Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Jackie Cobell

Lots of newspaper coverage of Jackie's epic swim this morning. Plus a nice segment on BBC South East:


Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Dover weekend and an amazing swim...

When I say "an amazing swim", I'm certainly not talking about one of my own, but rather, that of the awesome Jackie Cobell.

I went down to Dover this weekend, with a view to a getting a couple of decent length swims in before beginning my taper in earnest. On Saturday morning, Tom, Neil, Marty and Trevor were already in doing an 8 hour swim, and Jackie was off on her solo crossing, but I agreed with Freda that I would do a much more modest 5 hours. I had a lovely swim and felt really good when I got out - like I could have done much more (but glad I didn't have to!). Then I hung around waiting for the others to finish....something that took a little longer than I (and they) had anticipated because earlier in the day Freda had spotted them chatting by the wall instead of swimming while she was having breakfast, so she sent them out for an extra half hour! Freda knows everything. But great swims, guys.

By the evening, Jackie, whose swim had set off early in the morning, was still swimming. I woke up around midnight and checked online (these things get a bit compulsive) and she was still swimming. I have to confess that as I went back to sleep, I assumed that by the time I woke up, she would either have got out, or have got across. But no...when I woke up, she was still swimming.

As we prepared for our swim on Sunday morning, we were all completely awestruck by how long she'd been in the water - around 25 hours at that point. I felt faintly ashamed that I was only going in for 4 hours....and that I had a bit of a whinge when I got in because the water felt a bit chilly. The water was almost eerily flat when we started, but by hours three and four, it had picked up to quite a chop, especially at the harbour end. At the other end, we had to play dodge the kayak as scores of children with very poor attention spans and limited directional control ploughed about.

At our three hour feed, Barrie announced that Jackie had just completed her swim successfully - in 28 hour and 44 minutes. 28 HOURS!!!

The six hour swimmers were told on their 5 hour feed that they could get out 15 minutes early (no complaints about that) so that we could all go down to the marina to welcome Jackie back. We weren't at the marina long before the boat chugged into sight and everyone cheered and clapped as it pulled up alongside the pontoon. As Jackie was helped out of the boat, I have to confess that I was a little bit shocked by her condition - she was extremely pale, and her face and especially her lips were swollen from the salt water. She was very unsteady on her feet (who wouldn't be after that), but, clutching the huge bunch of balloons that the beach crew had given her (each with "happy birthday" on them - there's a limit to what you can get on a Sunday afternoon!), she made her way up the steps into the carpark, surrounded by well-wishers. It was an amazing sight, and I still can't really get my head around what she did. I don't know where will like that comes from. It's just phenomenal.

I was also pleased to meet Joe Bakel on Sunday, who also did a successful crossing this week, and Luke (from Swimtrek) was down on the beach on Sunday morning for a dip, looking in fine form. Well done to everyone who got across this week (and commiserations to those who didn't). And well done to all of those who did back-to-back 8 / 6 hour swims this weekend - great training.

As for me, I'm finding the swims completely compulsive, and am following them online to the point of obsession, but it's starting to give me the heeby-jeebies. I think that I'm going to have to hold off a bit for the next tide so that I can try and keep my focus and stay as positive as I can be.

J2F video

With my usual amount of tech / creative ineptitude, I've put together a little video from the J2F swim. In a supremely self-absorbed manner, I keep watching myself walking up the beach, trying to hold on to that feeling for the big swim....the tide starts THREE WEEKS TODAY!!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A tough day in the water....

Bad luck to both Andy Williams and Steve Black, both of whom I've been lucky enough to train with. I met Steve on the Cork camp, and have trained with Andy in Malta, Cork and down at Dover over the last few months. Fine, determined, well-trained swimmers both, and when they're ready, I hope they'll be back for more. It's a sobering reminder that this is a very unpredictable business.

Lots more swimmers out right now on what looks like a really good day. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Guardian article

I'm in the Guardian today!! Local freelance feature writer, Chris Arnot, interviewed me a while back about the project and it came out today. I think he did a good job of getting the key points across, but it's very weird seeing it all in writing and to have my own body discussed in the national press.

Some of the comments people have sent in are pretty rude, as you'd expect, but there's some interesting thoughts about whether it's an "extreme sport" or not - I wonder what those out there swimming today think!

Gentle weekend in Dover... with jellyfish

I had a good, long rest after the J2F swim, not least because my right wrist was still feeling pretty sore - a touch of tendinitis, probably caused by my bad habit of entering thumb first with my right hand when I start getting tired. I've been icing it, and wrapping it up for a bit after swimming, and that seems to be doing the trick. It's nothing serious....I'm just getting increasingly paranoid about injury as the big day gets closer.

