Ok so, you book yourself a spot on a tide, usually that’s four swimmers to a week. If day one is good, swimmer one goes. Day two good weather, swimmer two goes, etc. If the weather is good, the pilot can get ahead. My pilot is ahead.
Ha rang me last week to ask how I was fit for this week…then rang again to ask if I could swim last Friday! Last Friday being a month early and only a week from my back to back! I did seriously consider it…but eventually turned it down as it was a huge spring tide. I figured if I was a bit tired from the back to back, the weather got up and there was a huge tide making things harder, id kick myself. Then hoping I wouldn’t be kicking myself for missing the shot!
One of the reasons that swung the decision was the pilot told me he had one swimmer booked on this weeks neap tide (smaller and theoretically easier). Long range weather looked good…so I agreed to potentially being second swimmer from Wednesday.
The real real difficulty in this game is the simple fact you do not know when you are going to go! I had a really nice long taper planned and have been disagreeing with people regarding when to start that for some time. This weekend I went and swam 3hours 20…which was probably more than I should, but it was all controlled and easy and I’ve had a lot of other days off.
Prepared to admit I was possibly wrong with starting the taper…as the pilot rang me again to ask about Wednesday; do I want to be swimmer one!
A few frantic calls to my crew…and it is on. 2 days time, 4am in the morning in the water! eeeek! Is that enough rest time since the weekend? Don’t know! Is that enough taper? Don’t know! Am I ready? Don’t know! At some point you need to roll the dice…and that’s now!
I think its ok. Ive done the training, I think ive recovered from the B2B, I think Ill be recovered from the weekend, I think the weather is perfect….theres a whole lot finger crossing, but we are going!!
Now arranging to get to dover; the crew will be posting on this facebook page on the day so follow that if you want to get updates from the boat! https://www.facebook.com/Toms-Channel-Swim-369343773755785/
After the relay I really wasn’t very well! Had a bad cough and chest and spent a few days in bed. Bleurgh. I’m never ill. Combination of tiredness and perhaps getting the lurgy off someone….and maybe too much channel water! The weekend after was due to be the humdinger 6 hour swim followed by another diy six for back to back sixes/split channel. Humdinger happened, but wasn’t great. My new hat and not enough lube ate the back of my neck so Sunday morning really was just a dip and I called it a day to fight again. Not Ideal. The date (1st week of August) is now looming large.
Chatting with the Varne Ridge Class of 2019; Ness who is swimming the channel the week after me had a similar back to back that didn’t go to plan. The weather was showing blazing sunshine this weekend so I thought Id head to Durley sea swims for the best chance at a good B2B. Ness checked the flights and found a cheap one from Ireland so decided to come too!
Durley is a group on the south coast near Bournmouth, a little bit like the dover group but a smaller group and a nicer setting. Compared to Wales (and Ireland) the water is warm and the beach support feeding you is amazing! Makes it quite easy to do a long swim as you can do a lap. come in for a warm feed and some smiley faces…and repeat!
We rocked up on Saturday morning and were met with bright sunshine, flat water and a couple of others doing six hours…and one guy doing a seven. Immediately, competitive Ness points to the seven with a cheeky smile. Arse, this is going to be a seven! When we jumped in at 8, i couldnt believe how warm it was. Watch said 18+. It felt boiling! I swam straight out and with a big smile on my face (because it was so warm) swam right up and right back, timing my run back int the beach for an hour and a half. Not uch to say RE the rest of the swim, lots of 45 min laps back to my feed, lots of sunshine and lots of insanely warm water! Pretty sure my watch was reading high but it said nearly 20 near the end! Water was a little bit swelly at the start, which is great for swimming in, flat in the middle and a little bit of chop at the end. Ideal. At five hours I came in for a feed and was told Ness was doing seven. Normally that might have dipped my head but I was enjoying it so much (and id already accepted it was going to be a seven) onwards to seven!
Seven hours is a significant swim…but I got out still smiling, it was just so warm, it was too easy! Dont get me wrong, Im not complaining…and that was the whole point of going to Durley…but it shouldn’t have been that easy! Tommorrow would be the day tho, this puppy is only half done!
Sunday morning, really surprised I wasn’t really sore or hurting at all. Weird. I know I didn’t swim as far as perhaps I would normally expect in 7 hours…but there was a current pushing you back and I was taking it easy for the second day…but still, I shouldn’t be feeling this good should I?
