Sunday, 17 September 2017

Reminiscences of a BLDSA President (2017)



So, the last BLDSA swim of the season, Lynn Regis, is complete and swim event appearances as BLDSA President have drawn to a close for 2017. Everyone has got home safe n' well and everything else is merely a bonus, if truth be told.

It's hard to believe that one can take up this sport in 2010 (barely being able to swim a mile) then emerge 7 years later as president of the nation's most decorated & prestigous long distance swimming club, the BLDSA. The Association would not be run without the dedication of volunteers and it seemed fitting to do one's duty after 4 years on the committee and the whole swim series under one's budgies. The summer has been a delicate balancing act of juggling 60 hour weeks in the city; becoming an expert on the country's transport network; organising 2 major swims; and meeting loads of new & old inspirational people with the backdrop of some of the most stunning locations the country has to offer.

The first port of call for the Presidential year was actually abroad in a swim capacity taking on the SCAR swim in Arizona for the second time after a 1 year break. Pete Fellows was kind enough to donate his time and kayak expertise again as we reunited for the 5000 mile trip stateside. Race Director, Kent Nicholas, RT and the crew run an amazing event of 42-ish miles over 4 days at the end of April and that swim is highly recommended for getting in early-season miles in possibly one of the most beautiful and warmest landscapes on earth. The application process starts in November and sells out in minutes. It's fair to say that Arizona has become almost a second home for me now and it was great to have that 'selfish' release before the season started properly. It was a new experience (to say the least) finishing the C (2nd SCAR swim) at Canyon Lake where a rattlesnake had been swimming only 10 mins previously!





Back in Blighty, the first swim of the season saw a decent contingent of swimmers from far and wide congregate in Nottingham for the annual Colwick Park swim on 21st May. It became apparent very quickly to the safety officer on the day, Richard Hardy, that after taking out the boat for an initial circumnavigation, a thick layer of blue-green algae was seen across the entire 1km course and it was going to be absolutely unavoidable (and potentially very dangerous to all participants). Concurrently, the officials received accounts of how 3 swimmers had been ill during the week, so the difficult decision was made to abandon the event before swimmers had been given a chance to get their budgie smugglers & cossies wet! Safety first.  This decision was not taken lightly, however, in hindsight, absolutely  the right decision was made and all swimmers received a full refund including Entry Central fees.
('All dressed up but nowhere to go?' - Peter Ingham, Howard James and Ollie Wilkinson)




Next up on 4th and 5th June was the annual Wykeham weekend, superbly organised & marshalled by Liane Llewellyn-Hickling with all the help from her family and friends. The swim offers a night-swim (5km on the Saturday) washed down with 5km, 2km and 1km events on the Sunday. Needless to say the event ran as smoothly as ever. Phil Yorke kindly stepped in as President-elect to hand out prizes/certificates as I was rushed stateside again sadly for my father-in-law's funeral in St Simon's Island, Georgia. Liane has been running this swim now for 19 years and steps down as Race Director this year. Million thanks Liane from all of us at the BLDSA for your (and your family's) selfless service to the Association.



The organisation and planning for the Champion of Champions this year made the D-Day landings look like a spur-of-the-moment decision.... In March, we were told that we wouldn't be allowed to use Dover Harbour for the annual 9-miler (despite having 65 sign-ups and 20 on the waiting list) due to pile driving for a new marina which would potentially damage the swimmers' hearing. However, after consulting extensively with Mike Oram (President of the CSPF and experienced pilot), Jane Bell and I managed to find an alternative site in Ramsgate with the help of Mandi Bodemeaid. Our application to Ramsgate was within 13 weeks of the swim but unfortunately we had missed their deadline by one week (wasn't like the pope was coming!); thus we pleaded with Dover to re-accommodate us. They relented and agreed but couldn't guarantee a start time! It is impossible to describe how un-nerving it is to organise a swim not knowing start times OR length of event. As usual we muddled on! In the end, swimmers & volunteers enjoyed one of the finest weather days Dover has ever seen and even an accident in the Folkestone Tunnel blocking most of our kayaker volunteers for over an hour wasn't going to spoil what was, in the end, an amazing day. Once we got the green light, a 10km event with 5km, 3km and 2km events were then swiftly implemented. For someone who really appreciates observing the dark art of front crawl, we were treated to a masterclass with James Leitch (all the way from Glasgow) and Ollie Wilkinson (all the way from Cheltenham) go at it 'hammer-and-tongs' until James emerged as victor by only a couple of minutes. Val Smith showed great tenacity and stubbornness to complete the event with only 5 mins of allotted total time to spare before the cut-off.
It was lovely to meet so many new faces this year, along with the more familiar faces of the Red Top and Nutters contingents. Thank you to all swimmers for being so understanding and I look forward to directing an easier race to organise next year!




One week later, it was up to Ellerton Lake near Richmond in North Yorkshire. Amanda Bell has pioneered a new swim for the BLDSA mirroring the meteoric success of the Champion of Champions (South) format but on the doorstep of our Northern members. Amanda is one of the most charismatic people I know and was able to deploy one of the most enthusiastic gangs of volunteers ever seen at a BLDSA swim. Again it was ace to see so many new faces and the Association is very thankful for this awesome new event. It was very well attended, with very few places spare given no kayaker is required. Liane Bentley and James Leitch dominated the Ladies and Gents 9-Mile event with a young Ellie Knight becoming one of the only juniors in recent years to complete a Champion of Champions event in its entirety. Great swim, Ellie and very much one to watch for the future! Swimmers enjoyed the pure 20c water. Behind the scenes, one of the rescue boats broke the axel of the trailer on the motorway on the Friday (thank god no-one was injured) meaning Mick Blackburn & Martyn Coates dropped everything to repair the axel on the Sunday in time for the long journey to Torbay the following weekend. Oh boy, there's just so much going on behind the scenes to make this all happen!





Andre Roberts stepped up to give back to the sport & the Association by running a sold-out Torbay swim this year. Again, the weather gods smiled upon us and the full experience of the event was  shared thousands of times over social media thanks to incredible footage taken by a drone from a very experienced media friend of his. How innovative! The water was a refreshing 14.9c and very welcome given the blazing sun. The President was treated to kayaker legend Mike Roberts leading him to the first of his PBs of the season but the swimmer made the schoolboy error of forgetting to put sun cream on backs of legs and thus spent the next week regretting it massively (hardly being able to sit down!) Ollie Wilkinson showed again why he is a force to be reckoned with in the briney with a storming 3-hour swim over to Brixham n' back. No doubt this swim will be sold out in minutes after release next year and it is a 'must-have' badge of honour for any Channel aspirant. Andre's enthusiasm is infectious and his experience in swimming & organisational skills boast that of someone far older than his years suggest.



The Bala weekend this year was run by President-elect Philip Yorke (aka 'Yorkie') who is everyone's friend. Again, great weather was enjoyed by ca. 81 swimmers during the course of the 3km, 1km, 6- mile and 3-mile events. 17c water was more than comfortable for most, and we were treated to young Ellie Knight walking away with a new record in the 1-Way 3 mile breaststroke. You have never seen a 15-year-old more comfortable in the water without a wetsuit than Ellie. Without fanfare or bravado, she just 'gets on with it', leaving many experienced front-crawlers in her wake. Yorkie went on to become only the 2nd person in history to swim the Catalina Channel in California on breaststroke during the summer, breaking the previous record by over 7 minutes. Many congratulations from us all mate and good luck in your year as President in 2018!




