What happens on Swim Camp!

Mark and I were swimming at Charlton Lido regularly throughout February and March, nothing too scientific but usually a 500m warm up followed by 5 x 1,000m swims and a warm down. 6K twice a week where diaries and family commitments permitted.

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Awesome 50m Lido @ Charlton. So lucky to have this 1/2 an hour away ūüôā

I had my Channel medical booked in for February. This¬†is always a nervous time as many GPs don’t have an understanding of Channel Swimming and there is a general nervousness amongst many practitioners about signing a document that says you are fit to attempt a swim of this magnitude. (Also, I’d already paid a non-refundable ¬£1,000 deposit for the escort boat and I did not want to lose that!) My medical was no different, a barrage of tests and discussions over a period of several weeks and a¬†relatively hefty payment for services rendered.

Thankfully however, the results were positive and I eventually received the pre-requisite signature. Everything was now in place to submit my final Channel Swim application forms to the CSA and it was a relief to know the swim was definitely going to happen.

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In early¬†March I was¬†ready for Adam Walker’s swim camp in Malta. To be honest, at the time of booking the main reason for me going was to get a 6hr sea swim in less than 15 degrees at the beginning of the season, but as things turned out I got much more than I expected from the experience and I would recommend it to anyone.

The swim camp would include a number of pool and land based sessions designed to teach the Ocean Walker stroke, some nutritional insights and a session on the psychology of swimming and motivation. I had decided to enter into these with an open mind and hopefully pick up on some technique tips that would fix the issues I noticed about my stroke following my review of my Loch Lomond video. There would also be a number of sea swims and I was particularly keen to get a 3 and 6 hour swim chalked off.

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National pool Malta – Technique Session

The group of people were lovely and from mixed swimming backgrounds with varying abilities. I was pleased to finally meet my Facebook friend and awesome swimmer Tracy Clark and a new friend who unbeknown to me would change my life.

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Group Shot

During the week we had an informative seminar on nutrition and it was within this session that I started to question the recommendations provided in relation to the use of carbohydrate as the main source of fuel for long distance swimming. (I had experienced discomfort when swimming Loch Lomond, including acid reflux, bloating and general nausea. I put this down to the carbohydrate powder I mixed with water for the first 5 feeds and decided to change to hot chocolate for the second half.) During the session it became apparent that there was no way my body would cope with the volume of carbohydrate being recommended based on my body composition and the advice was not sitting well with me.

It was at this point that Luke Tyburski, an ultra endurance athlete and coach who was training for his ultra triathlon at the time (read his website here), voiced his opinions about using carbs for fuel vs. real food. This approach made a lot of sense and I spent more time with Luke in the days that followed, learning more about his feeds and the benefits for ultra endurance athletes.

On returning from this camp I decided to experiment with the way I was fuelling during my swims and that would eventually lead me to swim the Channel on just water without the addition of carbohydrate powder. Yes, I might have had some flapjacks, half a banana and the odd Jelly baby but that was all. Since then I have adopted a far more disciplined approach to eating carbs but I will talk about that in a later blog.

I had a great week in Malta;¬†Adam’s stroke felt pretty natural to me¬†and I have made every effort¬†to fully adopt it since. It was quite a shift from my old shoulder powered stroke with a¬†relatively flat body position, to a stroke initiated from the hip with¬†high elbow follow through and generally more relaxed stroke. When looking at the impact on my stroke rate and efficiency through the water in subsequent swims, the results have been quantifiable.

Interesting comparison (thanks to the data generated by my Garmin): In July (2014) I did a 10hr sea swim covering about 27km with 42,315 strokes. A year later in July (2015) on the same weekend and in similar conditions with my improved technique, I swam for 10hrs covering about 27km with only 39,123 strokes. I saved over 3,000 strokes! I felt good after my swim and reasonably comfortable.

 

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During my 3hr swim in Malta 2015

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Still got it: March 2016 @ Holborough Lake in Kent

With 6 hrs in the bag, I flew home with a lot to think about and my confidence was sky-high. The next challenge would be the water temperature back in England and training hard for the start of the BLDSA season. I was planning to swim a number of the BLDSA events in the run up to my Channel attempt including: Colwick Park, Champion of Champions, Torbay, as well as the One and Two way Bala swim in North Wales.

These swims would prove invaluable as part of my Channel swim strategy…

 

 

Into the unknown!

