Post Swim Pie at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels

740pm, the Garmin reads 5.2Km but not sure if that much lap crawling was done this evening.
Might be a glitch or it might not.
Just kept swimming until it got dark and the pool guys were diplomatically rattling their gear to get the point across to the sad sacks still traipsing up and down the salty highway.

Earlier, an Autumn wind swirls through the trees of the domain as the errant swimmer trundles along the path to the ABC pool.Slinking back to the squad for another go after the grand return to swimming of last Spring fizzled out after a month.

Chick on the door had been there twelve hours already and bored half to death.
Says she’s started to reread the novel she couldn’t read before to keep her awake.
The 360 pass still has fifteen swims on it so the briny gates open on another attempted come back.

King Vlad is sitting on a bench by the paddling pool doing paperwork.
Looks up at the long white haired figure with a gear bag looking down at him from the steel landing by the entrance. Looks back down and then up again.
“Hey, where have you been?”
Bonhomie, handshakes and before thirty seconds have passed the first “relax” mantra bubbles up.

No goals this time.
No lofty ambitions.
Just build up the swimming habit again.
Like a swimming version of Trainspotting, back to score another hit of the good stuff from none other but the master, the Vladster, the Lord High Supremo of swim crack himself.

Swimming sobriety is too much.

Cracked under the weight of leaden days at the office and insipid nights sitting in front of screen movies on Netflix and SBS-on-Demand back at the shoebox in Rose Bay. Almost a shareholder in the Confectionary and Ice Cream Freezer sections of the local Coles Supermarket.

Get changed and hand the Vladster a crispy $100 note and a $50 for a bronze pass for the month.
Jump into the slow lane and start swimming.
The rest of the small evening squad file into the two lanes and Vlad’s faithful henchman Martin gives the nod and the sea horses gallop away.

Back of the slow lane is just the job.
Come up behind some of the back markers but the game tonight is no toe tapping, just back off and slow mo it to the end of the lane. Lots of 50s this, 100s that, 200s of the other and a smattering of 400s thrown in for merriment.

Then everyone is gone home and it’s a slow wind down as the daylight fades, the half moon rises and the night closes in.

Celebrate with a Tiger Pie or two down at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Wooloomooloo while watching white dots of seagulls goofing around a couple of Navy ships tied to the dock – better than Netflix anytime.

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All In

50s Friday

Four sessions done last week, the opening chapter of the return to the pool.

This session is the third this week, so the early morning swimming routine is slowly, ever so slowly, starting to become habitual.

Which is the only way to have any kind of fitness regime, especially one involving showing up on the pool deck at the un-Godly hour of 6am to spend the next ninety minutes wrestling with the demi-gods of the deep end and the harpies of the shallow end.

Arrived late this morning as had nothing prepared from the night before, not a bag packed nor a pair of socks or undies stuffed into shoes, or a shirt ironed for work.

This is the real time trap, ironing a shirt while still half asleep and with the siren call of a still warm bed beckoning like a sleepy, smooth as silk, dreamy lover calling one back for sleep or bedroom high jinks.

Keep ironing.

On arrival, get a dose of Deano caustic wit about being late now that the abode is so close to the pool compared to the previous schlep from the far north of the city.

The four lanes are already churning with the flailing arms and flickering legs of swimmers, but the rising sun is warm and the air is still so who gives a hoot anyway whether one is late or not.

As long as one is here, Garmin powered up, lowering down off the side wall into the brine, googs in place, kick away from the wall, first couple of strokes and then settle into for the ride.

There is a singular advantage in being the slowest swimmer in the entire squad – four lanes, approximately 12 per lane, so therefore 50 odd swimmers – in that nobody much cares about how one spends the time slogging up and down the lane.

So, when the decoupling starts and the rest of the train pulls away, it’s decision time.

Whether to bust a gut trying to keep on the toes of the next last swimmer, so just let go and carry on at a pace that can be sustained the slower sets of the session, while retaining some rocket fuel for the sprinting sets.

And that’s what 50s Friday is all about – sprinting, anaerobic torture, oxygen deprivation depravity. 50 x 50 in a variable pattern of hard, easy, hard, hard, easy, easy etc.

715am – the last four 50s – hard, hard, hard, hard as one can go.

Somehow have ended up at the wrong end of the pool with four of the fasties – svelte, streamlined, muscled, gimlet eyed swimming machines.

Not a chance of coming near any of them in a sprint.

But…going all in with the special Ben-Hur-Roman-Galley Ramming-Speed-Muppet-Style, get to within a stroke length of the last fastey, Spike.

