Saturday, 21 May 2016

More on Howard James (The dreaded North)

Unless you have been in outer space you have probably heard about the Legendary Swim this week by Howard James. Well, being that I am kind of fascinated by this sort of extreme achievement (similar to the post regarding Dave Morgan here) I thought I would share (with his permission) another of Howards swims and the write up by the man himself shortly after his North Channel (Northern Ireland to Scotland) swim in 2011.

The expression on his face after this weeks swim kind of sums up how he was feeling, I believe Dave Chisholm took the photo though I am not 100%. 

The dreaded North

"5.30am, I am awoken to the sound of the alarm, today I am attempting to swim the 'North Channel'.
A knock on the room door; it's breakfast, one weetabix in a packet washed down with coffee.....ONE....!!!
Myself and team mate Terry laugh at the north channel breakfast (don't worry , I had energy bars as well).

So half seven, we meet with pilot 'Brian Mehargh MBE', he takes us to the boat and after brief introduction to the crew we set of to my starting point just north of Bangor in Northen Ireland.

I am not really feeling anything. I'm not nervous, I'm not scared, I'm not thinking I'm gonna do this, I'm not thinking I'm not gonna do this.... It was strange that I had no emotion, I knew where I was and I knew I had to get in and swim, the day was going to be whatever the day was.....

Vaseline around my beard, down my trunks and under the arms... goggles on... look round at Terry my feeder who was also on my '09 English crossing and my good friend Martin Cullen (who was observing),
"lets swim this channel and go home" I say and jump in.....

The water is fresh, not to cold, maybe what I was expecting (10.5 as I later found out) quick look for jellies as those that know me, this was my fear, I haven't been stung before and was really not looking forward to getting stung.. there were none, I swim to the rocks, touch and start my swim to Scotland...

The first 6 hours of the swim I really enjoyed, this makes me sick to even think this. The water was fresh but I had trained for this, I have been in the sea pratically every weekend from Oct 2010... my first feed at 1.5 hrs then every 30 min.... S I S gel in luke warm sweet milky tea.. the guys on the boat are in wet weather gear, it is drizzle, but that wet drizzle.... I am loving it... I'm in the north... I am swimming better and enjoying it more than my English Channel crossing then.......BANG!!!.... 

I see a jelly with a maine longer than me as a person.. I swear... reality check... oh yes this is the north (the dreaded feared north, the cold one the one full of jellies). I am now looking everywhere for them, I need to see them,, I need to avoid them, can I be the one makes it across with out being stung....would that be fair...who cares , I didn't want to get stung..... they do thin out and after a while you kinda forget yet at the same time still looking.... On the boat, they are saying there isn't that many, I don't believe they saw all the ones I did.. I come to what I can only describe as a mine field, I am trying to weave in and out, left right, more left, oh back right, like dribbling on a football pitch, I am through, thank ---- for that, but still on alert.....

I have swam most of the Channel at this point but the tide is changing and as we know it's a waiting game now, but saying that we did keep going forward which was very good.  The water turned murky like Dover, I couldn't see much, OUCH!!! I got stung oh I'm not going to get across without getting stung... I can't see them to dodge them, oh well it is what it is, I've got this far, I got to finish.. I think of all the people sending messages, the swimmers I know that know what this swim is all about.. digging deep... it's hurting ... the tide  has changed, it's taking us in, it's strong, I'm looking for excuses to stop... I need a milky way... I need a drink.. I need a wee.. each time though I stop the tide is taking me further south (I know I'm going to get in it's just a case off how quick, I want a reasonable time, I know I shouldn't be messing about, swim man swim!!! (COME ON Howard it's 30 lengths of the pool left, I question if he means a 25m or 50m pool.... 

I know I have to dig deep but I have been stung a few times now, it doesn't hurt  its a funny sensation... the dingy is in and I finally touch Scotland.... 

I made it I am the 13th person to have swam the north channel, I'm happy but exhausted....

