Instead of a beach, shadows loomed over me and the water went from gold to black in sudden deep shade.
A wall of dressed stone met my fingertips and loomed two metres over me. It was a pier, stone mooring bollards along the edge. There was another pier twenty or thirty metres away to my left, like the coast had projected horizontal crenellations into the sea.
There are no stone piers on the Copper Coast. Even concrete slipways are rare on our exposed shore which lacks any suitable bays as harbours. The Copper Coast rocks are primarily Old Red Sandstone and soft limestone. Why was I thinking about stone? I sought rationality, logic. The type of stone didn’t help. No, wait, the lee side of Tramore Pier behind the concrete is dressed stone. That’s a stone pier. But Tramore pier is how many kilometres away? Eight, nine? Away from where? I’ve swum the Copper Coast, every metre. I did not know this place and Tramore is just a single angled pier. Logic didn’t help.
There were steps near me built into the pier. In the shadows in the water the light became a type of dusk. Tarzan-style, head up, two strokes and I reached the stairs. I gingerly got a foot under me, then the second, and I stood and I climbed up. The pier edges were a charcoal grey, with the main mass a slightly lighter grey. Dark grey stone mooring bollards. The surface seemed almost swept clean except a dusting of bleached sand with faint mother-of-pearl sparkles. The rock was warm and the sand very fine under my bare feet. An ever-so-slight breeze had returned, a whisper that quickly dried my bare skin as I looked around me.from this vantage I could see other piers projecting out into sea.
A harbour. But no stacks of pots. No boats, no coils of gaudy nylon rope, no hauled out punts or moored tenders. No detritus of a working harbour.
The piers were fronted with low stone buildings, one or two stories, also stone, with slate roofs. All orderly, well maintained and pretty in the austere way of coastal communities, especially in the soft light. No electricity poles. No diesel tanks, no mechanics.
This could not be. But it was. I was just a swimmer. You can’t accidentally swim to France or to somewhere you’ve never seen, never been. Arms are too weak against the Sea, despite our desire to prove otherwise.
We swim in part because it human-scales the world. Swimming makes the world both bigger and smaller. It becomes immense against the strength of our shoulders. But it becomes small and intimate and local, limited also by our shoulders. Driving a road a thousand times is not like walking it once. Sitting on the beach a thousand times is not like swimming out to the horizon once. We remember the scale of the world we’ve forgotten in the rest of our lives, we remember the absolute importance of the horizon.
Beginning or intermediate swimmers considering a long or marathon swim nearly always start with two area of concern: Worrying about their capacity to endure cold water, and asking what training is required.
I’ve covered cold water extensively, probably more so than elsewhere, and will continue to so do as long as I find things to write about it. I’ve got to run out at some point, right?
But I have been a bit wary about covering training, because there are people out there who can cover it better from a theoretical and coaching point of view, and because, though I haven’t mentioned it in a while, those who train under Coach Eilís agree to keep the program to ourselves (apart from bitching about it to family, friends, the others in the same group, the Postman, distant relatives, those unfortunate enough to share dressing rooms and beaches, etc).
Swimmers who train exclusively and competitively in the pool usually use a periodization system, the training year is broken down in macro and meso-cycles, and even micro-cycles (for example a season, a month, a week).
For distance open water swimming a Progressive Overload approach seems to work well.
Progressive Overload is the gradual increase of muscle resistance or stress over time to stimulate muscle adaptation more effectively. It is combined with a predetermined regular reduced stress period.
Lactic production, lactic threshold and lactic tolerance are all improved while still allowing for essential recovery and reducing the chances of over-training or injury.
So how does Progressive Overload Training (POT) work?
It’s quite straightforward:
The cycle is usually be three or six weeks long, (four or five are most common).
The athlete (swimmer or runner or cyclist) increases the weekly training load by the recommended amount. In swimming volume this is about five percent per week for swimmers, for three weeks (assuming a four-week cycle).
On the fourth week, the step-back week, the athlete drops back to the amount of the second week.
The next cycle of four weeks starts from the second or thereabouts volume of the previous cycle.
The sequence reads as; 1,2,3,4…2,3,4,5…3,4,5,6…6,7,8,9…etc
Each cycle therefore increases on the previous with the final week being easier to recuperate. The step-back final week can be the same as the second or first week, but the next cycle always starts at a higher level than the previous cycle started.
For example, Week one is 10,000 metres, week 2 is 11,000 metres, week three is 12,000 metres. Week four returns to 10,000 metres. Week five then starts at 11,000 metres.
A key feature that can be missed is in the question of how you increase the muscle stress. For endurance swimmers that typically involves increasing weekly swim mileage. Here’s a reminder again that you shouldn’t be increasing mileage by more than five percent per week to avoid injury. Another key feature of POT
There are some points to note about Progressive Overload Training.