For anyone wanting to learn this style at the feet of the master, it involves head down, don’t breathe for the first ten strokes, then bilateral until all the puff is gone, now blow up, surface and try to make the remaining 25m without going into cardiac arrest.

All in – it’s the only way.

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Sister and Brotherhood of the White Tile

Day 1 – Monday

Time to make another come back thinks surfmuppet, after a Sunday night eating a litre tub of ice cream followed by a family block of hazelnut chocolate while binge watching some crap TV series – just one more episode, then another, and another…

Not game to get back up on the weighing scales, so there’s nothing for it but set the alarm for 0450am, dust off the speedos and goggles, iron a shirt for work, get the head down and hope to fuck to get up in the morning and get back to squad.

This will be the third come back in a couple of years, the last two lasting no more than a couple of sessions and then one thing or another and all resolution falls apart at the seams and so slink away, off back to the land of couldn’t-give-a-shit.

Monday dawns light and bright over Woolloomooloo Bay on the way to the ABC Pool to where the Vladsters have returned after the annual winter hibernation at Victoria Park pool.

Hello to Coach Jai and some familiar faces amongst the gaggle of swimmers getting into goggles and swim caps, parking baggage and assorted other stuff on the stand bench seats overlooking the placid, inviting surface of the pool.

Back of the remedial class, Lane 1.

300 metres into the warm up and the triceps and lats start to shout out in protest.

Nothing for it but push through.

Drills, face of Jai through the haze of foggy goggles emphasising push forward with the shoulders, not the arms.

Fall off the pace and snatch some air waiting for the train to come back down the pool, Vlad appears, big smile and reaches down for a welcome back handshake.

“Relax! Smile! Be Happy!”

Get through the first day with 3650 metres clocked up on the Garmin. Happy with that, gliding along with some slow laps in the warm Spring sunlight, then a chat with Kylie from Lane 2.

Followed by a breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee with Marty, fresh from his successful Manhattan Island swim.

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Day 2 – Tuesday

The important thing is to get back into the habit of leaping into the pool at 6am at least four times a week. Have a business appointment at 8am so have to get out of the pool by 655am at the latest.

Less of a crowd today, which is more of a technique kind of day. Emphasis from Jai on high elbow, loose hands, early entry into the water and push from the shoulder.  Hang out with new buddy Larry from South Africa at the end of the lane waiting for the train.

Not too sore after yesterday and manage 2050 metres before having to pull the pin and head off to work.

 

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Summer of the Butterfly

I was in the presence of a massive higher power yesterday, Doctor Pacific.

Drove an hour to get to Clovelly for a rendevous with a friend. Despite approaching low tide the water was clear and not so cold, except when we swam out to where the ocean crashed in over the underwater sea wall and surges of cold ocean threatens to take the breath away but not quite.

Once a member of the elite “Rammstein Wasserratten (Water Rats)” Swim Squad, my friend is a powerful swimmer, a US military child, she trained from age 6 to 24, at sub Olympic level, speciality the 200m butterfly.

What!?? The dreaded deathfly!!!!

I’ve been mesmerised by this stroke for years and the people who can effortless do it. Madam Butterfly apparently is one of these.

But her freestyle is just as impressive and by the time we swim the 100 meters out to the break, she is hitting her stride and leaving me for dead. Effortlessly. Not that we’re racing mind you.

My training has been desultory, down to 500 or 1000m in the local pool every couple of months. Must be at around 10% of where I once was at the height of my Vlad Squad days, training three of four times a week with a long swim on the saturday.

But the old competitive instincts are still there and as I lift and sight every five or six strokes I catch sight of her strong shoulders, even stoke and honey coloured hair pulling away and this acts as the sting to fight that little voice which whispers seductively “let it go, stop and catch your breath, relax, sure you can come back another time and start training.”

Get behind me, Satan!

I keep trailing the honey hair back down the length of the lagoon. She keeps going practically to the beach and pulls up. I have to sight more frequently now to avoid eejits snorkelling in the meter of water and after a minute or so pull up beside her.

“That was nice. Are you ready for the next circuit?”, she says.

No. But I nod yes, “nothing would give me more pleasure”.

She points out a flaw in the reach and catch of my technigue which she kindly suggests may be making my stroke inefficient. Very ladylike she ignores the fifty other flaws which are a hallmark of the surfmuppet freestyle machination.

“Fly my pretty”, she commands, “and I will watch more closely your stroke and maybe this will help.”

I just put the head down and go, stuff the technique, it’s survival and pride which are on the line here. No sign of her for a while and then she appears on the port stern side and glides by gracefully. We pause a few times on the way to the break and then start back again towards the beach.

