Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year

I just got back from the pool after my second 6 hour swim - I didn't quite make my goal of 19.7km, but managed 19.4km, which I was pretty pleased with, especially since I had to negotiate an invasion of leisurely breaststrokers into the lane for an hour in the middle when they compressed the public swimming space to accommodate a club swim. (Well, not really an invasion, since they had every right to be there too, but you know how frustrating it can be).
I was fine for most of the swim, but I really felt it towards the end, and last week's swim was still in my arms a bit. Lots of work to do, though.

While I was swimming, I was reviewing my year of training and swimming and am feeling pretty pleased with how things have gone. This year, I have:
  • completed a three-person relay crossing (and learned that I'm really better in the water than on it)
  • swum around Jersey
  • covered 881.6km in training (including multiple 6 hour training swims in a variety of conditions)

I feel like this has set me up well for next year's two key challenges:

  • Jersey to France (4-7 July)
  • English Channel solo

To get me to those goals, I've already confirmed places on long distance training camps in Malta and Jersey, and have my sights set on multiple weekends in Dover Harbour. All I can do now is stay as well and injury-free as I possibly can, work hard, and try to stay positive. I wonder if I'll be a Channel swimmer this time next year...

Monday, 28 December 2009


It's been a cold and icy Christmas week - beautiful blue skies and crispy mornings.... plus lots of black ice on the roads, so all cycling has been relegated to the turbo trainer in the kitchen, and early morning trips to the pool have to start 10 minutes earlier so that I can defrost the car. On Christmas Day, we drove down to Broadway in the camper van and went for deliciously crunchy walk in the sunshine in the beautiful Cotswolds hills. Then we had our traditional Christmas dinner of beans on toast in the van, attracting bemused pointing and stares from passers by as we tucked in to our lunch. The perfect way to spend Christmas - lots of fresh air, and the washing up gets done in no time!

I also did the first of my long Christmas swims on Christmas Eve - I did 18.8km in 6 hours, so I'm more tortoise than hare (or whatever the aquatic equivalent is), but kept a nice steady pace throughout (especially once the morning rush had ended and the pool was emptier, enabling me to settle a bit more). I was a bit tired that afternoon, but Peter and I went out and feasted on delicious Italian food, which really helped. I love these long swims - there is something hugely soothing about knowing that all I have to do for the next 6 hours is swim. Nothing else; just swimming. I love to just empty my head out of all of the nonsense that's usually bouncing around in there, settle into a rhythm, and swim. It's harder to do in a pool, I think, because you have to turn, and pay attention to other people in the lane, but I still find it hugely pleasurable. I've been thinking about this quite a lot recently, and think that there is a real tension in my training between my desire for the long, slow swim (and the pleasure I get from it, which in turn, helps me to keep up with the training), and my need to do more focused training to get my speed and efficiency up. Terry Laughlin has been writing a lot in his blog recently about developing training practices that "grow brain cells" - a very mindful, strategic approach to training that aims to cut out junk miles and maximise efficiency through constant awareness. I've tried a couple of his example workouts, and perhaps the most striking thing was how quickly my mind wandered off the task - an appalling lack of self-discipline, really. Something for me to work on more, I think, although this is always going to be a matter of compromise for me.

I'm going to repeat the 6 hour swim on New Year's Eve, and try to get up to 19.7km (a 5% increase on last week).

And in the mean time, I've had the most incredible response to my posts about the research project. It also got a mention on The Water Is Open, which led to even more people getting in touch. It's all really exciting.
Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Research project, and swimming to Bordeaux...

I decided that it was time to relaunch my "Becoming a Channel swimmer" research project, in the hope of getting as many people involved as possible as early as possible in the training cycle. I posted a message on the discussion forum and got a really good initial response, and a number of people are already either letting me use their blogs, or sending me offline journal entries or e-mail updates, and quite a few have already offered to be interviewed as the year progresses. All very exciting. My funding bid is still with the Economic and Social Research Council - the decision should be announced by the end of Feb, so fingers crossed.

To make it a bit clearer what the research is about, I've written a brief project summary, including the key research questions and how people can participate. If you're interested in learning more about the research, or want to take part, you can find the summary here, or via the link on the right side of this page.

On a completely different note, I've been feeling fairly pleased with myself having calculated that I've swum 850km this year, which is not record-breaking, but will get you as far as Bordeaux in France, which is quite a pleasing thought. But then I watched the "Duel in the Pool" this morning (a swim meet between the US team and a three-country European team), and the commentators happened to mention that David Davies had had "quite a heavy" couple of weeks of training prior to the races ... Something of an understatement as it turned out - he'd done 200km in two weeks!!!! Okay, so now my 850km in a YEAR is looking pretty lame... not that comparing myself with elite swimmers is ever going to be a good confidence-building strategy, mind you...

Having said that, the swimming was just beautiful to watch. Those people are amazing. And it's great to see so much swimming on TV - the Robson Green open water documentary, the Great Swims, and now this.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Christmas swimming plans

With my contract signed and the money handed over, the whole Channel thing is starting to seem much more real, the positive outcome of which is that I've started to knuckle down a bit more to the training. Looking back at my training logs for this time last year, I'm doing less distance in the pool (usually between 10-15km / week this year, compared to 15-20km/ week last year), but the intensity has definitely increased now that I'm training with the club three times a week, and I think that's a positive exchange for now. I've also added in a LOT more cross training than I was doing last year - a couple of runs, a spinning class, a bike ride, and most recently, a pilates class each week. Plus, Penny and I are also doing a session of Total Immersion drills each week to work on our technique, which is really helping. I'm aiming for about 10 training sessions a week, with about half of those in the pool, and the rest doing other stuff. I sometimes panic that I'm not doing enough distance, but hopefully, all this cross-training, and high intensity pool work, will prevent injury, and in the long run, speed me up a bit (or at least give me the capacityy to turn on some speed if I have to when I'm in the Channel). And then I read other blogs and panic that I'm not doing enough training, full stop. It's just so scary to think that I could be blowing this whole thing by not getting it right now. 'Tis the season for self-doubt, apparently, but I'm trying to hold my nerve.

And so, by way of reassurance, and just so that I don't forget the joys of the long, steady swim, I've decided to set myself a little Christmas challenge and am going to do two 6 hour pool swims - one on Christmas Eve and one on New Year's Eve - with the goal of increasing the distance covered for the second swim by 5%. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Commitment time....

Things have been a bit slack on the training front - I've been pootling along, but without really getting stuck in to the training in any meaningful way. I've been cycling quite a bit (don't love it yet, but am working on it), and running a couple of times a week, plus 4-5 swims, but I haven't really been pushing myself as hard as I should be. It's been quite nice in a way, and I've been feeling great for all this regular, but relatively gentle, exercise, but I really have to start getting my head down a bit now because..... today, I got the contract for my Channel swim from my pilot, Paul Foreman, along with the excellent news that I've been bumped up a slot and am now first on the tide (17-24 August, 2010). So, the contract is signed, the cheque written, and it will all be off in the post tomorrow. Commitment time.

One of the reasons that I have been slacking off is that I just got back from 2 weeks in New York. I went to give a paper at the launch of a journal special issue that I had co-edited, and to spend some time working in the glorious New York Public Library:

Plus I made plenty of time to play tourist...

I did a boat trip around Manhattan - it was a beautiful day, and the city looked amazing. The Round Manhattan swim has now been added to my to-do list.

Anyway, I didn't get to swim at all while I was there - I was struggling to find a pool that didn't require annual membership, or have an exorbitant day membership, so I made do with a bit of running, and lots of walking around the city. A really great trip.
And while I was away, 7 members of my local triathlon club headed off to do Ironman Florida. Special mention goes to my swim training partner, Penny, who did an impressive 12.41, taking an amazing 55 minutes off her previous best. Fabulous performance, Penny. She brought back this wind-up swimming man for me from Florida, and I have him perched on my desk in the hope that Penny's training determination and race day performance will magically be transferred to me.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

New toy...

Look what I got.... It's a Gary Fisher AR Super, courtesy of the nice people at Birmingham City Cycles ....

I had always thought that professional bike fitting services were for elite cyclists - something that would provide an extra tweak to an already highly honed performance. I was too embarrassed to present myself to be measured up when I can barely huff my way up a slope without turning purple with exertion, or (keen cyclists look away now....) getting off and walking. Anyway, it turns out that this is ridiculous, and, like getting running shoes that fit properly and are suited to your biomechanics, surprise, surprise, the same goes for bikes. So, it turns out that the back and neck pain that I've been experiencing for years when cycling is not due to me being a rubbish cyclist (although I am...), but that my various bikes didn't fit me very well. My lovely new bike, on the other hand, rides like a dream, and having just come back from a little spin in the sunshine, I can happily report not so much as a twinge of pain or discomfort. Joy.
Buying it was fairly drawn out, but fascinating process. I found some of the "serious" bike shops I visited too intimidating and unable to cope with my lack of knowledge (interest?) in technical details, and lack of serious racing ambition. So then I tried some of the more "high street" chains, but quickly got frustrated by being told that I would definintely need a woman's fit bike because women have long legs and short, slim torsos, in spite of the obvious fact that I was standing right in front of them and clearly have neither. Fantastically, I was shown several woman's fit bikes that didn't have a woman's fit saddle on them, which is extraordinary when you consider that that is really the one bit of gender-specific kit that no woman should be without because...well... any cycling women out there will know.
But anyway.... I'm delighted with my final purchase - surely it's only a matter of time now before I start to love cycling...
On the swiming front, if you get chance, you should list to the Radio 4 documentary Black Men Can't Swim - it's a really good challenge to racist, biologically determinist ideas that black people cannot swim, focusing instead on the expectation of swimming failure that is imposed on black and minority children, coupled with a lack of opportunity. There's a wonderful moment when young, black kid in the US talks about having swum his first length and how proud he felt. I spend a lot of my research life reading about, and listening to, people talking endlessly about the need to get children to do sport so that they don't get fat, but all this does (in my view) is set up sport as something that you have to endure in order to get another (highly uncertain) benefit; it seems to me that the joy and confidence that this kid got is a much more tangible and immediate benefit, and one that has the added advantage of valuing bodies for what they can achieve rather than what they look like.
I, in the mean time, have just sent off my paperwork for a Jersey to France crossing next July by way of a pre-Channel outing. I wonder if I'll be a Channel swimmer this time next year....

