The short version
I attended the Swimtrek Long Distance Training Camp in Gozo and completed my six hour swim on Tuesday 17th April. This means that I have now completed the formalities in order for me to fully register my Channel swim!
The long version
Saturday 14th April – Day 1
I arrived at the Hotel San Andrea, Xlendi in Gozo at around 6pm. The “holiday” started with a meal for the entire group in the hotel’s own restaurant, Zafiro. I had an excellent meal of Parma Ham with Melon, Swordfish followed by Tiramisu. This was a sign of things to come – the entire 6 days was spent either pigging out, swimming or resting!
At the meal, I met the other 14 people booked on the trip, along with the Swimtrek guides (Mia, Chris, Fiona and Yves). Our special guest for the trip was the legendary Channel swimmers’ coach and advisor, Freda Streeter. Her daughter Alison Streeter is the “Queen of the Channel” having swum the English Channel 43 times. Her son, Neil, will be my pilot in July.
Sunday 15th April – Day 2: Our first swims! (2 hours then 1 hour)
The day started with breakfast at 7:30 and we were asked to meet at 8:30 for our first seminar. We all introduced ourselves to the rest of the group, explained our swim histories and our challenges. I was amazed by the diverse group of people, each with their own different but amazing stories. Then I realised I was one of them too!
In the group we had two swimmers who had already swum the English Channel. Of the group, 4 were planning to swim the English Channel this year (Becky 2-way, Neil, Stephanie and myself) and others were planning to swim it next year. Anna, who has already swum the English Channel and the Gibraltar Straits, is intending to swim around 5 islands (Dragonera, Portsea, Jersey, Isle of Wight and Tiree).
We were told to meet downstairs at 10am and to bring at least 2 swimming costumes.
The bay at Xlendi was full of jellyfish, so we took a minibus to Mgarr-ix-Xini, about 20 minutes away. We were told to get ready and we were going in for an hour. So, in we all got. It felt cold – but I had only been in the sea twice so far this year, so that wasn’t really a surprise!
After circling the bay for an hour, I swam to the beach to get out and was told, “Take a quick feed, you’re all doing another hour”. I chuckled to myself as I had been expecting them to play some mind games with us and thought this was just the beginning! I necked my Maxim, and carried on swimming. At the end of 2 hours I swam to the edge and was told to get dried and grab some lunch. I admit to being very surprised there, I had expected another hour at least!
This is where it started to go wrong. We were told to “eat well”. And I did! The picnic was fantastic and I ate and ate and ate! Pasta, bread, cheese, crisps, salad, nuts, tuna, chocolate. I was well and truly stuffed!
Then 20 minutes after stuffing myself silly, we were told “Get ready to start swimming in 10 minutes”. Oh dear! There were a couple of protests about swimming on full stomachs, but we were going in. Anyway, I swam for an hour, but I remember feeling absolutely awful and really sick for the entire hour. It was not a good swim. In addition to the sickness, the jellyfish had moved into the bay and were really distracting my rhythm as I kept stopping to avoid them. The hour felt longer than the earlier 2 hour swim! I learnt a lesson – don’t stuff yourself silly if you might be swimming later!
We returned to the hotel and then had a seminar on mental preparation and stroke analysis. The video of me swimming was actually quite good! The only thing that I should change is my feet, which come out of the water when I kick, and I obviously do not need the extra drag on a long swim.
We then went for dinner at Ta Karolina. We were given complimentary bruschetta and various platters before our meals came. I had brie to start, followed by Spaghetti alla frutti de mer. I had no room for pudding. These pictures might explain why!
Monday 16th April – Day 3: (3 hours then 2 hour)
After breakfast we met downstairs for the minibus and we headed off to Mgarr-ix-Xini bay again. Once we were changed and assembled for the briefing, we were told that we were going in for three hours with feeds each hour.
The first hour went well. I was swimming pretty well, although I was getting spooked by the jellyfish again. I went in for a feed, and was quick to drink my Maxim and eat my Milky Way. I set off again, but about 20 minutes later I started to get chest pains. I shouted over to the support boat that I had these pains and I was told to “swim in”. I thought that meant I had to get out! I swam to the beach to be met by Freda, who suggested it was indigestion, and I was told to stay down by the beach and to swim between the buoys down at the beach end of the bay. It was calmer there, so I was quite happy to do this – besides there were a lot of different fish to look at! However, after about 20 minutes of this I was really bored, so I said I was going back out around the bay again. I came in for my 2 hour feed, and headed out for the final hour. It was getting really choppy by then and out at the far end of the bay I felt really sick! Today wasn’t going right at all – I swam back to the beach to ask for some water and was told by Jessica to swim to the buoy and back, and then they would take me out. When I got back to the beach I was all ready to get out. Freda was waiting for me there and told me to stay down the beach end of the bay and keep swimming. I wasn’t getting out at all! The next 30 minutes were really boring and I got out at the end of the 3 hours, really disappointed with myself.
Lunch was then served – I remembered the previous day’s mistakes and didn’t eat half as much. Then I fell asleep on the concrete….
I was woken up with the ten minute warning that we were going back in for two hours. I don’t really remember much about the two hour swim, other than feeling really tired and moaning every time I went for a feed or a drink. The jellyfish had also moved right into the bay, so I was distracted by them and by the very choppy sea.
At the end of the two hours, I got out, really quite despondent with my swim, and wondering what I was doing there. I also realised how hard the support crews have to work to keep the swimmers in the water.
We went back to the hotel and we had another seminar on mental preparation. I think I needed that – it gave me a lot of food for thought.
Speaking of food, we went to The Boat House restaurant for dinner, where I ordered Beef Timballe for starters followed by the Boat House Calamari (a house speciality). Before our meal arrived they brought out complimentary bruschetta and bread. I was full before the starter came out! All of the food was absolutely delicious, but I struggled to eat the calamari because it was served with a sauce, containing chilli! Eight hours of swimming in salt water had blistered my tongue and I could not eat this wonderful food.
In hindsight I wasn’t mentally prepared for the swims today- another very useful lesson! Physically I was coping fine, but my mind was sabotaging the swims.
I went to bed feeling very despondent. Tomorrow we were all expecting to do the six hour swim……