My Channel Swim

An account of my Channel swim.

At 1.21PM on the 8th August I jumped into the waters off Samphire Hoe. It had been a long build up to the swim, having been blown out of the 26th July-31st July tide. I had felt surprisingly calm as we motored out of the harbour. I listened to music and looked out to sea trying to judge what the sea state would be like to swim in. I expected to feel overwhelmed as I swam into the beach to start my swim, but that feeling never came; I swam onto the pebbles, walked slowly out adjusting my hat and goggles and then turned and waved to the receptive crew onboard. This is it.
I waded in and jumped into the water, it felt cool at first but then my body adjusted and I swam comfortably to the boat. My feeding plan was to feed every 45 minutes on Maxim and a choice of banana, jelly babies and crunchies. At the 6 hour point I would drop my feeds to every half hour. This feeding plan went really well and I was only sick once along the way, aided by a gulp of seawater.
I had the words of Jim Boucher in my head, “go slowly, the doubts will creep in at 2-3 hours, go slowly and build.” Did I? Hell no! I went for it, using the power in my arms to move through the water. The sea was fairly flat, not a millpond but ‘nice’ waves that did not really disrupt my stroke and breathing. I got to the 3hr hour feed full of beans, happy to be swimming and happy that Dover was looking further away than I thought it would.
I had a bit of a down period at this point, I think I was very conscious of where I was (I asked my crew, a big no,no but I did it throughout to keep my mind working) and I was aware of how much further I had yet to swim. I started counting my strokes as a way to stop thinking about the boat and to stop looking for the feeds. I gave myself a target of 4500 to count to, alas I never got that far before my mind wandered, but it did help! I think part of what bought me down was the weather, the clouds came down after a few hours and I started feeling a chill creeping in. It was raining hard and so watching the crew dive for cover was also hard.
By my 6th feed at 4 and a half hours I had perked back up, the clouded level had lifted slightly and I could now see the horizon with the odd bit of sunshine poking out. This was the warmest part of the swim for me.
My 8th feed at 6 hours was a good landmark but also a dangerous point for me mentally. I allowed myself to consider that I could do the swim in 12 hours or under and so from 6 hours I could count down. I think I underestimated how long 6 more hours would feel and, as the sun disappeared, I realised what lay ahead of me. To add to this I asked for my second painkiller, my left rotator cuff had niggled since hour 3 and I was not afraid to ask for painkillers, I could deal with the injury after the swim. Mark had given me a painkiller tucked into a jelly baby and as I bit into it, the neurofen left a horrid medicinal taste in my mouth. Match this with my stomach feeling a bit full with maxim and you get sick, lots of it. I tried swimming and being sick at the same time which was Ok but then I later realised I had probably strained my tummy by being sick in that position. I stopped, got it all out and felt in much better shape to plod on. I guess at this point I realised that the next 6 hours might not be plain sailing.
8 hours in and I knew I was in the French shipping lane, this was excellent news and I powered on, my shoulders were feeling heavy but I kept my stroke count up. I thought I could get out of the shipping lane in just a few hours, as I had done on the English side but what I didn’t realise was how far up towards Calais I had been taken on my path and so, with the tide having just turned, I had a long and very steep diagonal route to take.
At hour 9 is was pitch black and I was cold. My shoulders were hurting and mentally I knew that I was not where I wanted to be. I had to work with what was already in my head. I told myself that the first time I did Lake Zurich it took me 9.5 hours so I knew I could do it. Then I told myself just to get to the next half hour.
What I hadn’t realised (although in hindsight I think I knew) was that my crew had only given me 2 half hours feeds before reverting back to 45 minute feeds. They knew I was counting and they also knew that I had a suspicion this could take me longer than 12 hours, something which I had protested about in an earlier feed. This is the one big mistake I made coming into this swim. I knew I could swim the Channel in 12 hours and I stubbornly told myself that taking 15 hours was NOT going to happen. Of course it didn’t mean I would give up at 12, but it put my head in the wrong place from the start.
From this point on all I can remember is that the swim was hard and cold. At some point as I reached the edge of the shipping lane (10+ hours in) ,the fog came in. This tropical 18 degree water I had been looking so forward to didn’t seem any warmer at night…I was cold through and ready to get this swim finished.
I knew the coastline was somewhere on my left and saw some lights but I knew I was a way off and swimming parallel to it. Then in the space of a few minutes, all landmarks disappeared. I was asking the crew too many questions and I didn’t like their answers. All I could think was ‘am I going to miss the Cap’? I was told to swim for 2 more feeds and would get some exciting news at that point. I put my heart into those 30 min( ahem, 45min) stints. When I reached the second feed I was told that this was my last swim and that I needed to swim for another 45 minutes. Brilliant, I felt elated at this point that I could get this damn swim over with and get back onto the boat where my sleeping bag was waiting for a body to fill it!
What I didn’t know was that I was headed straight for the Cap but that the tide was pushing us in towards Wissant. Eddie made the decision to head straight in but this was the slightly longer route. I saw Mark lean down to me after what felt like an age of swimming, he had a bottle in his hand. “Quickly take a drink, we are drifting and you need to keep moving, you’ve got another 45 minutes”. I could have cried, I was so ready to finish but I put my head down and went for it. I fell apart slightly in these 45 minutes, twice putting my head up to ask how much further there was. I kept hearing the fog horn of the boat go off and was feeling worried, something didn’t feel right. I didn’t get any definitive answers until suddenly one of the crew shouted, “you’ve got one mile, less than a lap of the harbour.”
I couldn’t see anything to my left and the possibility of being unable to land crept into my head but I dismissed it along with the other negative thoughts and cracked on. I knew Mark was going to come with me to swim the final stretch but it was heart breaking to see that he was still sitting in the same spot on the boat, not getting ready. I poked my head up to ask why he couldn’t swim with me and he replied that he couldn’t swim in with me because of the fog. Being the person I know best in this world I knew something was wrong, if it had been Ok he would have waved me on with a little smile and told me not to worry, he’d be in. I have to admit I felt a little frightened at this point as I was scared about leaving the safety of the boat and swimming to shore with such bad visibility. Nevertheless I powered on, imagining doing 16 x100m in the pool. I swam for what felt like forever and then heard someone whistle to me on the boat.
I looked up and heard Mark’s voice come out from one of the many silhouettes on the boat. “You can’t land.”
“What?” I replied
“You can’t land, there should be the town of Wissant less than 300m in front of us and we can’t see even one light”
I didn’t really know how to react except ask for Eddie. I knew the decision had been made as the whole boat was just looking at me in silence but I trod water beside the boat as I wanted to hear the final call from my pilot. He came out of the cabin and onto deck.
“Eddie, is this my only option, to get out of these steps right now?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, but that would be my advice.”
And so, a few moments later I did something that I had never mentally prepared myself for; I touched the boat, disqualifying myself from the swim, and climbed up the ladder to the deck of the boat. I was greeted by sad smiles and helpful hands getting me dressed as I shivered and shook.
I didn’t cry at that point, and not until I got home did the emotion get to me. I just accepted people’s condolences as I moved slowly through the boat into one the downstairs cabins that contained a bed. There was no one to feel angry at, no one to blame and everyone on the boat looked so shocked and gutted for me. The crew showed me on the chart I had brought for them to plot that I was just 150m from standing on shore. I said thank you to everyone as I passed them and slowly curled up into bed for the journey home.
I need to reflect more on what happened today but I know that I don’t have anything to prove and that I can walk away with my pride intact. The people that know, know that my feet would have touched sand had I been allowed, and that if I could have I would have fought through any conditions to get me there.
Today is just a small part of the journey, an evolutionary series of events that have built on the previous to get to this point. Am I gutted I can’t call it an official swim? Yes, of course I am but that is just my boastful side playing out. The most important thing that I can take away from this is that I can swim for 14 hours in 16-17 degree water, and I can swim strongly for that length of time. This swim has got me to the strongest I have ever been and the mental journey from the first weekend in Dover to the end of the swim is not to be underestimated and at times of self-doubt I will call on my experiences today.

