English Channel Swim: Hitting A Cold Water Wall
Swimming back and forth in cold water across a briny harbor shared with building-size ferries puts things into perspective. Swimming the English Channel, even as a relay, is a big challenge. Some of these moving duty free cities are colossal! And the water is cold, even for this cold-water loving girl. On Sunday, I ticked the last item on last week’s goal list and headed to Dover. I intended to swim in cold water for more than an hour but I’m sad to say that I did not completely succeed. It was too cold. Too cold for me is worrying because I need to complete a 2-hour uninterrupted swim in waters colder than 16C/61F before the start of June. If I can’t do that, I’m off the relay team and can’t complete our Doctors Without Borders challenge. It’s official English Channel rules, no discussions.
Last week started well, otherwise.
This week, I noticed the first Frog Mom sponsor on my swim’s fundraising page. Before, my only sponsors had been my friend (and remote swim coach) Ashley, my (writer) friend Marcia and my (extraordinary) mom Beatrix. But Chris MacIntosh, whoever you are, THANK YOU! You don’t even know me and yet you donated to Doctors Without Borders because you believed in me. I’m quoting Chris: “As a Californian and Brit, I am a big fan of Laure’s blog and efforts towards kids outdoors.” That really made my day. Thanks!
That’s my smily after-swim face for you guys.
Swimming the Distance: Five Miles
My first goal for last week was a distance goal. I wanted to swim 5 miles and I did! For reference, 5 miles is roughly 8K. I swam 1.6K on Monday, 2K on Wednesday, 2.2K on Friday, 1K on Saturday, and slightly over 3K on Sunday 3.55K?). Back to back, that’s 9.8K, almost 10K – way over my goal! I used to be exhausted after swimming 1K. I’m now finding it’s a good warm-up. Crazy!
Cold Water Acclimatization
As I said, I need to build up my resistance to cold water so I can swim without stopping during 2 hours in water colder than 16C. Being of petite frame (56.6kg/124 lb for 167 cm/5’5″), I tend to get cold quite easily. That’s the way of the world. The only way to avoid hypothermia–the only reason that would make me stop–is to keep on swimming to generate more body heat. Since I know that cold water is my biggest challenge, I’m piling on as many outdoors swims as possible. On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, I was in the Serpentine at Hyde Park. The problem is, the water temperature sky-rocketed thanks to early summer sunny days. The water went from 13C/55F on Wednesday, to 15C/59F on Friday, and 17C/62.6F on Saturday. It’s 18C today!
What that means is simple. Unless the water temperature drops dramatically–which I doubt, it’s mid-May after all–the only proper cold water training moving forward is in the sea or in cold lakes. If this goes on, the Serpentine will be warmer than my local pool in a matter of weeks.
Seaside, things are a lot more chill. On Sunday, the water registered 13.3C at Dover’s Harbour. I managed to swim an hour, get dry and warm on the pebbles, and went for a second 50-minute swim, encouraged by team vice-captain Nick Adams. The good news is, I suffered very short shivers after both swims, hardly any the second time around. The cold water training is paying off! The bad news is, it’s not enough. I’ve got to do better, better than an interrupted hour and 50 minutes. Two hours is my cold water wall.
It sounds like a silly topic to talk about family in endurance training for an extreme athletic event, but family support matters a lot. A lot of my free time has been devoted to open water swimming these past three months, and the pace is only going to increase until the end of June. If I didn’t have the support of my husband and daughters, I don’t know how I would carve out enough time to do that. Who would take care of my girls while I sneak out on my bicycle in the morning to swim in the Serpentine or to join my masters’ swim training? Who would be waiting for me with a dry towel and a cup of tea on the pebbly unsexy swimmers’ area of Dover”s harbor? Who would be telling me they’re proud of me? If they were not rooting for me, it would be a lot more difficult and I thank them for accepting to spend their weekends basically watching me swim.
The main good consequence of my training is that my husband has taken to open water swimming too so he can join me. He’s a keen swimmer but cold water is not his thing. He swims with a wetsuit and is now a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club too. That’s the type of consequence I did not quite expect, but I’m happy that we can share this aquatic experience. When you really love doing something, it’s heartwarming to see other people join in.
Even my girls want to join in on the fun. “Next time, I’ll take my wetsuit so I can swim with you!” announced my 8-year-old after our day in Dover. She’s such a sweet little thing and the best tea/drying/dressing assistant there is on the beach. My 10-year old shows less enthusiasm but she’s an awesome entertainer for her sister when I need to go back in the water. Both are extremely supportive and both believe I’m wonder woman. Kids!
Taking Rest Days
As I’m getting into a nice training rhythm, I have to remind myself to take days off swimming so my body can catch up with me. That’s a new concept for me, but my sore shoulders leave me no choice. After Dover’s experience, I felt quite drained. On Monday nights, I usually go to the pool for an improvement class. Last night, I gave myself a rain check. It didn’t feel right but I had to. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do even if you don’t like it.
The Dover Experience
I hope this picture captures the awesome sense of community that surrounds the Dover experience. Aspiring Channel swimmers are met by volunteers on the pebble beach at Dover Harbour every single weekend during the swimming season. On this picture, a volunteer greases up my swimming suit straps so I don’t get any chafing from swimming. The woman who registered me is an old woman called Freda who is known to be the single most experienced person when it comes to training for the channel. On the second picture, she’s seen giving the pep talk to relay swimmers before we go in.
She may be using a cane to walk but she’s a strong woman. I also know that she’s adored by her fans and from what I’ve read, it’s not surprising. I find it quite amazing that people like her donate their time and advice so generously.
Next Week’s Goal
To be perfectly honest, the 2-hour qualifying swim is giving me nightmares. I’m so afraid I’m gonna fail. That’s my number one priority right now. That, and getting used to longer swims.
As Diana Nyad says– never, ever give up!