Josie Page, 22, has always had a passion for the water, but after swimming competitively in the pool and in surf lifesaving for most of her life, she has now well and truly found her calling in ultra-marathon swimming.
In this feature, Suzie Ryan talks to Ms Page, an Occupational Therapist from Western Australia, about why she swapped the pool for open water and what drives her to take on the ultra-swimming distances.
Time for a change
In 2017, Ms Page decided to swap the chlorine for saltwater.
“I have always loved the water and I progressed through the ranks of squad swimming and did a combination of pool, open water and surf club racing for a number of years,” said Ms Page.
“I made the decision to swap from long weekends at a chlorine overbearing pool to a morning at the beach, participating in open water swims and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.
“Changing to solely open water swimming was what truly sparked the newfound passion for marathon swimming for me.”
Ms Page had always loved the longer distances in the pool and open water but she didn’t expect to like ultra-marathon swimming as much as she does.
“I’ve never been a sprinter, as much as I would have loved the sprinter life as a youngster, but I just never had those fast-twitch muscle fibres, unfortunately,” said Ms Page.
“Plus dives and turns were never my strong points in the pool, so open water swimming was always appealing to me.
“When I transitioned to solely open water I started to realise that the five and ten kilometre events that I was doing were too short for my body.
“So I started looking into the ultra-marathon swimming events and the rest is history.
“My coaches thought it was a good idea to give it a try too because they like to describe my body as a ‘diesel engine’, who can just keep going, so ultra-marathon swimming was more suited for my body.”
A Rottnest Channel addiction
While Ms Page was hesitant to complete the Rottnest Channel Swim as her first ultra-marathon swim, she had some support from an experienced Rottnest Channel swimmer.
“I remember my first solo Rottnest Channel crossing in 2017 and I was on the fence about doing a solo but my uncle (Rohan Hollick, who completed a triple Rottnest crossing in 2013) who is a mad marathon swimmer gave me the push to give it a crack,” said Ms Page.
“He has completed the Rottnest Channel over 30 times even doing a triple Rottnest Channel crossing before.
“He has been my main motivator and a big inspiration for me getting into marathon swimming.
“I probably wouldn’t have done the Rottnest Channel Swim if he hadn’t convinced me to do the Rottnest Channel Swim with him the year before in a duo team, so I have him to thank.”
Ms Page’s first Rottnest Channel Swim wasn’t exactly the ultra-marathon swim she had expected but it still got her hooked.
“My first Rottnest Channel crossing was an interesting experience, I definitely got the marathon swimming experience, that’s for sure,” said Ms Page.
“I suffered from hyperthermia and realised I couldn’t pee and swim at the same time so that was quite painful, I actually thought I had appendicitis but it was just needing to pee.
“Strangely enough I still loved the whole experience and I have been back every year since.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I love the challenge that marathon swimming gives me both mentally and physically.”
Preparing mind and body
Training for any open water event, especially an ultra-marathon swim, is time consuming but Ms Page has found a good balance that gives her the best of both worlds.
“I train 25+ hours a week which is usually around nine swim sessions, two gym sessions and one yoga session a week,” said Ms Page.
“On top of that, I juggle working at my dream job as an Occupational Therapist which I just landed after graduating from university and a social life.
“I can thank swimming for giving me great organisation and time management skills that I will use for the rest of my life though.”
While Ms Page sometimes envy’s the sprinters at training she loves preparing both her mind and body for marathon swims.
“My training consists of a variety of sets to keep my body and mind from getting bored and also preparing for different parts of the race,” said Ms Page.
“So I try to build my endurance but also make sure I have a bit of speed therefore when I need it.
“I will say that there are times when I wish I could have longer chats between rounds or 100’s like the sprinters, but I know that for marathon swimming I need to keep going to have my mind and body switched on for most of the session.
“I also do a couple of long swims in the ocean and work closely with my coaches to get the most out of each session.”
Ms Page knows all too well that she can’t just train her body for marathon swimming, she must also train her mind to have a successful swim.
“The mental side of marathon swimming is an aspect that a lot of people forget about,” said Ms Page.