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This year so far…

My last blog was after the Weymouth weekend in July.  Since then I have swum another Channel Relay(4 of us from Croydon Amphibians Swimming club) in a time of 11hrs 37 m. I also raced Lake Windermere at the beginning of September. I had retired from the race two years ago due to lack of acclimatisation and general training. This year the weather was once again awful- the water was probably the best place to be! I knew I was fit although I hadn’t done any long swims during the season. I set out at a quite a pace, getting myself into 4th position with just one girl ahead of me. I stayed in this position for 4hrs and 47 minutes, getting into the finish absolutely knackered! I was happy about my time but ecstatic that I hadn’t got cold and in actual fact my crew was colder than I was, having to go back to the hotel for a hot shower whilst I sat in the cafe with my hot chocolate and marshmallows! watching other finishers!
The weekend after Windermere and after a few glasses of wine, I thought it would be an excellent idea to take a vacant place in a 10km race at Bray lake the next morning. I decided to wear a wetsuit- I would go faster in one which meant I could get out quicker!I had a worrying few minutes when I thought that the extra few pounds I had gained for Windermere weren’t going to fit into my XS 2XU wetsuit! Wetsuit finally on and off we went for 4 big laps followed by 2 small laps. I got tired pretty quickly but kept plodding away. I wasn’t particularly hydrated(pre race preparation of Rioja perhaps?) so kept stopping at the aid stations for liquid gels. With one and a half small laps to go I got cramp. Not just a twinge, full on scream out loud stop swimming and grab your calf cramp. ouch ouch ouch ouch. I took some deep breaths and massaged my leg. I managed to get going again finishing in just over 2 and a half hours in …..drumroll……first place! What a surprise and what a great end to the season……..

