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.

1 comment:

  1. well done
    very inspirational
    think I best add it to my to do list

    you are doing great


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