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!