 

1x 24 hour swim
3x 10km swims
2x Channel Relays
1 x Lake Windermere
and many more races…..Phew, bring on the winter training!

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A weekend of sun and swimming

This weekend was the SouthWest Regional Open Water Champs. I had entered the 10km on Saturday and then a 5km and a 3km on the Sunday.

The whole weekend was glorious sunshine which made hanging around before and after races very pleasurable. The 10 km kicked off the weekend. The water felt cool but not ridiculous. The starter’s signal went and we were off, I tried to keep on the heels of a girl (Harriet Tuck) who I knew was super quick. I think I stayed there for about 30metres before she got away! I could see two girls had got away in front of me and that there was one girl clsoe behind me. I found myself swimming next to a guy who seemed keen to keep up the pace so each of us took it in turns to push until we had dropped the girl(now I know was Kat Baker). Myself and this guy swam 2 of the 5 laps together and then I kicked off and dropped him(I found him fully dressed as I got out, he had pushed too hard at the start and had cramped badly…oops…guilty….sorry)
Anyway, the whole thing felt like a really long way and I was getting a bit fed up by the end of the 4th lap but battled on through the final lap, finishing where I started as 3rd girl. I was 2nd in my age group in a time of 2hrs 51. Not too bad but I think I can go faster.

Sunday started with the 5km. I nailed the start and got onto the lead pack’s feet. I stayed there for a little while and slowly lost touch, but I know I am not yet quick enough to stay there.  Then my worst fear, a race between 3 girls! All 3 of us were battling each other for the first 1.5 of 3 laps. Then Kat(who I had beaten in the 10km) kicked off and I couldn’t stay with her. Thankfully my efforts of trying to stay with her meant that I dropped the other girl in the group and over the last lap extended my lead on her, although I knew that I could not ease up the pace as she was not far behind. I finished 4th in my age group in 1hr 23mins.

3km…….really…..? Suddenly a load of kids (under 14 age group) turned up wearing their race goggles, Fina approved speedsuits and generally looking like they were there for business. I was busy eating a whole box of fondant fancies with a coffee, in my bikini.
Ok…let’s go.
Now I had a great advantage of knowing the course and that the starters signal was often quite abrupt and unexpected. the whole field went into deep water. I stayed shallow, in line with the turn buoy which mean I could push off the bottom. I was watching and as the flag went down I was off. I realised I had clear water and was thrilled. I knew these kids were going to swim over me in about 15 seconds but I was so happy that I nailed the start so well. As predicted the lead group zipped passed but I stayed with a small second pack and we hammered round the 2 lap course.
Navigation was an issue with some competitors and I have realised that people don’t seem to be able to go round buoys…….in all the races whenever I took places it was on the turn buoy. Why leave 2 metres when you can swim 2cms from the buoy??

A sprint finish and I had completed my final event in 47 mins. I won my age group……ahem….no second place……!

A great race, a beautiful setting, clear water and a great training weekend…..18km race pace…phew!

NEXT WEEK REST WEEK!

 

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Channel Photos

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Rest week…..sort of

After the 3.8km Seahorse race in Studland Bay last Sunday (2nd girl, as you ask) I decided to have a rest week and wind down for the 10km/5km/3km swims in Weymouth the following weekend.

After swimming on Monday (bad session, very niggly shoulder) I was reading my emails and one came through on the channel forum from the San Francisco Dolphins. 2 of their relay team had dropped out after a previous Channel attempt earlier in the week and they were looking for replacements to swim on Wednesday

Well, of course it was a no no. My shoulder was sore. I couldn’t take time off work so short notice, and…and…..Ok that’s all I could come up with.
By 9 am the following morning I was in the Head’s office grovelling for the day off of which he very kindly agreed. A few quick phone calls later and I was in the team!!!!

I was down in Dover the following morning at 6am ready to go but the wind was whipping the Channel up so the swim was postponed until 9.15 that night. Back to work I went and then home for 2 hours kip before making my way down to Dover again.  This time we were on.