Back on the boat, it's hard for me to stand and keep my balance. I get dressed and go downstairs on the boat, I can feel my is uncomfortable, I feel sick.. Brian comes down and sits with me and we chat for ten minutes, he says I swam really well especially on a spring tide and that a neap would definitely been an interesting time...I feel he is inviting me back..he is, but he knows I probably won't return, all though, never say never.....

I have said before that I would like another go at the ENGLISH CHANNEL but as for the NORTH .......I'm not sure whether in what I have written here gives the full representation of that channel, It is COLD, there are JELLIES there are lots off JELLIES . They STING and they HURT the next day.....

Im not trying to be big headed,but anyone that wants to attempt THE NORTH CHANNEL is a loon and needs help........"


May has seen a steady progression in training as I work towards J2F. My tolerance to the water is building nicely, one of my training partners (Bill) had a fortnight away on holiday in Phuket, despite his worries of returning to the temperatures of North East England, they were short lived, he quickly hit the hour once more, only for me to disappear for a week in the sun with Kelly. 

I therefore had the same concerns having spent a week doing very little other than 4 swims of around 2km in the caribbean at a ridiculous 85ºf ! That said I was more than ready for the break.
Kelly and I returned home last Sunday (15th), once the jet lag subsided I managed 3 swims in the River with the usual suspects Bill, Amanda and Ben. 

The build up was gradual with increments of 70-100-125 minutes. Friday was our longest swim to date completing just over the 2 hours at 59ºf, the wind was quite strong which ensured we had a decent workout. 
Any discomfort was soon put to one side as we reflected on the massive achievement of Howard James, who this week set a new record for the earliest English Channel swim on 16th May, the water being 10-11º c. Now that is what I call hardcore. He is certainly in the same bracket as the likes of Kevin Murphy and Dave Morgan. 

The BLDSA Champion of Champions event will soon be here, therefore I will have a few more sessions in salt water shortly as the coastal temps have now just about reached 50f/10ºc

Onwards into the final week of May, with a  planned 10km on Bank Holiday Monday.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

On Track .. (updated)

Bank Holiday Monday (May 2nd 2016) a glimmer of sunshine and a lull in the windy conditions allowed the River Tees temperature to rise slightly and hit the tropical heights of 8.9ºc / 48f (having been a bitter 7.2ºc the previous day in which we only managed 28 minutes).

This allowed us to finally hit the hour. It's amazing the difference 1ºc or so can make and how this impacts on your time in the water.

The route was a little messy (to the second boat followed by some internal circuits, not too far from the jetty) As we approached the hour, Amanda was keen for me to get out of the water as I was beginning to slur my speech. it was the correct decision as the later pictures show I was getting a little, err, less warm.

We are expecting fantastic weather this coming weekend which is typical considering I will be abroad on holiday. That said I have two more swims planned this week after work (Wednesday and Friday) with the plan to break the hour.

The after drop was quite severe, but at least I knew what to expect and how my body reacts. This is quite normal for me. 

For once the UK weather forecast has proved to be accurate, today May 4th (star wars day) Billy, Ben and I visited the river once more, where the water temps ranged from 10.5º to 11.5ºc. I was delighted to again complete the hour this time 66 mins covering 3284m the warmer water resulted in a far better recovery too with nowhere near the same after drop. Ideally Friday will be 90 minutes before we head off for a weeks rest in the sunshine. Happy.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Drag Appreciation Drills

There are some interesting points here, some of which may have an impact on your fatigue / energy levels particularly on a long swim. Worth a watch. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


We have been working quite hard in the grotty chlorine pit over the winter, the benefits of having regular training partners in Bill and Ben are massive, we constantly race each other during our interval sessions then put the world to rights in the sauna afterwards which is always funny and a great way to unwind.

With the arrival of April, it was time to make the dreaded return to open water, as always it would be mentally and physically tough getting back into the cool water. Last year I was late (mid May) starting outside and paid for it throughout the season.

Whilst the air temperature is fluctuating and the water remains below 11º, the plan as usual is restrict training to our local river, it's only about 2 miles from home and it's free. 

