SYDNEY, April 24, 2012 — At first glance, Swimming Australia Limited might seem an unlikely choice to be the reigning J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge men's team champion in Sydney.
Besides its obvious focus on swimming rather than running, Swimming Australia had never entered Sydney's Corporate Challenge prior to last year's race. And, they entered with the bare minimum of four runners. No matter, what they lacked in Corporate Challenge experience and team numbers, Swimming Australia more than made up for in talent and confidence.
"A friend of ours suggested that we form a team for the 2011 Sydney event as we might have a chance of winning it!" said company captain and team member Brett Cartwright.
With Cartwright finishing second overall at Sydney's Centennial Park last November in 17:08 behind teammate and men's individual champion Bradley Croker (16:55), Swimming Australia did, indeed, race to the men's title.
The well-earned victory means that on May 24, Swimming Australia will join Sydney's other qualifying teams — women's winner ANZ and mixed champion Sydney Water — at the 29th annual J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship, a gathering that brings together the best 39 corporate teams from across the world's leading corporate running series. The men's, women's and mixed team champions from each city will square off in a 3.5-mile Championship that will be run just prior to the start of the regularly scheduled JPMorgan Chase & Co. Corporate Challenge in Chicago's Grant Park.
Of course, the victory last November in Sydney wasn't as easy as it looks from the outside. It came with several different types of pressure for Swimming Australia.
The Swimming Australia team (from left): Bradley Croker, Brett Cartwright, Adam Pine, and Wayne Lomas.
"The major risk was the chance of one of us getting injured in training in the lead-up to the Sydney event," said Cartwright. "On race day we were confident that our team were all fit, and baring a freak accident/injury, we’d all have no problems completing the race. Given that we’re all fairly competitive guys there was too much team pride at stake not to finish."
Teammate Wayne Lomas, who finished third for the champions in 19:19, noted a different type of pressure.
"Being part of a small organisation (we only have 39 staff), we felt greater pressure because our whole organisation knew what we were doing and we all know each other really well," he said.
But, perhaps the most pressure fell on the shoulders of the team's fourth finisher, Adam Pine.
"Having never competed in a fun run and being the ‘non runner’ of the group it was a little daunting," Pine admitted. "I was confident I would finish, just not sure on my time. I was expecting to run about 24 minutes — and was really happy to get under 21 minutes."
The other members of the team also were ecstatic that Pine was able to come through in a pressure situation with an impressive time of 20:48. It was, they said, the key to victory.
"Based on Brad’s training, we expected him to run well, so the fact that he won was not a major surprise," said Cartwright, adding that Croker, like himself, comes from a running background and recently finished seventh in the Australian Olympic 10,000-meter trials.
"The major surprise for our team was Adam’s rapid improvement," Cartwright added. "In only a few months of running training, he was able to ‘transfer’ his swimming fitness into a level of running fitness that we didn’t expect him to. Basically he ran about 2 to 3 minutes faster than we thought he would. Adam’s improvement was really the main reason we won the race. Before the event we thought our accumulated team time would be about 1 hour, 16 minutes to 1 hour, 17 minutes."
Given that runner-up Commonwealth Bank Group finished in 1:16:53, that would have made for a very close race. Instead, Pine's surprisingly fast first-time running effort pushed Swimming Australia's time to 1:14:10 — good for a 2:32 advantage over Commonwealth Bank.
A three-time Olympian and medallist at the World Championships, Pine is clearly an extremely talented swimmer. Still, he wasn't sure what to expect after being recruited to round out the running team for the Corporate Challenge.
Bradley Croker with his trophy after winning the 2011 men's title in 16:55. With Croker is Rob Priestley, CEO and Senior Country Officer for Australia and New Zealand, J.P. Morgan.
"You develop a big aerobic capacity from years of swimming," Pine said. "I was lucky that I could transfer some of my swimming training background into the 3.5-mile running race. In hard swimming weeks, I used to train up to 100 kilometres in the pool, and, in terms of running, I hit 50 kilometres this week as my biggest week.
"I found out that a competition day for swimming is similar to running," Pine added. "You do a warm up you sit around and get ready, you go to marshal/check in etc. and then you line up for the starters pistol."
Lomas also has a limited running background, competing in the sport for only a couple of years. But, already, he has racked up several sub-3-hour marathons. He offered another reason for Swimming Australia's Corporate Challenge success.
"The culture of being totally involved in elite sport very much carries into the ‘Back Office’," he said, "so although we might not be competing in the pool (Adam is); we are all part of an elite sport family."
As Lomas suggests, Swimming Australia sets its sights high in the sports world. Swimming is a major sport in sports-mad Australia and Swimming Australia is the national sporting organization responsible for the promotion and development of the sport in Australia at all levels. It's a big job and all four of the organization's Corporate Challenge championship team members are in their 30s and involved in management at Swimming Australia.
Cartwright echoed Lomas' suggestion that the culture at Swimming Australia not only helped the team win, but might serve as an example to corporate workers everywhere trying to find the tough balance involving fitness, work and family.
"It helps that our office backs on to a lake with plenty of bike paths," Cartwright said. "So training during lunch or after work is a lot easier than it would be in other cities. Working for a supportive organisation that encourages a healthy lifestyle and a good work/life balance has also made it easier to get the necessary training done.
"However," he added, "it’s not always easy, and being organized and managing your time is essential. Both Adam and I have young children so there is often a conflict between getting the balance of work, family and training right. Our team result is evidence that being in your mid to late 30s is not an excuse for not maintaining a similar level of health and fitness that you might have had in your teens or 20s."
And, the team is not about to start making excuses or lowering their expectations as they approach their May 24 date in Chicago with the best corporate runners in the world. Swimming Australia comes into the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship with the sixth-fastest seeded time among the qualifying teams in the highly competitive men's field.
"We are looking forward to testing ourselves against other organisations and are aiming for a top three podium finish," Cartwright said. "We think that leading up to the Championships in Chicago there is still some room for improvement from all of us compared to our runs in Sydney. Our team is very motivated for a good performance in Chicago."