Yes indeed, I was back in Dover last week once more. It’s over four years since I first visited Dover, and on leaving that first time, I swore I’d never return, and really meant it. I do believe my actual words were, well let’s just leave that. But it’s gotten so I now have to carefully enumerate the various people and swims that I’ve been there for, at least twice each subsequent year. What a weird thing and place on which to become expert.
Last week I crewed for my friend Alan Clack on his successful English Channel Solo, in a fantastic time of 11 hours and thirty minutes, two year after he contacted me and we set off on the Channel journey together. I can’t write Alan’s story however because that’s his to write. I may approach it from the process of how it came about and what Alan did in the lead-up.
I plan (and have for some time) to write a new Channel swimmer visitor’s guide to Dover.
Long overdue is a post on the greatest hospitality location for swimmers on earth, Varne Ridge Channel Swimming Holiday Park and my adopted parents David and Evelyn. There cannot be another place on the planet like it, which deals with such extremes of emotions on a weekly basis.
Applying swim lube for beginners. Seriously.
Trent Grimsey’s World Record English Channel Record swim. I foresee this possibly being a picture heavy two-part post. I took a lot of pictures, recognising it was once-in-lifetime opportunity. Also, it’s the Channel, and I’m a tad obsessed.
What’s wrong with marathon swimming?
How do we protect our sport and consequently the global family of open water swimmers?
So this is just a placeholder post, me looking for inspiration to start writing
Remember 2010 here on loneswimmer.com? When one of the Magnificent Seven Soloed I posted their national flag. I haven’t done it since, not as from disrespect to any of my friends who have swum since, but just I guess because it was our thing.
This post has been waiting for two years. I can’t express how happy I am to finally post it.
In a time of 12 hours and 4 minutes, with pilot Andy King on Louise Jane, with his brother Neilus and Magnificent Seven Solo swimmer Ciaran Byrne as crew, the Bull, Rob Bohane, Soloed on Sept 3rd in a fantastic time of 12.04.
Captain Webb is synonymous with Dover for most swimmers. (Though I’ve never been able to figure out why his Dover memorial is situated so badly in front of a block of flats instead of in front of the sea). But his birthplace was Dawley, in Shropshire.
I’ve read a few times, by people who haven’t seen it, that the Dover memorial has on it the famous phrase attributed to Webb and embraced as the motto of Channel swimmers, Nothing Great is Easy, which is not in fact true. The possibly apocryphal (but unimportant if so) motto is on the Dawley Memorial which was erected 26 years after his death, in 1909.
There are a few sources of very interesting photographs from his time, various stories, and in particular of the Captain Webb Dawley Memorial. Site navigation isn’t the greatest. Go here for older images of the memorial before restoration and re-situation.
It is with great sadness the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation confirms the death an Irish swimmer whist attempting a solo crossing of the English Channel early this morning.
Páraic Casey from Cork, Ireland began his swim at 9.13am on Saturday morning and was just 1km from the coast of France at around 1:30 this morning when he took ill.
Attempts were made by crew to resuscitate him before a French rescue helicopter arrived with medics who tried further resuscitation.
Mr Casey was a member of the Sandycove Swimming Club in Cork, Ireland.
He is survived by his wife Riana who has issued the following statement:
“Páraic was an amazing, healthy, tough, loving husband, friend, brother, uncle, son, nephew and cousin who’s recent passion for swimming brought him to great places. I would like to thank everyone for their love and support. We ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time.”
St Patrick’s Marymount Hospice in Cork, for whom he was fundraising, in Paraic’s words, ”is a very worthy cause and I would very much appreciate your support in helping me to raise funds for this charity”.
For some, there is no greater sporting event than the English Channel. Sporting event isn’t even a good description. The Australian surfer Nat Young once said the worst thing to happen surfing was that surfing was seen as a sport instead of art. Similarly, for most swimmers, Channel swimming should be thought more as a prolonged life-change than some short duration swimming event. It is a unique fascination of which millions dream, (every Soloist will tell you of the multiple times they hear this), who dream it without knowing why nor or of what they dream and it goes beyond swimmers to the whole world.
Few phrases in the entire canon of sporting terminology reach out to others like “I’m going to swim the English Channel”, more even than “I’ve swum the Channel”. Few phrases convey absolute commitment in the same way and the bonds that exist between Channel swimmers tend to reflect this. Those words express more than most people understand, a desire to go not just up to but beyond personal physical and mental limits. Something in the idea of swimming the Channel conveys transcendence, of someone aspiring outside the normal, maybe outside themselves.
One hundred and thirty-seven years since Captain Webb’s Solo, eighty-seven since Gertrude Ederle’s; (a swim that had at least if not more effect on the global awareness of Channel swimming, simply because she was woman doing what was considered impossible, and she was photographed); ideals of Channel swimming still exist beyond most modern adventure and extreme sports. Channel swimming itself now transcends the English Channel and includes the Catalina, Gibraltar, Molokai, North, Cook, Tsugaru and other Channels.
Channel swimming is carried out in private. It’s mostly done away from public visibility. Sure, if you are connected with or following a Channel swim you’ll follow GPS trackers and Twitter, get SMS messages and even see uploaded images. But a Channel swim happens as much inside the swimmer’s mind, when they take the decision, during the long training and in the fear and excitement before they step into the water, as it does at the point at which Kevin Murphy said to me: “You swim and you swim until you are tired or exhausted. And only then it gets hard”. No GPS tracker or Tweet conveys what a swimmer is going through in the second, third or later tide. Even those familiar with the various Channels; swimmers, crew, friends and family, can only vaguely imagine it, and it is that imagining, the attempt to extrapolate from a series of dots on a computer screen or chart and project ourselves to the brutal reality of the Channel, or any Channel, that is Channel Fever, when the Channel Dream becomes Channel Reality. Therefore Channel fever afflicts more than swimmers.
No one swims to France by accident.
In Channel swimming we know that everyone who gets to the other side deserves it. Every single one. And many who also deserve tom don’t get there. And that is also part of Channel Fever.
This one is for all the Irish Channel Dreamers this week, English, Tsugaru and North, and all those with Channel Fever whenever, whomever and wherever you are.
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.
All Channel Swimmers get some or all the same questions, all the time. This is to help with reducing the mystery somewhat.
Is it cold? This is the biggest myth. Actually it’s a little understood fact that since the mid Twentieth Century, London’s growing population has increased the heat of the Thames outflow, adding approximately 1.07 x 10^15 Joules (1.07 petajoules) of heat to the Channel Strait per 24 hour period. Combine the (completely safe) cooling outflow from the operative Dungeness Nuclear Power Station south of Folkestone with the measured 1.15° Celsius increase in ambient temperature caused by global warming leads to warm currents flowing in both directions on every tide, warming the English Channel until it is now only a degree less on average than Cannes (in the Mediterranean), though you have to swim out a mile (two kilometres before you encounter the thermocline (warm layer).
Lisa Cummins of Sandycove and Ireland is the only swimmer to ever finish at Dungeness after her record breaking four-way Solo, and the only treatment she needed to have afterwards was a brief course of Iodine to reduce any eventual possibility of thyroid cancer.
