Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lac Leman/Lake Geneva solo (43 miles)

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 hacked 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 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)

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).
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.

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 (  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)

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 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?

(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!


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:

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)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Arizona SCAR Swim 2015 - 41 miles

'Make no mistake - this is no vehicle or destination to another swim, this is a huge event in its own right.' (Helen Conway, Jude's Diner at Globe > the day after completing SCAR 2015 from Sydney, Australia)

Wow. I feel so eternally grateful to have got into this sport, for the people I have met on the journey plus the complete bonus of the places I have been unswervingly drawn to. Without open water marathon swimming and seeing a good coach for an effortless stroke coupled with knowing (who I consider to be) the best British Long Distance Kayaker , Pete Fellows, I would never have been in Arizona. This blog feels slightly redundant I am afraid as sadly the photos plus my rhetoric REALLY CANNOT do the whole experience justice. I will endeavour to try and enlighten though.

One year in the planning > 4 days in the execution!!
This event was in the planning for well over 12 months and already had 1 week with family in the Tonto National Park area to understand what I was letting myself in for in April 2014 whilst training for my successful  English Channel July 2014 attempt. The application process opened around the 1st November 2014 and closed in a short 36 hours (thank god I bothered to wrestle with the wifi in the Holiday Inn in Le Touquet when I was showing the girls where I landed my channel swim). You do not register, you apply....there is a difference!

SCAR....what is it? 4 letters that conveniently represent the first letter of each lake swum in order. Saguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt. Billed at 9.5 miles, 9 miles, 17 miles then 6 miles.  Swimming from buoy line dam to dam on the Salt River system which represents 41 miles of open water swimming in what could easily be considered as some of the greatest views and fresh water on earth. Simples then? Cue the Meerkat? Err No. Only 27 people out of 47 (57%) evidently completed the entire event from beginning of S to end of R. 

Everything kicked off on Tues 5th May in the evening for a dinner at the tranquil sun-drenched terraces of Mesa Country Club overlooking the golf course. How civilised and lush....The calm before the storm perhaps...There was a banquet of scrumptious Mexican buffet-style meal which certainly facilitated introductions, much chatting about mutual friends (Kelly who had been working in Croatia with my mate Sian Williams) and catching up with swimmers met before (Helen from Oz who I met at 1WW in 2014 and Matthew Hills from the UK only 30mins down the road) and everyone was required to stand up to flag/brag about their forthcoming next challenge ahead. I bored people senseless about forthcoming EC and Catalina Channel. We were sitting next to Cole and his friendly parents from Texas - Cole was set to absolutely blow the rest of the field away BLDSA Tom Robbo style over the next 4 days!! The scene was superbly relaxed where some live music set the tone with great music from Chad Gregory (that man can play n' sing) and an introduction from Kent Nicholas (organiser and mastermind). There were some seriously tasty swimmers here (most faster than yours truly) but you could sense an underlying nervousness talking about and committing to forthcoming challenges with SCAR (all 41 miles of it) still on the table!

If you think below is some reasonably extreme mileage then spare a awe-inducing thought for the incredible Liz Fry who did double each lake!! Yes 82 miles in 4 days training towards a triple channel. Huge respect and congratulations on her achievement. She got a small American flag to fix onto her car as a prize - priceless!

