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!