The Coniston weekend saw both the Veterans (on the Saturday) and Seniors (on the Sunday) take to the water. 35-odd swimmers took part during the weekend. It was a pleasure to be Race Control on both days for Swim Sec. Patrick Smith, who appeared chuffed to get both swims off the ground, especially after all his hard work for the Colwick Park event was snookered by blue-green algae earlier in the season. It was an absolute treat & honour to meet (and re-clothe (!) a cold) 74 year old  Bryan Finlay who is one of the BLDSA all-time greats, joining us all the way from Canada. His stories, energy and 'joie de vivre' are exemplrary; he had Karen Throsby, Stephanie Voss and yours truly mesmerised with his tales of the glory days & sensible views on the state-of-play of the world. The Sunday Seniors event proved to be the more blustery of the two days. Most memorable was witnessing an incredibly brave 13-year-old Isobel Kelly, who came an impressive 3rd in the overall race despite having already swum across the bay before the start, shivering for 10 mins before the swim even got underway (faced with the same situation most of us would have had our first DNS!). That was one of the bravest things seen during  the season; unsurprisingly, she walked away with the Perseverance Trophy presented by aforementioned Bryan. Priceless. I walked thru the door at 1/4 past midnight back in Sevenoaks smiling from ear-to-ear re-living this achievement trying to forget about the 5.49am train a few hours later taking me back to work on that Monday.



Barbara Harding from the Warrington Dolphins then invited the President to be referee for the annual Albert Dock swim with the added bonus of joining the Dolphins for a 90 mins workout the night before at a local pool. I enjoyed learning what a Hungarian Rep session looks like  as I led the second lane, chasing down Michela Richard in the fast lane. One of the best (if not THE BEST) pool workouts of the year. Thank you Barbara & co. The Albert Dock swim itself is open-to-all and superbly organised by Barbara and her group of enthusiastic Warrington Dolphin volunteers. If you are based in that area and are not a member of that club, then you are seriously missing out, as I am envious of the vibe they have. It was a treat to get to know Barbara who does a fabulous job volunteering in the sport and having a few hours along with Andy Wright on the safety boat was ace. Must admit, I was itching to get into the crystal clear water the whole race - definitely one for the bucket list next year.



The weather gods smiled again with Two-Way Windermere this year being the longest and most challenging event of the BLDSA calendar. Being Swim Secretary for 2WW presented challenges due to not only organisational workload but also residing a mere 312 miles from the venue! Thankfully, 20 (YES, TWENTY) volunteers put their hands up to spend a weekend sans-sleep to help,  including the entire 'Class of 2015' swimmers. Thank you all! En-route to the swim a detour was taken on the Friday to pay respects to a hero (who I never met) and first person to swim Loch Lomond, Gerry Forsberg. Anyone can make that pilgrimage to Morecambe. It is an amazingly uplifting experience and one that has been done by past presidents too I see.




10 swimmers managed to get to the start line with their crews, with 50% completing. Rebecca Lewis again smashed her own course record by ca. 8 mins with most spectators wondering how her Dad, Roger, managed to keep up with her.  She set off over 2 hours after the initial wave of swimmers and finished before the whole lot while it was still dark!! Adrian Rotchell won the men's race in a very credible 12 hours 18 mins.  Clare Watkins, Mark Yare and Stephen Maloney also completed the swim, proving that preparation is key to completion. This swim is arguably tougher than the English Channel as it does NOT afford the sun on one's back and far less bouyancy! All finishers should gain huge confidence as they must have learnt a great deal about themselves and their crews. One has to question whether swimmers want their family there at the finish as it is such an extreme event and you may be feeling a bit queazy at the end! I hope that those who were unable to finish  return in 2 years time or even have a crack at Loch Lomond next year in the interim. This was my last time organising the race as I am standing down as 2WW secretary this year. It would suit someone who lives closer to the venue but happy to run through details thereof to the next Race Director who comes forward.


The Ullswater & Derwentwater weekend was a game of two halves, with a very wet and windy Ullswater prove to be no 'gimmie' in unlocking her secrets. Amazingly, we had only one retirement despite some reasonably tasty 13c-ish temperatures. Observe Patrick below regain his swimming mojo after his kayaker capsized near the finish line trying to shelter Patrick from a submerged jetty! Richard Davidson ran the swim again this year but next year hands over the reins to Francis Zielinski. We thank you very much for your contribution to the Association, Richard.
Derwentwater was baked in very welcome sunshine as both 5.25 mile and 2 mile events were started. The finish line had to be moved slightly mid-race to accommodate a slightly irritated private boat hire manager (armed with a rather large adjustable spanner!). Annie Stafford and husband Simon did a great job of keeping everyone in order again this year, and it remains one of the most stunning locations in England. Georgia Amison led the longer event from start-to-finish ably supported by Patrick Smith again volunteering his services for the cause.



With the following weekend responsibility-free, the President took the opportunity to fly out the Shezza clan to Geneva for 10 well-earned sunny days in an AirBnB on the French banks of Lac Leman which (just so happened to)  coincide with the inaugural 12km border-busting swim from Lausanne in Switzerland to Evian in France. A swim where one needs the passport in the feeds bag! This is organised by Tim Davies, Charlie Masding and Ben Barham of the LGSA (who are good friends of the BLDSA) and I expect this swim to sell out fast in 2018, especially as I didn't have to sort my own kayaker - they laid those on for everyone! It was a particularly rugged affair enduring 29c air and 21c water but the pic below showed that one just about coped. Proper open-water swim heaven indeed. It was particularly pleasant being in the same water without the pressure of executing a 43-miler but still a champagne finish. My feed-bag included a bottle of Evian of course!



Dee Llewellyn kindly did much of the behind-the-scenes work ably assisted by marathon-swim-legend Caroline Lewis ahead of One-Way Windermere. Chris Malpass did a superb job of marshalling the troops and leading the swim on the day and thus the President managed to have a dip (and boasting a hour PB finishing in 5 hours 36 with Mike Roberts on the paddle again). It was a real treat chatting to Chris at the finish line and hear him enthuse about enjoying watching front crawl as an art form. Chris is one of the real speedsters in the sport and it must have been gutting for him not having a crack at the record attempt on the day itself as conditions were conducive to fast times.
Fell Foot cafe hosted the dinner again & we shouted out Wendy Figures on a very fine 1WW swim only 3 weeks after her successful English Channel swim. Frances Zeilinski was also celebrated for being one of the few people in history to complete Windermere on both crawl and breastroke. Well done, both!
Overall winner on the day, Rebecca Hollingsworth (who had also joined us for Torbay) headed home to New Zealand having experienced some of the finest weather at swim events Britain has to offer. We are an international bunch now and the world seems smaller somehow!
The President was particularly honoured to present the 2nd man home, Ray Gibbs, with his trophy after all the patience he had with yours truly sorting out his terrible stroke in 2011 & 2012. Ray's coaching and understanding of swimming has resulted in 100s of us swimmers achieving goals that before would have been completely out of reach. Thanks Ray.





The following weekend, after flying into Edinburgh and hiring a car, I drove round the corner into the borders area (between Selkirk and Moffat) and was absolutely blown away again by the beauty of this little talked about place.  I even managed to spot 2 young buzzards sitting on their fenceposts. It's uniquely stunning and has to be a pilgrimage for all marathon swimmers as it is a 'proper workout'. Janet Wilson offered 1km, 3.25 mile and 6.5 mile events with the great Liane Llewellyn-Hickling showing how it is done winning the overall event in water that was recorded at 12.7c.  It appears there is life in the old dog yet with the President posting a PB by ca. 20 mins for the 6.5 miles @ 3hrs 12mins, chasing down Adrian Rotchell who again won the men's inside 3 hours. Helen Brindle deserves a special warm mention as she completed the full event, refusing to be beaten and enduring the water longer than everyone else - almost 5 hours! Quite some achievement and you obviously have come a long way on your swim journey, Helen. The personal highlight of the weekend was watching 2 local swimmers (Susan Angus and Maggie Brown) enter the 1km novice race with their wetsuits, complete the event, then jump back in without artificial insulation to enjoy the water on their skin for another 10 mins under the watchful gaze of the safety boats. Priceless. It brought back personal memories from 2010 doing precisely the same thing -  my wetsuit has been gathering dust in the wardrobe ever since!



