Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Champion of Champions (CofC)

With the familiar road to Dover once again beckoning, we departed from home midday Friday 17 June, we had made arrangements to collect Joe Hunter enroute with a rendezvous of Cambridge services. No sooner had we recommenced the journey from the RV when Joe started reading out emails from his iPhone (posted on the Google Channel Swimmers Group) indicating the severity of the weather forecast, for the first time in history Freda Streeter the Channel General, was advising swimmers that gale force winds together with a spring tide would make it unsafe to swim in the harbour the following day.

This, in our minds, obviously put the BLDSA Champion of Champions event (5 miles then 3 miles then 1 mile) in doubt..it would be a great shame to take time off work, book and pay for accommodation and drive the best part of 350 miles only to find the event cancelled. There was no news from the organisors, therefore we continued south to our lodgings for the night just outside Dover on the A20. Once checked in we headed off to Cullin's Yard for the standard maximum belly stretch, the storm was certainly with us, the windows of the restaurant being lashed with wind and rain as we stuffed our faces.

Next morning after a poor nights sleep, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a clear blue sky as I packed the car and prepared for the brutal day ahead. The normal early breakfast issues and nerves began to surface, there was little time to worry though as we were required at the safety brief for 8:30am.

Several swimmers had already arrived, we sat, chatted, registered/ numbered and basically became a little frustrated as the start time came and went. Eventually a briefing did take place however it was not entirely good news, the standard 1 mile square course was to be adjusted, we were required to visualise this as the buoys were yet to be placed, suffice to say the square would be replaced by a half mile triangular course, meaning ten clockwise laps not 5! what a nightmare, Neil Streeters boat 'Suva' would be anchored at the base of the triangle, we would simply swim by, shout names and numbers and be ticked off...easy enough...?

Around 10:15 swimmers after downing a litre of maxim, we were counted into the water and off we went, the water was 58f  about 14.5c, the usual dog fight at the first turn buoy before the field spread and clear water appeared, it was a little bumpy you might say, the incoming tide was bringing big swells, and wind brought with it just about every weather type known to man, we had rain, sunshine, hail, cloud, wind all in the space of three hours. The photographs do not capture the water movement sadly.

Neil was unable to anchor Suva on the silt bottom of the harbour which resulted in the first lap being more of a square due to drift, a change of plan emerged as numbers were now being taken by a rib, it seemed to take forever to reached six laps, I was worried I was going to have to do eleven as the rib was away performing a rescue during one of my passes. After what seemed like an age without a feed in the choppy swells, I swam upto the the first turn buoy on completion of lap ten only to be told to swim to Suva and give my number again, after 3hours and 10 minutes I was heading to shore after what felt like more than 5 miles, having battled the breakers at the beach, it was actions stations to feed and warm up before the start of the 3 mile swim in less than and hours time.
After a sit in the car and chat with Joe, being attended to by the motherly KGB we emerged to be given the news that due to several issues (abandonment's, injury to kayak safety crew and the weather conditions) the 3 mile event was cancelled. Most of the experienced swimmers stated the 5 mile swim was nearer 6 so that was pleasing but I didn't know how to feel in truth...the lazy part of me was relieved, the planner in me was disappointed, I felt a little cheated but accepted the cancellation decision and spent the next hour or so catching up with some friends who we hadn't seen for some time.
Several 'legends' for me to introduce to Joe, the likes of Kevin Murphy (The King of the English Channel) Jane Murphy, Marcy MacDonald, Freda, Nick Adams, Nuala, Dee, Liane, Thomas, Rebecca Lewis to name a few.
The course was then re positioned closer to land for the 1 mile event, two laps and that was us all done, we hung around for about an hour for the presentation and then due to delays hit the road for the seven hour drive home.
Tired and a little disappointed due to the lack of the 3 mile swim but overall very happy to have swam for 3 hours without a feed at 58f, something I have not managed before now.

Thank you as ever to KGB for your help and support, to Joe and of course the BLDSA especially the paddlers in some atrocious conditions.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

When The King speaks we should LISTEN

When Kevin Murphy -The King of The English Channel was recently asked on facebook:

"What is the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome in the Channel"

This is what he replied

"The biggest obstacle - the mind. Fifty per cent of a successful Channel swim is willpower, 25% swimming ability; 25% fitness. If you don't want it enough and you crack mentally, you won't do it. You will be exhausted. You may be sick. You may think you are never going to get there. But if you are determined enough and keep putting one arm in front of the other, you will get there. However tough it gets, remember, the discomfort is short term. The achievement lasts a lifetime."

There endeth the lesson.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Thick and Fast

The children returned to school last Monday after the the final break of the educational year, albeit will soon be the six week summer holidays. This allowed for a little more training as I continue along the road (or stepping stones as I prefer to call them), enroute to the goals for 2011.

