Wednesday, 29 June 2011

That's more like it

That's more like it. After the previous weekend's rubbish couple of days of swimming and generally feeling unwell, I returned to Dover last weekend to have another go at getting some decent distance done. Throughout the week, I'd been consuming super-nutritious foods, guzzling supplements and generally trying to bolster my struggling immune system, and happily, by Friday, I felt full of beans and ready to go. The weather forecast was pretty decent too....the only blot on the weekend's horizon was the large box of bright orange exam script booklets I'd had to bring with me - marking that had to be finished by Monday, and which I picked up from the office en route.

I woke up in the middle of Friday night to the sound of rain hammering on the roof of the van and I have to confess that my heart sank a little, but by the morning, it was a bit grey, dull and blowy, but not too bad. Down on the beach, I signed up for 6 hours, and headed down to the water's edge...not exactly keen, but at least determined. I felt like a different person compared to the previous week, and did the 6 without any real problems at all. Several of the others were doing 8 hours, and I was tempted to stay in, but I decided to err on the side of caution - both because I wasn't sure whether I was fully recovered from whatever bug I had, and also because I knew that I had several hours of marking to do that evening. So, back to the campsite I went, ate, marked until I could barely stay awake, and then slept like a log.

Sunday had been forecast to be an absolute scorcher, but I awoke to thick, thick fog. Like everyone, I expected it to burn off by mid-morning, and as I hobbled my way over the stones into the water, I was excited by the thought of a good, sunny swim, even though you could barely see the harbour walls, and the cliffs were completely shrouded. But it continued to roll, cold and heavy, over the water, making it a rather chilly and monotone swim. But then finally, at about 1pm, the sun finally won through and almost without me noticing, we were left with bright blue sky and lovely warming sunshine. The harbour was almost unrecognisable, compared to the Champion of Champions weekend.

The sea was so flat in the harbour that the swimming was almost boring, and I allowed myself to zone happily out and just enjoy being in the water. Lovely. And once I was out, I was able to enjoy a delicious post-swim ice-cream.

So, that was my weekend - two six hour swims without any real problems, and a good recovery each time. Plus, I got all my marking done, and squeezed in a research interview too. A good weekend.

Many congratulations to Dan Earthquake, Julie Ryan and co for their successful relay crossing on Sunday night, and to Marcy Macdonald, who swam the first successful solo crossing of the season on Sunday...most of in the thick fog. Well done to everyone - fantastic swimming.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Some weekends it's just not to be...

Off to Dover this weekend - my first trip of the year - for the BLDSA Champion of Champions, an annual set of three races (5 miles, 3 miles, 1 mile). This, it has to be said, was not my finest day in the water. I'd been under the weather all week with a stomach bug, plus have been working all hours recently, so felt quite exhausted by the time I arrived at the campsite at the end of what turned out to be a ridiculously slow 7 hour drive (I hate the M25). Not the best start.

Anyway, with forecasts of winds up to 40mph by lunchtime, we all pitched up ready to go first thing. There was a bit of a delay while the organisers adjusted the course to better accommodate the conditions (making a long, thin half-mile triangle course that gave us more shelter from the pier wall, rather than the usual 1 mile square), and we were finally ready to be counted into the water, instructed to do 10 laps. I felt fine for the first few laps, although not exactly full of beans, but as the swim progressed, I started to find it pretty hard going. This was partly the conditions - quite lumpy water, moving around all over the place - but partly just me being a bit out of sorts, I think. And then, as I finished my fifth lap, I looked at my watch - 1.39!! At my usual pace, I would have expected to be on around 1.20, so either I was being horrendously slow, or the course was long (which most people later agreed it was - probably 6+ miles in total). Anyway, I found this a bit soul-destroying, not least because it meant that the whole thing would take me about 3.20 to finish, which for me, is quite a long time to swim without nutrition. And then, to distract me, along came some of the most spectacular weather I've ever experienced in the water - a 10 minute hail storm that was so relentless that it flattened the water, and causing a band of white spray to rise off the water from the force of the hailstones. It looked absolutely extraordinary, and I couldn't help but just stop and look around me in wonder (also sparing a thought for the poor kayakers).

