Category Archives: Swimming

Joining the 5 Mile Club

Well that’s it – the Cape Mile done and dusted.

This is a story about going into a challenge under-prepared. Or maybe it’s about never underestimating nature.

Now if you know me, you’ll know that I am a lot like my mom in a lot of respects. Nature or nurture I’m not entirely sure, but I am at least slightly OCD and I like to be prepared and in control.

This year my mom convinced me to join her and some friends doing all 5 events offered at the Cape Mile on 19 Feb. It sounded doable. My mom had done it the previous year and had coped just fine. But then again my mom is a machine.

We decided to try and raise money for a good cause: the Philippi Children’s Centre new learn-to-swim pool.

The new pool came about due to two drownings on the farm lands last year. The farmers excavate small dam-like structures, using DPC (black plastic that is slippery when wet) to line the dams. The children go in to cool off and then cannot get out as they cannot swim.

The money raised would go towards learn-to-swim lessons for the children as well as the running costs of the pool. By teaching these children to swim we could literally save lives. Our cause was noble, but unfortunately I soon learnt that trying to raise money is not particularly easy, but nevertheless we gave it a good bash – sharing our story on social media and telling anyone who would listen.

I didn’t start training particularly early, but with about 5 weeks to go I started to put in some serious swimming mileage. Coming from a swimming background, I generally find it quite easy to pick up my swimming (this probably has something to do with 6 – 8 swimming sessions per week from age 8 to 18). I need to thank Stuart Marais for always getting me to Virgin Active to do a session. I hate swimming alone and so really need the help of swimming mates.

Two weeks before the event I joined some of the “5 Mile Club” up at the Silvermine Dam and did 4 x 1 mile with 5 – 10min rest in between each one. It was super chilled. On race day we’d be starting every 45min. That meant around 25min to swim the mile, walk the 300 odd metres back to the start, maybe have a bite of a bar, a sip of Skratch and then line up for the next mile. I thought I was ready.

Ready? Packing light in comparison to a triathlon

Race day dawned and driving to the event out at the Grabouw Country Club it felt as though we might be blown off Sir Lowry’s Pass. The wind was gale-force. I didn’t think too much about it. It was only when the hooter sounded for the first mile and I started swimming that I realised that the wind had turned the dam into what seemed more like the sea. An angry sea at that.

Before the fun began – in our snazzy matching TYR cozzies

The first 650m or so was directly into the wind, which was kicking up waves such that whenever I tried to sight for the first turn buoy I would either just see a wall of water, get a face full of water or 1 time out of 10 attempts I’d actually be able to see ahead. The waves were short and fast which meant that I had to adapt my stroke as I tried to roll with the water instead of fight it. It really was a challenge getting to that first turn buoy. By then I’d already swallowed copious amounts of water and was almost feeling sea-sick. Then it was 100m swimming almost parallel to the waves before turning for the final 800m back to shore. You’d think that having the wind behind us now would make it easy, but instead of pushing us the waves just seemed to wash over us, also creating a bit of a suck and push feeling. I was quite relieved when the finish arch was in sight and I could put my feet down! One down, four to go.

My mom was quite rattled after the first mile and was almost adamant that she’d had enough already, but I knew that she’d put on her big girl pants and continue. Of course she would.

Number 2 was just as tough and by the time I started number 3 I was feeling pretty drained already. This was not how I’d expected it to go down. I was upset with myself that I wasn’t coping better. I always like to be so prepared and well-trained that when the actual event comes it’s almost a breeze.

To give you an idea of how tough the conditions were, I’ve been holding 1:20/1:21 in my hundred repeats and about 1:23/24 in my longer sets. Obviously this was in the pool and with tumble turns. Now I was swimming around 1:36/1:37 per hundred. Eish.

My hip flexors started hurting quite a bit during the third one and I was getting progressively slower, even if it was just by 20-25sec per mile.

I gritted my teeth. Tried to ignore the pain in my hips. 4 down. Just one left. And suddenly the wind died down a bit. The fifth mile was the easiest and I clocked my fastest split of the day!

Exhausted euphoria! At the end all the 5 Mile Club swimmers waited for each other just under the finish arc, hugging and high-fiving. We’d done it. Some slower than others, but we all suffered through our own issues and hiccups on the day to finish rather triumphantly!

The 5 Mile Club

I was a bit disappointed with how I’d coped. I felt like it should have been easier. But then again, I set high standards for myself. And I can’t control the weather. It was probably good for me to suffer a bit, to remember that one can only control the controllables and that nature can be a tough opponent.

Really looking forward to my Cryotheraphy session later this afternoon. Don’t know what this is? How does going into a chamber that’s -120 degrees Celsius sound? It’s really not that bad and it really helps with a myriad of medical conditions, recovery and acute injuries. I’ve been using it for recovery and to help with the dodgy tendon in my knee.

Stu and I after our Cryo session

The Cape Mile has grown tremendously in just the 3 years that it has been around. From a small event they now need to split up age categories to accommodate all the swimmers. A big thank you to the Sillwater Sports team for accommodating those of us crazies wanting to do all 5 miles and also for putting on such a well organised event. We know you can’t control the weather. Unfortunately.

It was very special doing this with my mom – she managed to come 2nd in her age group in the process of swimming all 5 miles!

