Thursday, August 9, 2012

English Channel Swim

I'm not really tired after getting back. It's 5:23 am right now and got back about an hour ago.  Been reading everyone's thoughtful comments.  Thank you!!!

So it's official 11:30 was the time.  Way faster than I had ever hoped for.  

Paul Foreman gives us some instruction
Paul Foreman was my boat pilot,  Ray Weatherall was his first mate, and Sam Weatherall (Ray's son), the CS&PF Observer.  After a brief explanation of some boat rules Paul gave me a warning,  "When you take a feed get it in your mouth and get back to swimmin'!  The best swimmers take the bottle roll over on their back take the feed while they do one stroke on their back and then rotate back over and throw out what they didn't get in during that time.  But 20  second feeds are fine, but not much more than that.  Also if you're hurtin' don't whine about it."  He said something like "Most guys get to hurtin' and then they whine "Oh my shoulder", or "My back hurts".  Women swimmers are the best, they don't complain."  

That really got me fired up.  I've seen a lot of Channel crossing videos and one thing I take great caution to avoid is whining.  So my goal wasn't to say a single word of complaint on my entire swim, and hoped he would notice.  I said farewell to my son Austin, and my Mom and Dad, who were going back to Varne Ridge to man the computer.  The plan was to have the crew call them every hour or so and update the blog. There was a a problem with making outgoing calls and Mom was getting frustrated and finally called the boat, which worked out and was the standard from that point on.

Paul had us board the boat and then took us out of the Marina to the starting point, only about a 25 minute boat ride.  I got all greased up and ready to go.  On the way, my CS&PF Observer, named Sam Weatherall got some information and reviewed the simple rules of the swim:  No touching anyone, or the boat.  Start on dry land, and end on dry land.  Sam's father, Ray, was Paul's first mate.

When we got to the beach, Paul told me to swim over, get completely clear of the water and when I was ready, raise my hand and they would acknowledge that I was going to start and set the clock.  I took a moment to thank Heavenly Father for preparing me for this moment and providing this opportunity which has been a dream of mine for a long time.  I then motioned to the crew I was about to start and they flagged me into the water to start.  This was just before 3pm.

The water was flat as a lake the first two hours so I took advantage of it and really pushed it.  Once we got out that far, we started to enter the English shipping lane and from there it started to get choppy and some pretty good swells, but I was feeling good still so I continued at that pace.  

Josh got in after a while and swam side by side with me.  His purpose in pace swimming is to encourage me to swim faster by swimming side by side with me.  If he pulls ahead that makes realize I'm slowing down a little and makes me pick up the stroke rate to keep up.  He's only allowed in the water for an hour, which is good, because he really pushes me and after he gets out I can slow my pace down just a tad.  

I had heard about Jellyfish in the channel, and had seen a bunch in Catalina Channel, and stung once in Catalina.  But I was disappointed a little to not even see any jellyfish.  I did hit a couple of very small patches of seaweed on the surface, but it was only about 5 seconds of fun.  I did see about a dozen time throughout the swim what appeared to be pieces of paper.  One even was a completely intact 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper just floating about 8 feet below the surface.

What went through my mind?  Music - No (I wish I had that ability), Thinking of people occasionally.  But mostly my mind was like a machine:  Stroke, Stroke, Stroke, breath..... I wasn't bored with it.  Just the rhythm of the stroke and the feel of the water on my body and feeling triumphant that I was actually doing this.

I was looking forward to the sun setting, because that meant I would have been in the water for @ 6 hours and that would be fairly close to half way.  And when it finally set and the sky started to get dark I noticed that all the lights on the ship were on.  I continued to swim, and was planning to crack my chemical light that was dangling behind me attached to my suit.  It was starting to really get dark and I didn't want to wait for the next feed to make myself more visible to the crew so in between one stroke I quickly reached back with both hands and cracked the light.  That quick motion and the reaching back behind me that far caused a really sharp pain in my right shoulder.  I freaked out.  I said to myself, "What have you done!"  I kept swimming and the sharp pain subsided until it was completely gone within a minute.  Wow!  I really got lucky on that.  That could have been a deal breaker.  

