Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sponsor a Mile...

In two weeks time I'll be in Dover. I can't wait! I'm doing very little training at this stage, lots of short swims to keep my muscles loose but lots of rest too. It's nice not to be doing the 10 and 12 hour swims anymore, but I'm getting impatient at this stage! Im looking forward to getting to Dover and getting the swim started.

In the meantime, it's time to concentrate on trying to raise some money for my charities. And this is where you come in. If you're reading this now, and are thinking to yourself, "I must sponsor her sometime"....GO AND DO IT!!!! No time like the present! My sponsorship page is here. No excuses!!

From now on, you can sponsor a mile of my swim. What this means is that if you donate €50 or more towards my charities, you can pick one of the miles of my swim as your own (miles still available are listed here). Then, sometime during that mile, you will get a text letting you know how I'm getting on (if I have a mobile number for you). €50 may seem like a lot-but I'm swimming 42 miles!! Think of where you were this time yesterday. Now imagine that you started swimming then...and you're still swimming...and you still have 6 or 8 hours ahead of you. That's gonna be me pretty soon. Don't you think that's worth €50?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Last Long One...

So, after the antics of Friday night/Saturday morning, an easy day was called for on Sunday. Two hours in the lake, just enough to stretch out the muscles and see where the pains were. Thankfully I didn't feel much in the way of pain-I was, however, FREEZING! In 17deg C, I felt colder than I had the night before in 12deg C. It really showed me how important rest is-when the body is tired everything is so much harder. So I'd like to say that I slept well that night in preparation for my 14 hour swim the following day. But I didn't. I had gotten bitten all across my stomach during the night swim by sea lice, and basically looked like I was covered in chicken pox. And they were just as itchy. So I kept waking up on Sunday night finding myself scratching them and making them sore and itchier. I think I got about an hour and a half's sleep all night, maybe two. Not such good preparation for a long swim! Of course, the one time when I did manage to fall fast asleep was just before the alarm went off at 5:45am....typical.

I got myself moving, had a nice big breakfast and headed for the lake. I was hoping to start as close to 7am as possible so that I would be finished before it got dark that evening. It was a dull, grey morning, which didn't make getting into the water a very inviting prospect. But I greased up and got in. The water felt much warmer than it had the day before thankfully-I really didn't want to have 14 hours of feeling cold ahead of me!

I knew that Mark Sexton, a fellow Channel aspirant who was taking the day out of his holidays to do a long swim, was due to join me around 8am. So I hung around close to the slip until he arrived and then we started doing laps-each lap was 2 miles so these broke up the day nicely into 1-hour segments or a little more. Perfect for feeding. A lap, then a feed, then another lap. At 10am Ossi arrived with hot soup for us. Lovely! He warned us that bad weather was due for the afternoon-possibly gale-force winds and thunderstorms. I was kinda hoping for the thunderstorms because if there was lightning it would give me a valid excuse to get out!! But for now the weather was fine so there was no excuse for it, just keep on swimming...

A few hours later my parents arrived with another hot delivery, more hot soup and flasks of hot water for Maxim. At this stage Mark was starting to feel tired-he realised that he hadn't eaten much the day before and his body wasn't as well-fueled as it could have been. He stayed another half-hour, about 6 hours in total, and then I was on my own. I knew that I would have about 6 hours on my own before Imelda and Ossi came to join me at 8pm that evening for my final hour and a half. This was the testing time. 6 hours up and down to the buoy on my own. Total boredom. The weather was starting to get worse too so there weren't even very many walkers around to make me feel like I had company. Nothing for it but to keep the head down and the arms moving. I timed myself for each lap to make sure that I was staying on pace.

