Friday, 27 June 2008

Alone at Sea(ton)

Awoke to a sunny day for once, after another night of rainfall, dropped Charlie at school and made my way to Sunny Seaton, (well it was sunny when I left the house) on arrival the wind was blowing again, it was a westerly, which providing it ain't gale force tends to flatten the sea. So conditions were quite good really, just a bit of chop, high water and sunny intervals.

I was alone today as KGB was at work, and Joni has gone to Dover. I needed to get in for another sea swim and being that the conditions were favourable I decided to it was safe to do so. One of the worst things of going to the coast alone is the dilemna of time and equipment. Do I take the dry bag and clothes onto the beach so I am clothed til the last minute and risk it being stolen or blown away or, do I walk almost naked from the car park several hundred metres to the waters edge. I decided just like Monday that I would risk being arrested and walk semi naked across the sand.

Now once I make the decision to leave my clothes, towel and drinks etc in the car I then have to somehow secure the key for the ignition within my trunks. I normally tie it to the waist cord and hope for the best, there is no pocket inside the swimming togs so it's kind of just has to dangle in there, now that may sound OK to you...however as a result of the cold water I kind of lose the feeling of anything inside there so I never really know if I still have the key or if it has gone to Davey Jones' locker! am sure you can imagine my thoughts of exiting the sea only to have no dry kit and be faced with a ten mile walk home almost butt naked!! Not a pleasant prospect.

Into the water... my initial reaction was one of 'brrrr that's cold!' my hands and torso certainly felt the drop in comparison to the lake on Tuesday evening, after about 5 minutes I had relaxed into my swim and my breathing was fine. I swam a slightly longer route than normal, more or less keeping parallel to the shore, I did not want to head out too far without my safety cover and was rarely more than 200 metres from dry land.

Even though I obviously cannot speak with Kelly when she trudges the sand, it is comforting to know she is there, I found it boring today without her (yes Freda I know it it supposed to be boring). But for the occasional visit from a seagull I was in total isolation. Good training I guess. I swam for an hour at a watch reading of 55F, this is almost 10F lower than the lake, so I am really pleased that I made the effort to go today, we (KGB and I) are planning on returning tomorrow for a little longer.

Other are trying to get some TV coverage for the swim so as to raise the profile of the J-A-C-K foundation and the fight against Neuroblastoma, thank you to all who continue to support the swim, be it financially, emotionally or by sacrificing your time. Without you I could not manage this.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Ellerton Lake

When I was involved in triathlon, a colleague of mine (Darren) took me swimming to Ellerton Lake near Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire, its a reasonable size lake with lots of activities in terms of paddlers, divers and the odd swimmer. I haven't visited this place for well over a year, for one thing its 25 miles away, not far I agree but with Bishopton Lake 3 miles from home and Seaton Carew less than ten it seemed a little pointless. Bishopton however is now a little busy albeit the staff there cannot do enough to help, and the Sea is dependant on having Kelly keeping a watchful eye on me and my equipment. That said, yesterday I was 'allowed' to go for a little swim on my own, the only trouble was that a number Jet skis were hogging the surf and I did not feel at all safe, I kept the swim short and headed home before too long, my watch surprised me when it bottomed out at 55F, I had expected it to be much closer to 59F, maybe it was due to all wind that must have backed up a lot of water. It was still good to complete a couple of kilometres in the cold.

Anyway...a couple of days ago I was informed by Darren that lots of 'Tri' people attend the Lake at Ellerton on Tuesday evenings for a two hour session, I figured it would be better than a 2 hour pool swim and have opted to attend tonight. I have no idea how warm the water will be but will report back later today with how it went. I have arranged to meet another Channel Aspirant there too who is just formulating his plan .......................................................................................................................................

Been back from the lake around an hour, having filled my face with Indian food I thought I would update as promised before I start my Guinness!

We arrived at the pre arranged time to find only a few cars parked up, a few people were in the process of squeezing the bodies into wetsuits, glancing across I made eye contact with a man I had never met and was soon introduced to Dave Neal, who had recently emailed me with an interest in local open water swims..after some brief intros we stripped to our speedos and began our swim. It was my plan to swim loops of the lake perimeter, however we soon got caught up in some very dense weed, we therefore made our way to what looked like a pre planned swim course marked out by a number of white floating barrels.

