Top Tips

As with anything on my blog, I can only write and talk about my own experiences, my journey and my swimming. This is not the ‘right’ way or the ‘best’ way and is certainly not the only way. It is not how I would necessarily recommend other people do it, I don’t feel qualified to tell anyone else how to swim. In the years before my Channel swim though, I found it incredibly helpful to be able to read about other people’s experiences and to learn from talking to them. So I am sharing my experiences and thoughts in the hope that it may help other people take to the water and be successful too. Read about lots of different people’s experiences and pick out what works for you, then do it your way!

The following are, therefore, just my personal top tips for things that helped me and may, hopefully, help you. (They are in no particular order, just written as they come in to my head!)

1. Want to do it
This may sound obvious and basic but you HAVE to want to do it (whatever IT is). And you have to know WHY you want to do it. Without this, there are too many reasons to give up and too many excuses that will distract you. Something like swimming the Channel requires a lot of sacrifice, in many areas of your life, so you have to want it more than you want everything else. I have a quote written on the wall in my kitchen… There are two steps to success: 1. Decide what you wan to do. 2. Do it! So you have to start with the first step. What do you want to do?

2. Work hard and be dedicated
The CS&PF share a quote from the memorial to Captain Matthew Webb “Nothing Great is Easy.” And it’s true. If it was easy, then everyone would do it. You have to work hard. I believe you get back what you put into life. Working hard for me meant getting up early and going for a swim before work, then swimming after work too. Swimming at the weekends and repeatedly saying no to invitations from friends and family. Being exhausted but still turning up at the pool or the lake and training… Hard! Hours and hours of hard work. 1 million metres from November to August were not easy to swim, but that hard work meant when I stood at Samphire Hoe to start the swim, I knew I had given everything I could and worked as hard as I could to be ready. I might not make it to France but it certainly wouldn’t be because I hadn’t worked hard or given my all in training.

3. Prepare
“Failure to prepare is preparation to fail.” And I have seen this a lot over the past couple of years. You have to prepare for everything and prepare early. Know what you will be feeding on and have too much of it, weeks before you need it. Be prepared to swim for longer than you think you might need to. Be prepared to swim before your tide, or after it. A long time after it if necessary. Be prepared for cold water, jellyfish, strong tides, changes in your crew, changes in your pilot, swimming at night, swimming in the rain, being attacked by birds, being sick, feeling ill or tired or disorientated. Be prepared to hurt and swim in pain. Being prepared means planning and practising… Over and over again.

There is only one thing I will never be prepared to do, and that is quit!

4. Plan: Expect the unexpected
Read lots, talk to people and find out as much as you can. Sieve through and filter the information, to formulate a plan that works for you. How much training do you need to do? How many metres will you swim a week? How will you build is up? Who will be on your crew? How will you select a pilot? What will you do to acclimatise to the cold? What will you wear? Which goggles? Write your plan down. Talk about it with other people, who you trust, adjust it where necessary but then stick to it! This goes for training as well as the actual swim. Plan what you will eat and when. Write down what will happen if you start to feel sick. If your stroke rate drops, what is the plan to get I track up? I have a plan. I am a control freak so it is weighty. But this was my dream, so I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. I am very happy to share it with anyone who might find it useful, just email me at elladunn@live.com and then you can adapt it to suit you and your swim. I adapted my plan from one shared with me by the wonderful Channel Swimmers Stephanie Voss, Jenny Zwijnen and Nick Adams. I am also really grateful to Dave Quartermain, Ned Dennison, Paul Savage and Manchester Triathlon Club who helped me with my training plans and schedules.

5. Practise
You don’t want to be doing anything for the first time in the Channel, or during whatever challenge or swim you are doing. Practise swimming in the goggles, hat and costume you will wear. Practise swimming in all your spares. Practise swimming at night, in the rain, in the cold, in the afternoon, into the dawn and into dusk. Practise swimming when you are hungry and sick. Practise swimming when you are tired. Practise feeding using your exact equipment, schedule and foods / powders that you will use on the swim. Practise swimming alongside a boat and with a support swimmer. Practise being stung. Practise weeing while you swim. Practise swimming when you don’t know how long it will be for or where you are going. Practise sprinting, hard, at different times for different distances. Practise breathing to just one side, and the other, and bilaterally. Practise panicking in the water and having to calm yourself. Practise getting hit by big waves. Practise swimming towards the end and it getting no closer. Practise swimming on your own. Practise swimming in the sea. Practise accidentally swallowing salt water when you breathe. Practise swimming in circles while the boat is fixed. Practise being shouted out and encouraged by your crew. Practise not wanting to swim another stroke but keeping yourself in the water.

You get the idea. But I know lots of people who have not practised some of these simple (and seemingly obvious things) and their swims have failed as a direct result.

We are creatures of habit and therefore become what we practise. It’s no good saying, I am tired now and so getting out, but I’ll still in on the Channel swim because that will be different. It won’t be different. It will be what you practised. If you don’t practise swimming at night and your swim ends up starting at 6pm then the dark could throw you or affect you in an unanticipated way and then that’s it. Game over if you can’t keep yourself in the water.

For me, there are two essential ways to practise. The first is physically. You try to have all of these experiences in real life. You don’t just always swim at the same time at the same place with the same people. You vary your opportunities and swims and build up a bank of experiences that you can draw from. The second is mentally. You make designated and specific time to practise everything in your head. You visualise and run through alternative choices and options. Imagine your goggles coming off and the different scenarios that can come out of them. Practise it going wrong and practise it going well.

