Sunday, 21 June 2015

BLDSA Champion of Champions 2015

Friday 19th June 2015 brought the standard horrific Dover drive, 340 miles south stuttered from the word go with traffic congestion. Arriving around 2030, we quickly checked in with Kevin Murphy at Charter House (recommended accommodation for swimmers be it your EC tidal slot or training weekends) the self sufficient cosy flat with enough rooms for us and two of the kids (Charlie and Lottie). We were delighted to see Freda too but had to cut short our catch up gossip for a table reserved at 'Cullins Yard'. 

(I had also arranged to meet with Jane from Portsmouth University re the Cold Water study, in order to take possession of 'the pill' as described on previous post)

A quick pasta meal and another chance meeting, this time with Sam Jones, then it was back to the flat to relax before bed.

Saturday morning after a broken nights sleep, mainly due to nerves,  I left the children and KGO in bed as I headed off for swim registration about 8am. Mark Sheridan and his team of helpers were in situ as were dozens of swimmers, friends old and new.., too many to mention. 

I had my weight, height and skin folds measured for the study, along with my core temperature by the Uni team. 

Arms marked up with professional Olympic style numbering it was just a case of awaiting the safety briefing before the inevitable start, planned for 0915. 

The plan was simple, swim the triangular course (what is it with the BLDSA and triangles ??? Wykeham/CofC/Derwent Water) clockwise for 10, yes 10 laps, report in to Kate Todd at the last buoy nearest shore on each lap..simples. What could possible go wrong?

The 5 mile started pretty much on time, the water felt fresh but it was too late to complain, the mass deep water start was as hectic as ever, though it didn't take long for the racing snakes (the likes of Chloe and Ollie (eventual Champions) to forge ahead. 

Rounding the first buoy, breathing under control, I felt wired, yes wired NOT weird. I needed to settle down into the metronome of one arm in front of the other. 

It would be pointless of me to flower this up so I will be as honest as can be. I rounded the second buoy and almost fell to pieces. I felt panic stricken, cold, lightheaded..what the hell was going on. I had swam plenty of times in the murky waters of Dover Harbour, the conditions were great, the sun was trying to get out, the water was about 14. something degrees C and I had only been in the said water for about 10 minutes??. Help.

It took all my concentration and focus to get to grips with this awful mental blip. I continued swimming throughout, speaking to myself all the while, working through the issues one at a time, calling on some relaxation techniques. In the back of my mind I also had the faces of those who had joked with me about ensuring I finish this event (Kelly, Emma, Sam, Graeme, G, Freda et al) 

After 5 minutes or so, my head began to settle down and sort itself. I plodded on and on and on, after what seemed like an eternity, 5 laps were done. I was half way, I was playing all kinds of mathematical games with the numbers and distances remaining. Feed wise; At some point I grabbed a couple of jelly babies from the lap counters, together with a gel I had concealed in my trunks. 

I knew each lap was taking between 15-18 minutes, therefore I knew I was now in the final hour. Yahoo! No matter how long your swim, knowing you are in the final hour always brings great relief and happiness!! In my mind the last loop didn't count as that was just the swim back to the beach.

10 laps down, one final report in to Kate with directions to swim to shore, where we touch the green buoy and the clock stopped. Excellent. Surely that was the toughest part of the event over ?

The Uni attempted unsuccessfully to take my core temperature, I was either dead or needed to swallow another pill.

KGO and the children were waiting with towels and warm dry clothes, they supplied me with several hot sweet drinks of coffee, I gobbled down a couple of croissants and an energy gel, spending the remaining time resting and warming up.

The Suunto shows 2 breaks in connection to the satellite, but you get the idea.

5 miles: 2hours 40minutes 54seconds

When we commenced the first swim, it was more or less low water. As the tide came in, so did the wind, this resulted in a marked changed in conditions for the 3 miler, the bumpy water slowed my pace and made sighting more difficult. This was physically way tougher than the 5 mile swim. Thankfully the mental demons did not re visit. Mile 2 of 3 was a killer for me, fatigued, aching, my goggles fogged to the extent that I asked Lianne to guide me in her kayak on the last leg as I was swimming blind! 

