I made my first trip down to Dover this weekend....happily coinciding with the warmest weekend of the year. I timed the drive down really badly and ended up crawling round the M25 at a snail's pace, getting very hot and bothered. But I slept like a log and woke up feeling fresh and ready to go, arriving down at the beach by 9.30, ready to submit my paperwork and get the card which everyone needs in order to be able to swim. Hats off to the beach crew - they've done a great job of setting up the new system, which goes like clockwork.
Cliff Golding brought everyone to order with a whistle, and announced that for only the second time in 20+ years, Freda was absent due to illness (although we were assured that she'd already phoned several times, and he wasn't convinced that she wasn't watching us via the webcam). I really hope she's better soon - it didn't feel quite right without Freda there. He announced that the relay swimmers would do 2 x 45 min swims, and the solos would do one swim of 5km or 1.45, whichever came first. I got Vaselined up and made my way down the beach to the shoe-bag, dropped off my shoes (now adorned with sunflowers for easy identiifcation) and hobbled my way into the water. In spite of the promise of sunshine, it was a dark, cloudy day, and the water looked rather uninviting; as I waded in, the cold bit at my legs - it was 10.8 degrees, I was told. But in the end, there's no way out, so in I plunged. This first ten minutes was not the finest moment in my weekend - I struggled to regulate my breathing in the cold, and my stroke was awkward and poorly timed at first as I adjusted to the temperature. This led to the inevitable inadvertent mouthful of sea water, which I accidentally swallowed and then threw up, along with breakfast. I spent the next 20 minutes feeling very sorry for myself indeed and trying to think of excuses to get out, but fortunately, the imagined shame of it was just too great, so I gave myself half an hour to reassess my situation. Of course, by the time I'd finished my first full lap, I was feeling heaps better (and the sun had started to sneak through the clouds, which really helped). The second lap was better, and I completed the 5km (2 full laps, plus up to the sloping wall and back) in 1.40 before staggering back up the beach to begin the frantic shivering and slow rewarming.
Sunday started much more positively - brilliant sunshine and a cloudless blue sky. The water wasn't much warmer, of course, but it felt SO much better having the sun on my back. Every time I went down to Dover last year I made at least one beginner's error, and I began this year in a similar vein - on Saturday, I hadn't greased under my shoulder straps, and had developed huge welts at the base of my neck that were REALLY sore. Irene slathered them in globs of Vaseline on Sunday, but I think I'm going to be paying for that for some time - at least the pain of the salt water hitting the chafed spots took my mind off the cold water. This was a much better swim for me all round - a straight two hours, but with no real problems. As always, it took me an hour or so to settle into my rhythm, but the time flew by. I was a bit slower than yesterday and was probably dawdling a bit too much, but it felt really nice to just swim in the sunshine.
I really feel like the run up to my Channel swim has started now. Not that I'm keeping count...but it's exactly 12 weeks today to the start of my tide!
In the mean time, the lakes here are warming up splendidly - Swan Pool was a toasty 16 degrees last night, and I had a lovely 90 minute swim under clear blue evening skies. I probably need to start spending a little less time enjoying the scenery and more time pushing myself a bit, but sometimes it's nice just to paddle.