The stress increase can be of volume (total distance), intensity (increased speed or reduced rest intervals), frequency (number of training sessions) or time.
Adaptation results aren’t linear. Though you are using a linear system for training the product is less likely to be linear, as the body responds non-linearly, more simply in bursts or waves and sometimes you even go backward.
A feature of POT is reduced injury risk.
Results are more obvious at the beginning or for beginners. The more you do it the less likely you are to notice any significant gains (other than fitness).
Progressive Overload assumes you have good or at least consistent technique to begin with.
This isn’t by any means a definitive instruction on How or What training plan you should be using. That’s up to you and/or your coach. But Progressive Overload is a training plan with widespread recognition and scientific validity that may be of use for you.
All this time, we’d been in a race, Trent, the crew, Gallivant. Though there were other Solos out that day, including Chloë McCardel‘s second three-way record attempt, (she made it to about two hours into the third leg) Trent’s race was with a ghost, or shall I say, ghostly presence. Not an actual shade but an avatar of Petar Stoychev who was always there, in the presence of his previous record swim track which was visible on the AIS screen inside the cabin, visible to the Channel Chat group on the couple of updates that Mike Oram sent out. And Petar Stoychev was ringing Mike Oram every hour, a lot of direct interest for someone who apparently didn’t think Trent had a chance before the start.
After reporting that he was feeling flat at about the third hour, Trent called for caffeine in his next feed and requests more cheering from the crew. This was another difference visible to me in how a world champion operates. I’d imagine that if I ask you to cheer for me, it’ll have no effect, since I instigated it. Trent however requested the cheering and yet still responded. You could see immediately that he was enjoying it.
Jumping back, just before two hours elapsed, Mike Oram had sent an email to the Channel Chat group, reporting briefly on Trent’s progress. I didn’t see it but I did see the next update from him later on my phone and I showed Harley and told him I hadn’t seen something like this previously on the group, that Mike is probably taking the Trent’s progress really seriously.
Trent swam fine through the third hour with no further reports of feeling off, flying across the North East Shipping lane.
At four hours and fifteen minutes, Trent’s mother sent a message which Damián relayed, and which features later in many of the Australian media broadcasts. It’s a lot of words for Trent to have to read, but Damián can get the whiteboard right in front of Trent’s face, as he has been doing previously, and Trent can read it over the course of a many strokes.
I’d used this method on Gabor’s Solo two years previously, rather than trying to relay a long message during a feed, hold the whiteboard in place and give the swimmer plenty of time to read it. It only works in flat water, when the gunwale and message board are low, but it works well for that.
During the fourth hour, the haze had thickened further to fog, and the world shrank around us. Some sun and patches of blue sky remained about us and Trent swam through occasional vibrant pools of light in a larger sea of grey and into the fifth hour, still seven minutes ahead of Petar Stoychev.
But that gradually changed, and I found myself looking around at the horizon more, watching the weather as our world, even on the boat, shrank. For the Channel swimmer, the world is a dichotomy, always both small and huge at the same time. Small with the boat, the crew, eyes a centimetre above the surface, everything is near, the circle of world contracted. Huge with the slowness of the progress, the water, the immensity of the task, catching an occasional glimpse of the Varne Cliffs mast, seemingly immobile at night for hours or worse, glimpsing the Cap Lighthouse. But Trent didn’t even have those irritations, the world grown smaller and duller.
At four hours twenty-five minutes, somewhere astern, a ship’s foghorn called out.
At four hours thirty minutes, Mike Oram gave a message directly to Trent on the whiteboard:
“Now’s the hard bit“.
Every Channel swimmer knows this, it just usually takes the rest of us much longer to swim to this point. Channel swimmers say that “you swim to the start of the real swim”, or “you swim and you swim, until you get tired or exhausted. Then the Channel starts“.
During that fifth hour we noticed that Trent’s superlative stroke was suffering slightly, but only to the extent that he was keeping his left arm straight on recovery. Harley passed a message to Trent to focus on technique and specifically that left arm.
At four hours thirty-five minutes, Trent called for Mike Oram.
“Can I do it?” he asked.
Five minutes later Mike responds with “yes, you are still seven minutes ahead“.
Throughout the fifth hour, Trent was in a less than equitable mood. Frustration was obvious as he slipped off the bow wave, slipped back a bit more during his feeds, and had to struggle to swim more to get back to and stay on the bow wave. He called for the boat to move forward, to hold pace a few times, to pick up speed.