What did I eat?  I stopped every 35 minutes and had one of the following liquids:  Orange/Vanilla Perpetuem & juice mix which I instructed Cathi how to prepare.  Defizzed Coca-Cola, Hot Chocolate.
Solid foods I had every other break (1:10) and had either a banana, Swiss Roll, Cereal bar (which I yelled back at the crew to stop providing because they took too long to chew and swallow.)  Had one Buzz Bite at half way.  And the crew put diced peaches/pears in my perpetuem drink as well.  The key was to keep the "feeds" to less than a minute.  Many of them I kept to less than 30 seconds.

I was surprised when I saw Josh get back in his wetsuit for another round of pace swimming.  At this point it was dark and I was worried I wouldn't see him and might run into him.  Originally he was swimming between me and the boat, that way I wouldn't get sandwiched.  But I found that I really preferred to be right up next to the boat because there was a bright light just outside Paul's observation window.  This light was acting as a marker for me to keep up with.  Up to this point my pace was really feeling strong, I was getting lots of kicking in, and I felt strong and fast.  I had only taken 100 mg of ibuprofen just before Josh got in because I was starting to feel a little stiffness in my left shoulder.   But within 30 minutes it was all gone and I was holding steady.

After Josh got out I kept on going and at some point during a feed Cathi tried telling me something.  With my ear plugs I couldn't hear, so I yelled out "Speak up!!!"  She jumped.  She yelled back, "The Pilot says that you've been going 8 hours and at this pace only have 3 more to go.  I nodded.  That did give me quite a boost of what to expect and motivated me to keep it up.  I found out after the swim that Paul scolded her, that the information was for the crew only and not for me.  Because the tide could have changed after that, and might have been a real downer for me.  But fortunately the tide only changed in my favor and I was continuing the strong pace despite the minor chop and swells from the very large freighter ships that I could see pass in front of us.

During the night time portion of the swim, I continued to let my mind relax.  Even though I kept my pace up and going strong, I felt my mind go into a trance-like state.  Even closing my eyes every once in a while.  I wasn't tired, but very relaxed, in an Alpha brainwave state.  

I noticed while breathing to my right that I could see the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse flashing at my 2 oclock.  Within an hour or so, it was at my twelve.  Cathi yelled out, only about a mile to go!  I responded, "Just one Gridley Straight!"  At this point I must admit that I slowed down.  I figured I was well ahead of schedule and the tide had still several hours in my favor.  This was a mistake.  I had slowed down and rather enjoyed it.  That made it hard once I got close to the cap, because we had missed hitting it head on and were now just barely west of it (with the south westerly current).

I could feel that I was getting close to the Cap, because I could see its silhouette, and the light house was at my 11oclock.  I spent the next 45 minutes or so trying to keep up with the boat, as we continued heading south instead of directly facing the lighthouse.  Soon the lighthouse was nearly at my 9 oclock.  I was swimming along when I felt something very large, smooth and rubbery, slide past my left thigh and along my leg down to my ankle.  I wasn't expecting that at all and nearly jumped out of the water.  I rationalized that it must have been a seal.  It was too large to be a fish, and I'm not familiar with what marine life hang out at the cap, but I figured it had to have been a seal.

Finally Paul stopped the boat just as we were at the base of the lighthouse on the western side of Cap Gris Nez, and handed me a couple of ziplock bags for collecting rocks in France.  He told me that they would shine a high beam light on shore and I was told to sprint to get there.  If I took it easy I would risk getting pulled backwards out to sea.  So I put it in high gear and swam as fast as I could after swimming for well over 11 hours.  I finally got close to shore and noticed a huge rock just 3 feet ahead.  I then did breaststroke to it, went around it, and found many large rocks just below the surface.  I got scratched up pretty good, so instead of swimming, I started to crawl over these so I wouldn't get all bloody.  They were covered in barnacles and the waves were pushing me into shore at this point.  So I had to very slowly balance and crouch down to avoid getting pushed face first into all these huge sharp rocks.  