This time the Uni managed to take a reading !! I was alive....More coffee and sweets before the final briefing of the day for a mere mile.

3 miles(4898metres): 1hour 47minutes 55seconds

Good conditions had once more returned for the days final swim, just 2 laps and it would all be over, slightly more of a swim (due to the tidal range) to the start line but I was past caring.

After some thrashing around fighting the waves on the 3 miler, I decided to focus on technique and good form for these last two laps. I was very relaxed knowing it was all but achieved and enjoyed the last mile very much.
1 mile (1763metres): 33minutes 51seconds 

The presentation followed with rightful thanks to all involved in organisation and safety cover. Mark Sheridan had something positive to say about almost every swimmer, making the whole event feel very personal and friendly.

The weather held good until the end of the proceedings when the heavens opened. How lucky we were.

An awesome event. Highly recommended. Thank-you to BLDSA family yet again.

More pics later as well as feed back from the Uni.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Cold Water Swimmers Temperature Study

Whilst I am attending and taking part in the BLDSA Champion of Champions event this weekend at Dover, I will also be taking part in a cold water study conducted by The   University of Portsmouth,Department of Sport & Exercise Science.

We are surveying swimmers, to find out what factors affect your deep body temperature and also to further improve planning and health and safety for open water swimming and triathlon events worldwide. The information gained may also be of benefit to search and rescue organisations.

Taking part in this research is entirely voluntary. It is up to you to decide if you want to volunteer for the study. 

You will be asked to complete a questionnaire about your swimming experience, the event you are taking part in, as well as measure your height, weight, skinfold thickness and wetsuit fit (if you are wearing a wetsuit). You will be required to swallow a temperature pill. The picture below shows the approximate size of the pill (about the size of a Jelly bean). We will ask you to swallow the temperature pill that will start to read your deep body temperature. We would like to record your temperature just prior to the start of your swim, when you finish and again 30 minutes after you have finished.
Once you have swallowed the pill it will pass into your stomach and though your intestines before you pass the pill out. 

After swallowing the pill you will have to wear an orange medical wristband until the pill has passed out of your body (this should take between one and two days WE DO NOT WANT IT BACK!). For approximately one hour after swallowing the temperature pill we ask you to drink only tepid drinks, not cold or hot drinks as the temperature of the drink can affect the pill temperature measurements.

What measurements will be taken?
We will take all the measurements (survey, measure your height and weight) before the swim. We will also record your deep body temperature before the start of the swim, as soon as you finish, and then again 30 minutes after you have finished.

What are the possible benefits of taking part?
There are no direct benefits to you, but we hope that the results of this study will increase our understanding of the effects of cold water swimming on the body. This work will contribute towards developing the lower water temperature limits for swimming and triathlon races.  This information would also be extremely helpful with event planning and risk assessment, event safety cover and co-ordination, and entrant information and preparation to further improve open water swimming and triathlon events.

Who is funding the research?
This research is being funded by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), International Triathlon Union (ITU) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

Monday, 15 June 2015

BLDSA Wykeham 2015

As previously mentioned, Sunday 14th June 2015 was the BLDSA Wykeham Championship. I have completed this one several times, the main reason being its geographical convenience. At 70 miles from home its is the closest event in the UK, apart from the wetsuit triathlon type crowded rubbish that does nothing for me.

Its seems to be the norm, that regardless of the weather in the preceding weeks and days, Wykeham is generally miserable, damp and windy. This year was no different, however, as alluded to elsewhere, I would certainly prefer poor weather for what can realistically be termed a training or build up swim.

No matter which words you decide to choose, train hard fight easy, expect the worst hope for the best, or God works in mysterious ways. It has to be a good thing to have challenging conditions whilst preparing for bigger and better things.

On arrival it was great to see several regulars including Mark Sheridan, Dee, Pat and Liane Llewellyn, Belly, Sarah T, Dom Gillespie, Jo Blackburn and many more, having registered it was just a case of waiting to start.

