Thursday, 28 April 2016


So this is my challenge - 30 consecutive marathon swims in 30 days. That is, 10km swum every day for 30 days. 

Every swim will be in the Sandford Parks Lido here in Cheltenham. The aim is to promote and support the Sandford Lido and encourage and hopefully inspire people to get down to their local swimming pools. 

I've been a big fan of the Lido ever since I first came to Cheltenham back in 2000. Over the years it has been a huge part of my training swims for various open water challenges from swimming the English Channel to the Channel of Bones in Hawaii to my Manhattan swim

The Sandford Lido has had a stuttering start to the year with a major boiler breakdown costing £15,000 in repairs and 3 weeks of heating at the start of the season (I've selfishly enjoyed having the pool to myself at times as the water temp dropped to only 10degrees!).  They have an ongoing struggle with the Cheltenham Borough Council to secure a new lease on the site and neighbouring car park. The public interest and publicity I can generate for the Lido will hopefully help raise some funds for them but more importantly reinforce the importance of this wonderful facility to Cheltenham and the wider area.  

Logistically this will be an interesting challenge. One 10km swim is a long training swim but quite manageable with my level of swimming fitness. Doing it day after day for 30 days becomes a much more difficult proposition. How will my shoulders and back hold up (not to mention my heart!). I can't afford to have a month of work so I will need to fit these swims in before and after work. Without a rest day how will the build up of muscle and mental fatigue affect me? 

I plan to keep a log of my progress here. 30 days of marathon swimming, 300km, 6000 lengths of the 50m pool, approximately 200,000 strokes. Anyone fancy joining me for a couple of lengths?  

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Swimming the English Channel in a wetsuit

To some swimming the English Channel in a wetsuit is on a par with taking performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour De France, it's just not right. Swimming the English Channel properly means complying with certain long standing traditions - you start on dry land, you finish on dry land, you don't touch your support boat, any food or drink is handed to you whilst you tread water. You wear only a traditional swimming costume, one cap, a pair of goggles and you do it all under your own steam, no assistance whatsoever. In the words of Captain Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, "Nothing great is easy". Let's face it, if you allow wetsuits, why not fins and a snorkel, why not get in the boat and row across, or better yet take the ferry. I know all these things, I swam it properly in 2009 and to put it bluntly, I hated it. I was bitterly cold, my teeth were chattering two hours in, my muscles were shivering and it took every ounce of my will power to not get out. I swore after that swim that I would never do it again, I made a Steve Redgrave-esque declaration that if I ever even talked about doing it again I should be hit over the head with a shovel and I was happy to stick with this plan. I did do other long swims, some longer but considerably warmer, some colder but much shorter. It wasn't my intention to ever dip my toe in the English Channel again………and then along came the Arch to Arc. The Arch to Arc is an ultra triathlon from London to Paris. Run 87 miles, swim the Channel, bike 180 miles to Paris. Normally done in teams of 6, my wife suggested we do it as a two person team, she does the run, I do the swim and we share the bike. The caveat being as it's a triathlon the swim is wetsuit permitted. Nearly every Arch to Arc has been done with a wetsuit swim leg, technically it's not about swimming the Channel in accordance with Channel swim rules, it's about completing a triathlon event in accordance with traditional triathlon rules and so against my better judgement I said "hmmm, maybe, OK, I guess".