I decided that following my swim of Loch Lomond it would be beneficial for me to try and continue swimming outdoors throughout the winter. I was hopeful that by doing so I would be better able to deal with the cold in the early part of 2015 and get some real distance in at the beginning of the season in preparation for my Channel attempt in August.

I have to admit that winter swimming was great fun¬†in the months of October, November and the early part of December. The Nutters were amazing; they are an experienced winter swimming bunch and they taught me everything I needed to know about being safe in the cold water – knowing the warning signs and instilling in everyone that it’s not about what anyone else is doing, but purely down to you – how you are feeling and knowing when you have had enough. Everyone looked out for each other and there was¬†always cake and a cuppa afterwards to help ease the shakes!

There are no egos in winter swimming, just a bunch of folks who love each others’ company . There is an invigorating feeling and a¬†sense of really¬†being alive when you¬†swim in such unfathomable temperatures, wearing nothing but your trunks, hat and goggles. You also need a flashing light attached to your goggles for night swimming but luckily my green¬†guardian¬†light still had plenty of life left in it!

Warm clothes for afterwards are a must and I would highly recommend the obligatory Dryrobe as well.

The Nutters were all regulars at the lake and Mark and I were swimming on Wednesday nights and every weekend (on a Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well). It was strangely addictive and as an added bonus fireworks night coincided with one of our Wednesday night swims. Witnessing rockets and various eruptions from the cold dark waters was something special and this has now become an annual tradition.

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Nutters – 6th December 2014

I soon learnt that¬†as long as you are in pain when swimming, then you are probably doing fine. If¬†you start to feel euphoric and the idea of sinking away happily to a watery grave seems like a nice idea, then you’re probably hyperthermic but¬†not really aware that you are actually in immediate danger.

This is the very reason why swimming with such a great group is really important. The Nutters are always chatting, helping and generally keeping a close eye on everyone. Pam, Margot, Jackie and the other ladies of the lake will always be on hand to help you out of the water, dry you off and help you get dressed!

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Boxing Day 2014 swim @ Dover

The temperature started to plummet fast after Christmas. I was persuaded to join the Nutters at the UK Cold Water Championships and PHISH in early 2015 and that motivated me to keep pushing on as the temperatures continued to drop.

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PHISH – Parliament Hill Ice Swimming Hootenanny – 5.3 degrees.

At PHISH I entered the endurance challenge and a relay. On the day it was actually a bit warmer than when I swam over a mile a few weeks earlier in the lake. The description of the event as per the PHISH website was as follows and I was quietly confident.

Super hardcore endurance challenge

The endurance challenge is for experienced cold water swimmers only. The challenge will be 10 lengths of the lido (610m) plus one length for each degree centigrade above freezing up to a maximum of 1,220m.

The only pre-requisite is that you need to have swum 1,000m at 6C or less, preferably recently.

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At the end of my endurance race.

PHISH was really atmospheric and loads of Nutters were in attendance. It was a great day out and every swimmer was clapped and cheered at every turn.

Many of the Nutters carried on swimming at the lake as the temperature kept dropping and by the beginning of February the lake temperature had fallen to about 3.6 degrees!

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600m at 3.6 degrees with Philip and Mark in February 2015

Every swim at this temperature is followed a race to get dry and dressed (including a woolly hat) before the shivering begins. You know it’s coming and when it does it never feels great but you know it’s your body’s way of getting warm and a cup of tea and a cake always helps the process pass more quickly.

If you don’t shiver at all you’re usually in trouble and if your core gets too cold you will suffer a nasty¬†after drop!

Normal shivering is fine but a more serious after drop can occur when a swimmer is nearing hyperthermia. When the blood vessels in the extremities narrow down, blood flow is directed to the more important organs of your body such as the heart, kidneys, etc. , and once you exit the water, the cold blood from your extremities travels back to the core mixing with the warmer blood and lowering the core temperature still further.

I have never had a serious after drop but I have witnessed a number of my friends go through it and it is never a pleasant experience for anyone.

I had my last winter swim in Dover in the middle of February and that marked the end of my first year of winter swimming. What a buzz!

I now had to focus on my Channel swim in August, and to be honest I’d already started thinking about my next swim after the Channel!

Having reviewed the video footage of my Loch Lomond swim it was very evident that I needed to revisit a number of things related to my stroke and technique, that I had no idea about prior to the swim, if I was going to be successful on my future endeavours.