Through your physical and mental practise you learn strategies to adapt, cope and deal with things whilst continuing to swim.

6. Know the Channel
Do a relay swim first. Crew for other people’s so swims. Get out there and see the Channel. Experience it first hand, in small chunks, before your big swim. Look at maps and learn the different areas and zones. What are the tides like? What is a neap and spring tide? Where does the water come from and go? Wo are other people that have swum it and what did their swim routes look like? I even read books and articles about how the Channel was originally formed.it helped ,e understand the water and where I was. It built my respect and knowledge of the challenge and the swim. This has multiple benefits. It helped make my visualisation more accurate and gave me an understanding that helped me to prepare and plan. I wasn’t just guessing or make it up. Wile I was swimming it helped me to make sense of things. I knew where I as from the direction ships were sailing in (they sail in different directions on the French and English side). I knew when there was lots of flotsam and debris and jellyfish that I was in the Separation Zone, and that if I just kept swimming I would soon be through this. I knew what the Cap was when I saw it, and that even though it seemed so close, it could take forever to reach and that many many swims failed at that point. I knew what it felt like when the tide turned and I knew the species of jellyfish to look out for.

This is the same for any challenge or swim. Educate YOURSELF about it. Don’t rely on other people. Share the relevant bits of this knowledge with your crew and supporters.

7. Remember there is no such thing as a solo
While you will be swimming there is a whole team with you and you can not do it alone. Don’t let your ego take over and make this about I. Respect and appreciate the other people supporting you and involved in your swim and choose them wisely. Be picky about who you involve in what. You need to be able to trust your crew 100% so that you can just swim. Be prepared to be flexible about your crew though, as long as you are in the water that is the most important thing. Don’t allow your swim to fail because you have to make unexpected and / or last minute changes to crew. ,ale sure your crew are well informed and prepared themselves about what to expect and be clear about what you expect and need from them.

8. Prevention is better than cure. Be proactive.
Training for something of this scale puts a huge pressure on your body and mind. The last thing you need is a injury or illness to overcome or prevent your swim. I had an excellent physio who supported me brilliantly. Find someone who knows you and your body as well as understand the challenge you are undertaking and can advice you about strengthening and Injury prevention, as well as helping of things do start to hurt or go wrong. I had a sports massage every week. I took at least one rest day a week. I got plenty of sleep, ate well and built up my training progressively. My big training swims were planned and built on each other with time for recovery in between. I managed to stay injury and illness free for the most serious part of my training, from November to August, and finished the Channel able to continue swimming the next day. Listen it your body and if it needs a break to rest and recover, make sure you do it. You will come back stronger. Your body knows what it needs, so listen to it, and don’t become hung up in what other people are doing and comparing your training to them. Have someone you can call to help keep you on the right path. I would phone Jen because I was stressed about having to miss a training session for work etc and she would give me back my perspective and put me straight. Importantly she could relate and understand because she had been there herself.

9. Be positive
You can choose your attitude. Choose a positive one. Moaning, complaining and wringing aren’t going to change anything for you, they will just make you feel worse. You have chosen to do this because it’s something that you want to do it. Remember that. Lots of things will happen and go wrong and obstacles will be thrown in your path, it’s how you choose to see them and think about the what will determine how they impact on you and your swim.

10. Turn up
I have been lucky enough to be having some conversations recently with someone far wiser and more experienced than myself and we came to the conclusion that actually the most important thing is that you have to turn up. When you turn up, things happen and progress is made. It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s dark, you feel tired and fed up and you are supposed to be doing a hard training session. Just turn up. That’s always the first, and most important step. But can be a huge hurdle that many can not follow through with. They stay at home, on the sofa, in the warm. When all those who turned up are getting a valuable training session in, meeting the new person that has turned up to that session and ends up becoming a good friend, they are setting PBs and leaving you behind. I talked with a friend recently who was very stressed and worried (for lots of reasons) about taking part in her second ever triathlon. She could have quit, she could have not gone. But she turned up. And ending up placing really well and really enjoying herself.

If you don’t turn up you are guaranteed to not succeed. If you turn up… Who knows what will happen.

A challenge like the Channel is unexplainable and unpredictable. You have to be prepared for things that you can’t even think of. A great quote that a fellow Channel Swimmer in Manchester shared with me: Even swimming the Channel does not prepare you for swimming the Channel. Because every time it is completely unique. But prepare for and practise what you can, make sure you turn up, put your heart and soul into it and you can achieve it. Just keep swimming. Ultimately that is all it comes down to. Keep swimming….

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Zero Gravity Training

There is a lot of focus on physical training and your body when training for a challenge like swimming the English Channel, however, it is widely recognised that, successfully completing the Channel is 10% physical and 90% mental. Which is interesting. Because how much of our training time do we dedicate to ‘mental training’.

While long sessions and training swims provide opportunity for mental focus and practise I have been lucky enough to be sponsored by Inner Swimmer and have the opportunity to benefit from some specific training for the mental side of my swim.

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INNER SWIMMER is based in South Manchester and provides a floatation room service for swimmers and triathletes.

Floating promotes recovery from the stresses and strains of intense training while providing the optimal space for practising performance visualisation in a zero gravity environment.

The level of relaxation that can be experienced in the float room is profound and is directly linked to developing visualisation skills to improve performance.