I have developed quite a good relationship with Joe Hunter (EC Sept 2011) and together we have been swimming and laughing at the 'resort' of Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, the water up North is a little cooler than that of the English Channel therefore the time spent on the sessions is obviously nowhere near that of Freda's gang at Dover. That said, we have been making some excellent progress whilst shuffling our everyday work and family issues.

Monday 6 June 1hr 15mins @ 54f/55f
Tuesday 7 June 1hr 35mins @ 53f/54f
Thursday 8 June 1hr 25mins@ 53f

Sandettie shows the Channel in the region of 57f so this is good training for Joe (he recently swam the Eton 10km in 3h:38m and has had a three hour swim at Dover and five hours at Ellerton)

Meanwhile on Saturday I travelled together with KGB, Charlie and Lottie to the Lake District in order to meet with Andy Williams, the purpose of the rendezvous was to have a test swim to assess our pace and to discuss some of the finer details of the planned 2 Way Windermere. We were invited by Thomas Noblett to base ourselves at the delightful Langdale Chase where we were allowed full use of his swimming facilities including kayaks, jetty, changing areas etc.

Andy and I swam for an hour (59f /15c) from the Jetty at the hotel to Holme Crag, accompanied by his wife Ruth in her own sit on kayak, therefore our safety was never an issue, afterwards we warmed up in the the sunshine overlooking the lake from the beautiful hotel grounds where we were spoilt by Thomas providing us fresh coffee with scones, whipped cream and jam..heaven! After some navigation talk and general planning we left for a few hours in Ambleside before the usual 100 mile drive home, before I end this piece I should say a massive thank you to KGB for her continued support and to Thomas who could not have done more to assist....Top man.

Once home I broke most of the pre swim event rules by having a few glasses of red wine, a large hot curry and a late night (for me) watching Forrest Gump..I say pre swim as Sunday I was entered in the BLDSA Wykeham Championships.

Rising early enough to try and fail to eat breakfast, I drove the 65 miles or so towards Scarborough whilst Charlie spent some time with Grandad, it was lovely and sunny with just a little breeze, far better than the prediction. On arrival it was great to see Mark Blewitt, Nuala (Stop Talking) Muir-Cochrane, El Capitan Mark Pashby and his trusty side kick Darren as well as Jo and Amanda from Ellerton who were competing in their first BLDSA event.

I was keen to get started and return home to Charlie and was therefore a little disappointed with delayed start time,  however the 5 laps each of 1000m were soon underway, the conditions were good with the water at 60f/15.5c a little surface chop but nothing like the sea. My goal as with all of these events is firstly to finish and secondly to endeavour to complete in somewhere near to last years time of 1h:41m:12s, (the course is plotted using GPS to ensure accuracy), I was very pleased and surprised to complete my 5km in 1h:37m:45s so age has not taken too much out of me........yet. Thanks to all the safety paddlers and to Dee and Liane for running the show.

Congratulations to Amanda, Jo, Pash and Darren who all completed their swims.

As stated I was in a bit of a rush so departed prior to the awards ceremony, in fact, I was in so much of a rush that I left without my tracksuit bottoms, it was only a few miles up the road I realised I was in fact driving home in speedos with a towel around my waist (I am so pleased I didn't get pulled for speeding!)

The events seem to be coming thick and fast now with The Champion of Champions event this Saturday..so to finish and continue the Tanni GT vocalisation...I am hoping for 2h 50m 5 miles, 1h 40 3 miles, 35 mins 1 mile..fingers crossed.

Features in H2Open

Saturday Morning bright and early I was pleased to hear the postman drop issue 3 of the H2open magazine through the letter box..and even more pleased to look at page 34, if you take a peep at the contents page you see what I mean. A nice follow on from the Dover Solo book review which appeared in issue 2.
Thanks Simon..keep up the great work, I am particularly looking forward to the 'Channel Special'

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Beth Barnes..Kayaker Extraordinaire

Many open water swimmers around the world, myself included depend on so many pieces of the jigsaw fitting together when we commence our swims, one of the most important factors on which it is difficult to place a price, is that of your support crew and pilot who provide your eyes and ears, whilst you are in a state of sensory deprivation. I really enjoyed Beth's heartfelt words and asked if I could post them here...she stated she would be honoured and thanked me for asking! Its us who are honoured and lucky to have such people around. It is such a great feeling knowing you can trust in your guide be it in the ocean or lake...thankyou to all my support team, and for Beth for writing this piece..all pics except the ones of KGB are courtesy of Beth.

