Brighton Baths Winter Mile

I have been looking forward to the Winter Mile for a few weeks now and it didn’t disappoint. The Brighton Baths put on a great event kicking off with a history of the baths as well as a few words about Harry Raisbeck who the mile swim is named after.

The conditions were about as good as you can get at this time of year. It was a cool morning but luckily no wind and the water was dead flat.

The course is 6 laps of the baths around four buoys placed at the end and about half way down, with a short swim out and back to finish it off. I was sceptical about the distance however one of the other swimmers with a GPS watch measured it at 1.55km so pretty close to the advertised 1.6km.

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After a short briefing, it was off with the Ice Cube Dash. A group of around 10 swimmers got proceeding started with a dive off the end deck of the baths and a sprint to the beach.

Following that was the half mile, 3 laps of the bath for those wanting a little more than the Ice Cube Dash but not the full mile.

Then it was time for the main event. The complimentary swim cap provided by the baths with your entry fee was pretty good (apart from the pink colour) but to try to minimise the “ice cream” headache that I have been getting lately, I decided to run with another cap underneath it to keep my head warm. From previous swims, I knew that the water temperature would take my breath away making breathing difficult. This is compounded further by the fact I still suffer from mild asthma so when the 2 minute call came, I decided to go into the water and get the cold fright over and done with. It seemed to work as once the head went under the water and the body reacted by closing off my wind pipe for a few seconds, everything seemed OK.

A large group gathered at the start line – not sure how many however I overheard someone say there were 70 swimmers which is incredible given the swim. I made my way to the front alongside John Van Wisse who I knew would take it out hard and be trying to win his 19th title (out of 22 events ever held – I suspect he was unable to attend the ones he didn’t win? Also present in the front row was my coach Chloe McCardel who I knew would be right on the pace given some great results in her pool training recently.

There was some confusion at the start with a couple of guys semi false starting but then a mad rush in. I have done heaps of open water racing in recent times and this was not like anything I have seen before. Not sure whether it was the narrow width of the channel to the first buoy or the fact that everyone was sprinting to stay warm but it felt like we reached the first buoy in a large pack. I found myself on the inside of the buoy – a location you don’t want to be in – so I stopped for a second, only to have the guys behind crash into me and the guy in front kick me in the stomach. That took my breath away and I have so say I never really recovered. In the space of half a lap, John pulled a big lead on Chloe and I. I tried to sit on her feet but she was on fire and just pulled away. That is pretty much how we finished although I am told Chloe made up much of the ground lost early on to emerge from the water only a few seconds behind John. I started to feel good on about lap 4 but it was way to late to have any sort of impact. It was interesting to start lapping people on lap 3 and I am pretty sure I even lapped a couple of people twice?

As Dave Anderson said in his blog from last year, there is always a feeling of unease when its time to swim in. Have I counted the laps correctly, what it I havnt and I run up the beach only to be sent back in or labelled a cheat…. Anyway thankfully I had counted correctly and popped up over a minute behind John and Chloe. From there it was straight into the steam room to warm up and catch my breath.

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Was great to meet some new people and place behind two of the legends of cold water swimming in John and Chloe. Not sure if I will be back next year as I may still be over in the UK hopefully after a successful channel crossing but if I am, I will definitely be giving it another go. Experience definitely counts in races like this, especially in the first few laps….

Also ran in to Campbell Brown after the swim who is attempting the channel a month or so after me next year. He looked pretty cold but very fit! Great photo of Chloe and a couple of her other swimmers post race (Ash, Don, Chloe and me).

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Winter Mile Next Week

Well I have to say the water in the Bay was bloody freezing this morning. Normally I warm up after a minute or so but this morning I felt cold for every minute of my 1 hour swim at Sandridge Beach. Perhaps it was the 4-5 degree air temperature or maybe the fact that the tide was out so far – the shallow water feels a lot colder than the deeper water. Anyway, it was all good preparation for next Sunday’s Winter Mile which will be held at the Brighton Baths, my first non wetsuit open water race since this years National Masters Champs (although the water up at Yepoon was around 25 degrees and like swimming in a bath).

The race is named in honour of Harry Raisbeck, president of the Brighton Icebergers (or the “blue ballers” as I now affectionately refer to them as) for 25 years. It was not until he was 95 years old that he stopped swimming having braved the tepid waters of the bay every morning for over 45 years. Harry passed away several years ago but his legend lives on, with his name plate permanently affixed to the wall of the change rooms as a permanent reminder to his mates.