So you get covered in goose grease for the cold right? This myth is widely held due to the famous picture of Gertrude Ederle prior to her solo swim, the first Solo by a woman. However what is generally not realised by the public, is that the grease wasn’t goose grease, nor was it for cold. In fact, Ederle was actually allergic to brine (sea water) and since wetsuits hadn’t been made into a useful protection, and were disallowed anyway under Channel rules, her trainer, Nicholas Adams, decided that they would protect her from direct water contact as totally as possible, so they had the blubber from baby dolphins extracted and smeared it on to depth of 4 centimetres (2 inches). Since this didn’t help her throat though, on every feed she had to drink quarter of a litre (half a pint) of turkey fat instead of the usual 250 ml of bacon grease used as the normal swimmer’s feed. Later in life Ederle became concerned with the number of baby dolphins who had been squeezed for her swim so she went on to found both Greenpeace and the Sea Shepard Society to protect the marine environment. Dolphin grease is no longer used by brine-intolerant swimmers (who are rare anyway) and a modern industrial substitute (Channel Grease) is available in Boots Pharmacy in Dover, (which is processed from the sap of an Amazonian rain forest tree).
Can you touch the boat? Yes, but only with your feet. So you are allowed to go the toilet on the boat, but you have to do it without your hands touching anything whether the boat, ladder, ropes or another person or you will be disqualified (DQ’ed). Since this is so difficult in Force Five winds and since the Official Observer’s other function is to watch you on your toilet break to make sure the rules are followed, most people don’t risk the attempt.
How do you go to the toilet? Please. Like astronauts, we have no idea why this is such a popular question. One hundred and thirty five years of Channel swimming history have taught swimmers a lot about dietary restrictions. For seven days prior to almost any swim over eight hours, a distance swimmer will gradually reduce all carbs, and reducing the carb-to-protein ratio by 2/10ths each day while at the same time increasing the overall protein volume and substituting carbohydrates with cellulose. By 24 hours prior to the swim, the swimmer’s intestine should stop processing the remaining carbs (there’s generally a one-day fudge-factor in there, pun intended). As a by-product the resultant bloating leads to a widely held belief that Channel Swimmer are fat, when in fact it is just a short-term distortion of the torso, except in those very rare case where the body can’t subsequently expel all the cellulose post-swim. Because this timing is so critical, starting a swim is quite a tricky business to co-ordinate with weather, as this situation can only be maintained for a maximum of 72 hours, and with the large volumes of semi-liquid fat that swimmers must consume during a swim, means that swims are often abandoned due to Digestive Transititis Mobilitis, or “Channel Tunnel Syndrome” as Channel swimmers often call the traumatic and sudden explosive end to some Channel swim attempts. I’d prefer not to discuss the nauseating details.
How much does it cost? The cost of Channel Swimming is quite complex and different, and depends on your country of origin, based as it on a 137 year old tradition. If you come from a EU country that’s a member of the Eurozone, you are automatically eligable for 105% refund on completion of swim, and return of certificate to your local Social Welfare office (or equivalent), excluding France. If you come from an EU country that is not a member of the Eurozone and excluding the UK, the cost of an attempt, excluding accommodation fees, is pegged through modern Sterling back the pre-decimal Sterling system of pounds, shillings and pence. It’s a complex fee structure related to weight for men, and age and weight for women. Generally, like an ounce of gold is often related to the cost of a gentleman’s good suit regardless of year, the average cost is loosely related to the local currency equivalent of four healthy fallow sows. English swimmers (not Scottish or Welsh) are 95% subsidized by other swimmer’s fees, however in order to make the books balance each season, 20% of those allowed to make the attempt must be assumed to have no real chance of lasting longer than 20% of the standard crossing time of 30 hours, as decided by the committee of the validating organisation. Scottish and Welsh people must pay a 10% premium over the previous season’s average cost to Australians. Kiwis are treated as Welsh. And Australians pay at Americans rates less 20% of the overall but must pay an extra levy of 1.7%, known colloquially as the “beer tax” which is paid separately to the Dover Free-Traders Association. Due to the French Government’s refusal in the mid 1990s to further support Channel swimming, French people may only swim on production a passport from any other nation, on top of a final cost of 15% over Scottish and Welsh people, but excluding American passports, (as designated under the revised EU Shengen Agreement). Americans must pay twice the next most expensive fee, projected forward to the next season. Given the possibility of underpayment in these circumstances, successful American swimmer’s swims are therefore not ratified until the AGM of the year following full and final settlement of accounts. These however are only general guidelines as each swimmer may be subject to further loading or subsidy.
Dover’s best known swimming Bed & Breakfast accommodation is Hubert House, but the B&Bs in Cork are better, (naturally, says a chorus of Corkonians). I know, I’ve stayed in both, and unlike Hubert House, Gabriel House on Summerhill in Cork is owned and run by an English Channel Soloist, Liam Maher, the tallest of The Magnificent Seven, and wife Kaye and it’s home-from-home for many of us when staying in Cork for swim-related events, (specifically parties). Apart from being a Channel swimmer, Liam and myself are the two recipients of the new-ish Sandycove Island Swim Club Hardship Hat Trophy, of which more below.
Liam is rarely noticed around the house, it’s day-to-day operation is by a small staff, but if you see a man who looks like he’s had half of another man stuck on top, that almost’s certainly Liam.
The Bed and Breakfast is a noble part of the Irish accommodation vista and none are finer than Gabriel House. With the first annual Sandycove Island pre-season party (because we really needed another reason to have a party) at the weekend, a large group swam at Sandycove in the afternoon, kicking off “the season”, even though we’ve all been swimming through the winter.
I love staying at Gabriel House. It’s a lovely building high on Summerhill overlooking the city and above the Port of Cork. It has a large garden outside where Liam also keeps a flock of fowl (hens, geese, and turkeys) for the breakfast eggs, and grows fruit and vegetables as well as having a patio for guests to sit out.
You know the way everyone has some places that they only associate with sunshine and good weather (even in wet and windy Ireland)? Both Sandycove and Gabriel House are like this for me. I know I’ve been at both places when it was wet and cold, but I only ever remember both with the sun shining and a blue sky. One of the things about Gabriel House, is when I’m there, there’s often other swimmers staying there, because hey, it’s where we stay in Cork. At this stage it falls into that tiny category of places, where as soon as I arrive I feel like I am home. I’ve made breakfast for myself here in the kitchen at 5.30 am before a big swim, eaten last in the kitchen after a long a swim, slept almost half a day, and once partied all night when Liam shut the place down to the public, to celebrate the Channel swims of The Magnificent Seven of 2010.
The house is big, bright and spotlessly comfortable.
And then, there’s the Gabriel House breakfast. Anyone who’s travelled through B&Bs in Ireland know the breakfast is important and also knows it doesn’t always meet the requirements of Irish people. The breakfast in Gabriel House is the best. Ever. Their Full Irish is a thing of beauty, glorious to behold with free range eggs from outside, and the best of sausages, rashers, and even more rare, black and white pudding, instead of the cheap supermarket version many B&Bs serve up. We Irish people love our full Irish, (even though it scares many others, all that protein).
But if you are too scared for the glory of the full Irish, Gabriel House’s most popular item is porridge. Yes, humble porridge, but elevated to gourmet quality, the Gabriel House speciality is the Porridge cooked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. It should be on Masterchef. It should have its own Sunday Supplement article.
Gabriel House is, according my extensive research, 4 minutes walk from MacCurtain Street and the Shelbourne bar, scene of many a swimming piss-up, down in the city, but is above any noise or traffic (Cork is a city of hills, pubs and churches). It’s 35 minutes drive from Sandycove for anyone who prefers to be city based than out in Kinsale.