Somewhere mid-channel
That's how I found myself standing on a small pebble beach in the very dark hours of Friday morning the 7th of August. Zipped into my wetsuit and with a generous amount of Channel grease around my neck to ward of the wetsuit rub effect. Staring out into the darkness I could see the lights of my support boat bobbing up and down and beyond that, deep dark, nothingness. From the boat a hooter sounded to signify the start of my swim and I waded into the breaking waves and started swimming. I caught up with the boat and started swimming next to it, every breath I took I looked at the side of the boat, and slowly but steadily it led me straight out to sea and away from the white cliffs of Dover. Through the small cabin windows I could just make out someone steering the boat, occasionally a shadowy outline of a person wandering on the deck let me know I wasn't completely alone. In some ways the hardest thing about any long swim is dealing with what goes on in your head. When you are alone in the deep black sea with no one to keep you company, no one to chat to, nothing but a small bobbing boat between you and miles and miles of open ocean it's easy to slip into a negative mind set. Every time the boat crept ahead of me I would look at the steps on the back and think about swimming over to climb out. When a cold splash of water slipped down the back of the wetsuit or a rising tide of nausea started to creep into my stomach it was very hard to stay positive and think about anything other than how much further it was to swim. The one positive however was that no matter how tired I got, no matter how sick I was, I wasn't really cold, certainly not like I had been before. The wetsuit did its job to keep me insulated from the chill of the sea. It didn't make it easy, but it did make it slightly less awful! Even with a wetsuit you still have to swim for many, many hours. You still need to deal with all those mental dark moments, it won't stop you from getting sick, it won't propel you forward when the tides work against you but it will greatly reduce the effect of the cold. The sky started to lighten after about an hour of swimming and by 2 hours in the sun was creeping above the horizon. This coincided with the start of the vomiting; considering it took me 4 hours to start vomiting last time I swam the Channel this wasn't exactly progress. For the rest of the swim I would keep one feed down then vomit after the next one. I had done enough long swims and struggled with nausea often enough that the vomiting itself didn't bother me greatly but I knew the importance of keeping some nutrition going in. If you stop feeding because you feel sick then very quickly you run out of energy and everything becomes seriously hard work. The hours came and went, the tankers and ferries drifted by and I made what felt like slow progress towards France. I avoided looking up as much as possible, trying not to think about how much I still had to swim until at the 7 & 1/2 hr mark I was through to the French inshore waters. It took me two hours to get in from here last time and I was hopeful I could make it in quite a bit less this time. At the 8hour mark the pilot came on deck, it was the first time I had seen him all swim. He said to me that at my current pace I had an hour and a half to go but if I picked it up I would be in in an hour. Exhausted as I was I threw myself into it and started counting strokes and ticking off laps in my head - 100 strokes is about 3 laps of a pool, 300 strokes somewhere close to 400m, do that 6 times and I've swum for 30minutes. One last feed and then off again, the shore was close now but still tantalisingly far enough away. I did another 30minutes of hard swimming, counting strokes and they waved me in again for another feed, "How much further?" I asked and the reply was "about 10 minutes", I decided to skip the feed and just put my head down and when I saw that the support boat had stopped moving forwards I allowed myself another look up and there were the rocks of Cap Griz Nez. That was the moment that I allowed myself to believe I had made it, the last two hundred metres were almost enjoyable, I scrambled out on to the rocks and enjoyed that feeling of accomplishment and considerable relief in finishing a very long swim.    
Relief and completion
Most swimmers will find a wetsuit makes them quicker in a pool. For me it is a consistent 6sec per hundred which equates to 1minute per km or roughly 30minutes over the course of a Channel swim. I was nearly 2hours quicker this year than last time (9hrs 8min vs  11hrs 6min). Certainly the wetsuit sped me up slightly but critically without the slowing effects of hypothermia I was able to maintain my speed and even put in an extra spurt of effort in the last hour to ensure I hit the Cap. 
The swim was still extremely tough, if you haven't trained hard enough or prepared yourself mentally then a wetsuit is not going to guarantee you success. For most purists swimming the Channel in a wetsuit will never be acknowledged as a successful crossing. If anything it dilutes the achievements of those who did it the hard way. In the records of channel swimming there is no wetsuit category, in fact if you swim it in a wetsuit it's like it didn't happen! For me I've swum the Channel twice, once with and once without a wetsuit. Without was certainly harder solely because of my struggle with the cold. It is an immensely difficult challenge and one I am happy to have conquered twice, if I hadn't have swum it non-wetsuit I think I may well feel like I had taken a short cut. On the other hand, perhaps it is only because I have swum it the hard way that I can acknowledge that my second swim was just a little bit easier than it might have been.    
Many sincere thanks to my support crew - Rob, Simon and Finn who fed and watered me and without whose help I couldn't have made it at all. 