I was¬†heading off to Malta for an Adam Walker swim camp in March to address some of these issues and an early season 6hr sea swim was also on the cards…

 

 

BLDSA Loch Lomond

We arrived at the Ardlui hotel at about 6.30pm, my start time was 8pm so we were in plenty of time and it was not long before my crew came into view and landed the boat on the beach. I needed to attach some glow sticks to the side of the boat, fit the navigation lights and alpha flag and do a final check of the kit. It was essential to make sure we had enough hot water to last the swim and I had stowed two large filled thermos flasks and an additional one for the crew, so they could also have hot drinks throughout the night. Debbie had made the crew a plentiful supply of sandwiches and snacks, which they were grateful for.

I changed into my kit and put on my Dryrobe to keep warm whilst we waited for the safety briefing. There were three people starting at the same time as me and one after; by my count that meant there were already five swimmers in the water. Start times were staggered based on an individual’s expected swim speed, and¬†meant that if all went to plan everyone would finish at about the same time on Sunday morning.

The safety briefing went without a hitch¬†and we were reminded of the usual BLDSA rules for the swim -don’t touch the boat or anyone in it, stay close to your escort boat etc etc. As the crew made their final preparations, I started getting ready, put on my lucky Champion of Champions hat and attached a flashing green strobe to strap of my tinted goggles. I needed to attach a glow stick to the back of my trunks so my crew could easily spot me¬†when it got dark which proved a challenge (and I think it fell off only meters into the swim in any case.)

Debbie was on hand to apply a thick layer of lanolin to my upper back and kidneys in an attempt to provide some additional insulation against what was going to be a cold swim.

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Lanolin for insulation

Lanolin was also very good at preventing chafing in the areas under my arms and around my neck, where stubble can cause serious friction burns – always worse in salt water but I was taking no risks.

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Sticky stuff!

The children were pretty hyper at the start and although excited I think they were a bit worried. I tried to keep things light-hearted but as always before any competitive swim I tend to withdraw and quietly prepare myself for what’s ahead.

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Just before the off

We all said our goodbyes to family and friends and the crew were left with strict instructions to provide status updates to the family at designated spots along the swim. The crew took the boat about a hundred yards or so offshore and adopted a holding pattern as they awaited the start. The swimmers were instructed to wade into the water up to our thighs and await the starting whistle. It was quite cold but at least 2 degrees or so warmer than Loch Long and that was a huge relief.

The whistle sounded and we were off, I started steady and proceeded to swim directly into a mooring buoy not 20 meters from the start! This was not ideal as it bloody hurt, it did however take the my mind off the chill in the water for a bit.

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Thankfully no damage was done and I settled into a steady rhythm next to the boat, making sure as far as possible to maintain a position adjacent to the boat and not at the back where the diesel smell was unbearable.

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Relaxing into my stroke

I never looked forwards but always towards my crew, they were obviously a little nervous as well and it took them a while to find their routine. It was not long though before Paul had mastered keeping the boat the right distance away and was effectively leading me in the right direction. Albie was sat at the front of the boat providing navigational instructions whilst frequently recording my stroke rate, and Barry was filming me on a small handheld camcorder that Debbie had given him on the beach earlier. (I might ask the crew to contribute a post from their perspective at some point as I know they had some fun and games!)

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500m in from the start

As per my normal training routine, I would feed after the first 2 hrs of swimming and then every hour. Barry would prepare the feeds and I would tread water whilst taking on fluids and occasional solids such as flapjacks or banana. All was going to plan and I was starting to enjoy my swim. Whilst it was still light I was able to recognise some of the sights we had seen earlier in the week and the views from water level were amazing. I swam from point to point as marked out on our navigational map, and guided by my trusty crew.

As night fell¬†all I could hear was the sound of the small outboard and it was actually quite relaxing. My goggles were great, not steamed up and no leaks at all but I could not see anything except for the blurred green glow of the glow sticks we had attached to the boat and the odd camp fire on the shores of the Loch. I had brought some clear lenses for the night swim but given¬†the ones I was wearing were working so well, I decided not to change them. Although everything appeared much darker¬†than it actually was, that didn’t bother me and¬†I actually quite enjoyed swimming in the dark. The only downside was that apparently the stars and the night sky were beautiful throughout the evening and¬†I missed all of that!

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Swimming through the night

It was about midnight when the air temperature started to drop dramatically. I found out later that it dropped as low as 3 degrees and the crew were pretty cold. Thankfully they were well briefed and came prepared with warm waterproof clothing. They were wrapped up in multiple layers with hats and gloves and had enough hot water for cups of tea or hot juice. Crewing on a swim like this is a massive challenge in itself and I have a lot to thank them for.