Is this article an ad? No, because Liam or Kaye didn’t know I was going to do it and have had no input into it, I sneakily took the photos and I wrote it because I love Gabriel House like a Cork home, like Varne Ridge is my Dover home.
If I could change only one thing about Gabriel House? I’d put a large chart of Liam’s English Channel swim map in the hall!
Next time you are visiting Cork, make Gabriel House your home from home.
The Sandycove Hardship Hat Trophy, to date, the only two recipients are Yours Truly and Liam.
Ned Denison is very much the rotational centre of the Sandycove group, and like a really big jellyfish, he has tentacles reaching out all over the world. To best describe Ned’s place, I’m reminded on an explanation by Mick Hurley, husband of English Channel Soloist and four-time Rottnest soloist and Magnificent 7 swimmer Jen Hurley. We were having dinner in Dover, Mick holding forth to the table (as usual), and we were talking about the Sandycove group.
Mick said that Sandycove was, de facto, a great place. For years, you’d have Irish people swimming there, everyone would be friendly and sociable, and would then go on their separate ways. But take just one American and drop him in the middle of it and almost before you know it, you have one of the most successful English Channel swimming locations in the world, you have organisation and success. Ned is the giant ball of glue from which the Sandycove island group grew.
He is an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee, also a committee Member for Santa Barbara Channel Swim Association, Manhattan, the Lee swim, and In Search of Memphre, amongst other things, not the least of which is his long list of swims, from English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Solos, to Jersey France, Robben island, Rottnest, Round Valentia and Cobh islands (first time swims). He is the main force behind the internationally growing in reputation Cork Distance week, which if you want to tackle the English Channel from warmer climes, is the best week’s training in the world. For those who know him, he is also persistently confused by the difference between an email subject line and the body of an email text. It’s not unusual to get an entire paragraph in the subject line. :-)
This picture below is appropriate, it’s Ned doing the 2008 Irish Champion of Champion safety briefing. There are a bunch of Channel Soloists and future Soloists here, (Finbarr, Ossi, Ciarán, myself, Sylvain, Niall, Lisa) and including Kevin Murphy, listening. This is how we are used to seeing Ned.
Ned’s post here is sure to raise significant discussion in the worldwide swimming community. Make time to read and consider it. It’s important.
Open water swimming is exploding with a massive increase in events together with swimmer interest and participation.
Fantastic – however behind the scenes, the inadequate numbers of volunteers places our growth future in jeopardy.
My biggest hope for the future of open water swimming involves a shift as WE SWIMMERS NEED TO START VOLUNTEERING IN LARGE NUMBERS.
“But Ned you don’t understand – I am involved in the sport to swim and have fun with my mates. I didn’t get involved to kayak, take times, crew a safety boat or spend hours before the event finding boats/kayakers and taking registrations. Anyways – surely the €10 to €50 I pay for each swim must cover all the costs? I assume that all the worker bees were getting paid big bucks to support my passion.”
There are a few commercial events out there – but 99% of all the open water events in the world are staffed by volunteers – typically raising money for a charity or doing a civic duty or just helping their friends and relatives. They not only don’t get paid and they are generally out-of-pocket for travel expenses, food and often overnight lodging and boat fuel.
I like to make the example of a swimmer who just completed an English Channel solo swim.
First of all – well done!
Now consider how many volunteer hours YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF to reach your goal? The phrase “took advantage of” is a horrible expression but bear with me for a moment.
Here is a possible tally of the time others gave along the way:
9 days in Dover (start counting from the moment your 3 crew members left home to their return)
9 days*24 (hours/day) *3 crew = 648 person hours
“But Ned, this isn’t fair! Part of this time they were sleeping, sight-seeing, eating the fish and chips I bought and sunning on the beach while I practiced a bit.”
Do you really want to go down that line? They were away from their families, Dover isn’t a holiday destination and I haven’t calculated their lost earnings while they were off work!
The “official observer” for the Channel swim – yes they are paid a small stipend but the 15 hours you swam with another 5 hours of travel was hardly a “paid” activity.
=20 person hours.
Your 6 hour channel qualification next to a boat with 2 volunteers
2*10 (6 hours plus travel time) = 20 person hours
Your 15k race (you had a full-time kayaker plus 1/5th of a 2 person safety boat crew and 1/20th of the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 100 hours it took before the event to get it all organised
Your 5k races (let’s assume you had 10 in the previous 3 years) where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 135 hours it took before the event to get it all organised.
Grand total 800 person hours – or think of it as 100 person days (8 hours a day)
Hang on then because this is just the start – or all at the small end of the total.
I didn’t count your swimming buddies who took turns to swim (at your speed) for the previous two years. Having done a few 7am Sunday support swims myself, I can assure that they count as “volunteer hours”!
I also only counted the swimming related volunteer time – so your partner who covered 18 months of extra duties at home and with the kids – you need to work that one out yourself.
YOU CHANNEL SOLOERS OWE 100 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY)
For those swimmers who ONLY take part on 15 events a year and do not do the marathon swims…you still owe!
Your 2k races where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 5 event volunteers on the day plus the 80 hours it took before the event to get it all organised
15 events* ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (5 volunteers*4 hours)/80 swimmers + 80 hours/80 swimmers) = 24 person hours (3 person days at 8 hour/day)
YOU CASUAL 2K SWIMMERS OWE 3 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY) – EACH YEAR
The numbers don’t lie. The logic is correct.
We swimmers know, deep down, that lots of people are involved so we can have our event.
For the vast majority of the swimmers – YOU ARE NOT PAYING BACK AT ANYTHING LIKE THE LEVEL YOU NEED TO MAKE IT BALANCE.
I am just back from the Rottnest swim – and even deeper in the hole myself.
Jennifer (Hurley) helped the local organisation, and her family collect me at the airport etc. (ok they are friends – but still takes time) = 40 person hours
Clive (kayaker) paddled in 2 training swims and discussed the plan over coffee = 8 person hours
Clive then drove 2 hours to get to the location, stayed overnight, launched at 4:45am and paddled 5.5 hours (now let’s forget the time to have a pint!) then travelled back on the ferry to get home = 12 person hours
Mike piloted the boat and Barb joined me in a training swim and then crewed = 30 person hours
Then finally the Rottnest team of 100 strong put in (at a guess and probably low) 10,000 organisation hours – thankfully I can divide this by the 2,500 swimmers! = 4 person hour
So – another 94 person hours I have to pay back. This gets added to the debt from the previous 30 long swims and 200+ short swims….at 54 years of age I am not sure I have enough time left!
Hello friends, future friends, open water swimmers, readers, Aspirants and marathon swimmers!
For some time Evan Morrison and some others and myself have been discussing global marathon swimming.
Marathon swimming is a tiny but still growing sport. As a group, we wish to see marathon swimming continue to be celebrated and encouraged and confusion with other types of swimming reduced (which intends no disrespect to those swimmers and swims). But Evan and I and many others adhere to 136 year old rules that have derived from Captain Webb‘s first English Channel swim in 1875.
As a step toward fostering and supporting marathon swimming, we’re inviting you to view and hopefully join The Marathon Swimmers Forum at marathonswimmers.org.
We had a “soft” launch last week with a small global invitation list in order to get some people involved before announcing the forum more widely and to test it and see if the idea was valid or potentially valuable, and the thirty-ish people signed up from the invitation list includes some very successful marathon swimmers and also some Aspirants.
