Friday, 2 October 2009


Well, coming up to a month down the track I can reflect with some degree of objectivity on my channel swim. I've had some nice comments about my report, although perhaps not surprisingly I don't seem to have inspired many friends to consider swimming the channel.
At the start of the year I said I wanted to test the limits of my sanity/ability. The channel certainly felt like it did that. I pushed myself well beyond any comfort zone and then on and on and on through a fairly prolonged uncomfortable zone. I can honestly say I was successful in thoroughly testing my physical and mental limits!

The most common post swim comment I have had is "What next?". To which I generally quip "Something shorter and warmer". There is naturally an immense sense of achievement and all the positive feedback from friends and family helps me to appreciate why so many go back for more. Why some even go for multiple crossings. For me, swimming the channel was never meant to be about recognition. It was about challenging myself and testing my limits, to that end I feel I have achieved what I set out to do. What next? Does there even have to be a next? Is there any great benefit to be had by further pushing the boundaries of sense and physical achievement? That question I do not have an answer to........................yet.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Swimming the English Channel - 8/09/2009

I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy one mile of my cross channel swim. I have described it as 11hrs of extreme mental torture and without over stating it that’s what it felt like. I am of course elated now to have completed the swim, immensely satisfied and above all relieved, but the actual swim was without doubt the hardest, most mentally and physically challenging thing I have ever attempted.

I have read many blogs and accounts of channel swims; some describe the excitement of finally tackling the ‘Everest’ of open water swimming. The joy of finally doing what has been months and years in the preparation. There’s no doubt I was excited and glad to have finally gotten my opportunity (at one stage I was worried that the weather might conspire against me and I would be left stranded on Dover harbour at the end of September), but once in the water all the excitement and positivity gives way to the reality of what you are doing.

My start time was to be approx 12.30am – an hour before high tide on the 8/9/09. After loading up the boat and filling in the appropriate paperwork we motored around to one of the beaches just south of Dover harbour. I stripped to my speedos and greased up as we watched another boat that had arrived just before us sound the starting siren for their swimmer. At 12.45am I found myself standing on the back of the boat, readying myself to launch into the water. I suppose at that moment it would have been appropriate to be reflecting momentarily on what I was finally about to embark upon but to be honest the only thought in mind was whether my goggle strap was tight enough. And so I jumped into the cold sea water and swam quickly to the rocky beach. You have to clear the water for the official start so I scrambled up the rocky beach and waved to the boat (they had a spotlight trailing on me to ensure I was completely clear), and then the siren blasted.

The cold had always been my concern; the sea temperature was reading 17.5 degrees mid channel. The last training swim in Dover (a few weeks earlier) had been very pleasant, but that was on a warm sunny day. Swimming in cold sea water in the middle of the night with no sun to warm you is a very different matter. I had expected to be cold in the first few hours and I knew it would be almost toughest at the start (with so much still ahead of me), but I knew I was in for a long night when within 30 minutes I could feel the cold eating away at me. So began the mental battle that continued for the next 11hrs, the little voice that willed me to swim over to the boat and get out, to the warmth, to end the misery. Every time the boat edged ahead of me I could see the steps on the back of the boat and they seemed to beckon me, tempt me to climb onboard. At those weak moments I would try breathing to the other side and not look at the boat and banish those thoughts. I tried all sort of tricks to distract myself. I would think of all the people that had supported me, my wife on the boat, her unwavering encouragement and pride in my swimming. Also on the boat my father-in-law Mike, whose battle with pancreatic cancer had been one of the motivating spurs to get me to commit to the channel swim. His presence on the stern of the boat in those early hours, watching me made me feel protected somehow. I tried to think of movies I enjoyed to get my head to think of something other than the pervasive cold but as the cold became more consuming my ability to think of anything else became more and more limited. It was all I could do to keep swimming, every time I thought of getting out I would say to myself ‘You can’t get out now, you’ve only been in for an hour, it’s pathetic, swim to your next feed’, then it was ‘You’ve only been in for 1 and a ½ hours, keep going, you aren’t that cold, your teeth aren’t even chattering”. At the 2 hour mark my teeth started chattering.

Every 30 minutes I was given a hot energy drink with some tinned fruit added. It was a formula we had used in the long Windermere swim and in the channel initially seemed to be fine but by the 3 hour mark I was violently sick. I kept the next feed down but then at the 4 hour feed again bad vomiting. My throat burned from the salty vomit. I took an anti sickness pill after that and my pilot Alison Streeter changed my feeding regime to a different energy drink and fortunately that seemed to settle the nausea. Every third feed became energy drink, plus sugar plus instant coffee. My support crew thought it was vile but for some reason I really liked it and began to look forward to that particular concoction.

After 5 hours of swimming the sky started to lighten and by 5.5 hrs dawn broke and I had reached the separation zone (the half way point in the channel). It was one of the few positive moments of the swim. For some reason the water temperature felt marginally warmer and the sight of the sun creeping up above the watery horizon was a mental warmer too. The separation zone is the 1 mile strip of water that separates the English and French shipping lanes – some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. I soon entered the French shipping lane and for the next few hours watched massive tankers and occasional ferry ships zipping passed me. I was amazed how quickly they moved up close. From the shore they seem to chug slowly across the distant seas but up close they zoomed into view and whizzed passed me leaving their choppy wake to unsettle my rhythm. I knew the shipping lane was about 5 miles across and had hoped to be clear of it in 2 hours or so but I made the mistake of not accounting for the strong spring tide which had turned by this point and was whisking me southwards diagonally across the shipping lane. Every time I saw a tanker passing behind me I thought I might be clearing the shipping lane only to then see another in the distance still ahead of me.

In the channel they tell you to swim from feed to feed. Don’t be distracted by the distant goal or it will become insurmountable. If you start looking for the French shore you will be looking for hours and it will not appear to get any closer. I found myself looking forward to each 30 minute feed. Despite the fact I still felt nauseous the feeds broke up the monotony and it was something tangible to concentrate on other than the cold and fatigue. Every feed the crew would shout encouragement and pass on well wishes. Text messages from Australian and English family and friends. My friend Rob on board would reach down and hand me my next feed and tell me how strong I looked and the observer Andy would yell words of support. I even heard Ali call out once from the boat (an honour to receive encouragement from the queen of the channel).

