Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy days!

It's one of those weeks where everything is going least in my swimming world anyway since I haven't had time for everything else!! It's a 75km week and I'm already over 60km and I've only got 4 days done! Monday was short but I've had long sessions the last 3 days, and they've gone really well-I actually really surprised myself at how strong I was at the end of today's 20km session even though I've done so much. I guess training is paying off :)

I've also been in the sea quite a bit. I did my longest swim of the year so far on Saturday, an hour and a quarter, and I was fine after-a bit of shivering but nothing unusual! And I did my first double lap of the year on Sunday. It was a very comfortable swim-conditions were good and I had fun doing it. I also went to the sea for a short swim yesterday-I'm trying to get there as often as I can now, the longer I can stay in the sooner it will be that I can get out of the pool and I'm SO sick of the pool! And this weekend is going to be busy on the open water front too-I've got my normal Sandycove swim on Sunday but I'm also doing my first organised swim of the year on's a 5km swim around Spike Island in Cobh Harbour. 

Spike Island Swim Route

I haven't thought much about the swim to be honest because I've been so busy swimming (and eating!) all week that I haven't really had time for anything else! But I'm sure that it will be a fun swim and it should be a little longer than I've done so far this year so it will be a good test for me. Hopefully it will go well, a good ending to a really good training week!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Feed, swim, feed, swim......

I know that it's a while since I posted. I've been trying to settle back into the routine (which hasn't exactly worked with the pool so busy over the Easter holidays!) and I've also been doing a lot of thinking about the swim. My trip to Malta gave me a lot of food for thought. I came back from Malta feeling much less confident about my swim than when I went there. I loved the camp, it was really well-organised, we did lots of swimming and it was a lot of fun. And all the swims went really well, even the 6-hour swim was relatively easy (given the fact that we were stung from head to toe during it!). But I came home feeling a certain unease about what I'd taken on. And I've been trying to figure out why. I can only put it down to one of two things:

The cold. I didn't expect to be cold out there. I've done lots of cold water training over the winter, and I was comfortable in lower temperatures last summer. But I have lost a lot of weight training since then and I think that's what's making the difference. So I guess the camp was a good indicator that I need to start gaining back some of that weight over the next few months. Probably just 6 or 7 pounds-I wasn't so cold that I was shivering after the swims or anything. But enough that I'll be more comfortable in the water. I know that once I start getting in for longer lengths of time over the summer I will get better with the cold again. I need to keep remembering that the swim is almost 5 months away yet-plenty of time to get better used to the cold!

I had too much time to think about what I'm doing. Since we decided that I'd go for a two-way swim, I've been dealing with the practical aspects of it-changing my plans with my pilot, training more, contacting people who have done it before. But I haven't really had a chance to think about what it means. What it will be like to swim for over 30 hours. How tired I'm going to be. How hard it will be to leave that beach in France when I'll be so happy to have completed my one-way and then I have to do it all again. And I had a chance to think about all of this in Malta. And when I started to think about all of it I started to doubt myself. Can I really swim for 30+ hours? Will I really have the determination to turn around in France? But I realise there's no point in asking myself those questions. Because how will I ever know unless I try? I just need to stay positive and know that I'm working as hard as I can to prepare for this, and I will complete it. Freda's big advice for me about the two-way was "don't think about what you're doing, just swim from feed to feed". And I've heard that advice so often. But I realise now just how important it is. If I think about the whole distance that I'm going to swim it seems so long and overwhelming. But as long as I can swim to the next feed I will keep swimming. 

A lot of people talk about visualising their swim and how important it is to imagine leaving the boat and swimming to the beach, and how they will feel as they leave the beach, etc, until they imagine themselves landing, having finished their swim. That's just not for me. I don't want to know what's ahead of me. No matter how many times I imagine it, it will never be like that on the day. It's not that I'm in denial about what I'm doing, far from it. I just firmly believe that if I can concentrate on getting as much training in as I can and doing tons of open water swimming so that I can learn to deal with any problems that may arise on my swim, that will help me a lot more than imagining it all. I'm a very practical person anyway, I need to do things rather than think about them!

So from now on I'm just going to concentrate on getting lots of training and long swims done and get used to the routine...feed, swim, feed, swim, feed, swim....I'll get there when I get there!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Today is one of a few milestones that have happened in my training over the last few weeks. It is 5 months today to the start of my swim tides. 5 months of training left. It seems like a lot now (in fact it seems neverending sometimes!), but I know how fast time has been passing-I'm sure that those 5 months will go by quickly too!

I also had two milestones while I was in Malta. On March 29th it was a year since my first sea swim. It feels like forever! It's been a great year :) Also, I have now completed over a million metres since I started training with EilĂ­s in October. That's about 28.5 times across the Channel. Sounds like a lot-but of course that's done over 6 months, so on average it's about one Channel crossing per week. I wonder how much that figure will have changed by next September!