After meeting all the team we piled onto Suva with the pilot Neil Streeter and off we motored round to the start point. Scott started the swim from the beach and I took over in second. I was feeling pretty green by the time I started my swim and realised the water was so much colder than I was used to. I was FREEZING! teeth chattering as I tried to swim harder to warm up. I had to breathe to the right where the boat was because every time I turned my head to the left all I saw was black water and NOTHING else!

My first experience of (a)the channel (b) night swimming was not enjoyable and after I got out I was promptly sick and took about 10 mins to dress myself. I curled up in a ball in the cabin of the boat and shook and shook and felt sick for about 3 hours.

Then the sun came up. This was better. I felt better (tip:take anti sickness tablets 10 hours before you travel and then another dose 30 mins before travelling). My second swim was great and I felt very powerful. We were in the French shipping lane and I looked back for one breath and saw a huge tanker passing behind me.Wow, how insignificant did I feel!

Everyone in the team swam so well(there were 6 of us in total) and Scott landed us right on the tip of Cap Gris Nez (the ideal spot) in a total time of 12 hours 46 mins.

What an experience and what a learning curve. Below are some top tips:

1)DO cold water acclimatisation. Lakes don’t count. Get in the sea and swim!
2)Trying to get dressed whilst the boat is seriously rocking is hard. Take ‘easy to put on’ clothing. Loose sportswear is best.
3)Take anti sickness tablets 10 hours before so that they are in your system.
4) Take an urn of hot drink of choice. The time/effort involved in boiling a kettle is just too much especially when most people will be seasick if they are below deck.
5) Do not under estimate how cold you might get. Take your warmest jacket, then your next warmest jacket to put underneath.And a beanie. And gloves. And a hot water bottle.

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Dorney 10km Photos

Photo of the start. I am on the far right of the picture at the top, beside Mark wearing the white cap(naughty!) I aspire to his skill of ‘creeping forwards’ to get that extra metre!

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Dorney 10km

I donned my wetsuit for this race, a 10km swim in the future Olympic rowing venue.

3 laps, sounds easy enough. Start line I am at the front, getting ready to kick off as the horn goes. My aim is to get on Mark’s feet and stay there for as long as possible. Horn goes. I’m on his feet. I’m on his feet. I’m not so much on his feet. I’m on the next guy’s feet. He disappears. I feel like I’m getting trampled!

Ok so I am not at the front of the front group and although it felt like the whole wave had come past me I peeked up and was pleased to see that I was at the back of a lead group. I found some obliging feet and settled in for the ride.

The first lap was good and I didn’t lose too many places but I was kicking too hard and breathing too hard so I knew this pace wasn’t going to last! There was still a lot of elbowing and general challenging for places next to the lane rope or feet. I found a couple of non-wetsuit guys who were swimming side by side and nestled in between their feet, they dragged me along for pretty much another lap.

My shoulder started hurting at about half way and although I hadn’t planned on stopping at any of the feed stations(A slight detour from the course) I decided that after the 2 lap turn I would have a little metal and physical rest. I was on my own by the time I got to this point and feeling pretty tired. I stopped at the aid station and my calves gave a little twinge as I stood up. I had a few glugs of Powerade then spotted another guy swimming off from the jetty. I chased after him and got on his feet, settling in for the final lap.

By this point I didn’t think I was placed anywhere, although in hindsight I had only seen one other lady!This lady was somewhere behind me and with a km to go she pulledup beside me, looking very strong. I thought about letting her go but carried on matching her speed. I looked up and saw the final turning buoy was not too far away, the finish was just beyond. I pushed, and so did she. I pushed a little more, she matched me. We went round some slower swimmers still on their 2nd lap and came back together. Right. Here goes. She turned her head to breathe away from me and so I kicked. hard. I kept kicking and pulled with all my strength. To my delight I had a glance behind and she hadn’t kept up with me. This final push saw me overtake about 4 other guys. The finish was in sight and I was back on my own.

I swam up to the jetty and took my time climbing out, no way was I going to run up the ramp and get cramp!Someone was yelling “come on!You’re 3rd!”.

I was so suprised at how well I had done, 3rd lady and 27th overall. I’m not sure if it was the wetsuit but my stroke seemed to tire very quickly. I don’t think I really needed to stop at the aid station but it was definately a short mental break if nothing else. In hindsight I would have taken on more food before the race as all I had was half a gel and some energy drink(I really need to stop getting so nervous!)

As always, Human Race organised a great race and it was a good training swim, even if it did knock me out for the rest of the day!

 

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