Anyway, I eventually floundered my way up to the finish boat in 3.17 and swam back in to shore, feeling pretty grotty but okay. I changed and then took myself off the van to refuel with a protein shake, soup and a bagel, but was struggling to find the energy to face the second swim. So, I have to admit to being slightly relieved when I heard the news that the 3 miles had been cancelled and that they were moving straight on to the 1 mile. This went off without a hitch, although I only managed to muster a rather mediocre 31.49. So, overall, I completed the event in about 3.49, coming 12th out of the 15 women who completed both events - not great, but I was pleased that I'd managed to finish.

Many thanks to the organisers of the event, and to the many volunteers who provided kayak and other safety boat support in some pretty gruesome weather. Thank you for keeping us safe and allowing the event to go ahead, even in such difficult conditions.

I went back to the campsite and decided to make the most of the evening to refuel, rest and get myself sorted for my planned 6 hour swim the following day, and happily, I woke up feeling quite refreshed after a good night's sleep and headed down to the beach full of optimism. However, it was not to be. I started to get a headache quite soon after starting, and pretty soon, my head was thumping. I decided to ask for ibuprofen at the 2 hour feed, but into the second hour, I starting to be hit by bouts of horrible dizziness where everything would spin about for a few minutes before settling down again. I'd had some problems with this the day before, but only when I got out of the water, so thought it was just the shift from horizontal to vertical. But it just got worse and worse, and in the end, I decided that even if I felt able to stay in (which I didn't) it probably wasn't safe to do so. I bumped into Thomas by the harbour wall and asked him to swim back with me to the beach (thanks for that, Thomas!), and got out. To be honest, I was relieved to be out of the water, but part of me felt gutted at not completing a swim so close to Catalina. I felt sorry for myself for a bit, but then went up to the campsite and ate and had a shower, then went back down to the beach to chat, help out with feeds and watch the others complete their swims - always inspiring, and especially since the wind was back up and the sea was looking pretty angry for the last couple of hours. And on a positive note, getting out early was also a really nice chance to catch up with old friends I haven't seen for ages, and to meet some new ones.

So, not my finest weekend of swimming, but just one of those things. I was worried that it's because I've not done as much training recently as I would like, but realistically, I think I'm just not 100% at the moment and wasn't up to it on the day. So now I'm concentrating on getting myself fit and healthy ready for next weekend, when I'll go back and get those 6 hour swims done - good training, plus it will hopefully restore my confidence for Catalina.

Well done to everyone in their swims this weekend - and let's keep everything crossed for some decent weather very soon (not least because the first swims of the season are due to go this week!).

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Thinking too much about wildlife

As my Catalina swim approaches, I find myself getting more, not less, anxious about the wildlife issue - I had hoped that the opposite would be true and that I would start focusing on the swimming, rather than what might be swimming with me / near me. Of course, this is mostly about sharks, which I tell myself are technically present, but actually hanging out elsewhere. But then I read this on the Facebook page of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club (San Diego):

"Beautiful flat water this morning. Comfy temperature of about 62. Lots of bat rays swimming out past 1/2 mile buoy. Large schools of barracuda fish. 9 foot + 7-gill shark at 1/4 mile buoy."

Now .... that, to me, is a lot of wildlife for one swim. I'm sure it's absolutely amazing to see, but I'm really not sure how I would react. And let's be honest, if you don't know your sharks, one dorsal fin looks pretty much like another, and I'm certainly not going to be waiting around counting gills (this is one of the many harmless varieties that hang out in those waters, apparently). So, I just don't know. I'm hoping that once I'm in the water, I'll just slip into happy swimming mode. And hopefully, once the swim is over and I'm into the research phase of my trip, some of the locals will take me out to some of these amazing swim spots and help me learn how to be in the water alongside these beautiful creatures that I've never really even seen before, never mind been up close to.

And the goggle search continues...

