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…

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Back in the pool

It’s Christmas 2012, I’m sat in the living room trying to figure out a plan for my first year of training in 2013.

The plan was to swim a lot in my local swimming pool in the beginning until the water temperature in the sea was warm enough to venture outside. A good plan I thought, get back into swimming, regain some of my speed and then work towards achieving a six-hour sea swim in the summer. I had never swum beyond 3 hours before and but as this was the qualifying distance for a Channel solo swim, it seemed like a logical goal.

I was training 4 or 5 times a week in the evenings after work and at the weekends.

2013 calendar

2013 Training Days

Initially I was covering no more than 2-3k in each session, and you can see below, although I was swimming frequently my monthly distance rarely exceed 60km by much.

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I swam in the pool until May when I decided to enter the H2Open’s first National Open Water Ranking Series, this consisted of a number of swims in lakes around the country and I thought this would be a good way to add some intensity to my training and finally escape from the pool.

My first was a 5k at Box End in Bedfordshire on the 4th May and I was one of only a couple of skins swimmers in a crowd of rubber. I was afraid that it would be too cold for me and I even tried to sit in a cold bath at home to replicate the anticipated temperature. As it turns out my worries were unfounded, as although it was cold at about 14.5 degrees, I managed it well, even if there was a bit of shivering following my exit.

I thought I was swimming pretty fast at Box End but as it turns out I was well down the field at the finish. I only realised later that I had lost a lot of time due to the fact that I was struggling to swim in a straight line, the data from my Garmin confirmed this as the 5K swim had turned into nearly 6km for me.

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Box End 5km H2Open swim statistics

Nevertheless, I took confidence from this swim and went in search of somewhere to train outside where I could practice sighting.

After a bit of online research I discovered Swimmers Beach in Dover. Freda Streeter and her team would observe and dish out regular beastings to Channel swim aspirants on a Saturday and Sunday morning. This sounded ideal as I could drive down to Dover on my own and the family did not need to worry about me swimming alone.

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Swimmers Beach Dover

I swam at Dover on and off for several weekends in the summer that year, slightly in awe of those around me I went about my business and completed a number of 3-4 hour swims en route to my 6 hour swim. I also continued with the 2013 H2Open Ranking series and to my great surprise I finished third in the mens non wetsuit category.

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I decided to attempt my 6 hour swim in the sea at Budleigh Beach under the watchful eye of Alan Franks aka Albie, an old friend who swam in the relay with me all those years ago and for whose Channel solo I crewed in 1994. Albie, had over the years trained and supported a number of Exmouth swimmers in their own solo swims across the Channel, and I thought it was highly likely that he would later accompany me on my attempt.

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My first 6hr swim at Budleigh Beach

1st 6hr stats

I remember it being a tough swim but I felt incredibly excited to have achieved my 2013 goal. Having swum over 375 km in the year, it felt like I had laid a good foundation for what was still to come.

I decided that my target for 2014 would not be the well trodden route that my friends had taken in preparation for their Channel swims, and instead of the recommended BLDSA two-way Windermere swim, I wanted to do something different. I decided I was going to swim the BLDSA Loch Lomond Championship!

Everyone except my wife Debbie thought I was mad to even consider it, the distance, the cold, the success rate and not to mention the logistics.

My mind was made up…