After this we venture further afield as the time in the water increases. 

The target and general benchmark for this time of year is 60 minutes at 10ºc. 

I've included a little map showing our normal start point of the Jetty at Preston Park and some markers we use as sessions increase.

Thus far we (combinations of Ben, Amanda and Bill) have 

8th 11minutes @ 8ºc 326m around the jetty area 
10th 21 minutes @ 9ºc 989m around the boats+
18th 17 minutes @ 8ºc 718m around the boats
20th 34 minutes @ 10ºc 1690m to first boat
21st 34 minutes @ 11º 1910m to tennis courts
25th 50 minutes @ 10ºc 2620 second corner and boats
27th 33 minutes @ 8ºc 1700m around boats and first corner 
30th 36 minutes @ 8ºc 1900m boats almost second corner left

I am yet to hit the benchmark, BUT, it isn't too far off (providing the sleet and snow stop!)

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Oldest Goat

This is a heart warming inspiring story of Walt Schneebeli, who, at 90 years of age is still swimming around Aquatic Park San Francisco, and has been doing so since 1948 ! Like he says .. Everybody wants to be the old goat !!

Can't wait to visit this place next year.

Enjoy this lovely video..

Friday, 8 April 2016

We are good to go

On Wednesday this week I completed my swim medical for the J2F Swim, that little tick from Dr Ish. indicates that all systems are go!!

Camp Eton 2016

Good Friday 2016 and time to drive to the delightful town of Eton where I was pleased to be attending the annual 'Camp Eton' training weekend organised and hosted by Nick and Sakura Adams.

The drive was pain free and I was soon checked into The Christopher Hotel ideally situated within walking distance of the pool and classrooms for the forthcoming activities. Nick then gave myself and a couple of others including swimmer extraordinaire and all-round lovely lady Suzie Dodds a whistle stop tour of some of the Eton grounds including the beautiful chapel and gardens.

The format was basically lots of pool based swimming against the clock interspersed with classroom presentations on all manner of subjects related to open water marathon swimming.

Around 24 swimmers (mainly London based) were in attendance. The first item on the timetable was a pool swim at 7am Saturday Morning, the session lasted a couple of hours, the details of which were delivered by Nick from poolside. I was obviously looking too comfortable as a result of which Mr Adams moved me into a lane with two very talented swimmers Deirdre Ward and Marcus Wadsworth, in this lane I was well and truly beasted.

After 5300m and several helpings of maxim the time had come to exit the water and rush to the classroom for informal introductions, snacks and the first of several excellent power point inputs.

Following lunch and another speaker it was back to the pool for another swim and yes, more maxim. (I was working hard and probably drinking more than normal due to effort and perhaps a little over heating.) This was another intense set against the clock during which we clocked up another 5000m.

Back to class for the remainder of the day where the after effects of maxim began to take hold. (enough said for now)

At the close of the day and in an effort to be well enough to attend the evening meal, it was necessary to attend the pharmacy for some much needed medication (you get the picture)

Early to bed for an early rise thanks to the start of British Summer Time. I didn't sleep too well for some reason, as normal as soon as it was time to get out of bed I suddenly had the urge to snooze. Alas, no such luxury, the schedule insisted we be in the water, warmed up and ready to start the 10km set of 100 x100 at 6am ( which in my world was 5am thanks to the clocks going forward)

photo Sam Mould.

As a result of the previous days abdominal issues I made the decision to 1. stay off the maxim 2. swim without a swim cap in an effort to stay cooler.

The 10k set was soon over, we were fed and watered throughout by Nick, Chris and JCR. I felt good and was delighted to have another good session in the bank. The best news being that my belly had stabilised and I was good to go for the classroom.

More speakers including video analysis from Ray Gibbs (Swim Canary Wharf) then off to the pool for some stroke correction and drills.

An excellent weekend with about 21km of work, a great if tough kick up the rear and and much inspiration from both speakers and swimmers alike.

