Monday, 30 August 2010

Update...and a sliver of hope...

As planned, I went down to Dover at the weekend to train. I did 4 hours on Saturday, then 3 on Sunday. I have to say that my heart wasn't really in it, but that doesn't really matter, as long as it gets done. But the good news is that by Sunday, there was a mood of cautious optimism sweeping the beach as we shared rumours of a high pressure front moving in bringing with it some deliciously swimmable weather. Of course, it remains to be seen if that happens, and how long it stays, but at the moment, it seems like there is every expectation that swimming will start up again tomorrow. I don't know where this will leave me yet in terms of whether I'll get a chance to swim before I go to Oz, but at least it's a positive start...and if nothing else, I'll get to see many of my swimming friends make their crossings, which will be a huge morale boost for me.

Watch this space - I'll post more news when I have it.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Hilarious video...

Fantastic (in a tragic sort of way) video posted by Australian swimmer, Mark Scanlon, who I met during the first week of waiting to swim. Sums it up better than words ever could...

A special kind of torture...

I'm starting to see that this Channel swimming business is less a sport than an exquisite form of torture. The slight chance that I would get to swim on Sunday / Monday is no longer a possibility, thanks to the continuing wind, rain and general rubbishness of the weather. However, it does seem like the wind is starting to drop, and according to my pilot, Paul Foreman, they are hoping to start getting some swims out on Tuesday / Wednesday...although of course, we've all thought this before, only for more rubbish weather to sweep in...but it's nice to have something positive to keep our collective, frustrated sights on. Anyway, now that a neap and spring tide have been and (almost) gone, I've slipped back down the queue, but Paul is speculating that he might be able to get me away Thursday - permitting, of course. Saturday is the absolute last day I can do it before my Australia trip, and after that, I'm back to focussing on late Sept.

I'm not very good at this....,the waiting. I like to plan and prepare; I like certainty and control. And I'm not enjoying this one little bit, but am working hard to hold my nerve and not to let too much doubt creep in. After almost three weeks of only swimming 1-2 hours a day, I feel quite unfit and ill-prepared for a Channel swim, but hopefully, there's enough in there still to get me across. And in the mean time, we all wait and think calm, windless thoughts...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Best laid plans...

This isn't really how I had imagined my return from Dover. I had imagined completing the swim and coming home sore and triumphant; I had imagined coming home having failed the swim, sore but not at all triumphant. But even though I knew in principle that I might not get a swim, I don't think I'd really imagined what that scenario would be like - frustrating, deflating, disheartening, as it turns out.
After a week of watching the weather forecasts dangle the hope of a swimmable day in a few days' time and then seeing those days slowly being nibbled away by high winds, like everyone, I had my sights set on what looked like a very promising gap in the weather on Sunday. But we woke up on Sunday morning to howling winds, followed by torrential rain. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, and along with several other swimmers, I decided to pack up and go home to continue waiting in more comfortable, and less intense, surroundings. Even as we were packing up, it started to hurl it down and we had to take shelter under the awning. Miserable...but at least it confirmed my decision to go.

Unpacking my boxes this morning was pretty depressing; the weather forecast for the week is even more so...although it is starting to look like there might be a window at the weekend (but I've seen that before).

In absolute terms, Sunday is the last day of the spring tide, and after there's a fully booked neap tide with four swims on it. I'm flying to Australia on 6 Sept, so even if it was a splendid swimming week next week, I'd be lucky to get a swim in after the other four swims have gone before I have to fly. So, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that I'll squeeze in a swim before I leave, either towards the end of this spring tide, or the end of the next neap tide, but it's not likely.

So... the alternative plan is to start more intensive training again - get some longer swims under my belt to build up my endurance after a long taper and a week of sitting about not doing much, taper down while I'm in Australia, and then trying to get in a swim at the end of Sept. The air temps are much lower then, and there's not as much daylight, but if I'm lucky with the conditions, it's plausible. Another problem is that I don't tend to travel very well and get incredibly jet lagged, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. If I'm not fit to swim, then I won't and will just have another go next year. But it's worth holding out for that last chance if I can.

So from now, I'm going to pick up the training this week, building towards (depending on the weather) either getting a crossing in towards the weekend, or going down to Dover to do a couple of long training swims in the harbour. I'll do long swims again the weekend after too, before heading to Australia. It's hard to muster the enthusiasm to get back into the hard training, but hopefully I'll be able to find it from somewhere once I get going.

Thanks to everyone who has sent messages of support, and especially to Peter who came down at the weekend to save me from going bananas. And my sympathies to all those swimmers who are kicking their heels and waiting for a chance to swim....

Thursday, 19 August 2010

And blowing....

Still no sign of the wind letting up...but at least the sun has come out!
It's unlikely that anyone will get to swim before the weekend, but there's some hope for Sunday... but the weather is constantly changing (although not in the right direction so far), so it's hard to say. I continue to wait (im)patiently.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

And the wind kept blowing....

