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.