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…