It turns out that this is a very unlucky week for Channel swimming. The winds are howling, the seas are churning, and there are frustrated swimmers (and pilots) all over Dover, scrutinising the weather sites and exchanging gossip about the latest predictions. This, I suppose, is as much a part of Channel swimming as the training...or the swimming...but it's disappointing. My comfort at the moment is that I'm first in line, so I stand the best possible chance of a swim; I feel for those who are third or fourth.

I've swum in the harbour every day, just for an hour or two, and am trying to concentrate on eating well, getting lots of rest, and not going bananas.

More updates when I know anything, but the general expectation for now is that Wednesday and Thursday are out due to strong winds, but we're living in hope for the weekend...

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Windy days

I'm here in Dover, with wind buffeting the sides of the campvan. The weather forecast is pretty dodgy, but despite having had a brief meltdown yesterday morning in the face of all this uncertainty (self-doubt, frustration, loss of focus, and a little bit of self-absorbed weeping... short and sweet, nothing to worry about), I'm managing to maintain a state of relative calm. I spoke to my pilot, Paul Foreman, today, and he said that there might be a possibility on Wednesday, but there's no saying for sure. Anyway, I was pleased to have made contact with him, and busied myself all afternoon preparing the campsite accommodation for the arrival of my crew and generally making sure everything's sorted. Paul said that it may well be that we get the go ahead at quite short notice, so it's good to have everything in order.... if only for my state of mind.

Looking at the positives, physically, I feel great, and had a lovely swim this morning - it was low tide, so the water was pretty "thick", but it was quite choppy, which made it a fun couple of hours.

So.... now there's nothing left to do but wait...

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The big green jelly baby

One of my favourite tricks for coping with difficult patches in the water is to visualise a big, green jellybaby. I turn it round in my head, visualising it from every angle - bottom of his feet, top of his head, little hands, belly button, nose....every detail. Then, in my mind, I blow or lick all the sugar off him, then start to eat him really slowly, imaging the energy from each body part going into the corresponding bit of my body. I bite off one leg, and imagine the green jelly inside, and the whiter outer core; I imagine those few calories of energy running into my own leg....and so on. I can pass a good half hour on this particular exercise and always feel better at the end of it.
On hearing about his, my friend and Warwick colleague (now sadly leaving us), Rachel, gave me a fabulous "good luck" package yesterday, including jelly babies, this jelly baby mug, and a packet of soaps in the shape of big green jelly babyies!!

There's also a truly hilarious necklace that she made of beads, letters and yes...a plastic green jelly baby, but for now, that's staying under wraps until I can work out a good way to photograph it... but I have promised her that if I make it I will post a picture wearing it.
So, whatever happens next week, may the force of the big green jelly baby be with me!

Off to Dover

I went on Woman's Hour on Wednesday, which was fun - a short piece on extreme sport and body image. You can listen to it here for the next week. I still haven't plucked up the nerve to listen to it yet, though. They were launching themselves on Twitter on Weds, so they took a photo of me with Jenni Murray to Tweet.

I was on in discussion with Catriona Morrison - winner of Lanzarote Ironman and all-round amazing athlete. We chatted about the impact of sport on our bodies. It's a bit weird to be talking about my big shoulders and body fat on national radio, but an interesting experience - good practice for thinking / talking about the research. AND I got to spend a day in London, which was fun - including a splendid lunch of Thai food, courtesy of my friend and former LSE colleague, Claire.

And today, I'm off to Dover for what I hope will be the last weekend before my swim (the window opens on Tuesday). I've been tapering - lots of sitting about and feeding up.... at last, the part of the training I'm properly qualified for - but am starting to feel really stressed and anxious about the whole thing. Part of me really wishes that I could just keep training and never do the swim - I've loved the training so much, but am not enjoying this bit very much to be honest. I remember feeling like this about my PhD - I loved the years I spent working really hard on it, but was horrified when I realised that I actually had to finish it and be examined on it.

But I've got my dream team of a crew all lined up ready to go - Peter, Jamie and Neil - and my boxes are packed, and I'm feeling in good shape. So, fingers crossed for calm seas.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


Many congrats to Ali Longman, Donal Buckley and Jen Hurley - they all swam the Channel yesterday. By all accounts, the weather got really nasty in the afternoon, and Donal, in particular, had a long, tough day. In spite of my vow to stop following swims, I spent the entire day glued to the computer tracking their progress and willing them on.

Amazing swims all round.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Countdown to the Channel

Only two weeks to go now before the start of my tide for my Channel swim. I can't decide how I feel about it....after all this work, I can't believe it's finally here. I am obviously starting to get quite anxious about it because I've started to have dreams about it.... mostly where I turn up having forgotten various important items, or on the wrong day. It doesn't take psychoanalysis to interpret that!

Now I need to really get down to finalising my crew and generally getting my head straight.

In the mean time, several friends are either out or on their way out soon - Donal Buckley, Jen Hurley, Ali Longman... plus Julie Ryan on a two-person relay (it wasn't meant to be two, but she got horribly let down at the last minute...but I'm confident that she and Dave have got what it takes). Good luck everybody - despite my vow to stop following swims, I'll be watching online!