Monday, 21 September 2009

Hats off everyone!!

A big hats off today goes to Lisa Cummins - she completed a two-way swim of the Channel this weekend in 35 hours and 36 minutes! Amazing. Just think about that for a moment - she swam through most of Saturday's daylight, then all through the night, then through all of Sunday's daylight, and then through a bit more darkness before walking up onto the beach. What an amazing woman. She is the first Irish person to do a two-way crossing, and the 20th person ever.

You are a class act, Lisa.

And while our hats are off - big congratulations to a couple of other swimmers whose blogs I've been following (and who are helping me out with my research). Ollie Wilkinson successfully swam the Channel at the beginning of September in a very impressive 11 hours and 6 minutes, and Julieann Galloway made it in mid-August in an awesome 9 hours and 51 minutes. Both Ollie and Julieann have got great write-ups of their swims on their blogs (and Julieann has a funny video too on her blog, courtesy of Nick Adams). Inspiring stuff for anyone gearing up for a go next year.

Well done, one and all.

Sadly, both Lisa and Becky (from the Swimtrek trip) didn't get to swim because of the bad weather at the beginning of September. Lisa was offered a later spot, but it was too late for her support crew and she decided to postpone until next year. Becky was also offered a spot on the recent Spring tide, but she decided against it since the tide was too big to give her a decent chance at the British women's record (her primary goal), so she's also postponed until next year. So watch this space.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Settling back in...

I've started to get back into something approximating (gentle) training, but it's still fairly hit and miss - I managed 4 short swims. (c. 3500m each) during the week, plus a trip to the gym, a couple of run/walk sessions in the park, and even... believe it or not...a short trip out on my bike.

I did my first club session, post Jersey, last Tuesday, and really struggled with the speed sets - all those weeks of plod mode had left me feeling like I had no other swim register to switch to. But I'm sure it will come back quickly enough. I also went to Bosworth on Saturday for a lake swim. It was a beautiful day - crisp blue sky - but when Penny and I arrived at 7.30am, there was a thick mist over the lake making it look less warm that it actually was. I have to admit that I really struggled to get in and spent far to long standing on the slipway, water up to my thighs, unable to take the final plunge. I don't think that I can really have lost the acclimatisation to cold yet; to be honest, I think it was more that I've let go of the mental habits that I'd cultivated for dealing with the cold - and especially getting in. But once I was in, it was just gorgeous. The mist was licking just above the surface of the water, and for the first lap, I couldn't see any of the usual landmarks. I kept the shore in sight to my right, and just swam. It was SO quiet, and the water was really still; from my perspective in the water, the surface looked thick, like melted chocolate (thoughts of food never far away!). After a lap or two, the mist burned away, but the water stayed still and quiet. Perfect.

Learning to love cycling is proving to be a slow process, but as I said above, I did venture out on my old road bike this week for an hour. I can't really say that I enjoyed it, but it's early days and for now I'm remaining optimistic. It's been over a year since I've ridden anything other than the 3 miles to the office on my hybrid commuting bike, so I wasn't feeling very relaxed, but I did manage to get the whole way through the ride without forgetting to unclip my feet from the pedals when I stopped, so this is something. I have spoken to lots of knowledgeable people about bikes, and have done quite a bit of browsing / testing of possible purchases, but haven't decided yet on a bike. Special mention, though, should go to my Channel relay team mate, Jamie Goodhead, who wins the prize for explaining the basics of bike geometry (and why I should care) in a way which not only made perfect sense, but which didn't give me traumatising flashbacks to every secondary school maths lesson I ever had (unlike the myriad of websites I've been reading, most of which have left me with a dull buzzing sensation behind my eyes). You never know - I might even make a decision soon....

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Project "Learn to Love Cycling"...

Well, a week on from the Jersey swim, and I'm still feeling pretty good about it all.

My left shoulder is still pretty sore, though - but to be fair, continuing to swim on it for several hours after developing the problem was never going to be the most sensible way to manage an injury. I'm hoping that a week or so more rest will do the trick. I've also been looking at some of the bits of film, and have noticed that I always sight forwards from the right, and it looks like this causes me to lever myself up on my left arm a bit - this is probably something I need to try and balance out to reduce the strain.

I've been trying to think about how to approach the next few months of training. I want to stay out of the water for a couple of weeks to let my shoulder recover; psychologically, I also think it's quite good to have a bit of a break before getting back down to it as I don't want to get stale - there's a long way to go yet. So, in the mean time, I've been thinking about what my training programme is going to be. One of the things I didn't do enough of last year was cross training, so in addition to swim training (mostly focusing on technique, plus speed training), I'm going to use the next few months to try and get back into the gym work, plus some running and a bit of cycling. It's frustrating, but although I'm probably the fittest I've ever been right now, I'm also very unfit where running / cycling are concerned, so it's pretty much back to the beginning there, but hopefully it'll come back slowly.

But here is my confession - I really don't like cycling... I find it uncomfortable and difficult, and am really very rubbish at it indeed - think Miss Marple, or Mary Poppins (without the gift of flight). The thing is, I really think that I should like it - outdoors, nature, exhileration, wind in your face...and all that. Plus, lots of people I really like and admire LOVE cycling, and I know there must be something there that I've just not been able to tap into yet. So, today marks the beginning of Project "Learn to Love Cycling". It has to remain very much a secondary activity to support the swimming for this year, but my goals over the winter are to (a) get myself a decent bike that fits me; and (b) get my strength and confidence up to ride it without looking ridiculous or wanting to leave it in a ditch and take the bus home. Watch this space.

As a rather nostalgic and sentimental aside, I saw my mum yesterday, and she had dug out this photo of me - aged five, on holiday in Majorca:

I remember that holiday really well - I swam my first unaided width in the hotel pool there. You will notice however that I am wearing a shirt in the pool - sunburn was always the greater threat in my mum's eyes than us being sucked under by clothing not designed for submersion. It's no wonder my brother and I became strong swimmers.

She had some great pictures of my grandad, Harry Cornforth, from the 1930's looking incredibly dashing in his full-body knitted swim suit - he was a splendid swimmer and a seriously good water polo player (even trialling for the Olympics). Once we've sorted them, I'll post some of them up. He would have loved all this Channel stuff.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Round Jersey swim - video and pics

Before we left Jersey, Charlie gave me this beautiful chart with my swim route mapped onto it (the black line). The photo doesn't do justice to it, but it's a lovely momento of the swim.

I've also put together a couple of videos of the swim. Unfortunately, because of all kinds of technical problems, we ended up using two different video cameras, and try as I might, I can't get them into the same format for a single video. So, the first is a set of clips from the first hour or so, and the second is a slide show of stills and a video clip of the finish. I fear I have no future in the creative industries, but hopefully they give some idea of what it was like.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A good day out in Jersey

I made it - I swam round Jersey last Saturday in 10 hours 37 mins. It was a fantastic day - beautiful weather, mostly calm seas and for me, just one of those days when I felt really good. I loved every minute of it.

Peter and I had been waiting for my chance to go for a few days, but while I had expected the waiting to drive me crazy, it was really nice, and gave me a good chance to rest, eat well and generally get my head in the right place. We also travelled round the island quite a bit visiting some of the key landmarks that I'd see from the swim so I'd have a sense of where I was. So, by the time I got the go ahead for Saturday morning, I was well rested and fuelled and dying to get going. So, just before 6am that morning, we arrived at the harbour in St Helier ready for a 6.20 start.

One of the most amazing things about the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club is the incredibly supportive culture it has managed to foster, and every time anyone does either the round island swim, or Jersey to France, people turn up in the morning to see the swimmer off, even when most people would be tucked up in bed. Another swimmer (17 year old Bianca Kempster) was also going at the same time, so there was quite a crowd down there, wishing us luck and waving us off.

As we chugged out to the Elizabeth Castle breakwater (you have to touch the wall to start and finish the swim), Peter coated me in sunscreen gel and then Vaseline, and when Charlie gave the word, I jumped in and swam up to the wall. After an "Okay" from the boat, I touched the wall and headed off. Bianca had set off a minute or two before me, with a rib and a kayak, so I headed after them. The water was warm (about 18 degrees) and the sun was just coming up, but I was a bit wound up with nerves and found it difficult to settle down at first, so just pressed on. Ross (in the kayak) guided us through the rocky section to the east of the harbour before I joined up again with Charlie's boat ("Sea Swimmer") and swam for another hour or so with both the kayak and the boat.

Although I didn't actually see him go, Ross peeled off in search of a well-deserved breakfast somewhere around the two hour mark, and by then we had pulled slightly ahead of Bianca, leaving me and Sea Swimmer, complete with the incredibly supportive team of Charlie, Mick and Peter to plod quietly on.

I had my first feed at two hours (maxim to drink and half a banana). I'd been a bit worried about how the feeding would go as I've never fed off a support boat like this over a long swim, but it all went down a treat, and apart from a difficult moment with a chocolate mini roll somewhere around hour 6, I didn't have the slightest problem with feeding, or with sickness, throughout - quite a contrast with the Channel relay. I'm definitely better in the water than on it.