We jumped in under cloud…but the water was still 18+. It was reasonably windy and quite choppy so it was a bit difficult to get into a rhythm but the first half hour was assessing the body….and playing with the barrel jellyfish that seem to have come in. Was surprised we didn’t see them the day before when it was flatter but nice to see something! Pleasingly, pretty much all good. I was however feeling a little chill which I’m putting down to the body working quite hard the day before and being in recovery mode. That’s how this swim is supposed to work tho, push the body when its tired. Again, hour and a half lap followed by 45 min feed. Easy back with the wind, hard out with the chop constantly slapping in the face. No point getting annoyed, it is what it is, swim the best you can and deal with it; it could be like that on the day! After 5 hours I was getting a bit tired but no way I was even close to getting out, no dark patches, no hard points, just a nice easy swim to finish it off.
Again, too easy. It was force 4 wind at the end so slapping us in the face with chop but the temperature and support made it so easy, it wasn’t ever in doubt. Slightly bittersweet as I was kind of hoping it would have been a bit harder to put in a mental box for later labelled ‘really really hard training swim’. As it was, Its in a box labelled ‘really easy really long training swim’. It might help me mentally if it gets tough on the day…or it might not! No matter, big back to back, done. That’s the last big box that needed ticking. Really consistent and long build up, monster big swim (G24), big back to back/split channel. Now in a really good place mentally and physically and in theory, one month exactly til my window opens to get a nice long rest and tapering down period to go into this fully 100% as ready as I can be.
In theory, the relay window was pretty good. We were the only ones on the tide so it could be a case of just waiting for the best day. In practise, the forecast had low pressure systems in charge all week which means unsettled weather, and not enough gaps inbetween to get the swim completed. Stuart the pilot of Sea Leopard kept calling every 12 hours saying the forecast had updated and the changed again and his advice would be to hold off. In the end it looked like Tuesday and Wednesday were going to be OK with rougher weather coming in at the end of the week. Tuesday looked like a windy/rough start but settling down to a perfect finish and Wednesday looked like smoother water but worse weather all day. We decided to meet at the boat at 3am on Tuesday and go and see how rough, rough was…
Dover looked reasonably calm at 3am as we moved a small mountain of stuff onto the boat. Stuart had decided to motor round to the start to take a look before making the final call…but we were moving and there was a huge sense of excitement! There didn’t seem to be any real discussion of shall we turn round when we got to Samphire Hoe; it was on and we all knew it! Water was choppy…but with last weeks PMA training in the back of my mind, I knew that I could easily push through rough stuff for an hour and after that, it would depend if the channel gods were with us or not!
I greased up, jumped in and swam to the beach. Rules dictate you need to clear the water so I waded up the pebbly beach and raised my arm to signal I was ready. At around 4am to a blast from Sea Leopards horn, I hobbled back down the beach and splashed through the breakers, swimming back out to the boat and pushing out through the breaking dawn, we were off!
Sea leopard is quite a small boat reasonably close to the water but in the semi light and the chop, it was quite difficult to pick a spot next to the boat and hold a straight course, the waves and the splash bouncing off the hull seemed to swamp my breathing every breath; all I could do was try and hold a nice stroke and make as much progress as I could whilst avoiding swallowing too much water! Almost as soon as it had started, it was over and I was being signalled my first shift was over, I slowed up and swapped with Andrew, climbing out and having a little bit of a shiver! Water had been 14.5 ish; fresh, but not too bad.
Andrew swam strongly through his hour, again pushing through the chop and doing his best to make us some progress. Everyone on the boat seemed to be holding onto their breakfast as the boat bounced around so that was a small positive! The sun was also starting to peak out, fingers crossed for a lovely day!
Sallie jumped in on two hours and swam a brave hour battling the chop. She was getting hit around quite a bit and took on some water; after her changeout it was apparant she had drunk too much and lost her breakfast over the side. Really important at this stage to try and not let this take over. We are all swimming a long way so the last thing you need is not to be able to take on any fuel or drink…and she did a valiant job of holding down what she could!
Hour four was Lisa, swimming breaststroke. I think the fact she was swimming breastroke, and the chop (she was used to lakes) meant she looked quite nervous getting in. We had discussed beforehand that everyone just needed to get in and finish their hour and whatever progress you could make would help. She swam her hour without a complaint and when I jumped back in, we were on the edge of the first shipping lane.
As I was about to get back in Stuart told me it had picked up a little bit again; pretty annoying if im honest as it was supposed to be flattening out but probably best for the team the stronger swimmers get the rougher sea! I think the second hour was worse than the first but I wanted to push as deep into the shipping lane as we could to put the team in the best place; again the hour seemed to go really quickly but the temperature had noticeably dropped and I had a real good shiver afterwards, coldest water temp was 13.2!