The CS&PF Channel email group, Facebook and various Association’s websites and blogs and email lists already play an important global role in communication, education and connection. Marathonswimmers.org is not intended to replace or compete with any of those, or any other medium, but is hoped to promote, help and add to our global community.
It is intended to be open, global and to also allow anonymity.
Evan, (who is a committee member of Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association) has registered the domain and there is no cost and no commercial element. It’s a free forum that we hope will become integral to the global marathon swimming community, both beginners and experienced swimmers. We’d love your participation.
We hope it will be useful for learning AND teaching, advice, sharing information and help, volunteering, making connections, encouragement, trackers, cheering, celebrations and congratulations, and whatever else you’re having yourself.
From beginner to the world’s most famous open water and marathons swimmers, all are welcome.
We dearly hope if this is your area of interest you will drop by and make it yours, (not ours).
Given some questions that have arisen though, it seems we haven’t covered enough of the subject. It struck me that we hadn’t covered mechanics and some of the complicating factors.
Let’s start with a reminder:
The most important thing is: Feeding is different for everyone.
Feeding is not diet or general nutrition, but the process of taking in nutrition/food for energy during a long swim. It’s a long and complex subject which entertains and causes endless discussion amongst marathon swimmers.
The next most thing, the marathon swimming motto: Practice everything.
First, when do you have to feed?
You can generally assume that you have enough glycogen in your body to last from two to three hours. (Contingent on not having depleted it in training or recent exercise).
So for a swim or race under two hours, you probably don’t need to feed.
Swims where feeding is necessary dictate practice and experience.
FINA marathoners will probably feed small amount every 10 minutes from a plastic cup. This technique was pioneered by Peggy Dean and the US team in the 80′s. The rest of us tend to feed at intervals from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. (I feed at thirty minutes). But this MUST be tested, everyone’s requirements are different.
Also, you may not need or want to start on intervals right from the start of a marathon swim. it’s quite common that swimmers will feed hourly for the first two OR three hours and then switch to their shorter interval. Once again, I cannot tell you what those times will be for you. The four to eight-hour swims that we do in Sandycove give us the advantage to test these factors. It is another reason faking a qualifying swim makes someone a fool to a more experienced swimmer.
Second – what do you feed on?
For most swimmers, the primary fuel is maltodextrin, pure carbs,, as Evan has covered in detail. (Not however glucose). The product name isn’t important though Maxim is by far the most popular for distance swimmers as it has no taste and can be added to any food or drink. It’s a 100% maltodextrin. High5 or similar are carbs with a protein mix in a 4:1 ration, scientifically shown to be more effective in metabolization but has proven to be a problem for many swimmers (e.g. me) in distance sea swimming for a few reasons: (salt intake, prone position, soya protein metabolization).
Again, there are many exceptions. Some swimmers like gel pack (like GU) others won’t touch them, as they can be useless because they require a separate liquid intake, and the salt intake during a swim can make them useless or cause exceptional bloating or vomiting. Some English Channel Pilots only believe in/use Maxim. Many swimmers have no problem with a 4:1 protein/carb mix, (I am not one, like a lot of swimmers, I found after about four to five hours with it I am no longer able to digest). Some swimmers forego these methods and swim on solid food (Penny Palfrey used dilute porridge).
How do you feed?
For myself for swims, I attach a D-clip to the bottle itself (whether by tape, string or lid attachment), and then the line attached to the clip, rather than tying a line to a bottle directly, as having multiple changeable bottles allows more flexibility.
Feed (dolly) poles (typically a wooden brush handle … ) have a hook or holder on the end, which hand a cup or bottle to the swimmer. The one on the left is one used by Alan Clack on a 10k Lac d’Archambeau swim last year. Poles are good in flat water but they are less flexible in bad weather as they require a fixed distance to the swimmer. If using a pole the swimmer must not grab the pole itself. I’ve also seen (and used) a telescopic fishing pole but the line is too light and too easily tangled.
Or simply a bottle dropped on a rope. The problem with this is knots and retracting the line (this was a mistake I hadn’t considered in the Channel). A solution I’ve seen and really liked is a simple traditional-type kite reel (usually made of plastic).
My subsequent solution … A retractable dog-leash, my choice for future swims. So much easier for the crew.
Many experienced swimmers will often only use a container or bottle with particular features. I’ve written before about the God Bottle. This is not necessarily a minor concern as using a wrong bottle type for a swimmer can lead to salt water or air ingestion, both significant is you are swimming for more than 6 or 8 hours. Gábor used a narrow neck squeezy sports bottle, as that was what he used in training and practised with. (I must have a wide neck bottle… However some swimmers just don’t care or don’t have an issue).
Mike Oram, famous English Channel pilot, prefers plastic milk cartons, which have a wide neck and a handle to attack the line, and are easily replaced. Liam Maher added the point that it might be good idea to collect your milk lids for a week before hand, so the crew have more lids than bottles, that way the swimmer isn’t focused on trying to replace the lid.
Stephen Redmond uses a twin bottle approach to swimming: A standard squeezy bottle and a shaker bottle, taped together but in opposite directions for easier access!
Is it a cold water swim?
You must consider the water temperature: Should the food be warm or cold? Most Channel swims are cold or cool water so warm feeds are essential. But that can require a lot of warm water. Your pilot may have a galley where water can be heated, but in rough weather this isn’t easy. One solution to this, just in case, is to bring a thermos (or many) of hot water. Pre-mix the feed to double concentration (half volume) and top up with hot water. The crew MUST be careful not to burn the swimmer, which can happen easily as the swimmer’s mouth will cool down during a swim. Bringing a thermos also frees up the crew to look after you.
Will you need/use electrolytes?
In a sea swim, the best swimmers will still ingest salt from the air. So the actual salt requirement is low. One misconception I run with swimmers into all the time, is the bodies need for potassium. How many times have you seen/heard someone have a cramp while pool swimming and someone tells them to eat a banana beforehand “for the potassium”? But usually that’s just simple dehydration. Bananas also provide magnesium, another essential salt, used for ATP synthesis, but we do not need huge amounts of either and deficiencies are rare, and in fact too much potassium in a 24 hours period will slow digestion and cause vomiting. That said, scheduling in an electrolyte is not uncommon for long swims, and allows the body a respite from the carbs.
Do you have a feed plan?
An hourly feed plan give a swimmer confidence their requirements are being met. Just as importantly, if the primary crew person goes down with sea-sickness, a feed plan that can be handed onto the next person means continuity in feeding. Feed plans can include extras. For example mine includes an asthma inhaler drop on four hourly breaks, just in case. The plan can also be used to schedule in special treats or prophylactic pain-killers.
How long do you expect the swim to last?
Do you have enough supplies if your swim runs over expected time? If you are Lisa or Stephen and are out in the water for 24 to 36 hours, do you have enough water and carb to keep going, all other things being equal? Are there enough supplies … for the crew? Better to take 40 litres and throw out 20, than take 10 litres and need 12. (I know this is not environmentally sound, but there is no way around it).
Finally, do not assume that knowledge of feeding in other endurance events will transfer to sea-swimming. It most likely will not, for example the gel packs beloved of tri-athletes, the extra salt intake and the prone position, are all complicating factors in sea-swimming.
Remember, practice everything. Which means consider and think about everything.