Then at around 5pm my mother arrived with yet more hot food. In the lashing rain. It was colder out of the water than in the water at this stage. But time was passing quickly, with each feed knocking off another hour. At around 7:30pm my parents arrived back to make sure that everything was going ok. At this stage the weather was horrendous. Of course the lightning storms never materialised (although I know that I would have been giving out like mad after if they had arrived and had disrupted my swim regardless of how much I wished for them there and then!). But there was wind and rain, rain and more rain. I knew that Imelda and Ossi were going to be there a half hour later so I just swam back and forth to the forest across the lake until they arrived. At which time Imelda decided to get in and up the pace to "see how I dealt with it". Surprisingly I was able to keep up. I guess all this training has taught me how to pace myself. My final hour was just as fast as my first. And I got out after 14 hours feeling GREAT! Both physically and mentally. I don't know if it was because I knew it was my last long training swim or what, but everything just fell into place that day. I love days like that where everything feels easy. It shouldn't have been-I'd done a long swim a couple of days before, I hadn't slept well, the weather was horrible and I spent a lot of the day out there on my own. But I never once had to really argue with myself about staying in there. I knew that I had to do 14 hours and I just went and did it. And I'm really hoping that it will be like that on my Channel day too. Head down, one arms in front of the other, over and over again. I'm not thinking for a minute that it's going to be easy. But I've done all the distance preparation I can do and I am ready to have my go. Bring it on!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night...

This weekend has been a long one-yes, it was the bank holiday weekend, but it was also a really big weekend for my swimming training. I swam almost 25hours over 3days. It's not the most I've swam in a short time (I did 21hours over 2days a few weeks back, and I've done 27hours over 3days a few times), but it included my longest swim so far, plus a very interesting swim...

On Friday night, I did my first night swim. Most Channel aspirants train for an hour or two at night in preparation in case they end up swimming in the dark on the day of their swim. In my case, I will definitely be swimming in the dark. Perhaps over two nights depending on what time of day I start. So it was REALLY important for me to see what it was like to swim in the dark and to make sure that it wouldn't freak me out on the day!

Swimming at night can be difficult for a few different reasons. First of all, there is the obvious one: swimming in darkness. Not being able to see anything but whatever lights are around from the pilot boat and other ships. Another issue is the cold. The water of course does not change temperature at night. But the air does. And because the body is used to being asleep at night, it will feel colder anyway. There's tiredness. I must admit that I'm a bit of a night owl-if I'm working towards a deadline I tend to get my best work done at 1 or 2am. But even so, once it comes to 3 or 4am, my body wants to sleep. Apparently the hour before dawn is the worst and the time at which people feel at their lowest.

So to experience all of this, it was decided that I would start swimming when it was starting to get dark, and finish swimming when it was fully bright again or an hour or two after. A great idea in theory. In practice I was kinda thinking that an hour or two would be a lot nicer! I didn't really like the thoughts of spending a whole night swimming in the waters of Sandycove as the lights in the houses went off and people went off to their cosy beds. In fact, I spent most of the week dreading it. But I knew it was important to do it-even more so because of the fact that I was dreading it. As I've so often said to myself this year, what's life without a challenge?!

So on Friday evening at 8:45pm, I left for Sandycove, nervous and excited. And the strangest thing happened. On the radio came the song 'Nightswimming' by R.E.M. I haven't heard that song in a couple of years and now I hear it when I'm on my way to my first night swim. A very strange coincidence! A good omen hopefully :)

I arrived at Sandycove at 9:30pm, armed with my light-sticks, and enough food to feed an army (seriously-if anyone looked into my car they'd have thought I was going away for the whole weekend!). Imelda and Ossi had kindly offered to be in Sandycove all night to feed me hot food and drinks, and I had two kayakers-Niall was going to do the first 4hours and then Padraig would take over until it got bright. So everything was in place for me to get started.

I was dreading how cold the water was going to be. I had been in Sandycove the day before for a couple of hours, and it was really cold-somewhere between 12 and 13 deg C. I was freezing, and that was by day with the sun shining. I didn't know how I was going to be able to cope with that temperature in the colder air. But there was only one way to find out! So I started my swim at 10:20pm. And it actually didn't feel too cold! I was plesantly surprised that my hands didn't react badly to the temperature at all-I had been worried that the muscles in my right hand and forearm would seize up as they usually do in cold water and trigger my shoulder pain. But they didn't, so all was good.

