Dover Weekend 7: Champion of Champions

Saturday 16th June 2012 –  BLDSA Champion of Champions, Dover Harbour

I had been “persuaded” to enter this event by Jim Boucher. (Jim has swum the Channel twice, has been a member of six Channel relay teams and will be a member of my crew when I swim in July). Apparently it would be good preparation for my Channel swim….

The event was organised by the BLDSA (British Long Distance Swimming Association), and is a series of three races in Dover Harbour on a single day, and you have to finish all three races in order to complete the Champion of Champions. The winner is simply the quickest person to complete all three races. It sounds simple until you find out that the three races are 5 miles, 3 miles and 1 mile around Dover Harbour in June.

The event nearly didn’t go ahead. The weather was really rough with predicted mean wind speeds of 30mph and gusts of up to 49mph. It was enough to cause the ferries to operate a reduced service. Anyway, the “good” news for us was that, thanks to the BLDSA organisers liaising with the Dover Harbour Board, the event was allowed to go ahead with an amended course around the harbour. Basically that meant that instead of a 1 mile square lap, we had a 1/2 mile triangular lap.

Fuelled up on lovely delicious Maxim, I was called to the start for the five mile race. For BLDSA events, very strict rules are enforced on swimming costumes: 1 standard textile costume which cannot extend below the crotch, 1 hat and 1 pair of goggles. We were all shivering in the wind before we even got in! We entered the water, lined up behind the yellow buoy and the horn sounded for the start. And then it went wrong for me….. my goggles filled with water and I kept trying to fix them but water just kept pouring in. I was doing two strokes front crawl, then fiddling with my goggles etc.

After only 200 metres or so, a canoeist came over to check if I was OK. I rather pathetically told him that I couldn’t see a thing in these goggles and there was no way I could swim 5 miles in them. I also muttered something about not being pleased about paying £65 for a race to stop on the first lap! Bless him, he radioed my name and race number over to race control, they found my bag and a spare pair of goggles, canoed them over to me and I was able to swap goggles. This all took some time and meant that my first lap was a rather pathetic effort and I could already see the race leaders coming round to lap me. Oh dear!

Anyway, it got better from then. I plodded around the ten lap course, shouting my race number to the marshalls at the end of each lap. I was quite happy swimming my own little swim, just wanted to complete the course. I only had two low points during the race a) when I could see the leading pack getting out when I was just starting Lap 8, and b) the hunger caused by doing a 3 hr 30 minutes swim with no feeding stop. I didn’t feel cold at all, and I quite enjoyed swimming in the rough water.

I picked up my speed for the last 2 laps, once I knew I was going to finish it, and exited the water after my tenth lap feeling quite pleased with myself.

It was time to get changed, put on a dry costume, eat some cake and have something to drink. We were going back in for the 3 mile swim in less than 50 minutes’ time! I wasn’t too pleased about that prospect and fancied a little sleep instead!

Anyway, 50 minutes later I was lined up at the beach again for the start of the three mile swim. Only 6 laps this time! I was resigned to my fate, so got back in for Round 2. Ding Ding!

The sea seemed to be getting rougher for this swim, but rather strangely, I was very comfortable throughout the swim. Somehow six laps seemed like a nice number, and after three laps I was already half way there. On lap five I swear that I was stung by a jellyfish, but it didn’t really hinder me, just woke me up a bit. I completed the three mile swim and headed straight to the changing room to get dry and warm.

En route to the changing room my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. I was told that we were going in for the one mile swim in just 20 minutes’ time! I scrabbled my kit together, put on a dry costume, ate some dates, swigged some water and headed back for Round 3. Ding Ding!

I was shivering on the beach when we were called to the start of the one mile race. By this point I really didn’t care and thought that I could do another two laps as I had done sixteen already today. I entered the water, still feeling very cold, and we were under starter’s orders yet again! Miserable, miserable, miserable.

