For Roger North, Marathon Swimming Begins at Home
"The music in my head" … "Family" … "Community." These are the things that Roger North now says his first attempt at crossing New Zealand's Lake Wanaka was really about. Even after almost 14 hours in the water, he maintains that it was "about everything but swimming."
Looking back, he recalls the swim as "a lonely, hard mental journey" that he paradoxically found "very peaceful and meditative." Eleven months after swimming just 35 km of the lake's 45-km length, North admits to feeling "quite nostalgic" about that day.
Swimming, of course, is what training for a marathon swim is all about. And with almost a year to go before his next attempted crossing, North has an additional tool in his training arsenal: his new Performance Endless Pool®.
Installed in his backyard, with new landscaping and decking, the Performance swim current boasts a top pace of 1:11/100m. That easily surpasses North's target pace for his next Lake Wanaka crossing, roughly 1:30/100m, which itself is a bit faster than the average pace of his first attempt.
So why would a man who recalls being just "an average club swimmer as a kid" grow up to be a marathon swimmer? It started in 2001, when North and his wife moved from their native Britain to their current hometown: Wanaka, New Zealand. "We decided to live where we play," and Wanaka's community of 6,000 – many of them "accessible and unpretentious" triathletes – fit the bill.
He'd kept up his swimming, but at age 40 (he's now 48) the local swimmers inspired North to train "more intelligently." He worked his way up to tackling the Iron-distance Challenge Wanaka triathlon, which includes a 3.8-km Lake Wanaka swim. After that, North confesses, "I became obsessed with swimming the whole lake." His initial attempt seems to have been the first ever, possibly because, as he self-deprecatingly puts it, "no one's been daft enough."
His training for attempt #2 was interrupted when the local pool shut down for the winter, which is July and August Down Under. "I decided to take control," he states, and control meant purchasing his own Endless Pool. "I could swim everyday and have a pool for the family."
The family aspect now plays a bigger role than he might have expected. "My kids enjoy it so much. Both can swim a couple of kilometers each," he says proudly. "I'm giving all the neighborhood kids lessons as well. The majority of the time," he observes, his Endless Pool "is a fun place where you hear kids laughing."
Even with a five- and an eight-year-old, plus the stresses of running his and his wife's bohemian-style café, "You're never too busy to grab a quick swim at home with no travel time."
As he evolves his training style to be more "appropriate for my age and ability," he's been modeling his technique on the "unconventional" style of his friend, Oceans Seven swimmer Adam Walker. His "downhill swimming style" – that is, using more of his hips and less of his chest – "is very fast; it just looks slow."
North has also taken to the Swim Smooth technique, which he describes as the "Australian version of Total Immersion." Based on sports-science research, Swim Smooth encourages a more controlled and efficient stroke. "There's hardly any effort involved, if you get it right.
With these stroke advances plus the hours to come in his Endless Pool, North hopes that, next time, he'll overcome the obstacles that derailed his first attempt, namely frigid water, unexpected currents, and unfavorable winds. He knows that he has a "serious journey" ahead, and whatever else it may be about for him, it will be most definitely about swimming.