Time did start to pass quicker in the 2nd half on the swim, I would like to say it was because I was fighting the demons better but I had given up trying to push the negative thoughts out of my head, they were far too pervasive. I refused to allow myself to think of the end goal in case the distance of it became too much. I accepted the cold and the nausea and the aches in the muscles and just tried to push myself to the next feed.

Twice I complained of the cold. A pointless exercise if ever there was one. Vickie knew how cold I had got at Windermere and afterwards I told her I didn’t want to complain about it because it would make it a bigger issue than it already was. A part of me was thinking if I tell them how cold I am then it won’t be so much of a shock if I get out. After the channel Vickie told me how worried she was when I was sick and complained of the cold, it was certainly a sign of how fragile the mental situation had become.

At the eight hour mark my arms started to feel really heavy, like they were three times their size and made of lead. It was just like it had been at Windermere and had happened at exactly the same time stage. At Windermere I had had only an hour left to swim and could see the finish point in the distance. In the channel I was still in the French shipping lane a long way from the coast and I started to wonder if this was really it, had my body finally reached the limit. I kept trying to focus on the stroke, ‘long and strong’, ‘long and strong’. Trying not to let my technique and efficiency suffer, and then after about 30 minutes the feeling went away. I didn’t magically feel great but I didn’t feel quite as bad as I had been.

I finally passed the last tanker, it came storming up to us and passed about 100m behind the boat, it seemed to take up the whole of my view when I breathed to the right it was so large. For a moment I was worried it might just mow us down and then just as quickly it had disappeared behind me and I was in the French inshore waters.

At my next feed Rob cheerfully informed me I was 3 miles from Cap Griz Nez, in the next breath he said ‘but you’re going to miss it with the tide so you’ve got probably 5 miles still to swim’. I know he was being helpful but I could have punched him. I figured another 2 hours of swimming and so I started to think that was maybe only 3 or 4 more feeds. The French coast was visible but I forced myself not to look at it between feeds as I knew it would not get closer quickly. At one of my last feeds Vickie encouraged me by telling me we were so close she could see the rocks but Ali had told them not to get too carried away as the tide was sweeping me southwards so quickly it wasn’t clear how soon I would be able to get into the shore. Vickie kept asking me if I wanted her to get in but I wanted to save her for the final push to shore and so when I came to the 11 hour feed and she asked me again I said ‘Is this my last feed?’ the reply was ‘Just keep going, keep swimming’ and so again I told Vickie to wait on the boat and swam on. To be honest although the shore looked close I was struggling to focus and couldn’t tell if I had 100m to swim or 2km. And then suddenly the shore was there, the rocks and boulders were tangible they were only 50m away and I finally knew I had made it. There was a stage in the swim that I had wondered if I made it to France would I cry with joy but when I finally felt the rocks beneath my feet I felt only an overwhelming sense of relief, relief that it was over.

I swam up to a large boulder at the waters edge and hauled myself out of the water. To officially finish you need to be completely clear of the water. I gingerly stood up, turned around and waved to my boat where I could see everyone cheering and waving enthusiastically. I was so exhausted I sat down on the rock and stared at the boat thinking how little I wanted to get back into the water and swim the 50m or so back to the boat. I also knew that the boat was the real end to this swim and I would start to suffer from the cold very soon so I eased back into the water and swam somewhat erratically back to the boat.

On the boat I was cocooned in towels, blankets and old clothes but it took about an hour for the shivering to stop. I slept the rest of the way back to Dover.

Several days on I do feel an immense amount of pride and satisfaction in what I have achieved and still an enormous amount of relief that I didn’t succumb to the demons. I have said to Vickie that if I ever even mention swimming the channel again she can club me over the head with a shovel. The next swim will be shorter and warmer, 50m in a pool sounds good.

I swam 1300kms in the eight months up to swimming the channel. It became nothing short of an obsession. I thought about it daily and even dreamt about it on numerous occasions. It took over my life for much of this year and I am looking forward to being a little less selfish about my time and priorities. I know my mum is glad it’s over!

To everyone who helped me along the way thank you so much. I trained with the Yarra Roughies and Ice-bergers in Melbourne. With Cheltenham Swim Club, Gloucester Masters and Cheltenham Tri Club in Cheltenham. I swam in Dover harbour with all the other channel aspirants under the watchful gaze of Freda, Barrie and the gang. What they do every weekend from May to September is just amazing. My bosses and partners at work. My friends who encouraged and swam with me. Rob, Mike and Andy on the boat. The wonderful Alison Streeter and crew. And the most important person of all, the one who still inspires and made me feel warm when the cold and dark were at its worst, my wonderful wife Vickie.

(Observer Andy, Crewman Brian, me and the great Alison Streeter)

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

I made it!!!!!

This is the briefest of posts as I will go into more details when I have had a chance to sleep and reflect on what was without doubt the hardest, most mentally draining experience of my life. I am so so glad to have completed the swim, my crew (wife, father-in-law, and friend Rob) were brilliant, Alison and her crew were sensational and helped sort me when the guts went pear shaped and the observe Andy Dickson was just a wonderful helpful encouraging force.

I landed just South of CGN, having been swept slightly past the point by the big tide, in a time of 11hrs 6min. I am just literally over the moon to have completed what had become an all consuming obsession this year.

More to come..........

Friday, 4 September 2009

I've had "The Call"

My pilot has contacted me to say there's a window of opportunity Monday night. The conditions look like they will be relatively calm. 12.30am start to be precise, looks like a mild night. The tide is a bit big (it's about as big as they get - 6.7m) but if the conditions are good and if I can get across within two tidal movements than I hope to be landing on the French shores some time late Tuesday morning. The excitement is building!!

Carbo loading with intent!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Weather forecast not looking great!