I didn’t know what to expect on my first session but Sam was really friendly and made me feel completely at ease. The flotation ‘tank’ is actually more of a room, with warm, salty water in that makes it very easy to float. The water completely supports your body and the environment removes outside stimulation, so you can completely relax. In this relaxed state you are able to focus your mind completely on the race, task, challenge ahead of you and mentally run through this and visualise your journey and goal.

The first time I ‘ floated’ it took a little while to get used to the sensations and how the experience felt for my body. It was a really comfy feeling and once I’d got used to the novelty of being ‘ on’ and not ‘in’ the water, I was able to relax fully. This meant I could then really focus on my Channel swim. I started loading up the boat, travelling to the start, jumping in to swim to the beach, standing on the sand, starting the swim, feeling the cool of the water and the roll of the waves, tasting the salt and seeing the boat when I breathe, coming in for feeds, fighting the turning tide, swimming, swimming, swimming and then having the sand of France under my feet. Initially it was difficult to keep my focus completely on the swim, I would drift off, find myself thinking about what I had to do at work or chores at home and then realise I was supposed to be thinking about the swim.

Getting out of the water at the end of my session I couldn’t believe how amazing I felt. After a really intense month of swimming and very hard week of training I had felt tired, sore and tight getting in. I had aches and pains throughout my neck and shoulders. Nothing unusual there. When I finish though I just felt completely relaxed. My body felt new and totally refreshed. Light, loose and pain free. I also felt mentally focused and relaxed.

During my second visit it was much easier to stay focused on my swim and I could start the visualisation much sooner, as my body knew what to expect and how the experience would feel. This time I introduced things that might go wrong with my swim, and practised staying relaxed, focused, swimming and calm. Swimming into jellyfish, goggles coming off, feed being cold, bigger waves and stronger tides. Swimming and feeling like I’m not getting anywhere.

The following week I found that I was stronger, in my long training swims, as I was connected more with my body and had more control over my mind and it’s impact on my body and performance throughout the swim. I was more relaxed when unexpected things happened ( like massive fish swimming underneath me or splashes of water in my mouth when I was breathing). I was able to maintain may momentum and not break my stroke, or loose my focus.

The third floating session was better again. This time I could focus on the visualisation to the point where I really felt it. I could feel the determination to keep going when my arms were aching and France seemed so far away and practise what I will think about when the swimming becomes really tough. I also focused on how it will feel to stand on the French land at the end of the swim. I left the session smiling.

While I initially wanted to explore floatation to support the mental side of swimming the English Channel, and this has been incredibly powerful and helpful, I have been pleasantly surprised by the beneficial impact on my body too. I have never felt so relaxed and rejuvenated, and at my training sessions the following day I am always fresh and any soreness has just melted away.

The real benefits of the visualisation were particularly tested during my recent trip to train in Cork. One of the swims is a Total Body Brain Confusion Swim. This is designed to really test and practise your mental focus and determination for a marathon swim – which has so many variables and unknown elements that it cannot be fully rehearsed, and certainly not by training swims in pools or at controlled outdoor sessions.

For the TBBC you don’t know how long you will be swimming for or where, when (and indeed if) you will be fed or given a drink. You are likely to be on your own in the water, or at least feel like you are and you are challenged through mixed directions from crew and a range of instructions designed to replicate things that could go wrong or be unknown on your Channel swim.

While Many refer to this as a ‘torture’ swim, I actually really enjoyed it and managed to remain completely relaxed and unstressed throughout. I had practised and visualised things that could happen, and how I would respond and feel when they did. So a bottle of salty, not fresh, water to drink did not catch me by surprise and having to swim around and around in 50m circles for over an hour did not phase me, because I had learnt to enjoy the experiences, the journey and the immediate moment, not focus on the end goal or result, to the detriment of my pearformance.

I would definitely recommend trying a float session, with Inner Swimmer, to anyone who is training for an event – no matter how big or small, and actually to anyone who would like to introduce some real relaxation and time for themselves into their week!

Visit their website to find out more at http://www.innerswimmer.com

You can also follow Inner Swimmer on Twitter and email Sam, at the address below, to find out about their prices and availability.

sam@innerswimmer.com

Jellyfish: Part One

When you are ‘fearful’ of something, then knowledge is power.

There is no escaping the fact that jellyfish are prevelant this year, more so than previous years, and seem to be especially abundant in the English Channel at the moment.

There is no point in trying denial, they are there and there is a strong chance I will be swimming through lots of them in a few weeks time.

The only choice, therefore, is to be prepared.

I have ‘physically’ prepared over the past couple of years (and more so weeks) by repeatedly swimming into these squidgy balls of joy. Not deliberately, I might add, they just seem to love me and seek me out. On the very last lap of my 6 hour swim in Sandycove yesterday, one sought me out, wrapped itself round my throat, popped inside the front of my costume, came out the back and then finished off sliding down my leg. Has left the whole of the right side of my body covered in welts and whip marks. Lovely.

They hurt. But I know the best thing for the pain is salt water. (Kind of handy that. Like Dock leaves growing near nettles.) So, to just keep swimming is the best solution… As always!

In actual fact I do love jellyfish. I think they are beautiful to look at and mesmerising in the way they move. And when I am stung I am reminded of a news article that tickled me from the States. A burglar was sueing some home owners because, while breaking into and robbing their house, he had tripped on an uneven step and broken his leg. Ridiculous!