I was still feeling pretty good but the water was feeling icy cold, the crew stopped me at one point during the night to ask me some hyperthermia questions because they thought I might be suffering. I remember counting out loud to ten as quickly as I could, a little put out that I had to stop swimming, but I was fine and would rather that than the alternative. I kept telling myself that as long as I could feel the discomfort, I was probably doing fine. I also remember skipping a feed at some point during the night because I felt it was too cold to stop moving.

NB: As an aside to any prospective crew, if your swimmer requests a Paracetamol or Ibuprofen at the next feed because of some slight ailment, please do not think it is a good idea to stick the whole 500mg pills into half a banana without telling the swimmer. I took a healthy bite of said banana and started to chew, if you have ever bitten into a paracetamol, you will now what my reaction was! After much coughing, spluttering, spitting and general abuse of the crew I threw the rest away and carried on.

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Just for avoidance of doubt!

I was drinking Torq carb powder mixed with mineral water for the first half of the swim supplemented with the odd 1/2 banana or flapjack. In the middle of the night I switched to warm hot chocolate because the Torq was making me feel a bit sick. This was the right decision as I immediately felt better and looked forward to each subsequent feed. (I no longer use carbohydrate as fuel but we will discuss that in another post).

Swimming in the dark and the cold when you are tired can sometimes play tricks on your mind and there were several occasions where my crew and I struggled with communication. I think at one point I swam off into the dark without the boat, but this was nothing too serious and at no point did I really throw my toys out of the pram.

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Dawn on Loch Lomond

I think our¬†biggest challenge was navigating through the islands in the dark. It was almost impossible to find the correct course, and without the massive search light I’d brought along, I doubt we¬†would have successfully found the entrance to the narrow and very shallow channel. (Even though they had mapped the route and sailed through and around the islands the previous day). If you’re thinking of entering this swim I would recommend skirting the islands rather than going through them. It’s a bit longer that way but I’m sure it would have been quicker in the end.

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Supporters shouting encouragement from afar

I didn’t know at the time but Debbie, the girls and Paul’s family were following the start of the swim by road and then were up early the next day to find suitable vantage points to wave and shout encouragement.

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Final couple of hours

We finally exited the islands and psychologically I convinced myself that we were on the home straight. In reality though this was a mistake on my part as I still had over three hours of swimming ahead of me!

I was aware that the safety boat had visited us a couple of times in the night but to be honest we hadn’t seen that much of it. It turned out that this was because the boat had been quite busy elsewhere and my crew informed me that out of the nine swimmers to start there were only two of us remaining! This spurred me on and I wondered if I might even finish the swim in first place, which was never part of my thinking previously.

I never doubted that I would finish and although I was tired I just kept putting one arm in front of the other until I was able to stand at the finish.

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Finished – 13hrs 58 mins 58 seconds

Phillip Hodges was 49th person to swim Loch Lomond and the only other swimmer to complete the course, he started earlier and finished well before me, completing his swim an hour or so faster than me.

I wore my Garmin for the swim and was excited to see the results. Unfortunately however, it lost its GPS signal for the majority of the swim and although this rendered the stats useless, the tack was accurate for the first 3hrs and the last couple.

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My crew was awesome and I would not have made it without them, it’s just a shame that Albie and Barry had to leave pretty much straight after the swim to get a flight back down to Exeter. Paul and his family would be around for a few more days so we would get the opportunity to celebrate.

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From the left – Paul, Barry and Albie

Afterwards it took about 45mins for me to stop shaking enough to accept my BLDSA award. It was a tough swim and although it took much longer than I had expected, it didn’t matter, Loch Lomond for me was just a training swim on my journey towards¬†swimming the English Channel.

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Prize giving

I was the 50th person in history to swim the Loch Lomond and looking back on the swim now, it was actually a much tougher¬†swim than the English Channel…

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Marathon Swimming is a TEAM sport!

BLDSA Loch Lomond – The prequel

It had been a long road and on the swimming front at least, all that could be done had been done.

I had booked a Forest Holidays cabin at the northern end of Loch Long, which would be our base for the days leading up to the swim and for several days after. The cabin looked amazing and much to girls’ delight it had a hot tub (which was the real selling point for them).