For the write up of the Arch to Arc and what happened next see our Arch to Arc blog.  

Monday, 25 May 2015

The New Challenge for 2015 - London to Paris Arch to Arc!

It's been a while since the last blog. This is mostly due to some frustrating ill-health. It turns out it is possible to do too much exercise! Not long after my last marathon swim of 2013, another length of Windermere, I went into atrial fibrillation (AF). For the non-medical people AF is a common but rather inconvenient heart rhythm disorder. The heart beat can become very fast, irregular and somewhat inefficient. Not very conducive to serious sporting activity, especially endurance sport. In my case it was a result of too many years of hard training and competing.

My Heart Beat at Rest! 
Fortunately it came under control after a few months of rest and medication and I was given the advice to ease back into the swimming and try not to over do it! So 2014 was a steady year for me, I also struggled with a nagging rotator cuff tear and then a 'swimmer's elbow' that persisted despite the low-key training schedule. I managed a few 'shorter' competitive races including the inaugural Evesham mile, the Devil's 2km Lido race and the Brownsea Island Swim which I won for the 3rd year. All the while I had this niggling concern in the back of mind that two years earlier I had signed up to an extreme challenge to rival anything I have done to date and that challenge was due to be done in 2015. In a moment of madness Vickie and I had entered the Arch to Arc - a mega triathlon from London to Paris. Vickie would run an 87mile ultra-marathon from London (Marble Arch) to Dover. I would swim across the English Channel again (despite my previous declarations) and then we would relay ride the 181 miles from Calais to the Arc de Triumphe in Paris. It seemed like a good idea back in 2012, not so great when I was in the critical cardiac unit in Cheltenham General! But all stories need a happy ending so follow our progress at our arch to arc blog, to see if we make it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Lake Zurich Marathon Swim