Now it is time for my first butterfly lesson.

When I trained with Bondifit, Spot used butterfly as an instrument of torture. One learned quickly never to show up late for a pool or ocean session.

“If you’re late, keep driving!” was his catch cry.

For the late comers brave enough to ignore this admonition, Spot would dish out a mandatory sentence of 400 metres deathfly in the public lane adjacent to the fastie lane.

Plus a public dressing down to add a little spice, and the huddle of good, obedient, on-time swimmers would watch the malefactors slowly drag their sorry arses over to the lane of calvary to begin the torture.

And if we were all honest, there’d be a hint of schadenfreude that it was another wretch and not oneself being subjected to the Iron Maiden like embrace of this sadistic stroke.

For someone who can barely manage 5 metres of deathfly, arriving late was not an option.

Or, one had to be really, really sneaky and get under the Spot radar to pretend that you’d been there all along. Not easy, as the gimlet eye of the Spotster didn’t miss much.

On the occasions I did sneak in, my lily white skin, the Irish moontan, helped out as I would be camouflaged me against the white tiled walls of the Ian Thorpe pool in Ultimo where I served my time with the Spotted one.

Spot was a master of encourage. Once, when trying to do backstroke in the remedial lane, Spot shouts at me to stop after about 25 metres.

“Where did you learn to do backstroke”, says he.

“Ah, nowhere really. Just kinda picked it up along the way. Why, is it good?”, says I.

“Looks like it belongs in a circus, mate!”, comes the reply.

Gutted.

So, to begin our first lesson in butterfly, bobbing around in the lagoon in Clovelly, Madam Butterfly instructs that first off I have to get the shape of the stroke correct.

Like in, swim in a S shape. Like a dolphin.

She demonstrates and does indeed look very dolphin like as she dives to the rocky bottom and then flicks her joined together feet and the movement sweeps up her legs, past her hips and upper body in one graceful flowing movement.

All the Clovelly fish appear all of a sudden and follow her like in a scene from “Saving Nemo”, like as if they think the Queen of the Friendy Dolphins has deigned to make an appearance in their meagre abode. I think I hear the sound of under water church bells ringing, and crowds of happy fish folk come out for the celebration.

She surfaces and calls out that it’s time for my go.

Time to channel my inner dolphin.

I think of Patrick Duffy in the Man from Atlantis, the old TV show from the 70s, and try to channel him instead.

Duck dive to the bottom of the lagoon, that’s no problem. All the little fish folk turn in eager anticipation of perhaps the entry of the consort of the Queen of the Dolphins.

Alas, this Patrick Duffy wannabee looks like the result of the epilepsy medication wearing off and the fish folk flee in terror as something wicked this way comes, a gyration and discombobulation of movement reminescent of an Irish farmhand circa 1979 trying to disco dance like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever after 15 pints of Guinneas and half a bottle of whiskey.

Surfacing, half drowned, I spy a group of Japanese tourists on the concrete apron pointing excitedly, jabbering away in Jap and wildly taking photographs. When they realise that I’m not a mysterious sea creature from Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”, but human, they start roaring laughing and taking yet more photos and videos. Probably be uploaded to one of those Fail compilations on YouTube by the time I dry off.

Madam Butterfly shouts her encouragement over the sushi and five pints of saki laughter and I try again.

I would like to be able to report that there were some minor improvements, some small victories but alas there were none.

Never fear.

I am a pessimistic optimist, or optimistic pessimist by nature and as I do the walk of shame past the sniggering Japs to my towel, think, “I’ll show you bastards. This is going to be the summer of the butterfly. If Patrick Duffy can swim half a mile underwater chasing baddies without hardly breaking a sweat, what’s 50 metres of deathfly?”

It could be an interesting summer.

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Solstice Swim at Mona Vale

Two weeks from yesterday.

Time to dust off the goggles and head back to the pool to get a bit of conditioning up for the 1200 metres mid winter jaunt up at Mona Vale.

After an Autumn of pure aquatic laziness and lounging around, time to get back into a couple of laps to see if surfmuppet is game to leap into Bongin Bongin Bay, swim around the headland, and back into the beach at Mona, for a hot cup of soup.

Stranger things have happened.

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The Big Swim 2015

Anticipation and Actuality

Stiff and sore on this Australia Day morning, trying to put some words together to describe a great swim yesterday. Competing with a chainsaw snarling in the bush fifty metres away, as a couple of neighbours practice their version of Advance Australia Fair on the Husqvarna Harp.