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View from Loch Long towards the Forest Holidays Cabins.                                                           (Picture from Forest Holidays website)

I was very much in organisational mode now and was slowly working through my growing checklist:

  • BLDSA Loch Lomond Entry Form
  • Boat hire for crew familiarisation on Friday and then the swim (cash to pay for this)
  • Extra fuel for the boat (just in case)
  • Two paddles for emergencies
  • Accommodation
  • Return flights to Glasgow booked for crew
  • Hire car booked and paid for at Glasgow Airport
  • Feeding plan
  • Drugs (Paracetamol and Ibuprofen)
  • Water
  • Thermos flasks x2
  • Torq carb powder
  • Torq gels
  • Hot chocolate sachet x12
  • 6 bananas
  • Flapjacks 1 box
  • Milky bars ‚Äď mini size
  • Fruit jelly sweets for the crew (special request from Albie and Barry)
  • Large watertight box for all kit
  • Navigation lights for the boat
  • Glow sticks x10
  • Alpha flag
  • Plastic zip ties
  • Duct tape
  • Searchlight
  • Swimming bag
  • Change of warm clothes
  • Dry robe
  • Goggles x2
  • Trunks x2
  • Hat x2
  • Garmin watch
  • Green light for swimming at night x2
  • Safety pins
  • Lanolin and Vaseline
  • Towels x2
  • Crocs
  • Batteries
  • Crew food, drinks and hot water
  • Navigation charts
  • Compass
  • Binoculars
  • VHF radio
  • Life jackets
  • Mobile phone and key contact phone numbers
  • Knife
  • First aid kit

I packed and re-packed my box  (a scuba box from B&Q) with everything needed for the crew and boat. My swimming stuff was safely packed away in my trusty North Face bag.

I would have time to shop for fresh produce if I had forgotten anything as Dumbarton was not far away and I could source most things from there.

We drove¬†up to Durham the weekend before the swim and stopped over at Debbie’s parents before travelling on to the cabin on the Monday morning. I have been told that I was not particularly pleasant to be around for those few days. I don’t know if it was nerves and¬†apprehension but I felt quite ill and started to get really worried that I might actually be coming down with something just prior to the main event. I really just wanted¬†to get to the cabin so I could sort myself out, test the water, get my bearings and settle into my surroundings before the swim.

Driving¬†alongside¬†Loch Lomond on our way to the cabin was the first time I’d actually seen it for real.¬†It was stunning¬†but seemed much bigger than on Google maps!

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Loch Lomond & Loch Long to the left of Tarbet

We settled in to our cabin and after settling on who should have which bedroom, tested out the hot tub almost immediately.

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I had solicited a willing crew many months before and I was confident in my selections; they would be the perfect crew.

Albie was always going to take the lead, he had a huge amount of crewing experience having escorted numerous Channel and BLDSA swims before. Albie would be in charge of navigation and would keep a close eye on my stroke rate and general well-being throughout the swim. Barry (of flapjack fame) would join Albie and would take control of the feeds and video. I had known them both since my childhood and they had crewed together many times. They were a safe pair of hands and I trusted them and their judgement.

That left one space left, the job of that crew member would be to pilot the boat! A difficult and important task, as I would be taking my lead from and swimming next to the boat all through the night.

I considered this selection carefully and realised some time ago that what I really needed was a Rock Star!

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Rock Star !

Luckily for me one lived next door.. Meet Paul, Rock Star, neighbour, friend and newest member of my crew.

We spent the next few days exploring the areas surrounding¬†Loch Lomond and visiting almost all of the landmark spots I would see during¬†my swim. I’m so glad we did this as it helped a great deal during the swim as I could actually¬†visualise the places Albie and I had earlier highlighted¬†on the navigation map along the proposed swim route.

Just a stones throw from our cabin, I decided to ‘keep my arms in’ and have a short swim in Loch Long, and this proved to be a real eye opener… Mainly because it was bloody baltic! It could only have been¬†about 10/11 degrees and I was not prepared for it. Having been swimming in the sea and lake all summer in temperatures of between¬†16 and 24 degrees this was a real shock to the system and I was shivering for some time¬†afterwards.

Loch Long, unlike Loch Lomond is a sea water Loch and joins the Firth of Clyde to the south before in turn flowing to the North Sea. This would¬†account for the cold temperature and the abundance of unfriendly lion’s mane jellyfish in attendance.

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Better out than in!