The rest of the swim was remarkably uneventful. The coastal scenery is stunning (if you do this swim, you need to be able to breathe to the left or you won't see anything!), and the water is clean and fresh. I was fortunate to get a pretty calm day too, with the added advantage of a big, fast tide to carry me round, making for some wonderful swimming.

During the fifth hour, as we rounded the huge breakwater that shelters St Catherine's Bay (where the club trains most days), we got pulled by a current in towards the shore and were hardly making any progress. With great skill, Charlie and Mick began leading me away from the shore in order to get us back into the faster currents that had been helping us so far. As the boat turned away at a right angle and chugged a short way off, I had a momentary flash of the same paranoia that I had during the Channel relay - that they were frustrated with me because I was being too slow; that they were going to leave me if I didn't speed up.... All nonsense, of course, and it was patently obvious (to the less paranoid bits of my brain) that they were performing a series of nifty maneouvres in order to find the fastest path possible, so I put my head down and got on with it. Their navigational efforts soon bore fruit and we settled into a zippy current taking us round the NE corner of the island.

By the sixth hour, I was feeling really good, and I got a real boost as we passed into the seventh hour, knowing that this was the longest time I had ever swum for but felt like I still had plenty of swimming in me. I'd got a very steady rhythm going (apparently my stroke rate didn't really change for the whole swim) and had found a nice, quite head space. I never felt bored or particularly tired, and didn't need to distract myself with counting games or songs. The time just passed very peacefully.

Around the 8 hour mark, I started to get a niggle in my left shoulder which got worse as the time went on until the pain on each stroke was radiating right down to my thumb. At the next feed, I asked for pain killers, which really helped, and then concentrated on swimming with an even, rhythmic stroke - with several hours to go, I didn't want to be swimming unevenly, favouring the injured side, since this would just cause more problems elsewhere. The pain never really went away, but it drifted into the background enough for me to be able to ignore it and I continued to swim on quite contentedly.

When we stopped for the 10 hour feed, Peter told me that this my last feed and that we were on the final stretch - I knew that I was definitely going to make it, and well under the 11 hour target I had secretly been nurturing. The swim towards the wall seemed to take forever. This is partly because you have to approach it in a wide arc in order to make sure that the current doesn't carry you past it, but also because perspective changes in the water and things tend to look closer than they are. This was also the first time that I felt really tired - I'm sure that this was psychological and that I was allowing myself to feel tired because it was almost over; an hour before, I had felt like I could swim for several more hours. Mind you, I probably wasn't as on top of things mentally as I thought, since in the final stretch I saw a large white structure on the cliff side. I found out later that it's a Met Office station, but for some reason, I had decided that it was some kind of big marshmallow art installation (trust me, it made perfect sense to me at the time). But strange hallucinations aside, and now looking firmly forwards to the finish, it was an amazing feeling to touch the wall, and to hear the shouts and cheers from the boat. I'd done it.

Eventually, I swam back to the boat, climbed up the ladder (with a great deal of help - everything starts moving about in strange ways when you go to vertical after all that time swimming) and plonked myself down on a seat, while Peter wrapped me in a towel and gave me some water. Then we chugged about 800 yards back to where Bianca was forging across the final stretch and followed her up to the wall, cheering loudly as she touched it - an impressive achievement on her part, especially when you consider that she had suffered a horrible bout of seasickness half way through, but had pressed on regardless. We were welcomed back by club members in the harbour with glasses of champagne and then Peter bundled me back in the van and drove me back to the campsite, where I was suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness and slept soundly.

It was a wonderful day. I loved the swim, and felt really good pretty much the whole way round - such a great confidence boost for the Channel next year. Solo swims are always team efforts, and I am very grateful to Charlie and Mick for their skill and expertise in navigating me round the swim; to Peter for providing such fantastic support from the boat; to all the members of the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club who welcomed me to their training sessions in the bay, and who provided advice, support and encouragement for my swim. They all helped to make it a really amazing day for me.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Round Jersey swim

After a few days of waiting, and some very blustery weather, I've been given a provisional go-ahead for my round Jersey swim. The plan is to set off at 6am tomorrow morning (Saturday)! I'm absolutely terrified, but hopefully I'll be fine once I get in and get going. It's very beautiful here, and I can't wait to see the coast from the sea. Peter's gone off to cycle round the island today, but I'm hanging around the campsite resting and trying not to think about it too much.

Congrats to Tasmin who swam round on Wednesday in 11 hours 34 mins - fantastic effort.

Hopefully my next post will be good news!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Channel relay - some reflections

Looking back on the relay, I am so glad I had the chance to do it. In itself, it was an amazing experience, and as preparation for my solo (and for Jersey) it was a fantastic opportunity to try swimming with a boat, night swimming, different conditions etc. I've been showing off the chart of our swim route to everyone I can think of, and am so excited that we swam the Channel.

Having said that, this is really a first and last time for me to do a relay - me and boats are definitely not meant for each other. Once was fantastic, but that's enough for me.

I've put together some bits of video footage that I managed to take. It's not a very good representation of the swim as a whole, since I didn't get any of the first half of the swim because I was busy with the bucket. But hopefully it will give a taste of what it was like, what an incredible day it was, and how beautiful the Channel can be.

Channel Relay - we did it!

Well...we did it. We swam the Channel.
Both of our relay teams (made up of Coventry and Brighton tri club members) set off at just gone midnight last Thursday night. The team of three - me, Steve McMenamin and Jamie Goodhead - were on Mike Oram's boat, Gallivant, and the team of four - Martyn Brunt, Steve Howes, Robin Corder and Andy Heath - were with Lance Oram on Sea Satin. We loaded our stuff onto the boats, and chugged out of the harbour. I was nominated to do the first leg, and so when Mike pulled in close to the beach and gave the signal, I jumped into the dark water and swam to the spotlit point on the beach. Mike gave me a countdown, and off we went.

It was all incredibly exciting, but it took me a while to adjust to swimming with the boat and especially as we got out of the shelter of the beach and into the wind and lumpier water, I struggled to keep a steady distance from the boat. And then suddenly, the boat turned away from me at a right angle and seemed to be motoring away! A spotlight on the back of the was shone on me, but in a somewhat paranoid irrational panic, I decided that he must have lost patience with me and decided to go somewhere else! A more rational explanation, though... the wind was blowing the boat off course, requiring him to adjust our path occasionally. After the third or fourth time this had happened, I finally started to relax and begin to enjoy the swim. It was fairly choppy, but the wind was behind us pushing us forwards, which was reassuring; at times it felt like body surfing.

The first hour flew by, and before I knew it, I could see the flashing green headlight of Steve, perched on the side of the boat, ready to jump in and take over. He jumped in behind me and swam past me, and I made my way to the ladder and clambered out, relieved to have my first swim under my belt. I got changed as quickly as I could (not easy on a rocking boat), but almost immediately encountered the problem that was going to dog me for most of the swim - seasickness. It wasn't long before I had my head in a bucket, and all I could do between waves of nausea was to sit as still as possible, staring at the lights on the horizon.

Soon it was my turn again, and I was feeling pretty dreadful by the time I jumped in. A combination of dehydration and nausea meant that I was having real trouble orienting myself to the boat; at one point, I even swam under the prow, forcing the pilot to stop and wait while I swam back ahead of him so that he could get back on my right side. I was starting get really worried - I'd read about several relay swims where sickness had made it unsafe for someone to continue, and was mortified by the thought that our swim might fail because of me. So I tried to press on. Happily, I didn't have any problems with motion sickness in the water, so the swims actually became recovery time for me and I was always counting the minutes until it was my turn to get back in. So thankfully, by the time I got out at the end of that second swim, I was feeling much better again. Not for long though...

In the mean time, Jamie and Steve were feeling rough but swimming really well and we were making good progress (although poor Dave, who had come on as crew, was horribly ill too and had to spend large parts of the journey curled up on a bench). And then things started to improve for me. Firstly, the sun came up, which really lifts your mood; secondly, as we turned with the tide, the weather began to settle a little; and thirdly, Marcy (our official observer, and very accomplished Channel swimmer) dug out some different seasick pills for me and gave me some dry bread and ginger jam to nibble on, which really helped (although I continued to be unable to close my eyes or go down below into the warmer part of the boat pretty much throughout the swim).

After about 10 hours, we passed through both of the shipping lanes and entered French waters. The conditions had completely changed, and the water was beautifully flat and calm:

And now I understand why they say tell solo swimmers not to look for the French coast - you see it quite clearly hours before you get anywhere near it. But the swimming got much easier because of the calm, even though we had to linger off the coast for a while, waiting for the tide to turn and take us in to the shore. We could see the other team's boat further in towards the coast, and it looked like they were definitely going to reach the beach before us; it was great to know that we were all going to make it to the beach.

It was already clear that we were going to miss the Cap (the ideal landing point), and as I prepared to jump in for what turned out to be my final swim (hour 13), the pilot told me that for every yard I could make forwards in this swim, it would save us 10 yards at the other side of the Cap. So, in I jumped and started swimming as hard as I could. I was soon in the Overfalls - an area of disturbed water about 500 metres wide, just north of Cap Gris Nez. This is where the tide from Wissant Bay meets the tide travelling up the Channel past Cap Gris Nez - two bodies of water hitting each other at 90 degrees. For me, this was the most fun part of the whole swim - it was really exciting to swim in, although challenging. Knowing that it was probably my last swim of the day, I was able to give it everything I had and it was completely exhilerating to be thrown about like that. And then suddenly, I popped out the other side of it and the water became completely flat, as if someone had flicked a switch - it was just beautiful to swim in. I got a big thumbs up from Mike, and I knew that we had made it. Steve jumped in at the end of the hour, and covered the final stretch at a blistering pace, and Jamie and I jumped in again behind him so that we could all walk up onto the beach. It was an amazing feeling.