For 13 years, Stephen Smith has been expertly running the season finale swim at Lynn Regis. 30-odd swimmers took part in either the novice 1.5km event or, the more challenging 4.5km event. Despite rain being on the forecast, water was above seasonal norms at 16c (although some swimmers begged to differ) with only one retirement on the day,  Peter Ingham. Special mention must go to David Randall who took the 'bull by the horns' and blew the field away to take 1st place overall. Dave is in his 60s and puts us all to shame by training daily and refusing to acknowledge that there is an ageing process. It was a treat also to present Janet Wilson with the last person home and oldest swimmer trophies - again another swimmer who sets herself goals and achieves them without fanfare! Stephen has now 'hung up his trunks' as Swim Sec after finishing this year's 1.5km swim and therefore we are looking for a Swim Secretary to run this amazing event. If you live in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk or Norfolk, I couldn't think of a more wonderful swim to run as a way of giving back to the sport we all love.

It has been a pleasure either being on the sidelines as official or doing the odd swim this year (only did PBs thanks to Mike Roberts and Pete Fellows on the paddles!). There have been so many times when swimmers & volunteers have amazed me with their bravery & stories. There are simply too many to mention but here's a flavour.....

One such person is Karen Throsby. She had the goal in 2017 to swim 43-mile Lake Geneva but during training got hampered by a wrist injury. To say that must have been gutting is an understatement after ALSO getting injured a day before the starting line the year before in 2016. Refusing to feel sorry for herself, Karen often made the ca. 4 hour round-trip journey to BLDSA swims in the lakes and to Colwick Park to support swimmers in her kayak so that THEY could achieve THEIR goals. You have never seen anyone rejoice more in the accomplishments of others than Karen. She is just one example of many selfless people who generously give up their time to help others in the sport.  If you are one of the people who has benefitted from swimming and want to see what it looks like from the other side then why not kayak or crew on a longer swim?

Another person to highlight at this juncture is Zoe Sadler, who has completely transformed the role of BLDSA recorder in the ca. 2 years that she has been running it. She is on the BLDSA 'front line', every day helping swimmers get individual swims recognised. She has also managed to get the Grand Prix in order. She has hardly swum herself this year, save only the 1.5km at Lynn Regis, so that swimmers again can have their swims accredited properly. It goes without saying that Zoe has been managing literally HUNDREDS OF E-MAILS throughout the year;  she has turned these around RAPIDLY and without complaint to ensure the smooth running of the recorder role & the broader Association. That is, of course, on top of her full-time job in a high-powered industry and key role as Mum of two teenage kids with one finishing GCSEs. Often the role of Recorder is utterly thankless, go OUT OF YOUR WAY to praise ZOE and MAKE HER LIFE EASY.

Vince Classen is another linchpin of the Association. He processes all our memberships which often results in a particularly busy January as swims fill up quickly and immediate solutions to computer/systems glitches are sought.

Sue Coates again spent another year on the 'touchline' often armed with a stop watch which enabled swim secretaries to get on and manage their swims safe in the knowledge that records would be taken properly, standing up to any scrutiny. She only missed 2 swims as an official this year (both Windermere's) and is therefore a rock star of the highest order giving up almost each weekend voluntarily but doesn't even swim!

This remains a sport where swimmers set themselves (in many cases) very daunting goals then realise them. The confidence that then brings is meteoric. Some swims are thoroughly enjoyable for swimmers from start to finish (I hit some proper 'zen' moments myself for most of 1WW!) but in some cases conditions dictate that it's more of the 'Type 2 fun' variety where one enjoys it perhaps more after the event (!)  Either way, the BLDSA is a perfect avenue for anyone to learn something about themselves (and others). As President, I really enjoyed watching the most inexperienced or youngest swimmers beam with pride of achievement for what was very often only a short swim in relative terms. I also observed how some of the older volunteers lead by example and don't blow their own trumpet.  They often get little or no recognition, but without them, the BLDSA wouldn't be where it is today. They have achieved an incredible amount in their lives but they'll only tell you about themselves IF YOU ASK. I put Pat Llewellyn, Janet Wilson and Jean Wilkin-Oxley firmly in this category and wholeheartedly admire the way they all lead by example.

It is worth reminding everyone that the BLDSA is run purely by volunteers. No-one takes a single penny of salary or wage from this organisation. It remains my sincere wish that the Association exists for not only my children but my children's children so that they can benefit from it the way we all have. If you share this aim, then do ALL YOU CAN to put your hand up to help in whatever capacity that may be so that we all IMPROVE THE LEGACY. The Association is always looking for Swim Secretaries, kayakers, boat crews, officials (you name it!). If we all just gave an extra 10% of effort (not leaving it to the next man) then the paying it forward mantra continues to be powerful.


Let me also spare a few moments thought, however, for the boat crews. ALWAYS the first to turn up to swims and ALWAYS the last off the water often 2-3 hours after swimmers had departed. Nothing was ever too much bother. The BLDSA is a complex animal and it's not just a question of taking an admin fee for a channel swim but the reality is in order to run our events successfully and safely, it involves towing boats from Yorkshire to Dover to Torbay, Wales and Scotland (and many other places in-between) to ca. 14 events with often 7 hour drives in horrendous conditions not to mention the many days taken off work voluntarily. Everyone's time is valuable and THAT IS THE REALITY. Fixing axles or replacing trailers WITHOUT A HINT OF COMPLAINT. Thank you to ALL who helped on the boats this year. WE SALUTE YOU and are indebted to you.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Emily, and girls, Sophia and Isabelle, for again having to make do with an 'absentee Dad' for much of the summer. Without their support I wouldn't have the platform to just crack on and enjoy the sport that I so very much love. They have been nothing but encouraging all season (ably assisting in Dover too!) but we acknowledge that we are fortunate that this sport has drawn us to places as a family that without the BLDSA and marathon swimming we simply would never have uncovered.

Good luck for the rest of 2017 and look forward to seeing you all at the BLDSA dinner in Cambridge in March which is open to ALL (both members and non-members).

'Shez da Prez'
BLDSA President 2017








Sunday, 27 August 2017

Swimming from Switzerland to France (Classic 12km)



So the LGSA (Lake Geneva Swimming Association (https://www.lakegenevaswimmingassociation.com/) has opened up the old 'Classic 12km' swim route which offers swimmers the chance of swimming from Lausanne in Switzerland to Evian in France. A(nother) border buster swim! Liked the sound of that hence applied for the inaugural swim last Saturday 26th August 2017.

Having completed the full length of Lac Leman/Lake Geneva in ca. 33 hours in July 2016 I really fancied the idea of coming back with the family without the pressure of a 43 miler during a 10 day vacation. We stayed in Nernier in France which I think is the most stunning village on the lake but that is another story altogether for another time.

This really should be on everyone's bucket list and is suitable for seasoned veteran or mad-keen newbie. I really couldn't envisage a more idyllic setting & event for someone attempting to increase mileage for the first time over 10km. Wish this had been on the international 'open to all' circuit when I started. Not to be taken lightly but ideal for someone properly stepping it up...


(Easing oneself into proceedings...only small bit of swell to disturb one's stroke)


Stunning crystal clear blue ca. 21c water, air temperatures in the high 80s and hardly a breath of wind. This has to be as close to open water swim heaven as one can get. Usually when I swim in warmish water in the UK I get bitten by duck fleas - NOT so here!

I really love the idea of a cross border swim (ensuring to take one's passport in the feed bag!) and  the LGSA laid on the kayaker (I had 'Chris' from North Devon who was absolutely first class). I have seen the title 'border-buster' used in another swim in the US and this is applicable here.


(Saying Goodbye to Lausanne with attentive Chris giving encouragement)


What was the swim like? Got in and the water felt warm, pure and absolutely divine. Silky smooth like nowhere else on the planet. There was almost no chop in the lake but the odd bit of swell (probably from the odd ferry that is the life blood of this lake). If you stopped to feed (I did 4 times) it was one of the quietest moments of your entire life surrounded by massive mountains. If you are trying to achieve zen in swimming then I think they've cracked it here as most of the ca. 5 hour swim I was in that zone.

