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.

 

Stress

I have be experiencing a whole range of health problems in the last week or so. 

My immune system is wrecked following two successive courses of antibiotics. This has left me vulnerable to illness and infection. 

What I thought was the beginning of an infection in my respiratory tract seems to be the result of allergy to pollen and air pollution. 

My problems breathing however have contributed to a build up of tension in my shoulders, which explains how I came to strain my shoulder swimming.

though minor this has meant I’ve had to take a rest from training for a few days. A few days without training feels like weeks! 

The most worrying symptoms I have are akin to chronic fatigue syndrome which is where no matter how much rest or sleep I have I feel exhausted and weak.

I think this might be triggered by stress. I have had this condition before, several years ago, for a month I was unable to stay awake. 

It passed after I changed my diet and stopped eating pasta, milk and wheat bread 

I need to fix this fast ! 

No more stress! 

(Please)

Long journey

I had a bit of a panic attack today, going through all the what if scenarios. 

What if I get the cold? 

What if I cut my finger? 

What if I have stomach ache?

I was thinking about my stomach a lot.  How when I get nervous my stomach cramps up. I need to find a way through that, because I have a sneaking suspicion that as July comes round I will start to be a bit jittery. 

Check back for updates! 

Fear and Fury -Adapting to the terrain

I was thinking today that perhaps many of the inconsistencies in my swimming technique and performance are related to the abilities of the other swimmers in the lane. If I want to swim faster I need to swim with faster swimmers. If I want to improve my stroke I need to swim with more technically proficient swimmers.

This is one of the advantages of club swimming. One is able to evaluate and correct ones technique by comparing oneself and getting feedback from other club members and, of course, the coach.

 In public swims people have different training agendas and swim at different speeds,  often in the same lane. 

Overtaking can be quite stressful because I worry about colliding with oncoming swimmers. Stress makes me tense up and affects my form. 

Rather than focus on my technique  I worry about injury. It’s not good.  I get frustrated and angry. Angry swimming is a waste of energy. It’s also unpleasant and negative.

So I need to find a way of avoiding or managing stress. I need to either find a safer swimming environment or learn to swim confidently in unpredictable and potentially perilous conditions.

Key problem: Currently when overtaking or swimming crawl in a public swim rather that keep my head in a neutral position i am forever turning to check for swimmers swimming at me, over and under me.

My erratic head movement contributes to drag , poor shoulder rotation and generally bad form.

Solution :
Experiment with changing head position to enable you to see ahead and to the side while maintaining steady, streamline body position.

Incorporate water polo heads up technique in phases of swim  to help with sighting.

Try to get more sensitive and controlled connection with water. The objective is to be able to change speed and direction while maintaining good form and minimal splash!