I started swimming before I started school, in fact I can’t remember not being able to swim. I swam competitively in Leeds reaching a high level, 1977: achieving English record -1500 free, 1978: representing GB at the European Juniors – 400 free , 1979-1981: GB senior international – 400 & 800 free……….all in a pool !!!
I rarely swam outdoors and never in lakes. I really hated anything touching my feet and wasn’t that keen on cold water! After a long break from any swimming, I began swimming masters in 1997 and once again started to compete in a pool, sometimes outdoors, but still in a pool. The FINA world Masters in 2000 were in Munich and my roommate was doing the 5K open water so I decided I would give it a go ….well I managed to win my age group and thought “hey this is OK!” (the course was a rowing venue). At the next two FINA world masters (2002 and 2004), I again did pool events and also the open water event, which I won on both occasions – they were both sea swims but very calm! I treated these races like pool races and raced straight to the front of the pack and hung on there for dear life. They were only 3K, but they definitely gave me a feel for open water swimming.
In 2006, I was still racing in the pool but started to get bored, many of my goals had been reached and I needed a new challenge. A chance conversation with Lucy Roper (a seasoned open water swimmer) while waiting for a 1500 race in Swansea’s 50m pool got me interested in the Channel. I had long debates with myself about the Channel but didn’t think I would ever be able to do it as I hated swimming in the sea, hated slimey things touching me, hated the dark and got really bad sea-sickness ……. However, another part of me was fascinated with the journey it would take me on and I thought if not now…………when??
The 2006 FINA World Masters in Stanford was a mixture of amazing racing in the pool and a superb 3K open water swim in San Francisco bay – it was a great course…… silky smooth at the start, then into waves and then a wind pushing you in at the finish. It was exhilarating and that was when I said to myself “I want to swim to France”.
I was invited to swim in the Lough Erne Relay in June 2007. This was to be my first real open water experience and it involved swimming in the dark – so I had to conquer one of my fears! It was great to be amongst seasoned open water swimmers – but I was such a novice! At this early stage, I realised how different open water swimming was from pool swimming. Everyone was so encouraging – it was never about how fast you swam, it was all about COMPLETION …this was all very different for me . I had numerous years of pool swimming, when I always swam to win – no matter what.
During 2007, I was Middlesex County President and I presented an award to Kevin Murphy, who is a member of a Middlesex club. We got talking about swimming, as you do, and I mentioned my plans to swim 2-way Windermere. After he enquired about my swimming history, he said open water is very different, harder than you can imagine, pool swimmers find the transition very hard…etc etc. I got the feeling he didn’t think I could do it…..andthat was like red rag to a bull ……!
In August 2007, I took part in the BLDSA 2-way Windermere (21 miles). This was to be my biggest test so far. In the months leading up to this swim I had been training in the pool (to keep some speed) and also doing long, continuous swims in the open-air Lido at Parliament Hill. It is an amazing Lido – unheated, open all year round, 60 metres long and 27 metres wide. This training served me well – after 10 hours 34 minutes, I completed the gruelling 21 mile swim. It was hard in so many ways – the darkness, the mind games I had to deal with, the cold, and the doubts and of course the fear. My crew was great as the conditions for them were tough (it poured all night) and only five out of twelve swimmers finished. I can honestly say I was so scared during the whole swim, never before had I been scared whilst swimming and the unknown whether I would actually finish the swim was very alien to me. In the pool I had always known that I would be able complete the race whether it be a 1500m free, 400IM or even 200 fly – all these events I had swum as a youngster and also as a masters swimmer – but this was so very different.
At this point, it dawned on me that I was actually OK at this open water swimming thing and that I would swim the channel and I would reach France.
On July 26th 2008, I landed on the beach at Wissant, France. I had done what I had set out to do. The time didn’t matter. I had completed the task in hand. Some aspects of the swim hadn’t gone to plan, but that rarely happens in open water swims.
How does this compare to my pool swimming accomplishments? In my eyes, you simply can’t compare the two. Since the Channel, I have completed Lake Zurich and numerous other lake and sea swims. I continue to train in the Lido and the indoor pool. I have gone back to pool racing during the winter months, but am struggling to feel the same sense of accomplishment. In the pool I have achieved some great times and set some great Masters records…….but there are so many great open water swims for me to complete….so I think my heart is still in open water swimming ………for the moment anyway!
They say that mastering the channel is 20% swimming ability and 80% psychological. Never a truer statement has been made and I believe this also applies to the majority of open water swims.
“Success or failure is caused more by mental attitude than by mental capacity” – Walter Scott
There are swimming legends around the world. Little known outside our sport. Some past, some current. In a country with a very small population of only four million, Ireland is only occasionally successful in International Sport, and we celebrate our sporting heroes as a consequence.
But in Open Water Marathon swimming, we excel.
World Open Water Woman Swimmer of the Year for 2010 was Anne-Marie Ward. Lisa Cummins was nominated for the same for 2009 for her astonishing Double English Channel. Julie Galloway-Farrell, whom we’re happy to claim as our own, is nominated for Performance of the Year and Ned Denison, (Irish to all intents and purposes, don’t let the accent fool you), is a 2011 Inductee of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
And in this group is Stephen Redmond, from West Cork, currently pursuing the Ocean’s Seven, with the Gibraltar, Catalina, English and North Channel’s already behind him and an unsuccessful Molokai also. (Irish Open Water swimmers respect the North Channel above all others). This year Stephen ALSO soloed Fastnet Rock, never previously done, (Ireland’s Teardrop, so-called because it was the last shred of Ireland so many emigrants saw as they left for the shores of America).
Sailors the world over know of Fastnet, notorious for its winds and rough water, the turning point in one of the world’s toughest yacht races. (This year, a group of us, all serious and experienced open water swimmers, were to attempt a Fastnet relay, and in four periods of waiting, we never got weather that would a relay could swim, which can tolerate much rougher water).
Stephen writes below about his incredible year. I feel humbled and proud to just be able to read this and share it with you.
2011 has been a serious and busy year. Looking back, I have met some incredible people who have helped me get this far. I have worked with and sought the advice of people around me who have shared, encouraged and kept me going when I really thought I could not go on. My wife Ann, my kids Steve and Siadbh, Ann’s mother Delia, my brother Anthony and my family, are the rock where it all starts. These are things we all rely on and fall back on when we have nothing left and they have gotten me through to the other side every time.
My first swim of the year came suddenly in May when a slot opened in Gibraltar. A friend of mine had a slot for early May and the Gibraltar swim association had agreed that I could also swim the same weekend. Doubts whether we had enough training put in and very little open water swimming done, all had to be put aside as we entered the water in Tarifa in Spain.
Dave Williams was Feeder/animator for this swim. With one swimmer of either side of the Rib we only had a five or six-hour window of opportunity for this swim. The wind had blown a steady Force 4/5 since we set foot in Tarifa.
You all know the drill. Being so early in the season we were the first to attempt Gibraltar this year.
Factors that made it a really tough swim were that this was Ivan Holloway’s (also from Stephen’s home town of Castledermot, Co. Kildare) first Channel swim, time was short, we both stroked at different rates, and every time we stopped for feeds the boat asks us to go faster. These all eat into you until you think you are swimming like a beginner, sighting constantly for the point boat, and a false sense of security, with the water being so calm.