As can clearly be seen below, the event follows a multi lap triangular course. Side 1: was with a more or less following wind. Side 2: offered a head wind with Side 3: having right side minor chop. Nothing too testing but certainly sufficient to require a greater effort than swimming in a mill pond. Sighting was probably the most difficult aspect of the day due to the drizzle and the slight chop.

The water was reported to be just short of 15 degrees C though the ambit3 and my body for that matter indicated more like 16 degrees. The safety brief informed us that the course was measured at 1100m loops. I was therefore aware at the outset that a PB was not doable. Generally speaking, I manage the 5k in around 1hour 37 Minutes, last year the finis hydro tracker recorded a distance at 4999 metres ! 

This year the Suunto recorded as per the image below at 5460m in a time of 1:41:49 my official time on the certification is 1h 41m 42 seconds. The brief was more or less spot on.

Following the 5km event we warmed up, had a snack and some hot drinks, then prepared to re-enter the  water for the 1km event. I figured this would be good practice for the Champion of Champions, getting back into the cold water despite feeling toasty warm and comfortable. 

With Charlie kayaking as part of the safety cover, 19minutes 58seconds later it was all over.

The presentation was well attended with some touching tributes to persons no longer with us, then, as is becoming standard practice we had massive success winning several raffle prizes.

A great low key event, excellent facilities and friendly atmosphere. Thank you to all involved in organising, time keeping, first aid and safety cover etc..see you next year.

Event photos courtesy BLDSA 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Cheating ?

In preparation for Sundays BLDSA Wykeham Event (just 5km freshwater, my time for which is generally about 1h 38 minutes) I returned to Ellerton on Wednesday 10th June for another 2 hour swim (6278m), whilst I was pleased with my form, distance covered and especially the recovery, it did feel like I was cheating with the water up to 16 degrees. The training will be of benefit at the afore mentioned event but will be of little use for the BLDSA Champion of Champions Event at Dover the following weekend.

Last night I was analysing the GPS route for the latest 2 hours and decided to play around with some of the additional Suunto Movescount features. Below the ever present map you will see a short animation, which is made available in around 60 seconds at the press of a button within the app, probably more usefull for the cyclists and fell runners featuring changes in altitude, but you get the idea.

My acclimatisation process must be having the desired effect if I felt like a fraud on Wednesday. Once Sunday is out of the way I will need to find some cold water for a few dips next week. Fingers crossed for Dover Harbour to be above 13 degrees for the CofC.

P.S. Just been to the 'The Mecca' for a quick dip before the school run. I was expecting the North Sea water to be 11 degrees and was strangely disappointed that it was nearing 13, the sunshine on ones back does make an enormous difference.

Related posts:
Champion of Champions 2011
Open Water Tests with Suunto Ambit 3
Pool Tests with Suunto Ambit 3

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Can you see what it is yet?

I apologise if you are growing tired of looking at the GPS tracks of my training swims..KGO (previously known as KGB) clearly is, she asked if I actually think about what shape is being created as I swim and could I please make more of an artistic effort !!

To that is a vague butterfly from a 2 hour swim on Friday in the wind..use your imagination for goodness sake !

Art aside I was pleased to complete the two hours in the water, recovery was good, next weekend is the BLDSA Wykeham swim which I have swam several times, it will be great to see some of the stalwarts prior to the dreaded C of C the following weekend 20 June

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Time Gentlemen Please

Thursday I took an hour off work and spent it at max effort in the lake, the water was nice at 14.3c though it was rather patchy.