Anyway, I was gloriously idle last week, doing just one short pool swim, plus an hour at Bosworth last Thursday evening. It was nice to have a break, and I needed the recovery time, but by Friday (10 days, post J2F), I was feeling ready to start building back up again and regaining my focus. So, off to Dover I went, complete with a rejuvenated Bob, who had spent the week in the garage - it turns out that a persistent rattle and bubbling roar on acceleration aren't the sounds of a healthy van, but thankfully, it's nothing that a Visa card and a helpful mechanic couldn't fix.

Saturday was overcast and windy, andd it started to absolutely throw it down just as we were picking our way down the stones to the water. The tide was low and the water was very brown and uninviting; the rain and the dark clouds made the scene even more tinted goggles didn't make it seem any cheerier. I felt terrible for the beach crew - poor Irene got an unexpected soaking and had to go and buy new clothes. But happily, the weather cleared after an hour, and although it was pretty choppy, especially at the ferry wall, the sun started to poke through and lift our collective moods. The water was so low that you could stand up just about anywhere within the swimming area between the end of the groynes and the white marks on the harbour walls; I tried not to touch the sea floor though, as I'm a bit squeamish about what's down there.

But I did have my first major run-in with jellyfish. I've been stung before, but only little zaps in passing, and just into the second hour, I got a couple of small hits on my legs. But then I swam straight into one, drawing its tentacles right across my cheeks, mouth and chin, and then my arm and thigh (as I turned away to try and get away from it). I could feel the tentacles trailing across my face and felt completely freaked out by it. I was surprised by how upset I was - firstly because it hurt, especially on my lips, but secondly, because I got really freaked out by them being there but me not being able to see them. I started imagining them everywhere, and seriously contemplated getting out to escape what I was now imagining to be a sea thick with jellyfish. Drama queen? Me? Thankfully, the shame of getting out and having to tell the beach crew that I was too squeamish about jellyfish to stay in was too great, and I finished my planned two hour swim before gratefully exiting the water.

In spite of my jellyfish encounter, and the fact that my top lip was numb for several hours afterwards, I was pleased with my swim - just a short one, but a good start to the build-up, and a chance to stretch out my well-rested muscles. My wrist was a bit sore, but nothing to worry about. I hung about to help with the feeds and to catch up with fellow Swimtrekkers John, Sam and Julian - congrats to Julian who did his 6 hour qualification swim. We also bumped into Liam and Eddie (from the Cork camp), who were over for Liam's crossing (he's out there as I type - Go Liam!).

By Sunday, it was still windy, but it was a lovely bright day, and I told Freda that I would do 3 hours. I felt a bit guilty because the others were doing 6 hours, but I need to stick to my plan of a gentle build-up - I'm working on the basis that, once I've recovered fully from J2F, I'm ready to go, so just need to stay well and hold steady, rather than hammering out more really long swims. This was a lovely swim for me - it was a sunny day, and the harbour was a nice mix of choppy and calm (to stave of boredom). And three hours is a really nice length of swim - long enough to really settle down and enjoy the rhythm of swimming, but not so far that everything starts to hurt. I felt great.

So many people are down in Dover now ready to swim - including Andy Williams, who is hoping to go on Tuesday or Wednesday. It's so exciting following the swims and thinking that that might be me very soon. Just four weeks to go now!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Jersey to France

Well - I did it. I swam from Jersey to France yesterday in a time of 9.04.

It was a beautiful day - only the gentlest of breezes, and warm air temps, with water temps around 16 degrees. We set off at 7 in the morning, motoring out from St Catherine's Bay to a small beach, where I hopped off the boat and swam to the shore. I got the okay from the boat and waded in and started swimming. The water was flat calm and clear, and we soon settled into an easy rhythm of steady swimming and hourly feeds. On board was pilots Charlie and Mick, along with Chantelle, who had very generously given up a day of her holidays to help me out with feeds, plus acting as camera woman and general all-round supporter.

As usual, it took me a couple of hours to really settle down mentally and to just settle into a quiet headspace. At first, I was really distracted by the whole idea of the swim, wondering whether I was going to be able to finish, and obsessing about the later hours, but I eventually managed to calm myself down and just focus on swimming from feed to hourly feed. Mostly, I made do with Maxim, plus half a banana or some jelly babies every couple of hours. Happily, it all went down fine, although towards the end, I was starting to wishfor ANYTHING but Maxim, and don't want to eat / drink anything purple for a while.

For the first 5 hours, the sea was calm and the conditions easy and I was feeling great. For some reason, hour 6 was tough. I felt really achy and sore, and my energy levels felt like they were dropping. I thought I'd perhaps run out of steam, which was worrying so far from the finish, but after the 7 hour feed, I suddenly picked up again, so it was probably just a bit of a crash while the body adjusted where the body was metabolising energy from. Around that time too the wind picked up a bit, and there were some swells rolling in from my left. I'd been spoiled by the flat seas earlier in the swim, but in fact, these were fairly easy to swim in - regular and rolling, rather than slappy and unpredictable - and my pace didn't really change from earlier in the swim - c. 2 miles an hour, with a stroke rate of 62/63 throughout the entire swim.

