Alex Kostich is holding steady in extending one of the most remarkable streaks in the open water swimming world: 24 consecutive years of Top 10 finishes* at the annual 2.4-mile (3.8 km) Waikiki Roughwater Swim on Oahu.
This year, despite the oncoming currents and tough conditions, the 46-year-old Californian from Los Angeles battled a two-time Olympian (Jarrod Poort) and one of Australia’s top ocean swimmers (Ollie Signorini) to finish third, leaving the rest of the 1,000+ field in his wake.
It was fascinating to learn of Kostich’s remarkable pre-race thoughts, year-long training program, and in-race strategies:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You ran out of the water very fast at the end of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim – faster than nearly anyone else in the race, even the top two guys. How in the world do you stay in such good shape?
Alex Kostich: To be honest, I felt really good in the race. The strong currents made the swim exhausting though, so by the time I stood up for the short run to the finish line, I had a boost of much-needed adrenaline and I was just so happy to be done. I think the key to staying in good shape is consistency; putting in the training every day if you can manage it. That said, I have not been very consistent this summer as a result of a rotator cuff inflammation and some significant travel opportunities, so I feel very fortunate and surprised at today’s results. Perhaps age and experience really do count for something, but I certainly didn’t feel physically 100% prepared.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you see Jarrod Poort and Ollie Signorini during the race? Did you see them work together to pull away from you? Can you explain your position throughout the race? Where were you at the start, at the first turn buoy, swimming across Waikiki, at the second turn buoy?
Alex Kostich: Jarrod, Ollie and I were quite close for most of the first half of the race, and I was aware that they were strategizing together at times; the Aussies are like killer whales hunting a seal, they do it in packs and work together as a team. And like a seal, I was just hanging on for dear life.
I led the race for a little over half the course. I like to get out in front early. I always have, even in my pool days and if you aren’t in the lead pack from the get-go in this swim, you’re out of it for good. So the first 400 meters for me are crucial. Both Ollie and Jarrod were on my feet rounding the first buoy and for the next mile or so after that. As usual, the Aussies are highly strategic and opted to hang back and draft while I did the navigating. That’s what this race is all about: drafting and navigating. But someone needs to take the lead and I would rather be in first position than hang back and let someone else dictate the speed or direction we’re taking.
A little after the halfway mark, Ollie and Jarrod made their expected move. It’s a given that they have more speed than I do, so I just swam my own race and focused on getting through the channel finish in the best possible line regardless of where they were. I swam my perfect race. I could not have taken a better line – which I have never done in 24 years. So that alone was a result of which I am most proud today…if only I had my youth and speed back.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How strong were the currents this year?
Alex Kostich: The currents were very, very strong this year. I only remember one other year where the currents may have been equivalent or worse. There were moments during the swim where I swam in the same place, looking at the same coral formation 40 feet below for 8-10 strokes. It was maddening. But I also know that my endurance and experience in rough water is an advantage, so I welcome the conditions.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you taper for this swim?
Alex Kostich: I definitely taper for this race. 20 years ago I would come to this race and lift weights two days before and run 8 miles the day prior to the swim. Now, I taper a week and usually just do a short warm up swim on the Saturday and Sunday before the event. I’m old.
I need my taper to be long now. My rule of thumb is usually to only taper the week before the swim. I cut my daily 8,000 meter workouts down gradually by 1,000 meters each day, so that I am down to only 4,000 meters on the Friday before the race. Then the weekend is all about traveling comfortably to Waikiki, establishing my pre-race routine, and warming up enough to feel good and then calling it a day.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When you wake up in the morning for this swim, do you have a typical ritual?
Alex Kostich: Like most swimmers, I absolutely have rituals. Some are necessary, some are silly superstitions.
On race morning I like to wake up at 6 am, stretch and just try to relax after hopefully a good night’s sleep. I’ll have half a banana usually and get to the race start with 90 minutes to spare so I can take my time getting marked and swim out to the first turn buoy. That’s a long warm-up, but it takes me a while to feel ready to race and today was invaluable in going out the 800 meters to the buoy because I really saw the strength of the currents and the directions they were sweeping me. Personally, today’s warmup influenced the entire course direction I decided to take.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How cool is it to come to Honolulu for nearly a quarter century and do this race, always racing among the Top 10 athletes in a race that has about 1,000 athletes?
Alex Kostich: You know, it’s really rewarding and fulfilling for me to come here every year, but it has little to do with coming in Top 10 every time. I could come in last place and I would still love the experience of this event. 24 years ago, I came here to win. Now, I’m here to have fun, to feel the ‘aloha’ spirit of the host island, and to enjoy the friendships with other athletes and islanders that I’ve met over the years. So yes, it is incredibly cool and motivating to be doing this for a quarter century, and I hope to do it for at least another quarter century. It will never get old, even though I will.
I’m so grateful for the gift of swimming and how it’s enriched my life; with the Hawaii experience being one of the most cherished over the last quarter century for sure. The experiences have been priceless and I treasure every one of them and every one of the people I’ve met along the way.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is your secret to success in being such a fantastic masters swimmer who can keep up with Olympians and the fastest ocean swimmers in the world? Is it your daily training or nutrition or dryland training?
Alex Kostich: I can’t tell you my secrets, otherwise my competition may have yet another advantage over me.
In all seriousness, I think I have been incredibly fortunate to enjoy swimming for so long without burning out. I love to train and I prefer to train by myself. I consider it sacred ‘me’ time, the only time in a busy day when I preferably don’t have to interact with anyone and can focus on something I need to do, for me.
Consistency is key, of course, and that could be a factor in why I’m still competitive. I’ve never really retired or been out of the pool for more than a week or two at most – and when I’m focused on training I commit to it every day wholeheartedly.
I won’t even go into nutrition because I have a huge sweet tooth and a major reason why I love to swim 8000 meters a day is because I can basically eat whatever I want and I do. Cupcakes and ice cream for breakfast? Sure, sometimes I do – no apologies.
As for dryland, I try and lift weights for strength maintenance or for shoulder strengthening physical therapy to battle the rotator cuff issues at least once or twice a week. I also enjoy running and will run 1-3 times a week too, 8 miles on average per run. It’s helped me mix up my training and I enjoy the outdoors so when the weather is good I’ll opt for a jog on the beach or a trail run by my house.
More than anything though, I don’t take any of it as seriously as I used to in my prime. I am here to have fun, to laugh, and to challenge myself. Over-thinking this race is not something I am willing to do anymore. As a result, I’ve come here and surprised myself on more than one occasion. I wish I had subscribed to that philosophy 24 years ago.
Top 10 Swimmers:
1 Ollie Signorini (Sydney, Australia) 59:48 [shown in middle]
2 Jarrod Poort (Shellcove, Australia) 1:00:23 [shown on left]
3 Alex Kostich (Los Angeles, California) 1:01:42 [shown on right]
4 Malcolm Allen (Shelly Beach, Australia) 1:02:12
5 Douwe Yntema (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 1:06:15
5 Peter Thiel (Waverton, Hawaii) 1:07:49
6 Christine Olson (San Francisco, California) 1:06:24
6 Wesley Roberts (Figtree, Australia) 1:08:00
7 George O’Brien (Coolum Beach, Australia) 1:08:33
8 Jackson Van Der Zant (Brisbane, Australia) 1:08:36
9 Cherelle Oestringer (Honolulu, Hawaii) 1:08:46 [first female]
10 Ryan Duell (Toowong, Australia) 1:08:54
Kostich is shown above with Steve Childers at finish of Waikiki Roughwater Swim and below being interviewed on local television.
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