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 ‘Champion of Champions’. Although most swimmers enter to complete all 3 swims there  is also the odd swimmer who just enters a single event.

‘It’s 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’s 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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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…

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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…

It’s all in the planning

I had a thirst, not only for a drink (I’d been off the booze for a year) but for knowledge. Whilst I was researching everything I could find related to swimming Loch Lomond, I stumbled across a blog that would change my life forever!

There was this guy, Mark Sheridan who swam the Loch in 2012, having read his story I knew that I needed to track him down, buy him lunch and as my American friends would say ‘drink from the fire hose’.

You should check out his blog here:

http://reminiscencesofalongdistanceswimmer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/bldsa-loch-lomond-216mile-swim-2012.html

Eventually after much online searching, I managed to track down Mark’s email address. Luckily it turned out that he worked in London not ten minutes from my own office and I dropped him an unsolicited email with an offer of lunch, and hoping that he would agree to meet and share his wisdom. I was excited when Mark agreed and felt that finally I was making some real progress.

We met for lunch in Wagamama’s a week later, it was a bit like a first date. Mark trying to get a feel for whether I was really up for the challenge, or just another wannabe Loch Lomond swimmer. He was probing for the tell-tale signs and searching for common ground. I remember, when mentioning to Mark that the swimming and the distance would not be a problem for me, the wry smile that lingered from across the table.

Mark gave me some solid advice about choosing my crew wisely, and sorting out a boat early. We discussed the best route and the challenges of navigating at night, all invaluable for planning my swim the following August. Mark also mentioned that he often trained with some Nutters at Holborough lake in Kent. I told him that I would check it out as it was only about 30 mins from my home, and much closer than a drip to Dover. I paid the bill and we parted company.

Over the next couple of months in the lead up to Christmas 2013 I started putting plans in place to recruit a crew, book a boat, and propose (sell) a great holiday in Loch Lomond to the family, which would by chance, coincide with the swim.

As with the previous year Christmas was the time for planning but it became quickly apparent that this coming year, things needed to change.

My family suffered in 2013, I was single-minded, selfish and didn’t include them in my plans. I had tunnel vision and did not realise the extent to which my training and state of mind was impacting my family. My wife and I had a long and emotional discussion, the outcome of which was that I promised to find balance, to make time during the year for them and to include them in my plans. It dawned on me that they were really invested in my endeavour emotionally and wanted to contribute and feel part of what was to come. It was no longer my swim but our swim, and I realised I could not do it on my own.

This reset manifested itself in a written plan of activities for the next eight months to include not only all training swims, key milestones, events and associated travel but also dedicated family time, short breaks and holidays.

My simple aim was to swim further and faster every month than the previous year. I planned to swim in the pool until April then the lake at Holborough or the sea either in Dover or Devon. I also planned to swim my first BLDSA swim in 2014, the notorious Champion of Champions, and decided that a successful ten-hour sea swim off Budleigh beach prior to Loch Lomond would give me the necessary confidence going into the swim.

I stuck a daily planner on the wall of our study and used various colour coded dots to indicate progress.  I was ready to execute our plan to the letter..