There is sometimes a sense of de ja vu about some races and training events. Six years ago I was training to swim the English Channel. I had decided to do the Champion of Champions and then try to back it up with a big training swim the following day in Dover harbour. That year I managed just 3 hours in Dover harbour after the 9 miles of racing the day before, I was cold, tired and frankly had had enough. I headed home to Cheltenham slightly worried that I wasn't quite as fit, cold tolerant or as mentally strong as I needed to be. This year I had again ear-marked the Champion of Champions event as a good training swim, only this time I had decided I would back it up with a 6 hour swim the following day that could double as my channel qualification swim. For those that don't know - one of the requirements for swimming the English Channel is to have done at least one observed 6-hour swim in open water of temp 16 degrees of less.
The one big difference from 6 years ago was the extra comfort of a wetsuit, this would at least get around the cold issue although having never swum for so long in a wetsuit before I was also keen to see whether I would be able to manage the issue of rubbing.
I felt pretty good after the 9 miles of racing on Saturday and had enjoyed almost 2000 calories of refuelling in 'The Eight Bells' pub in Dover. On the way back to my hotel I noticed a group of people on the beach and wandered over to see what was going on. To my astonishment a group of 7 or 8 swimmers were doing a 12hour overnight training swim in the harbour. They had started at 9pm and were planning on swimming through till 9am the following morning. No wetsuits, just traditional speedos, glow sticks and an incredible amount of mental strength. It made my own training plans seem somewhat paltry by comparison.
The following morning I hit the swimmers beach just after 8am. The usual suspects were already present, Freda, Barry, Irene and a slowly increasing number of channel aspirants. The overnight swimmers were still going with only one early retiree who had still managed 6 hours of swimming. With that sort of impressive endurance swimming on display there was no way I was going to ditch after just 3 hours. However the first challenge was that I had to explain to Barry and Freda that I was swimming in a wetsuit.
At 9am the overnight swimmers exited the water all looking remarkably good and thoroughly pleased with their efforts. At the same time the morning swimmers prepared to enter, I lathered on my lanolin/vaseline mix around my neck and plunged into the cold harbour waters. The first 2 hours were relatively comfortable, the wetsuit made me feel like I was floating on the surface of the water and I was doing a 2km loop in comfortably under 30minutes, I was certainly not cold. The only slight niggle was a rub that was developing on the right side of my neck. At the 2 hour mark I came in for a feed and reapplied the lanolin. The cup of warm maxim reminded me why I never use the stuff as it almost instantly made me feel nauseous. Perhaps too much association with previous gut-rejection experiences.
The next hour was steady but compared to 6 years previous I was barely aware of the cold. The water was getting steadily choppier and swimming across to the far eastern side of the harbour was living up to it's 'washing machine' nickname. By the end of hour 4 many of the swimmers had gotten out but by this stage I felt I had broken the back of the swim and by the time I came in for the 5 hour feed there was no way I wasn't going to complete the 6 hours. To finish was a great mental tick towards my channel swim goal and I was very pleased to be given the 6 hour qualification certificate from Freda. To my amusement I noticed the certificate had "wetsuit" written in large letters across the top as if to emphasise the point that I had been assisted…………..fair enough.
What is the Arch to Arc?
The Arch to Arc is a mega-triathlon from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It involves an 87 mile ultra-marathon run from London to Dover, a 21mile swim across the English Channel and then a 181mile bike ride from Calais to Paris. When it is raced in a relay format it is classically done by 6 individuals doing an hour of exercise and then 5 hours off. Vickie and I will be the first 2 person team to attempt the Arch to Arc and we intend to break the 40hour barrier which will challenge some of the fastest 6-person relay teams. To make it even more unique Vickie will do the entire 87mile run, I will do the Channel swim and we will relay the bike ride (got to play to our strengths, plus I don't like running).