Was it difficult?

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Feeding time. English channel swim 18 July 2016. Photo credit: Tim Denyer

The swim itself  was not as difficult  as I’d  anticipated.

The sky was clear and blue. The sea was  calm, silky and otherworldly. I had ideal conditions for getting across.

Though getting across was not my only interest.

I wanted to feel the energy of the sea. I wanted a storm, high waves, thunder and lightning!   I was  also looking for a particular kind of connection  with the water. I wanted to achieve a state of calm,  harmony and efficiency in my stroke and breathing, but, I didn’t get that either.

The whole project was a mixture of successes and failures..

In preparation for the channel I trained in much colder and choppier conditions. A couple of weeks before I successfully completed a 9 mile swim in Dover harbour and on 2nd July I entered the BLDSA 8 mile swim in Torbay, but I got out after 4 miles. The water was 14.5 degrees . I’d been swimming with cramp  and was feeling cold, but my decision to leave the water was largely due to lack of self confidence and anxiety.

The challenge I faced in the channel was to stay focussed and positive.

In the days and minutes before I entered the water at Samphire Hoe I was quite nervous. I didn’t realise how nervous until we arrived in Dover and were on the boat approaching the start. That’s when it really dawned on me what I was doing. I was beyond talking about it, beyond planning. All of a sudden it was just me and the sea, (and the escort boat and crew, and my coach. I must not forget to mention that! We were also joined by artist John Hartley who came along to document and respond to the swim).

I’d seen it so many times, videos of Channel swimmers getting greased up, getting in,  swimming off. When it got to my turn, it seemed almost unreal. It was like swimming into a dream.

It took  a few hours of swimming before I got over the shock. It really was a shock. “Oh my god!” I thought,”I’m actually doing it! I’m swimming the channel!!”

I imagine many  channel swimmers have a similar Oh duck! moment at the start of their swims.

Swimming the Channel is not something one does on a whim. It takes years of training and preparation.  There is a massive entree to get through before doing the swim and you really don’t know what you are going to get in terms of weather conditions so, after all that preparation its still very much up in the air. You really don’t know quite what you are dealing  with until you get in.

The fact that this was my only chance to do the swim was a key motivating factor.  I knew that if I quit I would have to wait at least another year to make another attempt. The whole project was expensive and required a considerable amount of sacrifice and commitment. A second attempt would have been out of the question.

Committing to do the swim was probably the hardest part of the project;   giving my time, energy and attention to seeing it through to the end, doing whatever was necessary to achieve that end goal; which in fact turned out to be many goals.

For me it wasn’t just about swimming to France, but the process of swimming; the act of physical and mental engagement and experience of immersion, depth and  exposure.

To swim fast for example, one doesn’t try to swim fast. One needs to focus on technique.  Good technique increases efficiency and speed. Speed follows form. The same applies to distance. To get to France I had to focus on maintaining good technique,  which is largely governed by ones  physical and emotional connection with the water, ones sense of touch, time and space. (Saying that, the  video documentation of my swim reveals many flaws in technique, which lead me to wonder how I managed to get across at all. )

I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends and that helped a lot.

In many ways it was a collaborative effort with my coach Tim Denyer.

Tim gave me the confidence to swim. He helped me visualise and mentally prepare for different  scenarios I might encounter at sea. He was responsible for planning and managing my swim and was on the escort boat organising my feeds and monitoring my status throughout. Every time I turned my head toward the boat to breathe he was there looking back.

His reassuring presence, knowledge and experience of the channel and his positive and constructive feedback during training and the swim itself was critical to its success. I just had to trust his judgement and direction.

 

Attack of the Jellies

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I did the BLDSA Torbay swim last Saturday . Just one width of the bay – 4miles
Then I got out . ūüė≠

There were about 20 swimmers in the race. We each had our own kayaker to accompany us across.

It was quite sunny at the start but as soon as we entered the water the clouds moved in and we ended up having to swim in very difficult conditions,  with strong cross currents, rain, wind and chop. Even the kayakers struggled to maintain course.

For the most part of my swim I was having great fun, I even shouted to my kayaker, "This is great ! More chop ! "

But as I was approaching the other side of the bay I had my first jellyfish encounter. There were several . They just seemed to come out of nowhere! I panicked and sprinted out of the way.

I'm allergic to insect bites and didn't know quite how a jellyfish sting would affect me. I think I may have been stung on my back. Im not sure, it felt as though I'd brushed across some nettles. It wasn't painful really, just a prickly sensation on my skin, but  it completely ruined my concentration.

Thereafter I felt quite uneasy in the water. My stroke rate dropped. I was cramping up in my legs and I had excruciating pain in my hip flexors. The cold had got to me. I was shivering and I started to feel anxious and miserable.

Then I became disorientated and lost sight of my kayaker and, fearing that perhaps I was experiencing the onset of hypothermia , I decided to get out.

What happened to Never Get Out of The Water, Riccardo?!

I've never given up on a swim before. I felt bloody awful afterwards, really down and depressed.

If I were honest I think I was depressed even before I entered the water. Perhaps more anxious than depressed , but the symptoms are similar. Basically fear and insecurity, self-doubt and and despair infect my thoughts.

On my return to London I had a long talk with Tim. He didn't seem worried at all about my swim. He said it was fine. It was a useful experience, that if I had the right support and focussed on my swim I would have completed the two way, easy.  I'd just let fear and  negativity get the better of me.

The battle I face is with maintaining a positive mental attitude.

Most inportantly I need to stay calm, whatever situation I find myself in.