I had a wonderful weekend in Dover just gone. The sun shone all day Sat and Sunday. I met up with a doctor from Australia - Stuart, who is over to swim the channel and for the first time I had someone to swim with which made the time go much more quickly. I swam 3hrs both days and when I got out on Sunday I didn't even feel cold. However the weather forecast for this week has taken a dive and it doesn't look great for many crossings at this stage. My pilot also has an extra swimmer to get across so I would be very unlikely to go before the start of next week or maybe not even until the next tide in another 2 weeks (my original tidal window). I'm not too worried about it, I haven't booked time off work because I knew it could be unpredictable. The major disadvantage is that schools go back and Vickie will be back at work which makes things trickier if I get a call at short notice. Such is the nature of channel swimming. We'll just have to wait and see..............

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Set to go!

Looks likely that I will be swimming the channel towards the end of next week. The next window starts the 26th August and my pilot Alison Streeter only has two other relay teams set to go. Weather dependant of course but I have put my order in for calm seas, baking hot sunshine and a very swift crossing. Here's hoping it all comes together.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Windermere Success!!

Saturday night the 8th of September was the bi-annual, 2-way, 21 mile, Lake Windermere swim. Below is my account of this rather gruelling event.

We drove up to the Lake District last Saturday afternoon arriving just before 5pm to see the first wave of 3 swimmers entering the water. One chap was being filmed for an ITV documentary and entered the water initially in gladiatorial cape, helmet and sword before reverting to the regulation speedos and swim cap. I managed a quick snooze before we had to start getting ready for our 8.30pm start time. 4 other swimmers had started at 6.30pm and there were 6 in my wave. My support crew (everyone had to be accompanied by a rowing boat) was Grant Bates (my cousin), Hugo Hedley (a Cheltenham friend) and Vickie (my wife). They all strangely seemed to enjoy the experience; Hugo even thanked me at the end for accompanying him on his overnight rowing adventure. At the start I greased up, well assisted by Grant who seemed to enjoy covering me in grease more than Vickie thought was appropriate. I met a man from Liverpool at the start who was in one of the official support boats, he recognized me from Liverpool Penguins having coached me 26 years ago! He has also swum the channel and said he was the only scouser to do so. When I said I could be the 2nd he replied “Not with that accent you can’t!”. We started at 8.45pm and I quickly shot away from the ‘pack’. About an hour in I had cooled somewhat and had a little mental wobble as I wondered why on earth I was doing this crazy swim but fortunately soon after we came upon Belle Island which is just under half way down the lake and that re-enthused me. We turned at the end of the lake in just under 4hrs 20min and I wondered briefly whether I might get close to the record of 8hrs 44min. The return leg was a real mental test as I tried to just swim from each 30min feed to the next one (old channel advice). Eventually we came upon Belle Island again and I began to feel that the end was attainable. I had suffered increasing nausea through the return leg and was eating/drinking less and less and by the last hour my arms felt like lead. We could see the lights on the pier at the finishing site for over an hour and it seemed to take an eternity to get closer. As the sky started to lighten I felt strangely amused by the thought that I had swum all through the night, starting at dusk and finishing at dawn. I eventually finished in dead on 9hrs, the 2nd fastest male time ever (I think one lady has swum faster also). I was the first finisher, having past all the earlier swimmers through the night and I was just over an hour faster than the 2nd placed swimmer. I had only really entered this event as a good pre-channel test. The same distance and a chance to practice night swimming and feeding. Jimmy (the scouser) said it is 30% harder to do Windermere with less buoyancy in the fresh water and water and air temperatures generally colder than what you face in the channel. I do feel very encouraged by the swim, on previous Windermere and Channel finishers times it seems that the Channel takes 30min to an hour longer to do, tides, currents and chop probably adding to the duration. 5 weeks to the channel although there is a chance I may go in 3 weeks (the tide before) if an opening is available. Alison, my pilot is keen to take swimmers early if they are ready to avoid missing a slot on their own tide if the weather is bad.
24hrs on, I don't feel too bad, my shoulders are a bit stiff. Ironically Alison texted me this morning to see if I was ready to go this Wednesday (she had got her swimmer lists confused), I think Wednesday was pushing it recovery wise anyway!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Spewtastic Dover and Lake Windermere is on!

I have had some big weekends down in Dover harbour. Two 6hr swims, Saturday and Sunday a fortnight ago and a 6hour and a 3hour this weekend. I know what your thinking, why only a 3hour swim? Well I am now in quick taper mode for a 2-way Windermere swim this weekend: 21miles, fresh water, overnight. I didn't receive confirmation until today and to be honest I wasn't sure if I was happy or disappointed to discover my application had been received and accepted. But it's too late to back out now. I was first motivated to enter after the Champion of Champions race at the end of June when I caught up with Mike Read (33 English channel crossings and a 4-way Windermere under his belt). He said if you can swim a 2-way Windermere you can swim the channel. It also gives you some much needed practice of feeding and night swimming (lots of that). After some encouraging feedback from other channel swimmers I decided to enter and have roped in my wife Vickie, my cousin's husband Grant and a friend Hugo to be my support/rowing crew.
I am hoping the guts are a bit happier in the fresh water than on the weekend. Several spectacular vomits in Dover harbour. Possibly the salt water or maybe the chocolate rolls they feed you on the hour. I am hoping for a calmer digestive experience. I have also invested in some channel grease for the swim - I intend to lather it on like plaster. The more insulation the better, still not very keen on the c.c.c.c.cold.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

To wetsuit or not to wetsuit.

I never appreciated the complete disdain that wetsuits are held with by some members of the open water swimming community. When I was in Melbourne at Easter I was welcomed to swim with the Black Rock swimming gang but warned not to wear a wetsuit under any circumstances. The British Long Distance Swimming Association runs lots of swimming races over here but standard swimming costumes only are allowed (dick togs for the blokes). Of course the English Channel swims are only recognised if the same swim suit restrictions have been adhered to i.e. no cheating wetsuits.

Personally this doesn't greatly bother me, I'm faster in a wetsuit but not that much, and it certainly doesn't help me as much as the average triathlete. I would be more than happy if all my open water swimming races were non-wetsuit. This does however create an issue when I compete in a race that does allow the use of wetsuits. Do I succumb to the benefit of the wetsuit or take the high moral ground that wearing a wetsuit dilutes the achievement, it takes away from the purity of open water swimming, if you can wear a wetsuit, why not fins and paddles? This year I have swum all my races non-wetsuit. After all I am training for the channel and there's no point getting use to a wetsuit that I will not be able to wear on the big day.