My next big milestone needs to be my first double lap of the year...I stayed in for an hour today so I can last the time, I just need to find someone else who wants to join me...hopefully tomorrow or Monday.

Happy Easter...enjoy the chocolate eggs! (I'm making the big sacrifice of eating lots of them in the name of gaining's a big sacrifice I tell you!)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


So I've finally put together a (rather long!) report on my Swimtrek camp. I've posted it below with each day getting a seperate post. For those of you who don't want to read all of that...suffice to say that I had a fabulous time, did tons of swimming, and would go back in a heartbeat. And I completed my 6-hour swim there so I am now qualified to swim the Channel :)

I'll put up photos over the next few days and some of my thoughts on the trip...what I learned and things like that. All in good time!

Day 5: All Over :(

On our last morning we had a nice relaxing swim up to one of the caves just outside the bay. It has a tunnel through that gets really dark until you can see the light coming through the water from the other side, it was so pretty. The tunnel leads back out into the bay but there is a rock at the end of it that extends a couple of metres down into the water. So to get out that way we had to dive down under the rock and come up the other side. I was a little nervous to dive down because my ears don’t do so well down deep but they were fine, and it was well worth doing it just for the fun factor (plus it meant we didn’t have to swim back through the tunnel and around to get back into the bay!). It was a fun ending to a really fantastic camp :)

Then it was time to say our goodbyes...I met some really great people on the trip and I'm sure I'll be seeing some of them again in the future. It was a really well-organised camp and I just wish I was back there now...I'm jealous of the people who still have it all ahead of them over the next few weeks!!!

Day 4: The Qualifier

We had an early start on the morning of the 6-hour Channel qualifying swim. I expected to wake up feeling nervous about it but I didn’t start to get butterflies until after breakfast (or maybe it was just indigestion from all the food I had stuffed down my throat!!!). We got greased up and got in the water for an 8:30am start. The plan for our group was to do 8 laps of the bay outside the hotel and then head along the cliffs for a 5km swim to a larger bay, where we would stay for the rest of the time. So we started off with our nice wide circles, and we had 4 done when Lizzie came over to us and told us that the groups were separating too much and to start heading out along the cliffs. So we did. It was a bit choppier when we got out of the bay, but I didn’t mind that, it took my mind off the cold! Apparently at this stage there was thunder and lightning off in the distance and they toyed with the idea of calling off the swim-thankfully they decided that we were ok for now! Then my worst nightmares appeared…jellies. Lots of them. We swam through them for at least 10minutes before reaching clear water and this time I wasn’t so lucky, I got a few stings. At first I was panicking, having to breathe every two strokes just to get air in. But after a couple of minutes I got used to them and just kept swimming fast to try to get away from them. So maybe it was a good thing-I need to get used to them at some stage!

When we got closer to our destination we were told that the bay that we were swimming towards was full of jellies and that we wouldn’t be able to swim there. So instead we were to turn around and head back to the bay outside the hotel and finish off the 6-hours there. I don’t know what upset me more about this news-the fact that we were going to be spending 2 or 3 hours going around in small circles, or the thoughts of the jellyfish that we would have to swim back through to get there! But there was nothing for it except to turn around and start swimming. 

It was an eventful trip back. First of all we hit the jellies again. The tide or the current must have been sweeping them in because the sea was thick with them on the way back. They were all you could see in the water and every stroke we were getting stung. My lips and face got very sore from all the stinging. One went down the front of my swimsuit (something which I have always dreaded!) but I didn’t even stop to take it out-I figured that the time I was stopped I’d only be getting stung more. Thankfully it made its own way out somehow!! It seemed to take forever but eventually we got past them. And then the weather decided that it would test us. A storm rolled in and we had thunder and lightning and rain…I was just really hoping that they wouldn’t pull us at that stage because we had about 3 hours done and I didn’t really like the prospect of starting it all over again. Now if they had tried to pull us during the jellyfish attack it would have been a different story...!

Eventually we got back to the bay and things were calm after that. Freda mixed up a nice strong feed for us at 5 hours and we got yummy kit-kats, a nice surprise! So that had us going strong for the last hour-myself and Mark even sprinted to the boat at the end (although I must admit I called the sprint a little early-by the time we got there I was winded!!). 6 hours and 3 minutes…and I came out of there wanting to do more. A very successful qualifying swim :)

Of course the rest of the evening was spent eating and drinking and celebrating the day’s achievements! Everyone did really well, a good day's work!!

Day 3: Relaxation!

We started the third day with breakfast and another seminar, this time on hypothermia and mental preparation for the Channel. An interesting fact that they told us was that in water of 20deg C or less a person *will* get hypothermic-it’s just a case of how long it will take. So I guess what we try to do with our cold water training is to put it off as long as we can rather than to actually prevent it. 