The water was starting to flatten out now, Andrew swam a steady hour and climbed out with a huge smile on his face! Looking back at the cliffs of Dover, a second boat was chasing us down. A soloist had gone out on the boat Anastasia. Starting an hour behind us she was putting in a huge effort and reeling us in. As Sallie and the Lisa swum their second hours, Anastasia caught and passed us. Lisa’s second hour started on the edge of the separation zone; a one mile wide gap between the shipping lanes. Usually this is where all the flotsam collects and when I swam it last year, was jellyfish soup! This year the rough weather had broken everything up and it was too cold for Jellies so plain sailing towards the French shipping lane!
My third hour, the water had calmed down quite noticeably so I eased my stroke rate back and tried to relax into my all day pace. As much fun as battling the swell is, its hard and tiring and not what I should be doing on my solo! My third shift took us into the French shipping lane.
Andrew and Sallie both seemed to swim at a similar speed and their third hours just made solid steady progress southward. The weather was now pretty good with the sun out and the water calming down. The air was still cool and we were all wrapped up well but we couldn’t really have asked for more! The tide had also now turned and our run eastward into the ferry lanes was now over and we were beginning to run to the west, down the French shipping lane to the three mile marker which indicates the edge of the shipping lane and is exactly three miles off the cap. Lisa took us past the bouy just to the west; the tide runs incredibly strongly here and this is where people say the swim really starts!
Hour four was just head down, push hard, try and make as much forward progress as we could. The tide had pushed us to the southwest of the cap and the lighthouse and we were just waiting for it to turn to sweep us back round north eastward. Stuart said it was slack when I jumped in but I was getting pushed a long way from the boat so I don’t think it had! The water was nice and flat though and starting to warm up nicely into the 15’s.
Anastasia had been there or there abouts since she caught us a few hours before…but now we seemed to be reeling here in a rate of knots. The soloist had put a heroic swim in considering the rough start and the temperature. In the distance as Andrew swam we could see two hats in the water which meant she had a support swimmer in helping to push the pace. As we got closer we saw the support swimmer climb the ladder…and then a second swimmer climb out. It was over for her, she was done. We were all really really gutted for her as it was a phenomenal effort to get to where she did, and really brings home how hard a solo swim is.
Sallies fourth hour was a really strong swim; the current was pushing us North past the cliffs at Cap blanc nez, Sallie managed to push us though it and change our track so we were now drifting in to the bay of Wissant; as long as we could carry on now we would be home!
Lisa had one mile to swim on her hour, the water was now flat calm and the sun a beautiful orange glow; this was going to be an awesome finish! She was cold sitting on the boat so we did our best to get her warmed back up with a hot water bottle and warm drinks and credit to her, she jumped back in and swam without a complaint. We were almost close enough to tough the beach but unfortunately for Lisa, it was just too far away….but that did mean I got to jump in and finish the swim off!
As I jumped in I started ploughing off towards the beach. Stuart was launching the dingy to follow me in so for a minute or two I was on my own, France in front of me but nothing to the sides. All the hurt in my muscles had gone and I was full steam ahead! The tender soon caught me up and Sea Leopard then powered past to take up a grandstand spectating spot. I thought I was a lot closer than I was; just didn’t seem to be getting any closer! As I sighted I could see some people on the beach and before too long, I felt the sand in my fingers. We were home! I ran out the water and threw my hands up! Not sure if sea Leopard sounded her horn but she was too far out for me to hear and the tender didn’t want to come in through the breaking waves so I didn’t know if they had seen me ashore or not!
I’d thought about the landing for my solo several times but this really did seem like a practise run! On the beach were about ten people including a couple from the facebook group dover channel training; they had been tracking us all day and had come down to welcome us in and take pictures. It was a fab fab end to a really great day! Only thing left was to gather some pebbles, say goodbye to my new friends and swim back out to the tender to start the journey home!
There are a load ore pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/tom.chapman.773/media_set?set=a.10218587058165837&type=3
I made a quick video of the day with all our clips and the clips from the finish!
So after Varne ridge I was booked onto a relay. The window opened a day or two ago and we are waiting for the weather gods to play ball! Ideally you want high pressure and settled weather; we have a series of lows and are playing the game; pick the best window inbetween the weather!
We have had a great few days touristing around Dover, taking nervous call from our pilot and more touristing! The other problem with the game is you don’t know whether to swim….or not to swim! You don’t want to be too tired to play the big game, but you don’t want to not be training!
Every six hours the forecast seems to change and its on, off, on, off! Latest update (6pm 10-6-19) we are on for 3am tomorrow! Forecast is showing wind first thing so we are going to go down to the boat and see what it looks like, if its too much, we will go back to bed! If not, WE ARE ON!!!! excited beyond belief…but really need to sleep!
Havent posted for a while but things are starting to get exciting!