Two weekends ago I swam in a 3.8km lake swim. I finished 4th, 15seconds off the podium and 2minutes behind 1st place. All three of the guys that finished ahead of me wore wetsuits (in fact so did about 195 of the 200 entrants). The extra 3-5 seconds I would gain per hundred metres would have lifted me into 1st or at least 2nd place (in fact the 2nd and 3rd placed swimmers I had beaten comfortably in a 1500m pool race the week before). I did have the satisfaction of knowing I had beaten the majority of the wetsuited field in my speedos, although a small (highly competitive) part of me would have been much happier with a podium finish.

So what happens after this channel swim is all done and dusted? Will I continue to race sans wetsuit or return to the fold and eliminate any advantage I am giving away? Personally I think the competitive edge will win out, I like the purity of non-wetsuit swimming but I like winning even more!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Fame at last!!

Above is the link to an article written in the local rag last week. Alright, not exactly international recognition and they did get the distance wrong (at least they over-estimated), plus apparently I'm told it's not a great photo but hey, at least I made page 14!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Champion of Champions - that had to be more than 9miles!

Well a weekend somewhat reminiscent of my first trip to Dover at the start of May. Saturday started with the Champion of champions race in Dover Harbour - a 5mile race at 9.15am, followed by a 3mile race at 1.30pm, followed by a 1 mile race at 4.30pm. Before I start bragging I suppose I better fess up, yes, I was beaten by a girl. My total aggragate times of 3hrs 39min left me first male and 2nd overall, 1 and a half minutes behind last years' winner Caroline Ball. Although I am chuffed at winning another oversized trophy I suffered in the 3 mile race after over cooking it somewhat in the 5 mile. I finished 1st in the 5 mile by a couple of minutes and had pushed hard at the end to try and maximise my over-all lead and about half way through the 3 mile race my muscles were so lactated up that I had a struggle to even finish feeling physically exhausted and cold. The last 1 mile race was a comfortable "sprint" and although I made up some more time on Caroline I had lost too much in the 3 mile finishing behind some of the youngsters who hadn't already done the previous races (having chosen only to compete in the shorter events). I learnt some useful lessons though. Firstly - the cold water is not very forgiving if you fatigue yourself by sprinting when you need to be conserving. Secondly although they describe it as a 1 mile circuit, they also described it like that last year when the same swimmers where swimming 6-10minutes quicker per lap, so either it was very short last year or somewhat long this year. Personally it felt like a long mile to me (especially the 7th and 8th miles).

I stayed in Dover Saturday night in preparation for a long training swim on Sunday morning. I had hoped to do 4 hours in the water but after only two I was really suffering in the cold. I didn't feel significantly fatigued but I couldn't warm up and as I stopped for a 2hour feed it took all of my willpower to push off again and after just under 3hours I got out. I guess the 9mile race had probably taken more out of me than I cared to admit, I certainly hadn't felt the cold after the 5mile race the day before which I had swum in just under 2hrs, but I was dissapointed not to have been able to keep going. So much of the long cold swimming is about mental fortitude and knowing you can keep swimming when your body doesn't want to. I still have much to work on. I think my fitness is very good but as they say it's 20% physical and 80% mental. The water temperature now is about 14.5 degrees but will be 3 or 4 degrees warmer when I make my attempt in September. My goal now has to be to do more and more long cold swims and build up my tolerance and mental strength in the cold water. A few more kilos of fat wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

50km, 1000 lengths, one pool.

Big week of training in the LIDO this week. As I finished my 12km pool set this morning (longest pool set to date) I totted up the kms and was glad to have reached the 50km I had set for the week. That's 1000 lengths this week. I was met by Ron at the gate on the way out, Ron is as much a feature of the LIDO as the brickwork, and thanks to 78years in the sunshine he is just as brown. Ron filled me in on some of the lifeguards who have attempted the channel swim. "There was a girl here once who trained all summer" he said, "She headed down to Dover at the start of September and sat waiting all month for the weather to clear and never got a start. Then there was this lad who was going to be the first chap to swim it backstroke. He got to within a few miles of France and was vomiting up over his face, in the end the tide turned and he was getting swept backwards 200m for every 100m he swam so they pulled him out". I think at that moment Ron felt slightly sorry for me, "of course you'll make it" he added quickly. "Thanks Ron" I muttered, at least the vomit is less likely to hit your face when you are swimming frontcrawl I suppose.

Next weekend I am looking forward to a trip to Dover and the Champion of Champions race - a 9 mile race, split as 5, 3 and 1 mile races. I shall make a weekend of it with a big swim in the harbour Sunday morning also. The water temperature is a balmy 14.5 degrees according to the weather station in the channel. I think the pink budgy smugglers might get an outing. Don't think I'll be bothering with backstroke.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Speedo swimsuit size = barrel

I have a few pool competitions this year and have decided to retire my now rather threadbare fastskin swim suit. I was trying to work out my size on the speedo sizing chart and discovered that I don't comfortably fit into their S, M, L, XL range. My height and leg length seems to put me into a medium suit but my chest and waist are somewhat off the top of the scale. With all the training I have gained 4 inches around the chest (44inch) and all the eating has given me an extra 2 around the waist. I am officially a barrel size, or as my wife gleefully suggested 'squat'. Strangely 'barrel' or 'squat' are not part of the official sizing chart. I'll probably just stick with medium and hope the zip doesn't give way with all the strain required to keep my man boobs in check. Of course I could just stick with the budgy smugglers, maybe I'll wear them on the outside?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Grecian swimming and another win for the smugglers

Well a very enjoyable week of swimming in the warm Mediterranean waters. Almost 50km was achieved in a very pleasant fashion. Swimming through warm (20 degrees), calm, clear blue sea water, good for the mileage but in terms of similarities to swimming the English Channel probably only the salt content was much the same. I think the locals thought I was pretty mad, one day I swam most of the length of the island to join the family for lunch (8km) and then afterwards swam back again. The waiter who served us was interested to hear what I was doing that day, he said "I don't think anyone's ever done that", I got the distinct impression he was thinking no one would want to swim up and down the length of the island when there was perfectly good roads to drive on.

