't see them though, and I never actually saw a single eel the entire time I was in the water. Standing on both wharfs "yes", but not in the water.

Conscious of the time I really pushed the pace for the last 500 meters. I knew I could do a sub-three hour swim, but needed a little more effort to do so. As it turned out, I made it with three minutes to spare. 2:57 of swimming non-stop. This was the same pace as the 5km Taupo Epic swim a year earlier, but with 50% more distance. Surprisingly, I wasn't smashed like that day in Taupo, and I actually felt fresher than many three hour rides I've done - obviously I was felling a lot fresher than the three hour runs!!

Finish in sight and 7.6kms almost done.
A recovering drink at the end allowed me time to watch the eels reclaim their territory back once again. They are strictly protected in this area get fairly friendly. This footage wasn't filmed on our day our, but this is what the eels are like…

In contrast to the Taupo Epic, where I collapsed on the beach and lay in exhaustion, this outing left me in good spirits. Our family had a leisurely 30 minute walk along one of the lake's tracks, and we enjoyed the silence of the forest...when my children were occasionally quiet that is. they are quite an adventurous bunch my kids, and I sometimes wonder what they will set out for, after seeing their Dad having outings such as this. I have already been told by my nine year old that he wants to run around Australia. I didn't tempt fate by querying this further.

The lasting memory of the day is while driving back to Blenheim. I asked Ruth if she thought a double length of Lake Rotoiti was feasible. That would be quite some swim, with it being a nice touch to sign in at the Cold Water hut's visitor book at the end of the lake, "Swimming two lengths of the lake - One length done". A few trampers would wonder if it was a windup.

But that can all wait. The year has come to an end, and with it comes closure on a memorable year. Now for a break and a new year and a fresh start await. The Graperide is in April and with it I look to continue my run of completed the most laps. Truth be known though, I'd swap all of those previous laps to walk onto the stage and get a medal on 2 April. The months ahead will have no half measures.

1 comment:

Helen said...

Congratulations - great work! as one who lives near the lake I can tell you that your swim was absolutely marvellous - great spot to do it too! Helen
Wairau Pass B&B/Homestay