I average 3km an hour open water and 3.6km per hour in a 25 m pool. Today I was pleased to cover 3346m in the hour. Sometimes I get hung up on time in the water, especially when schedules and time are tight. I should learn to recall the quote from the absolute gent that is Mr Nick Adams "it's not just about how long you are in the water, it's what you do whilst you are in there"

This in turn reminds me of one of my all time favourite posts from Mr Alcatraz Gary Emich......
Don't let the pool cheat you .... Enjoy

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Mighty Milko van Gool

I have recently been communicating with Milko Van Gool from Holland on social media, he is an open water swimmer of some considerable standing having swam both the English Channel (2011) and The North Channel (2013) (amongst others) some time ago he published the interview below on his blog, I found it very interesting and hope you do to..Many thanks Milko for the permission to re publish here



By Richard Broer – Netherlands Open Water Web (NOWW)
Translation: Rose O'Duffy

You’ve been preparing for this swim for a couple of years now. Have you learned any lessons from the experience ?

I’ve learned a lot, not just in terms of swimming and training, but also in a more general context.

The most important lesson of course is that with willpower and determination virtually anything is possible. I know that is a well-worn cliché but I came to realise how true it is.
Three years ago I was so unfit that I could only just about manage to swim 500 metres in a swimming pool, and now I’ve done The Channel and in a pretty good time too. That is an important lesson for me, not only in relation to anything else I might want to do in my life but also where my children are concerned.

I also believe that is was sensible to start preparing gradually although that is not normally like me!  In 2009 I did my first 10 km swim (Vriezenveen), at the beginning of 2010 I did a 20 km  warm water swim (Rottnest Channel Swim,  Australia, 24°), in August 2010 I did my first Stavoren-Medemblik (19°), then in February 2011 I did the Rottnest swim again. After that I left Bangladesh for the Netherlands and spent two months training in cold open water, (the river Meuse (Maas), the IJsselmeer as well as a weekend in Dover Harbour with the Channel swimmers’ group organised by the legendary Freda Streeter) in order to round off my training.

I discovered I have good resistance to cold water.  At the beginning of June in Dover it was a revelation to me that I could deal with 5-6 hour training sessions in 12-13° C water. Mentally that was a boon because since then I haven’t been very concerned about temperatures experienced during a Channel crossing (16°).

Given my limited open water experience it was important for me to have an experienced coach, Marcel van der Togt, as sounding board. Although I was well able to organise my own training, at crucial moments over the past two years he intervened with the right advice about technique, (preventing a shoulder injury), training build-up, the need for variety in training and about training intensity viz. the importance of rest and recovery. Two or three weeks before the Swim he gave me a stern talking-to at a time when I was in danger of overtraining and probably saved me a lot of misery for which I’m truly grateful. Marcel’s training philosophy involves among other things increasingly imitating your goal in your training: hence you swim the whole Channel distance in peaks divided by intervals, first over 4 consecutive days,  then over 3, then 2 and finally in 1. This proved a highly successful method for me, and for him too as it turned out:  Marcel swam the Channel the day before me having started training for it only 7 months previously!

Overtraining is a serious risk, both in mental as well as in physical terms. Round about March this year, in particular following a none too brilliant performance in the Rottnest Channel Swim, I became thoroughly fed-up.  Remote consultation with Marcel produced a solution and after a few weeks of reduced swimming and increased cross training (running, rowing, cycling in the gym) I was back on track again. Since then I no longer train when I don’t feel inspired. If you really want to swim the Channel, that inspiration will return of its own accord.

How did your family react ?

Well, with mixed feelings given the amount of time I spent in training over the last few years but right now they are proud and delighted. For me it was absolutely tremendous that my wife, Asha, travelled on the pilot boat too so that she could witness the result of all that training. Her presence along with that of Marcel was a huge support to me.
My job in Bangladesh (Head of development cooperation at the EU Delegation there) is very demanding. Hence my training could not be at the expense of my job but rather at the expense of time spent at home. So that’s why I’m postponing all further major projects for this year in order to make up for lost time with my family.

You were swimming for a good cause. How did you hit upon that cause and did you collect as much money as you expected ?