3 safety boats with lifeguards, every swimmer had their own kayaker (laid on for them!) and felt safe 100% of the time. Briefings for kayakers and crew were incredibly detailed. There was only one retirement on the day (a wetsuit swimmer who got cramp but after a short rest did get in to finish!)


(My girls swam out for last 200m so we could have the 'champagne finish' together. Observe Sophia taking after the old man's front crawl recovery!)


Tim Davies, Charlie Masding and Ben Barham from the LGSA have put on a great event here and I reckon it'll sell out quickly next year so you can check it as a weekend away or dovetail it in nicely with a family holiday like we did. It's probably more like a 13.5-14km by the time you have finished (and by judging by many of the finishing times) but that's just to warn you to put in enough training. My advice is to look to the side at the stunning mountains & scenery as you'll be finished before you know it and the best views are from that lake.

What an amazing and unique experience. Thank you all involved in the LGSA. All picture credits down to Jaimie Monahan and boyfriend Arik.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lac Leman/Lake Geneva solo (43 miles) 2016


What/When/Why?
It was the 27th August 2015. I was on another packed and sweltering train home from the City (of London) to home.  As usual on the journey back to the popular commuting town of Sevenoaks, I logged into Facebook to see what had been going on in the wonderful world of swimming. It emerged something TRULY REMARKABLE had just happened - an American lady who I had never heard of called Jaimie Monahan had just finished swimming Lac Leman/Lake Geneva - all 43 miles of it in almost 33 hours! Wow, bloody wow I thought! She was caked in white zinc all over and looked fresh-as-a-daisy despite a massive feat of human endurance.

(Before I go any further with this blog, we are going to have to name this body of water Lac Leman as the Swiss get properly haUIKeyInputDownArrowcked off with people changing the name - which I find entirely understanding btw!)

Social media had single-handedly delivered me (& the world) a truly amazing feat of human endurance in almost real time. The joys of modern technology. The pictures looked simply stunning and reminded me of a post shared by my swim buddy Adrian Rotchell earlier in the year with this being heralded as the 'New Everest of Swimming' or 'The Ultimate Trophy Swim for Pride of Place in your Trophy Cabinet'...the seed must have been planted in that previous post....without realising entirely what I was doing I then went onto the LSGA site and registered my interest for the swim....The qualifier involved a 7 hour swim on one day followed by a 6 hour the following day in water no warmer than 16 degrees within 30 months of the swim (already done that training for my EC swims so at least that formality was outta the way...yay!)

When I got home to tranquil Rose Cottage, I got changed to go out for a walk (as usual) and said to Emily (my wife), 'You are not going to believe what happened.....one of your fellow country-women, an American lady has just swum Lac Leman - all 69km of it'!  She gave me a knowing look as I then left out of the kitchen door......My solo walk round the woods in our magnificent village was 15 mins of release zoning out of work issues into more relaxing home time. When I got back we were in the kitchen and I was getting quite emotional. 'What's wrong?' Em asked....'I am going to swim Lac Leman' I answered....'I knew it, I just knew it before you got outta the door earlier' she said 'I know you SO WELL!!!'.
I was pretty moved and we called the 2 girls down to see if they would endorse the plan too. I told Emily, Sophia (13) and Issy (11) that there would be a mountain of sacrifice, loads of hard training ahead that I (yet again!) would need their unflinching support (can't do this on your own - this is a team sport!) but I asserted to them that I genuinely had been PUT ON THIS EARTH TO DO THIS. We all embraced in a family group hug....
A big gulp moment of what lay ahead..... All roads had led me here after 7 swims over 21 miles and countless other events....I also started messaging back-and-forth with the victorious Jaimie and felt more and more comfortable that this should be the goal as she had done the English Channel and Catalina like me.


(My feed above was flavoured UCAN with optional Justin's Hazelnut butter - easy to feed as slightly opened and held with duck tape)

Training
Over the winter, Ade, Sabina, Mikey, Danny, Liam, I and various assorted others did some truly horrendous interval sets at a local heated 50m lido as my mate Mark Bayliss had suggested that shaving 5 seconds off my 100m time might take the better part of an hour off Lac Leman time (we peaked at 100 X 100m off 2mins on 20th Dec which included swim buddy Steve Wand who is sadly no longer with us. (RIP our friend Steve who died tragically on Easter weekend 2016 out on his bike training hard as ever.).
I also spent 8 days in Sands Beach in Lanzarote with the family at Christmas enjoying the pool and sea, getting ca. 50km in and did one of the awesome swim training sessions with Bella and Stephen Bayliss. It was such a productive week, we booked again and went Feb half term (doing another 50km). The kids went surfing, I swam! (We love it over there and highly recommend it to you especially for winter training).

My first open water swim goal of the year was also my longest outright swim before Lac Leman was but a mere 17 mile Lake Apache in Arizona (the 'A' in the SCAR swim series - subject of another post after completing that event in 2015!) BUT this was going to be late March so still nippy. This was a huge confidence booster as it took 7 hours 18 mins,  this was the earliest swim ever done there in that lake and great to hook up with Kent, Danny, RT and the team. The rest of the training was mind-numbingly spent going round-and-round the 500m loop at the local lake with some of the other Nutters. . The longest weekend I did was half the distance (35km) over 2 days. The last few weeks tapering was spent just doing 10km swims on Saturdays and Sundays as a new job was dominating the week. You CERTAINLY couldn't argue I was over-trained for the event! At least I was uninjured and ready-to-go which is my usual want! I did feel that I was mentally in great shape though.

Nutrition/Diet
The other aspect I had changed completely was my diet. I wasn't bothered about the water  temperatures as I thought it might be 20c (which it generally was) so I went on the Banting regime (www.realmealrevolution.com)  recommended by Sam Jones at the Nemes Nutters Xmas party. I cut out beer, ice cream, pasta and was limiting myself to 50g of carb a day but swapping beer for gin or wine, pasta for cauliflower rice and ice-cream for raspberries and double cream ('ave it!). This is subject of a separate blog below but I think ABSOLUTELY made me feel I could rely on my own body fuel to finish rather than needing to carbo-load and end up with gut inflamation and a sore tummy which was such as common feature of my other swims. I ended up losing over 2 stone and feel great on this regime!


(Top crew - Teresa on the left and Kate on the right just before we boarded the boat)

Crew 
I had a very carefully hand-picked duo of crew in Teresa Roberts and Kate Robarts. I didn't just pick them as their surnames sounded similar! I was thrilled when they took me up on my offer to help! They are seriously impressive endurance athletes in their own right. Teresa used to be GB Skulls rowing champ and has done 24 hour ultra runs recently finishing the Chamonix 1/2 marathon!  Kate has swum the Channel and 2WW amongst others. They are both  mentally hard as nails.  Realising I would be in the water for well over 24 hours would mean the crew would have to be endurance practitioners too! They never let me down once and were stars of the highest order. Teresa's mantra of 'just keep moving forward' was genius and all I needed to hear at feeds. Kate made the excellent executive decision that she and Teresa would stay up the entire night (getting the odd little nap during the day) so that I would feel completely and totally supported during the darkest hours. It was absolutely spot on. I never had a need to panic and didn't. I also took a great pride in being very polite at feeds and never complained once. No point throwing toys outta the pram as it just unsettles everyone! After one long hard bay in the early hours of the morning I had been observing  the Chateau at the end of it for hours...after we finally went passed I said 'Thank God we are going past that Chateau as I am sick and tired of f-ing looking at it'! The entire crew erupted and it lifted everyone materially for the final stretch.