The plan for this year was Varne Ridge Channel Swim camp, relay, solo. First week of june was the swim camp, and it was awesome! Just backing up a fraction, I was getting a little aprehensive the sea wasn’t quite warming up as Id hoped so put in a big week or ten days in the pool (including a six hour) which made me feel a bit better! Then had a bit of an easy week before the camp.
Turns out the last day before I left was great conditions for swimming across to Ogmore so we did that; longest time in the sea for quite a while! Temp was fine…but it was playing on my mind a little bit how I would be able to nearly triple this at camp!
So to Dover! Its a big drive but camp starts with pizza night so was a reasonably relaxed drive down, followed by finding my awesome house mates Andrew and Ness and heading up to Tracy Clark and Roger Finch’s Chalet to meet everyone else and stuff so pizza down my face! A full camp is only 12 swimmers so plenty of time to chat with everyone else and talk all things English Channel! We also had a sneaky dip in the sea just off the holiday park with the white cliffs and France in the background!!
First swim morning followed and was to be half the group swimming off the boat, the other half lapping Shakespeare beach. We went first off the boat, I dived in and swam ashore to mock a real life swimstart, ploughed straight out towards france for half an hour before climbing back aboard and repeating for the rest of the team. The water felt cool and crisp and there was a bit of chop, but all good with the swimming and a great opportunity to remind myself how to swim next to a boat. As the morning wore on the boat rocked a bit more and the sea chopped up…but everyone did great!
Second half of the swim, after we swapped groups, and for us was just laps of the beach. I didn’t want to push things with the thought of 2 x 3 hour and the all important qualifier (6 hours) looming. In hindsight I perhaps should have put more effort into the qualifier at the end of last season. When I signed up to the channel I was a skinny little triathlete constantly thinking about the cold….and 6 hours in less than 16 degrees is a significant cold swim! Not matter, Id gone into the winter knowing it was still to do so it just had to be done!
The afternoons at the Varne Ridge camp are spent listening to talks, the first one was with Stuart Gleeson, pilot of Sea Leopard. Really interesting talk full of top tips about swimming…but also tips for crewing and things to get your crew to do and not to do.
Second day was the treadmill swim! We drove down to Deal for an early start, brief was up to three hours, swimming 4 maybe 500m up the coast, turning and swimming back to the pier. The swim started great, faster one way but not much. After an hour or two we noticed it was starting to get MUCH harder to go one way than the other! As the spring tide started to run, it became harder and harder and harder!! Almost like swimming against the tide in the Bristol Channel, incredibly powerful…but the brief was three hours, not a specific distance! Right near the end we had almost stopped. Swimming in for the finish, I overshot and had to swim ‘upwind’…barely made it! All good fun tho and a three hour swim cracked!
The afternoon was spent discussing further the channel and all things swimming with a lot of emphasis on getting your head in the right place and a lot of top tips regarding not measuring your own progress across the channel and not to look at time, distance etc as its pretty much irrelevant, the only thing you need to do is keep turning your arms over! This does strike a chord with me as I am very data driven and analyse (over analyse) everything. Ive noticed when things get hard, I look at every little metric on my watch and think about what’s happening. Chrissy Wellingtons book is an interesting read and she says at one point sometimes you are better to get rid of the watch and just go from the heart, you may well surprise yourself if you haven’t got your head telling you are going to fast and you know you cant do that.
Third day was another three hour swim. Two days ago I was a bit nervous RE three hours in the sea as I hadn’t done it so far this year but with yesterdays swim in the bank, no problem, lets go! Temperature did feel warm and I was a bit concerned at one point it may be too warm for the qualifier the next day but hey, head down keep swimming! The distance was a lot ore reputable than the day before on the treadmill but I’m not looking at that anymore remember!?
Each day the other guys on the camp also seemed to be building off the energy of the group and their self belief grew. Real mix of swimmers, some from hot climes, some not so good with the cold, some not have done much in the sea this year…but all with a connection to the channel in common!
Wednesdays talk was all about Roger Finch and Tracy Clark and the swims they have done. Tracy I had met the year before where she was observing the Brutal Green channel relay; if you read the write up I really do credit her with saving our swim and the passion and energy she had on that day really led me to the Varne Ridge camp. Her swim history is amazing and she has such a tough mindset; a lot of the discussion today was about getting your head in the right place and turning any negative into a positive. Very inspirational lady!
Roger I didn’t know too much about ahead of time but his talk was very much from the heart and again a very impressive swim history! The guy comes across as a really friendly, warm, bubbly personality…but I think that hides a massive strength and determination and mental toughness just like Tracy. One of his swims was across False Bay in SA where on the tag trackers he knew there were 250 great whites (and that was just the ones with tags) in the bay! Top guy and at the risk of repeating myself, another hugely inspirational swimmer.