I was really worried that Loch Lomond might be the same temperature and I didn’t have the nerve to swim in¬†it before my swim, just in case I lost my bottle.¬†I swam in Loch Long three times that week, each time for a little bit longer until I was swimming across and back. The shivering got easier and at least I had a few days to acclimatise, whereas some of the other competitors would be in for a shocker if they turned up to Lomond on the day expecting tropical conditions.

My crew arrived on Friday and I immediately felt more at ease, my meticulous planning was paying off and everything was starting to fall into place. I had arranged to hire the same boat for the afternoon  (from Loch Lomond boat hire) so the crew they could familiarise themselves with the Loch (specifically the route through the islands) and Paul could learn to pilot a boat in advance of the swim. I enjoyed an ice cream with the girls as the small boat motored off at a sedate pace towards Inchmurrin island.

Albie and Barry would stay with us in the cabin on the Friday night but Paul, who had driven up to the Loch with his family towing their caravan, would stay in a campsite overlooking the Loch itself. We agreed to gather at our cabin that evening for pizza and pasta (CARB loading!!!) and to discuss final preparations for the big day ahead.

It was decided that I would drive the guys to Balloch to pick up the boat early the following morning. They would then pilot the boat to Arduli, the start point for the swim on the northern edge of the Loch. It would take most of the day to make the journey and I would track their progress from various vantage points along the way. We thought it would be nice for them to come ashore at Tarbet to stretch out and have a picnic lunch before they set off again on the final leg of the voyage to Ardlui.

I was supposed to be taking it easy in the run up to the swim but to be honest it helped to keep busy and I just wanted to get started. I re-checked and re-packed my box several times that afternoon before we piled into the car leaving plenty of time for our short drive to the start point.

LOCH LOMOND ¬†‚Äď BLDSA‚ÄôS EVEREST of SWIMMING

A 21.6 mile swim for the most serious/delusional. Records suggest that up until the 20th day in August in 2014 when nine somewhat nervous swimmers, including myself, graced the northern banks of the Loch, only 48 people had ever completed this swim before. Lying in the shadow of Ben Lomond the Loch is the largest body of water by surface area in the British Isles and one of the most beautiful places I will ever swim.

The weather can be pretty unpredictable and my crew would likely have to¬†contend with cold¬†temperatures as I swam through the night. I knew¬†I had a reasonable tolerance for cold water, having swum in the cold earlier in the year and swimming in Loch Long over the¬†past few days. I was going to need all of that resilience and more if I was¬†going to emerge triumphant¬†at¬†Balloch on Sunday morning….

 

A split 6 followed by a perfect 10!

Anyone who has spent the summer training for a Channel swim under the ever watchful eye of Freda Streeter will know all to well the emphasis placed on completing a split swim in combinations of 6 or 7 hours over a weekend.

I had followed my plan to the letter and thus far, achieved every goal I had set for myself. My wall planner indicated that the weekend of the 12/13th July would be my first and only opportunity to complete a split 6hr swim.

My¬†longest planned training swim of 10 hours was highlighted in bold, red letters just two weeks later. The importance of a successful weekend’s swimming was not lost on me.

Again, Albie kindly agreed to support my swims, this time he would be a bit busier as on top of recording my stroke rate and general well-being, I would also be feeding after the first two hours and then every hour or so after. The plan was to drink water mixed with carbohydrate powder and for solids I would eat either banana or home-made flapjacks (kindly provided by Barry Westaway). I wish I knew about LCHF back then as my nutritional choices would have been entirely different (more to follow on that in later posts).

Albie and I headed over to Budleigh beach early on the Saturday morning, aiming for a 9am start. I choose to do the majority of my biggest swims in Devon because the sea conditions are much more akin to those I would find in the English Channel. It was always very different swimming at Budleigh than in Dover harbour, but looking back, neither of these locations proved ideal as a training ground for a long swim in fresh water.

The first 6hrs went well, I was trying to pace my self effectively throughout but feeding took a little longer than normal as it is a pebble beach and getting ashore was sometimes tricky with the waves.

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I was feeling pretty sick after¬†and had to stop at the side of the road for a ‘tactical chunder’ as it’s known in the trade. I felt better after that though and made sure I had an early night in preparation for the following day’s exertions.

The second swim went much the same as the first, it took a while to loosen up but overall I felt better than the previous day.

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My average swim speed seemed a little slow on the Garmin but I was aiming for about 2 mph which, when factoring in feeds is pretty much what I achieved.

