May 4, 2017
I’m back from Mallorca (one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean), roughly in the center of the image below, where we were swimming off the South East corner on Swimtrek’s Long Distance Training (LDT) Camp.
Swimtrek organize open water swimming holidays around the world. The LDT differs from all their other trips in that the swims are always around a buoyed course for a set duration. Their other trips involve swimming from island to island in an archipelago, coastal swims, river swims etc. There you swim in roughly speed matched groups (you’d all be in the top group) and it truly is a vacation. You can find out more about Swimtrek at www.swimtrek.com.
Completing the qualifying swim again was my major rehabilitation goal following last year’s surgeries. If I couldn’t complete this then my solo attempt would be off and I’d convert my swim to relay and invite friends to participate. I’d failed at my other interim rehab goal which was the Masters 100x100 on New Year’s Day having pushed my body too far too fast. My worry was my shoulder which was still angry and just as I arrived I got the following message from the surgeon who’s looked at the MRI:
“The bursal region is inflamed. Minimize the overhead and repetitive sweeping motion. Lots of posture work and extensions. Scapular strengthening is key”
Minimize the overhead and repetitive sweeping motion? On a week long swim camp? Hmmmm
So how was the LDT?
Unlike last year’s rough water, lack of sun and eleventy billion jellyfish, this year we got Tommy Conditions. Every day was Sun, calm seas and no jellyfish. By the end of the week we wanted rough water, and some even wanted to be stung by a jellyfish so they knew what it felt like. There were plagues of jellyfish in the weeks before so we must have had some seriously good karma as a group ☺
I worked hard on keeping my scapular retracted (and hence my shoulder pulled back) throughout. That and the cold water plus lots of ibuprofen allowed me to swim pain free. Occasionally I’d forget and let shoulder roll forward but the immediate pain meant I didn’t forget for long. I managed all swims – including the qualifying 6 hour swim. Channel on!
The water temperature was 57-59oF (14-15oC) throughout, the air temperature ranged from 40 oF in the morning to 70oF in the afternoon (5-21oC). According to Google Maps I swam about 80,000 yards in all, with a peak of over 50,000yds in the 30 hours from the start of Day 2 to the end of the swim on Day 3. There are no walls here so assuming you make it to the flags from your turns increase these distances by 25-30% for comparison to 25yd pool swimming.
The itinerary was:
Day 0 – meet in the evening for a safety briefing and a 30 minute assessment swim
Day 1 – stroke video analysis in the hotel pool before breakfast, followed by a 2 hour swim in the morning, a 1 hour swim in the afternoon, and a 30 minute night swim in the evening. All off the local beach
Day 2 – 3 hour swim in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon, seminars on nutrition and swim feeding in the evening
Day 3 – 6 hour Channel qualification swim, seminars on motivation and organizing your crew in the evening
Day 4 – 2 hour recovery swim in the morning, seminars the rest of the afternoon and evening (and a lot of beer)
Day 5 – pre breakfast swim, 1-to-1’s with the guides (all experienced Channel swimmers), lunch, then off to the airport
Out of our group of 11 we had the following goals: 5 solo English Channel swimmers, 4 English Channel relay swimmers, 1 around Manhattan swimmer, 1 strait of Gibraltar swimmer (these last two failed to complete the 6 hour swim)
The guides were fabulous and yet utterly devious at the same time – for example on the 6 hour swim on Day 3 they knew one swimmer wanted to get out after swimming for 2 hours (the qualifier for a Channel relay), so when the swimmer approached the boat after 2 hours they were fed and told that the boat had to re-anchor and so “could they keep swimming for another 30-40 mins?” (the boat didn’t need re-anchoring). With another couple of guiding sleight of hands this swimmer ended up swimming the full 6 hour solo qualifier! Something they did not think they were capable of prior (but the guides did. Just like your coach knows best!).
Day 2 and 3 certainly weren’t what you would call “fun”. “Torture” would be a better word. Europe takes vacation at Easter and with the weather being so pleasant, but the beaches tiny (see satellite picture below), the beaches at one end of our swim loops would be packed with people – though there was no one but us in the water (too cold for the vacationers!). A bit annoying to be freezing your bum off in cold water and keep seeing all these people sunning themselves and eating and drinking.
I think the most memorable thing for me is that all the Channel relay swimmers completed the 6 hour swim. Most were signed up in support of a charity and are not what you would call strong swimmers. While nice conditions undoubtedly helped, this was a seriously impressive achievement – it is mentally tough. One lady was crying so hard due to the sheer discomfort of it all she had to keep emptying her goggles because they kept filling with tears, another was in so much muscle pain in her thighs and hip flexors she threw up every 30 mins. But they kept going – wow!
I used the opportunity to try something new on each swim – different mental games to play, different pace, different feeding pattern, different goggles (pool goggles are not comfortable for 6 hours straight), different hair length (I normally shave my head but I grew it out for a month beforehand to see how much insulation it provided under my cap. A lot! Which makes me sad because I looked ridiculous).
I knew how miserable the 6 hour swim could be so I was mentally prepared for that. The cold was not bothering as much as last year (I have not been “too vain to gain”) and decided to tackle it as I planned to swim in the Channel: a decent aerobic pace (about 1:12 per 100 yds equivalent) with a feed at 2 hours and then hourly thereafter. It all went great – I swam solo for 4 hours and then side by side with a friend, another strong swimmer, when I noticed she was shivering at the 4 hour feed. Every time we caught someone up we’d swim alongside them for a while, it might not seem it as I write this, but this was always appreciated as it really helped mentally to know you are not alone in the water.