I also need to thank Karen Graaff for all her organisation, TYR South Africa for helping out the 5 Mile Club with some gorgeous cozzies, Virgin Active for the best training facilities and Skratch (Puremotion Sports) for fueling my adventures.

If you’d like to donate to the cause that we swam for you still can. Just a little bit could save a life.





Not drowning according to Robyn

I love swimming. I was born to swim and I’ve spent 18 of my 25 years doing it. I also blame the fact that I am a bit socially inept on the fact that my head was always under water during my school years.

My mom took me to my first coach, Brian Button, at the age of 7. I made my first Western Province swim team that year, fell in love with the sport and went on to break SA records and kick boys’ butts. Seriously, I swam faster than all the boys my age. I was taller than them too.

Swimming was my thing. I was good at it and I loved it. We were a great gang of swim squad kids and we all loved swimming training. I was always super serious though; getting annoyed at those who didn’t take training quite as seriously as I did – pulling on lane ropes and turning early.

Attempted cozzie selfie

I have fond memories of taking bets on who could swim the furthest underwater. I always won the brownies with my ability to swim 60m under water. I think I killed many brain cells only surfacing when I was near to blacking out.

And then at about age 14 I hit a plateau. I stopped improving and galas became miserable. I still loved swimming and training, but I just wasn’t achieving faster times or enjoying competing. Eventually, I moved coaches looking for a change. I joined a group of super disciplined youngsters under the watchful eye of a strict Hungarian coach, Karoly von Toros. I loved suffering with my friends. We’d do main sets like 5 x 800m or “4 ones and a four” (8 sets of (4 x 100m + 400m) and set each would have to be faster).

We’d rejoice when coach said “dive day.” It meant a shorter set of race simulations.

We’d swim at Newlands public pool in summer. Some chemical imbalance in the water would make our teeth hurt all day after the session, making it almost impossible to eat something hard like an apple. Eventually some of the kids had gum guards made to protect their teeth from the water while they swam.

Swimming there during the summer holidays was the worst. We’d pitch up for our session at 5:30am to find the previous days revelers’ chicken bones at the bottom of the pool. What else was in that water did not bear thinking about.

I was a backstroker and as such had to swim in the lane next to the wall because there were no lane ropes. Coach moved bins to where the flags should have been so that we knew when to tumble turn.

The squad would move indoors at the end of April and then back outdoors in October. The water was still so cold that I remember crying into my goggles. Otherwise we sucked it up and got on with it.

Straight pull and rotating hips in the TYR Torque swim skin – photo credit Joshua Hodge

We used to swim 8-9 times a week. In winter we swam 05:00 – 06:30 and 18:30 – 20:30 each day. I’d have dinner before training and again afterwards. I was always hungry and couldn’t make it to first break at school without tucking into my homemade, brown bread sandwiches. And I’d sleep in every first language Afrikaans class (but, really! Who’d blame me anyway?).

Good times! Enough with the nostalgia though.

Now that I only need to swim for triathlon my swimming training has changed drastically. My time is far better spent working on my biking and running and as such I only do 2-3 sessions of 3km per week. I swim by myself at Virgin Active because my coach is in Cape Town and I can’t warrant extra money spent on another gym membership to be able to swim with others. Swimming is the one thing that I really struggle to do by myself. I can run and cycle for days, but swimming alone is really tough. So I like to keep the sessions simple. That way I won’t try and negotiate with myself.

A few examples of main sets that I repeat quite often are:

5 x 200m easy leaving on 3:00 + 10 x 100m hard leaving on 1:30


2 x (300m easy on 1:30 leaving pace, 6 x 50m hard on 50sec, 200m easy, 4 x 50m hard, 100m easy, 2 x 50m hard)


15 x 100m on 1:40 at max sustainable speed

The hard is always very hard and the easy very easy.

Warm up is always 400m swim, 5 x 100m kick on 2:00. Followed by the main set.

Cool down is 100m.

Just like that. Every single time. I don’t believe that sets need to be complicated.

Durbanville tri - Hurricane
Killing it in the new TYR Hurricane Cat 5 wetsuit – photo credit Chris Hitchcock

In 2012 my coach, Brendon Pienaar, spent a long time working on my stroke. It was a tedious, frustrating process and I hated it. My stroke is not perfect, but as a result of that work I have a very straight pull. We worked around my shallow hand entry and added in some more hip rotation, changed my breathing from every 3 strokes to every 2 and now my stroke works just fine for me. I think that having a decent stroke allows me to get away with less training too.

I like to do no-nonsense sessions. No drills and no frills. Just wham bam. Drills don’t help me now. The only training tool that I take to the pool is my kickboard. My coach is a firm believer in needing to be able to kick. When I swim with him in CT we never do less than a 1km kick set. By myself, in Stellenbosch, I am a bit lenient and only do 5 x 100m.

“Mutant zombie” TYR swim cap, goggles and kickboard – the only things I take to the pool

I never use a pull buoy or paddles. Brendon likens the use of paddles for me to going to the gym and doing 1000 lat pull downs with a 1kg weight. Pointless.

My swimming is nowhere near what it once was, but that’s okay. I used to do 8-9 sessions per week of 6-8km. Now it’s a big week if I get to 10km.

So straighten out that pull and in the words of Dory, “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”