We soon realize that the reason we are being forced to swim hard is the mental (Editor’s note: crazy) tide and currents that greet us when we get closer to Africa. I seriously think we are going to have to get out, as we cannot see the point boat or Ribs for long periods, and tanker traffic is constant. Miraculously we get in in five hours. Dave joins us for the swim into the shore and we all realize how lucky we are to have made it.
I KNOW NOTHING – Home & Fastnet
We regroup at home. Friends Dave Williams and Noel Brown are incredible, shouldering the organisation of the next swims. The logistics of getting to these distant swims weighs heavily, and much of my time lapping Lough Ine (above) is taken up with this.
Steve Munatones has a lot to answer for, putting this mad crazy idea into my head after we completed the North Channel. A lot of work goes into trying to make the swimming effortless and efficient as possible. Time is also given to the mental aspect of the swims as I find this a huge part of the swims. If I allow doubts into my head they tend to block out the positives and build momentum like a chemical reaction. I try to put my head in a freezer, locking down all ideas except; the finish of the swims, what will it be like?; what will be the taste and temperature of the water?; what kind of beach?; making the last stroke that propels your hand into the land; and the blinding clarity that it all makes sense for a second before you realize that it’s over.
A lot of experimenting with kicking, feeds, gels, and kit. All take time, and training is like a war as much as possible when I have time then work, and home, FAMILY. Then start again.
We decide to go for Catalina in October if I can get a slot. So the summer is very busy. I need to get a decent build-up swim and my old obsession swim come back to me of swimming around the Fastnet Lighthouse, either from Schull or Baltimore.
We eventually decide to try Baltimore around the Fastnet and into Schull. Taking advice from Denis Griffin, a local fishermen who tells me I am crazy. But we already know that his knowledge is beyond belief, advising that it can only be attempted on slack tides and that we have to reach the Rock at a certain time or we can forget about completing, the tides being so strong and weather so quick to change out there. The shortest distance for the swim being 24 miles, it is a monster. But I need to test myself so we know we can face Catalina. Questions about whether it is to close to the swim are there always.
As I train another insane idea come to mind and I wish they would stop but it seems to be the way.
Could we ever go onto Hawaii and Molokai and attempt it if we are successful in Catalina?
I know forcing swims is a recipe for disaster but having discussed with my doctor and support team and looking at the possibility of completing the Seven Channels and making it a Irish and World First and competing with some of the best elite swimmers in the world is bloody daunting but worth a try. (I will have to stop listening to the voices, I think they are trying to kill me).
We attempt the Fastnet swim on the morning of the 17th of October 2011. Calm weather and sun greets me and seeing as this is the fourth attempt since July, just to get in the water, I thank the gods. The Fastnet Yacht race is still in full swing, it being only two days since a multi-million yacht lost its keel and over-turned at the rock, so we have to be careful to keep out of the way of traffic out there, as if there was not enough problems.
My support team are friends who have all completed Ironman Triathlons but as we have the briefing for the swim and I describe what is going to occur, and what they may have to do, they all realize this is a daunting task. When I tell them that they cannot let me back onto the boat unless I am dead, they realize that it is going to be a long day.
Long eventful puking, sick stomach, begging to stop, but they never once panicked and were brilliant in the extreme. We ended up swimming 26.5 miles in thirtenn hours and thirty minutes in water temps of 12 to 14 Degrees Celsius, (53.6 to 57 Degrees Fahrenheit). Never had so many prayers and deals been made to never swim again if we got this swim. And utter disbelief as I rounded the pier in Schull to see Denis Griffin on the pier.
Through the tears in my bloody mask we had both waited a long time for this moment and still I wonder how we did it.
I KNOW NOTHING – Catalina
Training goes on as we approach Catalina with great fear. Getting to these places is the hardest thing of all.
And as we finally get into LA. we realise we are on the edge. The hotel is right on the water, near our boat so meal and bed. In Los Angeles another Irish contact Brian Carmody helps with the hotel and our recovery strategy if we intend to go onto Hawaii.
One day’s rest and prepping and it’s onto the boat for a steam over to Catalina Island, to start the swim at 1.00 am. I am in denial as this is the first time I have ever got on a boat to swim at the time booked for swim. Normally the wind follows me wherever I go and we are always hanging around waiting. I’m shocked. So little time to rest after flight, preparing kit and gathering stores for the boat.
We have an engine starter problem which is fixed and we are not delayed too long, nerves jangling jangling, thoughts of “have we taken on too much, so far away from home?”. Enough. We try to sleep going out. It seems a long way. Jesus, nerves. Given a shout up by Anthony, my brother and my traveling companion. The poor bugger is suffering with sea sickness. A long delay at the start trying to get us in close to shore. It’s really really dark. At last we are in.
I got pretty cold standing around and try to swim in over a kelp forest. In the end I swim/roll over them. After jarring my shoulders in the kelp I reach land exhausted and this is only the start! Not a good feeling.
I swim with a paddle-boarder next to me from the Catalina Swimming Association, which is new to me, and awkward and hard to see and avoid the board. Gracie is talking to me which I am not used to and I feel she is trying to tell me something or I should stop. Stroking at about 54 strokes per minute but the phosphorescence is like a welding arc under the water. Jesus, bad news. First feed down is a bit slow as it’s done off the board, I’m not enjoying this. The doubts, the doubts. This is their golden time. After hours Forrest Nelson (Editor: another Nominee for World Open Water Male Swimmer of the Year) comes in. I am amazed by the care taken by the Catalina Swimming Association. It is humbling to come half way around the world and meet strangers who will do anything to see you succeed and indeed Forrest, and Marta my observer got me through the monster.
I can only assume the journey and the quick lead into the swim affected me but my stomach locked up and six hours in, I treaded water for 15 minutes pleading to stop….
Never a ladder down, nothing. In the end Anthony pushed the one button that he knew would stir anger and a refusal to quit in me. He explained to Forrest to come out to me and quietly tell me that my kids had just called to see how we were and they had said that I should not give up. The tipping point of the swim. How did Forest know this?? Middle of the channel cursing them all, abuse flying, it was such a surreal moment that I had no other choice. A Milky Way was flung to me and I just put my head back in the water and got going again.
Utter joy and humility are what we should all feel . This swim bought them. We finished in twelve hours and thirty minutes to cheers and much laughter. At this point I did not want to see water again for a long long time. No way was I going to Hawaii!!
Great to meet the man who was a huge help to us in LA and with the rest of trip and future swims as well. We stagger back to room and collapse to black sleep for six hours.
I KNOW NOTHING – Molokai
Waken early to texts and calls from home. I feel neither here nor there. A call from home tells me to try one day of recovery before deciding to come home. After all we are so close and have our deposit paid on boat. Discussions with Anthony and Steve Munatones and support team at home. By the end of the day I feel pretty good. The warmer water has not taken as much as the cold water does out of my shoulders. Next morning we decide to go onto Hawaii and arrange flights and accommodation. I have to cancel Catalina thoughts for the time being and begin a blank page for Hawaii. It’s pretty hot here. We get into the hotel very tired from flights but realizing we have three good days to prepare for the swim.
These days go well and I feel strong and recovered. I swim in the sea every day. It’s very salty and the waves have incredible power. The Skipper is okay for Wednesday so off to Molokai on Tuesday. Nerves in overdrive again. You are even further from all we know and are the phones are not really working here, so little contact with home. I tell you the hardest jobs are the support team. Remaining positive and getting me through swims and airports is an unenviable task. We get to Molokai Island and the hotel. We are in the wilds now, that’s for sure.