Saguaro Lake - 9.5 miles - Day 1
Just remember being nervous as hell. We made our way via two boat shuttles to the buoy line near  Canyon Dam where the Saguaro swim was due to start. I felt like I had suddenly sunk inside myself and my quiet mental space had been invaded by some aliens > I had 41 miles ahead of me, to put all that relentless distance into the shoulders, concerns about the pain and whether my training had been enough. Would my shoulders hold up? Would the pain level off? Would I fall over and hurt myself?  I had been in this space before but that doesn't make it easy. The hardest thing in England was finding warm enough water to train in over the Winter which meant utilising Charlton Lido with Ade, Mikey, Graeme, Sam, Vicky, G and the Charlton Lido Nutters helping us to get through 6km sets every Saturday. That felt tough but 6km weekly preparation for a 41 mile 4 days? Boy, that seemed wholly inadequate! 
We were told to jump off the pontoon boat and make our way to the buoy line and raise one arm showing we were ready. Kent dropped a pink bag and we were off. I had been put in Wave 2 of 3 waves (wave one being the expected slowest). Everyone else left me at the back on my own and I had been put with a bunch of utter whippets! Some coming all the way from Hawaii! The water felt warm, way too warm. It then decided to get even warmer as we rounded a bend. It must have been over 70 degrees! I must have been overheating. The week before Ade, Tegs, Lucy and I had been jumping off the Nemes Nutters platform in Holborough Lakes in 11 degrees celsius! LOL....
Thank god we had put loads of ice in the cooler and each feed (on the hour) was met with some relief. The views were simply spectacular (canyons, cacti and various forms of wildlife) and I found a sensible rhythm but was excited and wanted to give it some beans. We gradually overtook 2 of the other wave 2 swimmers and some of the wave 1 swimmers who were set off before us which lifted the spirits materially but of course this wasn't billed as a race per se. Pete saw a bald eagle swoop down and catch a fish outta the water and head back to its nest. WOW MOMENT. He was blown away to witness something hardly seen by even the oldest of the Tonto National Park Rangers. He grinned from ear-to-ear the whole way like he was paddling through kayaker-paradise which also lifted me materially. We passed the iconic Ships rock rounded a bend and then could see the end of the lake with boats. 

Reminded me of the BLDSA Lake Bala in Wales event with an end that never comes any closer. We ploughed on, I got my head down and eventually (another 2 miles later) rounded the final bend into the buoy-line which I had to touch to finish.
Bingo. 4 hours14 mins for ca. 9.5 miles done. Chuffed but hurt after giving it too much in the excitement and felt wobbly when back in a vertical position....

Canyon Lake - 9 miles
Heavily-anticipated as the prettiest lake. Seems like all the swimmers and crew concurred 100% afterwards. Same rig - in Wave 2 (out of 3), started at the buoy line and was left at the rear (again)!!!! I hurt my neck during the course of the swim just looking up at the canyon walls, the sheer breathtaking beauty counterbalancing the neck agony for the rest of the swim! This is one of my favourite photos from the whole trip.

Pete saw a Big-Horn Sheep which I missed but silhouetted beautifully at the top of a cliff.

The plan was to take it very smoothly as we knew full well we wanted to ensure we would make the start line in reasonable form for the 17 mile Apache lake the next day. I cruised into the finish line in 4hours 22 which wasn't rapid but didn't feel as wasted as the day before in Saguaro. 

The group all then seemed to start to bond more as we all drove to Apache lake via the Apache Trail (which is long dirt road with NO tarmac) & Tortilla Flat restaurant and checked into the Apache Lake Resort. I had booked us a suite way in advance and was expecting something reasonably plush (with a view) but what we found was something where time stood still in about 1960 (but still had a nice view of what lay ahead for the next day). 

It gave me a perfect juncture to rib Pete about his double bed that looked like it had been used for major gymnastics in a recent honeymoon (the least said about the sheets the better!) - we had a right old giggle about that which took the edge off any worry about the next day so we slept well and both must have snored the roof about sounds of the Serengeti!

Apache Lake - 17 miles
The logistics on this lake must have made this a nightmare for Kent and the superstar boat crews. Our boat on the way to the staging beach lost its prop to the bottom of the lake, another boat ran out of fuel...murphy's law was working good and proper it appeared. I managed to get Pete a good kayak with a black back support and he was happy as Larry given the potential for ca. 10 hours ahead needing to be comfortable as possible. The swimmers boated to the start-line and it was 9am. I knew that to get this done without getting pulled I would have to pull my speedo's up and get to the other end in 10 hours as it would be getting dark. The first 3-4 miles were a complete breeze swimming in turquoise water past a little island, a beach and 3-mile wash where we had hung out a few days previously. 