Many thanks to Nick and his team for their hospitality and efforts.

Highly recommended

Sunday, 7 February 2016

J2F briefly

If my research is correct, only 38 individuals have successfully completed the challenge I have set this to swim from Jersey to France.

A few people have asked me about tidal influence and is it the same as England to France. Yes, it is influenced by the tide as per the photo below, it is similar in that it is a salt water swim, there will be jellies a plenty, the water temperature will be similar, there will however be considerably less in the way of shipping. 

It will be tough, that said I am genuinely excited about the swim.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Asha Allen Roth...5 Ways My Marathon Swim Training Is Different This Time

This article appears here with the kind permission of Asha, I certainly thought it was worthy of sharing with my readers..enjoy

"I did some big swims last year. I swam the length of Tahoe (21 miles) and Catalina Channel (20.2 miles) At that time, my mind-set was simply that I wanted to understand what it would be like to train for something huge.  In other words, "How the hell is it done?" I've learned some things since then and I'm making some adjustments. While I'm sure I will continue to tweak my training plan, here are a few significant changes from last year's training I am making as I prepare for the English Channel (21 miles).

1) Recovery Swims
Last year, after a long swim, I rested out-of-water, the following day. That is to say, I did nothing - maybe a little stretching. This year, on the day following a very long swim, I am making sure I get in the water and swim no matter what. It doesn't have to be fast, it doesn't have to be long, but I'm getting in the water and moving.  The intention is to recover the same muscles that worked so hard the day before. This is a small change that I am already feeling a big difference with.  I'm sending my body a message that, "Yes, we are really doing this again. Let's endure and it's okay."

2) Mindful Resting
When I knew I had a long swim day last year (multiple practices or just hours in the bay), I turned on my "go-go-go" mode. It was a type of hyper-vigilence.  It was a super-hero syndrome. Not only did I swim like a maniac, I also did all normal errands and chores, family care and work demands.  I also had a few panic attacks while driving last year.  I attribute this to my "hard-driving" training program which didn't allow for restful pauses. This year, I'm resting after or in-between swims.   For example, when I swam five practices in one day a few weeks ago, when I had a short break, I gave myself a 10 -20 minute Savasana.   I allowed myself to completly sink into a restful state and let go completely.  This deeply restorative pose is now a part of my new training regimine. I set myself up with a bolster under my knees, a blanket and an eye pillow. Man, does it feel amazing. I can usually find 10-20 extra minutes after a long swim day.  It makes a world of difference. I'm doing it today after my 3-hour swim. It's just part of the plan.

3) Double (or Triple) Distance Days
The days of a single long swim day are gone, my friends.  It's time to build tenacious sustainable endurance. With the inspiration of S.C.A.R. coming up (4 lakes, 4days, 40 miles), I am incorporating some consecutive multiple days of distance swimming to this year's training.  In addition to planning this at home, I've reserved some weekends at Donner Lake in June and July so I can simply camp and swim - two (or three) long training swim days in a row.

4) Counting the Hours (not Distance)
I was counting every yard, meter and mile last year.  It gets to be a little much, fixating on the distance, as if the numbers are God.  This year, my focus is time in the water. Time in the water. I swam 4 hours on Sunday, an hour yesterday and today it's 3 hours.  I'm not counting the distance or wearing my Garmin. I know what the approximate distance is and that's good enough. After all, my goal is to finish no matter what. At 15 or 20 miles, the numbers are irrelevant, but my comfort level with time in the water, needs to be infallible.

5) Stroke Quality

I'm not sure why, but last year, I just wanted a stroke that would keep going forever.  I didn't care if it was slow. I just wanted to know I could finish. I didn't put much focus on quality and efficiency of my stroke technique. This year, I want every edge possible for the specific endurance event at hand.  So for example,  I'm getting comfortable with not only bi-lateral breathing but breathing only-left and only-right for extended times. I'm removing any cross over of my hands in front and kicking more consistently.  I'm working getting the full push-through and increasing momentum in my underwater pull. I'm swimming more butterfly because 1) I like it and 2) I like the idea of strong deltoids, trapezoids, rhomboids and lats - I could use the help!"