We swam the Channel in 13 hours and 18 minutes, and the team of four on Sea Satin completed it in an impressive 12 hours and 58 minutes. Well done to everyone!!!

Many thanks to our pilot, Mike Oram, and his crew, James and Del for getting us safely where we wanted to be; to our observer, Marcy Macdonald; and to Dave for acting as crew for us.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A weekend of ups and downs

Off to Dover again this weekend, with the aim of getting in a two long back-to-back swims, and also of sharing in the excitement of the solo swims of two friends from the Malta trip - Steve Weatherley and Julie Ryan. Both were fantastically well prepared and ready for the challenge, but in the end, the weather got the better of them. Steve left on Saturday morning, but it soon became clear that the sea was unswimmable and his pilot pulled him out. Such bad luck, and a huge disappointment after all his work. He's going again sometime this week so I've got everything crossed. Julie Ryan set off on Sunday morning in beautiful swimming conditions. She had four really good hours and was making excellent progress, but the wind got up unexpectedly and it soon became clear that it was not feasible to continue in those conditions and the pilot pulled her out. Again, such incredibly bad luck, and I feel for both her and Steve. Fantastic effort all round, though. Julie - you couldn't have put more into this and are an example to all of us still waiting for our swims; Steve - don't let this setback distract you. You can do it!

And amidst the excitement, my own training continues. On Saturday, there was a regatta in the harbour so we weren't allowed in until 3pm - this gave us the chance, courtesy of Freda and the rest of the beach crew, to swim from 3-9pm, enabling us to try swimming in the dark. Learning from last week's food-related problems, I ate a bucket-sized quantity of pasta for lunch, and topped this off with sports drink half an hour before the swim; consequently, I had absolutely no problems with energy this time and I felt great for most of the swim. The darkness didn't bother me at all, even though I had thought that it would, and it was really funny looking up across the harbour and seeing the green flashing headlights of the other swimmers. I did get quite cold, though. I didn't really realise at the time, but by the time I was in the van, I was having a full on attack of the shakes. I drove home and had soup and more pasta and went out like a light.

The next morning, my shoulders were feeling a bit sore, and I also realised that I had a large, aggravated costume rub mark - about 10cm long, down my side from below my armpit. I'd obviously forgotten to put Vaseline along the costume edge, and the long swim, plus all the salt, really made it angry and sore. Stupid mistake... it seems like I make at least one really basic error each time - hopefully I'll get the hang of this eventually.

Still determined to stay on top of the food issue, I forced down a big breakfast of muesli, toast, juice and fruit, plus sports drink half an hour before swimming, and headed down to the beach for the 9am start. Part of me had been hoping that Freda would say that it wasn't a good idea to do another 6 hour swim since my longest back to back so far has been 3 and 6, but she immediately suggested 6. I balked at first, but that's just cowardly (and she was right - I need to try this), so off I went. This swim was harder than the previous day's, but my arms felt okay once I got going, and the first few hours were helped along by the beautiful calm waters and the warming sunshine. But by about 1.30pm, the same winds that had put paid to Julie's swim turned the harbour in a very different bit of water, and especially the harbour wall end, which is always choppier, became increasingly difficult to swim in (and that's within the harbour, so I dread to think what it was like for Julie, all the way out there). The last hour was a bit of a slog and I was desperate for it to end, but I stuck it out to the 6 hours, which felt really good.

After changing on the beach, I drove back to the campsite, where I ate yet more pasta and had a bit of a snooze. My arms were quite sore, and the rub on my side was really stinging, even though I'd slathered huge globs of Vaseline on it before the swim - I think I'm going to be paying for that mistake for some time yet. Later in the evening, I cooked up some stirfry and noodles with a mild chilli-based sauce - something that I quickly came to regret. After being in salt water for an extended period, your mouth goes quite furry and thick - I usually get a few mouth ulcers afterwards, and a bit of a sore throat, as well as a diminished sense of taste for a couple of days. So, why I thought chilli sauce would be a good idea, I don't know, but soon my mouth was completely on fire as the chilli (very mild though it was) hit the bits stil sore from the salt. Much cold water was drunk, and another useful lesson was learned.

I was pleased with my swims this weekend, and feel fairly confident thatI'll be able to give the round Jersey swim a good go. It was so sad that Steve and Julie didn't have the days that they were hoping for, but no-one can plan for weather like that. Their swims made my own solo seem so much more real. I'm not really sure how I feel about that - excited and terrified in fairly equal proportions, I think.

The next step in this exciting journey is the relay, which could go as early as midnight Thursday night. I'm armed with some industrial strength anti-seasickness drugs, and can't wait to see what it's like to be out there in the Channel. What fun!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Back to Dover

After a couple of short weeks for racing, it was back to some distance work this week, so off to Dover. Unfortunately, I hadn't realised that there was an event down there all weekend to celebrate the centenary of Bleriot's channel flight that meant (a) parking was a complete nightmare because the sea front was closed off, and (b) we'd have to get out of the water at 12pm (because various aerial displays were planned and these can't take place over spectators). There had been a note on the website, but I'd missed it, so when I pitched up at 9am, there were only three swimming hours left. I met Lisa and her husband, Jonathon, and Freda said that we should do a three hour swim, without stopping for a feed. It was a lovely sunny morning, and it was a really nice swim. Lisa's training for her crossing later in August is clearly paying off - she's really speeded up and at first, I tried to keep up, but eventually reverted to my familiar plod-pace. She's in great form for her crossing. We hung about on the beach for a bit, expecting some planes to fly over, but nothing materialised, so I went back to the campsite for lunch and a snooze before meeting L and J, and Steve Weatherly (from the Malta trip - his tide begins on Tuesday) for dinner.

The next morning we were down at the beach at 6am for a 6 hour swim. This is my first early morning sea swim, and although it was light, the sun was too low to provide any warmth and everything was a bit grey and uninviting, and the water had quite a nip to it when we got in. After a couple of hours, things started to go a bit wrong for me, as I had made the mistake of not having enough breakfast. I find it so hard to eat that early in the morning, but the two small slices of toast I'd had were nowhere near enough, and I really started to flag. We mistimed our turnaround to go in for the feed and got in a 2.20, by which time, I was having a major energy crash. A cup of maxim and two jelly babies later, I was back in, but felt really rough, and the next hour was a bit miserable. Probably because of my lack of energy, I was starting to really feel the cold and wasn't swimming well at all; I felt really miserable and started to think about getting out. Lisa was on great form and swimming wonderfully, but I decided to go in for my next feed a bit early to try and top up my energy stores. Another cup of maxim and half a banana later, and I was off again, trying to concentrate on just swimming to the next feed. It was another difficult hour, but after the next feed (maxim and a chocolate mini roll), I finally started to feel better and I felt really good for the rest of the swim (never underestimate the power of a chocolate mini roll). Lesson learned (again...) - I need to stay on top of the food and have a proper breakfast, no matter how early it is.

The other important thing I learned this weekend was that it's not feasible / sensible to drive home after doing a long swim. I was really tired, and in Bob (the campervan), it's a 5 hour journey. I had to stop twice at service stations for a snooze, but have decided that from now on, when I do long swims, I'll stay over and drive back the following morning.

So, it was a challenging weekend, but feel good about having got 9 hours (c. 30km) of swimming under my belt. Many thanks, though, to the support crew down on the beach for being down there so early in the mornings and for being so unfailingly cheerful and encouraging.

Back down for more next weekend, and then it's the relay the weekend after that!

Monday, 20 July 2009


Not so much mileage over the last couple of weeks, but two good weekends of racing. Last weekend, I did the BLDSA Bala 2-way race (6 miles in total). Lisa generously offered to kayak for me, and to brave the manifold uncertainties of coming away in our new (quite old), untried camper van, to sleep in a new and untried awning, and to use a kayak that had only been inflated in our back garden but hadn't actually been on water yet. However, in the end, all our new toys worked perfectly, and we pitched up at the lake last Saturday ready to go; with a bit of help from Julie and John, we even got the kayak successfully inflated and launched in time for the start. The weather was a bit grim - low, grey clouds, drizzle, and a stiff breeze blowing down the lake towards the start, but off we went and Lisa and I soon settled into it. The first 45 was absolutely fine and I felt great, but then the wind really picked up and the water got really choppy, and the second half of the swim up the lake was a real battle - I could see the yellow turn-around buoy, but it never seemed to get any closer, and it was quite disheartning to see so many of the other swimmers pass me on their way back down the lake while I was still struggling up the other way, seeing the same clump of trees to my right for what seemed like ages.

The swim back was much easier because of the tail wind, and I was 11 minutes faster on the second leg. I was desperately trying to make the most of it, and was still hoping to break 3 hours, but the wind and waves meant that I needed to increase my stroke rate to keep up (it felt a bit like swimming with fins on), and I started to flag towards the end, crossing the line at 3.05. Luckily, the weather held out for the swim, but the clouds lowered as the afternoon wore on, and it soon began to bucket with rain, so Lisa and I retired gracefully to the van for a very pleasant evening of pasta and a glass of wine. It was a tough swim, but good practice for me in terms of trying to make a sustained effort.