The Lake Zurich marathon swim was my 3rd marathon swim and 4th race of this year. They have all been quite different in their locations, distances and settings. The year started with the 10km Eton race - a wet-suited affair in a fresh water rowing lake, I went one better than last year and won the race in just over 2hrs. The wetsuit however rubbed my neck raw and I swore that that would be my only wetsuit race for the year. The 2nd race was the round Brownsea Island 4 mile swim. A non-wetsuit sea swim on a glorious early July day. Last year I won outright beating all the rubber swimmers. This year I was again the first non-wetsuit but this time behind 3 'wetsuit assisted' swimmers which always smarts a little even though you know you have the moral high ground. Next up I swam the 14km, downstream, River Thames, Bridge to Bridge. Just me against the clock. I beat the previous course record by a minute and to make up for Brownsea it was not only the fastest time in a pair of speedos but beat the fastest wetsuit time also. I have swum in The Thames twice in the last few years and both times had some form of gastro afterwards. After this years' swim I was seriously sick for 48hrs, vomiting and miserable. I had timed the Bridge to Bridge to give me a good race 2 and 1/2 weeks before Zurich but as I lay doubled up in bed with nausea instead of enjoying a friends wedding I found myself questioning the wisdom of the swim.
Lake Zurich however is a beautiful, warm, clean stretch of immaculate fresh water. So clean it's used as drinking water (the same can't be said for the River Thames). In summer the lake can reach a balmy 25 deg C, wetsuits are allowed but at that temperature you would surely roast. The swim is a testing 26.4km long but with the warm water and spectacular scenery I had been looking forward to the swim all year.
I arrived in Zurich two days before the swim with Vickie and Dave Granger a great friend and keen open water swimmer who was also doing the swim. The air temperature was a baking 32deg and the first afternoon we eagerly jumped into the lake to cool off. Even Vickie who rarely gets in the open water without the neoprene enjoyed the bath like conditions. We endured two very hot and slightly uncomfortable nights prior to the swim. Nearly everyone I had mentioned this swim to would comment on how cold they assumed a swim in Zurich must be. As I lay in a pool of sweat the night before the race the reality of the Zurich Summer was in stark contrast to this common misconception. In the very early hours of Sunday morning and while it was still dark we headed to the far end of the lake for the start of the swim. Even as much as I was looking forward to swimming the build up to any long swim is a little nervy. The unknowns of a new swim, a bad nights sleep and quite how the competition would face up all weighed on the mind. The mass start and finding of support boat were the first difficulties to navigate. I was reasonably confident that with only 50 competitors it wouldn't be too tricky to find Vickie and the boat and although the organisers had stressed it was the responsibility of the swimmer to find their boat my plan was to get out fast and for Vickie and the boat to find me to save wasting time. The starting siren went bang on 7am and I pushed off quickly and before too long found myself out in front. I was swimming between kayakers and the smaller boats that were nearest to shore. Another swimmers' kayaker seemed to mistake me for someone else and started to paddle next to me, I had to wave him away to go find his own swimmer in case my crew saw him accompanying me and made the same assumption. A few hundred metres further out I had passed most of the boats and I could see Vickie and my support boat in the distance, I managed a quick wave and by the time I had swum the first km they were along side and we were making good progress down the lake.
The lake followed a gently curve to the right. So you could usually only see 5 or 6km at most ahead of you before you rounded the next corner. It was a good 6km from the start to the first bend and I was swimming quickly, strongly and had opened up a very comfortable lead. I was also reassuringly ahead of the record pace at that stage. In the information provided by the swim organisation they had highlighted various landmarks along the lake - churches, distinctive houses and marinas which were useful reference points with known distances. By 10km I had settled into a nice rhythm and felt reasonably strong. The only issue was a rising nausea that unfortunately accompanies many of my long swims and I decided to stick to the energy drinks and skip the gels. My pace was still fast but by then a minute or two off record pace and at nearly 2 and a half hours in my mind was starting to wander a little. Knowing you still have the majority of a long swim still ahead of you and feeling the fatigue of already covering a marathon distance it is easy to start feeling a little negative about what you are trying to achieve. Without anyone pushing me along I also had only myself to motivate me and I started looking up a little too often. The half way point was the church at Meilen and I could see the tall bell tower from 4km away. As always when swimming, distant points seem to take forever to get close and by the time I finally passed the ferry and church I was relieved but knew I was now 5 minutes off the pace and unlikely to get that time back. It wasn't long after this point that the sky that had been clear for the last few days started to look decidedly overcast and a large black cloud could be seen ominously moving down the lake towards us. 

