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  :

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ÔĽŅBoredom¬†

The thing is you have to stay interested if you’re going to do this kind of swimming. It’s not a walk in the park or a picnic by a lake. But I am bored . I am bored of thinking about swimming all of the time . Plus I lack discipline .

If you look at the documentation of swimmers finishing their channel swim it’s rarely marked by jumps for joy. Mostly it’s marked by sighs of relief.

I can’t wait to get this done so I can move on. 

Tomorrow morning I’m swimming in the Champion of Champions in Dover harbour . 3 races totalling 9 miles.

I’ve done longer swims but still, I’m a bit nervous about this one because I  don’t feel in the best shape. I’m also underweight. 

When I did my six hour swim in Folkestone in 2012 I weighed about 18 stone. I few weeks ago I was 15 stone. I’m now 16 stone. I just hope i have the energy reserves to keep going. 

It’s forecast to rain throughout the day,  so I expect a bit of chop. That should keep the boredom for setting in. 

Calm seas can be very enjoyable but when the waves start bashing you about you really must swim for your life.  

And this is it. Or, there it is

And here I am just holding on

Emptiness

I really struggled to swim today, the idea of it was quite unappealing. I swam of course, but  it was not pleasant. I neither had the energy or motivation to push, so pottered about in the water for 90 mins and got out. It was painful. Not physically, but mentally.

Maybe I was just having an off day. I think however,  the demands of training, trying to maintain a positive outlook when faced with injury and then having to endure painful treatment; it has started to get to me.

It’s not just the swimming, it’s work, personal relationships; they all have a bearing on how I perform, how I feel and think.

This project, swimming, so much sacrifice. Doing what has to be done in order to achieve ones goals. It’s much easier to think or say you are going to do something that actually doing it. I’m quite sick of swimming at the moment.

I was wondering today if I made the wrong decision, whether all this swimming is just taking me away from myself.

Correction: myselves

On Saturday I’m swimming in the Champion of Champions in Dover harbour . I’m going to be wrecked in so many ways by this.

I keep meaning to paint but I really don’t have the time or energy to be creative, to think the thoughts I wanted to.