This weekend, Peter and I went up to the Lakes for the BLDSA Coniston race (5.25 miles), this time with my friend, Adrian, kayaking for me. This is the biggest open water race I've been to (outside of triathlon), with about 50 people at the start, causing a certain amount of chaos in the first 10 minutes or so as swimmers and kayakers found each other, but it all worked itself out eventually and we were soon heading up the lake, helped by a following wind (although nothing like as strong as at Bala). The weather forecast for the weekend was awful and I'd been very worried that Adrian was going to have a very grim few hours indeed, but it was lovely in the end - sunshine and clouds, but no rain, with 16 degree water. The views along the lake were spectacular and it was a wonderful swim; there are also these amazing weeds towards the end of the course, with long strands reaching up from the bottom and almost touching the surface - they're really beautiful and part of me was tempted just to dangle about in the water and watch them. With the finish buoys in sight, I realised that breaking 2.30 was a possibility so tried to dig in but didn't quite make it, eventually crossing at 2.32, which I was pretty pleased with nevertheless.

I felt a bit bad for Peter and for Celia (Adrian's partner and a very good friend of mine) and their two young sons, since it inevitably involved a lot of waiting around - it's a wonderful sport, but pretty rubbish for spectators. It was lovely to see them all afterwards, though, over tea and cake in the cafe, while the boys marvelled at the spectacle of tractors pulling boats in and out of the water. A good weekend all round.

After a couple of short weeks, it's time to put a bit of distance in again in prep for the relays, and for the round Jersey swim (on the tide starting 19th August). So, it's back to Dover next weekend.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Good news, bad news...

The good news is that I'm going to be swimming round Jersey in mid-August, which is all very exciting. It's all agreed, bar the paperwork, which I'm going to do today.

The bad news is that I had applied to the British Academy for a small grant to fund my research on Channel swimming. The money would mostly have been to cover my travel costs for getting down to Dover regularly so that I could participate in, observe and interview the training / swimming community. Applications are all rated, and mine got the top rating, but they had so many good ones that it still didn't make the final cut, which is both reassuring and frustrating at the same time. I'm not sure what this means for the research project yet, but hopefully I can still do some version of it without the funding.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Dover training

It's been a good week for swimming, and last week, I finally broke the 40km mark for a training week - mostly as a result of finally getting down to Dover to join in the harbour training. I had a ridiculously long journey thanks to the M25 having turned into a car park, but when I arrived at Little Satmar holiday park, Julie and John were already there and they helped me to pitch the tent and provided me with good company and a glass of wine once I had finished unpacking my stuff. Then early to bed, and up in the morning and down to the harbour ready for the fun.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and there were lots of people milling about getting ready. I was a bit late, but got myself sorted and asked someone to put some sunscreen on for me. I said hi to Freda, who asked about my plans and suggested that I do 6 hours. All the way down in the car, I'd been thinking that I would maybe do 4, possibly 5, but this was just cowardice on my part, so 6 it was. I collected my red hat and my plan to do 6 hours was logged alongside my hat number on a clipboard...and I was good to go. I dropped my new, desperately gareish lime green crocs into the black bag, and in I went, heading left towards the ferry wall. The water was flat and a comfortable temperature, and I quickly settled in and got my rhythm. After two hours, I headed in and beached myself gracelessly on the pebbles, where called out my hat number and was handed a cup of warm maxim, which I chugged down before heading back out. Hours three and four were less comfortable - fog rolled in, the temperature dropped, and the ferry end of the harbour became choppy and difficult to swim in. I was starting to feel quite tired, and my arms were getting sore, probably from the loss of rhythm and the extra effort required to swim through rougher water. Still, all good practice, I thought, and forged on. At the end of hours 4 and 5, we got chocolate mini rolls to go with our maxim - heaven! - and by hour 6, the fog had lifted and I was paddling along nicely and felt like I could go on for another couple of hours (not that I did, of course, but it was nice to feel that I could!).

So, all in all, a success. I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the tent, and ended up napping in the early evening, until I was woken up by the jubilant return of Julie and John - she'd just completed a 10 hour swim, which is pretty impressive to say the least.

By the evening, I realised that I'd got pretty burnt during the day - on my back, shoulders, the backs of my legs, and my face (including a fantastically strange-looking head stripe - the mark of the open water swimmer). I had used a water-resistant factor 30 from Boots, but it's obviously not enough, so I'm now in search of something more protective. I was also feeling quite fatigued, and slept like a log, in spite of the very noisy group of young people camping nearby (I am turning into a crotchety old fuddy duddy).

I almost didn't go back down on Sunday. I was feeling pretty tired, and psychologically, the 6 hour swim felt like a real boundary because with the other two 6 hour swims, I've always taken a day off afterwards before doing more, and even then, have taken it easy. Also, I needed to get back home to Coventry to see Peter before he went back to Spain. But I gave myself a talking to, and agreed (with myself) that I would do 2 hours, then come back, pack up and drive home. I was expecting this swim to be really hard, but I felt great, and am sure that I could have done 4 hours - I will next time. Still - c. 16 miles, and 8 hours, of swimming over the weekend - a definite step up.

It's so great to be able to swim in the sea, even if it's a bit of a way to travel. The lakes around here are good local opportunities, but Bosworth was 25 degrees on Thursday (!!!), and is verging on uncomfortably warm (and also quite smelly now as vegetation in the water starts to rot).

As an aside, I bumped into Lucy Roper on Sunday, who I recognised from our first Swimtrek holiday (5 years ago?) in the Lake District. I remember being horrified that Lucy was swimming without a wetsuit and couldn't imagine anyone being foolish enough to do such a thing. On the second day, she persuaded me to try it, which I did, and I loved it - and a seed was planted.

So, a good week. I'm still in the process of seeing if I can organise a swim round Jersey later in the year, but if it's not possible, it can wait. And in the mean time, I'm off to Bala next weekend, then Coniston the weekend after. And this time, there'll be no tent or mountains of camping equipment because yesterday I finally went to collect our new toy:

It's quite old, a bit slow off the mark, and is pretty loud, but should make my life much easier! It'll get its first outing this weekend at Bala, so fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Congratulations, Lisa

The big news of the week is that Lisa (who I met on the Swimtrek Malta trip) successfully swam around Jersey this weekend in an impressive 11 hours and 9 mins. Well done Lisa - you are amazing. Things are certainly looking good for her Channel swim at the end of August.

She has been raving about the great swimming down there in Jersey, and about the wonderful hospitality she's been enjoying while she was waiting for her swim, and this has got me thinking about whether I should have a go. I e-mailed the club and there is a slot in mid-September. I'm really tempted... Will decide by the end of the week.

While Lisa was forging her way around Jersey, I was down in Brighton for a training weekend with some of the members of the two relay teams. It was nice to be able to have another go in the sea and to build on what I learned in Dover. Fortunately, I didn't have any of the balance problems I had last time, even in choppier seas, so that's a relief. We did a few hours of swimming, but it was mostly a chance for those who haven't been in the sea yet to get acclimatised and see how their training is going. The swimming was lovely - great weather too - and I didn't want to get out.

It's been a long couple of weeks at work, which has really eaten into my swimming time, but I'm now officially on study leave until October 2010. I'm going to be writing a book about obesity surgery, but the study leave means that I am much freer now to organise my research and training time more flexibly.

Off to Dover this weekend - hopefully to meet up with Julie and John, and maybe Lisa too.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

My first dip in the Channel!

I finally took my first dip in the Channel yesterday! I went down to Dover for the BLDSA Champion of Champions - three races in Dover Harbour of 5 miles, 3 miles and then 1 mile. I went with Julie Ryan (who kindly shared her camper van with me for the weekend), and before we knew it, we were in the water, lined up for the start of the first race - 5 laps of the course, marked out by 4 yellow buoys. This first race was a real struggle for me, and I was really disappointed with my time (2.47). For the first hour, I was having the same problem that I had with my first choppy swim in Malta, and was getting really disoriented by the movement. I wonder if it's an inner ear thing (?). Also, after all these weeks of training in lakes, I found the saltiness of the water really hard to cope with at first, and kept wretching and coughing every time even a small amount (and occasionally a big mouthful at the choppier end of the course) got into the back of my throat. In the end, I decided that now was the time just to swim, rather than trying to achieve a fast time, and to use the event to get used to the unfamiliar conditions - although it was hard not to feel a little deflated when I was lapped by the eventual winners towards the end of lap 3! By lap 4, I was feeling much better and felt much less disoriented by the movement of the water (and had finally got the hang of keeping my mouth tightly shut when not breathing!) and was swimming much more comfortably. Not my finest performance, but a good learning experience.

(Julie gets warm after the 5 mile race)

We grabbed recovery drinks and a sandwich, and an hour or so later, it was time to get back in again. Having only just got warm, this was really hard, especially as the weather was starting to close in and it was threatening to rain. Julie and I waited until the very last minute before stripping off, Vaselining ourselves up and picking our way back over the stones (note to self: flip flops are useless for walking on stones - I need some more suitable footwear) and being counted back in to the water. I enjoyed this event much more. I forgot to start my watch, so I don't have a time for it yet, but it must have been just over 1.30, which is not fast by any means, but closer to what I'd been hoping for. I felt much more comfortable in the water this time, and didn't have any of the problems of the first race, and before we knew it, we were out and trying to get warm before having to go back for the third event. Knowing that this was only a single lap, it was much easier to get in for this one, and I enjoyed this last race even more....and finally managed to squeak in a sub-30 min mile.

So, all in all, a really good learning experience - that it takes me a little while to adjust, balance-wise, to being in the sea; and that you have to be mentally prepared to get back in the water (good to bear in mind for the relay). It was great to see Becky Lewis there (who I met on the Malta trip) with her parents - she stormed round all three events and came third overall among the women. Well done, Becky.