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Whats Happening ?

I will tell you exactly whats happening...well, the plan at least

I have been looking at a few events for 2016

as it stands this is the list of targets

26/27 March ..Camp Eton 
4 June.. BLDSA Wykeham 5km night swim
5 June.. BLDSA Wykeham 5km + 1km

18 June.. BLDSA Champion of Champions 5 miles + 3 miles + 1 mile

10 July..Windermere 10.5 miles

17 July..Dover Harbour 6 hour date TBC

 2-6 Aug.. Jersey to France

That my friends is the plan for this year, in pool, fresh and salt water.

I will also escort a few friends on both one and two way Windermere swims 

stay tuned ...

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 Summary

It's been a tough year as my Facebook friends will be aware. I will however spare you the negative aspects from my personal/work life and focus on the ups and downs in the water.

As normal the year started with a gentle easing back into pool sessions with some work on technique, all sessions were recorded on, utilising the Suunto Ambit3. 

Although it was a year without a 'HUGE' swim, there were certainly several challenges ahead, some of which I had tackled previously.

2S4L Guilford Lido

I last entered this event in 2011 (post here) so, in theory, I knew exactly what it would take. It was always referred to as being 'brutally relentless'. For 2015 I had again opted for the solo effort of 1 mile on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours. For one reason and another I was unsuccessful, completing only 10 miles. There was some positives to be had, in particular the support received from a few of the usual suspects. I was pretty much fed up after this event.
Not happy. 

BLDSA Wykeham

This is the event geographically closest to home. An almost annual occurrence as one of the first in the BLDSA calendar. 5 triangular 1000m laps in water around 15 degrees and success was in the bag, the time was exactly as expected. I then took the opportunity to swim the 1km event, as I thought it would be ideal prep for the next weekend. 2 swims totalling 6km = 2 successes. (post here)

BLDSA Champion of Champions

Notoriously tough event, the full compliment being: 5miles, 3 miles, 1 mile in Dover Harbour. The last visit for this event in 2011 was a mixed up day weather wise to the extent that the 3 mile swim was cancelled. 

2015 (post here) was no different. It was a very hard day at the office, after some frightening mental blips on the start of the 5 miler (10 laps) I eventually achieved success, the conditions deteriorated for the 3 miler but again after what seemed like an eternity success was gained. Everybody likes the 1 miler as the end is in sight. 
Overall 3 swims totalling 9 miles in salt water about 14.5 degrees. Happy.

Windermere #6
A month earlier than normal, I planned to swim Windermere on this occasion starting at Ambleside in the North. I might as well be honest..the objective was to swim to Fell Foot the back to Bowness, meaning a 15 mile swim. However as it turned out, I altered the plan before the 10 mile point and opted for just a one way. (post here) Technically speaking, unsuccessful though I was still content with 6 hours at 16 degrees. On reflection I had not trained sufficiently for 15 miles.
Still Happy!

BLDSA Ullswater
After a slight lay off in training after Windermere, the next event was soon here. Karen Throsby had kindly offered to kayak for me on this 7 mile swim in beautiful surroundings (full post here.) I was hoping for lovely conditions similar to the 2011 event.
It was in fact bloody awful! By and far the most difficult swimming event of the year. 3 hours 48 minutes in frigid water.
It was a success but I wasn't happy!

That was the last of my events, we did however go to support some others with 3 excellent One Way Windermere swims for:
Ian Adshead, Zoe Sadler and Ady Brown followed by a 10km for Amanda Bell. We also assisted at the BLDSA 2 Way Windermere.

Happy or Not Happy, Success or Not, the one consistency year on year are the individuals, in particular those of what I like to call the BLDSA family,  alongside the Dover beach crew, are like no other, the care, support, advice, unselfishness, and all round altruism of these people is a joy to be part of. You know who you are. 
Thank you.