(A British smurf in front of the most visited monument in Switzerland, Chateau Chillon)

The Swim 
The swim itself is all a bit of a blur to be honest. Now as I write this blog, 2 days after finishing, it feels like I was never there. I am not sure why that is...perhaps I just spent the whole time in my mind in some kind of catatonic trance.  I do remember tho'  that this scenery and water quality is the most stunning I have EVER experienced. The water was about 20c on average but much colder only when mountain streams entered the lake.  Then it was absolutely baltic for a patch that you would just have to man up and endure! Everything went amazingly to plan as the weather was ideal. Hardly a breath of wind for most of it with blazing sunshine (hence applying factor 100 sun cream and zinc everywhere). I fed once on the hour during the first day starting at 10.30am on one of 2 flavours of UCAN (only 1 scoop with 400ml)  with a Justin's Hazelnut butter taped to the side for easy application if desired. Worked a treat. I knew I would get bored of that feed after 12 hours so switched to a bit of maxim at night but mostly just rehydration focus. Also had the odd tea. In the morning time on the 2nd day then switched back to the UCAN and then had more tea in the final straight coming in as I was feeling colder.

You know the most amazing part of this swim? After 3 hours, I looked to my left and could see 3 snow-capped peaks in pure  Swiss mountain  air whilst swimming in crystal clear blue  water which must have been over 20c. I thought 'If Simon Griffiths (H2Open magazine editor) were here now even he would love this water and not want to get out'! The sunset and the sunrise was amazing and the 100% moonlit sky made enduring the night much more comfortable.


(Ideal conditions as long as you weren't swimming thru a mountain stream!)

The hardest bit was not knowing the lake and brainwashing myself into thinking that I was MUCH further ahead than I actually was! The finishing straight was hard but then again, it ALWAYS is no matter the distance. Adrian and I had talked about taking it VERY GINGERLY at the begining tho' so the crew reckoned I negative-splitted and I pretty much kept to 48 strokes per minute (forgive myself for that being 6ft 3!).


(Near the start overlooking Montreux)

The mental side was pretty  easy tbh as whenever my body felt pain,  I remembered my poor  Mum suffering in Kings Hospital in April having survived a stroke and brain aneurism of the type  which usually wipes out 50% of its victims. I recalled/witnessed her enduring those terribly dehibilitating  headaches and anything I was experiencing was just  nothing in comparison to that pain. My stroke never let me down thanks to Uncle Ray's coaching at Swim CanaryWharf from years ago not been for 18 months! I remember spending huge parts of the swim humming songs from my Indie Rock hero, Bob Mould, over and over in my head. There were so many times wend random funny things from my past came into my head to help occupy my mind. I did giggle to myself in the water at times but I think you really need to be your own best mate in these long swims to hack them!



(Heading towards Geneva which never came closer..at the jut of trees it was to be 'only' 7km to the finish!)

I was physically most apprehensive about RSI in my wrist which had impacted me in Catalina in 2015. It was even aggravating me the day before this swim. Teresa had some great advice beforehand that I put into practise during the swim and it worked a treat - every once in a while, I pretended to 'play the piano' which relieved any tension build up in my hands. Genius!

The finish was amazing. When we passed the jut of land and trees with 7km to go, I had a VERY strong word with myself and shouted at myself to claim this swim. I asked Teresa and Kate for my first pain killer of the swim (!) and had a hot cup of tea and got my head down and grafted. Liz Fry had told me once on Apache in 2015 that 'now is the time to own your swim' - this memory had the desired effect and after 3 more feeds the tender boat came out and then and ONLY THEN did I realise that I had this cracked.  (Shouting at yourself can be very productive!)  The local bathers at the Bains de Paquis (all 500+ of them)  were cheering me in all the way until I cleared the water backwards (this then went viral on social media!) - I remembered Liane Llewellyn's 2-way EC where she didn't go vertical after so much time in the water! I then shook (mastermind of the swim) Ben Barham's hand a bit dazed and I was surprised that I wasn't emotional in the slightest. Relief that I was alive!  A very surprising feat of human endurance from the plucky lad from Woolwich who only started this lark 6 years earlier!  I had become the 4th solo of Lac Leman in history and 1st male soloist since 1986 and 1st Brit to complete. 33 hours and 6 minutes was the final time also presenting me with the bonus of becoming the 141st person to join the open water 24 hour club with the 54th longest length of time in water in history...! My very own piece of fame.. (Never too late to aim at greatness!)


(Proof I did it thanks to the MSF)

TOP TIPS from da Crew and me as we immediately reflect:
1. MOST IMPORTANT!!! - You need to know your stroke is good and will NOT get you injured. I (and many others) have Ray Gibbs to thank for that. My shoulders never let me down, I could lift my arms over my head at the end and mainly had pain in the chest and back.
 2. You need to have great sun cream and zinc. Sun stroke could be a show-stopper as alpine sun is VERY strong. You will get sore lips too so put something sun resistant on those. I'm glad I packed strepsils for afterwards as the worst thing I had was a sore underside of right tongue like an ulcer.  
3. Know your nutrition but have many alternatives as what you might desire during the 1st half, you will reject on the 2nd. I used  well OVER 30 litres of water (we took 36 litres on the boat which was just enough!!), 9 sachets of Justin's hazelnut butter, 2 UCAN flavours (Raspberry & Cranberry plus Blueberry & Pomegranate alternating), black tea and a packet of hob nobs. (The one fig roll and 2 feeds of hot chocolate did not agree with me but I never threw up once).
4. Arrive in Geneva at least 2 days ahead to get supplies and REST
5. Get an apartment near the finish. We found a gem on AirBnB which was £1300 for the week but PERFECT when needing to stagger back from the swim!
6. Build a mental map of what exactly you are going to think about when it gets tough. I had all 43 miles dedicated to various people who have moulded my life in this sport.
7. Split the swim up into manageable chunks - you could consider it 7 X 10kms. When it gets tough, don't look up but look to the side and remind yourself you are making forward progress (thanks Teresa for that!)
8. Swim feed to feed - don't worry about time and don't go out too hard. Enjoy each bit for as long as you can. Appreciate your surroundings! I said many times 'Isn't this just stunning'
9. 2 absolutely essential bits of kit  are Duck tape (for taping anything to feed bottle) and clothes peg on a string (for goggles and administering hob nobs!)
10. Make sure your kit is organised. The crew knew where to go for all my belongings at all times! Feeds weren't mixed with goggles/lights etc. You will need to have 3 goggle changes in the water - that's tough treading water and trying to avoid getting zinc in them when you are tired!
11. I actually think the best endurance training you can get in before this is the Swim4Life which is 24 miles in fresh water over 24 hours. If you can endure that and your shoulders hold up, then I think this should be achievable, mental aspect/injuries  notwithstanding!
12. Don't beat yourself up for under-training. Most of it is mental and stroke related but don't under-estimate the importance of FRESH water training!

That's it! Good luck and get in touch if you want more info?
Shezza



(I love this picture. Looks like we are coming back from a pub crawl.....but this is after the swim and my legs wouldn't work. Covered in zinc. Ben carrying an (empty) bucket and Teresa and Kate lugging all the kit). We were asked a couple of times whether we needed an ambulance!

#Teamsport

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Nutrition for the Marathon Swimmer

It feels like the time has come for me to write a blog on nutrition. This also has a direct read-across to nutrition for marathon swimming!

Ever wondered why some runners actually put on weight training for & finishing a marathon?
Why did one of the fittest human beings in the history of the planet, Sir Steven Redgrave, end up with type-2 diabetes?
How come we actually put weight on & 99% of diets fail in the end??

I hope you find this useful & might begin to explain these few questions as I have had an experience with weight loss and performance which has left me rather evangelical & thus willing to share my findings.

To be clear, most readers of this blog will know that I didn't grow up with swimming - I am NO authority on marathon swimming (I could barely swim a mile until 2010) and I also didn't grow up learning much about nutrition - I am therefore NO authority on nutrition either! (How's that for a health warning/disclaimer!) It was mainly meat and potatoes with over-cooked veg when I was growing up but the finest roasts for mankind!