The forecast had threatened thunderstorms in the afternoon and I had hoped to be finished by then but the weather looked like it had other ideas. Almost bang on the 4hour mark the calm flat lake turned into a choppy, churning mess. White caps crested on waves coming straight down the lake and rather worryingly I could see warning beacons flashing orange on the edge of the lake. The beacons warned of adverse weather, 40 flashes a minute meant beware and be cautious, 120 flashes a minute meant serious danger (lightning etc) and get off the lake immediately. The organisers had warned us if that happened the race would be stopped and although we could get back in after a storm had passed there would be no official times or recognition of the swim. While swimming I could only glimpse the flashing lights and had no way of counting them so I just had to keep hoping they were staying at the slower rate. It was tough going, straight into a driving head wind and unpleasant chop. I knew in these conditions it would be a long hard to slog to the finish and the finish time would be a lot slower than predicted. I stopped worrying about my pace and just tried to maintain a steady rhythm. I could see I was still making slow but steady headway so I just 
tried to focus on the next little landmark and not worry about how long it took to get there. We had nearly 2hours of this choppy, windy mess before the storm finally subsided and almost as quickly as it had arrived it was gone. The sky cleared, the water flattened and away in the distance Zurich and the finish line were finally in view. I finally succumbed to the nausea at this point and vomited all of the energy drink I had consumed in the last 6 hours, at least by then the end was in sight. The finish point always seems to take the longest time to reach, mostly I guess because once you can see it you just want to be there! As I often do at this stage of a swim I try not to look up too often and instead count strokes and tick off distances in my head; 100 strokes is about 150m or 3 lengths of the swimming pool, I tell myself not to look up for 500m just keep the head down and tick off the pool laps. Finally I could see the balloons over the official finish line, there were people waving and cheering at the end and my speed which had slowed down to a steady plod picked up along with the power in the kick. I confess to swimming the last 20metres butterfly, terrible showboating but I was amused to see Dave Granger repeating exactly the same trick 2 and a half hours later when he finished! 
After feeling nauseous, fatigued and exhausted for the last few hours while swimming, almost the minute I finished I felt great! The satisfaction of another iconic swim ticked off and the pleasure in winning a race seemed to make the physical pain melt away. It probably helped that the sun was now out in force and I was fully able to appreciate the beautiful setting. 
Some swims you finish and find yourself swearing that you won't do another long painful one ever again, other swims you start planning immediately for the next one. This was definitely the latter and having completed my main swim for the season I found myself starting to think about the next challenge. Two more marathon swims this year to go - Windermere and the River Dart and even bigger hopes for next year. Who knows I might even have to come back and do Zurich again one day.   

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Swimming the Channel of Bones - Part 2 - The Swim