Initially we swam to the small jetty where KGB was waiting with her daughter Lottie, Dave and I had slightly different speeds, so we decided at this point to swim with the rubber clad triathletes at our own pace. At this point I set off and decided to try to use the swim as an interval type session, being that it was going to be limited time wise I swam at around 90% of my maximum and tried to focus on some well needed drills at the same time. The water was crystal clear and bordered on being too warm. My watch was reading 64F. I could certainly feel the difference between this and yesterdays water in the North Sea. I was questioning the benefits in my head but it had to be better than the pool at a ridiculous 30+ C.
After another lap of the fixed route, I swam in for a warm feed, this was more for practice than anything else, I drank it and headed off as soon as possible feeling fine after the stop. Another loop, popped to the jetty to check on the girls and said I would do one more lap before we set off home to sort children for bed. That fell on deaf ears as I was told there was time for two more laps before home time, I get the feeling KGB would have said one more than any number I may have uttered! The rain started to come down on the last lap, but the surface of the lake was like glass, the water crystal clear and the temperature too good to be true, a short session well within my comfort zone, all in all, was a nice change of venue, got the chance to meet Dave who seems keen to do more, but for the weed it was a very pleasant evening.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Another week gone..7 to go

Just a brief diary type entry...this week has been rather full of everything but swimming, on Doctors advice Charlie has remained away from school this week for the protection of his arm. Therefore training has kind of taken a back seat, not such a bad thing after almost eight hours at the weekend, though now I am chomping at the bit to get back into the water.

Monday and Tuesday I was working days followed by child care, Wednesday I had another physio session with Gary Hinchely at Norton and Thursday I had the briefest of swims at Seaton Carew just to take part in a work related press release /photo shoot for the local media regarding the swim, my employers have been completely supportive hence I could not deny them the opportunity for some positive press, in addition to raising the profile of J-A-C-K.
For what its worth the sea yesterday was pan flat, the sun was shining but the wind was strong, the water was around 58F on my watch, for all it was brief, its is still good to get some cold water on the skin. I am hoping to get a longer swim either Sunday or early next week. Earlier this week I wrote a post to the Channel Swimmers Email Group regarding a swimming Lake Windermere sometime in the next fortnight but there seems to be little interest, so I guess its Seaton from now on prior to the three weekends at Dover, where I know Freda will ask for 7/6 hour swims on each occasion.

Edward Williams

I thought I would post Eds short film to the blog, it was one of the first clips I found on the internet shortly after booking my boat for the swim, with only seven weeks remaining until the beginning of my tides, it is nice to re watch the success of the likes of Ed, Loraine and Tim Denyer on DVD. There is a distinct lack of footage from swims to view but this clip certainly inspired me along the way..

Monday, 16 June 2008

Dover2 ...Friday the 13th

It was around 8am, as Charlie and I chatted as we prepared for school, I was telling him about ‘Friday The 13th’ and how some people have a phobia about the date, we agreed that there was nothing to worry about and that just as many people see 13 as a lucky number. I dropped him at the school gates, got my hug and kiss and he wished me well for my trip to Dover.

I returned home, loaded the car and before too long KGB and I were on our way. Around one hundred miles from home, I received a text message asking me to call Charlie’s mum, eventually I managed to get hold of her, only to be told that Charlie had hurt himself playing football at school and was enroute to hospital in a great deal of pain. X-rays revealed that he had broken his forearm and that he would require surgery to correct it. I was racked with guilt that I wasn’t there to hold his hand and be a good Dad, it was bad enough that I was going to be away for Fathers day let alone this. He was in good hands with his mum and I was told to continue my journey to Dover but to keep in touch.

Continuing onto Dover, we had arranged to meet with Joni Storer who was attending for the BLDSA Champion of Champions event. We arrived at Hubert House much earlier than last week after a relatively easy 6 hours or so, Jenni had a surprise for us, as she led us to the Georgian Suite, it was very very nice. Eventually Joni arrived, we showed him the harbour, the statues and off course The White Horse Pub.

We then returned to Hubert House in order to eat at the Bistro, where to our surprise Ned Dension and Eddie Irwine were seated and eating, it was great to see them again after Sandycove, (they too were in town for the BLDSA race) we had a good chat and laughed a lot especially at Ned’s dietary advice of “its doesn’t matter if it takes your fancy or not, just eat it!” This kind of encouraged me to sink a few more calories just prior to getting into bed in the form of mullerice and fortisip.