“For myself, I try to stay focused on swimming when I go to training so that I can stay focused when I actually get to my marathon swim.
“I really try and leave my other commitments and worries at the gate, and I find that also works in the opposite way if I’ve had a bad session.
“I have learnt to leave it at the pool and not bring it home with me and I have found this has helped my marathon swimming immensely, it took me a while to learn this, but now I have it makes such a difference.”
Challenges of the Rottnest Channel
Having completed the Rottnest Channel Swim five times and in preparation for her sixth, Ms Page is no stranger to the challenges the Rottnest Channel throws at swimmers.
“I have found that every year I do the Rottnest Channel Swim it throws me a new set of challenges, but I’ve learnt that it is a part of the swim,” said Ms Page.
“But I have learnt that remaining focused and concentrating on the process are the key points that get me across the line.
“I do find that mentally getting to the 12-kilometre mark and seeing the island feels amazing until you realise the island doesn’t seem to be getting any closer until you hit the sand at the 20-kilometre mark.
“So, that is always a challenge every year, but you just get through it.”
Ms Page has also encountered a few physical challenges over the years crossing the Rottnest Channel.
“Last year, in 2021, I suffered a fractured rib a few days prior to the swim and I didn’t know the extent of the injury so I still decided to swim,” said Ms Page.
“This was a massive mental and physical challenge for me, but I just tried to stay focused and go back to my key points I do in training and I managed to make it over.
“I always say that my first solo crossing was a big challenge too because I hadn’t done it before and not knowing the challenges it would bring me.
“Like not being able to pee and being in that bad pain I thought I had appendicitis and thought I wouldn’t make it.
“I did not find it funny, but my support crew still find it entertaining to this day and that was six years ago.”
Sharing the Channel with sharks
Being from Western Australia, and completing her fair share of marathon swims, Ms Page is well aware of the presence of the men in the grey suits.
“A couple of years ago, I think it was 2018, there were a few sharks spotted during the Rottnest Channel Swim,” said Ms Page.
“Thankfully I was already on land but there were quite a few swimmers who had to be pulled out of the water and couldn’t complete their swim, which was disappointing to see for them.
“In all my years of open water swimming, I’ve only had two races that have been affected by a shark, one being this year in the Cottesloe Mile.
“We started the race and only swam about 100 metres before the alarm went off and we had to exit the water for about an hour.
“Luckily, we got to start the race again once the shark had swum off, but it is safe to say I definitely swam the shore side of my competitors during the race.”
Sharks are never far from the minds of open water swimmers, so I asked Ms Page how she deals with those thoughts while swimming for such long periods, a long way from shore.
“I don’t really get bothered by them much, I know that they could potentially be there because we are usually in the ocean,” said Ms Page.
“I feel pretty safe when swimming in events though because there are so many boats and helicopters around us that I know I am in safe hands.
“But this year Western Australia has had a pretty bad year with sharks, with many shark sightings and a few close encounters, so this has definitely made me a little bit more cautious lately.”
The next challenge
There’s no stopping Ms Page from continuing her journey in the ultra-marathon swimming world.
“I would love to continue doing the Rottnest Channel Swim each year because I really enjoy it,” said Ms Page.
“I also have a few bucket list swims I would like to do, one being the English Channel.
“That is at the top of my list and I hope to do that in the next couple of years.”
Advice for first time Rottnest swimmers
Having completed the Rottnest Channel Swim five times already at such a young age, we asked Ms Page what her advice would be for people wanting to try the channel crossing.
“I would always recommend doing a duo or team swim prior to doing a solo crossing,” said Ms Page.
“It gives you a taste test of what a crossing would be like with conditions and how it will feel and then you know what a solo crossing would be like.
“I would also say that if you are thinking about it just do it, you won’t regret it.
“Completing a solo Rottnest Channel crossing is one of the most incredible achievements no matter what your ability and you will be extremely proud of yourself.”
The South32 Rottnest Channel Swim is a 19.7km open water swim from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island and will be held on Saturday, 26 February 2022.