Swimming in the dark doesn't bother me that much. I swam a 2-way Windermere (21miles) all through the night and the first half of my English Channel swim was at night. But it's a little more unnerving when you are swimming in a stretch of water notorious for it's abundant and toothy marine life. The first thing I noticed when I started swimming was the amazing phosphorescence in the water. Every hand stroke lit up with tiny bright bubbles of light and as I breathed to my left Jeff's Kayak stood out with his green, blue and red glow sticks, it felt like my own private disco! I really enjoyed the night swimming and I was relieved to find that as I had hoped, rather than the lethargy of the last few days, I was feeling quite strong and comfortable in the water. I started with energy drinks every 30minutes and a gel hourly, but fairly early on I could feel my stomach was struggling in the salty water and hadn't settled as well as I had hoped from my two days of nausea. I stopped the gels and just kept going with the carb drinks and tried to not think too much about the rising nausea. I had a few bad retches 90 minutes in but no vomiting and otherwise physically I still felt good. The other good thing was the conditions were fantastic at this stage, calm benevolent seas with minimal swells once we were away from Molokai, we even had a nice current in the first hour although it dropped off quickly after that. By 2 hours in the sky started to lighten and I felt a twinge of sadness that the light show was coming to an end.
I still haven't mastered the art of meditative swimming, I don't know what other swimmers think about to make the time pass but I always feel like it drags! Each thirty minute feed seemed to come round slower than I thought it should and I tried to pass the time by knocking off the sets of my July 42km pool session, the first hour was the 4km warm up then 100 x 100m, so every 30 minutes was another 20 hundreds. Then I was into the part of the session I had swum with the local swim club and that eventually took me through to the 5 hour mark. By the 5 and a half hour feed the crew told me I was well ahead of the record pace and over halfway to Oahu. But sadly that was the last of the good news because at about that time the wind turned around. The light southerly cross wind become a stubborn head wind and progress slowed. The waves chopped up too, but all things considered the sea was still behaving relatively kindly and, as Jeff had predicted, the big NW swells weren't proving to be an issue.
Jeff and John swapped kayaking and feeding duties and the minutes and feeds slowly ticked by. I was stung three or four times by jelly fish but nothing worse than I was used to. Little aches started to persist though, the back of my shoulder, my bicep and the knuckle on my right forefinger for some reason! Every feed seemed to take longer to settle in my stomach and I had a growing bloated feeling in my stomach. I kept saying to myself that each stroke, each minute, each feed was getting me closer to the beach on Oahu. I kept telling myself that I had to finish this swim, the conditions were so much better than they could have been and if I quit I would likely never have such an opportunity again. I kept reminding myself that if I didn't finish the swim no matter how long I lasted it would all count for nothing, it would just have been a long meaningless training session!
I had estimated 12-13 hours in total if conditions were good, twelve hours would set a new record and so I broke that into four lots of three hour swims, like 4 quarters of a football game (Aussie rules that is). I gradually worked my way slowly through the protracted third quarter and finally hit 9 hours, this was it - the final quarter! But at about that time I had the most spectacular vomit! All of the feeds that had been sitting in my stomach reappeared in spectacular fashion; this was not an unusual phenomenon for me and I so didn't even break stroke. At least momentarily my stomach felt considerably lighter! But I was really feeling pretty nauseous now and I knew would struggle to keep much more down. At the next feed, I sipped the energy drink without conviction and asked for plain water for the next feed. I had two more feeds of just cold water and then I bonked big style. I had completely run out of juice, my legs stopped kicking and my arms wafted ineffectually through the water, progress seems to grind to a halt. I was eleven hours in, the coast was well within sight but it might as well have been a million miles away. It felt as if the only way I could finish the swim was to float in! I asked for another gel at the next feed and tried to suppress the urge to vomit. I swallowed as much fresh water as I could muster and started off again. Within 5 minutes the kick started to come back and I could feel my energy levels returning along with the pain in the shoulders as I started to pull more effectively through the water. I had another gel with the next feed at 12 hours and knew we were only just over a mile from the shore. That should take about 30minutes so the record was gone but I felt more confident I could make it. We decided to skip any more feeds and push for shore. Jeff got in with three quarters of a mile to swim, and we pounded through a strong cross current that was trying to stubbornly sweep us away from the beach. That last mile took nearly an hour because of the currents but finally deep below me I could start to make out the sea floor, rocks and coral slowly coming into view. I could see the waves breaking on the beach a few hundred metres away. I had been warned by several people that this beach was notorious for its shallow shore break that could dump you on your head on the sand but my only disappointment was that the waves started so close to the shore that I didn't have a nice ride into the beach. I caught a wave and body surfed that last few metres before stumbling onto the sand to be greeted by Jeff's wife, Krista and Linda Kaiser the legend of Hawaiian channel swimming. 13 hours and 4 minutes of tough ocean swimming, done!    
By the end my shoulders were in pieces, my tongue was swollen and raw and the lining of my nostrils felt like they had been washed away by the salt water! My back was painfully sunburnt ('factor 50' only lasts so long) and my stomach was sending a steady stream of complaints that I knew would last for several days!

Why do I do these things? Why put myself through days of anxiety for a physical test so brutal and unpleasant that I suffer the after effects for weeks? And the question I ask myself the most - how many times can you go to that dark place of despair, pull yourself up and come out the other side only to do it all again?
I am the 26th person to swim the Molokai Channel. It may be the longest of the 'Oceans Seven' big channel swims but it isn't in my view the hardest, that honour lies with the brutally cold and unpleasant North Channel. Also, as long as the Molokai Channel is, there are plenty of other swims out there that are much, much longer. Two swimmers this year attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida a distance of some 166km! While neither made it, Penny Palfrey swam for 41hours and nearly 150km before the currents swept her away from Florida. I remind myself as well that plenty of swimmers have done the 'Double English Channel' (there and back) and three have done triples! If you think what you are doing is incredible there is likely someone out there doing something vastly more amazing!
Before I swam the channel I told myself that records, accolades or medals weren't the reason to do these things. That sometimes it is just about taking an opportunity when it is presented and rising to a challenge that you fear may be insurmountable. Maybe it also helps to remember that at the end of the day, it's just a swim.    
(me, Jeff Kozlovich and Linda Kaiser)
Lastly a big thanks to my support crew on this one. All people I met for the first time on the day of the swim! Matt Buckman the pilot was easy going, professional and got me safely from Molokai right to Sandy Beach in Oahu. John my 'stand-in' support crew rose to the challenge and allowed me to complete my swim when it could have fallen apart at the last minute and Jeff Kozlovich who was really fantastic; great support in the days ahead of the swim, knew the conditions and what to expect in the channel and really helped me to fulfil this crazy ambition. Lovely also to be greeted on dry land by Linda Kaiser and Krista Kozlovich at the end. Thanks guys, it might have been a solo swim but it certainly wasn't a solo event!