Of course, I genuinely feel that I have marathon swimming to thank for saving my life - BUT that's a subject of a whole different blog altogether (Take All Your Chances While You Can), however, I also have this extreme  sport to thank for leading me, rather inquisitively, to take on-board nutrition recommendations, ideas and articles from 2-time EC swimmer Sam Jones, 2-time CC swimmer Dan Simonelli after EC & fellow Lomond Swimmer Adrian Rotchell had piqued my interest with this article: Endurance Athletes who 'go against the grain' become incredible fat burners
(Be sure to watch the 8 minute video within the piece as it explains a great deal).

A step change in endurance sports nutrition? I think so.....

My OCD tendencies have done the rest. I have been like a dog with a bone and it was early December 2015 after ca. 10 pints at the Nemes Nutters Xmas Party! ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH. I think my interest was provoked as:

1. I couldn't have done more exercise over the years but was not losing much shape - my colleagues at work were cruel as usual enquiring why I didn't have a perfect stomach after all that swimming! (Don't worry I can be just as cruel back!)
2. I was getting properly fed up with feeling bloated all the time. It is hard to put in words how frustrated I was with being so bloated, feeling generally inflamed & helpless unable to shift the body shape with training alone.
3. Putting on weight makes me worry that I will hit the wheelchair earlier
4. I couldn't get my head around WHY I was over 6 stone heavier than my brother who took NO exercise WHATSOEVER! For crying out loud, exercise is supposed to be good for you!
5. If I could easily lose some weight I actually might be able to swim faster!
6. I had only ever eaten whatever I entirely wanted to eat my whole life. How cool was that? If I wanted a beer, I had a beer (or a few), if I wanted ice cream, I had an ice cream (of 1/2 tub of B&J Fish Food!) if I wanted a McDonalds I had a Big Mac Meal (or 2!) with apple pie(s) of course!
7. I have been led to believe that waist size is a key marker for abdominal fat. My waist size had been doing nothing but expanding for years. I got up to a 40'' (I am now 36''). Perhaps this would address the lurking abdominal fat issue!
I absolutely believe waist size should concern us all given what we know now.

So, that was the beginning of December and I was 16 1/2 stone. Today (at the time of writing this blog) I weighed myself I am 15 stone zero. That's 21 pounds or ca. 10 kilos in old money INCLUDING Xmas where I continued to shed pounds despite drinking & eating shed loads (of the right stuff!). (As I review this blog today on 13th May 2016 - I am now 14 st 6 which is precisely where I want to be). HOWEVER, this all feels entirely sustainable as I was naturally deviating away from certain foods into others after listening to my body during & after marathon swimming. I have had to wear suits I used to wear 7 years ago as my more recent suits don't fit me. I also had to drill 2 new holes in my belt! #humblebrag
I used to suffer from EIB but that asthma has now gone. I don't need to take that medicine. I am not struggling for breath EVER.

What have I learnt?

1. After reading the Volek artcle (above) I then read 'Why We Get Fat' by Gary Taubes. I began to realise that it is the carbs (not the FAT) that does the damage. The pyramid of food we were (and still are!) taught is sodding wrong for crying out loud. The NHS nutrition guidelines are wrong as are the ones in the US! Only Sweden has it right and has changed.....can we please WAKE UP! That really depresses me. We obviously now need to RE-LEARN things from scratch. I feel thoroughly lied to tbh and having to re-learn everything about nutrition aged 42 years!
2. I then read the great Jeff Volek book on Low Carbohydrate Performance (Here) and realised that I have only been accessing my glycogen stores of 2000 calories rather than becoming keto-adapted or a fat burner that can access the 40,000 calories that would be available to even a normal thin human being. Most of us ignore the bigger and better fuel source.
3. I then came across a great blog by ultra-runner Timothy Olson who has won the 100 mile Western States Run in the US twice and swears that the Low Carb way of living doesn't mess with his constitution. He listens to what is right for HIM. His blog on nutrition is fascinating: Here
4. I read the other Jeff Volek book on Low Carbohydrate living and it was all beginning to completely suit me and make sense. We kept cooking High Fat Low Carb stuff which funnily enough is higher in taste and provokes you to think more about what enters your frying pan/stomach.
5. I continued to make alterations to my diet switching certain things for more natural options - i.e. Swapped Beer/Cider for Gin/Wine!, Ice Cream for Raspberries & Double Cream ('ave it!), no potatoes, no pasta, no chips, no rice, no wholemeal pasta (bovvered!), no chocolate (the odd piece of 90%+ dark chocolate!)  and no crisps (but found some great natural pork scratchings).  The kids have been encouraged to eat more of whatever they want at school (Pizza & Pasta) as they aren't going to be served much of it at home. I am the cook and am not going to cook 2 meals a night!
6. Our fridge now has a shelf full of various types of cream (first time in our 18-year marriage) as fat is NOT bad for you. We have more seeds, types of nuts and have to buy a shed load of veg to last us the week. This regime is awesome as it forces you to turn to REAL FOOD for the soution..
7. I count carbs now not calories. Most people I observe do the reverse which denies them and calories in v calories out does NOT work btw. I don't deny myself other than to stay around ca. 50g of carb a day. I don't feel like I am denying myself in any way.
8. Some foods have massive amounts of carbs which REALLY SURPRISED ME and I didn't realise before (sweet potato 20g, wraps 35g each!  green coke 22g, mango 20g, grapes 22g, miso soup from Itsu store 35g to name a few!)
9. I have still had a Gin & tonic (slimline) and at least one glass of wine each night! Gotta live, innit.
10. I have realised that I tend to do better eating EARLIER in the evening. Dinners at 8.30pm with bed at 10pm are a killer for the weight maintenance!
11. The following are what I would consider to be superfoods: Cauliflower, Black Pudding, Eggs, Cream (especially double!), most fish and meat, Avocado, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Almond Butter, Hazelnuts, Coconut butter and pork scratchings!

What's happened to training?
1. I now eat strawberries/raspberries and natural yoghurt before a session. Sometimes I do massive 5km sessions on no fuel at all and feel fine with a constant energy source I am tapping into.
2. I also love almond butter which fills me up before a session - you can buy the natural stuff at Sainsbury's and it lasts forever.
3. I bought some UCAN sports nutrition powder to replace the Maxim I had before because the UCAN does not produce insulin spikes.
4. My body is leaner and I am faster, more in control plus times have come down during the sets that I do (that's according to my swim buddies not me). I feel more sustained and adapted to burning the larger tank of fuel than a desperate need to sugar load and hit jelly babies or stock up on maxim before/during training. This leaves me feeling smug but not lacking in muscle!
5. After training I eat an omelette with greens etc or bacon, eggs, avocado and some tomatoes.
6. I cut out latte's (lactose sugar!) and have an Americano now (with cream if/where I can get it).
7. I feel more in control and less at the mercy of carbs & the nonsense guidelines I have always believed - what a sodding joke!
8. Key feeling I have is one of control over my own destiny rather than helplessness. This is a regime and way of life for me now NOT a diet - there is a difference!

How about the bloods?
I saw my Doctor recently for my Lake Geneva medical and have had some blood results from 4th Jan. I can compare all my info from detailed bloods taken 2 and 4 years ago.
My HDL (good cholesterol) is still brilliant and outside of the upper range but got even better. Hooray! Hopefully provoked by exercise and eating loads of sushi!
My LDL (bad cholesterol) has gone down materially after being in the danger zone
My Triglycerides level is lower than the low end of the range and gone down materially
My Glucose is now normal after being at the upper end of safety & close to the danger zone
My overall Cholesterol level is normal after slightly entering the danger zone

What's the conclusion?
Before, I was genuinely concerned that if I carried down this path then my poor health and marathon swimming would end up with a linear relationship - i.e. I would do the swims but end up the size of a bus with a whole bunch of people on social media applauding me!
This marathon swimming sport of ours is unique and exceptional as it demands a great deal from our bodies in terms of endurance. The traditional school of though is to 'man-up', 'eat pies' and put on weight to better endure the cold. 'Of Course you must carbo load' I have heard repeatedly over the years when I meet so many people. THAT I am totally sure is NO LONGER the path for me now.
I am not advising anyone on what they should do as we are all different (listen to yourself!) but I feel like I better understand what does the damage and what I can do to change it. I can't go back to the old days as I realise that at the start of this I was becoming mildly insulin resistant with a BMI outside the healthy range (fine now). I can't go back as I will put it all back on to where it was at the beginning.
Over the coming months I will be experimenting with feeds & nutrition to learn how to nourish myself naturally which might have a bearing on the type of sensitive stomach that I experienced after my EC swims.