So recap for May - 192.5km, won the Lido sprint, swam in Dover Harbour and froze my bol*&cks. Plan for June - swim in Champion of Champions race in Dover Harbour, 1500m pool race and otherwise lots more swimming, see if I can top 200km for the month and 85kg!

I had the pleasure of a lake swim on Thursday evening, a 1.9km (approx) race in Herefordshire. Out came the pink Budgys. Not a particularly big field (about 40 swimmers), good to see 3 others who weren't wearing wetsuits (one of them being Dave Granger another channel aspirant). The water temp was surprisingly warm (low 20s) but the visibility (none) was more reminiscent of Dover Harbour. I shot off at the start and found I had opened a comfortable lead by the first buoy - the benefits of all this fitness is knowing that your are not going to struggle on the 2nd lap of a 1.9km swim. I finished 2.5 minutes ahead of the nearest wetsuit. I was slightly put out by the 2nd placed swimmer who claimed he lost my feet because I swam off course towards the first buoy, the fact that he was over 2 minutes slower than me seemed to have been lost on him.

We had another good training session yesterday morning at the Lido. I say "we" although "we" has grown from 4 swimmers to about 15. Apart from Dave and myself the rest are triathletes (and therefore wetsuited). I started off a month ago doing my own thing, fitting in a 4km session in an hour. Gradually it got modified to allow for other swimmers who tagged on the back and now it has become a regular feature with more and more people joining the session at the back of the lane. Somehow I have become session creator and lane leader. As long as they understand it's my lane, my session and my way or the highway I don't think there will be a problem.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Tony Cherrington Cup and 'teabags' with sunglasses

I thought I would show off the impressive trophy that I won in the Lido sprint. The largest trophy I have ever won by some way and yet relatively probably one of my least impressive swims. It was neither a particularly fast time nor did I beat a vast field of sprinters to secure the title. Still as in life the reward doesn't always match the achievement.

The opening of the Lido has meant most of my training now is in this wonderful outdoor 50m pool and I am enjoying the cold mornings and still relatively quiet attendance. I was amused to note that in the Lido the 'teabags' (people who just bob up and down the pool) can sometimes be seen wearing sunglasses while swimming. I use the term 'swimming' loosely as I don't believe you can really claim to be swimming if you are trying to keep your face and hair dry, wearing sunglasses and sedately breastroking up and down the pool. Instead what you are doing is really just a form of floating. Perhaps 'directed floating' would best describe this activity. I've never held breaststroke in high regard anyway, it's clearly not a real stroke if you can do it with sunglasses on instead of goggles.

My biggest achievement this month has been the 3kg of weight gain I have achieved. Finally I am seeing some results. I think I have achieved this by switching from a stuff your face at mealtimes approach to an 'eat constantly through the day' philosophy. The girls at work are getting sick of me whinging about how hard it is to put on weight as I munch a large block of chocolate each morning and a packet of biscuits each afternoon. They think it is grossly unfair and now I have started asking them for sponsorship they are asking why they should be paying me to torture them on a daily basis.

Off to Greece for a week. It is a holiday really but it should be a great training week, the sea temperature should be high teens, perfect for comfortable sea swimming and I hope considerably clearer and more attractive than Dover Harbour.
Well over 600km now for the year, 3kg of insulation added and now a trip to the Mediterranean, May has been a very positive month, only a little over 3 to go to the big swim.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

LIDO visibility update

I've been told off by one of the lifeguards at the LIDO - the visibility is now crystal clear. So clear you can see all the crap on the bottom of the pool.................just kidding. Sometimes I am surprised by the people that read my blog, actually I'm surprised that anyone reads my blog. I hope it provides some sort of entertainment, or amusement.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Budgy Smugglers win LIDO sprint and Dover shivers.

Well after several somewhat mundane weeks of training and work at least I have had a weekend of interesting swimming to report on. This was the first weekend of Dover swimming for the year and I was keen to experience the cold channel waters for the first time. As it happened my trip was delayed by a minor pet incident (terrier 1, viszla 0) that kept me in Cheltenham on the Saturday. However it gave me the perfect excuse to head down to the season opening of the Sandford lido, our outdoor 50m pool here. I warmed up with a gentle 4km session, less enjoyable than normal as the water had taken on the appearance of grey soup thanks to the accumulation of concrete dust from recent building work. Still as several people pointed out it was good open water training as you had to keep lifting your head up to sight the lane ropes, the wall, other swimmers etc. They also held the annual LIDO sprint, a one length dash open to all comers. I suppose I should put this in perspective, this is not a particularly serious race, the competitors are a mix of kids in board shorts, a few blokes pressed into action by their wives/girlfriends and the odd serious swimmer who happened to be there on the day. So it was no real surprise that my main competition was from Dan a young lad from the local swim club and Colin from the equivalent masters club. Dan and Colin raced each other in the first heat with Dan narrowly pipping Colin and I had the second heat mostly to myself (you can see two young lads with their feet still rooted to the poolside in the picture). In the final Dan had the misfortune of being placed in the large unlaned section of the pool which wouldn't have been an issue if it wasn't for the fact that the visibility (or lack of) meant he had to swim with his head up to avoid sprinting into the side wall. Colin and I had lane ropes to guide us when we breathed and I managed to just out touch him at the end. I now have the somewhat dubious honour of claiming the sprint in the slowest winning time on record (of course I am blaiming the concrete dust). I should also point out that my two main rivals Dan and Colin were respectively nearly 20years younger than me and nearly 20years older than me so if I hadn't won I wouldn't be bragging about coming second.