Tim has asked me to write a list of negative thoughts that might come into play during my channel swim and beside them write counter arguments to keep me focussed on the positive.

So that's what I have to do this eve.

Here's a picture of me with fellow swimmers Juliette Bigley, Nils Young, Rohan Byles and  Guy Moar, taken before the swim when we were in more positive spirits

BLDSA Torbay Swim 2016

And also a vine video I shot  :

// ]]>

More pain please!

I had a deep tissue massage with Mel Denyer on Monday.

I told her which parts of my body hurt and she got stuck in with her elbows, pressing down on the sites of pain to loosen tight muscles .

Thighs, hips, shoulders, elbows and lats. 

It was the most excruciating pain I have had to endure. 

It is a bit like having the dentist press down on cavity without using an anaesthetic.

At the end of the session she told me that it would hurt the next day. 

I said. “Never mind that, it hurts now!”

To which she laughed. 

I have a sneaking suspicion she likes her job.

But she is bloody good at it!

5hr 22mins

(Strange photo that )

I’m pleased to have completed ¬†the BLDSA Champion of Champions swim in Dover harbour today .

9 miles (5, 3 and 1 mile races) in overall time of 5 hrs 22 mins. Not the fastest time, I came 17th, but then my main objective was simply to complete the course.

After months of going slow to accomodate various injuries and not being not in the best form, I found it a difficult swim. I’m told however that even the hardiest and most accomplished of swimmers find it difficult.

My hip flexors were really tight and painful, so I didn’t really use my kick and for the first time ever I had a sharp pain in my elbows.

The water was 15 degrees and it was raining and overcast, so not much comfort from the sun .

It might have been easier as one long continuous swim rather than three swims with breaks in between as this made the whole event some 8 hours in total . The problem though  is with feeds.

During my channel swim my coach will manage and give me feeds . In this event however, ¬†i had to carry my nutrition with me. I had loads of energy gels stuffed ¬†down the back of my trunks. There’s is only so much space for gels in there , so this wouldn’t work on a long continuous swim.

It was a useful training exercise however. It gave me an idea what kind of condition I am in and the areas  I need to focus on to improve my performance for the channel.

Nutrition, flexibility and shoulder stability need attention.

I have two weeks to prepare for my next swim in Torbay. That will be a continuous 8 miles swim in the sea. I will be accompanied by a kayaker who will carry my feeds for me.

I am about to go to sleep. I’m feeling quite sore. Tomorrow I imagine it will feel even worse.

Fortunately seeing Mel Denyer for a massage on Monday. More pain

Then, release

(hopefully)

Here is a video clip of the 1 mile race made by one of the kayakers . I’m ¬†not too keen on the soundtrack he has added but the video gives some indication of what it was like

Performance

I will be swimming between 8-20 July 2016.

All my training and preparation is for this one event:

A single width of the English Channel;

no stopping and starting;

no resting for TV dinners;

no kissing or cuddling.

One width.

One continuous, uninterrupted line.

(After Merz)

 

Timing

There is no specific date for my swim  because  other swimmers are cued to cross before me.

If their swims are delayed due to bad weather, this affects the timing of my swim. So I have to be ready, flexible, adaptable.

Unlike a marathon run where the course route and distance  are fixed , the distance, timing and path of a Channel swim are governed by swim speed, changing weather conditions and tide.

The shortest distance from England to France is 21 miles in a straight line. When I swim however,  the distance covered will be much longer due to the force of the current which will force me off course. The line I take will be in the form of an S-shape.

There is also the matter of the changing tide. One hears of swimmers arriving within a couple of miles of the French coast and having to swim on the spot for hours because the tide has turned against them.

The question is,  how will I perform when my mind and body at their limits. How will I cope with losing my sense of gravity and place?  With pain?

Delirium

I’ve been there before, all those endless nights working in my studio, running on empty. 

the point where words stop working and pictures follow

sensory deprivation

Hallucinations

More about this to follow.

Cycling

I have done two two hour continuous swims in the last couple of days.

I mention these swims because it’s actually been quite some time since I last swam without stopping. Since the summer time I’ve got into the habit of doing short sprints and lots of drills.  This is the kind of  training Tim recommends – interval training,  which is all about beating the clock – doing the same distance but at higher speeds.

The problem for me however, has been that mentally I’ve been feeling  somewhat out of tune with distance swimming and I’ve been struggling to swim more than 200m at a time.  So these longer swims  are intended to test my stamina and concentration.

During the swims, to counter the onset of boredom and fatigue, I found myself cycling through different styles of front crawl every 50 to 200 metres. This allowed me to rest and stretch different muscle groups  and test and refresh connection with the water. Changes in my stroke were largely prompted by having to do lengths.  Turns can interrupt ones rhythm but  also offer the opportunity to reboot and rethink ones stroke. It was quite an enjoyable swim and I’m pleased not to have injured myself. Also I think I have reduced the amount of splash I create on hand entry. I hope this is the case and I wasn’t imagining it.

In the course of long swims one needs to continually test and correct ones form in order to maintain an efficient stroke.

The swims were  useful in building my self confidence and made me think that I need to do at least two or three long swims a week in addition to  my interval training. This will help me assess the impact the interval training on my speed and form over a longer course.

Will speak with Tim about this tomorrow.

Also need to stay hydrated and time my swims!

Time is important Iacono! The faster you swim the quicker you can get out of the water, which for a channel swim is particularly important.

Slow swims increase exposure to cold and increase risk of hypothermia-

Stay warm – swim fast!