Evangelical?.....Yes....but unapologetic!

Further reading?
You MUST watch this Tim Noakes video (click on link) - It will hopefully open up your ideas in the same way it did mine: Tim Noakes - Brilliant Advice on General Nutrition
If you only buy 2 books, buy the Volek Sports Performance one and the Real Meal Revolution. You could also search for all those people on YouTube - they have done some brilliant videos. Also check out the work of Professor Tim Noakes on the same subject. Let me know how you get on! Good luck!
Check out all the amazing free resources on: realmealrevolution.com


Friday, 9 October 2015

Catalina Channel Solo 2015



I set myself a tall order (from the idyllic comfort of my desk) at work in January 2015: The 41 mile Arizona SCAR swim, a second English Channel solo washed down with a Catalina Channel solo in California only a month later (not to mention Race director of the BLDSA Champion of Champions and BLDSA 21mile 2-Way Windermere!). The planning of these events is serious fun but much easier than the actual execution!

What have I discovered about the Catalina Channel (CC) that I haven't seen written or talked about elsewhere?

Booking - the process is dead simple. E-mailed John Pittman (Skipper of Outrider) for swim dates and wired the $1000 deposit over. Filled out the CCSF paperwork (get in before May and it is around $500 I think) and had GP sign the medical form (along with my EC medical). The balance of $2200 was due on the day of the swim which meant carrying around a wad of cash for 48 hours before the swim makes one slightly paranoid ....

Crew - YOU organise your OWN kayakers (2 of them) who will take it in turns to guide you in parallel with the pilot AND 2 crew who are going to feed you. My initial crew member who lives in California was called away with work so I was left with zero with a month to go from 5000 miles away never having been to California!! Without leveraging the network of legend Dan Simonelli (also SCAR alumnus!) who came to the rescue, I would have been stuffed. The English Channel is easy as on Suva you can just 'rock up' and magnificent Sam Jones will usually look after you. My crew in Barb, Chris, Audrey and Monica were first class and I had never even met them before! (I paid them $200 each to cover their expenses - that is the least I could have done. I also tipped the 3 boat crew $100 each after the swim was over. That is also customary but thought I should mention it  in case you swim this further down the road!)

(Crew - Chris (Kayaker), Shezza, Monica, Audrey, Dan (Observer), Jax (Observer) and Barb (Kayaker))



Temperatures - I decided to go for October as I didn't want it too warm! I was never cold once. The air and water was in the low 70s. Tropical. In fact, you can swim the CC all year round! Make sure you have decent sun screen - I use the blue Coppertone from Wal Mart which is factor 100 but non-greasy so easy to put on without having to rub in for 2 hours - some people use Zinc in addition.

Boat Ride - The team was due to rendez-vous at 7.30pm with departure at 8pm. We then had a 2.5 hour boat ride out to Catalina Island. Glad I took my anti-sickness pills and had my last big meal 4 hours before departure as with all the nerves and everything, could have easily seen how you might have started the swim after a serious bout of sea-sickness as there was a bit of swell & rocking. Some of the crew got their heads down in the bunk room and I heard that most swimmers do too - I elected to focus on the horizon as didn't want to start this swim feeling ill.

The Start - Involves jumping into the water and swimming to the shore at Doctor's Cove on Catalina Island to then clear the water. For me it was like turning up at a staged movie set. As soon as the boat stopped, there were flying fish coming in from all angles attracted by the glowsticks on the side of the boat. They were then being gobbled up by the plethora of sealions enjoying an easy meal within 2 feet of the boat. It was wild. For them it was like shooting fish in a barrell. Once I jumped in I never saw the sealions again but I did enquire whether they might take some interest in me - negative was the response. They may have been there but it was dark. The water was warm-ish and crystal clear being lit up by Outrider's spotlight. We were in the lee of the land and everything seemed to go completely calm for the start which was very welcome indeed.

The Night - I provided the boat crew and team with 10-15 glowsticks that went on Outrider and the kayaks. I put on my LED lights (tube one on trunks and normal goggle one on - the boat crew prefer these put to non-flash - that is done by turning the battery around on both). The swim started off around 10.30pm at night which meant ca. 8 hours of swimming before sunrise in the pacific. If you aren't used to nightswimming, it can be mentally very harrowing - I had done an entire night when swimming Loch Lomond in 2012 and 2WW in 2013 so knew this would be tiring. I found the first 4-5 hours very tough as I was still very jetlagged only getting in 48 hours earlier. The whole process was made easier and more magical by the phosphoresence which lit up in the  water each time I disturbed the water with each arm entry - hadn't seen this since holidaying in Georgia on the east coast of the USA a few years before!  However, annoyingly,  after 1 hour the RSI on my wrist started to hurt like mad which served me right for taking on such a long swim within a month of EC2. Ibuprofen began at hour 2...i git stung badly by 2 no-see-em jellyfish in the middle of the night- one on the right cheek of my face and the other down my right arm - they pulled quite a punch and left a few marks which went a few days later - they also seemed to spark up in the night phosphoresensce!

(RSI from EC2 and marathon swimming)



Feeds - I had a very simple feeding plan to feed once per hour every hour on the hour. It was mostly the usual maxim mix but I had black tea for feeds 5 and 6 which were welcome. Monica and Audrey managed to rig up both bottles on one reel (feeding at the bow of Outrider to avoid diesel fumes) - one bottle had fluids and the other solids (either jelly babies, banana or fig rolls!). I never found any fruit sugar at the US supermarkets so had to go without. Should have brought some with me!

Daylight - Sunrise in the pacific turned up at 6.30am and it was one of the most beautiful & life enriching experiences of my life. Everyone seemed moved & uplifted by it which injected some more energy into proceedings!! Realised I was then swimming in the bluest water I have ever seen. The quality of the water was so pure & whenever I got some in my mouth it didn't make me sick like the aggressive dirtier water of the EC. This also helped the recovery afterwards where tasting food was back to normal almost immediately. Still hadn't seen any wildlife although was certainly looking around for it!

(2 nautical miles to go....)



The home straight - I hadn't realised how unpredictable and aggressive counter currents are in the Pacific. I could see the finishing beach and lighthouse at Terranea beach for hours and hours. I went hell-for-leather during the swim and had underestimated how much energy it takes to get in to break the current. It isn't always like this and is unpredicatble.  Dan frequently referred to this as 'crabbing against the current' which really puzzled me as I wasn't expecting it. I could easily see how someone could get 2 miles offshore and never finish. If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth doing and then more than 350 people would have swum it!! A Sealion decided to join me for the last little leg which was nice and made me certainly feel like the swim was pretty much cracked.

(Pacific currents at end of swim and at the start the previous day below)




The Finish - the 'beach' where the swim was due to land is near the Terranea resort which I had visited the day before. Very rocky with big crashing waves. Terrifying if you are a limping gimp!  It took some persistance and holding on to rocks just to exit the water to claim victory. I got a few cuts and scapes for my trouble.

(Tough steep exit with no sand and waves trying to pull me out)



Sharks - I was resonably apprehensive about them before the swim but as usual with shark related news, this is blown out of all proportion by the media who don't have a s0dding clue... I shouldn't have worried so much. We never saw one and I spent most of the swim reminding myself that if Dan S's 14 year old relay team could get in the water then so could I. They have a saying here about the sharks that 'they were there but we just didn't see them'.  It remains to be said that no-one has been attacked by a shark in this  swim in its history. Think about how many solo's and relays have got across?  You have way more chance in getting stung by no-see-em jellyfish that gave me a bit of a kicking twice. I read an article at work that suggested that more people die each year from vending machines and selfies than sharks!  - I really wish people would get perspective!