They’re a pair of likely lads, the neighbourhood anti privet and other noxious weeds vigilantes. Why they’ve decided to hoe into it at 9am on a public holiday has probably something to do with working off the effects of getting into the turps last night. Still, as one who experienced a touch of the joy at letting loose with a chainsaw, can’t find too much fault.

Don’t know what’s worse – the snarl of the chainsaw as it bites into the woody flesh of a nice juicy privet truck, or the silence between the bursts of machine gun fire, chainsaw style.

Brings to mind the waiting game between the rush of blood to the head on Saturday noontime resulting in the no-training-done-entry into the Big Swim, and the blare of the starters horn at 1012am when the over 50s bull elephant seal wave hits the water.

Bit of nervous anticipation. Stomach butterflies a fluttering. What’s the weather going to be like. The state of the ocean. Will the distance and pace be too much and the ignominy of the ride back to the beach in an inflatable. Never mind getting drowned, succumbing to a coronary or providing an early lunch for the robust wildlife known to frequent the area.

Bad news overnight with the death of cousin Patrick O’Malley in Chicago. Originally from Ballinrobe, Country Mayo. Patrick had only just turned 40. His father George passed away a few months ago so it’s been tough on his mother Margaret and his brothers and sisters. Dedicated the swim today to his memory and took a lesson in gratitude for having the health to jump into the ocean and take on a challenge such as this.

Patrick O'MalleyThe organization of the Big Swim is second-to-none. Shuttle buses are laid on to take the punters from the car park at Careel Bay Ovals, just off Barrenjoey Road. Got there just after 8am and was soon whisked down to the sand at Palm Beach Surf Club on Ocean Road. Registration tents all set up, get the timing chip personally attached to the left ankle by one of the charming ladies on duty. How’s that for service? And a nice pink cap for the over 50s bull elephant seals division.

The waves are set up so us lot are right in the middle so there’s going to be plenty of company out there with the fasties of the following waves ripping into the midst of the lasties from the old fogey’s brigade.

2015-01-26 22_31_51-Waves-Caps-2015.pdf - Adobe ReaderRun into Port Macquarie Neil, Richard the Sharkman and Jim D, aka the Flying Sardine. The boys are fresh off doing a 5km swim at Penrith on the Saturday, this the Big Swim today, and are planning to do the 2km Australia Day swim around Farm Cove on the morrow. Hard core.

Next meet up with Gordy, the only one from Bondi Fit it seems – but turns out there were a dozen or more of Spot’s lads and lassies lurking about waiting for their time to hit the brine. While the time away slapping on the sunblock and talking things swimming, who’s doing what to whom, Piano Paul’s new Sydney Swimmers squad etc.

The warm-up reveals plenty of seaweed closer to shore and a set of three or four sizable waves coming in to dish out a few slaps to the unwary. Water temperature is balmy, the ocean is calm out the back, the sky is blue and it’s already above 30 degrees by 9am. A couple of choppers hover out over the water checking no doubt for toothy guests or giant, man eating squid. Lots of surf craft out there providing water safety and combined with the bush fire brigade people on traffic duty on the roads, makes this look like a military operation in terms of organization.

Enough of the prelims.

Much debate on where the best rip is to get out amongst the pink hat bull seals. In the end everyone just scatters as this monster wave of punters hits the water. Follow a group of lads heading south along the beach, who seemed to know what they’re doing , but decide not to run with them all the way to Newport beach and so tangent off into the surf. Get under a few breakers and then settle into a steady pace to get the race going.

Anticipation over, now the action of getting back into it. First buoy appears as a blimp on the gentle swell, the field compresses a bit but get around it without having to dodge any Bruce Lee style breaststroke kicks.

Now it’s just a matter of holding the pace and concentrate on the stroke. Not long before the ladies of the following waves catch up and soon it’s a flock of sea nymphs streaming past the tail end of the pinkoes.

Try to catch a draft off a few of them but it’s hopeless and so settle back to admiring the view.

Half way through now and it’s Scotty barking from the engine room that the dilithium crystals are about to explode so it’s back off the pace a few notches to avoid disaster.

Little Head, the headland to the north of Whale Beach, hangs around for more than a while and by now the fasties from the last wave, men 40-49, are hammering past. These klingons are not taking prisoners so the game is hold a steady course to avoid crossing over their forward trajectory.

Finally, the can denoting the turn west in towards Whale Beach. Still a way to go but starting to fade badly. Couple of black and white checkered cans for the punters to swim between and it’s the final slog to the beach.