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Swimming the Channel of Bones! Part 1 - the build up

When Vickie qualified for this year's Hawaiian Ironman World Championships I started to contemplate another Hawaiian channel swim of my own. It seemed a shame to be coming all the way out to Hawaii without taking the opportunity to do another long distance swim. Two years ago we were out here for the Ironman and I organised a Maui Channel swim, it was a pleasant 9 mile swim in beautiful, warm clear waters and I knew I would have to top that. At first I wondered about a double Maui channel swim - only completed once before, but I kept getting drawn to the monstrous Kai'wi Channel (The Channel of Bones) between Molokai and Oahu. One of the 'Ocean's Seven' big channel swims and the longest of all seven. While cold temperatures are not an issue, monstrous swells, rough conditions, abundant sea life - jelly fish and sharks and swimming a massive 26miles/42km across this wild stretch of Pacific Ocean provide a host of logistical and physical challenges.
I got some contact details from Darren Miller who had swum the channel last year and made some tentative bookings early this year with an experienced boat pilot (Matt Buckman) and kayaker (Jeff Kozlovich). My swim season this year was filled with swims and races starting with the Gibraltar Straits in May and then a series of UK based swims; the BLDSA's 'Champion of Champions', Torbay, Windermere and a few other races including the fun Brownsea Island swim. It was a full and successful season while all the time at the back of my mind was the looming Molokai Channel. In July this year I swam a 42km fund-raising swim in my local swimming pool, it was a training swim to practice feeding over the distance and get some longer miles in the body, the feeding regime didn't quite work as well as I had hoped but I covered the distance relatively comfortably and it was a good confidence booster ahead of the real event. Swimming long distance is such a mental game that doing a long practice swim of similar distance really helps me to prepare for a swim and gives me the confidence to know I can complete it. The 2-way Windermere did this for me in the English Channel and the 42km pool swim did the same for Molokai.
As September approached I fitted in as many longer sessions as I could while trying to avoid any last minute injuries or niggles. Finally on the 29th we flew out to Hawaii. Hawaii feels very familiar to us now, we have been three times before - always because of triathlon races but it's a great excuse to come to this beautiful little corner of the world. We arrived to the baking heat and set about acclimatising to conditions very foreign to us in the UK! The first few days I swam in the Kailua harbour daily, doing laps of the Ironman course - a nearly 4km circuit with more and more triathletes for company as the days went by. We caught up with old friends and the second Saturday competed in the annual Kukio Bay swim. A fun little 1.2mile race that we discovered last time we were here. I managed to win it last time and repeated the feat again this year, it was in theory a good pre-swim loosener. However, that afternoon I started to feel seriously unwell. I was overcome with a pounding headache and nausea and a feeling of such intense lethargy that I could barely drag myself out of bed. I barely slept that night and nagging feelings of impending stress about my swim were magnified by my physical symptoms. The following day I struggled to eat much at all. I knew I was feeling nervous about the swim but this seemed extreme. I confessed to Vickie that I didn't think I could do the swim, even a little 10 minute loosener in the sea left me feeling wiped out. My only hope was that the component of my symptoms caused by anxiety would settle when I was swimming and I would feel much better once I got the swim under way. I spoke to Jeff to confirm everything was still looking good for the swim, a part of me was hoping he would say the big NW swell that was now being predicted would scupper any attempt but he sounded enthusiastic about the conditions and so I packed my gear in anticipation of travelling to Molokai the following day. That night I took some sleeping tablets and tried to put my growing fears to one side. In the morning I was greeted to two emails, one from my local support crew to say he had been injured in an outrigger race and couldn't come and another from local swim guru and coach Steve Borowski who voiced his worries about the large predicted swells. Not the sort of details I wanted to deal with 12 hours before my biggest ever swim. I spoke to Jeff one last time and he said he would find a back up crew member and reiterated to me that the swell was not going to be an issue, with those reassurances I grabbed my bags and headed to the airport. I finally arrived at my Hotel in Molokai, the only hotel on Molokai, by late afternoon (after a long wait at the airport for my bags that took a different route!). The hotel was basic but adequate and I finally managed to stomach a decent pasta meal that afternoon - my most substantial meal in 2 days. I took a few more sleeping tablets and went to bed at 6pm ready for the early start. Harley the local taxi driver, from the only taxi company in Molokai, arrived at 2am to take me to the harbour and we arrived just before 3am to wake up the crew that had boated across the previous afternoon. It was the first time I had actually met Jeff and Matt and I was introduced to 'back up' crewman John who had never been involved in any sort of long distance swim before, to be honest I was just glad they had found someone. We loaded up the boat and motored up the coast towards La'ua point - the closest point to Oahu. Jeff sat me down and said "Quick question, what do you want us to do if we see a shark?", "Well" I replied, "If you see one that looks even a little bit interested I'd rather get out before it decides if I'm edible", "Good answer" said Jeff, "I just like to check because Penny Palfry told us we could only pull her out after the first bite!" As we approached the point even in the dark we could see waves pounding the rocks and we had to come further South away from the point (and Oahu) to find a sheltered cove where I could start the swim without the risk of getting smashed on the rocks. I had brought some water-proof shoes to climb onto the rocks at the start and at 3.40am in the clouded moonlight I jumped into the black Pacific Ocean and started my Molokai Channel swim.  