Actual Route
I climbed over enough of these rocks that I finally came to a rock that was the last one and was completely clear of the water.  I turned around raised my hands above my head with the high beam light shining right at me.  I heard the entire crew cheer and Cathi sounded the siren.
Click here for CS&PF website which tracked my swim.

On my way back I stopped in the water and collected several rocks in the baggie and stuffed them in my suit.  

I had finally swam the English Channel!  Leading up to this point I envisioned it many many times in my head and started to get teary eyed.  But now that I was here, I was very happy, but not completely overcome with emotion.  This surprised me.

The hardest part of the entire swim?  Peeing.  Sure I trained hundreds of miles in open water with feeds, but once I got about half way, had to pee just about ever 40 minutes or so.  What's so tough about it?  Starting.  Even though I really had to go, just starting the process while you're kicking and moving your arms, with the water fairly cool, it isn't as simple as one would think.  I took advantage of the times for feeds to get the process started.  
Did I get cold?  No.  The water was very comfortable, and at no point during the swim did I think, "Boy this is cold".  It was the ideal temperature.  The crew told me that it ranged 62- 64°f.  A little warmer than I expected.  It was very nice.

Me eating my stupid chicken nuggets
I swam back to the boat and climbed up the ladder to the warm embrace of my biggest supporter, Cathi.  She asked me if that was the hardest swim I have ever done.  I actually pondered that the last few minutes nearing the finish.  To be completely honest, my qualifying swim was tougher.  My qualifying swim was much colder and just as long.  Also Bear Lake Length was tougher because of the really bad weather near the end of that swim.  But this definitely takes third.

Alan Neves, the photographer from KSL said, "You just swam the English Channel!  How do you feel?"  I said,  "Great!  (awkward pause) I'd like some chicken nuggets."  That dumb little phrase would come to haunt me for quite some time and will probably be an inside joke for quite a while.

Cathi and I really enjoyed snuggling under the blanket on the 1 1/2 hour boat ride back to Dover.  Within a few minutes, she was asleep and I just looked at her face.  I sure married up.  The biggest highlights of my swim were when I would breath to my right, and see her sitting right there looking at me with a very attractive smile on her face.  I could feel how proud she was of me and that only motivated me to keep going strong when I saw that.

Huge thanks to Josh Green for making the trip out here with me.  His pace was strong and that really got me in a groove.  I don't know if I could have maintained that pace without some additional motivation like that.  Josh told me after I got out that 3 other swimmers swam today with other pilots.  And that they got out at @10 miles.  That's got to be just so sad for the swimmers.  That was one of my biggest fears is to not be able to finish. 

Jacob was fantastic helping with preparing feeds and writing smart alec comments on the white board to lighten the mood.  He has been such a huge support.  He was my paddler for the 21 mile qualifier in the GSL, also for the 19 mile Bear Lake length, for 10 mile Deer Creek, and this.  He's got quite a bit of experience as a support paddler, and was a huge asset to my team.  A couple days before Eveyln Franceskou at Varne Ridge told me not to take him on the boat, and that really bothered me.  Jacob's not your typical 12 year old.  He's extremely tough, athletic and full of energy.  He did just fine, and wasn't sick at all.  I'm not sure how much of that was because I put a patch behind his ear a couple days before.  But he was just fine.

Paul and I back at Dover Marina after the swim.
Again big thanks to Paul Foreman for providing such excellent piloting and getting me to France safely.  He did a fantastic job and would highly recommend him to any Channel aspirant!

Finally, thank you to all my dear friends, neighbors, coworkers and family for all the wonderful comments and show of support.  It really means a great deal.  

Alan Neves, a photographer from KSL was on the boat and took lots of video.  He told me the video segment would air on the 10 oclock news right after the Olympic closing ceremonies.
The awesome video he came up with can be seen here:  http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1070&sid=21680220

Here's my own slideshow video:


Pics and Video can be found in my English Channel Album.

Update:  Ratification of my swim including all the observer's notes, log and official certificate found on this post.
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