The talk about mental preparation was interesting-and a little scary for me. I’ve never had a time in the water where I really wanted to get out and someone had to convince me to stay in. Of course I argue with myself when I don’t feel like being in there, but so far I’ve always managed to shut up that little voice that tries to tell me that I’ve done enough and I should get out and rest. But many people have had times when that voice was just too loud and they just wanted to get out more than anything else. And I’m afraid that the first time that I’m going to experience this is on my Channel swim day. But all I can do is keep drowning that voice out so that I know how to-if I do it successfully in training then hopefully I’ll be able to do it on the day too!

After the seminar we headed down to the bay to do some stroke filming and a short swim, only about 20mins-just enough to stretch out but still stay warm! We then went to the guide’s apartment for lunch and to watch the videos. The analysis was interesting, it’s always fun to see my stroke and how different it looks to what I imagine. I didn’t really find out anything new-the couple of faults that were pointed out are things that I already knew about and that Eilis has given out to me about already! But judging by our chats after some people found it very useful.

We went for a walk with the guides for the afternoon-it was a gorgeous day (contrary to the forecast!), the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky. So it was a really nice day to do some exploring. Of course when we came back we had to have a dip to cool off! 

After we had a short swim, we had another seminar. More advice about the Channel swim, things like crew and what their role is and lots of useful bits and pieces of information that would never have occurred to me until we were out at sea and it becomes a major issue-like having spare torch batteries.

And then it was time to eat again…dinnertime and an early night to prepare for our 6-hour swim the following morning.

Day 2: A Surprise

The plan for our second proper swimming day was to do the Gozo-Malta crossing (about 5km)-we were told that we would be swimming for 2.5 hours so once we reached Malta we would keep going along the coast until the time was up. We got up early and got a bus to the harbour, where we got on ‘Hey Lampuki’, our boat for the trip. The wind was not being as cooperative as we would have liked, and it was quite choppy as we headed over to our starting point. The one advantage of this was that apparently jellyfish don’t like rough water so they tend to stay deep when it’s rough-I’ll take waves any day over jellies!! 

We started out in our three separate groups so that we wouldn’t be too far apart. We set off in the middle, with Lizzie in a rib looking after us. We headed towards Comino, the small island between Malta and Gozo. I was swimming with Mark and Trevor, we stayed together pretty well except when myself and Mark kept heading off in the wrong direction and were told to go follow Trevor…my sense of direction is so bad, I’m glad that I’ll have a boat to follow on the big day of I could easily end up in Spain or Belgium!! Even though it was rough, the water was really clear and under us we could see all types of sea life-things that glowed, things that were all different shapes-they were really cool to look at but I was happy that they were well below us, I didn’t really want to become closely acquainted with any of them!

As we came close to the Comino shore the sea calmed down…and lo and behold, the jellies came out in force. I think I may have mentioned (once or twice!) that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of jellyfish. Far from it. They freak me out big time. So when we came across a whole load of them I was NOT a happy camper. My first reaction was to stop and see what the others were going to do. Which apparently is the worst reaction you can have for two reasons. First of all, when you tread water, the currents you create drag the jellies towards you. Not what I was going for! And second of all…the most obvious thing…when you lift your head up, you can’t see them any more. So then you’re getting stung without even being able to see what’s stinging you! Regardless anyway I didn’t stop for very long-the two lads were swimming along quickly to get out of the shoal, oblivious to my panic. So I figured that I just had to put the head down, swim as fast as I could through them and hope that they would get out of my way. 

When we got away from them, we stopped to see who was stung where. Amazingly I managed to escape, Mark got a couple of horrible stings across his forehead and Trevor got a few too. Not sure why they didn’t touch me but I certainly wasn’t complaining!

From there we swam along the Comino coast and through the Blue Lagoon-a really beautiful area-in the summer they actually put lanes in there for people to swim. It’s just like a really big, really pretty outdoor swimming pool-you can see to the ground and it’s covered in sand, so the water looks a really pretty turquoise colour. The kind of place that makes all those jellies worthwhile!

From there we headed further along the coast and Lizzie brought us through a really cool tunnel-she does the shorter distance Gozo Swimtrek trips (the ones that people go on to have fun!) so she knows where all the cool places are!! It was nice to be exploring a bit after our circles the day before. However, it wasn’t to last :( Lizzie called us together and told us that we were to head back to the Blue Lagoon-the groups were getting too split up so they wanted us to do laps there for the rest of the time. We weren’t too happy by this prospect but there was nothing we could do. At least by the time we got there we only had about 45mins left so it went by quite quickly. 