Then we turned a corner and Windermere-esque the main middle third of the lake opened up in front of us. We could see for miles. I deliberately looked only to the side breathing & at Pete or the scenery & got my head down to graft. Gradually Mark 'one-speed' Sheridan picked off a few swimmers who had gone off in the earlier wave or were entirely unfamiliar in the distance. 

The wind started to pick up to 15mph and it was becoming slightly uncomfortable. We gradually inched our way until the Apache Resort was in sight where we were told we would be 60% done. The wind was now 20mph as we passed the Apache Marina which I knew we would be able to see for hours to come as it looks up most of the final reach. We 'hugged' the cliffs on the north side which made the swim very special as some of the overhangs looked like faces. 

Swimming under the rocks with some fault-lines visible also gave Pete a cause for concern (would they give way?) but for me the water was so pure & clear with huge boulders underneath me which reminded me of Wastwater (my favourite place to swim in the UK). We rounded the corner into the final 30% and the wind was now absolutely FULL ON, well over 25mph & gusting way more being funnelled by the canyon. We later learned that loads of swimmers and kayakers had retired in this very spot as they dared to peer round the corner. I joked to Pete that we were lucky that it at least wasn't windy and he responded 'Shezza's here for Apache' and he was obviously relishing the challenge of having to paddle hard for once rather than being on the Arizona SCAR lakes & Tonto National Park sightseeing tour with a slow limping gimp for company.
We crossed over the lake into the teeth of this wind and at the time it felt like I was in a proper all-out war - I was secretly glad that this lake was going to be no 'gimmie'. A couple of waves hit my shoulders so hard it ripped my arm from taking any stroke and hurt like hell. I shouted into the water to keep the pain to myself and not to worry my kayaker. However, in this funnelled cauldron of wind was actually some of the most beautiful part of the lake with what Pete knew as the painted cliffs and a really cool single rock sticking up and showing the way like a lighthouse. It was dramatic stuff.

We turned half left round a corner and I then got told I had just over 1.3 miles to go. Where did that suddenly come from? We had a pact that I would never ask how much further to go and Pete maintained he wouldn't tell me anyway. I knew I would get it done in daylight and broken the back of the whole SCAR event. 

The feeling of achievement was heavenly. We got closer to the dam and I thought it looked like something off the WW2 dam-buster films in the darker light.  

The feeling of elation touching the buoy line after 9hours 32 mins and 17 miles of swimming evidenced a feeling of united strength between kayaker and swimmer like few other swims I've been on. I smacked the water for 30 seconds like I did at 2swim4life 2 years previously.

It was an absolute godsend to get onto superstar Danny's speedboat back to the Resort & I recall being in the back with Kelly pretty euphoric & all too aware of what we had just accomplished. The bark from that boat's exhaust is something I will never forget whilst smiling from ear to ear! We made it back to base in a matter of minutes.....
We later found out that fewer than a 1/3 of the original kayakers actually made it all the way to the end. Felt entirely vindicated in my preparations twisting Pete's arm to travel all that way with me. 
Back to the Apache resort for a meal where the vibe was immense with everyone a story to tell about the day's challenges. 

Roosevelt Lake - 6 miles
On the way to the start line I recalled how tough a 10km swim was in 2011 when I took up this sport training for 1 way 10.5 mile Windermere. Now here I was not even 4 years further down the track knocking out a 10km at the end of 35 miles & 3 other days of swimming!!! Mind-blowing really and amazing what cumulative training & events can do for you....