Early to bed, qualifier tomorrow. Weather forecast shows sun but a bit of wind so it was to be in the harbour at Dover off swimmers beach. Bit boring maybe but a huge history for us to live up to!
Driving down for a 7am water start, need to repeat again here I had a bit of apprehension and pressure on this swim. Id left it til the camp but now had 8 weeks til my solo so it almost had to go well. With Tracy and Rogers words ringing in my ears, we dived in and began to swim. The water felt crisp but not cold, watch said 14.0. Each lap of the harbour is approx. 2km so I swam round my first lap for a feed…and got sent out by Tracy for another lap, apparently I was too fast! Normally, Id have my plan and not let it bother me so much but perhaps Id get a little annoyed at changing things; attempting to practise what we had been taught, I just swam off and did another lap without giving it a second though. Down by the wall towards the water really started chopping up and there was a freezing patch! Again, nothing I could do about it so head down and swim hard through it. I later found out there is a freshwater outlet into the harbour, hence the chilly spot!
Each lap from there I came in for a feed and got a big boost of positivity from Tracy with the feed bottles and roger shouting instructions from the beach. Laps were ticking off and the time flying by. temperature was not ever an issue but by 4 hours it was up to 14.8 on my watch (again I need to get rid of this for the big swim as I’m constantly analyzing and comparing with what I know I can do).
On the fifth feed Tracy said I was a little less chipper; my arms ere quite tired with 9 hours on them before today…but I was still pretty positive as I knew that one more lap, plus a little bit and I would be in. Like Guildford, I knew it was in the bag.
At this point the wind had built and it was really quite choppy! As I swam down towards the wall I stopped swimming to take a look at the chop and had just made the decision to cut the corner and miss the worst of it when Roger popped up on a kayak, huge beaming smile and clapping his hands at me! HE told me shelly and a few others were just over there through the chop; this made me really happy as Shelly had started the week with a longest swim of an hour in the sea, she had done amazingly well to build the time as she did and to know she was going to finish the six was a big boost! I admitted I was about to cut the corner, he just pointed to the wall and told me to swim. No questions, no discussion, I just did it. Id built a he respect for the guy during the week and if he said I needed to do it, I needed to do it! It was a long slog back up and I didn’t even se him again to tell him I’d made it! There was a few minutes left for the 6hours when I got back so I did another third of a lap, mainly just messing around rather than swimming. When I got back to the beach there were an awful lot of swimmers milling around in t he water congratulating each other, ten from the camp had started with the intention of six hours, ten had completed!
The last evening was a certificate presentation and dinner in the channel swimmers pub les fleurs, great evening with some really good friends. Everyone was tired but everyone was really really happy!
So I got a spot on a five person relay in June. Qualifying for a relay is a two hour swim in less than 15.5 degs. The team had agreed to meet at Clevedon Marine lake as it was almost in the middle of everyone. I arrived late on Thursday to find the temperature at nearly 15 degs! Quick swim (felt disappointingly cold!) then bed; I needed to be thinking about a solo qualifier (6hours)…
First thing Friday myself and Andrew dived in…and found it was back to 13.9! No worries, swim swim swim. First hour was fine, then I came in for a drink and reealised I was rubbing quite badly under my arms and the back of my neck. New hat, ok, maybe…but arms? Weird. I swam on for another half hour or so but it was really burning! Didn’t offer much of a restbite from the water which was starting to feel decidedly cold! Stopping for another drink the rub felt really really bad setting off for another lap so I decided to stop after two hours and a relay qualifier. Although I felt cold in the water and shivered when I stopped, I didn’t really have any major shivers afterwards so I think I need to be mindful its hitting the crossover from where it just feels cold and miserable…but its not dangerously cold. Hench up and get on with it…
The rest of the team had arrived at this point and others set off for their two hours whilst I contemplated my chafe. Ok I hadn’t swum two hours in salt water for a long time but its not like Id done anything that different. Having thought about it, Im concluding it was the short Thursday night swim and not washing the salt off. Schoolboy error. The journey is a big learning curve and that kind of mistake WILL NOT happen again!.
