Tips for Rottnest Channel Swim Duo's and Teams

Updated: Mar 18


Port to Pub South Cottesloe Physio Team
All smiles on the road to rotto

There is nothing quite like rocking a duo or team swim across to Rottnest with friends or family and celebrating on the island.


The best part? Unlike soloists, you're allowed to take extensive breaks out of the water on the boat without judgement on the copious amount of lollies you inhale.


While it's more leisurely than a solo, it's still not an easy task. Some solid fitness is required as you're maintaining a higher race speed. I've also heard of duo's and teams getting their training, tactics, feeding, paddling, race line and recoveries horrendously wrong.


Duo's and teams are meant to be more fun, but you still want to finish as quickly as possible. More swimmers develop hypothermia and seasickness in duo's and teams as they're more exposed to the elements. There is nothing worse than losing one or two swimmers and placing more pressure on whoever is left over.


Since our last blog for tips on soloists, we've been inundated for advice on duo's and teams. Below is the crucial tips I've gathered about training, feeding, tactics, resting and more that helped secure my previous duo and team wins.

Rottnest Channel Swim Start
Let's go!

1. Biggest Hint? Shorter Stints!


One thing that stuns me is hearing duo and team competitors swimming stints longer than five minutes on the day of the race.


Five minutes is a long time to be exercising. It's also a very long time to be resting if you were doing a duo. In a team of four, that would mean five minutes of swimming, 15 minutes of rest.


That amount of rest is an eternity. The longer you're out of the water, the colder you'll get. You would never swim for five minutes in the pool and then take a five or 15 minute rest, so why do it on race day?


The biggest reason why stints that long are detrimental is after the first minute of swimming, your pace will drop considerably. After three minutes you'll be knackered, by the five minute mark your body will be screaming for that break.


Golden rule? Swim three minute stints until warmed up, then drop it down to two minutes as early as possible.


Imagine the speed you can consistently hold for two to three minute swims. Now compare that to your average speed over five or more minutes. Then consider a four, five, six, seven or eight hour race and the amount of time lost doing longer stints at a slower pace.


Two or three minutes rest is still plenty of time to get in a good drink or feed. It also means you're restoring energy levels more frequently.


In my duo and team wins, we swam two minute stints and even dropped that down to one minute in our team. It allowed us to sprint the whole way across. The only longer stints were from our first swimmer off the beach and when all of us swam in together at the finish line.


Shorten the swim intervals and I guarantee you'll take at least an hour off your finish time.

Rottnest Channel Swim Changeovers
Only swim more than three minutes if your duo team mate is feeling ill

2. Train how you'll race


Best way to prepare for any open water swim is to replicate what you'll do on race day in training, whether this be in a squad or on your own.


This doesn't necessarily mean repetitive sprints for two minutes and taking two minutes rest in training. If you took that much rest in a pool you'll soon realise how long that is and start to feel lethargic and cold.


One great way to build fitness for duo's and teams is to swim threshold sets holding around 20-30 beats below your maximum heart rate for two to three minutes of swimming. For most of you, this would be around 100-250 metres.


While distance sets containing multiple 400's and above are still great for fitness, I would focus more on pushing yourself for shorter distances of two to three minutes and then take around 30 - 40 seconds rest.


Some great sets for duo and team competitors are below. All you need with these sets are a decent warmup and cool down of your choice. For cool downs, you want to swim slow laps and really stretch your arms out as much as possible until you feel fully recovered.


Great main sets for duo's and teams:


10 x 100 freestyle with 30 seconds rest after each. Hold your heart rate at 20-30 beats below your maximum. Swim 100 easy after fifth one hundred.


6 x 150 freestyle with 30 seconds rest after each. Go one slow (50%), one moderate (75%) and one fast (100%).


5 x 200's freestyle with 40 seconds rest after each. Aim to swim first 100m at 70%, then swim the second 100m at 90%. Neg-splitting 200's is a great way of building endurance and consistency with your pace.


*Aim to increase the distance of these sets each week. If you need to take rests, try to swim an easy 100m freestyle instead, rather than taking extensive breaks at the wall. It's best to take a maximum of 40 seconds recovery during main sets.


