The Mental Challenge

Well its been a busy time since my last post. The training is going well and the km’s are starting to increase.

Last Sunday I met up with some of Chloe’s other Channel swimmers at Brighton for a swim. In attendance was Grant (who is swimming a solo at the exact same time as me), Rachel (who is doing a solo in 2016), and Ash who is part of a relay team swimming in September this year. I haven’t really been feeling the cold too much and I guess this led me into a bit of a false sense of security, probably not taking the Bay swims as seriously as I should be. This was the first time I have swum in a group so once we all took off, it became clear there were a range of different speeds – resulting in a number of periods where I waited for the others. I’m not sure if it was this waiting around or the fact I had already swum in the morning at Port Melbourne, but I started to feel quite cold and when I got out, I was shivering. Thank god for the steam room at the Brighton Baths – was in the 3m x 3m room room for 30 minutes thawing out in the intimate company of 15 other guys (two brave ladies were also in attendance).

As David Elliot asked me following my last post, swimming the Channel is every bit as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. I have no doubt that I will have put in the work to make it across physically by June next year (Chloe and Nic will see to that). What is equally important is training the mind to keep going despite the range of challenges and emotions that I will no doubt face – this is the part that only I can prepare myself for. I have learnt a valuable lesson this week and am under no illusions about the enormity of the task ahead.

It was also a sad week with the passing of Tommy Hafey. Tommy is well known to all Melburnians for his football prowess but he didn’t really come onto my radar until two years ago when I saw him present the trophies at the 2km Sorrento Bay Swim. I always wondered what his involvement with the SLSC was however he always gave a speech before the presentations, encouraging young people to stay involved in sport and not get involved in drugs. I later discovered that Tommy loved Sorrento and often commented “why would you go anywhere else when you can go to Sorrento”. He looked as fit as a fiddle in January 2014 so it just goes to show how fast our time here can pass. The photo below was from the presentations this year where I was lucky enough to take out the win. He always said “if it is to be – its up to me”. I will be drawing on that for motivation next June. RIP Tommy.

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Tomorrow I will swim for 2 hours which is the longest swim in the Bay so far. Water temperature has risen a degree due to the unseasonably warm May weather but regardless, it will be interesting to see where I am up to and how the body pulls up. The 6.1km flogging that Nic gave us this morning was probably not the ideal preparation but it will be good to have a few mates out there swimming around the poles with me (thanks Grant, Steve and Tim).

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Bay Swim Number 2

Sandridge Beach will probably become a big part of my preparation with a regular Sunday morning swim now part of my weekly ritual.

Although the conditions were significantly better than last week, the water temperature has dropped a degree and it was noticeable. Having said that, the view is amazing in the morning with the lights all around the bay visible. The sun is coming up around 7am so I am jumping in the water around then and swimming for an hour. Photos below show what it looks like when I jumped in.

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This morning I was flying solo for the first time – better get used to that as I suspect the number of people wanting to come for a swim with me from this time in the year onwards will be relatively small to non existent.

The cold shock and ice cream headache were there again at the start but like last week, after about 12-15 strokes, the body seemed to warm up and I didn’t feel cold – except in my feet. This week I swam for a solid hour between the two no-boating poles which are approximately 200m apart and 200m off shore. I started trying to visualise what it will be like out there in the Channel and what I will think about for 10 plus hours. The water was dead flat so I was able to see the shore going one way and right across the bay from the other. I actually quite enjoy being out there and there is a strange feeling of peacefulness – just me and the ocean. Below are some shots taken just after I got out.

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More disturbing was the update I received on Facebook last night from the Channel Swimming Association. Current conditions in the Channel are as follows:

Water: 52.9 °F (11.6 °C)
Air: 53.8 °F (12.1 °C)
Wind Speed: 35.0 kn (64.8 km/h)
Wind Direction: SSW (210°)

Where I Am In The Mornings

For those of you who were wondering what its like to swim in the morning, this is what its like.

Aquarena is a fantastic place to swim. Its a 50m outdoor pool which is heated to around 25 degrees celsius, thanks to the blankets which trap the heat in overnight (several still to be removed in the photo). If you are ever in the Doncaster/Templestowe area drop by and test it out for yourself. If you are not a fan of swimming outside, there is an indoor 25m pool as well which is heated to a ridiculous 31 degrees celsius.