In recent years, the race has been dominated by John Van Wisse, having won it 14 times. Looking forward to my first crack at it and after a shakeout swim last Sunday , I quite liked swimming inside the amphitheatre like surrounds – despite waves breaking over the sides and quite a bit of chop. The best part is you don’t have to look up all time to keep sigthing where to go!

Will be great to have a hit out against my open water coach Chloe McCardel and see where I am at in relation to some of the legends of the sport in terms of John and Tammy Van Wisse. Best part will almost certainly be the steam room immediately after the race – hopefully it isn’t at capacity as word has it there were over 50 swimmers competing last year. I have put a link to a short video which was put together a year or so ago about the 2012 Winter Mile.

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Well its now less than 1 year until the big swim. Having spent the last week in bed with the flu, my training has taken a bit of a hit. In the space of 2 weeks, water temperature in the Bay has dropped from 13-14 degrees down to just over 10 degrees so the swim later on today at Brighton Baths will be interesting. Will be definitely getting the flu shot next year!

With the swim now less than 365 days away, I started to imagine what it will be like over there. What will the water feel like, are there really that many boats going up and down the channel, how strong really is this current that everyone talks about. Its been encouraging to see at least 3 individual and 2 teams successfully cross the channel in the past 2 weeks (start of the 2014 season) meaning that my decision to go early in the season with slightly cooler water but warmer aim may have been a good one.

I also had another read of Matt Harry’s account of his swim in 2013 which always gives me goose bumps – he doesn’t leave out many details and it highlights the importance of mental toughness.


Matt Harry Swims The English Channel (August 2013)

After a fairly uneventful two weeks of tapering, supplies and equipment had been purchased, organised, measured and labelled when the call came through from our pilot Eddie Spelling that we would be meeting at Dover Marina at 03.30 on Thursday 29th Aug for an approximate 04.30 start from Shakespeare beach – that was tomorrow morning!  I looked at my partner Jess and just said “Sh*t, this is it”, she calmly said “We’d better call your Dad and Ollie”, as they were the other two crew members who would be assisting Jess to keep me fuelled, positive and focused from on-board the escort boat.  Given my history of anxiety I had been concerned that when this time came things might start to get a bit sideways in terms of not being able to get any sleep, feeling nauseas and generally creating unneeded mischief for myself so I had done a fair amount of work meditating, receiving hypnosis and visiting a sports psych in order to remain calm from this point until the time I landed in France – and I am pleased to say that the work paid off – I slept for a solid 4 hours and awoke at 2.50am to a bowl of banana porridge prepared by my magnificent girlfriend.  I felt calm and fully dialled in focused as we headed down to meet the boat.

After hugs and kisses with family we were on-board and motoring out around the harbour walls toward Shakespeare beach and the moment I was desperate for.  I sat below deck with some motivational tunes blazing away on my ipod, stretching in the dark with only Eddie and the glow of the boat’s instruments as company.  The hum and rock of the boat served to further relax me as the crew busied themselves on deck preparing for the start.  With about 5minutes to go, my Observer, Loretta popped her head down and said “5 minutes”.  I climbed the stairs and watched as the shore approached.  Unknown to my crew at this time I actually started to feel really cold and was shivering so I didn’t want to strip down to my speedos until the very last minute as I thought I might completely destroy their confidence that I could get this done – none of them were shivering and I was supposed to be the one prepared to swim in cold water for up to 15hours.  With about 2minutes to go I finally striped down to my speedos and the strangest thing happened – all of a sudden I was warm – the cold was gone – it was as though my body went “right, I know what’s about to happen here and I’m going to make it easier for you”.  I cannot remember a moment in my life when I have been as focused as I was at this point, as Jess smeared wool fat and vasoline all over my most chafe-prone areas .  I knew exactly how I wanted to swim this; my “rules” were locked and loaded and the regular visualisation I had undertaken seemed to kick me into autopilot.  There was a moment of “this is all a bit surreal” then I was down the ladder and swimming toward shore for the start of the swim.

