Our weekend training trips to Dover are basically a race from start to finish. The contest normal begins with parental planning, the school run, try to finish work early, load the car and head southbound for a minimum of 6 hours, as you can imagine, by the time we arrive on the south coast we are shattered, this week was no different. We managed a quick meal, followed by a broken nights sleep, waking with a body full of aches and pains as a result of sleeping in a strange small bed .
“700 miles? In a weekend? I take it you fly to Dover” was the comment from a workmate … “Oh no we just drive” the look on his face said it all…one questioning my sanity!
I had (or at least I thought I had) prepared my self mentally this week for a six hour swim on Saturday in order to qualify before the waters reached anything above a balmy 16 degrees, so it was no surprise when I reported in, to be handed my red cap and be asked to do 6. Yep I knew she was going to say that.
It was a busy time on the beach this weekend with a lot of new faces in attendance, many of whom I had spoken to online, we met with Kaise Stephan, Vasanti and later Stanley Paris, all of whom were really nice, caring and enthusiastic.
After some intros I was greased by the ever present Barrie and headed into the very low water together with Kaise and his support swimmer Ryan, he was just swimming for an hour before meeting his pilot we also planned to see our skipper this week at some point but unfortunately never got chance. Into the water, we walked until in a reasonable depth and headed off to the eastern dock wall, basically swam a lap of the harbour before going our separate ways. It was great swimming with someone of a similar pace, the benefits of gently moving along side by side are enormous, the mind has far more things with which to be occupied, the first hour seemed to fly by.
I continued on alone, the sun was in and out and the water felt ok at just short of 16C, by the time I was due to come in for a feed a 2 hours my right shoulder/arm was playing up and all manner of negatives had started to invade my mental plan. Issues I hadn’t considered for the first hour would not leave my head and I didn’t do a very good job of thinking positive, cold, bored, hurting, hungry, choppy water, tired…I had let all these things get a hold of me. I swam in and told Barrie my shoulder was playing up, I was gutted… he gave me a warm maxim drink, some pain killers and instructed me to swim to out to the Western wall and see how it felt afterwards. At that point I had decided I was getting out, and so I did at 2 hours and 20 minutes, I dragged my sorry butt up the beach and had to face Freda, I was embarrassed at my performance and went away to sulk, I was too stubborn to see the error of my ways and sat on the stones thinking it was all over.
KGB arrived back at the beach a short time later (she wasn’t expecting me to be out this early) and was not a happy bunny, What was I playing at? What had Freda said? She sat with me for a while, I could almost hear the cogs turning in her head as she disappeared… before much longer, Freda was approaching with that knowing smile beckoning me to sit with her on one of the concrete groins. We had a heart to heart, I was told a number of things about both my training and my character, she then said something that really hit the spot (am not letting you into it though)…and no matter what my body was saying I was getting back in, “Just two hours, good boy and Jane (Murphy) will do the second one with you”
The variety of guises Freda Streeter can take on amaze me, she can be scary, motivating, hard but above all she is also one of the most selfless and compassionate people I know. Kelly was not allowed to speak to me before I re entered the water, I was in and swimming without time to consider other options, it was rougher than earlier, when Jane joined me I felt like she had been sent to kick my a**e, I was fighting tooth and nail to keep up. When we left the water, it was in a much better place emotionally. Thanks Jane for joining me. Saturday 2 swims, 4 hours 20 minutes 15.9C.
Whilst I was doing my second swim a plan had been hatched between KGB, Freda and Jane and some of the other beach crew. After a relaxed chat and we had the remainder of the day to our selves, subsequently had a lovely evening meal at Dunkerleys in Deal. The setting was beautiful and the back ground music encouraged me to think about a number of issues some of which brought on a bout of tears. Sunday, I had decided was now or never.
Another nights broken sleep, breakfast, pack the car, check out of Hubert House and report in to Freda and Irene at the beach, “Morning Mark, red cap number 6 and 6 hours, in every hour to feed, its choppy and it will be getting worse, away you go” A quick reminder of yesterdays conversation followed by a greasing up from Barry.
Saturdays plan had already been put in motion I was going to be swimming with Jane for 2 hours then Kaise for 1 hour then later Jane again for the final hour, as I stripped I couldn’t locate Jane so headed in to start alone. The water felt about the same as previous day, was very choppy to the extent that we were told not to go much further than the sloping groin. A circuit of the harbour and in for feed one, Barrie questioned why I was not with Jane as she was already in to catch up with me..? Around twenty minutes later I was heading back from the eastern end when by pure chance I accidentally grabbed a foot whilst I reached out through the increasing chop, as luck would have it, it was in fact Jane and Kathy, we swam together to the Prince of Wales (PofW) pier then on Jane’s say so completed another lap.
Feed 2 thus arrived I took some Ibuprofen from KGB and noticed Kaise and Ryan standing in their togs waiting to start. Some quick hellos and I was off to the PofW pier again, the boys soon caught up, once by the wall we did some intervals up and down with 30 seconds rest between each repeat. Soon it was time to head in for Midday and Feed 3.
Kaise and Ryan left the water, whilst I took my maxim and chocolate. The next hour was uneventful, I was joined by another unknown swimmer as I did some more repeats. It was as I made progress for Feed 4 that I knew was going to manage the six. Telling myself I had only one more feed seemed a much better prospect than the thought of two more hours, and so Feed 5 came. By now it was raining, the waves were crashing up swimmers beach, the crew there were soaked to the skin, Barrie by now was in full oil skins! the wind was blowing a gale and the sea was getting more and more angry. As I got to the beach I was greeted by cheers and a wall of people shouting praise and encouragement. Freda and Kelly were blowing me kisses and giving me the thumbs up, this hit a nerve and I immediately began to think about my late mum. It was then that I noticed Jane being cuddled as she struggled to keep warm. I told her she didn’t have to join me, true to her word, in she got and battled the waves for another hour. It was a fight to return to shore on completion, though the elated feeling when I did make it in such conditions made it worth while. The girls were waiting with hugs for me as I waded through the wash. A quick all day breakfast with Freda, her Grandson, Jane, Kevin, Matt, and Neil was then followed by phase three of the race, the return 350 miles to home, arriving around midnight I was tired to say the least.
Thankyou very much indeed to everyone who helped the swimmers this weekend in some atrocious conditions, I am happy to be officially qualified and look forward to my split channel swims next time we are in Dover.