So Sunday morning was an early start as I drove down to Dover. 3 hours from Cheltenham and I have to admit I was very excited driving into Dover, I could see the harbour below me, the white cliffs ahead and in the distance out to sea, the French coast, I couldn't help but think "That doesn't look so far away!". I made way down to the beach and joined the throng of swimmers preparing for the morning's session. I was starting to feel a little anxious about how I was going to cope with the water temperature of only 10 degrees. We were given our caps and numbers and instructions; 35min if this was your first swim, 45min if you were there on the Saturday. Quietly I decided was going to do at least 45min - I hadn't driven all this way to get out after 30minutes......maybe. I did at least follow the suggestion to stick close to the shoreline at the start in case the cold got too much. So without much ceremony we were sent off, I didn't waste time tiptoeing into the water, I waded in and dived under, I came up hyperventilating and the most painful part wasn't my head, hands or feet it was the bits in the speedos that were making their discomfort known, they had obviously decided freezing water was not in their job description and were trying to retract back into my abdomen. Fortunately after only a minute the worst had passed and I felt suprisingly good. It was so cold that it almost felt like my skin was burning and as long as I kept moving I didn't mind it at all. I swam for just over 50 minutes and exited towards the back of the crowd. As I staggered up the stones one of the volunteers asked me for my number, "Number? What number?" I mumbled (my lips were quite numb by this stage), "The number we gave you on your cap", I looked at him as if he was mad, "well" I said slowly "What does it say on my cap?". He looked at me as if I were slightly challenged "This is supposed to check if you are coherent after the cold, now put some clothes on before you start shivering". I made my way to my bag still feeling OK, towelled off and started putting on the layers, and then it hit me; the shivering, the teeth chattering the uncontrollable shaking. I somehow managed to get my clothes on before it got too bad but I spent the better part of thirty minutes slowly warming up. This was by far the worst part and I hadn't expected it, I thought getting in or swimming would be the worst bit but by far it was the aftermath. The whole process repeated itself when we got back in for a second swim just after midday, the swim was fine and I managed another 50minutes but I made a quick dash to my clothes to change as quickly as possible before the cold overtook me. I drove back with the heating on full blast for 30minutes before I started to feel normal again. All in all it was a great experience, lots to think about, my reaction to the cold was in some ways better and in some ways worse than I had expected. At least the pink budgy smugglers got a double outing this weekend and I now have a very large trophy to show off............for beating a 15 and a 55 year old in a 50m soupy sprint.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Farewell Melbourne/feats of madness

So that's it, a month of antipodean culture and sunshine has come to an end, and what an end! Nearly 4 hours in the bay this morning with Kevin and Paul (fellow channel swimming aspirees). I think about 16km in total, not quite half way across the channel but not too far off it! Water temp 17.4 degrees (63 degrees Farenheit for those stuck in the dark ages). Cool but not unpleasantly so and although the muscles were tired by the end it was not exhausting.

A little over 30km in the last 3 days is a good finish to my Melbourne stint. I was a little worried at the start of this trip that work might seriously impact on how much training I could do but fortunately the boss was able to give me enough time off to fit in a good deal of training (the benefit of being self-employed).

One of the sunbathers at the Brighton sea baths was very complimentary of my swimming as I launched myself in for my final 2.7km lap, apparently I had been spotted churning up the waters these last few days and had been suspected of training for a channel crossing. Most people (me included) think swimming the channel is a pretty wild thing to attempt. It seems to be one step beyond the sort of feats of endurance that people would consider laudable and possibly 'if only I was fit enough I would like to attempt such a thing'. Instead it falls into the realms of why on earth would you do something so daft?

Maybe that's part of the appeal, to achieve something that is so beyond your own and most people's expectations that you fall into the niche of madness or incredible or possibly incredibly mad. Whichever I am I hope I can rise to the challenge, better to attempt at madness than to be left wondering if you ever tested the limit of your sanity...................maybe.

(Check out the link to the aerial photo of Brighton sea baths and marina - below right)

Sunday, 5 April 2009

March Stats

So the stats for March are in:

Total Kms swum = 152.65km

Ave Kms/day = 4.92km

Most Kms in a day/week = 11km/40km

Weight at end of March = 78kg

Total weight gain since Jan = 0kg........damn

Number of nights gone to bed feeling like I'm going to throw up from vast quantity of food eaten = at least 20

Moments of worry about lack of weight gain and possible channel hypothermia = lots and lots

It might be argued that trying to gain weight on a vegan diet while burning vast quantities of energy training madly is probably not a formula for getting fat. I had a discussion with a channel swimmer last week who cheerfully informed me he had lost 13kgs during his channel swim. Great, I do not have 13kg to lose right now. It also seems that everyone I have chatted about this has the same three comments; no 1) drink lots of beer (cause that will fit in really well with my training schedule) no 2) what do you expect on your diet and no 3) I wish I had your problem.

April has arrived and the end of my Melbourne stint is just over a week away. The next month will bring cold water training in the UK, something I'm not really looking forward to but at least will give me a greater awareness of the challenge I face in September. I shall persevere with the attempted weight gain - more soy icecream, more protein shakes, more olive oil drizzled over my food until it looks more like a soup than the pasta it was intended to be. More nuts, avocado and dark chocolate. There are worse diets, I am aware of this. I just fear that all this training will be for nought if my internal thermoregulation gives up in the Northwest shipping lane. Never let it be said that I didn't try to eat my way across the English Channel. 'Never save anything for the swim back' or for tomorrow's leftovers either.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

40km and 3rd for the Budgy Smugglers

The last two weeks have been all about the ocean swimming. The temperature has dropped down to 18 degrees (still very pleasant for swimming) and I have enjoyed doing laps of Brighton Marina - a 2.5km circuit. It has been fairly heavily frequented by jelly fish which adds to the obstacles along with all the fishing lines that I manage to snag with uncanny regularity. I like to think the fisherman are thinking 'Wow look at that guy fearlessly tearing through the open water', but I suspect the reality is more likely 'What is this twat doing swimming through our bloody fishing lines'.

