Jennifer is one of the 2012 Sandycove Channel Aspirants. This year’s Aspirants recently took to the water of the Source pool under the direction of Cork English Channel supercoach Eilís Burns for an overnight swim as part of this year’s training and Jen provides us with a fantastic and honest swim report.
There is often some bravado associated with Channel swimming, it is in fact often necessary, but I have always felt it is vitally important that we swimmers be completely honest about the difficulties of training, lack of sleep, weight, food, the exhaustion, the relentless mileage and grind of a training schedule and frequently training and swimming on day when you are mentally or physically ill-prepared. Profuse thanks are therefore due Jen for her super and honest report. You can follow Jen on her blog. And I both wish her the best and am fully confident of her ability to triumph in the English Channel.
That was my mother’s astute diagnosis of the evening’s symptoms when I described them a few days later. Hydro Nervosis. It did seem to fit – I had finally developed the long anticipated allergic reaction to pool swimming. We were talking about my disaster at Eilís Burns’ all-night-torture-and-head-wreck-athon, as I affectionately referred to it. Not its official title, it was more like Endurance swim in aid of the Moses Foundation. However, being my selfish self, I didn’t consider its (hugely successful) charity aspect until well after the final curtain.
By the way, hello, I’m a 31-year-old from Cork and I’m hoping to get away with swimming the English Channel this summer. My training regime began with Eilís seven months ago and I’ve gone through a meltdown or two since then, one of which I’m going to talk about here. However I have to say I’ve found her training though on the surface insurmountable, with the right attitude doable and my technique and stamina have improved hugely because of it. I just wanted to put that out there before I start this tale of woe.
The horrible torture fest was scheduled for Friday the 9th March in Source Leisure Centre, and was organised by Cork’s own Iron Lady, Eilís Burns. Swimming would begin at 10 pm and continue through the night until 6 am. Distance wise I knew I’d be okay, but I was utterly clueless how to prepare for this overnight thing. Everyone kept warning me about the hour between 3-4 am, when everything is suddenly a lot tougher than it was moments before. Whatever, I didn’t really buy this. Eilís’ instructions were: train as normal, go to work as normal, don’t try and sleep beforehand, arrive tired. Oh, and her training group had to stick it out for 6 hours, then we were “free to leave”. (Hah! She knew damn well peer pressure would make us stick it out til the sweet and sour end). Again I ignored the advice - I took it easy all week, left work early that day and napped beforehand. I felt as ready as ever but nervous as hell. Besides the advice, I wasn’t really sure what it would be like. I’d heard rumours that the session would be sets of 100 metres over and over and over… how monotonous, how long, how awful!…I was just praying that wasn’t true.
It was true. Lanes were allotted times to complete the 100s…2 mins, 1.50 , 1.40 and lanes for those insane enough to jump out onto turbo-trainers after an hour, or run around the dark car park like escaped inmates howling at the moon….but I’ll leave that for another guest blog, I can’t even contemplate it.
Right so we’ll set the scene…the charities have given their talks on how great we are to be doing this. Jennifer, standing poolside in her togs, per usual before any gala, race, interview, social interaction even, is starting to get that tightness in her chest, heart inflated to twice its size, pumping self-doubt and adrenaline into her fingers and teeth clamping dread down hard onto her already lacerated tongue. How did I get into this situation? The talking is done and Eilís is telling us to get into our lane-of-choice. I have selected the 1.50 lane as it’s a speed I’m confident I can maintain for 8 hours. But by the time I’ve organised my drink bottles, etc., I notice that the same decision has been made by small crowd of others as well, with only 3 people setting off in the 1.40 lane. Eilís tells me I’d never handle the pace. I get in.
There I was, swimming with the top guns in speed, albeit at the very back, and actually kind of, I’m afraid to say it even now since I know how this pans out but, enjoying the pace. My fellow Channel Aspirant Rob Bohane is in front of me, which is reassuring…not that he’s not Speedy Gonzales himself, but I’ve swum with him before so it’s not totally unknown. Time flies and I gradually move up the ranks with people falling back for a few laps. However, my nerve-anaconda gradually tightens my chest and though I normally have no issue with peeing in the pool, find myself unable, despite the usual build up of downstairs pressure. This becomes quite uncomfortable to swim with yet all I can think about is how I’m going to have to give up soon (my problems, besides anxiety snakes and interior plumbing, were all mental. Fitness and stamina wise, I had 12 years of Eilís experience in Cork Masters and knew I was fine, what was my problem?)
Finally we reached the 10 km mark circa 1 am. Everyone stopped to take a break, refuel, chill out, but not me. I worried if I stopped that would be it, so on I swam, keeping to the times. I didn’t really think about taking a break, I just wanted to zone out and try to relieve the tension in my chest. And my bladder. But could do neither.