We were all happy with our morning swim and were anxious to find out what the plan for the afternoon was-they kept it securely under wraps until we had lunch and were starting to warm up and get comfy. Then they dropped the bomb. A 3-hour swim in the afternoon. And we were getting into the water in half an hour. I don’t think that anyone really welcomed that news. I had been hoping for a nice stretched-out hour to recover from the morning and to relax before the 6-hour the following day. However, the other thing they told us was that conditions looked better for Wednesday than for Tuesday so we were going to put the 6-hour off for a day.

Nothing for it except to go get ready to swim. I was still a little cold by the time that we were setting off-it actually meant that the water felt a little warmer though so maybe it wasn’t a bad thing. We set off around Cominoto, the small island next to the Blue Lagoon, then the route took us back through the Blue Lagoon and further along in the direction that we had been going that morning before we turned back. We swam for maybe an hour and a quarter before turning back to swim along the cliffs back to the Blue Lagoon. We knew that once we were back there we were going to be going in circles again so myself and Mark took the longest possible route back-hugging the cliffs the whole way rather than taking direct lines from point to point! We really didn’t want to have to do circles for any longer than we had to. We still ended up swimming around the Blue Lagoon for over an hour-at this stage the prettiness had just about lost its appeal, we were BORED! And just then the sun came out :) It was such a welcome sight, we had sun for about 40mins and it really helped with taking my mind off the swim. I really do hope that I get some sun on the day of my Channel swim-it’s not only about feeling warmer, it just makes me feel much more positive.

We finished the swim and headed back for some well-deserved dinner. It was a really good day-I really didn’t want to get in for that 3-hour swim but once I got in the water I actually enjoyed it most out of all the swims so far. I think that all those days when I’m in the pool and just want to be somewhere else are beginning to pay off!

Day 1: Swimming in Circles

On Sunday morning we met for breakfast in the hotel and then headed to a meeting area for a briefing about what the week would entail. We were introduced properly to the two guides and also to the rest of the group, everyone had arrived at that stage. About half of the group were signed up for a Channel swim, a few people were there to increase their open water distance and then we had a couple of non-swimmers along with their partners. We were given some information about how the week would work-the plan was for two swims a day and all the swims were to be timed swims rather than trying to cover a particular distance. We were to keep in our groups and try to swim together as much as possible. They wouldn't give us any information in advance about how much we were going to be doing each day-they wanted to keep us on our toes! Finally all of the chat was done and we were told to get our stuff together and that we were doing a 1hour swim in the bay outside the hotel.

We all got ready and greased up, and in we went. It didn't really matter if we stayed in our groups or not because we were only swimming around in circles of about 400-500m anyway so they told us to go at our own pace. Regardless, I soon realised that I had a very similar pace to one of the guys in my group, Mark. We stuck together for the swim, and swam together for the rest of the week-it's always so nice to find people that you can swim with comfortably-usually during a long swim one person will slow down more than the other but we must have slowed down the same amount because we stayed together even during the longer swims! It was really nice to have company for the week. 

The circles started to get very boring-I think we did 8 rounds of the bay in the when they told us at lunch that we were doing 2hours in the bay again that afternoon, we were going mad! Myself and Mark decided to make the circles as wide as we possibly could, so we swam out towards the edge of the bay until we got shouted at and then kept as close as possible to the edges the whole way around! It made a small difference-we did 14 of the wider laps in the afternoon.

It wasn't a hard day by any means, but it was very boring. But then again, swimming the Channel will be very boring. Freda’s advice when people complain about the boredom of training is “you’re swimming the Channel, it’s meant to be cold and boring!”. So I guess that it was a good training day…mentally anyway.

After the swims we had a seminar about Channel swimming…the rules and regulations, the admin side of things that we need to get sorted and some advice about feeding. Freda gave us the feeding plan that she has made out for her swimmers in Dover, which will prove very useful I think. Lots of helpful information!


The camp began on Saturday evening with us all meeting each other and meeting our guides, John Coningham-Rolls, Simon Murie and Freda Streeter. We were all very happy to have Freda there, she has trained so many Channel swimmers in Dover each summer and is a gold mine of knowledge and information. We were told that another guide, Lizzie de Bono, would arrive the following day too. We met the others in the group but some hadn't arrived yet so we left proper introductions for the following morning.

They wasted no time in getting us in the water-we were instructed to bring swim gear to the meeting and they told us that we were doing a short swim in the bay outside the hotel. It really was a short swim-we only stayed in for about 10mins. Surprisingly, the water felt cold...even though it was 15deg C! I expected it to feel comfortable after having swam in much colder temperatures at home all winter. But it definitely felt chilly. 

We swam around in a small loop, they were judging to see which group each of us would swim with-they break the swimmers into three groups by speed so that it's easier to manage having 14 swimmers in the water at once. I ended up in the middle group which I expected, I'm very much an average speed swimmer! After our swim it was time for dinner and then bed...the plan for the morning was to meet for proper introductions and briefing and then a swim. Much to look forward to...