We were told the course and everyone checked LED lights and clear goggles as the finish was to be in darkness. Rounded Windy Hill which was obviously given that name for a reason as once the main body of water opened up it was choppy again. We were swimming towards the 4 peaks and the Roosevelt dam under an Arizona sunset in warm water. Where else would you possibly want to be??! (You can just about make out the swimmer right of centre in pic below)

The bridge near the finish could be seen for miles out but tried to avoid thinking about that as it wasn't coming closer. We passed the marina which went on for ages and I was shocked to learn I still had 1.6 miles to go in the complete darkness with no moon. There were stars everywhere for the kayakers to mostly enjoy. To avoid over-stressing about the finish I remember the Lynne Cox trick of counting in my head. I thought that if I could count to 1000 with each count representing an arm stroke of ca. 1 meter then I would almost be there. That 1000 count got me to the bridge. Pete and I stopped and said 'Wow' to each other for yet another time this trip just to try and take it all in. We then swam to the finish buoy line where we finished at the same time as Colleen from Scotland. We had both done it. Shaking of hands all-round and light applause from the boats. 

I think I yelled out 'yeah' a few times or something else completely non-sensical. It was 10pm. The whole adventure was over and I felt pretty overwhelmed to be honest. It had felt we were on a swimmers conveyor-belt for some of the 4 days trying ones best not to let the wheels fall off. The feeling of accomplishment hit me hard after checking into our hotel room in Globe and posting on Facebook. I grinned, took it all in and fell into one of the most contented sleeps I have ever had in my life. Magic.

Those that finished all 4 lakes were presented with one of these black swim caps which I will treasure like gold dust:

Some tips and conclusions whilst fresh in Pete's and my memories:

Kayaker - essential kit to bring
1. You will be getting wet sitting on a sit-on-kayak. Some swims might make you feel very cold when you get to the end (despite the lush pictures). At the ends of Apache and Roosevelt, Pete was mildly hypothermic believe it or not.
2. Camelback is a great idea for feeding for paddlers and Pete's was filled with ice to help cool him on the warmer swims. Essential.
3. GPS - meant lake navigation an absolute no brainer (will post maps at end of blog when I get them)
4. Need a good head torch and glow-sticks for Roosevelt
5. Sunglasses with leash - take 2 pairs of sunnies as one of Pete's broke.
6. Sunhat - something like a desert marathon hat which has a stiff brim
7. Bandana - protection for head on boat rides
8. Small tupperware box for Kayaker nutrition - Pete had dried fruit in his.
9. Lightweight Kagool essential
10. Drybag
11. Bungees/shock chord. 
12. Choose your kayak on the day wisely as there is little time to adjust once swim is underway
13. Jar to wee into during long swims for the chaps. Ensure you get enough width!
14. Small blunt-nosed scissors for cutting bungy chord etc and attaching cool box to kayak
15. Pre-laminated and pre-routed maps of each lake.
16. Factor 100 suncream (we used Coppertone from Walmart). Sudocrem zinc to ensure you don't burn
17. Ensure to cover up shins as many kayakers had burnt shins. Also wear kayak shoes rather than crocs as they are more comfy. 
18. Bring 2 pairs of kayak gloves as you will probably lose one pair somewhere.
19. Waterproof camera which you can secure to kayak using chord and carabina.
20. Train in windy conditions in a lake of at least 20-25 mph otherwise you might let down your swimmer
21. Binoculars. We forgot them and they might have been handy at times.
22. Mesh bag for all bits and pieces required during the swim for easy storage. 

Swimmer - essential kit
1. Plenty of factor 100 sun cream, Sudocrem zinc or Balmex which is the US equivalent. All the swimmers were caked in the stuff. Getting sunburn on your first swim might make the rest of it never happen. I use Coppertone Factor 100 spray AND cream which u can buy at Wal Mart. I used the spray first thing when getting up in the morning and the cream as a 2nd application before the swim. Then applied Sudocrem zinc on top. Worked a treat!
2. Vaseline or other for chafe etc.
3. Box of plastic gloves. $7 for 100 at Wal Mart.
4. 4 costumes
5. 2 tinted goggles and one clear pair (for Roosevelt)
6. Swear by my towelling dry-robe which you can get on line. Great for getting changed and boat rides, avoiding sun etc.
7. Bright swim caps to alert all boat traffic where you are
8. Crocs, hat, sunglasses plus hard case for sunglasses.
9. I used 2 whole tubs of maxim - without the generosity of Suzie Dodds I would have been left without in this department at Apache. Thanks Suzie.
10. Dry-bag
11. LED lights like you would use for the Channel on costume and goggles.
12. We used a collapsable circular Thermos bag which was ideal. Can buy cool-boxes from Wal Mart that are disposable.
13. Small fluid thermos. End of Apache and Roosevelt you might feel cold. I had to feed off iced feeds which made me even colder. Cover that base with a small thermos with some warm drink just in case for those 2 swims.
14. The temperatures in the lakes were all around 70 fahrenheit. If you are from the UK and used to open water you will probably never swim outdoors in such hot water. That in itself can present its own challenges with overheating. Some US swimmers who were very thin complained about the cold water.....Trust me > it was mostly heavenly.
15. Could bring a mesh bag for feeds but we didn't need it as had the thermos bag.