It's a long drive (about 4 hours one way), but after this weekend, I definitely think it's worth persisting with going down there as much as I can for the rest of this summer, and definitely next summer, because it's so different from being in the lakes. And after a weekend in Julie's van, I'm more determined than ever to step up my search and get one - I'm really not sure that I've got it in me to do all this and have to camp as well!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


It's been a busy week, so not so much swimming - this is not such a bad thing as it gave me chance to recover properly from the 6-hour swim on Sunday. Lots of marking (just one more week and then I'm done - hallelujah), and then on Friday, I went up to Blackpool to meet a very good friend of mine, Judy. She lives in New York now, with her husband and three children, but sadly, her dad died, and I went up for the burial. It was a sad day and horrible circumstances to get together, but so nice to see her and to catch up a bit. She was trying to persuade me to spent part of my research leave next year in NY - I have to admit, it's pretty tempting.

On Saturday, I drove up to North Yorkshire to stay with Julie (who came down for the swim last week), ready for the BLDSA Wykeham Lake 5km race. The weather was stunning, and the water was lovely. I had decided to really go for it to see what I could do - a chance to try and challenge my habit of bottling out and not sustaining effort. I was aiming for 1.25, and was completely on track for the first three laps, but I really slowed in the 4th km and was really struggling with myself...."it's not worth it, I can't do it, I'm going to just slow down and finish at a steady pootle"...but I managed to give myself a good talking to, refocused and pressed on. I dropped about a minute, but then picked up again for the final lap, coming in a 1.26.13 (4th among the women, 15th overall) - which I was pretty pleased with. I spoke to Robin (coach) today and he said that it may be that because our Weds / Friday training sessions are about 3-4km, I'm maybe not psychologically prepared to push beyond that at higher intensity. So I'm going to do a few Tuesday sessions starting a bit earlier so I'm doing the higher intensity stuff when I'm tired. So, a good learning experience, and a decent performance (for me). Julie had an excellent swim too -another step closer to the Channel.

I'm developing a very marked hat stripe on my forehead; one of my students said I looked like I'd slapped on fake tan in a hurry!

Down to Dover for the Champion of Champions this weekend - my first UK sea swim!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

A good weekend of swimming

In spite of the rather revolting weather, I've had a tough, but fun, weekend of swimming. On Saturday morning, I went to Bosworth as usual, but only swam for just over an hour as I was trying to save myself for what was to come. Then, in the afternoon, Julie Ryan (who I met on the Malta trip and who is swimming the Channel at the beginning of August) came down and we drove down to Milton Keynes to do the Big Cow 1km open water race. As distances go, it's quite a bit less than I'd normally do, but I do this race every year (with a wetsuit), if I can, so it's a good benchmark for my progress. It was a big, fast field, and I ended up coming in 32nd overall (out of 99), 11th of all the women, and, as far as I can tell, the first female veteran. But I was really pleased to see that I had taken 1 min 20 secs off last year's time - so perhaps all the training is paying off after all, in spite of my frustrations last week at my feeble sprint times. Julie had a great swim, too - her first ever race. She caused a huge stir by doing it without a wetsuit, and when she finished, the announcer told everyone that she was going to be swimming the Channel. Lots of people came up to wish her luck, and there was a lovely, friendly atmosphere (there always is at those events - I'd heartily recommend them to any triathletes out there).

Then today (Sunday) we went off to Swan Pool to do our real challenge for the weekend - a 6-hour qualification swim, organised by Dan Earthquake of the Sandwell Lifeguard Channel Swimming Club. The weather was vile, and it was bucketing with rain as Julie and I drove there, our hearts sinking by the minute. By the time we got there it was really unappealing, but we set out our bottles on the lakeside, Vaselined ourselves up, and at 11am, off we went. The first couple of hours were pretty grim - everything was very grey and it was pouring with rain (although it's quite nice being at surface level and seeing the rain hitting the water - you have to take your entertainment where you can during a long swim!). But the water was warmer than we had feared, and we all trudged on until we were finally rewarded, after about four and a half hours, with a glimmer of sunshine through the clouds, which lifted the spirits enormously. I felt like the acclimatisation work I've been doing really helped with the water temp, but I did find the swim quite tiring, and I really noticed the difference between the long sea swim I did in Malta and the lake swim, where there is less bouyancy. By the last hour, I was starting to get groin pains and a bit of lower back ache, which I never got in Malta. But none of this was hugely problematic, and I was in pretty good shape when I got out (although I did have to be momentarily propped up by Dan as I was getting out as the shift to vertical sent me a bit wobbly). Julie had a fantastic swim too and is clearly in great shape for her upcoming swim. Well done, Julie.

So, in spite of some very unpromising weather, a good weekend all round and some really good, confidence-building swims.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Making progress

It's exam marking season at work, so swimming has been a glorious relief from the piles of exam scripts - especially because of the beautiful weather. Last Thursday, I'd been marking all day and was feeling stiff and grouchy, so went up to Bosworth for an evening swim. By 8.30pm (the end of the session), the sun was setting, and the water was completely flat and still - just beautiful to swim in.

Saturday morning was equally lovely, although the lake was really busy, mostly with wetsuited triathletes. It's fun when it's like that, but what I really like is to be on my own (or feel like I'm on my own) in the water. I love the peace of just swimming, and there's always a really nice 20 minutes or so towards the end of the session when most people have got out and you can just swim without thinking about anything at all. This tendency to just pootle happily along is, of course, why I'm not a fast swimmer, and in training terms, it's probably not a very efficient use of my time, but I always feel so happy afterwards that I don't really care. After swimming, I was standing around chatting with tri club friends, and we suddenly noticed that lots of huge fish (carp?) were milling around the boat slip and jetty. To be honest, I prefer a strategy of denial about any wildlife in any water that I swim in, so don't really want to see them, but still...they're really beautiful:

Even if my open water swims are a bit on the ploddy side, Robin is still putting us through our paces in the pool. On Tuesday morning, we did 35 x 100, with 15 of them at max, interspersed throughout the set. All of my times hovered between 1.32 and 1.35 for the max 100's, which I know isn't fast by many people's standards, but is a definite improvement for me. Even so, I find it completely infuriating that I can't get below 1.30, no matter how hard I try.... yet.
But my distances are creeping up, I'm injury free (so far so good) and I'm really enjoying the swimming. I'm about to start doing some racing and longer training swims in the next few weeks, which should step things up another notch.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Sunshine at last

This is more like it - lots of lovely sunshine over the last few days, and especially today, when it was positive baking. The lakes have started to warm up a bit, and even though they're still not as warm as I would like, it's so wonderful to swim with the sun on your back. I went to Bosworth on Thursday evening, and it was so beautiful - the sun was setting, and the water was flat and quiet. I felt enormously happy, and like I could swim forever. Saturday and Sunday were similarly good (Bosworth and Swan Pool), and I finally managed to break 25km for the first time this week. I know a lot of people are doing much more than this, but for me, this is progress.

I'm sure that the weather is a huge part of this transformation into a happy swimmer, but I also think that the hypnosis has had quite an effect as well in some areas. I've been practising the visualisations, and trying to reproduce particular feelings of strength and confidence using "anchors". I can't hold on to it for very long and tend to drift in and out of it, but it definitely makes a difference - especially to actually getting in, which I have never found easy. I'm sure the hypnosis partly explains this really ecstatic feeling I've been getting while swimming. It's really enervating. I feel so excited about going open water swimming at the moment, and am already counting the days until I can go next.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Over the last week or so, things have started to pick up again and I'm feeling much more focused about training. After my food failures from a couple of weeks ago, I'm now trying much harder to eat before and after I train, especially around the morning sessions. This is going well and I'm recovering better as a result.

But what the hell happened to the weather? Since the OW season started, it's been cold, wet and grey, and the temps in the lakes have been drifting slowly downwards - even Bosworth, which is usually quite warm because it's so shallow. I chickened out again last Saturday and started off in my wetsuit, then took it off for the last hour - but to be honest, I'm not sure that I could have stuck it out for the whole two hours without one, so it seemed worth it to get the laps in. I'm going to stop taking it with me from now on to remove the option, and just knuckle down.

I've also started running again - over a year after I was forced to stop after my knee injury. So far so good, although me plodding along is not a very pretty sight. I'm toying with the idea of doing the Big Cow aquathlon at the beginning of June, by way of incentive. Not sure, though, whether I shouldn't just keep my rather graceless and slow running under wraps for now.

Aside from starting to inch my swimming distances back up, and venturing back into my running shoes, this week has been "body work" week. I started off with a sports massage with the wonderful Gisela Payne at Warwick Univ - this is never an entirely pleasant experience, but it really helps unknot everything. I've obviously been a bit lax with my stretches, as my shoulders are starting to pull forwards; if I needed an incentive to be more disciplined about this, having to endure her digging in there to unknot everything will probably do it. I always feel so much better afterwards though (in spite of the nice yellow bruises, perfectly symmetrical, across my chest).

And then yesterday, I had my first hypnotherapy session with Adrian Peck - a sports hypnotist / psychologist based in Loughborough. It seems like a long way to go (about 40 miles), but I really wanted a sports person, and his was just about the only website that I could find that didn't have clouds, waves, or people standing with their arms outstretched on hilltops on their webpages - all of which I found very irritating and a bit flaky (this is probably comletely unreasonable, but you've got to have some kind of criteria to choose by). Anyway, off I went, completely terrified but ready to try anything (and it's great research material too....) - the goal is to address negative thinking, find ways of coping with the cold (or post-session, the fact that it's not as warm as I would like), and to hopefully do something about the seasickness (or at least my habitual expectation of it at the slightest movement). Half of the session we spent working on NLP techniques to try and deal with some of my negative thinking, and then we did the hypnosis - me lying on a sofa, lights dimmed, some very floaty music on. It's the oddest thing - I had a very strong sense of relaxation and a comfortable heaviness, but was completely aware of everything he said (which is how hypnosis is supposed to be). I don't think I was very deeply under - he said I probably wouldn't for the first time. He also mentioned that I have quite an "analytical" mind which will make it harder at first (which I think is a friendly euphemism for my control issues). But even so, I am quite hopeful about it in terms of being able to mobilise useful visualisations etc.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

What I learned today...