Afterwards he’s admitted this was the most difficult period, that he lost concentration, that he got annoyed and angry at us, and at the boat crew. He also told us directly during this time that he had cramp. I offered Harley some zero-carb electrolyte I’d brought with me, exactly for this possibility, which I’ve used previously myself and for Alan, but completely understandably, Trent and Damián didn’t want to try it, after all, we all stress to never do anything new in a Channel swim. (And just in case the cramps did get worse, then we could fall back to it).
I have a different view than Trent does of the fifth hour. To my mind, he never behaved less than well and the small sarkiness is exaggerated in his mind and completely normal for a Channel swim anyway. My own words to my observer and King of the English Channel, Kevin Murphy, written by him in my observer’s Report were: “Fuck France“. Kevin’s response in the report is “I know how Donal feels“.
Even if you are the world number one, the Channel is not going to be easy. (Cue the Channel swimmer’s motto and my much-repeated Chad Hundeby story). I also think it wasn’t entirely his own perception of lack of concentration. During this hour the boat crew changed, Mike Oram was for a while forced to both helm and navigate, and the throttle was not as constant, and this created difficulties for Trent staying in the bow wave.
Before the end of the fifth hour, I saw Trent miss almost all his lurid red 250ml feed, which hadn’t happened previously, and briefly he looked like a vampire victim. Once is not a concern, but if it was to repeat it could become a problem. Around this time Trent also told Harley and Damián that he wanted Damián to come if for the last hour and a discussion ensues between Harley and Mike and Damián in the wheelhouse.
At the start of the sixth hour the fog lifted again to be come replaced with a warm Channel haze, my worries of the swim being abandoned due to fog (only I had them anyway) dissipating along it. We were in French waters, Trent was swimming well.
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).
If doing a long swim with a training partner … who is faster than you anyway … if you are barely managing to hold onto his bubbles … do not, I repeat DO NOT give him some of your caffeinated carbohydrate feed (Hammer Perpetuum with Caffeine) at the 21k point … ESPECIALLY if he has been off caffeine for four months!
Or you will see him take off like Speedy MacSpeedster, the holder of the Speedy Family’s speed record.
Gábor and I had a 24k last Friday. Unfortunately I can’t share the session details as it’s under an NDA from Coach Eilís. Suffice to say it was tough. According to Gábor, graduates of this particular session shall henceforth be known as The 24 Carat Club, and includes all this year’s Sandycove marathon swimmers. Also swimming at various times during the day were Queen Lisa, marathon swimmer Rob The Bull Bohane, and 2012 Aspirants Catherine Sheridan & Carmel Collins.
Recovery was about four days to feeling almost normal while swimming, pretty good.
Beach, about 2000 meters in length but swimming distance can be further. Parking at both ends. Shallow beach means quicker entry at high tide, but there are submerged rocks right in front of the parking at the Clonea Strand Hotel end of beach most of which are hidden at high tide. A common swim is East from hotel to slipway and back, about 40 minutes for a 3k per hour swimmer.
It’s possible to swim westerly out to the first small rock island (Carricknamoan) but only on high tide as it is too shallow and with too much bottom kelp on low tide. This is about 3500 metres. There is a weak adverse current which pulls you off line when returning to Hotel Car Park. Follow a line toward Helvick Head and adjust to your left on the way toward the island. Occasional seal.
Baile na Gaul to Helvick Harbour To Helvick Head and Dungarvan Bay
Across Dungarvan Bay is rarely swum except for the Helvick Swim, due to high water traffic (Fishing, sailing).
There’s a shallow reef called The Gainers about 2/3 of the way across (swimming from east to west) that runs into the bay. There is a sharp temperature drop after on the West side of the bay from an inward cold water current.
There are lots of buoys in the bay.
It is unsafe to swim around Dungarvan town harbour due to very high tidal current and water traffic.
Helvick Harbour is a working fishing-boat pier so be careful of boats. There is also plenty of diesel in the water around and outside the pier.
Baile Na Gaul is one mile inland of Helvick Harbour. Short stony beach. Sandy water entrance for 50 metres from the pier wall. Otherwise may be submerged rocks. Best after half tide but there are currents running up and down coast between Baile Na Gaul & Helvick except at high and low water, strong enough to halve normal swimming rate.
Possible to exit safely from the water for about 2/3s of the distance between Baile Na Gaul & Helvick Harbour.
There is a new Waste Treatment Plant about ¾ of the way between Helvick & Baile Na Gaul. There are often very cold spots around here from surface water run-off. Occasional sewage has been “tasted” in the water. There is (up to ¾ knot) strong current around this point out to about 200 metres.
Very choppy conditions here in Northerly wind unlike many other spots are there is a long area for wind to blow across the bay from the town to here.
Helvick Harbour to Helvick Head is a short distance. Sheltered by the Head. Rubbish, kelp and jellyfish accumulate here at slack tides and winds.