Next morning usual business of forcing down porridge, bananas, coffee, maxim etc before heading to the harbour to see Freda. The others headed to the West end of the harbour as the boot camp swimmers were greased up by Barrie, we all gathered around Freda as she announced the timings for each swimmer, it was at this point that she publicly informed Barrie that he was to “TAKE NO CRAP, THIS IS MARK ROBSON, HE IS DOING 5 HOURS NO MATTER WHAT!” I said a few words to Megan, Chris and Sam and headed off for my swim, entering the water again at 9am, the temperature felt much the same as last week though the weather in general was much nicer, with the sun breaking out from the clouds throughout the day, I had no shoulder pain, I was mentally in the correct frame of mind and enjoyed my first two hours before the first feed. We were restricted in our swim area due to part of the harbour being taken up by The Champion of Champions, that, together with several sailing boats and the odd ferry made for a rather busy place to be.
During the first few hours in particular I was desperate to get some news about Charlie and my mind started to drift to thoughts of him laying in a hospital bed. After the feed at two hours, feeds then take place on the hour, and consist of a small plastic cup of warm maxim with maybe a chocolate roll or milky way, it was really nice to see Kelly running knee deep into the water to hand out the drinks, she looked like she was having fun with Barrie and Sam. I remember coming in at four hours and seeing the delight on Kelly’s face as she knew I was entering new territory time wise in the open water, I said to her “Just one more hour and then I must phone Char.” Also around this time my hips began to cause me some pain which became more and more uncomfortable as time went on, I found that I was almost unable to kick which meant I began to cool off a little, I told myself that in less than an hour I would be in a steaming hot bath! At last the 5 hour point arrived by which time I was getting cold and my hips felt like they had completely locked up! It was then as I lay in the shallows that I noticed Freda had approached the waters edge, she asked me to do an additional hour for my qualifier swim, I took some ibuprofen from Sam and tried to set off toward the Prince of Wales Pier, within 5 minutes I knew it wasn’t possible today, I should have had the tablets hours ago, and now I was cold, I returned to the beach and got out. I had no regrets at all though I do wish I could have done it for Freda.

I almost see her as my Dover Mother. I find it quite moving how this community on swimmers beach are so desperate for people to achieve success, they offer their time and experience free of charge week in week out, they are a top class group of individuals who together form a unique team. I had an excellent recovery and was warm in no time at all, I called Charlie to find that he was going to theatre any minute, I was again sad that I wasn’t home. Soon I was cleaned up, we returned to the beach, offered Ned the use of the car to recover from his second swim of the day and had time to watch their final race. We had a pasta filled evening and returned to Hubert House for an early night. Next morning more of the same, though I only swam for two hours and 45 minutes, the water felt a little cooler than Saturday, but it was much sunnier, after my feed at two hours I had a flare up of the shoulder injury, and decided to get out the next time I passed the beach. I was not cold and stood talking to Barrie on the pebbles, before approaching Freda to tell her the tale. She was ok and understand also that we needed to be home. I gave her a kiss and we departed for the usual boring 340 mile drive. Overall I covered in the region of 15000 metres Saturday and 8000 metres Sunday, total of 7 hours 45 minutes in water around 13.9C. A fantastic couple of days training only dampened by the events of Friday The Thirteenth...As Enda says...boys will be boys!

Monday, 9 June 2008


At 8pm Friday evening, after seven gruelling hours of bumper to bumper traffic, rain storms, surface spray and enforced reduced speed limits, we finally arrived at Hubert House, our accommodation for all our visits to Dover this year. A brisk freshen up and off to Chapters8 for a Chinese buffet, into The White Horse pub next door to the hotel for a nightcap then off to bed. Kelly and I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast throughout the week, we kind of expected and accepted the rain and cloud for the journey but hoped for blue skies Saturday and Sunday, afterall its always warmer down south…isn’t it?

An early start next morning to force down some porridge banana and coffee with a dose anti inflammatory medication for the shoulder which was still bothering me (I hate eating first thing) we drove the very short distance to the harbour where we saw many swimmers already gathered, getting instructions from Freda Streeter and being greased by Barry. The atmosphere was good, we bumped into a few regulars most of whom we don’t know, said hello to those who we could identify (Chris, John, Paul, Sam etc) then had I a momentary flap when I thought I had lost my ear plugs, soon located them and went to speak with Freda, she was very welcoming and told me to try four hours for this my first visit of the year.

On the stroke of nine a.m. I entered the water, it felt chilly initially after two weeks off, I was dreading what the shoulder reaction might be and just hoped it would hold up for more than a few minutes, following several other seasoned swimmers, I tentatively made my way toward the eastern dock wall. I tried not strain as I pulled the water, wanting to ease the joint back into full use, it felt tender and stiff but seemed ok enough to carry on.