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Molokai - time to accept the challenge.

The date is tentatively set at next Tuesday the 9th of October. Weather conditions look reasonable, with a light easterly forecast but forecasts seem to change daily so I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed. Two weeks ago they had an outrigger race between Molokai and Oahu and I saw a short video of the 25 foot waves at the start of the race - not exactly the sort of conditions I want for my crossing.

With only a few days now until my swim I am finding myself flipping between excitement and nervousness. It's not an unusual scenario - so much of long distance swimming is mental. To help I try to prepare myself by thinking about the swim - breaking it down into different sections. I visualise the start (1am in the morning), swimming steadily in the first few dark hours, just getting into a easy rhythm. I visualise the sunrise after about 5 hours of swimming and the distant volcanoes of Oahu coming into view. I think about the finish of the swim, hopefully at Sandy Beach - navigating the dangerous shore break and feeling sand beneath my feet. Doubts are a normal part of most peoples psyche; have I done enough training? Will I be able to stomach my feeds? What will it be like swimming in such a deep dark ocean? What is beneath me??? The worst part of a swim in many ways is the build up. I think I was lucky in my first few big swims I didn't know what I was getting myself in for, but now I know that nausea, fatigue, serious physical discomfort lie ahead of me. Most of these things are easier to deal with when you are swimming than in the few days before.

The Molokai channel will be an incredible test of my physical and mental endurance. I have a great support crew lined up and I have a rare chance to complete one of the world's famous ocean channel swims, completed by only a few of the hardiest open water swimmers. This is a rare opportunity to add my name to a select list and in a way create my own piece of history. Life offers up only a handful of these chances to amateurs like myself. I don't think success is always measured by gold medals, records and accolades but sometimes simply by whether we are willing to stand up and take one of these rare chances when they are offered up.