When I approached the shore I experienced a moment of nausea so I stopped and knelt on one knee in the shallows while I washed my goggles out and steadied my nerves.  My legs were shaky as I stood and took three steps forward to clear the water but I had resolved to leave all doubt and nerves on the beach, as suggested to me a week earlier by Wendy Trehiou after she completed a double crossing in 39hrs (monumental swim).  I raised my arms to signal to the boat that I was ready to begin and off I went.  I plunged into the water with the sounds of encouragement being yelled from the boat fresh in my ears.  The sea was flat, there was no wind and I felt fresh, strong and 100% focused – the water temperature at 17degrees felt even warmer than Dover Harbour which made me pretty happy as I pulled into the light being shone from the boat’s spotlight onto the water and found my rhythm. I had been so used to feeling fatigued from the very first lap in training but the taper had worked a treat and I just felt like a well-oiled machine with energy to burn. Within 45minutes we were treated to the most vivid red sunrise I have ever seen and I can tell you at that point I had a moment of supreme satisfaction with my decision, made 3years earlier to swim the channel – I had doubted this decision so many times over those 3 years during the cold lonely kilometres of training. But at that moment I knew that it had been a good decision – that is not to say that I was counting any chickens before they hatched; I knew that I had a long way to go and I had decided long before this moment that one of the most important mind-sets I would carry on this day would be to not celebrate or count anything as complete until I felt the sand beneath my feet.  From the first stroke I took I never looked back nor did I allow myself to look up toward France I just focused on swimming feed to feed until I reached sand.

Loving the Morning

Jess, Dad and Ollie did a great job of being punctual with 30minute feeds and firing just the right amount of positivity toward me during the short feed stops and the first few hours went by without incident.  At around 4hours both wrists started to ache and I wondered briefly if this was the start of the rot.  It was at this time that I remembered the words of a good mate of mine Don Riddington (the oldest Australian to ever swim the Channel) who said “when your body starts to play up it is just reminding you that it’s still there with you” and it may sound corny but I actually started to talk to the different parts of my body as they flared….a bit of “yeah I know you’re there, you’re doing a good job but there’s no point complaining coz you’re staying with me until we get to France” seemed to do the trick (weirdly) as the shoulders, hips and wrists all went through their moments of complaint.  Somewhere around 5hours and well into the separation zone I spewed – brrrrrrrggghhhg goddamn it……..brrrrrrrrgggghhhhh…*t I hope that’s all there isbbrrrrrrggghhhhhhhh kaaghh kagh kagggghh ehhh that wasn’t great whatever keep swimming mate…..10 seconds passes….bbrrrrrrrgggghh  brrrrrrggghhhh eehh that hurt bbbrrrrrrrggggghhhhhh kahh kkah kaaa….think that’s it ohbbbrrrrrrrggggghhhh yeah think that’s it now….just relax…do some breaststroke, let your stomach settle…ok all good – swim on.  Thankfully that was my only encounter with illness for the day as when a swimmer cannot settle their stomach their swim is often doomed. Not long after this my crew yelled out to me that Kevin Murphy, the King of the Channel was sending me his best wishes.  The Kelly Slater of Channel swimming was sending ME his best wishes!! – far out, that one boosted my spirits after a big chunder.

Approaching France

I’d like to say that I had some kind of epiphany in the deep waters of the Channel but I didn’t.  I had prepared so many things to keep my mind entertained during the swim such as motivational quotes, songs, anecdotes and memories from my life that I felt would re-stoke the fires that would surely start to diminish but the fire burned brightly and at no point did I have any desire or need to remove myself mentally from what was happening.  Instead I sat, almost detached at the helm of the control panel of my body. I was an observer of sorts, continually monitoring the feedback my body was providing and making adjustments accordingly.  I monitored my stroke rating, my form, my aches, my pains, my energy levels, my mental state, how the feeds were sitting, where I was positioned relevant to the boat, my kick and any stiffness in my muscles and just quietly went about the business of making the continual adjustments required to get myself to the other side in the best possible shape.  The water got cold through the middle of the swim; we had numerous 15 degree readings and one 13degree reading but I didn’t really feel it….at least I don’t think I did – I may very well have colourised the swim in my mind due to the relentless positivity that success provides but I don’t remember being cold and certainly the footage that I have seen would suggest that I wasn’t at all cold – not a shiver!