I went over to Bosworth again this morning for 7am (which means leaving at 6am), ready for a good couple of hours. I managed 9 laps this time, which I was really pleased with. But because the weather hasn't been so good, the water was much colder than last week and by the end of the two hours, I was really cold and finding it hard not to keep thinking about it. When I was done, I scampered into the changing rooms and layered on my clothes, then ducked into the cafe to get a hot drink and catch up with fellow tri club members. But by the time I sat down, I was shivering really hard, much to the considerable hilarity of everyone else; I think this just confirmed what everyone already thinks about me doing the whole session without a wetsuit, and it's very hard to make a convincing case for the joys of wetsuit-less swimming when you can barely hold a drink without spilling it. But this - getting used to the cold - is all par for the course. Every time builds my confidence a bit and I think I'm doing okay with it overall. As I was standing at the shore preparing to get in (definitely the hardest bit), I was trying to find a positive way to think about it, and settled on needing to trust that it would be okay - that my body will take care of itself. It all sounds a bit hippy-ish, but I really feel like that first moment - of the shock of getting in, is, ultimately, an act of trust... that the shock doesn't last, that the body adapts, that it will be okay. This really helped.

But this isn't the most important thing that I learnt today... In fact, I made two big mistakes that I ended up paying for all day and that I really need to work on. Firstly, I didn't eat when I got out, and just had a hot chocolate instead, and waited until I got home (2 hours later) to have some breakfast (although I did have a bagel as I was driving to the lake). I realise now that this wasn't enough and that the timing was all wrong. I don't think I have really been taking into account the extra energy used by swimming in cold water, and I spent most of the afternoon in an energy slump and feeling sleepy and deflated. I had a big lunch, but this was too late and the damage was done. I was also trying really hard not to go back to bed (I always feel guilty going to bed in the middle of the day), but this meant that I ended up just sitting around watching DVDs, mooching around online and dozing in my chair, so the day just sort of dribbled by without me really doing anything useful (and certainly without me doing any of the exam marking I'm supposed to be doing). So, today I learned: (a) that I need to take some kind of recovery bar / drink / food with me for after my swim; and (b) that I should probably just go back to bed for an hour when I get home to catch up on lost sleep and restore myself. Hopefully, this will set me up for a more productive afternoon, and perhaps more importantly, will help me to recover properly for a long Sunday swim as the season progresses.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


I had to miss my usual early Tuesday morning session because I was in London for a meeting about a book project that I'm (a small) part of. It was a wonderful couple of days - lots of interesting things to think about. But I did miss my swim, so when I got home that afternoon, I went for a run at the gym (so far so good on the knee front, so maybe the injection worked after all), and planned to go for a swim at Coventry pool in the evening. But frustratingly, even though I phoned up in advance to check that all of the lanes were available and not being used by clubs (thereby increasing the chance of getting a good swim in a lane not full of sedate breaststrokers), when I got to the poolside, five out of the 8 lanes were being used by a club. I was furious and decided it was better just to go home. This is a long-standing battle with the pool, which is inexplicably unable to provide reliable information ... But at least it's open water season now, so I'll be less reliant on them for a few months.

So, on Wednesday, I decided to head up to Swan Pool (in Walsall) for some open water swimming. There was hardly anybody there, and it was quite windy and chilly, but I braced myself and plunged in....well, actuallly, I slithered gracelessly down the boat slip (which is coated in green gunk) until I reached a watery stop and ploppped in. It was COLD, COLD, COLD. Now, I know that there are a lot of people who go in water much colder than this (including all those people who went down to Dover this weekend for the first training weekend of the season), but I very rarely hit water of 12 degrees, and I really found it hard to cope with and couldn't stop thinking about it as I was swimming. I managed three laps of the lake (about 2400m) before getting out ... well, actually, before crawling up the slimy boat slip on my hands and knees in an utterly undignfied manner. I got changed as quickly as I could on the lakeside, and then scampered back to the carpark and sat in the car with the heating on full. On the way home, I stopped off at a garage to buy a hot chocolate, but by then I was shivering so much that I actually managed to spill it on the floor of the shop. I can't imagine what they thought was wrong with me, all wrapped up and shaking. Anyway, even though I didn't manage to stay in for very long (about 45 minutes), it was really good to experience it and to know that I can do it.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

At last - the open water season starts...

Despite my best intentions, I still didn't manage to do much this week - mostly because I've spent most of it going to workshops and meetings. I was also giving a paper on Friday that I ended up writing in the couple of days before, and which ended up gobbling up a lot of swimming time (although it was a fun event, so I don't really mind).

But the good news is that the lake at Market Bosworth opened up to swimming today, courtesy of 1485 Triathlon Club who organise it all each summer.

Because of all the sunshine we've been having, the lake temp was 14.1 degrees (although I think they take it at the water's edge at the surface, because it always feels much colder than they say). Anyway, this meant that I could swim without a wetsuit (the sessions are governed by BTA rules, so anything over 14 is fine), but I'd taken my wetsuit along anyway, just in case. This was a mistake, because when I got there, everyone was getting into wetsuits, bootees, neoprene gloves, multiple caps etc, and just seeing everybody made me feel like it must be really cold. I really wanted to be able to swim for a full two hours, so I was a bit feeble, and ended up wearing my wetsuit for the first few laps, but I soo started to feel uncomfortable in it after being so used to swimming without one. So, I got out, took it off, and jumped back in for 5 more laps (approx. 800m each). It felt lovely to be back in open water.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Waiting for the open water season to start

Well, it's not been a great week, swimming wise. I've been feeling a bit demotivated - for several reasons, I think: because I'd been focusing on the 6 hour swim, and now that's done I've not got a clear short / medium term goal; because I got a bit overtired which made the training feel more like a chore; because I've not been eating as well as I should; and finally, because I'm not wild about being back in the pool after all of that fantastic sea swimming in Malta. But, the lakes where I train here in the Midlands are opening up at the beginning of May, and the racing season isn't far off. So my tasks for the next couple of weeks are to eat properly, get to bed a bit earlier, and identify which events I'm going to do this summer. I'll add the races to the blog shortly. This should give it all a bit more structure.

For the first time in ages, I missed the 5.30am training on Tuesday - my alarm went off, but I didn't make it out of bed and went straight back to sleep. To be honest, I had such a nice warm sleep that I couldn't even bring myself to regret missing the swim. But then I missed Wednesday night as well for no reeason in particular, so I decided that I absolutely had to go tonight. We did some technical stuff, then various sprints - I'm not good at these and find it quite frustrating that I quickly start to drift behind the others. But my coach, Robin, insists (quite rightly - I'm just being weedy) that I need to get my long-distance pace up and there's only one way to do that - speed work. I accept the principle, but it's not a form of suffering that I find easy to enjoy. I suggested that we could try swimming a long way slowly instead, since I can do that, but he wasn't persuaded.

Monday, 20 April 2009


Saturday was the Marie Cure Swimathon at Coventry Sports Centre. I swam the 5km challenge, and was hoping to do 1.25, which proved a bit too optimistic – I made it in 1.28, though, which I was pretty happy with, given that I am definitely more carthorse than racehorse. The last time I did this event was about 10 years ago, and I did 1.36 then, so even if my hair has gone grey and my eyesight is going, at least my swimming is on the up! The lane I was in was pretty mixed, with quite a few breast-strokers, so the swimming was pretty stop-start at times. I was a bit frustrated at first, and did a few overtakes that were perhaps a bit intemperate, but then I realised that this wasn’t the time or the place for that kind of swimming, and settled down and really started to enjoy it.

Swimathon is a charity event, but I didn’t want to raise sponsorship for it, so instead, I made a small donation on top of my registration fee and volunteered to help out in the afternoon instead. I was assigned to counting laps, marking their progress off on a sheet and recording final finishing time. To be honest, I thought it would be quite a tedious thing to do, but it turned out to be completely captivating. Several people in my lane had taken on distances that were far in excess of anything they'd ever done before, and it was wonderful to see them all complete their swims successfully.

On a different, but related, note, after our experience of swimming together in Malta, Lisa has asked me to be her support swimmer for her solo crossing this August. I can’t wait, and I really hope that I can help her to achieve her goal. This does raise another issue for me, though, that I really need to get on top of – seasickness. Years ago (somewhere around the early 90's), I had a terrible experience on a 24 hour ferry crossing from Korea to Japan during typhoon season; the only thing I can really remember about it is fantasising about jumping into the sea because I couldn’t believe that it could be worse in there than on the boat. Anyway, since then, just the thought of being on a boat makes me feel a bit queasy, which is potentially a problem for both my upcoming relay and Lisa's swim. Someone on the Malta trip suggested that it sounded like that reaction that a lot of people have to the first alcoholic drink that they got really drunk on (Malibu and Coke in my case...) and have never been able to so much as smell since without feeling ill. This made me wonder whether instead of seeking out motion-sickness drugs, I shouldn't think about finding ways to break that association in my mind. I thought about hypnotherapy, but I'm not too comfortable with the thought of relinquishing control in that way. But my friend, Celia, suggested today that I try cognitive behavioural therapy instead. Has anyone out there tried anything like this?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

obsessive compulsive?