Guildford 24, 2swim4life, one mile on the hour, every hour for 24; time to take on the monster that’s been quietly filling a lot of my thoughts for quite a long time…
Firstly; how much stuff?! For the last few days I’d been laying out things to take. The pile was growing, and growing and growing…until it was a ridiculously huge amount; its only a swim for goodness sake! It seemed to be a common trend on the WhatsApp so I didn’t worry too much and crammed it all in the car and set off…with a quick pit stop in Hereford to pick up my dad (and helper for the weekend). The pit stop involved cramming in yet more carbs – now a portly (but insulated) 80kg, Id aimed for 800grams of carbs Thursday and Friday. Ticked the box Thursday, think I was a little bit down Friday but feeling quite heavy…;)
When we got to the pool it looked absolutely amazing. Sun was out, water looked superb and as we were early, we almost had free choice of where to set up camp. Game plan was for the five swimtastics to share our big 1970’s tent and have a few other tents for other stuff! The afternoon was spent building camp, moving all the stuff from the cars and saying hi to the many many swim friends these events seem to bring back together!
Final job was to finish the carbing up with dinner in the pub and mix up the drinks for the next day. Previously Ive been using maltodextrin and ribena but in a bid to spice up whats in the bottle, I’d talked through with a nutritionalist who said you can only absorb so much maltodextrin; mixing 2:1 with Fructose opens up another channel to get the carbs in. The only slight problem with this is it is insanely sweet. Mixed up 24, 250ml feeds with 40grams of maltodextrin and 20 of fructose plus ribena. I hadn’t proven it over distance so bit of a risk going for this but I had enough maltodextrin to change the plan half way if needs be. Each bottle should be plenty to swim a mile so food should just be topping this up.
Saturday morning, First job was to move all the remaining stuff over the road to the lido and park up for breakfast. Aim was 200gs of carbs but Im pretty sure I got nowhere near!
As 9am approached, we all made our final preparations, wandered down to poolside and fought our way through the crowds of swimmers and supporters to the water. Our lane was supposed to have seven swimmers but rather pleasingly, we found out there was only four of us, me, Jo, another solo and outdoor swimmer mag’s relay. The first mile is a bit of an unknown; what pace are we all going for, what pace can everyone do, what can we hold, who wants to try and smash it?! Outdoor swimmer wanted 25 mins, Lydia the soloist wanted a bit slower, me and Jo had both put 28mins so I was quite happy to take the last spot and sit in their draft! First mile felt relaly slow and controlled…cos it was. We swam a 27;56. Perfect! Everyone climbed out and wandered off for their break.
My plan was to shower, drink my bottle, wander back to the tent and get changed and eat. The chlorine for the 12 the year before was horrible so I wanted to try and wash off as much as I could and drink my bottle as early as possible. With the sweetness, I just downed it. Done. Back up to the tent, dry, change, eat, sit in the sun. Ideal.
Five minutes before you need to be in the pool, a hooter goes off to call the swimmers back to poolside. We all wandered back in high spirits for mile two. Jo and I had decided before hand to alternate the lead between the two of us so this was my lead. I swam a 28;40 which I should have been comfortable but felt quite fast, looking at it now I think I had set my pace based on 12 miles in a short course pool; this is long course…which is quite a difference! Outdoor swimmer now had a tall lady swimming who worked really well with Lydia, they lapped us a few times but we stuck to our pace; the relatively empty lane made it quite easy for our differing paces.
The day was glorious which made everything a lot easier, all of our kit was drying in the sun, it was warm to sit around, perfect. The miles ticked by, and we seem to have settled just outside our target pace, routine of washing off, downing a bottle in the shower and wandering back up to try and force food down my throat was working well. The water felt really cold but that was just in comparison to the warm air! Sian was lane 2 and finishing her miles first, me and Jo were three finishing second and Lewis and Ros were a bit slower again, wandering back up the hill with about twenty minutes to go. Everyone was going great guns!!
As day turned to dusk, the air temperature started dropping, the mileage was starting to build and the fatigue was starting to set in. I was mildly concerned from about 8 miles onwards how much I was feeling it in my arms, way more than if I’d swum 8 straight…and there was a huge distance to go. I can only put this down to the format, swim, rest, swim, rest, swim, rest. Its relentless, and just enough time for the fatigue to start sinking in before you need to go again. That however is the game, no modifications, one mile on the hour!
Super swimmer Sian had a little wobble around here, she was in lane two next to me and consistently lapping me and Jo. Her training had been interrupted by damaging the muscles between her ribs and not being able to swim for two weeks. She is super tough so I wasn’t too worried for her but she wasn’t happy for an hour or two!
At 9pm it was pretty much dark, the floodlights were lighting up the pool, googles had been swapped for non tinted ones and by the time this mile was done, we were half way! Sian had swum through her pains but Lewis was starting to struggle a bit with pain in his shoulder from about mile 9 apparantly. Realistically this was further than he had swum before so although quite down, he was doing fantastically and still in the game.
