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Stéphane: Swim Trek "At one with nature"

The first edition of the Morocco Swim Trek, an international open water swimming competition, was held last year. The challenge took place in the Dakhla lagoon in Morocco and was divided into four stages totalling 25km (5km/6km/10km/4km). It is open to professionals and amateurs alike, with a single goal: to surpass yourself and push your limits.


Stéphane Avennec, Nabaiji brand team member, was part of the inauguration of this competition:



As a pool swimmer, how did you find the transition between the two environments?


 "My preparations began two or three months before the competition. It was summertime, so I started incorporating a few sea swimming sessions into my schedule to get myself used to a discipline that I did not really know much about. I really had to make an effort to learn how to orient myself. As a pool swimmer it is difficult to suddenly not have any markings... I also knew I would have to get used to swimming in a wetsuit, which restricts your movement and changes your swimming technique. I also varied my activities to prepare other muscle groups by running, cycling and rollerblading. But learning how to stay on course and keep your bearings despite the waves and current can only be learnt in the open water."



What did you focus on during your workouts to ensure a good performance on the big day?


"I still continued to train in the pool but over much longer distances in order to learn to go beyond my comfort zone and power through the kilometres more easily. I particularly remember a 30 x 200 metres... In the pool, I focused my training on my upper body because I knew that my legs would only serve to stabilise me. I spent about 95% of my training time working on my arms. I used hand paddles and the pull buoy a lot and I tried to set myself a pace to determine my ideal cruising speed. I stopped intensive training about eight days before the Swim Trek so that I would be sharp and fresh when I got there. The goal was really to experience the event with pleasure, not pain."

Stephane en fin de course

Can you tell us about your psychological preparation?


"I have always been a swimmer, but open water was really new territory for me, so I did not want to simply march happily into it, but instead go with humility in the face of the challenge. I knew it wasn't going to be an easy competition and that anything could happen. I didn't really feel anxious or stressed but I didn't take anything lightly. I treated each heat as a separate event. I was meticulous in every aspect of my preparation and I knew that being well prepared would put me on track for a successful experience."



The primary aim of Swim Trek is to finish the race, not to win it. How did you approach the matter?


"There were some 60 people at the starting line and, for a competitor, the idea of performing well is of course ever present, haha! But I approached this event as a total discovery, an adventure. The main thing for me was to have fun but also, above all, to realise that my preparation had paid off and to be able to say to myself "I did it!". I wanted to see what I was capable of in an area that was still unknown to me. Finally, I was able to enjoy it in the way I expected to and I finished in sixth place, so overall I think we can say that I ticked all the boxes!" 



How did you manage your races during this competition? 


"In all my races I tried to keep a fast pace from the beginning (keeping some energy in reserve of course) to get me away from the other competitors as soon as possible so I was free to move. In doing so I could avoid most of the wash and waves made by the other swimmers and probably avoid taking a few blows along the way too... Then I tried to find and stick with the strongest swimmers so I could race against them and find my pace. In this kind of situation you must remain vigilant because we are not immune to pairing up with a competitor who loses their bearings and the course of the race. Anyone can get lost." 

Stephane en crawl

As someone who was a high-level pool swimmer, is it possible to compare the two disciplines? And despite that, did your experience of being at a high level serve you during the Swim Trek?


"My experience as a swimmer did indeed serve me a lot, especially in managing the race and my stroke. Nonetheless, these are two disciplines that are different but complementary. In open water you don't feel the same sensations, you can't really reuse your skills as a pool swimmer and so you have to adapt. It's a bit like comparing road cycling and mountain biking. My experience as a high-level athlete was the most useful during recovery. Taking on four races of this magnitude one after the other requires optimal recovery, which means proper hydration, good nutrition, stretching and above all a good night's sleep!"



What was the atmosphere like there? Competitive or friendly?


"During this trip I could honestly feel a real harmony between the participants. There were over 15 nationalities, and every night it was not as if we were bivouacking with 60 competitors but rather with 60 friends. Everyone was happy to be together and the true spirit of solidarity in what we were putting ourselves through was palpable. Everyone was encouraging one another before each heat and congratulating after. In addition to that, I was lucky enough to be doing this Swim Trek with two other Nabaiji team members, so the friendly atmosphere at the camp was all the greater."



What will you take away from this experience?


"It really was a fantastic experience. The difficulty was managing to stay focused on the race whilst at the same time marvelling at the landscapes and the extraordinary environment of our surroundings. We were at one with nature and that's what was so incredible. I strongly recommend it to all swimmers who like new challenges and new sensations. It's a great challenge to set yourself. I enjoyed this baptism of fire in open water swimming so much that I am now much more likely to include open water sessions in my workouts because I have learnt to love it."



What would be THE piece of advice you could give to those wanting to hit the open water?


"For any newcomer to open water swimming, I would advise them to take all the necessary precautions. Even as a good swimmer, it can be unsettling when you no longer have any markers. Avoid going alone and don't stray too far from the shore. Another important point, and few people think of this, is to wear and use visible gear with bright colours."



You've always been a competitor at heart. Have you set yourself a new challenge?


"I must admit that I haven't even thought about it but it would be tempting to relive the experience for the second edition of Morocco Swim Trek that will be held in late November 2016. Also, along with the whole Nabaiji team I will crossing Saint-Jean-de-Luz bay on 14 July!"



National Swimmer & Dialogue Leader
natation en eau libre

Fed up of counting tiles? NABAIJI is going to introduce you to the wonderful world of the open water!