We meet the skipper and steam around the island around five thirty A.M.. I start greasing up. Dark, dark, dark again. Into the water after a briefing and into the island over reefs. I get taken by waves and slammed. Spear tackled and scratched badly. A disaster, I lose my goggles and cap. Violent stuff,a bad start. On the beach, I scout around to see if there was anyone up. Nothing, so I signal boat and start to swim out to get spare goggles and cap. The first two hours go in a flash, the water great and warm as a bath, the feeds are great, this is good. My left eye got a fair doing from the water and is closing up. But time to get on. I swim just under eight miles in the first two hours. Great.
Then gradually the water and swell starts to get a lot rougher. Anthony tells me on the next feed that we are getting hit by a strong head current and large waves. Molokai was having fun with us. This swim was different again. Jesus, I shorten strokes to deal with swell and increase rate. The boat is a fair distance away looking for better water to see if we can get away from this awful current. The first shark wander into view. Nice clear water, I can see them a long way off. Bugger. What is it? Why it is that it is smiling? Bloody film’s bloody music. In the end it has no interest and wanders off. Lots of small jellies, stinging away. Amazing clarity in the water but the waves are like being caught and thrown like a stick and we are up to our necks in it this time. Feeds continue great, I feel much better than Catalina and full of energy. After around nine hours, which I judge by the sun on my left, the skipper is having problems holding the boat as I feed with waves coming over the side of the boat. Poor Anthony is soaked. He tells me we are nearly half way but making very slow progress against this current. More sharks and tuna all day. I’m long getting used to it now.
We carry on, constantly sighting the boat. You are on your own with your own thoughts but my head is very positive. We know nothing about pain really or how far we can really go any way. On to darkness now and still in huge swells. The next feed and the Skipper delivers an ultimatum that we are just over half way. Eleven hours into the swim and have another fifteen hours to complete , he is not happy that they are losing sight of me on the boat for long periods of time, which I did not realise. I decide to swim on, to see if we can get out of this cursed current.
At the next feed, we talk again and he tells me that he has never seen a current like this in the Channel. Anthony is distraught, knowing that we must come out on safety grounds. There have also been a lot of sharks scouting around for the last few hours or so.
Terrible to be honest , the Skipper tells me he cannot guarantee that I will not be lost, even with a shot of glow sticks on, and advises me to come out after eighteen miles and eleven hours and thirty minutes. The steam back is very long and very quiet. We clean up and chat and realise the water beat us and we could have gone on for many hours.
A steep learning curve indeed and we have learned so much for when we come back. Which we will.
I KNOW NOTHING – 2011
The whole year has gone so quickly and we have met great people and learned so much. I am delighted to be nominated for the WOWSA swim award I hope you will vote for me and we will complete the remaining Channels next year. I hope for your continued support and realize how lucky I have been. Great people, great water, great swims and so many great swimmers . We have all come too far to fail. Thank you for your support.
Since my EC, (too late that is), I’ve had a few interesting conversations with an online friend and endurance athlete (hey Herman!), who has a background in nutrition, who has convinced me to look at some specifics. When I’ve talked to others in this line, they don’t have any experience with real endurance events, much more in strength events, track or field or team events. But given his own endurance exploits Herman has given this more thought than those advising other athletes. Also, having done a Solo, I am interested in how we can do it better and the scientific improvements we can bring to our almost non-studied pursuit. Evan Morrison has started a series on this subject also, which prompted this post, as so much Evan writes so often does.
So, what can we do better?
Amongst the things that Herman suggested we increase was Choline. I’ll address the others separately, (why write one post when I can write two?).
(There’s three links there, for the hypertext inadequate).
Choline is a dietary and nutritional Requirement, like vitamins. It’s often grouped together with B-complex vitamins. It’s required for a variety of purposes including supporting cell structure and integrity, muscular control and neuro-transmission (signalling between neurons). So just thinking from a heavy training point of view, and the precision that swimming normally requires combined with heavy training loads, these seem quite apposite.
The body has a good supply of choline, and retains it well into endurance events but can drop precipitously. Studies at the Boston Marathon in the 80′s show runners could drop 50% over the curse of a marathon. So what about a 5 to 40 hour swimming event?
WE DON’T KNOW! On an initial search I can’t find (unsurprisingly) any studies on choline in ultra-endurance events.
Oh, and apparently, low choline can lead to an unpleasant (fishy) body odour, which no amount of washing will remove. I’m not sure how you segregate this from open water (sea) swimmers who just smell of fish anyway! :-) Which is no worse than the six months of pool training when you smell of chlorine.
Like ALL essential nutrients we can get everything we need from our diet. But the primary forms of choline and changes to a modern diet both mean we could be operating on low choline levels.
The Adequate Intake (AI) of choline is 425 mg (milligrams) per day for adult women; higher for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The AI for adult men is 550 mg/day.
There’s a study that shows AI, Adequate Intake, may not actually be adequate.
So you can see why it would be easy to not get enough. I like liver, but I don’t eat beef liver, (which is horrible and better fed to dogs) and half a kilo of liver a day of any kind would lead to vitaminosis, which is pretty dangerous, and why I limit liver intake when training hard to once a week.
Maybe you really do eat a kilo and a half of cauliflower a day, more power to you if so, but I pity the people living with your colon.
Or just a daily, and probably quite odd mix of these items. Maybe a cauliflower, milk, quinoa, spinach and fish smoothie? Yum.
But modern diet has had us reduce red meat and eggs for other reasons, concerns over cholesterol, etc. Milk is a good source (human milk is very high in choline, for infant development) and probably the easiest to take, something I drink plenty of to support training. I’m wasn’t sure what the hell a quart of milk was, apparently it’s almost a litre. America, please see above cartoon. Again.
Choline is beneficially linked to foetal development, cardiovascular system, and anxiety reduction (not depression), increased IQ in infants, possibly lowered cholesterol (contradicting studies), and mental acuity and memory in mice, and diets with no choline can lead to liver or muscle damage in 80% of cases. On the negative side, there’s a study that it can lead to colonic polyps in women. Or increased risk of diarrhoea or flatulence. One study shows that endurance athletes can be deficient in choline, which is the real point.
Lacking this intake of, it seems choline is possibly a good recommendation for diet supplement in endurance athletes. It is assumed to come in diet from Lecithin, which is how strength athletes (always keen to shove pills into themselves) often supplement. It’s European E-number E322, derived from soy or egg yolk and it’s used as an emulsifier (stabiliser) in processed food, such as some margarine, baking or processed chocolate bars (not high cocoa percentage chocolate bars). But (older) studies show lecithin isn’t effective in choline supplementation, that maybe only 4% of lecithin is actually converted to choline.
Yes … but. The but is ask what we can do. Without studies of deficiencies, supplementation and effects for ultra events, we simply don’t know.
Extracting from one article:
Evidence for choline supplements But can choline supplements really be beneficial? We know for sure that choline levels do plunge near the end of a marathon, and we also know that choline supplements can prevent this devastating downswing. In one study, the simple act of taking in two grams of choline before exercise began totally prevented the fall in choline normally associated with prolonged activity.
However, the simple maintenance of choline levels does not automatically mean that performance will be enhanced. To check on the performance part of the equation, researchers recently asked 10 trained runners (eight males and two females) to run 20 miles as fast as possible after taking 2.8 grams of choline citrate one hour before the run and the same amount (adding up to 5.6 total grams of choline) at the half-way (10-mile) point of their efforts. On a second occasion, the athletes ran the same distance without taking choline. Seven of the 10 subjects ran better times after taking choline, and average time for the 20-miler was five minutes faster when choline was utilised (2:33 versus 2:38).