The link between this and being stung may not be obvious at first BUT we are in THEIR house. It would seem, therefore, rather rude and hypocritical to get angry with them for stinging us. It’s simple. If you really don’t want to get stung. Don’t get in their water. If you want to swim, accept that you might get stung.

It’s their water afterall. We are simply traversing through it… For fun!

Jellyfish are not malicious or spiteful creatures. They have stings as a form of defence against predators and to aid in their survival through helping feed.

So, I have just bought some books on Amazon and I am scouring websites to educate myself about jellyfish before my swim.

Rather than a game of cat and mouse where I am swimming in a state of fear of being stung and anticipation of which horror from the deep will whip me next, it’s going to become a game of I-Spy!

I will be able to name the creatures around me and be in awe of their biology and science. I will be hoping to see different types and pleased when I can identify what they are. And if I get stung then I will know what to expect, breathe out, and continue swimming without breaking my stroke. Because that’s all there is to do.

I may swear a little too! ūüôā

The following websites have some fabulous photos of jellyfish so you can appreciate their beauty too!

http://oddstuffmagazine.com/17-most-beautiful-jellyfish-species-on-earth.html

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/photos/ocean-jellyfish/

Don’t sponsor me…

Got to love waking up covered in wonderful, jelly fish induced rashes and a few inches of skin missing on your neck. Ready to do another few hours in the harbour.

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Seriously people, this has to be worth some sponsorhip ūüėČ

http://www.justgiving.com/ellathemermaid

Yesterday, during the first ‘5 mile that was 7 mile’ swim and I felt horrendous and was questioning how on earth I could continue, I remembered that my swim hat said on it “Cancer Sucks” and I thought about all the incredible people I know, and have been told about, who have fought this disease.

And I gave myself a ‘metaphorical, slap in the chops and told myself to HTFU!!

Yes I was cold, tired, aching all over, in pain, bit confused, sick, freezing, headache, stung, salt mouth etc etc BUT this was all induced by me being lucky enough to take part in a sport I pove and I choose to do.

Cancer isn’t a choice and neither are the horrendous symptoms or side effects of the treatment.

People diagnosed with Cancer can’t ‘get out the water’ when they want to, I could have done.

I didn’t.

I decided to take my lead from those who have inspired me. I put a smile on my face and I kept going. Because that’s the only choice. Really. You smile. Keep moving forward. And hope that things will get better.

So, don’t sponsor me. I’m not doing anything special but I’m inspired by people who are. Please donate for them and so that Cancer Research UK can turn their hope into reality.

Ivan Percival 4 mile race

 

 

Saturday was the first ‘race’ of the year for me. I had been looking forward to the Ivan Percival for a while, as a test of how my training and increased speed had been going… it’s alright improving my times for 400m in the pool but could I transfer that to the Open Water over longer distances???

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The swim was a daunting prospect as 4 miles would be the furthest I had covered in Open Water, since last season, due to the cold water temperatures we are still experiencing. ¬†However, continuing my training outside through winter has helped me to acclimatise quicker this season, and I knew the distance itself wouldn’t be a problem, if I could keep warm enough.

Arriving to hear the ‘King of the Channel’ saying… There are three types of water… Freezing, Bearable and Nice… and this is FREEZING!… I wondered just how cold freezing was?? ¬†(Because when you’re winter swimming… freezing means freezing… and the water didn’t look sub zero!)

It turns out freezing meant about 12 degrees, averaged out over the whole course. ¬†The lovely warmer sheltered waters of the start buoy were around 13 degrees… the choppy, jelly fish flooded waters of the majority of the swim were more like 11 and below, while the section around the furthest turn buoy was a little warmer at 12 degrees. ¬†Chilly for swimming more than a couple of miles in.

However, I was really pleased to find I enjoyed the water temperature throughout the swim and felt comfortable for each of the 4 miles. ¬†No wandering little fingers. ¬†No claw hands. No brain freeze. And no shakes when I got out. In fact, I floated around in the water at the end to ‘cool off’ a little, before getting out and chatting in my costume and then just putting a skirt, flip flops and t-shirt on. ¬†The sun helped hugely with this… although I have to say the boys were wrapped up warm and shivering.

I usually think of myself as a ‘slow’ ‘plodder’ but I have put a lot of effort in, over the winter, to increase my speed and ability to maintain a quicker pace for longer distances. ¬†I therefore decided to try and push myself with this swim, rather than hold back. ¬†There were a few glitches on the way… goggles steaming up almost instantly and therefore impairing visibility massively, being punch in the face by an oncoming swimmer (on the complete wrong side of the course) at the start of the third mile – leading to a very swollen, bruised and split lip, jellyfish a plenty, punching a kayak (that I couldn’t see because of the goggles) and the particularly choppy water from the strong winds – which would normally be ok because it makes one way hard but the other way easier… but I turned at one end, after a hard 800m, to find the swim just as hard coming back?*!

However, I was really pleased to round the buoy at the end of my fourth one mile lap to find I was the first female back and third overall, in a time of 1:46.  I was really pleased to be within 5 minutes of the incredible Steve Jones (1:41) and Ned Dennison.

It was a fantastic swim and I must thank Joseph Coy and City of Liverpool Swim Club for organising the event, all of the wonderful kayakers for their safety cover and support, the other swimmers for their camaraderie and everyone who was involved in making the swim such a success… especially the person that remembered to book the sun!