For more info you can visit Beths site aptly named ikayak4u.com

Before the veil of stars gives way to dawn, the rhythmic sound of stroke-after-stroke is the only indication that anything disturbs the vast and relative calm of the Catalina Channel. The synchronized efforts of swimmer and kayaker, slowly but methodically slicing their way through the swells, are but a radar blip on the universe’s screen. The night is eerily and barely illuminated by several light sticks and the dim shadows of the support boat in the distance, so darkness prevails while Catalina Island fades and the Palos Verdes Peninsula beckons. It is a slow, methodical, and heroic journey - a Southern California pastime that few can imagine and fewer still will experience.

Open water swimming is a sleeping giant, yawning and stretching and ready to awaken with a roar. It won’t be long until athletes of all abilities, keen for the next big challenge, grab cap, goggles and body grease and challenge the open water. Few, however will find the strength of mind and body to brave this cold and foreboding channel. If they do, they’ll need me, or someone like me, in a kayak next to them. These waters can be welcoming and calm, or they can be wild and uninviting with currents that are unpredictable and treacherous, and the cold is an ever-looming demon.
According to the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, the 2010 season was a record year for swimmers with over forty elite athletes attempting the sanctioned swim. During the 2009 season there were just fifteen crossings. The Catalina Channel is a challenge on par with the English Channel, but the wait for optimal conditions does not hamper the marathon swimmer in California as it does the one at the white cliffs of Dover.

For a small group of committed and elite marathon swimmers the Catalina Channel is also but one swim in a trio of swims that comprises the Triple Crown of marathon swimming. The Triple Crown is earned by swimmers who complete the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the English Channel Swim and the Catalina Channel Swim. Less than forty athletes have earned this illustrious accolade to date, and U.S. Masters swimmers Jim Barber, 51, who swims for YMCA Indy SwimFit, holds the record for taking the longest time – 22 years - to complete the swims. Rendy Lynn Opdycke, 27, from Novaquatics Masters, completed the challenge in an impressive thirty four days.

Due to the unpredictable conditions during the daylight hours, swimmers begin their Catalina crossing around midnight from a small, secluded and very dark cove on Catalina Island’s west end. They have to travel there from the California mainland, crossing the very channel they will immediately have to cross again under their own power. In order to complete a sanctioned and official swim, a trained Catalina Channel Swimming Federation observer is on board the support vessel that will transport the swimmer and their team to the island. During the two hour boat ride, the observers are finalizing details and ensuring each team member understands what is expected. The team will usually include family members, friends and pace swimmers, all of whom understand the intensity of the occasion and all of whom are there for one reason … to support their swimmer.

To complete the personal and hand chosen team, there will be two support kayakers who may be strangers to the swimmer and family, but they will be equally committed. The volunteer kayakers will take shifts throughout the night and will be constant companions, stroke-by-stroke during the journey, moving in unison with the swimmer in order to keep them on course. If their course is altered in any way this can add extra strokes to the swim which will mean wasted time and extra distance.

“Without a competent kayaker who knows the challenge of the open channel, including a positive attitude, the swim would be more difficult to navigate. We depend upon kayakers to be our ears, eyes, compass and lane line so we only have to concentrate on every stroke that takes us closer to our goal,” says Barber.

The swimmer is flanked by the pitching support boat on one side and the steadier kayak on the other, and although they dance to the same song, the steps are occasionally altered due to swells, currents and winds. The swimmer will sight from both boats, so they are illuminated with dull yet visible light sticks, purposely kept dim in order to avoid attracting sea life. There is a reverence about swimming under these conditions, and although it is often unspoken, an undercurrent of deep respect for the swimmer prevails.
The support kayaker is the first line of defense in the event of personal distress but most of all, the kayaker is the security blanket for the swimmer. The Catalina Channel in the darkest hours of a starless night can be an unnerving place and the company of a kayaker is a comfort, a dim beacon in an otherwise black night. It is a privilege and a terrific responsibility to be that comfort. The pace of the kayak is determined by the pace of each individual swimmer and although it seems easy, it takes strength of mind and body to maneuver a kayak across twenty one miles of open water and fortitude to remain awake. Kayaking is often done in shifts of two to three hours but six to eight hours is my goal so the swimmer is disrupted as little as possible.

It is a humbling and grueling endeavor, and these marathon swimmers are athletes of the highest order who understand that mental attitude is just as important as physical prowess. They could so easily confront the channel with the intention of conquering, but instead, they come only to connect, not to conquer. The channel reprimands ego but rewards humility so the swimmer must understand that all bragging rights are earned after enduring great difficulty.

As the trio of swimmer, kayaker and boat move toward the mainland, the swimmer’s support crew finds their own quiet corner of the pitching vessel to claim as their own. They settle down to watch the slow but methodical progress. The swimmer is lost in a private aquatic world as months and possibly years of preparation are put to the test. The kayaker watches the swimmer and probably wonders, why? The crew on the boat watches both swimmer and kayaker and wonders, why?

The swimmer swims while the kayaker paddles. Two slow moving blurs in the middle of a vast and pitch-black ocean; synchronizing their strokes from one shore to another. It is as simple as that.