It was a good weekend’s work but¬†the thought¬†of swimming further than I had ever done before in just a couple¬†weeks was still quite daunting…

I took the next few weeks pretty easy, in fact I only did a 2 hr swim the following Saturday in Dover but I did manage to submit my Loch Lomond entry form before the deadline and suddenly everything was feeling very real.

Before I knew it I was back standing on Budleigh beach, this time it was 7am and the air was fresher at this time in the morning!

My family had been in Devon for the whole week and as it was Debbie’s mums birthday on the same day as my swim, both her parents had joined them for a weeks holiday. We were planning a birthday tea at the River Exe Cafe following my swim, which I was looking forward to as the sea food was rumoured to be excellent.

Albie was with me once again, and this time both my family and a few of the other Exmouth swimmers were planning to make an appearance at some point during the day. It’s always nice to know there is someone else on the beach or in the water swimming at the same time as you when you are doing such a long session.

This was the last big training swim before Lomond and I would then be tapering down in the weeks leading up to the swim. This was my one chance and I was determined to finish on a high. I strode into the water and got down to business..

10hrs

After about 8 hours of swimming I was finding swimming against the tide more and more difficult. I would fly down to mum’s bench in one direction¬†and then fight my way back. I hadn’t really noticed it much for the first eight hours but the last few laps in particular were incredibly difficult both physically and mentally.

Crawling up the pebbled beach I felt knackered and happy in equal measure. I was struggling to stand upright after being horizontal for such a long time and after a couple of minutes I felt sick again. I was aware that I had ingested loads of sea water during the latter part of the swim, I think I must have swum with my mouth open quite a bit as well because my tongue was somewhat dehydrated. This is quite common amongst Channel swimmers and it makes your tongue swell and crack. It would take a few days for my tongue to feel normal again but it did, thankfully.

I went straight to bed and unfortunately missed the birthday celebrations.. My daughter still raves about the seafood platter to this day!

When I eventually started to feel more like myself again, the realisation that I could keep pushing¬†through the fatigue¬†was huge for me. It was only then that I truly¬†began to believe¬†that if I could maintain the mental strength to continue when things were that tough, failure in Loch Lomond¬†would not be an option…

and without the salt, hopefully I would not be sick either..

 

BLDSA Champion of Champions

I forgot an important milestone in my last post. Those of you that know me well may have guessed what it is already…….

The 15th June 2014 was not just my daughter’s birthday but it also happened to be Father’s Day! I was very excited to receive one particular¬†present that helped¬†me overcome a¬†key challenge during the CoC event.

A Dryrobe!

It was a very early rise on Saturday and I decided to head off to Dover alone, it was going to be a long day and Debbie and the kids could¬†head down¬†later to enjoy the finish and hopefully the sunshine! (It also happened to be the girl’s school summer fair and they’d never have forgiven me if they missed out on jam jar hoopla to watch me swim for the whole day!)

According the BLDSA website the Champion of Champions is an epic challenge! Swimmers aim to complete a 5 mile, 3 mile then 1 mile swim with only a short gap in between each one. The swimmer with the lowest time across the 3 swims will be crowned the ‚ÄėChampion of Champions‚Äô. Although most swimmers enter to complete all 3 swims there ¬†is also the odd swimmer who just enters a single event.

‘It‚Äôs one of the most brutal and challenging events of the BLDSA swim calendar and being early in the season can be a huge confidence booster for training for Channels, Windermere‚Äôs etc later on in the season’. (BLDSA)

Arriving on the beach in front of the sailing club I came prepared with all my kit, a folding chair and cool box filled with soup, hot chocolate, pasta and other assorted snacks.

I registered early and got my race number (20) written on my back, shoulder and hand in black marker pen. I was to shout this number out every time I passed the lap counters, who would be sitting on an inflatable boat keeping track of everyone’s progress.

There was a briefing before each of the 5, 3 and 1 mile races to make sure everyone was aware of the course, starting instructions and more importantly the safety protocols. I will say at this point that the BLDSA are very well organised and unlike other organised events outside the BLDSA, the swimmers safety is always paramount. There was a safety officer, fast safety boats on the water, numerous kayakers in support around the circuit, St Johns Ambulance service were in attendance and everyone was well briefed and ready to leap into action and I felt confident that they could cope with any situation.

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5 Mile briefing

It was time to race, I recognised some of the faster swimmers lining up at the start line. It was a race but I had decided to treat it as a training swim.