I just read an article online from the Daily Telegraph in 2007 about Channel swimming. The journalist cites Laura Mahady, a sport psychologist from Aberdeen University who says that people doing extreme sports are often conformists who use sport to express their obsessive-compulsive side.

I asked Peter if he thought this was true about me, and he said "Well, I wouldn't say you're compulsive..." Hmm....

Monday, 13 April 2009

Our new toy

Our new toy arrived just before I went to Malta and I hadn't had chance to play with it until today.

It's an Advanced Frame kayak - a hybrid between a folding kayak and an inflatable - which has the advantage of being quite sturdy (because of built-in aluminium ribs), but easy to transport and quick to assemble. You just unfold it and pump it up via 7 separate chambers, then when you're done, you deflate it, fold it back up, and put it in its bag.

Peter has been incredibly supportive about offering to provide boat support in some races this summer, but doesn't want to have to deal with a heavy rowing boat (our trial session at rowing on Derwentwater last year convinced us that this wasn't a good solution!). We don't have the storage space for a solid hulled kayak, and Peter was pretty adamant that he wasn't going to accompany me in a regular inflatable (or as he described it, "a big lilo"). So this is our compromise, and now we can't wait to get it out on the water.

Back from Malta

The Swimtrek trip to Malta was fabulous and I'm all fired up and ready to get back into training.

Sunday (4th April) was our first day of swimming - a brief trip round Xlendi Bay to sort us into groups, followed by an hour of laps round the bay. Then, after lunch, another two hours around the bay - this time with our first feed. It must have looked very odd to the people in the beach-front cafes who were already pointing and taking photos - dead on the hour, we all turned around and headed back to the little beach, where bottles of warm Maxim were hurled to us. Our guides (John Conningham Rolls, Lizzie de Bono, Nick Adams and Freda Streeter) were all shouting at us to guzzle it down as quickly as possible and start swimming again, and we finished up as much as we could before throwing the bottles back at them and heading back out for another hour. I found the swim absolutely fine, and was pleased not to feel the cold too much.

On day 2, things got much more challenging. We headed off early to Mgarr harbour to meet our boat, then chugged out beyond the harbour walls. We got Vaselined up, and then jumped into the cold, choppy water to start a 2.5 hour swim along the coast, then into another bay. For me, then next hour was the worst of my entire trip. This was my first experience of swimming in choppy water, and I quickly found myself unable to get into a rhythm and becoming quite disoriented by the erratic movements of the water. I was unable to keep up with Lisa and Steve (who I'd been swimming with the day before), and kept losing sight of them as I slipped in the troughs of waves behind them. I started to get frustated and cross, and found it difficult to keep my balance in the water. Negative voices in my head started to take over and I started to ask myself what on earth I was thinking to even hope to swim the Channel if I couldn't manage this. Lizzie sent us back in towards the cliffs for shelter, but by the time we stopped for our first feed from the boat, I was still in mid-tantrum and in my mind had drafted my letter to my pilot pulling out of my Channel swim. We swam in the lee of the cliffs to a promontory, and beyond it we could see huge waves rolling towards us. Lizzie told us to swim into them for 100 metres, just to see what it's like, so off we went. Unlike the unpredictable chop we'd been in before, these waves were big, but regular and coming straight at us; we swam up the front of them, then dropped into the trough. Lizzie blew a whistle and we turned around, body-surfing our way back to the promontory. This gave me the lift that I needed, and I started to feel more positive as we swam back along the cliff and turned into a bay, where the boat was waiting for us. We did a few more laps to finish the 2.5 hours.

This was our first chance to practice the difficult art of getting changed as quickly as possible after a swim, and we struggled with cold, clumsy hands to peel off our swimming costumes and put dry clothes on over damp, cold bodies, preferably while preserving some modesty. Cups of hot chocolate were thrust into our hands, along with snacks, plus lots of praise and encouragement. I felt very deflated, though, after my difficult first hour, but tucked into a pasta lunch and warmed myself at the back of the boat in the sunshine.

And then the announcement that we would be doing "just half and hour more than you did this morning". Getting back in wasn't very appealing, especially given my shaken confidence from the morning, but I realised that I was getting trapped in a negative cycle that wasn't getting me anywhere and gave myself a good talking to. And off we went again. With my new, positive frame of mind, I really enjoyed this swim - the sun was on our backs, the water was clear, and I was able to settle into a comfortable rhythm. Lisa and I turned out to have perfectly compatible swim speeds, and we swam very peacefully side by side for the whole swim. We were entertained sporadically by divers at the bottom of the bay, plus schools of little blue fish, and thankfully, only the occasional jellyfish. The three hours went quickly, and before I knew it, we were clambering up the ladders, being chivvied on by the guides to get dry and changed. I didn't feel at all cold, but was starting to shiver by the time I was dressed. I had underestimated the amount of clothing I would need to bring, so John CR bundled me up in his huge jacket, putting a cup of hot chocolate in my hand, and sitting me down in the cabin with the others who had done the whole three hours in order to keep out of the chilly wind. We were all pretty satisfied with our achievements for the day, although my difficult morning was still niggling way at me, and when JCR announced that we would be doing our 6 hour swim the next day, my heart sank - I had been expecting to have a day off first (as the group did the week before) and then do the long swim, but we were told that the forecast was good and we were going to get on with it. So, a group of us went out and ate industrial quantities of pasta and went to bed early.

On the phone that night to Peter, I told him how hard I had found it, but he was gloriously positive, getting me to think about it in terms of what I had learned from the experience in the rough water, and what I needed to do to solve the problem (practice, practice, practice in rougher water than I'm used to!). Perhaps it wasn't such a disaster after all - a good lesson in the importance of positive thinking.

We started day 3 with an early breakfast, where we forced down as much food as we could before heading off to the harbour again. Everyone was a little apprehensive, but we busied ourselves on the boat with the mutual slathering on of sunscreen and usual liberal coating of vaseline. The first part of the swim was the same as the day before, but I was relieved to see that it wasn't quite as choppy. Lisa was great and swam alongside me, doing most of the sighting; all I had to do was to keep swimming and sight her to my right. My confidence started to grow and I was feeling relaxed and positive, although it felt much colder than the day before, making my back and arms tingle. Stopping only for a feed, we turned round at the promontory (no wave surfing today) and back along the dramatic cliff base back into the bay where we were to spend the next 4.5 hours swimming round and round - for Lisa and I, who were still swimming virtually stroke for stroke, about four laps per hour.

I didn't mind the monotony of this, and although I started off trying to do counting games etc, I soon abandoned these for not really thinking about anything, except looking at the occasional divers, and increasingly, thinking about the next feed. At the three hour feed, we were told we would be feeding every half hour; I can definitely do this, I thought - two laps then a feed, two laps, then a feed. But at the three and a half hour feed, Freda said that our next one would be in an hour. This proved to be the most difficult hour for me. I don't know if it was because my mind had been set on half hourly feeds, or simply because I was getting hungry (it was lunchtime by now), but I started to feel tired, and more worryingly, cold - the first time this had bothered me in the entire holiday. I tried to imagine my core as generating heat - my ribs as radiator bars, my liver as a big, warm sponge - and looked forward to the reward of hitting the lovely warm patch at the beach end of the bay. I tried to ignore the fact that I was beginning to shiver and tried to pick up the pace a bit to warm myself up. By the 4.5 hour feed, I was feeling very cold and tired, but okay, and then we were delighted to see Kit Kats being thrust into our hands. Now, everybody knows that the proper way to eat a Kit Kat is to relax back and nibble all the chocolate off the outside before eating the wafers inside, but there was no time for this as we were urged to "get it down you". We stuffed it greedily into our salt-swollen mouths, struggling to chew, but grateful for the energy boost, washing it down with swigs of warm Maxim. And off we went again - heading straight for the warm corner first, by way of encouragement.

Things really picked up after this, and Lisa and I swam comfortably side by side without really losing any pace for the final hour and a half. I started to feel warmer under the afternoon sun, and was buoyed up by the support from the boat from those who had already got out. As the water warmed under the sun, small jellyfish started to rise to the surface and several people got stung, including poor Becky, who got caught right on the nose. Somehow, I managed to escape and didn't get stung once, and counted myself lucky.

And then, at last, it was over and the five of us who had done the whole six hours clambered up the ladders feeling gloriously triumphant (or at least, I did). We changed with the help of the others on the boat (thanks, Wendy), and once again, JCR zipped me up into his enormous coat, then sent me, shivering now, up onto the boat's sundeck. We sat there like heavily-wrapped lizards, warming ourselves up on hot chocolate, and plates of pasta followed by M&Ms. We must have looked a really sight when we disembarked at the harbour - with half of our party in shorts and T-shirts, and the other half still wearing three or four thick layers and woolly hats.

So, for me, the trip was a success - and having successfully completed the 6 hour swim has really boosted my confidence. I also learned a lot:
  • Once you start with the negative thinking, it's a downward spiral that's hard to reverse - so, less sulking and more positive thinking. This was the most important lesson I learned, and one that I'm really going to have to work out.
  • I need to practice in more unpredictable conditions (so, off to Dover this summer...)
  • I need to practice feeding and work out what is the optimum timing interval for me.
  • You have to put sunscreen on the back of your legs and on your ankles, and not just on your back and backside.
  • You have to put vaseline in places that you wouldn't immediately think to put it (the less said about that the better).
  • When you look up, especially in choppy sea, keep your mouth closed.
  • Black jelly babies are great for getting the salt taste out of your mouth

Thanks to everyone for a great week - especially to Freda, Nick, John and Lizzie for keeping us safe and well-fed, and for helping us to achieve our goals for the trip.