A while back, I reviewed my shiny new Speedo Futura Ice goggles that had come as a free gift with my first copy of H2Open magazine. I was pleased with them (and still am), but unfortunately, I think that these may not be the goggles for my night time Catalina swim. They have a slight tint to them, and when I wore them for the night swim in Jersey, my vision was pretty impaired. So back to the drawing board....And now I'm trying out the clear version of the Speedo Speedsockets:
So far so good. The socket is much smaller than the Futura Ice, and also the mirrored Blueseventy goggles that I usually use, and I'm still experimenting with how loose I can have them before they start leaking. far, they get a (cautious) thumbs up. With only a month to go before Catalina, I really hope that these are the ones.

In the mean time, a heavy marking load at work has meant that training has been very up and down, and I was disappointed not to be able to make it down to Dover last weekend because of my out of control marking pile. But order has been somewhat (if only temporarily) restored and I'm heading down tomorrow, ready for the Champion of Champions (5 miles, 3 miles, 1 mile), and then a long swim on Sunday (this depends on what Freda has in mind for me, but I'm imagining another first this season in Dover. With not long to go, I really need to get these under my belt. But it would be nice to have some kind weather, just to make it that bit easier...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Jersey swim camp 2011

I just got back from a fabulous week in Jersey, helping out on Sally Minty-Gravett's swim enjoying quite a lot of time in the water while getting some serious training in for Catalina.

As I've said in other writing about the various training camps, in my view, this camp is an excellent opportunity for those who are relatively inexperienced in sea swimming, but who are planning a long swim, to build their skills and confidence and to start notching up some time in the open water. It's a good chance to learn how you deal with the cold, the movement of the water and the various discomforts and sensory deprivations of longer periods of well as to start to experience some of the many pleasures of open water swimming. This year's camp was no exception, and there were quite a few participants in precisely that situation, most of whom quickly found their feet (flippers?) and were clocking up multiple hour swims by the end of the week and walking out with barely a shiver. Inspiring to watch - well done everyone (and many thanks to Sally, and everyone else involved in the camp, for making it such a success).

In addition to the everyday training, we also had a fantastic night swim in St Catherine's bay...I just loved the sight of all the light sticks, tucked under goggle straps, bobbing around in the water. Everyone should try this once - it's hilarious.

As for me, towards the end of the week I started to do some longer swims, trying to get some distance under my belt in preparation for Catalina (which is now only 6 weeks away!). I just love swimming in Jersey - the water is beautiful, and after a winter of swimming pools, and my usual early season of laps at Bosworth and Swan Pool, it's just wonderful to be in the sea. In the first few days of the camp I did 2-3 hours a day across two swims, and then I did four hours on both Thursday and Friday...a plan which happily coincided with some gorgeously sunny weather.

With the exception of an absurdly pronounced swim hat head stripe, I was remarkably unscathed by these swims, so on Saturday, decided to go ahead with my original plan to do a 6 hour swim.

Sadly, the good weather didn't last and it was howling a gale on Saturday morning, and St Catherine's bay was very lumpy and whipped up when we arrived. But that's no excuse, so in I went anyway. It has to be said that the first couple of hours weren't very pleasant, but happily, as the tide turned and started to ebb, it flattened out a little; and then, just as my mood was beginning to drop and my shoulders were starting to ache, the sun finally broke through, lifting my spirits and turning the water a delicious turquoise. I later found out that poor Sally had tried to join me in the kayak after a couple of hours, but had been unceremoniously tipped in by the waves, forcing her to retreat to dry land until the conditions had improved! Nevertheless, in spite of it being a rather grotty day, especially earlier on, I was supported from start to finish by Sally, and many other of the local swimmers who dropped in to offer an encouraging word during feeds or to join me for a dip. Amazing. Many thanks to everyone.

Having done 14 hours of swimming in three days, and still being in reasonable shape at the end of it, I feel much better now about Catalina, and am confident that with a few Dover sessions over the next few weekends, I'll be good to go when the time comes.

Next stop....Dover.