At ten PM my helper went back over the road to the premier inn to get some sleep. I hadn’t really needed help to this point and everything was well in hand. Plan was for him to come back at 3am. My swimming was fine although Id started to notice I was struggling to stay with Jo. Although she claimed not to have done much training, she is a better swimmer than me, next lane up at masters, I was starting to find it hard. By 13 or 14 we decided she should be in front and just go.
Lewis was properly chipper at the next turn around. A mixture of painkillers and the discovery that half breastroke half front crawl had perked his spirits up no end! The air was starting to get quite cold now, obviously nothing was drying anymore so each turnaround was spent huddling in the tent and dipping into the reserves of dry towels and swimmers. The five minute hooter signalled the march of the dry robe zombies back to the pool.
Ros was starting to struggle with her feeds and was now staying down by the pool. I was a bit concerned but the feedback was she was swimming ok, just struggling to eat/throw up. Sian and Jo were both still swimming strongly…but had disappeared at the turnarounds. I was starting to find it a bit tricky, running out of energy to do anything other than the essentials at the turnarounds. As I trudged back to the tent at about 2am, Lewis and Jade were both sat in darkness in the tent. He was done. Gutted for him…but he had completed 16 miles, ten further than every before so a huge achievement, regardless he was a bit dejected.
I text my dad asking if there were any more dry towels, Id pretty much run out and everything was cold and wet (air about 5c). Every turnaround I was struggling to get dry and warm, shivering away and having to get back in. My head was down a little bit, this was my little wobble. I knew this time of the morning was going to be tough, Id prepared for it and I pushed through. The turnarounds were tough but everytime I got back to the pool, I knew what had to be done and was still swimming reasonably well. That was the easy bit. Luckily, my dad was back for the next turnaround and just in the nick of time! From not really needing him, now I really did. We swapped the turnarounds from the cold tent on the hill to the heated marquee by the pool. I hadn’t done it before cos I dint have the energy to move all my stuff; seemed easier to stick with plan A. I think 4am I just sat in the warm tent and dad did everything and moved everything down. This was just what I needed; him to do everything and me to just swim! Should probably mention this was also the first time Id seen Ros for about four hours and was pleased to see she was in pretty good spirits and looked like she was swimming strongly. From what people had said I was a bit worried she was struggling but clearly not; super tough, should never have doubted!
The next mile or two were much better, pace had drifted out to mid 30 mins but I still felt I was swimming well, despite the second lot in our lane swimming off half hour now catching me fairly consistently every mile before I finished mine. Again this is part of the game, if you cant hold sub 30mins, you get eight fresh swimmers tearing down the lane after you. You either try and sprint…or accept it and let them past. I decided to stop getting annoyed and accept my fate and not fight them!
Finally, the pitch dark started to break, there was light on the edge of the horizon! 6 Miles left. One marathon. Only a marathon. I kept thinking that’s a huge swim still…but there was not any doubt I was going to finish it. All of a sudden I started thinking about Lomond and how that went wrong quite quickly. Although my shoulders had felt great, there and then I decided to just get to the finish, no fighting, no pushing, drop the pace til it felt comfortable and just go with it. My elbows were hurting a bit and my triceps were very very tired, but nothing was hurting hurting so just keep it going and it would be done. Should probably also note at this point that the drinks had been working extremely well. Id been forcing food down, surprisingly I was going for the savory stuff when I usually go for the sweet things but perhaps that was the extreme sweetness in the bottle! Although it was going well, I couldn’t face eating anymore at this point and decided there were enough calories in the bottle to finish on that alone.
Although there was still a long way to go, it never now seemed in doubt and every mile was a little brighter, a little warmer, and the swimming a little easier. Although my pace had dropped right off, out to 34/35 mins, I was in pretty good spirits cos it was virtually done! Then just like that, it was done. 24 miles in 24 hours, 12 hours 30mins swim time. Everyone was cheering and clapping everyone in, superb atmosphere!
Just enough energy left to tear down the camp and get in the car before I properly zonked out…for the next two days 😉
In Summary, I was expecting this to be super tough. It was the test of the changes Id made to my stroke after pulling out of Lomond at 16 miles, it was the test of my nutrition and it was the big test before my channel solo in a few months time. Everything went really well! Ever so slightly disappointed my pace dropped off as it did…but despite all of the swimming I had been doing, I hadn’t really gone over 20k; and this was nearly double that. It also wasn’t worth getting hurt or tweaking anything so I think the decision to back off every so slightly and accept the drop was a good one. The massive takeaway is my stroke didn’t give me any problems and bar some freaky tides, Ive got the distance of the channel under my belt. Time to recover, re-asses, and go again, shade under 100 days left…
The swimathon marathon has been and gone…and it was a blast! Swimathon offered me a spot as an ambassador and it was right at the peak training period for G24…and as the dates fell for my local pools, I had three weekends to choose from so I signed up for loads and loads; 10 x 5k’s to be precise!