Make sure you also throw in sessions down at the beach to get used to all conditions. Best way to do this is by swimming along the shore with a partner either slightly past the waves or within shark nets. There is no need to swim directly out to sea. River swimming is also great.

Open Water Swimming Swimclan
Training is always better in a squad or with a buddy

3. What to eat and drink


For duo's and teams, while you're not expending as much energy as soloists, you still need to start loading up on carbohydrates, protein and liquids in the week leading up to the race.


Pasta, brown rice, oats, vegetables, fruit, beans, milk and yoghurt are all great for building up your energy storage. Combine this with copious amounts of water each day and your body will have loads of energy on race day.


As for the day of the swim, considering you are doing 2 - 3 minute stints for hours, you need to keep restoring the carbs, protein and fats you burn.


Banana's are great to prevent cramps. High sugar snacks such as lollies, chocolate or even flat Coca Cola can provide sharp boosts of energy, but I would only consume these if you start to feel fatigued.


In my previous duo and team wins, I stuck mostly with gatorade and carbo-gel mixes for my liquids and muesli bars for food as they have a longer burn off period than high sugar foods. Lollies, chocolate and flat Coca Cola was only consumed when we shortened our stints to one minute sprints and I found they provided high energy spikes that faded quickly.


Everyone is different though. If there is a meal, drink or snack you prefer that doesn't upset your stomach, then go for it. Just make sure to trial new snacks and practice consuming these in training for weeks leading up to the race. It ensures you learn what upsets your stomach and what provides the best fuel.


For gatorade and carbo-gel mixes, I would avoid drinking them on every feed as they can upset your stomach. Try to break up these drinks with water and avoid having ice cold drinks as they take longer to digest and can lead to stomach cramps.

Swim Feeds Preparation
An example of prepping drinks with carbo-gels

4. Hypothermia and seasickness tips


For people who puke their guts out on boats, you have my sympathy. Drawing the short straw for seasickness on the water can ruin a nice day out.


Thankfully I don't get seasick, but for my friends who do, most of them swear by taking Kwell tablets around 30 minutes before the swim while drinking ginger ale frequently. Just be wary that seasickness tablets can make you feel very drowsy, so I'd advise not driving if you take these.


Because duo and team swimmers are constantly getting in and out of the water, exposure to wind, shade and drops in blood circulation when resting will mean you get cold very quickly.


Hypothermia has a habit of sneaking up on you. First stage is shivering, followed by a period where you'll stop shivering and start to feel impaired. This is a dangerous place to be.


Soon after follows confusion, exhaustion, drowsiness, slurred speech and a slow pulse. The moment you spot shivering, warm yourself or your team mate up immediately in the sun with multiple layers, blankets or warm beverages.


One great way to avoid being cold on breaks is to bring at least five towels with you on race day. There is nothing worse than drying yourself with a wet towel. Once one towel is drenched after a few breaks, move on to a dry one. Wet towels can then be laid out in the sun.


To play it safe, wrap yourself up and get warm the moment you are back on the boat.

Rottnest Channel Swim rough conditions
An example of rough conditions that lead to seasickness

5. Race lines


There's about a million theories on this. At the end of the day, you want to try and swim as straight as possible and pay attention to currents and winds. Keep an eye on the seabreeze, willy weather or the bureau of meteorology websites at all times.


If you have no idea where to be, simply try and stick to the middle of all the boats and you're on the right track. I also discovered in 2020 while paddling that the wind turbine on Rottnest is a good landmark to aim for. It's visible from 10km out and is nearly bang on in line with the finish.


If there is a strong southerly wind, it's best to try and be 50m south of each kilometre buoy you pass. If it's a rare northerly wind, try and stick as close to the buoys as possible as there is usually a current that pushes you slightly north a few kilometres off the island.


Some teams will be way too far north and south of the race line. Try to swim your own race and just stay as straight as possible to the finish. Having to correct your line and swim in on an angle at the end of the race if you're out in no-man's-land truly sucks!