About an hour and a half later we were well into the second lot of 100s and I was up near the front. Carol (Cashell), resident speedster, suggested I lead out for 10. I took off at her signal and apparently upped the ante big time. A few pointed out that I was swimming too fast but it fell on deaf ear plugs. I was way too hyped up and thought swimming faster might ease my anxiety. When my ten 100s were done and the next person took off, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten anything, or peed, for nearly 5 hours. It was sometime after 2 am and I was not feeling too hot. I figured it would be a good idea to eat some blueberries that were soggifying in a nearby container. Bad idea.
Suddenly the act of swimming was making me feel ill. A couple of laps later that horrible sickly stomach feeling that I know from solid Friday- night experience (different circumstances) that there was a time limit before everything within a mile radius would be covered in puke. Exit stage left to the bathroom. I’ll save you the details but the result was like a gory scene from the Ribena Chainsaw Massacre. I decided to take a break, maybe eat something starchy like a bagel and try to goddamn pee.
Five minutes later I felt back to normal and ready to swim! Back into the 1:40 lane and belting away, when halfway down the pool I wanted to belch forth with more gusto than before. I got out and repeated the events of Act One. I felt better. I got back into the pool, energised and ready to roll. Start to swim, repeat (literally). I recycled this ritual a few times, wanting to get back to swimming but being stopped by my body reacting this way. Eventually I gave up by moving into the 1.50 lane at about 4 am. Again, as soon as I’d start crawling along (at the back) I’d start to retch. I’d stop and feel better but very queasy. Luckily there was a 15 minute break around 4.30 that saved my ass. It allowed me to calm down and get a grip. Eilís announced that the swim would end at 5.30 so we’d only one hour to go. Never had an hour seemed so long! I cannot even tell you what set we did or what stroke it was. I remember trying backcrawl and breaststroke at different stages to see if that would help but it was worse. Anytime I moved I wanted to vomit. Eventually Lisa Cummins produced some Gaviscon and although this made my stomach feel better, the urge to purge was right there waiting to return with a hearty slap on the back if I so much as floated. It just became a battle of will to force myself to swim and not get sick. I think I burned a hole in my throat. I would have gladly signed up for a unanaesthetised gastric bypass just to make that pukey feeling cease! Absolute nightmare.
Minutes plodded along on club feet. It seemed to be 20 past 5 for an eternity. But finally, joy of joys it was over! People clapping and clambering towards the Jacuzzi and the free food (which I noticed only now for the first time). Sweet thoughts of clean sheets and a warm bed at home… I had made it! It was over!…when I got the feeling of two pairs of eyes looking at me. Who was left behind only Lisa Cummins and Carmel Collins, two girls who this endurance crap for breakfast. I knew what they were going to say before they said it. If this night taught me anything at all it’s that I have a serious ego that needs serious deflating. First I jump in and try and play with the big kids. Now I’m left with an out after the most grueling torture of my swimming life to date, so just because these two nuts want to tough it out til the fat lady sings it doesn’t mean I have to!
We took it handy doing a mix of slow back crawl and breaststroke. I tried swallowing slowly and watching the dawn gently creep into the room. To be honest, this part was ok cause I swam very slowly and stopped a lot. I can’t remember finishing officially, just being in the shower and wishing I was in bed. I felt utterly beaten and dejected. Everyone was delighted they got through, I was miserable I’d messed it up so royally.
So that was it. My mom (who’s a nurse incidentally) tells me my hydro nervosis would have dissipated if I’d just eaten a banana. After I’d hung up the phone I was wondering if she was making up the term or just being a crazily optimistic mom. When I entered it into Google I got ‘Did you mean hydro nephrosis?’, which upon further clicking I find out it’s an early stage of renal failure due to a back up of urine or lack of magnesium (hence the prescribed banana).How scary! Was my body was trying to stop me swimming because I was damaging my kidneys? I don’t really think so, but I do think I need to chill out about the whole endurance/long distance thing. I swam through hours of nerves, stomach retching and an overloaded bladder for I don’t know how long and nearly ended up hurting myself, for what? My ego? My nerves? I know I was a misery guts for quite a while after the swim and thanks to everyone who gave me perspective. I mean, overnight endurance swim? Really not so bad if you just take a chill pill. And a banana.
Pressure to Achieve, Sandycove Swimmers Achievements, loneswimmer.com
24 hour swim, loneswimmer.com
Just another 6 hour pool swim. loneswimmer.com
Anatomy of an 8 hour pool swim, loneswimmer.com
100 x 100 x 100, loneswimmer.com