By hour 8, I was feeling tired, but allowed myself to start thinking about finishing; I was so excited by the prospect of walking up the beach (and quite keen to be able to stop swimming!). On Sally's urging (relayed via Chantelle), I resisted the compelling urge to look up for the beach with just a mile to go, but unfortunately, we were heading into a wide bay, and every time I breathed to the left, I could see a strip of beach, which just never seemed to get any nearer. I knew I had a mile to go, which I reckoned should take about 30 mins; plus, I could feel waves coming in behind me, occasionally enabling me to surf forwards on them, making me think that I was probably making even better time. But what I didn't know was that as soon as I got pushed forwards by the swells, I was being pulled backwards again because the tide had turned - something that you can't feel in the water. In the end, it took me an hour to cover the final mile, and I was starting to think it would never end, but I finally saw Chantelle getting changed into her costume ready to join me at the finish (you've no idea what a welcome sight that was), and the boat stopped as the water shallowed. I carried on swimming until my knuckles grazed the sand, and I stood up and walked clear of the water. What an amazing feeling!!!

We took some pictures, picked up a shell and a stone, and then we swam back out to the boat, to a cheering Charlie and Mick. Charlie helped me negotiate the ladder and dug out my towel, while I plonked myself down on a bench, feeling a bit shell-shocked. I got changed and settled down for the 3 hour journey back, but unfortunately, within half an hour, I was back on Channel relay form, head in bucket. I'm really not built for boats. I felt sorry for Chantelle - she'd been feeling really queasy on the boat all day and was already looking distinctly green around the gills, so I really didn't make things any better. In between communing with the bucket, I did a live interview with BBC radio Jersey too, although I'm not sure how much sense I was making at that stage.

We arrived back at St Catherine's Bay at around 7pm, where the club swim was in progress. As soon as everyone saw the boat, they headed back in and I was met on the slip by a huge crowd of 70 or so people, clapping and cheering, giving hugs and handshakes. After a few minutes, I noticed that I was starting to shake - it was a combination of being a bit cold after sitting on the boat, and also, a massive energy crash from having been seasick and not having eaten anything since finishing the swim. I couldn't face anything sweet, and someone was dispatched by Sally to get me a toasted cheese sandwich from the cafe, which did the trick. As if by magic, by the time I had finished eating, my stuff had all been offloaded and was being taken up to my van for me, and I mustered the energy to drive back to the campsite, where I shared some of Jamie and co's chips and then stumbled back to the van to get showered and fall into bed.

So, all in all, a very successful day out. It feels really good to have completed the swim in a reasonable time and in fairly good shape. I've got a few aches and pains today, mostly in my right wrist and lower arm for some reason, but nothing serious, and my energy stores are replenished after a day of dedicated sitting about and eating everything that comes into reach. It was lovely to get up this morning and look out across the campsite to France, and to think "I swam there yesterday"!

None of this would have been even remotely possible without the expertise of Charlie and Mick. Charlie poured over the weather charts and picked the perfect day for me, and the piloting and navigational skills of him and Mick meant that I got where I wanted to be successful and safely. Thanks guys - you're wonderful. Also, Chantelle was a complete star, always ready with my feeds, treats and encouragement, plus taking lots of great video footage. She'll be doing the same swim in August, and I don't doubt for a moment that she'll be successful. Thanks to Sally for acting as communications central, and to everyone who sent messages of support and encouragement, which were passed on to me during feed breaks and always gave me a boost.

I'm heading home on Saturday to begin planning out the final stages of my training for the big swim, but in the mean time, I'm going to carry on sitting about feeling pleased with myself, and enjoying what was a great day out in the water.

Pictures and hopefully some video to follow once I've worked how to download things from my new video camera ...

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Well done, Penny

Let's just take a moment to applaud my swim-training partner, and all-round, doggedly determined triathlete, Penny, who finished Ironman France in just under 16 hours. It's a brutal course (there's a 13 mile climb in the middle of the bike course - 13 MILES...up a mountain), and an already tough day was made a million times harder by the fact that the anti-fog spray that she'd used burned her corneas (after years of using the stuff without any problems), causing her profound discomfort and seriously blurring her vision for the next 15 hours of the race. Penny is one tough woman, and an inspiration.

Countdown to Jersey

Just heard from Charlie Gravett - as long as the weather behaves as it is expected to, I should be heading to France at 7am on Tuesday morning. Fingers crossed....