Along with the club sessions and my own pool sets I have hit 40km this week - a weekly best so far. The culmination was the re-swim of the 1.2km bay race this morning. As with 2 weeks ago I rocked up early to get some extra kms in and had foregone the wetsuit in favour of the pink speedos. I was meeting Kevin, another channel swimmer there, however when he saw me I could tell he was in two minds whether or not to acknowledge me in my garish trunks. A small child did point and laugh at one stage, I suspect the rest just thought 'What is this twat doing swimming in those revolting dick togs'. Kevin and I swam the course backwards to the start and then I stood shivering on the beach while awaiting a significantly delayed start. Goose pimples, pink speedos and significant muscle tremors - what an inspiring sight!

The race was good fun though and I shot off just behind a pack of 3 wetsuited swimmers, after 500m I had hauled in one of them but the 2 leaders got out to a 30sec lead and that's where I finished. I suppose in a wetsuit I probably would have been 45s to a minute quicker over the distance but at the end of the day a 3rd place and a fun race will do. Another sign of the improved fitness was the comfort level and recovery at the end of the race. I was tempted to get back in and swim back again but work called and the pink smugglers had had more than enough exposure.

Two more weeks in Melbourne and I am looking forward to building the work load. It is just such a fantastic place to train. Pool swimming back in England is not going to be anywhere near as inspiring when I return. I do have the English open water swimming season to look forward to; Dover training starts at the beginning of May and the Cirencester lakes will be open for swimming. Somehow it doesn't quite have the same appeal like the bay and reef swimming in Melbourne. Time for the famous Aussie saying - 'Have a can of toughen up princess', seems appropriate for those that swim in pink bathers.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Hot pink speedos and a race that wasn't

Slowly getting over the jet lag but I'm enjoying being back in Melbourne. It's been a busy week, what with fitting in swim sessions, work and catching up on lost sleep. The highlight of the week was joining in with the 'icebergers' at Black Rock on Saturday morning. These are a group of seriously experienced open water swimmers with half a dozen or more Channel swimmers among them. I turned up at the beach at 8am ready for a good ocean swim and met Alby Bardoel and the gang. We headed down to the beach and as we prepared to hit the water I revealed my latest swimming purchase - a pair of fluro pink budgy smugglers. Possibly not the most conservative swim wear I possess. Alby politely pointed out that we were on a stretch of beach famous for it's male activity and I might attract more attention than I had anticipated. Nearly 2 hours later I exited the warm (19 degrees) water into a tropical downpour to find my towel and clothes now as damp as my speedos. Over breakfast I was advised that I needed to put on about 10kgs of weight if I hope to stave off hypothermia in the channel. This is a daunting prospect as so far this year I have managed to gain a total of minus 0.5kg.
Sunday morning was the Bonbeach 1.2km ocean race. I had been looking forward to this, the last race of the Melbourne open water calender. I arrived in good time to see the wind had whipped up the normally placed bay water into a sizeable white tipped swell. Excited by the prospect of a challenging sea swim I was rapidly deflated to learn that the life guards had cancelled the swim on safety grounds. I packed my pink smugglers away and slopped off to the pool for a steady 4.5km workout. The race has been rescheduled for 2 weeks so I may yet get a chance to race against the wetsuits. The prospect of beating as many wetsuitted swimmers as possible in a pair of fluoro pink budgy smugglers is quite an appealing one, even if I do risk being 'outed' in public. Also if I am going to prance around in a pair of eye-catching dick togs I might as well do it now while I am relatively trim and not when I have an extra 10kgs of lard folded over the top of them.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

"Never save anything for the swim back"

Seems an appropriate motto for a cross channel swim, not so appropriate if I was doing a two way crossing but fortunately I'm not. The quote comes from the movie Gattaca, two brothers swim out to sea against each other, the winner is the one who doesn't turn back first. When the stronger brother asks his weaker brother how he is managing to keep going he answers, "I never saved anything for the swim back". It is a favourite quote and motivating tool when I am pounding the laps. Another 8.5km this morning, this time I arrived a bit earlier so avoided being ejected from the pool. Two random swimmers asked me if I was swimming the channel, I've only mentioned it to one person at the local pool so either I'm giving off some strange vibe or word has got around. Of course it could have been the goose fat that I had laddled onto my torso this morning. Actually at 30 degrees no extra insulation is needed. A little scary to consider that the channel is likely to be approximately half that temperature.
This month my ocean swimming starts in earnest. Alright it is in Australia and at the tail end of summer so I'm not pushing the boat right out, but it will still be 10 degrees cooler than the indoor pool swimming in the UK. By the time I get back the open water swimming will be starting over here so that's when it gets really serious (cold).
Incidently I finished the kitchen tiling last weekend (see previous posts). Turns out I might think I'm a serious athlete but that doesn't get me out of the DIY chores. Apparently you have to have been a dedicated athlete before marriage for that excuse to carry any weight. Someone should write these rules down.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

2 months in, 114.45km done and kicked out of the pool

Good month of swimming, 114.45km of swimming. That's a satisfying average of just over 4km a day this month. This morning's session was the big one - a solid 8km straight. I have swum more than this in a day in 2 sessions but this was to be the longest single session to date. I headed down to the pool, stocked up with electrolytes and energy fuel. Started with a 2500m warm up and then ploughed through the next 3.6km in decreasing sets to bring up 6km in just over 1.5hrs. I finished with sets of 500m and felt suprisingly strong. As I pushed off for the final 500m I felt a warm glow of satisfaction that I was about to complete my longest ever session and round out the 8km. At this point I noted that the pool seemed remarkably quiet with the few remaining swimmers heading for the exits. I then spotted the lifeguard poised over the edge of my lane. As I pulled up he pointed to the change rooms and said "Time to get out mate, pool's shut", I paused momentarily and thought I would appeal to his better nature, "Do you mind if I finish my set, I've only 6 more laps to bring up 8km?" There seemed to be a flicker of sympathy and recognition of my achievement as he paused before he said "Nah, pool's shut". So that was it, kicked out 6 laps short of my goal. Still as annoying as that was I had a moment of smugness that I felt strong after nearly 8km in the pool, if it wasn't for the fact that that is not even a quarter of the distance across the channel I could feel genuinely pleased. In relative terms it is like running 10km in the preparation for running a marathon. Or more realistically it is like running 10km on a flat track in preparation for a marathon up a very steep mountain, in the snow...........with no clothes on.