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I currently have a back strain so this mornings 5km set didn’t do me any favours. Went OK in the warm-up but when we moved into the main set which involved 200m, 150m, 100m and 50m times five on a descending time cycle, I started to have trouble breathing. Hopefully the strain fixes itself soon as the anti-inflammatory medication I got from the doctor is not getting the job down.

Back in the Bay tomorrow morning for a 1 hour swim. Hoping the cold water actually helps the back.

First Bay Swim

I woke up this morning to the sound of fairly strong rain. Not ideal conditions for my first Bay swim of the year without a wetsuit but I pulled myself out of bed, jumped in the car, and headed off to Port Melbourne – Sandridge beach.

I had arranged to swim with another guy I met at Aqaurena, more so for the safety element – not really knowing how I would handle the cold and whether I would end up freezing up and requiring rescue.

On arrival, this was the view I was greeted with. High tide, waves breaking and light drizzle. My car was saying air temperature of 8 degrees and the internet was saying water temperature of 16 degrees.

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I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a shock to the system on entry however once I started swimming my body quickly acclimatised and I was fine. Swam around 3km around the no boating poles and rode a few waves back to shore. It was cold getting out which made the cold showers almost feel warm. Never run the heater in the car on maximum before!

Let The Journey Begin

I have been swimming for over 35 years now and have have many great experiences along the way. But it still feels like my swimming journey is not quite complete – something about conquering that big challenge that almost seems unachievable. That test of mind and body that pushes you to your absolute limits, emerging on the other side with a sense of accomplishment like no other.

Ever since hearing about the existence of the English Channel it has been something which has intrigued and excited me. Perhaps it’s the fact that my dad is English and there is a loose link to our family heritage, or perhaps it’s just the enormity of the challenge. Only around 110 Australian’s have every managed to cross (many multiple times) which less than the number that have climbed Mt. Everest! Setting off before dawn and swimming directly into the sunrise, weaving in and out of the freight and passenger ships like a real life game of Frogger, making sure you take in enough energy to be able to complete it, and stepping foot on French soil all appeal.

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Either way, I have decided to swim it and am now booked in for the neap tide between 22-29 June 2015. For those that don’t know much about the Channel, it is the stretch of ocean between England and France which is one of the worlds busiest shipping thoroughfares. The shortest distance between the two land masses is 33.7km however due to the tides and currents, a typical swim is between 40-45km as can be seen by the map below.

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The optimal landing point is Cap Gris Nez however few manage to line this up. Depending on the speed of the swimmer and the skill of the boat captain, swim distances vary greatly as the three images below show (shortest, average, and longest paths respectively). This can mean the difference between a 10 hour swim and a 24 hour swim.

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To give me the best chance of success, I have engaged the services of Chloe McCardel who has six successful Channel crossings under her belt. Chloe will work with my existing pool coach Nic Campbell to make sure I am both physically and mentally ready. Chloe and Nic are really positive people and I am confident that I have a great team behind me.

Having said this, it would be foolish to go into a swim like this being over confident. The saying goes that the Channel decides who it lets across, not the swimmer – and history tells that many quality athletes before me have failed. The combination of cold water, wind, choppy seas, jellyfish, shipping activity and distance all play a role. Failure to adequately prepare or respect these elements almost certainly means failure. About the only thing I’m not likely to encounter is sharks – they rarely venture into the Channel due to the low water temperatures.

I am under no illusions about how tough the year ahead will be. However after a recent conversation with Matt Harry who swam the Channel in 2013 (becoming the 107th Australian to do so) provided me with renewed optimism. Matt talked about the preparation he put in, the tough times he went through, and the massive high of running up the beach in France and then being greeted by his family back at Dover. Most importantly, Matt told me to enjoy the journey that lies ahead. His time of 11 hours 34 minutes was the fastest by an Australian in 2013 and a testament to his hard work and meticulous preparation. I’m sure I will draw on his knowledge and experience many times over the next twelve months for motivation.

I’m currently swimming around 25km a week which is a good base to come off however this will most certainly increase in the coming months. The key for me will be acclimatising to cold water temperatures and the current aim is to do three swims per week in the Bay until mid-late June when the water temperature drops right off. I will then aim for two swims per week until September, then back up to three after that, throwing in several longer duration swims to practice feeding and test the body.