By the time I reached the end of the harbour the throng of people had spread out, so I was more or less alone, but for the odd cap or arm splash that could be seen somewhere off in the distance. Four laps to and from the Prince of Wales pier, then at last I was heading in for a feed, I swam into the beach and felt sore in the shoulder and forearm and was beginning to feel chilly. I reached the pebbles on swimmers beach to see KGB standing there, I told her how I felt and soon began to shiver as I stood in knee deep water, the air temperature was probably cooler than the water. She gave me ‘the look’ and told me to get going, I was miserable by now, bored with being alone and just hoped to make it back to the Western end of the harbour and back to swimmers beach.

I did however swim another loop and came back to shore at three hours ten minutes and called it a day. I admitted to KGB that I could have possibly managed a final loop at a struggle, though this was said after I had warmed up. There were however some positives, the shoulder was better than I anticipated after the lay off from both cold water and any form of swimming. It was a step in the right direction from 2hours 20mins in Cork and I was learning a lot about the whole set up here in Dover.

That evening we ate pasta at an Italian restaurant and headed for an early night hoping for a glorious start to Sunday morning as per the forecast.

Alas after a poor nights sleep interspersed with dreams of swimming with the sun on my back, we awoke to a foggy, cloudy, miserable morning, not impressed I struggled to eat my porridge, before heading once more to the waters edge, today Freda said with a grin, ‘You are going to be here a while today..6 hours’ I nearly fell over, did she know it was me, did she remember I was just a baby with a poorly sick shoulder and that my longest swim in the harbour was 190 minutes, I knew this was not a good idea, straight away I started to doubt myself, I was convinced she was going to say four hours maximum, but she was giving out 5s and 6s like there was no tomorrow. Thinking I would aim for four hours with anything else being a bonus I headed into the water, it felt colder than the previous day and my shoulder was much the same, I managed a pathetic 2 hours and ten minutes, Freda was not impressed, she gave me some ‘advice’ and does not expect anything like that again. I was really disappointed at Sundays performance, I just couldn’t get going, my mindset was all over the place and I have beating myself up since. The 340 mile drive home was in the most part not a happy one as a result.

We are back to Dover this coming Saturday (14th) for more of the same, I must do some mental training this week and prepare myself for the worst in terms of conditions, weather, and swim times. Today I still don’t think I am ready for six hours at 13. something degrees but lets see how I feel at the weekend, its not all doom and gloom and I am trying to seek out the good points, so that I don’t drop into a depression.

Freda’s parting words were, ‘You have time so long as you knuckle down, Its good that you feel cold and yes its boring, see you next week’

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Alexander Popov swimming technique

not exactly what I or probably any other aspirants will be doing but some nice viewing all the same whilst we wait to recover, more physio this afternoon, after which I will hopefully be all set for the 340 miles drive to Dover on Friday morning.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Not yet

A rather disturbing week, following the onset of my shoulder problem. I have not been able to swim since last Saturday at Sandycove. I actually went to the gym yesterday to have a little check the progress of my recovery, swimming in the pool for a just a few minutes without any strain caused some mild pain directly at the site of the injury. I therefore made what I thought was the sensible decision to delay my water re entry for a few more days. I was on nights over the weekend, when at one point in the early hours of Sunday I foolishly without thinking went to the assistance of a colleague to push a motor car out of the main road, this caused me some serious pain and I was kicking myself immediately for being so stupid.

The worst of the pain brought on from that momentary lapse was gone this morning when I was woken after 4 hours sleep! I am still on the nsaids and hope that tomorrows physio appointment is worthwhile. I am seriously considering cortisone injections as an option and have been re reading Michele Macys website re this (she swam the English Channel last year in 10hours!)

We are going to Dover this Friday come rain or shine therefore I am hoping for some progress as the mental side effects are getting me down. I am beginning to feel as though the last two years training are going to waste, especially as I am aware of how well training is progressing in Dover Harbour under the guidance of Freda Streeter. Don’t get me wrong, I am reasonably confident that I can cope with the current penance being imposed by Freda which for the majority of swimmers this weekend was 4 hours, it just feels like I am watching from afar, I am desperate to get back into the salt water and hope that the rest I am getting whilst I nurse my shoulder proves to be a blessing in disguise.

Thursday is pencilled in for a RV with Joni Storer, for a swim in the North Sea, he has suggested I obtain a magnetic shoulder strap to accelerate my recovery, I will probably do so being that I am prepared to try anything that may help.