First Day. First swim (2 hours) location – view from the support boat:
Note the bemused bystanders on the beach to the right as we set off in the next picture:
Day 2. Warming after the 3 hour swim prior to the 2 hour swim, and the location for that day.
Day 3. Ready for the 6 hour swim:
Back on the boat. 9 happy qualifiers out of 11 swimmers. All of the ladies, and 3 of the 5 men.
Oh yes… ...at times it was idyllic ☺
Did you do any cold water acclimatization before you went?
No. Others had, though it wasn’t quite what I expected. Some had done some swims but one guy had purchased a portable refrigeration unit that chilled his bathwater while he sat in it, someone else got their husband to dump 20lb bags of ice into their tub while she sat in it!
I had built a good endurance engine, and had spent plenty of time in cold water last summer. I planned to dip into the ocean repeatedly before I left but then we had those arctic weather fronts at the end of March and the wind chill meant it would be dangerous trying to swim off the beach (not the swim – the getting out!). I did find an outdoor 25yd pool while we were on vacation in Stowe and clocked ~10,000yds a day with the water temperature ranging from 64oF to 77oF (18 to 25oC) depending on the day (while the air temperature before windchill was around -4oF (-20oC). And the windchill….well let’s just say I found it more comfortable to spend as much time underwater off the walls as possible. I couldn’t get anything out of my kit bag – including feeds - until it thawed out a few hours later.
What do you mean “too vain to gain”?
You may have noticed we all look a little porky in the pictures. I’ve put on 25 lbs myself. The phrase is part of Channel swimming folklore and it means you were too worried about your looks and so haven’t put on enough fat to make the swim.
Why put on fat? Well if you can’t wear neoprene it helps you stay warm if you’ve grown your own “bioprene”. Yes you’ll burn fat when you swim, but not this much! Putting on weight has not been easy since the training burns a lot of calories but 4-5 meals a day, with dessert, and lots of IPA saw me through ☺. I’ve had to buy some new clothes to fit ☹. All this eating means extra time ‘consumed’ each day. And since a lot of this extra eating is of the healthy high fibre sort, there is another associated consequential consumption of time each day… …I call all this “miscellaneous training time.”
But I digress! Here’s an interesting thing – if you are female then generally speaking you will be a comparatively better open water swimmer. Why? Well men tend to pack the fat into their body cavities (not good) and develop an unsightly paunch, whilst their legs sink like rocks. This is what has happened to me – although bizarrely my body has decided to keep my neck warm by also growing a second chin ☹. It is true that a bigger potato takes longer to cook, but the ideal place for the fat is under the skin all over the body, and that ladies, is just one of your advantages – the other is that you are usually mentally tougher, for longer, than us men. Some say this is an evolved trait for childbirth. While this theory makes sense to me I’m going to stay out of the argument and simply say that I saw it first hand on the Swimtrek LDT.
What were your feeds?
Each feed was a soluble complex carbohydrate sports formula drink (e.g. Maxxim or Carbo Pro), usually at 50% higher strength, served warm (but not hot) and a treat (soft candy, cake, banana, tinned peaches). Feeding every hour I’d take double the liquid of someone feeding every half hour, but less of the treats as it takes time to consume them and the longer you are treading water the colder you get and the harder it is to start swimming again.
How often you feed, and how long you take to feed, matters a lot. If it is going to take you 15 hours to swim across and you feed every 30mins for 4 mins (having a quick chat too) – well you’ve just added another 2 hours to your swim. A feed is a feed, it is not a rest. The quicker you can take fuel on and go the better.
different colour caps have any
It helps the guides work out who is who when we are all swimming, and it helps us figure out who will be of comparable pace to swim with. On this trip the faster swimmers wore orange, the slowest wore pink and those in the middle wore yellow. I was one of the strongest swimmers in this group, and while this has helped boost my confidence, I have all the more admiration for those undertaking the challenge who are not as strong.
Where’s your Shark T-Shirt?
It was mostly way too cold for T-shirt’s alone. I’m wearing it underneath the ‘highly fashionable’ blue outer layer in the earlier photo’s. I did find this photo of me wearing it. I promise to do better photo’s next time!
There’s still a lot I haven’t covered which I’ll try to do in the next few issues. On the swimming front I rested up for a week to allow my body time to recover then gradually increased the swimming and the dryland again. Getting into the pool is horrible – the water is hot, smelly, less buoyant and feels slimy after the cold, clear refreshing ocean water.
Our training is regular practices during the week and long pool swims at the weekend (8-10 miles). This weekend we’re planning a 100x200 LC swim at Beverly. Coach Alessandro loves swims like these so we look forward to him joining us. If he doesn’t then I think that would make him a “long swim chicken” and you should point that out to him ☺.
As of next weekend, having built an endurance engine it will be time to restart the cold water acclimatization and move to pond and ocean swimming, with only a short pool swim (drill focused) each week.
This is starting to get real. CS&PF have accepted my medical and my qualifying swim (in addition to liberating me of a few hundred pounds Sterling) and I’m all set to swim. Ask questions at firstname.lastname@example.org