Definitely recommend it to all for next year… there is a 1 mile and 2 mile event for those wanting less than 4 miles too.

A wonderful weekend in the Lakes…

A picture tells a thousand words… so here are some pictures ūüôā

2swim4life: The good, the bad and the ugly bits: From a swimmer’s perspective

A week on from ‘that’ swim and this is going to be a LONG blog. Lots to reflect on and some learning to share. Hopefully some of this will be useful or interesting for you! ¬†I am a pretty stubborn person and tend to make my own mistakes to learn from, however, when it comes to open water swimming (and in particular humungous challenges like 2swim4life that are completely out of my realm of prior experience) I am very much soaking up the advice of those wiser than myself and making a habit of learning from (without repeating) their mistakes. ¬†I therefore spent a fair bit of time before the 26th April speaking with others who had done 24 hour swims and reading blogs that were available. ¬†I have no doubt that things I learnt from others had a massive impact on me being prepared (and as a result able) to complete this challenge.

Seen as I was able to learn so much, to help me, from other people’s blogs before the swim, I felt it was important that I then updated my blog after the swim to hopefully help anyone thinking of taking on this challenge for 2015 (2swim4life is a bi-annual event). ¬†This blog includes:

  1. My ‘story‘ of the swim
  2. Some information you may find useful: I have tried to organise this into sections so you can just read the bits that might be useful to you.
  3. The ‘Stats‘ from my swim (in a table) mile times, stroke rate etc. ¬†For the ‘geeks’ amongst us.
  4. Photo story of the swim (These were all posted by Llyr during the swim, but are in one place here.)

This was a huge milestone event for me. ¬†A good ‘practise’ run for the upcoming Channel solo in August, with some obvious differences. ¬†The getting in and out made it a complete unknown to me, but I was determined that I would not be leaving Guildford without having done the full 24 miles. ¬†This determination kept me going and I believed, in myself and that I could do it. ¬†I think the winter swimming I had done really helped with the cold, as my body had learnt to recover quickly and when the air temp was still bitter. ¬†I didn’t get bad shakes and only had one mile where I really worried the cold may get the better or me. ¬†This was Mile 17 when I felt the cold inside my stomach and in my back. This is the same feeling I got doing my two-way Windermere (which ended with me being pulled unconscious from the water, a mile from the end and after twelve hours in the water). ¬†This worried me, as I did not want the cold to stop my 24 miles. ¬†Luckily I managed to stay focused and take action to bring my core temperature back up when I finished the mile (hot tub, warmer tent, very hot drink… all things I hadn’t used in the previous miles so they made a big difference). ¬† The time out of the water between miles 7 and 8 were very very tough too. Which was hard because this was so early on in the swim. ¬†I had made (what I now believe to be) a mistake, going to lie down in our tent to get some rest. This just made my body stop producing much needed extra heat and zapped me. Waking back up, shivering, was horrible. ¬†From that mile on we decided not to sleep and to stay awake and moving to keep warm. ¬†The warmth was more important than the sleep.

I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this challenge (apart from between miles 7 and 8, Mile 17 and Miles 21, 22 and 23). I really did love it. The atmosphere. The¬†camaraderie.¬† The other swimmers. ¬†The joy at finishing each mile. ¬†It made me laugh, every single mile of the 24, that the people taking part were pretty much all endurance swimmers, and by definition take quite a while to warm up in a swim… ie more than a mile… but were only swimming a mile at a time. I found that by length 28 I was loving it and really into my stroke and then would realise that I only had 4 left to go. ¬†I loved length 28 of every mile. ¬†I distinctly remember saying (on more than one¬†occasion) to LLyr, make sure you’re getting across in the blog how hard this is, that I am suffering, that it is cold and I am tired, that it is taking a lot to make me get back in and start every mile and to specifically remind me of these feelings if I ever suggested to him doing the event again. ¬†Funnily enough, now, despite knowing that I was saying those things, I would love to do 2swim4life again and I can only really remember enjoying it and the sheer joy coming down length 768 to finish!!

I am very proud of this swim.  I will be buying a bright yellow 2swim4life 2013 hoody and wearing it with a big smile on my face. Massive congratulations to everyone who took part, whatever the distance you covered.

24 miles… 38,400m… 768 lengths… 24 hours… 1,440 minutes… 16 costumes… 5 minutes to go ūüôā

Hotel: We stayed at the Premier Inn Guildford. It was literally over the road from the Lido, which was helpful in the morning, so could just walk over with all the kit. ¬†I had booked for Thursday and Friday evenings. ¬†Obviously I wasn’t planning on sleeping in the hotel at all on Friday evening, but check-out isn’t until 12 noon on the Saturday which was brilliant. ¬†At 8:30am, after finishing Mile 24, I went straight back to the room, had an amazing hot shower (which I did actually fall asleep in) and then crawled into bed until 11:55am! ¬†LLyr found the hotel helpful too, as a couple of times he popped over to get himself a coffee (while I was swimming) and he also brought over the warm, dry towels from our room when the going got really tough for the last few miles.

