Sunday, 25 April 2010

Gozo training (week 1)

So....off to Gozo I went on 9 April for the first of two Swimtrek long-distance training camps. I wasn't just being greedy - I had arranged with Swimtrek to go on the first as a swimmer, and then to observe the second one as part of the research. All very exciting.

I was very excited to get back into the open water after a pool-confined winter, but was feeling a bit nervous about it all, although within a day of being in the water, I felt pretty confident that I was going to be fine. On the first day of swimming, we did an acclimatisation swim where we were grouped into three speed groups, and then did a one-hour swim, followed by a further two hours in the afternoon. As always, I found the first hour a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but managed to find my rhythm for the second, which built my confidence for the next day, which I remembered from last year as being very tough - quite a big step up.

We drove out to a big, wide bay, and followed an out-and-back swim route of about 800 metres. It was a cloudy day, with a nippy wind blowing across the surface, creating a bit of a chill. I think that everyone found the first swim (2.5 hours) pretty challenging, and a few people were quite hypothermic by the end of it. There was some quite spectacular shivering when we had changed and were trying to warm ourselves up on hot drinks and pasta. I felt okay, but like everyone, it was quite hard to get back in for the 3 hour swim in the afternoon; I just kept reminding myself that it is always warmer in the afternoon than the morning. As always, it took an hour to settle down, but somewhere during the second hour, it all seemed to really come together for me, and I managed to find that quiet rhythmic head space that I had settled into last year. After that, the swim just got better and better for me, and I picked up the pace a bit in the final hour which felt really good.

Then came the 6 hour swim. I felt much better about this than I did last year - much less nervous, and in much better shape physically. But still - if you think about it too much, 6 hours seems like an awfully long time to be in the sea. I was bumped up into the pink hats, which bothered me a bit as they were all quite competitive, with an impressive turn of speed when pressed, but I tried to remind myself that while I don't really have much speed, I am fairly consistent over distance so with any luck, it should balance out over time. We did two hours in Xlendi Bay, which is a bit dull as it's fairly small (I did 6-7 laps per hour), but this gave me chance to get my awkward hour out of the way and to settle down properly. Then we headed out of the bay and along the amazing coastline - dramatic, vertical cliffs, dropping into deep blue water. The morning clouds had cleared into beautiful sunshine, and there was a rolling swell, but it was quite regular, and I quickly found a gentle rhythm that enabled me to go with the rolling waves, rather than fighting them (as I had done on my first coastal swim last year). I had none of the problems with balance that I had last year, and found myself slicing happily through the water. It felt amazing.



We fed once outside the bay off the boat, and all the rest of the feeds were at the bay steps (I'm in the middle of the picture at the front). I was fine with the maxim, but found that I was not able to keep any of the chocolate treats we were given down (mini-rolls / milky way) - good to know for the summer. I can't believe that my body is rejecting chocolate...what is the world coming to?



By the time the final hour came around, I was feeling a bit fatigued, but it was all going really well. I had no injury pain at all - just general tiredness - and although I had slowed down a little bit, I still felt good and like I was swimming comfortably. In my mind, I told myself that I could just poddle round this last hour, and then I'd be done, but then Nick Adams (one of the guides) drew alongside me in the rib, leaned over, and yelled "SWIM FASTER!!" We'd talked the previous day about the potential need to really go for it in the final stages of the swim to beat the tide, so this was clearly practice for that. I resisted the urge to yell something rude back, and mustered as much effort as I could for the last 45 minutes. My shoulders burned, and although I felt like I was racing flat out, I'm not sure how much my pace actually picked up....but still, good practice.

And then, it was over, and I climbed out to a congratulatory hug from Freeda Streeter. Job done, and another major milestone towards my Channel swim ticked off.



Although I'd felt fine in the water, I was suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness once I'd got out, making dressing a bit of a struggle... especially whilst trying to limit the amount of flesh flashed at passing strangers who were suddenly confronted by 15 people stripping off and then piling on layer after layer of clothing, even though it was gloriously toasty out and everyone else was wearing shorts and T-shirts.


But once we were dressed and warming up, there was time to reflect on our swims and enjoy each others' successes.

The next day, we were rewarded with a play day - a trip to Comino. We tried to swim across, but encountered a huge cloud of jellyfish and had to pile back into the boat. Then we motored the rest of the way into a beautiful bay, where we moored up, went for an amble, tucked into a delicous lunch on the top deck, and then settled down on deck for a snooze. Then, we went for a second dip in the bay, ducking through caves, and paddling lazily along the cliff sides. Lovely.





So, all in all, a good training week for me. I felt great in the water, swam well, and managed to tap back into that quiet headspace that seems to work for me in terms of long distance swimming. It felt like a really good start to the next phase of the training.
Many thanks to Swimtrek, and especially to Nick Adams, Mia Russell and Freeda Streeter for looking after us and keeping us safe.

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