First one was Swansea pool on a Saturday 23rd March, 5k, the Sunday was two sessions back to back, Id rung the pool and asked to swim straight through for 15k; Swansea pool were great! With the Sunday in mind, I swam the first one pretty steady, was a busy lane so I ended up accelerating a fair bit to pass people which is probably reflected in the 1hr25 (long course) finish. Probably a bit too hot considering but done now! Great to meet fellow ambassador (and work colleagues partner) for the first of her 5k’s.
Second day was short course for the first session, a short break then long course for the afternoon. My friend and all round super swimmer Sian was in the lane next to me, with the same plan, swim through. The morning session was great, I felt I had a pretty strong swim, wasnt too busy, soon it was just me and Sian left. At the end of the morning session I’d done 11,650m in 3hrs 20; Sian was a few hundred metres ahead of me on 13k. We had to get out the pool while they switched it round so probably spent half hour sat on the side; I felt great when i got out but getting back in, the fatigue was starting to kick in a little bit! We had decided to do another 5k straight but were now long course and I had Sian and Sam in my lane. Where as I was feeling tired and slow, Sian was on a whole different level and steamed off into the distance, Im sure she swam that (long course after 13k) faster than she had been swimming in the morning. Not sure if she had been sandbagging or had better things to do but either way it was a very impressive swim! My total was 16,650 in 4hrs 51. Four in 2days!
Next one was the following Friday where I had another double session for 15k and a 5 the next day with my dad! The week was spent recovering, replenishing the body and sea swimming!
Friday 29th, early start, double session. My friend and channel swimmer Cath was in for the double with me…but she hadn’t been training long since the channel. The sessions this time were going to be straight through so no gap, conscious of tomorrow, I swam it steady for a 4.39 finish. Cath was a fair bit slower but considering she had very little training on board, put in such an unbelievable effort to finish it, top work! You can only officially do one swim per session…so to do what we had done, you had to sign up for one swim as a ‘myswimathon’, to be done in your own time…with the medal to be posted out later. Cath was not having this and argued til she was blue in the face she deserved the three medals there and then!! She won…!!
Sat 30th, up to Hereford to swim with my dad! A bit of parkrun tourism first at Hereford race course, then off to the parents. He had signed up to the 400, I was 5k. When the pool had sent out the lane order, he was at one end, I was at the other. Fine. Turn up at the pool and they had tried to be helpful and put us in the same lane…but only us. That was fine, just the two of us itthis was supposed to be the difficult swim, 15k yesterday, 35k in the last 7days. Somehow it didnt turn out that way. Started off just me, tri boys in the next lane so the pace was a little hotter than it maybe should have been…but if youre in the lane next to me, we are racing. With a ten minute headstart, the old man got in. My pace was a fair bit quicker than is head up breastroke but was pretty easy to cruise past….although maybe slightly annoying for him! I knew I was swimming fast but thought I’d just carry on and see what happened. Swimathons ethos is swim for all….my bad, suddenly the little devil in the back of my head pipes up, Dad is getting out in ten minutes, you’ve got the lane to yourself. Do it. PB it. Go! Not entirely sure where it came from but I didnt drop off and knocked out a 1hr 20 and a handful of seconds, well happy with that after yesterday!! 8 in 8days.
My friend Ros had been away but had signed up for Cardiff the following weekend. Her plan was 15k sat, 15k Sunday. I had Guildford firmly in my mind and resolved to swim just the 5k each day, I’d done enough, taper. It was an afternoon swim so Parkrun to start then shoot to the pool; Ros had already done 10k by the time we started. Lane was busy and there was a guy in there who was swimming like lightning!All worked out really well in the lane despite the differences in speed, think I was about 1.25 for that one. As well as ros, Rachael, Justin and Tracy were also swimming 5ks so we went for a well deserved pub meal afterwards!
Sunday I swam a steady 5k, again with lightning boy and a few others from my club; Ros had done 5k before and was planning on staying in and doing another 5k afterwards. She was swimming so strong for 25k in in two days, really impressive! I couldn’t let her swim alone so stayed in and knocked out another 5300 I think! It was just the two of us left at the end…but a real impressive achievement even if no one else saw it!
Just like that it was over! 57km in 6 sessions, 17hrs and 1 minute swim time! It was great to have swum with so many different people in the sessions, really have to thank Swimathon for letting me get involved, hope I added something to the party and I definitely had a lot of fun! It was a lot of swims but the circumstances had aligned and it just worked, didn’t really feel like Id done too much so all in all a great booster for G24 in two weeks time.