Lido: This is such a great place to swim. ¬†There were clean changing cubicles (not that I used them at all) and toilets – which ALWAYS had toilet roll. ¬†Thank you SO much to whoever kept those topped up throughout the swim. ¬†There is lovely grass areas at both ends of the pool, where we all pitched our tents, of varying sizes, and where there was a ‘heated marquee’ and hot tub. ¬†Sounds daft now but it is worth noting where you tent is pitched in relation to the toilets, as the female bathrooms were at the opposite end of the lido to the tents, and this extra walk really does make a difference in sub zero air temperatures. ¬†The lido is a glorious 50 metres (so each mile is 32 lengths) and there is great lighting during the evening. ¬†There are taps with drinking water, which we used for my feeds, and there was a table set up with urns of hot water (which we also used for my feeds) although these didn’t get warm enough until later on in the afternoon.

Feeding: I used the same feeding routine that I have trialled with continuous swims. ie having hot carbohydrate drink every hour and something solid on the hour. ¬†(Although I only had the drink on the hour too, when I was out of the water.) Normally, when I am swimming, the solids I have are Jelly Babies, Jaffa cakes, Miky Ways, Mini Rolls, Penguins etc. I LOVE these things on my big swims, and had no problems with them on my 12 hour swim last year. However, I had not anticipated the effect that getting in and out would have on my feeding. I absolutely did not want the sweet foods that I had brought. A friend had recommended the small pots of rice pudding, which were good, and little pots of jelly with fruit in. What I did want to eat (unfortunately for him) was all the food Llyr had brought to eat while he was Buddying. OOOPS! Cup-a-Soups and sachets of pasta that can be made in a mug with hot water, these were fantastic at reviving me and giving me a boost. ¬†I didn’t have anything with electrolytes in, after some advice with Brynn about the bad effect they had on him during 2swim4life two years ago. ¬† I was forcing myself to eat and drink every hour when I got out of the water. ¬†I believe this added to me feeling ill and really suffering with my stomach towards the end. ¬†If I did this event again I would try to have something but mainly only eat when I wanted to each something and not force it down.

Routine: I found routine to be essential. ¬†What worked for me was finishing the mile and taking off wet costume, getting dry, putting on a dry costume, layering thin clothes and then my North Face Jacket and Dry Robe Advance, having a hot drink (and I mean hot) and then chatting with people / walking around the outside of the pool. There are additional things available to help try and warm you up after each swim, like the hot tub, hot water bottles and the heated tent. I didn’t use these things until I absolutely had to, and then only introduced one at a time. ¬†This meant that, when the hypothermia started to really kick in, I still had something left in my arsenal to throw at it and get my core temp back up. ¬†Up until Mile 17 I had not been in the hot tub and was changing outside. ¬†From Mile 20 onwards I also found it helpful to keep my swimming hat on, between swims, and put my wooly hat over the top of this. After Mile 7 I was very tired and so tried to have a rest in our tent, this turned out to be a bad idea. ¬†The resting and¬†lying¬†down / stopping meant I wasn’t generating anymore body heat and by the end of that time I was shaking badly and struggled to wake back up to get in the water. ¬†From that point on we decided I would not lie down or attempt to ‘rest’. ¬†We were then both awake for the rest of the hours and used walking to get my body going between the mile swims. This worked really well! From mile 17 onwards I would get in the hot tub, just for two minutes, straight after each swim, and then follow the same routine as before, but going in the heated tent to change. ¬†I would then come out of the tent and walk around, until mile 20 when I started staying in the tent because I was really suffering and from mile 21 added a hot water bottle to give some extra warmth. ¬†I still didn’t sit down though (apart from for a few minutes at a time) and stood up in the tent.

Stroke rate: My Buddy took my stroke rate in the first and second half of each mile. ¬†This was really useful for me to be aware of picking it back up if it was dropping, or rein it in if I was having a ‘mad half hour’. ¬†It was a good indicator that I was ok each mile.

Lanes: There are ten lanes across the lido. ¬†Each lane has 5 swimmers that start their mile on the o’clock and a second wave that start their mile at half past each hour. ¬†You are given a lane to start the swim in, however, you do not have to stay in this lane. ¬†The lanes are ‘streamed’ according to times to swim a mile, Lane 10 being the lane that takes the longest and Lane 1 the quickest swimmers. ¬†You can move up / down a lane as you need to. ¬†I had massively overestimated how long each mile would take me and so moved up a couple of lanes initially. ¬†It really helped to find a lane where we were all swimming at a similar pace and could draft / encourage when needed, and weren’t over taking or being over taken during the mile.

Lane Buddies: It was definitely an advantage to make friends with the people in the lane. There was one guy in particular who I swam with in the lane, we were well paced with each other and it made a massive difference to arrive at the pool side, with a few seconds to go, and see a familiar face and share a smile before you took the plunge for another mile.

Challenges: The biggest challenge was getting in and out, because of the sheer bitterness of the air temperature and also the time this added to the swim. After mile 20 I was celebrating (in my head) only have 4 miles to go… but then realised this was still another 4 hours. A long time! The getting in and out also really affected my eating, far more than I thought it would. ¬†A little talked about ‘challenge’ was the unbelievably frequent toilet trips. I have never needed to wee so much in my entire life, something which everyone I spoke to there commented on. ¬†I think the getting in and out, and the cold, also really added to this. ¬†It sounds daft but having to fit a toilet trip in to your rest time was a real pain, and if you were desperate as soon as you got out of the water this could add precious minutes on to the time before you could get dry and warm. ¬†Another challenge for me was worrying about my Buddy. ¬†He was really suffering in the later hours too, freezing, hungry, exhausted, in physical pain, very sore back, unable to walk properly, couldn’t speak, headache, poorly tummy. ¬†It wasn’t nice to see someone, who has made such a big sacrifice to help you, suffering in this way. ¬† The only time I genuinely thought about stopping was when I could see how much he was suffering and wanted to stop to put him out of his misery. ¬†Fortunately I realised I had to be selfish, and that he would be ok, and ploughed on. ¬†But this was an extra challenge.