We couldn't go around the island because it had been stormy all day and there was still a very big swell around the back. So out to the beach we headed and from there we swam up and down the front of the island. Darkness fell, which was actually quite nice-I enjoyed the peaceful feeling of being out there on my own, just swimming along next to the kayak with no distractions. By day there's always something going on, something to watch or look for. But at night there's nothing. So it's much easier to zone out and just swim. It was time for the first feed and I hadn't noticed an hour passing at all.

We had decided that I was going to use the swim to try out different foods since I had people there to prepare them for me. So during the night I tried different soups, banana, creamed rice, pot noodle, jaffa cake bars, mini rolls, hot chocolate, and of course, Maxim. Everything went down well and stayed down so all was good.

The first 3 hours passed quickly and then Padraig got in to get used to the dark while Niall was still there. So I had an hour with the two kayaks in the water...during which I managed to get a jellyfish sting, my first in Sandycove this year! Not being able to see anything in the water is actually a pretty good thing when it comes to me and jellyfish. When I can see them I spend my time watching for them and trying to swim around them when I do see them. Which isn't good because it disrupts my stroke. And the sting really isn't THAT bad, the one I got that night was gone within 10minutes. I just find it so hard to convince myself of that when I see them around me by day!

Niall left at the end of that hour, and Ossi got in to swim with me for a while. I hadn't realised just how bright the lights I was using were until he got in and I could see his. I got electronic lights from Freda a while back that she advises all swimmers to use now rather than the previously-used glow sticks. They're supposed to shine for a radius of 2 miles. And they really work! They must have looked so strange though for someone driving down the road-thankfully Imelda had the foresight to warn the neighbours what we were up to the day before!

It was fun having someone to swim with for a while, it broke the monotony of it all. By the time Ossi was getting out I knew that I only had a couple of hours left before it got bright again. I also knew, however, that those hours would probably be the hardest. And they were. I started getting very cold and just wanted to be out of there. I never really got tired, but I would have done anything to get out of that cold, dark water and into my warm, cosy bed. Everyone was great though, keeping me as warm as possible with the hot food, and making me push harder when I didn't want to.

Eventually the sun's rays started peeking through. It was very pretty watching the light grow brighter and brighter. Unfortunately though I think I was mentally expecting to feel warmer when sun came up. And of course it didn't really, it would take a few hours for the heat of the sun to have any effect. So I started really noticing the cold at this stage. My muscles had started feeling it too-my shoulder and upper back muscles had gotten very tight, as had my right arm (but strangely not my hands where I normally feel it!) and my thighs were starting to cramp from the cold, to the point where I couldn't really kick. And of course I was probably getting colder as a result. On my 6:45am feed I decided to look at the temperature on my watch. I had been avoiding looking at it because I was afraid that I was only imagining the cold and that it would tell me that it was actually 16deg or something. But no. The watch read at 12.4deg C. And if general opinion is to be believed that body temperature has an effect on the watch reading, the actual temperature could have been closer to 11.4deg. I had never swam so long in that temperature before. Let alone at night. I was actually quite happy to see that reading though because it meant that what I was feeling was reality, and not just my mind playing tricks on me.

I talked to the others and decided that since I couldn't go for a shower in Kinsale until 8am, I'd do one more hour and then get out and head into Kinsale to get warmed up. But at 7:00am, the others called me out and decided that it was enough. And I wasn't going to argue! So after 8hrs 44mins, my night swim was over.

All in all I quite enjoyed it, apart from the freezing cold. And I think it was probably good to experience that too, because it won't be that cold in the Channel, so I'll have that to remind myself of what I have done when I'm at a wimpish moment!! One of the big sayings in the Channel swimming world is "prepare for the worst, hope for the best". And I think this night swim qualifies. Dover water temperatures are currently around 16deg and might even be a degree warmer by September if the weather is nice. So I'm not expecting 11 or 12deg at any point!

Thanks so much to the gang who helped me on the swim-Imelda, Ossi, Padraig, Niall. It can't have been fun for them hanging around all night. But I really appreciate having the opportunity to do it and it has proved to be a big confidence-booster.

I think that the rest of my weekend's adventures will have to wait for another post...time and space are of limited supply! I'll finish off the rest of it in the next few days...