In Bangladesh I came in contact with the work of the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) thanks to previous sponsoring activities by my Masters swimming club in Dhaka. This organisation, founded by Bangladeshis and entirely run by them, aims to reduce the appalling number of drowning fatalities among Bangladeshi children (nearly 50 a day!) by simple means like providing information and swimming lessons to the poorest sections of the population. I wanted to give the CIPRB a share of any publicity which my Channel swim might generate. I had no precise idea of the actual amount that I might succeed in collecting, although I now realise that in order to attract big corporate sponsors you need to invest far more time in lobbying than I could manage. All the same,  thanks to numerous donations from individuals I have already reached a figure of 4500 euros (6500 US dollars). Contributions are still coming in and hopefully will continue. 
Donations are of course still welcome at account no. BE44 8601 1176 9745 (= IBAN; BIC = SPAABE22) mentioning ‘MvG Channel Swim’.

How did the actual Swim go ?

Around 06.30 am on 27. July we boarded the boat in Dover Harbour,  Marcel, Asha, Captain Paul Foreman with a crewmember and the observer from the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation. After all the tense waiting it was almost a relief to be able finally to jump into the water and swim calmly to the shore for the start.

After the start I spent half an hour swimming fairly slowly in order to warm up and get into my rhythm, then I moved into a higher gear. I was given feeds (Maxim Carboloader (97% maltodextrine) or Aptonia Hydro Endurance (with electrolytes) every 20 minutes,  plus half a banana every hour with ibuprofen and paracetamol alternately) and that proved to be the right pattern; I never felt hungry and right to the very end I was able to keep swimming with powerful strokes. The sky was grey, looking threatening at times and the sea was choppier than we’d hoped. As I breathe in only on my lefthand side, I had to swim on the righthand side of the boat where the skipper couldn’t see me as well. At the outset it wasn’t easy either for him or for me to keep alongside but then I started to swim sometimes in front of the boat, sometimes behind it, which meant suffering occasionally from diesel exhaust fumes. Fortunately later on things improved, although due to the wind and waves it was not easy for the skipper to manoeuver the boat at very low speed, while maintaining that speed constant.

My memories of the middle part of the crossing are pretty vague. Not all that much happens; you just swim, concentrate on your stroke and your rhythm, look at what people on the boat are doing, think of your next feed. The water was cold and fairly clear; I could see jellyfish and garfish passing a few metres below me. Only one jellyfish sting. While swimming and feeding I tried to avoid looking at the British or French coasts because that wouldn’t help anyway in judging whether I was making good progress. In any case because of the swell and the waves I could see very little, just tankers passing from time to time a long way off. Marcel and I had agreed that he would not give me any information at feeding times about the distance covered or how much remained because it would be pretty meaningless given the tidal flows in the Channel. We were calculating on a time of more or less 12 hours so that’s how I divided up my time; 3 hours would see me through 25% of the trip, 6 hours 50% etc. As I had already noticed in the past, including during long-distance training sessions, I tend to take a fair while (sometimes as much as 2 hours) before I really get into my stride, and I start to feel better and swim better only when I’ve completed half the distance. The same thing applied this time. So it was a great boost for the morale when I heard that I was on course for a time of 11 hours, by which stage I was already more than halfway.

Having misunderstood the skipper at one stage, (hour after hour in the sea doesn’t exactly make you more alert…. ) I mistakenly thought that I had had my last feed so I put on a turn of speed. However there were two more feeds still to come! So towards the end for a whole hour I swam flat out. Apparently I still had sufficient reserves for that so the misunderstanding ultimately paid off; with a time of 10 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds I clocked in as the fourth fastest Channel swimmer out of 24 successful solo crossings so far this year and am ranked 241th in the all-time list (1658 crossings to date), i.e. in the top 15%. Apart from the fact that I got to the other side, I am very proud of my time too.

What was it like setting foot on land ?

It wasn’t all that easy gaining a foothold on land! We landed on the rocks just under Cap Gris Nez and the official observer had already stated that it was sufficient for him if I just touched the rocks. However after all that swimming naturally you want to stand on the rocks and it entailed quite a bit of clambering to get up on them with a few impressive grazes as a result.