Monday, 6 June 2011

How we FEEL cold water

The following post appears with the permission of Donal Buckley

When you enter cold water you feel a few different sensations. I talked about habituation and gasp reflex, peripheral vaso-constriction and mammalian dive reflex before, and I’m sure I will again. But I neglected to talk about one of the most obvious effects, the feeling across your skin.Depending on your experience the feeling may be severe enough that you can’t tell exactly to which sensation it is analogous. It might feel like fire or ice or boiling water or acid or lime, or as you’d imagine them.

Those are thermoreceptors, only one of the four main types of touch receptors (extraceptors) in the skin. There are also pain receptors (nocireceptors). Ah, yes, there’s a difference.

There are apparently about 50 touch receptors per square centimetre of skin. One square centimetre is equal to 2.4710538147 x 10-8 acres in American money! (Engineer humour again).

Anyway, the main sensory input from cold water comes from the thermoreceptors. Thermoreceptors are of two types, sensing both heat and cold. And … there are about four times as many cold receptors as heat receptors. And, the maximum density of cold receptors is where?

Oh yeah, you swimmers know – there are more in the face and ears! Yes, the bits that hurt the most, and go cold the quickest.

In The Nervous System in Action, author Michael Mann says “in estimating skin temperature, people are quite accurate in the region of normal body temperature, 37 ºC to 38 ºC, but they consistently overestimate higher and underestimate lower temperatures.” Interesting. I think after a certain time cold water swimmers develop a really good internal estimation system for cold. If Lisa or Rob tell me the water is 8 ºC, I believe them. Partly because of their experience, partly because of mine.

Mann further says “starting at 28 ºC, the temperature has to be raised by about 1 ºC [ ... ] to elicit a sensation of warmth or lowered by 0.15 ºC to elicit a sensation of cold.”

That’s probably a surprise for many of us. I certainly thought I could detect a heat change (to warmer water) of maybe half a degree once I was swimming and cooled down. Of course unlike measuring temperatures before and after swimming, I’ve never had a way of checking this.

He makes a significant point that these changes are contingent based on whatever the acclimation temperature is “When the temperature of the skin is changed rapidly, the sensation evoked depends not only on the amount and direction of change, but also upon the temperature from which it is changed, the acclimation temperature.”

And Mann has a nice experiment: “To convince yourself that these observations are accurate, try the following experiment: Fill three bowls with water: one lukewarm, one cold and one warm. Put the left hand in cold water, the right in warm water for a while and then place both in the lukewarm water. A clear sensation of warmth will occur in the left hand and a sensation of cold in the right. An important conclusion from Figure 5-8 is that the same temperature can feel either warm or cold depending upon stimulus conditions, i.e., the acclimation temperature”.

(You could do that with just three glasses of water and hold them instead).

Heat receptors start to perceive heat above 30 ºC. and continue to perceive heat until the maximum receptor stimulation which occurs at 45 ºC. Over 45 ºC, pain receptors take over to avoid (Stop! Heat! Burn!) damaging the skin and body.

Cold receptors only start to perceive cold below 35 °C. Normal core body temperature is 37 °C. So you start to feel cold pretty quickly. And there is obviously a five degree cross-over where both hot and cold receptors are operating. I guess it is partly the balance of these two that help indicate level of comfort.

Drum roll. At five degrees C. cold receptors no longer operate. Unlike with heat, the pain receptors don’t come into operation. So … you start to go numb, end of pain.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

As luck would have it

This vocalising business seems to be helping a little bit (Thanks Tanni) partly because it sets a target / partly because of the embarrassment which follows should the said target not be reached for anything other than a near death excuse.

Several members of the OWSNEE Facebook group had committed to attending Ellerton Lake on Thursday 2nd June, most of whom planned to arrive around 5pm, however Joe Hunter and I arrived early in attempt to rack up three hours...now.. for a change, the North East of England had been baked in glorious sunshine all day, resulting in perfect conditions, the water had shot up to 17C, it was glass like in appearance with the air temperature in the region of 24 degrees!!

We swam around the outer edge of the whole lake rather than the usual ten minute loops around the buoys, this made for a far less boring session, with each lap taking in the region of half and hour, we fed on the hour, the time was passing OK once we had finished the dreaded first 60 minutes..sometime after the 5pm feed we were joined by several other swimmers both in and out of rubber.

Having exited the water after 3 hours and 10 minutes, I was toying with mixed emotions, on the one hand I was delighted to have completed the time with no issues apart from a little fatigue in the shoulders, on the other hand I was feeling a bit of a fraud due to the exemplary conditions, surely anybody could have swam for three hours in that near bath like water??

It was certainly somewhat easier than the hour we had swam the day before at Seaton Carew in 11c / 52f, but I suppose that's just the luck of the draw..