Buddy: Llyr was my hero that day. He made the swim possible for me and it was very much a team event.  He is going t to write a blog from his perspective, as the Buddies are the unheard wonder people of the event and there is a lot to be learned from them sharing their perspective too.  I am forever in debt to the sacrifice he made for me and really do appreciate it.  I had to finish the swim so that his efforts had not been in vain.

Recovery: I wish I had taken a recovery drink / shake / protein powder to have when I finished Mile 24 (or an hour or so after). ¬†This would have helped. ¬†As I was in so much pain with my stomach etc I went straight back to the hotel, showered to warm my bones and then slept for a few hours. ¬†After check out we went to my Sisters in London. ¬†I was still in a lot of pain through the afternoon and realised that this was being made worse by the fact I hadn’t eaten. ¬†We had pizza and chips and it was the best thing I have ever tasted! My stomach pain really eased after this. ¬†The temptation was to sleep all day but I didn’t want to reset my body clock into permanently nocturnal so we made ourselves stay awake (apart from the odd hour of nap) and then just got an early night. ¬†I was amazed to feel as well as I did on Sunday. I had not pain and had full movement of my arms etc. I didn’t need any pain killers etc which I was pleased about. ¬†We travelled back to Manchester and I did a VERY gentle swim at the Aquatics. ¬†It was 500m tops, just to stretch out my arms and muscles. And I did feel better for it. Another early night meant I felt pretty good sleep wise in the morning. ¬†Monday was another rest day ie no swimming, but Tuesday I did a 3km training session. ¬†Wednesday was another rest day, with a sports massage (ouch!!), followed by a 3km outdoor swim Thursday and a 3km pool session Friday. ¬†Saturday I did 2km outdoors and Sunday has been a rest day. ¬†From Monday I will start back to my proper training programme again.

Top Tips: Definitely wear ear plugs, they really do help with the cold and feeling dizzy. ¬†Lovely Sarah had battery operated fairy lights around her tent for the dark hours, these were great for finding our tents and also provided some comfort. I had sun cream and planned to use it / was reminded to, but somehow forgot. ¬†USE suncream. Whether it seems to be sunny (it really didn’t!) or not. ¬†My face was very badly burnt the sun cream would have been a useful barrier to protect skin, all over my body, from the chlorine in the water and the frost bite / bitter cold air. Have a really clear plan with your Buddy for your routine. ¬†I had typed this out as a checklist, which my Buddy ticked off for each hour. This helped give us something to focus on and made sure we didn’t forget anything when things got bleary and bleak in the small hours. ¬†DON’T count the miles. ¬†I didn’t particularly keep track of my miles (apart from when being reminded by my Buddy of reaching mile stones). ¬†I tried not to think of how many I had done or how many I had left to go. When I did this would generally just panic me at the sheer vastness of the challenge and miles ahead. ¬†Each time I though, it’s just one mile. I can swim one mile. ¬†Each mile at a time and thought about on its own.

Unexpected: I realised that my brain can do two things at once… one part of my brain was counting each of the 32 lengths for every mile (checked by my Buddy for most miles, so I knew it was accurate) and the other part doing what it normally does during swims… thinking… singing… musing… drifting off… ¬†The effect on my skin was very unexpected and very unpleasant. ¬†A combination of the constant repetition of wet / dry, the sun, chlorine, frost bite, cold wind and tiredness made my skin pretty painful the next day (and during the swim). ¬†It has all peeled, was scaly and tough, and just in really bad shape after the swim. A week of constant moisturising. ¬†I think showering in between miles would have helped this, and also using a layer of suncream / baby oil / moisturiser before and after each mile. ¬†Another very unpleasant side effect was the impact on my lungs / chest. ¬†I didn’t notice this during the swim / event but the next day breathing was very difficult and painful. ¬†I could only take shallow breaths and my throat / lungs felt burnt (again probably from the chlorine and very cold air). ¬†After the couple of days rest it was fine again.

Pleasant: Some really pleasant memories I have from the swim are the feeling of the water lapping across my back. ¬†When the air temperature really plummeted at night the water was heaven. ¬†It felt like a bath to get into for each mile (as, while not warm, it was significantly warmer than the air) and the feel of the water washing the cold air off my back with each stroke was delightful. ¬† I found swimming through the dark really comforting. It was peaceful and magical. ¬†There was eerie steam coming off the water that was pretty unique to swim through (although must have been a nightmare for the lifeguards as you couldn’t see the swimmer in front of you or the end of the pool from the water, never mind looking down from the side). ¬†The lights were beautiful and the moon was glorious.

Thank you: ¬†Massive massive massive thank you to Lesley for organising, to the Life guards for tirelessly volunteering. To the wonderful people topping up the hot water and toilet roll. ¬†For the ‘5 minutes’ shout before each mile as about to start. ¬†Thank you to the sponsors and people who helped make the flood lights, heated tent and hot tub happen. Unending thanks to the Buddies in general and mine in particular. ¬†They were always stood guard around the pool and made the challenge seem¬†manageable. ¬†Thank you to my fellow swimmers for their inspiration and advice, can’t name you all but especially Bryn, Sarah, Mike, Colm, Ned, Big Ricks, Nick, Lisa.