Friday, 20 February 2009

At last, something to whinge about.

My shoulders have been aching these last weeks and I have had quite a few sessions where I have just floundered through the water. I did a 6km set on Wednesday and after 2km I had completely ran out of juice. I spent the next hour wondering whether I would bounce back from what felt like a hypoglycaemic fug, the answer was a resounding no. Fitness and physical fatigue haven't held me back but it seems my body has been struggling to provide the energy required for back to back to back sessions. I have somewhat surprisingly been sleeping badly. I assumed with the increase physical work out I would sleep like a baby but instead I find myself tossing and turning and waking up in the dead of night. Muscle cramps have caught me out a few times in the evening sessions and I am having to think more carefully about hydration and energy levels. More often than not I find I am eating as much as I can physically manage but I suspect I have lost weight in the last month instead of gaining it.

I popped down to the local leisure centre at lunchtime today thinking I could get a quick session in at a quiet time of the day. Foolish me, it was half term and I had to share the one lap lane with a dozen breastrokers with an average age of 87. After twenty minutes there was only three left, I'm sure it wasn't all because of me but I do wonder what sort of work out you can get when it seems clear your objective is to keep your hair dry and water off your face at all times. I suspect I splashed quite a few of the 'tea bags' as I passed them bobbing up and down, I noted several damp hair arrangements as they reluctantly departed.

Someone who voluntarily decides to train up to swim the English Channel doesn't really deserve much sympathy, it is after all a rather self centered exercise however you dress it up. It's just I think secretly I quite like having something to whinge about. My wife has been an elite level triathlete since I have known her and she gets to complain all the time. Now it's my turn to grumble about aching muscles and physical exhaustion. I can complain about poor lane etiquette and inadequate provisions for serious swimmers. I can whinge to my hearts content, it's really quite an enjoyable activity.

Vickie wants me to do some tiling this afternoon. Doesn't she know I am resting up for my next swimming session this evening? I can't waste energy on mundane DIY tasks. I'm a serious swimmer, I'm training to swim the channel after all. No, it's rest and recovery for me, gotta look after myself. The tiling can wait until after September.............

Monday, 9 February 2009

a little knowledge is a dangerous thing......

I should be feeling buoyed by another good week in the pool. 26.2km last week including 8.3km on Sunday. My fitness is good and improving, I am feeling stronger through the water and I seem to be making steady progress. Then I start reading on the Internet about other swimmers mad training programs, people swimming in near freezing water, people who have taken 3 years to reach this point of a channel swim attempt. I read about other people's failures, all the advice from experienced swimmers about how hard it is and how many people underestimate what's involved. I read about how the weather and conditions can scupper your attempt before you even get going. I read that only 40% of channel swimmers succeed. I shouldn't read these things but it's compulsive. I spend hours trawling through blog sites trying to garner little titbits of wisdom.
Today's a rest day, just a little run with the dog through the snow. Pushing negative thoughts to the back of my mind. I mostly feel good about where I'm at, I should top 100kms this month. Next month is back to Aus for a month of ocean swimming in preparation for the English ocean swimming which starts in May. I've given myself 9 months to get to a place where I can swim the channel. Seemed like a long time at Christmas. Now if you can just excuse me I've found another blog about a person who got within 2 miles of France and became delirious with exhaustion, must go.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

One month in - the cold and the fat?

So nearly 60km in the pool in January seems like a good base for my first month's serious training. Still a long way off what I should be building up to in Summer (at least twice that much). There are several issues that have occupied my thoughts though, the main one is the cold water acclimatisation. People have suggested that I need to start walking around in shorts and t-shirts in winter, sleeping under only a sheet etc. As the temperature this week plummeted well below freezing again I have not stuck to this philosophy with any enthusiasm. I have taken to running in the mornings without the gloves and hat that takes the edge off the cold and as I waded through the snow on top of Cleeve hill this morning I found myself questioning this decision also. The other part to this worry is the need to fatten up for the swim. How much fat is ideal when swimming the channel? I have read figures of about 15% body fat which is not a significant level. Pictures of the repeat swimmers of channel crossings tend to suggest that quite a bit more than that is not a disadvantage although there must be some trade off between extra weight and reduced fitness. I have not actively tried to bulk up too much yet, 78kg was my weight at the end of Jan and I am simply not being fussy at the moment about what I eat. I figured I could go up to 85kg quite happily, personally if the extra fat genuinely helps to keep out the cold I'll be more than happy to follow Renee Zellwinger's diet (in bulking up for Bridget Jones) and eat ice cream with every meal.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Why, why, why?

As 2008 drew to a close and I mulled over what the new year would bring, my thoughts drifted to the possibility of completing a long distance triathlon. Inspired in no small part by Vickie's (my wife) tremendous achievements. I started to contemplate the training involved and to think about suitable events. The reality of how much time and training that would be involved started to sink in and another challenge of even more significant proportions forced itself into my consciousness. I have for some years pondered the possibility of swimming the English Channel, casually mentioning this desire to friends with the sort of condescending response you would expect when a small child says he would like to grow up to become an astronaut. But without any impetus it never went any further than a poorly conceived thought. I suppose we all need something bigger than ourselves to get us inspired sometimes and so the idea that I could use this challenge to raise some money for charity started to solidify the channel swim. In particular Mike's (my father-in-law's) personal battle with pancreatic cancer was an inspiration. Pancreatic cancer, I have discovered, is relatively poorly funded and despite modern medical advancements still as lethal a form of cancer today as it was 40 years ago. My other inspiration was to raise some money for the local historical swimming pool in Cheltenham, the Sandford Lido. Built in the 1930s it was almost buried under concrete in the 1990s to make way for car parking but saved by a group of devotees who now voluntarily manage the pool for the benefit of the community. It is a beautiful outdoor pool, surrounded by manicured gardens and flowered beds. One of only the few 50m swimming pools in the country. It is such a wonderful community facility that helping to preserve it for future generations seems a very worthwhile venture.
My hope with this blog is to record my experience of training and preparing to swim the English Channel in September this year and facilitate raising some money for these very worthwhile charities.