The Big Swim1

Lady comes up on the port side looking to sweep past and the primordial competitive synapses kick in, match her stroke for stroke but then fade right off in the surf zone. Get bowled over by another lady body-surfing in but couldn’t give a stuff at this stage. High five with Spot who’s waiting with a GoPro by the finish line for his stormtroopers to come in. Couple of peaches and bottles of water waiting courtesy of the organizers.Well cooked by the hot sun but the sunblock has done it’s job, so minimal sunburn.

The Big Swim 2015-555

Swap notes with Gordy, pick up the gear bags which had been transported over from Palm Beach in a couple of trucks, pack back onto the shuttle bus and we’re zipped back to the carpark.

Managed to do the swim in 58:35 which was good enough considering zilch race preparation.

All up a great swim and a wonderful event organized to perfection.

Race Photos by:

http://volunteerphotography.org/the-big-swim/

 

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Cry havoc and bring it on!

Was wondering what to title this blog.

In for a penny, in for a pound?
Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb?
There’s no fool like an old fool?

Took the bait yesterday when Gordy the Flying Scotsman emailed saying the old gang at Spot’s whip n lash ‘em swimming squad were wondering what happened to yours truly since disappearing to join the rebel alliance at Vlad’s squad, the long distance specialists.

Then Gordy added as a nasty, deadly little sting in the tail of his email, viz a viz that entries were still open for the Big Swim, the 2.6km Palm to Whale beach kicking off 10am this Sunday morning (tomorrow).

A fiendishly clever wee barb of a challenge from the land of Macbeth and the Three Witches.

One of the features of the ocean swim wars of a few seasons ago was surfmuppet lurking out the back and drafting behind stronger swimmers, then attacking over the last couple of hundred metres with a sprint to the finish resulting in a few (a very few) sweet (oh so sweet) victories over way stronger rivals.

But, no sign of him on the Sydney short course ocean racing circuit this or last season.

Alas, the muppet was lured away with dreams of long distance glory and while he did complete the 13km crossing of Galway Bay twice over the last two northern summers, he fucked up his preparation for the Rottnest swim last year and any dreams of doing the English Channel to challenge super Deano and the Vladsters faded with the debacle which was the Galway Bay swim last July 26th.

Made it across (4th last out of a field of 64 odd) but an hour slower than the previous year, totally rooted after getting caught in the tidal change, and with the wife carted off to hospital with a double compound spinal fracture after two big waves smashed into the boat which she was travelling as part of the support crew.

Madam Muppet has since developed a vitriolic hatred of things swimming and anything ocean as she chews on the pain killers to deal with the pain which the spinal surgeon tells her may be permanent. Going for a swim now is like an alcoholic sneaking out of the house to get a swig out of the bottle he’s hidden up in the park. Buddies in the fellowship will no doubt relate.

No, in fairness it’s muppet lassitude, pure laziness and fear of getting stuck back in which has had him farting about with self training (ok, you were right Deano, it doesn’t work), doing some lengths with a local squad where he is king shit at the front of the lane (any swim squad where the muppet is in the front of the lane, strongest swimmer, is…maybe not quite at the level of Spot’s or Vlad’s).

Anyway, whatever miniscule training was happening ended with the onset of Christmas four weeks ago and so 4.5 kgs has been added on to the carcass which now weighs in at a portly 107.5 kgs (16.9284 stones for my northern hemisphere readers).

The muppet medico sternly warns that his optimum weight is 92kg (about 14.5 stone), so now carrying a lot of pork around the middle. With this much lard insulation could easily do a few kilometers up in the waters off the North Pole.

Got amped up over the last week reading some of the work of Geoff Thompson, writer, 7th Dan Black Belt, ex Doorman and BAFTA award winner. In one of his books, “Warrior”, he tells the story of Eddie Izzard the comedian running 43 marathons in 51 days back in 2009 despite doing stuff all training.

Well if Eddie can do that, the muppet can do the Palmie to Whale Beach tomorrow morning!

So, bring it on bitches!!!

Ok – Just signed up and the old shadow of doubt is coming up from deep down below like a humongous great white shark with a 17 stone muppet in his sights for breakfast.

No regrets, doubts or second thoughts!

Despite knowing he’ll get his arse handing to him by all and sundry, it’s time for surfmuppet to get back onto the beach with the over 50s old fogies wave.

To hear the starter call out “Face the Water!”

Tense up on “Ready!”

Then the crack of the starters pistol  – Cry havoc and bring the fucker on!

http://www.thebigswim.org.au/videos/
http://geoffthompson.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoff_Thompson_%28writer%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Izzard
http://www.bondifit.com.au/
http://www.vladswim.com.au/
http://vimeo.com/71927954 (that’s the muppet getting out at the very end of the 2013 swim)

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