Due to the fact that I had been extremely disciplined in not looking up or asking how far I had to go it was around the 7.5 hour mark that I started to feel the only bit of negativity that I experienced during the swim.  I knew how long I had been swimming but really had no idea how long I had to go.  I may have had another 7.5hours for all I knew and my mind wondered for around 15minutes until it snapped back into the robotic repetition and inertia that I had trained into it.  Not long after (the 8.5hr mark) came the call “You’re in French inshore waters”…”yeeeeehooooowoww yeah baby woohooo we’re gonna do this….hang on no you’re not there yet…have your feed and keep swimming”…some rough calculations were carried out at this point and I decided that even if everything went to the dogs I should still only have 4hours max to swim – but I in no way held any attachment to that figure, it was purely for interest and to give myself a mental boost – the swim wasn’t over until there was no water left.  As it turned out we did get thrown a curve-ball in the form of a rare tide which turned 2hours early and completely skipped slack water.  Where I was to be delivered beautifully onto Cap Gris Nez whilst swimming with the tide I was left to swim against and across a tide that was now heading north and away from the coast.  Unbeknownst to me, prior to this bizarre tide my pilot had me pegged for a 10hour time and a landing on the holy grail (Cap Gris Nez).  We had been really fortunate with the wind; the first half of the swim didn’t really get over 10knots(force 3) but through the middle and back end of the swim the wind peaked up a bit and got up to force 5(16-18knots) but it didn’t trouble me too much as I had trained in winds as high as 35knots in Melbourne.

At 10hrs 30 I stopped for a feed and my crew yelled down to me “If you sprint you’ll be on the beach in an hour”…at this point I looked up toward France for the first time and replied “I’ll believe that when I see it” as it still looked a way off.  And it was – the pilot had told the crew that I still had about an hour and a half ahead of me swimming across the tide before I would reach the beach.  This is where you have to be careful what you wish for – I had told Jess many times that I was really looking forward to getting to a point where I felt that I just could not swim another stroke and then experience what it was like to push past that point.  Jess could see that I clearly hadn’t reached that point so she decided to throw me a little challenge after 10 and a half hours in the water….”SPRINT!”….and that’s what I did – my stroke rating went from 67 to 76 for the next hour as I pushed across the tide toward Blanc Nez.  Jess, Dad and Ollie pumped a bit of fruit sugar and flat coke into my feeds to give me a bit of extra vavoom to get me across the tide and at around the 11hr 15minute mark I breathed toward the boat and saw Ollie standing port side, speedos, cap and goggles in place doing a “lightning bolt” (Usain style) and I knew we were close.  I kinda laughed and cried at the same time, having a bit of a chuckle into the water while my goggles welled with tears.  I could hear the love of my life, my dad and a good mate all yelling encouragement and willing me to shore from the boat and before I knew it Ollie was swimming right beside me filming the last meters of the swim with a big poo-eating grin on his dial.  Ollie had prepared my training program and in many ways delivered me to this point so it was magnificent to share the moment with him in the water.  Before I knew it I heard him yelling “stand up mate, stand up” and I reached down to feel  SAND….French sand – the substance of what drove me to get out of bed, to throw myself into ice cold water in the middle of winter, to go to the pool on a Friday night after a week of work and swim 20K – this thing that I had wanted for so long and so desperately I now had.  I stood up and yelled my satisfaction toward the boat and the universe in general and then the competitor in me kicked in – I started to run, I ran toward the beach – maybe it was all the open water races I have done, maybe I am programmed to run when I hit the sand after an all-out effort or maybe it was me wanting to beat myself, to out-do myself – to finish stronger than I ever imagined.  Whatever it was it got me onto the beach where I fell to the sand and gave it a well-deserved kiss before flopping onto my back in front of a confused French family.  Within a minute, Jess joined us on the beach looking as happy as me as she ran up and threw her arms around me for a sandy kiss. We had done it!  I had swum the English Channel but it was a victory that belonged to us all.  As my good mate and Channel Swimmer Mike Gregory likes to say “Nobody does it alone” and never a truer word was spoken. Jess made almost as many sacrifices as I did to get us to this point from the early mornings, the long swims, the motivational speeches, putting up with grumpy Matt and sleepless nights while I tossed and turned beside her all full of sugar and adrenaline after long evening training sessions and that is something that I will be forever in her debt for. Ollie’s support and guidance around training and then making the trip down to be on my support crew again is something that I could not quantify and will be forever grateful for.  And Dad who supported and encouraged me at every step of the process despite having his concerns also shares a big part of this success – It was truly a great team I had and I am convinced that they were the reason the day went as well as it did!  There are too many others to mention here from the rest of my family (Mum, Sammy, Beks, Ems and Benny – bloody great tribe of beautiful, caring people) to my swim mates and many, many others but this is not the forum for thanks – this is the story of the swim and the swim was over.  In 11 hours and 34minutes, 1 hour and 4 minutes after I had been told to “sprint for an hour” – I had swum the English Channel! I had finally swum the Channel…..

Dover Welcome