Other stuff etc
1. We hired a Jeep Patriot which was ideal for the Apache trail plus had enough space for all our kit.
2. iPad or iPhone - you will get free wifi in most hotels and restaurant & be able to post your progress
3. Choose your kayaker wisely. I would always take someone you know who is decent. Go the extra mile as they might go the extra mile for you on Apache which might make the difference between finish or failure.
4. Bring a flexible attitude and don't take anything (including yourself) seriously. We joked a whole bunch at every feed.
5. We stayed deliberately at La Quinta Inn at Superstition Blvd which meant that after the flight and drive we had 10 bars and restaurants including a good Mall and Wal Mart very nearby (all walkable). They also had a warm jacuzzi which was ideal for recovery after Saguaro. They also had loads of ice and fridges in rooms. 
6. We did a fair amount of post swim recovery with milkshakes at Dairy Queen. Highly recommended. WE spent many lunchtimes at Paradise cafe in Signal Butte Road which serves the nicest salads and fresh value-added type nutritional food which we craved at times. They are all over Phoenix. This place is a real hit and you have to go. They will even pack you up a lunch at 7am.
7. Tonto Pass - you CANNOT buy these at Saguaro lake and have to buy them at Petrol stations etc in the area. Many people did not read the notes and could have been left stuck without the generosity of others. Buy 3 at the beginning of the week and you are covered for your parking.
8. Arrive early at swims as when things get moving you won't have time to breathe!
9. Insects by the lake were a non-issue. We only got bitten chilling by the hotel pool!
10. If your application is successful - READ ALL OF KENT's NOTES!! Many people didn't bother. Read them at least 3 times and have them with you. 

Conclusions etc
This is a tough swim. Make no mistake. I trained as hard as I could during the Winter but you can only do what you can with job constraints. My speed improved and I did 2 swim weeks away (40km in Lanzarote with Team Bayliss one week and another in FV) and loads of sets at Charlton Lido on Saturdays not to mention all the other gym, rowing and pilates work.
If you look at those who finished and the times (on, you will observe that I was the last male finisher home in terms of aggregate time for all lakes. I don't necessarily consider myself the slowest but if you are contemplating this, then might be worth some definite consideration of speed! I think some of the media flannel was all about floating on your back and relaxation > don't be fooled - you still gotta be able to swim mileage.
It's the hardest event in terms of the cumulative effect of 41 miles over 4 days I have done in my life. If I were to do each swim as a one-off event it wouldn't give me nightmares but this is definitely one of the hardest things I have done if not the hardest. The water temperature though was never cold to me but then I swam thru the winter with the Nutters in the UK!
Lastly, don't underestimate the need for a decent kayaker. I wanted Pete to come along as I didn't want it round a stranger's neck that I might not finish the whole event.
I won't put my name down again to swim as the event is niche and that might prevent someone else from taking part. Someone else needs to have this experience now. I would love to go back as a kayaker or to help on the boats with the volunteers. I would like to think that I will definitely return to take in the amazing scenery above the water.

Happy swimming and get in touch if you need guidance and are thinking about applying.

The stars of the show - Kent Nicholas (centre) and Pete Fellows (right)