Equipment: I took WAY too much of everything. I would always prefer to have too much, than not enough, for an event, although I think 6 pairs of goggles and 8 hats may have been a little over-prepared, especially as I only wore one of each for the entire 24 hours! ¬†I would recommend the obvious, hat, goggles, ear plugs, vaseline, suncream and swimming costumes and then some less obvious… hot water bottle, thermos flask and boxes with lids so your kit can be kept outside, safe in the knowledge that it’s dry if raining. ¬†I had 14 swimming costumes (which is excessive I know, but I do have a wee addiction to buying them!) and found it worked well to use 8 for the first 18 hours on rotation (as they had time to dry in between swims) and then from mile 18 onwards I wore a fresh, dry costume for each swim, which helped with extra warmth. ¬†Pegs, string and scissors were helpful for putting up a washing line to dry costumes and lots of thin clothing that could be layered up. ¬†My Robie Robe and Dry Robe Advance were absolutely essential and really really did help me. ¬†I could have done with two Robie Robes as mine did get very heavy and damp / wet by the later miles and so I switched to towels to dry with. ¬†I had only taken two towels and think a couple more would have been useful.

I had prepared a ‘table’ for my Buddy to complete during the swim, which recorded information that will be useful in my prep for the Channel in August. ¬†I’ve copied it below so you can see the ‘stats’ from my swim and then after it is an overview of the swim in photos ūüôā

Information in the table includes:

Mile

Time started the mile

Stroke rate in first and then second half of the mile

Time to complete the mile (Split for half way, if have it)

Air Temp (Water remained at around 16 – 17 degrees)

Feed: What I had to eat once getting out of the water

Comments: Any medication taken / feeling ill etc

1 9am  60  62  26:38 (13:10)  8  SiS 300ml / Bakewell tart  Lane 7

2 10am  60  62  27:14  8  SiS 300ml / Mily way  Lane 6: Slowed behind other swimmers

3 11am  60  68  25:55 (12:52)  9  SiS 300ml / 2 fig rolls  Lane 5: Fastest mile

4 12pm  68  64  26:13  10  Hot chocolate / 2 fig rolls  Lane 4: Hot choc made me feel sick

5 1pm  64  62  25:57  12  SiS 300ml / Small plain pitta bread  Lane 4: Stayed here for rest of swim

6 2pm  64  64  26:16  10  SiS 300ml / Half apple Nutri grain  Freeze gel / massage Left shoulder

7 3pm  62   62  26:17  10  SiS 300ml / Small rice pudding pot  Ibuprofen gel Left shoulder / tent

8 4pm  60  62  26:28  12  SiS 300ml / Jelly Fruit pot / Kit Kat  Very cold / shaking

9¬†5pm ¬†66 ¬†62 ¬†26:19 ¬†10 ¬†SiS 300ml (Couldn’t eat anything) ¬†1 Ibuprofen / Walk around pool

10 6pm  60  60  26:21  11  300ml hot water / Pasta mug  1 Paracetamol / Walk around pool

11 7pm  60  62  26:20  10  SiS 300ml / 2 Jaffa cakes  1 Ibuprofen / Walk around the pool

12 8pm  60  62  26:34  9  SiS 300ml / 2 fig rolls / Popcorn  1 Parace/ Tummy ache / Sun down

13 9pm  62  62  26:15 (12:50)  7  300ml hot water / 2 Jaffa cakes  1 Ibuprofen / Walk around pool

14 10pm  62  62  26:32 (13:00)  6  SiS 300ml / Small plain pitta / crisps  1 Paracetamol / 1 Immodium

15 11pm   62  62  26:49 (13:05)  5  300ml hot water / Tomato soup / crisps 1 Ibuprofen / Walk around pool

16 12am  62  62  26:55 (13:12)  5  SiS 300ml / Rice pudding / 2 Jaffa cakes 1 Paracetamol / Walk round pool

17¬†1am ¬†62 ¬†60 ¬†26:28 (13:05) ¬†4 ¬†Tomato soup / couldn’t eat solids ¬†1 Ibuprofen / VERY cold / Hot tub

18 2am  60  60  26:44 (13:10)  3  300ml hot water / pasta mug  1 Paracetamol / hot tub / warm tent

19 3am  62  62  27:07 (13:40)  2  SiS 300ml / 2 Jaffa cakes  1 Ibuprofen / hot tub / warm tent

20 4am  62  60  28:00 (13:55)  0  300ml hot water / 2 Jaffa cakes  1 Paracetamol / hot tub / TIRED / cold

21 5am  60  60  27:32 (13:35)  0  100ml hot water / 2 Jaffa cakes  hot tub / sick / cramps / COLD

22 6am  60  62  28:55 (14:21)  2  100ml hot water Рif that!  hot tub / sick / cramps / cold / tired

23 7am  60  60  31:38  3  Jelly babies and 2 Jaffa cakes while swimming  hot tub / back stroke / sick

24¬†8am ¬†64 ¬†64 ¬†27:50 ¬†4 ¬†Couldn’t eat or drink due to sickness and cramps. ¬†Bed & sleep for 3 hours!

 

 

Coming soon… 2swim4life: The good, the bad and the ugly bits: From the Buddy’s perspective.