If it's a southerly wind or current with a swell over two metres, it's going to be a testing day. If that is the case, try not to venture too far south of the line and stay as straight as you can. Soon as you see the Rottnest wind turbine, aim for it.


Regardless of how good your line is, I honestly believe every soloist, duo and team swims about 21-22km on the day and not 19.7km. It's impossible to stay dead straight the whole way across, but it's better to swim 21km than it is to swim more than 23km!


Hopefully 2021 will bring an easterly wind and low swell so everyone gets blown across. Thankfully, February usually produces decent conditions for the swim.

Rottnest Channel Swim Map
Avoid swimming too far north or south of the marker buoys

6. Changeover and paddler tips


If you have a small dinghy runabout that can pick up swimmers after they've finished their stint, they work remarkably well. If not, dropping the boat back and throwing a floatation device out on a rope and dragging the swimmer in also works.


For people on the boat, they need to be the one pulling in the rope and dragging the swimmer in. There is no point making the swimmer exert more energy after their stint. While this changeover occurs, the paddler will need to remain on their line until the boat returns to the lead.


The most essential rule of boats is to make sure they're in neutral until the swimmer is on the boat. I've seen too many injuries and even fatalities to swimmers from audacious skippers and prop blades.


Rather than making the current swimmer change their direction before a changeover, it's much easier having the boat cruise up around 30m in front and have the next swimmer jump directly in line with the current swimmer path. A simple high five above water is the best way to avoid potential disqualifications.


If you want to get serious and have the fastest changeovers possible, two time winner of the team event, Andy Donaldson, recommends using momentum to your advantage. Takeover swimmers can dive in behind the current swimmer and time their hand tag to prevent treading water. This means constant movement and removes stop-and-go changeovers.


For the paddlers, it's always best having them around 2m to the side of the swimmer rather than in front. Lifting your head out of the water to look forwards and 'sight breathe' wastes a lot of energy.


It's also easier for a paddler to spot a swimmer than it is for a swimmer to spot a paddler. For swimmers who start off the beach, chat with your paddler on the line you'll take and make sure they memorise your technique before the race so they can find you quickly. Flags, wigs, balloons or wild colours on kayaks make them easier to spot for swimmers and boats.


As for paddlers trying to find their boat, this can be a nightmare when there are hundreds around. It's best to have the paddler and boat crew plan out what side of the Leeuwin Ship at around 1500m they will swim past. Telling your skipper "We'll be around 50m to the north of the Leeuwin when we pass it" makes it much easier to locate each other.


Need to call your boat crew to find them while paddling? This is where waterproof phone cases or bags are handy. You can also wear a jacket with deep chest pockets and place the phone upside down on loud speaker. Make sure the boat comes to you as the paddler. It's important you keep your line, rather than waste metres swimming towards the boat.

Rottnest Channel Swim Team Rokeby Dental
The 'gimme five' changeover

7. Breathing tips


If you have a preferred breathing side, let the paddler know before jumping in to swim. I'm definitely a fan of breathing every two as this ensures you keep a closer eye on your paddler and swim in a straighter line.


Breathing every three strokes means you'll only keep an eye on your paddler every sixth stroke. This means you'll go off line frequently and might swim a wonky 200m when you could have travelled 250m in a straighter line.


Breathing every two also means you're delivering more oxygen to your muscles which they desperately need.


If you find you get breathless when swimming, make sure you gently exhale your air underwater before breathing to ensure you can inhale a full breath. Many swimmers hold their breath underwater which means they will need to exhale then inhale very quickly when turning their head to the side to breathe.


Not only does this starve your muscles of oxygen, but your lungs will shrink and expand very quickly, meaning you'll only get in half a breath. Exhaling underwater before breathing means deeper inhales, a lower heart rate and less carbon dioxide and lactic acid build up while swimming.

Rottnest Channel Swim Finish Line
A moment of pure euphoria!

Need any more tips? At Swimclan sessions, you can improve your technique or fitness one on one in the pool with former Rottnest Channel Swim solo, duo and team winners.


Visit swimclan.com.au to book in for a session and receive open water swimming advice from the pro's.


#openwaterswimming #thechannel #jointheclan

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