Congrats too to Nick Adams, who broke Ali Streeter's 1989 Round Jersey record a couple of days ago - well done.

Weekend in the Lakes

Off to the Lake District this weeklend for the BLDSA Derwentwater 5.25 mile race. Peter and I stayed at the delightfully relaxed Lanefoot Farm campsite ... including lots of lovely fat free-roaming chickens who are clearly used to being fed treats by campers (and also saw our awning tent as a good source of shelter from the driving rain).

The cockerel spent quite lot of time seriously contemplating getting into then van in search of tasty scraps. A beautiful creature, but being stared at like that really starts to creep me out after a while.

And the rain came down in sheets - proper Lake Distrct rain, all night. But happily, when we woke up it was only grey and drizzly, and we counted ourselves lucky (especially Peter, who was going to be in the kayak). Down at Derwentwater, we met Alice Hervey (over from Jersey), plus crew Cliff and Dan Martin; it was also nice to finally meet Mark Robson, whose blog I've been following for ages but had never crossed paths with in person before. We registered, and set about pumping up the kayak, much to the considerable interest of passers by. It feels a bit like doing a magic trick - out of the suitcase, lay it out flat, and in 10 minutes, it's up and ready to go. We got Peter all kitted out and launched him successfully, with all the swimmers getting in 5 mins later and lining up for the start.

My aim from the outset had never been to race it, but I was also hoping that I'd improved sufficiently with all this training to get below 2.30 (I did 2.40 for this race two years ago). The start was the usual jumble, and I got a bit tangled up with one swimmer who was going about the same pace as me, but not necessarily in a forward direction. After zig-zagging into me twice, from different directions each time, I decided to just clear out of the way and moved over to the far right of the pack out of the bustle. After that, Peter and I settled down into a pleasant rhythm as we headed up the lake. About half way up, the blue alpha flag (signalling that a swimmer is in the water) that we'd stuck to the back of Peter's life jacked with duck tape came loose and he had to stop to try and shove it down the back of the jacket. I stopped, not wanting to get too far ahead of me, but the safety crews yelled at me to carry on as they went over to help him. Clearly, we need to rethink the duck tape method of flag flying.

The rest of the race was uneventful - hourly feeds, and lots of great scenery to look at when taking a breath. I felt good, but a little fatigued towards the end - I hadn't gone flat out by any means, but had picked up the pace enough to get out of my comfort zone - something I'm out of practice with after all these weeks of dedicated plodding. I eventually crossed the line in 2.35, which was outside my target, but I was reaonsably pleased with it anyway. Alice did a storming 2.32, and Mark R came in just behind me....although would certainly have pipped me if Kelly's kayak hadn't capsized towards the end of the race, giving her an unexpected dunking and causing a short delay while she got back on board.
What I love most about the BLDSA events is their complete lack of snootiness about speed. The winner - William Bott - was enthusiastically applauded for his tremendous time of 1.47, but so was Andy Page, who completed the swim in 4.27 - an amazing endurance feat, especially when he was obviously really feeling the cold by the time he got out. At BLDSA events, the award ceremony doesn't happen until all of the swimmers are back, so it's completely inclusive, and most people stayed around to collect their certificates and applaud the other swimmers.
This, to me, is what sport should be. It's a far cry from the ASA Midlands Open Water Championships that I went to watch a couple of weeks ago, when slower swimmers were either pulled out of the water, or the prizes were awarded before everyone had even finished, while just a couple of timekeepers stood waiting with obvious impatience for the slower swimmers to get in, and only one or two friends and family waited to cheer them in at the end.
So, all in all, a great day out.
Peter and I then headed off to The Lakeland Pedlar , where we were able to stuff ourselves with top notch veggie food before going upstairs to the bike shop so that Peter could drool over all the beautiful he's decided to do the Etape next year, he's clearly eyeing an upgrade. Then we retired to the campsite for a sedate evening of books and DVDs (having passed through the mourning period following finishing all of the West Wing series, we've finally cracked open The Wire...I'm not convinced as yet, but will persevere for now).
And the rain came down all night, and into the morning. Although we'd been planning to stay until Monday, we decided to call it a day, and packed up our muddy, wet awning tent, loaded up the van, and drove back down to Keswick - the plan being to both have a swim, and then to drive home. By this time, the weather had cleared a bit, and we ended up having a lovely day. I swam first, doing a two hour loop around the lake, returning to the boat slips just as people were taking their post-lunch strolls, attracting an unexpected amount of attention. Then, after lunch, it was Peter's turn - a 1.5 hour loop in what was, by now, a beautifully flat, calm lake. It was nice to have the perspective from the kayak, and I drifted along looking at the fabulous ridges surrounding the lake while Peter swam. Then we packed up our kayak (to the entertainment of yet more curious onlookers).
All in all, in spite of the weather, a really good weekend...and a nice start to the beginning of my taper.