(Terrenea cove - finishing 'beach' - more of a pile of big rocks)



The Outrider - is a champion Channel Boat that I'm sure every EC boat captain would love. I kept thinking about how much my English Channel pilot, Neil Streeter, would welcome the chance to see this!!  John Pittman had a team of 3 crew who had snacks on board and looked after my crew even cooking them breakfast buritos! They even have a massive bunk room so your  crew can get their heads down to the start of or during the swim. In America, they seem to do certain things just bigger and better. This is prime example thereof. There was even a flat screen TV in the cabin detailing my progress on the map!

Conclusions - Is this a tough swim? Yes - you still have to be able to  swim >20 miles and there is a qualifier to weed out those underestimating the challenge that lies ahead -  the water is lush and warm. It's a magical experience being able to look at land from swimming in the Pacific - an experience I would never thought I would have as a lad. I would certainly recommend this swim to any  of my Nemes Nutter mates or anyone who has the desire to push their boundaries beyond a 10 miler... Is it as tough as the EC? No. I finished this swim in 12 hours 22 mins. My ECs took 14hrs 33 and 13hrs 32 which says it all really. It was an awesome experience and I am really glad I took the trouble to follow through with this swim.

Please get in touch if you need more intel?


Saturday, 5 September 2015

#Repeatoffender - 2nd Channel swim - 2nd September 2015




On Wednesday 2nd September 2015 I set off at 2am from Samphire Hoe on a 7.2m Spring tide with Channel Escort Neil Streeter & Crew on Suva for my 2nd Channel swim in consecutive years. (I cannot recommend the Suva team highly enough to you btw)

I thought I would write a short blog outlining what I learnt that I didn't get on the first swim which you will find written up on this blog: 1st Channel swim 2014

Hope you get something out of it that might prevent you from making some of my errors!

1. Jumping in the water at Samphire Hoe is a great deal warmer (I would consider tropical) in September than at the beginning of July. If I do this swim again, the first week of September would be my choice. I won't worry again whether it is a neap or a spring as only swum on springs!
2. The first 4 hours in the dark were VERY tough mentally (I had been up since 5am the previous day & had a full day of work in the city). This bit was mentally far tougher than the first swim and certainly opened up the doubt devil in my mind & could have opened the door of failure. (Some warned me that the 2nd swim is harder). I took a great pride in not complaining to the crew but Ade said I looked completely miserable during this time! I would beg to differ - I had just not reached my full potential.
3. I used a clear pair of goggles (for night swimming) that I wasn't 100% sure that were leak-proof. In reality they weren't and my eyes were agony - couldn't see much of the boat and should have known better. This made some of the swim quite miserable which should have been entirely avoidable. I was desperate for daylight to switch the goggles over which made life become gradually better!
4. Everything got easier by the margin as it got lighter and more progress was made closer to France
5. The last swim was a 6.8m tide and this being a 7.2m didn't phase me - my overall time was 1 hour faster (13hrs 32mins). I swam a total of 64.8km including tide and even moved 500m in under 3 minutes being hurled round the cap! That's a record for me!
6. Funnily enough, it took me quite a while to remember why I really wanted to be there (!) for motivation (I need something more profound than 'because it's there'!). As soon as I uncovered/unlocked that motive, the whole escapade became more focussed - the aim I began to realise was to put my name amongst the ca. 180 who could boast a 2-time Channel - so wanted to be a member of that exclusive club versus the 1600 who had only done a single solo. Glad I eventually worked that out!
7a. I was glad to only have 2 crew (other than the Suva boat crew) to help with feeds. 4 crew-members seems too many last time and meant more people (AND kit) to worry about. 2 is ideal and aided by the fact that Suva has superstar crew ace Sam Jones up their sleeve. Ade (Adrian Rotchell) was on the rail the whole time (got no sleep) and Richard (my brother) was called at 2 hours notice to take a day's leave > both guys are incredible with their generosity & kindness.
7b. Adrian is a whizz with technology and logged into my Facebook page (using his phone with free roaming!) so could keep the whole world illuminated on proceedings. He also had his garmin on the whole time si i got a full de-brief of stats whether I wanted them or not! The only thing I wished I'd have remembered from the 1st swim was my digital camera (ran out of time after being summoned!)
8. I only fed 1x per hour and the crew ensured that got faster and faster.  I had no time to dwell on trying to chew a jelly baby and observe my progress - I had to chew these things whilst moving! It wasn't a rest, it was a feed - I was grateful for that the other side when the tide turned. They just passed me a single plastic cup which I drank in 10 secs then threw back on the boat. Again, I barely wanted any solids as felt like I wouldn't stomach them given all the salt water being consumed whilst swimming. The odd banana, jelly baby or bit of milky way was all I managed.
8. I still like my maxim mixture with summer fruits and fruit sugar. Some of them were double x double strength (you read that right). Every 5th feed was black tea with fruit sugar. That was a winner and I should have done that the 1st swim. Ade swears by just having warm water during his long swims > I'll leave that feeding plan with him!
9. Didn't panic when in the separation zone and had to swim through mountain of jellyfish. I got stung umpteen times including on the tip of the left rotator cuff which was really miserable but the best cure for that was obviously cold salty water!
10. France never gets closer. Remembered to block out of mind and look at the boat & swim feed to feed. Didn't wear watch & tried to avoid looking at France so that saved a double-rollocking off Neil!
11. After 10 hours of swimming I was urged by the pilot to sprint for 1 hour - I didn't swear at him other than in my head! Glad I had something left in the tank to do that. After 12 hours of swimming, they asked for another burst. Amazing what you can achieve when the prize is there for the taking.
12. The tides round the cap are breathtaking on a spring but nothing to fear once you get into the eddy the other side. I remember before attempting Loch Lomond, my mate Gez Lyon said to me - 'If you can put one arm in front of the other, you can keep going'. I said that to myself over 1000 times and you  get there eventually if you can stop the wheels from coming off! You can also wee whilst swimming if you go slower and don't kick your legs.
13. Walking up the beach to finish in France was just as triumphant and heavenly the 2nd time as walking up the steps in Wissant the first time (although a bit more inconvenient for a limping gimp). I had been practising my only-fools-and-horses-learnt French so could pronounce the name of Plage de Chatelet where I knew I had landed as been there with the girls swimming last autumn. Lovely beach that only locals frequent. #Fate
14. I still enjoy 2 cans of full-fat tango on the boat on the way back and I didn't get sick!
15. I was thankful for doing so much technique work - especially working on putting some power into the back of my stroke all the way past the thigh. Mark and Lucinda Bayliss had picked up on that in my stroke in April in our training in Lanzarote. I was also thankful of all the interval work in the pool during the winter with the Nemes Nutters.
16. Doing SCAR in May was excellent for a confidence booster ahead of the swim. I love Arizona in May....(Blog below)
17. When you finish the swim and open up social media, you realise the whole world has been going mental trying to urge you on! Including ca. 100 work colleagues who watched the tracker all day! You then indulge in what I would term 'social-media-heroin' for a while which is quite a buzz.
18a. You can get on the early train back to work the next day (5.49am!) as you are still on cloud nine and ready to bask in the glory. Some of your colleagues will be very willing to take you out to a slap-up lunch!
18b.  Ben & Jerry's Fish Food Ice Cream still wins hands-down for easing salt-water mouth and re-addresses calorie shortfall quickly.
19.  Your colleagues still like to be appreciated with Lola's Cupcakes!
20. Getting out of a deep bath with a sore body & little use of left leg is a real bugger! Having no radox bath salt is also a massive let-down!

Some Pics (Again thanks to Adrian Rotchell and Sam Jones)