Naturally I was absolutely drained after such a colossal swim. Yet I was not in the state of physical exhaustion, confusion even, which I had been half expecting. I was dead-tired yet I felt very calm, not euphoric nor over-emotional, rather “that’s it”! I allowed myself a few minutes to savour the moment, there, alone on the rocks. I tried to find a little stone to keep as a souvenir but there was nothing at all, nothing but massive slippery boulders!

Even getting  back into the water was not easy due to the crashing waves and smooth, slippery rocks. In the photos I seem to be literally scratching my head wondering how I can safely re-enter the water.

There followed a relaxed 200 metre swim back to the boat where hugs and congratulations were in order. No euphoria, just a sense of profound satisfaction. I was wide-awake and alert. Just a few physical problems; almost immediately I climbed aboard the boat I was violently sea-sick and during the three hour return trip to Dover I puked my guts out. Only after a few hours back in the hotel and after a gigantic evening meal with Marcel and Asha, did it finally sink in what I had achieved, when the first congratulatory messages started arriving. Despite my fatigue I didn’t sleep much that night because of all the excitement.

A month has passed already since your Channel swim and you’re back at your desk in Dhaka. Did you have the opportunity to savour your achievement ?

And how, and it hasn’t stopped yet! After all the Channel is an icon, it’s the Mount Everest of open-water swimming and the challenge has been fascinating people for over a century. You are made well aware of that. Of course I appreciated the countless messages of congratulation both in the Netherlands and in Bangladesh. It was a strange experience being the focus of so much attention in the – local – media (TV, radio and press) and it was great to be able to highlight the work being done by the CIPRB.

Got any plans for the future ?

After a week of complete rest and a bit of recovery training in the Netherlands, I am now picking up the thread again and resuming swimming and running at a relaxed pace. I have a few other ideas in the sporting context but for the present, nothing of the same magnitude as the Channel. I definitely intend staying fit and being able to do 10-20 kmswims. I’d like to vary my training more with more speed- and cross training. But this year training takes a back seat to family and work.

Have you any tips for anyone else aiming to swim the Channel ?

One single Channel swim does not make me an expert but I’d be happy to let aspiring Channel swimmers share my limited experience (my e-mail address; Here are a few general and strictly personal tips based on my own experience;

-          Start in time to train hard and frequently but watch out for overtraining, do not train when you don’t feel like it or when you’re genuinely too tired. Above all train “smart”, with well-defined peak periods followed by sufficient rest and recovery. Taper off adequately (at least two weeks) before the Swim.
-          Maintain balance in your life, don’t forget your family, friends and social life. Try to plan training peaks where possible before and after (and not during) busy times at work and at home, so that the one does not have to yield to the other. Relax over a beer from time to time. Ensure you get enough sleep.
-          Prepare yourself mentally for the sea temperature in the Channel by doing if possible a few long training swims in much colder water.
-          Vary your training more than I did … don’t just do long training swims, do interval and fast work as well, including cross training (running, rowing, …) for the sake of diversity.
-          Consider taking on a coach with specific experience. You should definitely get in touch with other (aspiring) Channel swimmers, e.g. via the Channel Swimmer's Google chat group.

Thank you very much.
My pleasure!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Saturday morning (May 30th) bright and early, before charlie returned from holiday abroad, I nipped to Ellerton Lake for a swim, knowing I would want to spend some quality time together as soon as he returned home. Much to my surprise there was an event taking place with part of the lake was 'out of bounds' I therefore chose to break a couple of the normal rules and stayed away from the rest of the water users and swam in peace at the other side of the lake. 100 minutes 13.8 degrees C
On Tuesday in the howling wind Charlie agreed to shelter on the sand whilst I had a stretch out at 'The Mecca' it was painful getting into the water, or rather it was bloody awful making my way to the water as a result of being sand blasted. I said I would swim either 45 minutes or 2km which ever came first. As is usual, I felt guilty with him being bored on the beach, though he was adamant he was keeping an eye on his Pappa!

The same agony on exit after 40 minutes and the agreed 2000m which he captured quite well on camera. Water ranged between 10 and 11 degrees C.