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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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…



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.


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.


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..


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..


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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…