The researchers were also able to show that plasma choline levels decreased significantly after the placebo (non-choline- supplemented) run but actually increased by 74 per cent at the end of the 20-mile exertion when choline was taken before and half-way through the run.
Cavet: Those are only two small-scale studies, in different conditions (because we always have to remember a few things: Cold & Salt water ingestion as environmental factors for us).
There are two counter studies also. A study of moderate distance cyclists (150 kilometres per week) training at less than VO2 Max displayed NO improvement from choline supplementation. But there is a suggestion in an analysis of one study that choline supplementation is only effective OVER two hours of exercise. Whereas in the other, blood choline was raised, but performance wasn’t.
There IS a small study on pool swimmers, who were using results from an Interval T-30 (thirty minute time test for distance) as the measurement. 11 out of 16 showed an improvement.
Okay, so we’re not left with a lot of conclusive evidence. But there does seem to be a leaning toward choline as being beneficial for ultra-endurance events.
WE NEED MORE STUDIES.
In the meantime, it’s not a regular supplement, I don’t significant use in boosting it daily, but that would depend, as above, on your diet. Eat more eggs, you need less choline supplementation. If it is of any use to us, it’s directly prior to and during the events themselves. I see if I can influence any of next year’s Aspirants to try it out. In the meantime I don’t like keeping these thoughts to myself, our community is based on friendship and sharing knowledge. So here it is for your consideration. And any useful information anyone could add would be great.
Lastly, the actual supplementation. Well it’s not something you find in pill form on the supermarket or pharmacy shelf. Apparently some electrolytes has choline as an addition. The best uptake form is either of the choline salts, choline chloride or choline bitartrate, which are absorbed really quickly into the blood, within 30 minutes. If taking it, you take about 2.0 to 2.5 grams before the event, and after 2 hours, (about 0.2 gr per kg of body weight). For a multi-hour ultra event, I would GUESS, that taking it subsequently every two to three hours would be best. If it is of any benefit.
Wikipedia, PubMeD, Cochrane, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Peak Performance Sporting Excellence, new England journal of medicine, Google Scholar
There is a shared heritage of our international tribe and this is the man who started it all in 1875. In Dover this statue stands on the prom in front of the ugly flats, facing the sea, about 200 metes beyond Swimmer’s Beach towards the ferry port. Marathon swimming is a heritage and history of triumph and disaster, storms and sun, dark nights and dull days, bright sunshine and howling winds, waiting and hoping and success and even death, hopes and dreams, cold and tired, pilots, crew, friends, family and swimmers.
It was Captain Webb who dreamed of the Channel AND achieved it … who (possibly or even apocryphally) gave us, English Channel swimmers at least, our motto: Nothing Great Is Easy.
But it is everyone who tries, and fails or succeeds, who creates our history. We are, like most other tribes whose members are members by choice, a niche group. We exist, in our way, on the fringes, and most people don’t know we’re here. But Captain Webb will always be Primus of us all. I won’t claim Inter Pares for most of us, though when you can stand and talk face to face with greats like Kevin Murphy, Nick Adams, Freda Streeter etc and your friends from around the world, you can enjoy the mutual respect and feeling of belonging that all tribes of choice bring. Thanks Captain.
Released by CS&PF Secretary (& King of the Channel) Kevin Murphy on email (I didn’t see that one first). There were swimmers out only two days ago on the last unbookable tide.
Here’s the figures:
Total swims: 124
Successful 87 Unsuccessful 37 Percentage of swims (solo and relay) that were successful = 70%
Total solos: 68 Successful 42 Unsuccessful 26 Percentage of swims (solo) that were successful = 62%
Total relays: 56 Successful 45 Unsuccessful 11 Percentage of swims (relays) that were successful = 80%
45% of CS&PF swims were relays, 55% were solos.
Congrats to all. Welcome to the Club to the soloists, you’re now one of the famous few, commiserations to those who failed or got weathered out. You’ve heard one of the Channel aphorisms by now, the Channel will still be there.
I’ll assume these are all still subject to Official CS&PF committee ratification next month.
EDIT: According to the President, these swims ARE ratified.
The last bookable tide for soloists for the English Channel is the last neap tide of September. (There is one unbookable tide left that some soloists may be able to get out on, weather permitting, best wishes to those waiting, hoping for a last chance).
Though the water is still warm (at least by Irish standards), the chance of storms and rough water has significantly increased, along with longer nights leaving solo swimmers starting on high tide, the more common, with a longer period of n.
Gábor’s first thought, unsurprising for those who know him, was to make a joke. His second was to think of our friend and hero Rob Bohane. It was a very powerful and personal moment, and having it on film is thanks to Sylvain and Gábor for allowing us to be there, to capture the emotion of the end of a Channel Solo quite well, probably at that moment more emotional for Sylvain and I, since Gábor was mainly exhausted. And thanks to Gábor for letting me upload it.
With his words, Gábor brought all of our friends onto Wissant beach with him.
(The shouting is hooting, learned when surfing, when I discovered it was a sound that carries well over water and wind).
Google added Video Stabilization to YouTube, a boon for crap video takers, mobile phones and video shot without benefit of a tripod (all apply to me), (and a frightening indication of just how much CPU processing power they have available). I stabilized both the Shakespeare Beach Storm Force 10 videos and they are much improved. They were shot in howling wind, so there’s still shaking but they’re much better (I could see them side by side and see the difference).
30 sec one:
1 minute one:
Here’s a fun 8 second video from Malin Head on Monday of the full force of Hurricane Katya, beats my leaning into the wind at Varne. I wish I’d been out west to take some good footage for you. I’ve been out there in Force 10 before and it’s a sight to behold.
You are NOT a Channel swimmer until you COMPLETE one. Until then you are an Aspirant.
Stop writing English Channel Swimmer or Channel Swimmer on blogs and email signatures when you haven’t swam a metre in the English Channel. Or any Channel.
EDIT: this isn’t aimed at people in general, but a couple of specific people. I’ve seen English Channel swimmer on an email signature of someone who is planning to do a one-way relay. Person has never been to Dover. Another has a website with it on, though they are not even an open water swimmer.
Take an ordinary swimmer. Drop him in Dover. Look who he hangs out with!
Left to right, your eponymous writer/swimmer, Shelley Taylor-Smith, seven times World Open Water Champion, five times MIMS winner & record holder and the only woman to ever be World Number One, Inductee of both Swimming & Marathon Hall of Fame, and such a hoot I think she must be 90% Irish, and of course my buddy and personal hero Lisa Cummins, the only woman to do a Double Channel before a single.
Went to bed with fingers crossed for a chance. Woke to no apparent chance. Then … we just heard three CSA boats are out with speedies, the potentially very fast soloists, taking a chance of a window. All week Lisa & I have been telling people who don’t believe how fast it can change here, especially the Irish.
Update as I’m writing this: Paul Foreman is going out with his number one relay. We’ve lost our slot. :-(
Paul Newsome has clocked up 7k in one hour swimming…!
Fair weather,calm seas.
I wish I lived in this shithole paradise. I’ve asked David & Evelyn, repeatedly, to adopt me. No result yet.
The Channel looks gorgeous this morning. Full screen it.