Once we were off, I had the best two laps of my day!

Finally the ordeal was over. I can’t say it was pleasant, but I did feel that I could have done another 5 mile race if I had been told to. I can see why Jim told me to enter it – it’s horrible getting back in for another race when you are tired, cold and hungry. However, it was a good mental battle because I could have stopped at many points along the way.

My overall time for the 9 mile course was 5 hours 57 minutes and 1 second. I wasn’t very happy with my time (and put a lot of that down to Gogglegate), but I was delighted to have completed the course and to receive my certificate.

Sunday 17th June – Dover training

I was asked to swim for six hours, but unfortunately that didn’t happen and I didn’t even come close. It was so rough in the harbour and I was being tossed around in all directions. At one point a combination of waves came in different directions and my legs seemed to go over my head – I felt this searing pain go down my back and I decided that was enough for one day. I didn’t want to risk a) drowning and b) a back injury.

So I got out early in quite a lot of pain. I was trying hard not to cry in front of Freda (I’m a big tough girl!), but she could see that I wasn’t faking it, and organised an immediate sports massage for me. It definitely helped, but I was in a lot of pain for the next few days.

Training Weekend 7 Summary:

  • Water Temp: around 13.5C – 14C
  • Four swims: Total time – 7 hours 20 minutes
  • A bit fed up overall
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Dover Training Weekend 6: What a fabulous turnaround!

I spoke to a few people during the week and came to the conclusion that my poor performance last weekend was “all in the mind”. And I managed to prove this theory right with a bang!

I arrived in Dover on Friday night to see huge queues of lorries waiting for the ferries, the sea was so rough that a limited service was operating. Outside the harbour the sea was white and it looked pretty scary.

Saturday 9th June 2012

I was a bit frightened on arrival. The sea looked really choppy, and I was a bit concerned for my safety. At the briefing Freda separated the solo swimmers into two groups. Anyone due to swim in June or July stood on her right side, everyone else stood on her left. The swimmers on the left were given 3 hours. My group was given 6 hours! I confess that I made a small protest, but 6 hours it was!

I don’t know what happened to me, but I suddenly thought to myself “this is getting serious now”, and focused. And I kept that focus for six whole hours even though I was being battered by the rough sea almost constantly. Fantastic! I was so happy with myself when I got out but was left wondering how on earth I had managed to go from such a miserable performance in much calmer sea last weekend to such a great performance in rough weather in less that a week. It was the change in my mindset, nothing else.

Even better, I was completely coherent afterwards and managed to get myself dressed with no assistance. Straight afterwards (3:30pm) I went to Chaplin’s and had an all-day brunch, with extra bread, a strawberry ice cream milkshake and a pot of tea. I then went to my guesthouse for a little sleep, but was woken up by hunger. The all day breakfast hadn’t even touched the sides. So at 7:30pm I went out and ordered an additional meal of lasagne and garlic bread!

Sunday 10th June 2012

I registered for my swim as usual and was asked how I was feeling. I explained that I was feeling sore and tender, hadn’t slept well and I really needed to take it easy today.

No chance! I was given another six hours! I confess that I was cursing on the walk down the beach. My first two hours were fine, but not very exciting.

When I got to my 2 hour feed, Kevin Murphy was there, and he said the most amazing and powerful thing to me. He told me that if I could do two 6 hour swims on one weekend, then I could swim the Channel. And that was it! I spent the next four hours swimming from feed to feed and it felt really good.

Training Weekend 6 Summary:

  • Water Temp: around 13C
  • Two swims: 6 hours / 6 hours
  • A jolly good weekend’s work!

Postscript: It is worth pointing out that on Monday morning I could hardly move my arms and ended up having a sports massage on Monday evening!

Dover Training Weekend 5

Week 5: Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend – Dover 3 days

I was really disappointed with myself this weekend and came to realise how hard this is going to be.