Who was I trying to kid?

cocstart

The starting klaxon sounded and I shot off like a bullet from a gun. I was leading for all of five strokes and by the time I reached the first turning buoy I had been overtaken by a pod of speedsters who actually had a leg kick! I relaxed and slowed my stroke, 5 miles was a pretty long swim and I needed to conserve some energy for the 3 and 1 mile swims later.

The water was about 14 degrees and after my efforts in Dover over the past few weeks I knew the temperature was not going to be a problem. I got into my rhythm and finished the first leg in 2 hrs 30m.

Swim1

The three miler was next and to be honest, I didn’t really fancy it. I was¬†feeling quite¬†tired after the first swim and surprisingly I was also¬†pretty cold waiting for it to start. It was a clear day on the beach but it was still quite breezy, I huddled inside my Dryrobe which helped a bit.

There was no sign of the family yet and I was hoping they would turn up before I finished the next leg.

The water felt colder and I was starting to realise that it’s not the swimming so much as the getting in and out that made this swim a real challenge. I didn’t bother with a sprint¬†start this time and just focussed on getting it done.

swim2.jpg

I was pleased to see that the family had arrived as I exited the 3 miler and my youngest daughter was on hand to bring me one of my crocs!

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Finishing Buoy ( The tide had gone out) – Where are my crocs?

I was actually feeling a bit better than after the first swim and knowing that there was only 1 mile left was a massive relief. I knew I was going to complete my first CoC. As I entered the water for the last leg I knew that I could probably have pushed a bit harder in the earlier swims and this was born out by my average speed for the last mile. (It should be noted that I still struggled to actually swim in a straight line, so probably covered a little extra distance, all good training though).

swim3

I had finished it and I felt proud of my achievement, it had been a great day out and although I finished outside the top ten it was a great swim and I highly recommend it to anyone, even if it is just to earn the prized BLDSA Champion of Champions swim hat!

presentation

Nice certificate as well

My next milestone was a split 6 in three weeks time! This would involve a 6hr swim on the Saturday followed by another on the Sunday. I was intending¬†to head back to Budleigh for this one and I was keeping my fingers crossed for no wind and calm seas…

When the going gets tough..

I spent about 14hrs swimming during April, mostly at the lake. I did venture back down to Devon at the beginning of May because I knew that I needed to start upping my distance in the sea before Dover training started.

Albie was happy to sit on the beach at Budleigh, watch over my stuff and count my stroke rate at regular intervals, an incredibly boring way to spend a morning but the data he recorded proved really helpful, and I enjoyed reading his notes.

May 1

I was happy with the way things went (2hrs 50m on Saturday and another 55m on Sunday) as it was still pretty chilly. I decided that I should swim mainly in the sea at Dover for the rest of May and really ramp up my training in the first weeks of June before the Champion of Champions (CoC) on the 21st.

We were heading off for an early season holiday to Corfu at the end of May. It was not the most popular decision with the family but we would be in Lomond in August and with the training schedule already mapped out there would be no time to go away during the school holidays. Corfu would at least be warm and the hotel looked lovely.

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View from our room

I swam for 6 of the 10 days we were away, training in the morning and spending the afternoon with the family. The water must have been about 18 degrees or so as it felt comfortable, and I took full advantage covering  just over 50k with my longest swim being 4hrs and 15mins. I swam in circuits making sure to avoid the odd boat and jet ski as I went.

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Debbie sat on the beach keeping one eye on me whilst sun bathing, then every hour or so bringing me a diet coke or half a banana (squirrelled away at breakfast).

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Debbie’s spot

England was somewhat colder than Corfu but I still headed down to Dover the following weekend and knocked out 4 hours as per Freda’s instructions.

DJ

Champion of Champions was now at the forefront of my mind and I was determined to complete a 5hr swim the following week and then 6hrs the weekend before the big day. Unfortunately this also happened to be my eldest daughters birthday and she was not overly impressed with the idea of me disappearing to Dover for a day. I had promised to be around for her party on the Saturday though, which helped a little.

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All went to plan and a number of hardy souls with planned Channel swims managed to complete 6hrs that day. It was a hard slog, and as we crawled up the shingle beach everyone was happy for it to be over.

66 hours and 250km of swimming since the start of the year and I was ahead of schedule. I was confident that under normal circumstances I could complete the CoC distance but this was not normal, it was a race.

No, actually it was three races…

I wondered if my inability not to try and beat¬†the person next to me in the pool, sea, lake ¬†or in anything actually, would be my undoing…