Saturday 2nd June: I was set 4 hours and I’m afraid to report that I was so cold after 1 hour 50 minutes that I had to get out after 2 hours 20 minutes. Whilst I accept that 4 hours was a huge step up from the previous weekend, I was really cross with myself for getting out so early.  I felt cold to the core, my hands were like claws and I had absolutely no feeling in my feet. I didn’t feel as if I was swimming, merely flailing legs and arms and not getting anywhere.

Sunday 3rd June: The sea was rougher and it was grey. There was plenty of chill in the air. I was set 3 hours and completed this. However, I was so cold by the end. When I got out, I actually had to be dressed by two other ladies because I couldn’t grasp anything or function properly!

Monday 4th June: The sea was really lumpy today and it was raining heavily. I honestly didn’t fancy going down to the beach. I showed up though and we were only set a 2 hour swim because of the conditions. I got to 1 hour 20 minutes and then got out and made a run for the shelter. Freda (very sensibly) told me that I hadn’t swum for 2 hours, gave me a beaker of Maxim, and told me to get back in. I complied, and went straight back down the beach, got in and did another 40 minutes. I was really cross with myself, physically I could swim for 2 hours easily, but my mind gave up! Freda was absolutely right to send me back in.

Again, I don’t know what the exact water temperature and I don’t usually ask as it seems fairly pointless to ask beforehand. However, Sandettie buoy was measuring around 12.3C when we were swimming this weekend. I know that I was really disappointed with myself though.

Training Weekend 5 Summary:

  • Water Temp: 12.3C (but felt cold with the wind)
  • Three swims: 2 hours 20 mins / 3 hours / 2 hours

Dover Training Weekend 4

Week 4: 27th and 28th May 2012

I only planned to swim in Dover on Saturday this weekend, as I had entered a 10K “race” at Dorney Lake on the Sunday. This weekend I had company during my journey in the form of another lady from the Basingstoke area who is swimming the English Channel this year, Rachel Hessom. By coincidence, Rachel is going to be swimming on the same tide as me, 26th-31st July 2012. En route we shared various stories about our preparation and we discussed our fears and concerns.

Dover was absolutely beautiful today. The harbour was calm and the sun was out. It had been a lovely week of sunshine. We were set a two hour swim, which seemed quite reasonable during the briefing….. until I put my foot in the water. It was still really cold! I managed the two hour swim but I found it a real struggle. Two hours was a huge step up from the 1 hour swims the previous weekend and I developed “claw” hands after an hour’s swimming.  When we were getting dressed afterwards I noticed that my feet were completely white and I had no grip in my hands, so I couldn’t even manage to remove my earplugs. However, once dressed it didn’t take long to warm up afterwards and we were soon en route home.

I keep forgetting to ask the temperature, but I know that the Sandettie buoy was registering 11.9C when we were swimming. I am fairly certain that it was warmer than that in the harbour though – even though it still felt really cold!

Sunday 28th May 2012 – Dorney Lake 10K

Last year I took part in the Human Race 10K race at Dorney Lake and finished in 3 hours 44 minutes and 9 seconds. I started the race in a wetsuit, but due to severe chafing on my neck, I had to remove the wetsuit after the first lap. It was a wet, miserable day and the lake temperature was only around 16C.

Roll forwards a year, and it had been sunny all week, and the lake temperature was 19C. In my mind, it was ludicrous to even consider wearing a wetsuit in that temperature and in bright sunshine. I take my hat off to the 300 or so people who swam 10K in 19C in the sun!

To cut a long story short, I had a fantastic swim, and completed the swim in 3 hours 18 minutes and 22 seconds. That was a massive improvement on last year, and I was still swimming well at the end. My only concern during the race was that I was so hot!

Training Weekend 4 Summary:

  • Water Temp: 11.9C (but probably higher in the harbour) / 19C at Dorney Lake
  • Two swims: 2 hours / 3 hours 18 minutes 22 seconds