We did it!!

The English Channel: Dover to Cap Gris Nez. 21 nautical miles. 16 hours and 16 minutes. 5 swimmers, 1hr rotational stints in 17-degree water.

This was a challenge like no other that I’ve undertaken. We set out shortly before 4am in the pitch black from Dover Marina, our first swimmer Burt swimming to the shore to start the official timing. The first three of us had to affix glow sticks to our shorts and caps and swim in the cold, cold water with zero visibility to the boat and only a side light for directional guidance. I did – however – have the fortune of seeing the sun rise whilst turning my stroke over 2.5 miles out into the sea; this is a memory I will never forget.

It took 30 mins to stop shivering, and – after grabbing 2hrs shut eye in the cabin – I could finally feel my feet again. The Gallivant had a small kitchen so I devoured a pot noodle and other high carb foods, before preparing mentally for stint two by shooting some footage of Burt and Ewan.

By 11am the 20-degree sun was high, and the swimming was far better. We all felt strong, comms with the boat was easier – although still hit and miss as you couldn’t hear anything, relying instead on pre-determined time boards held up by team mates. The pressure was on to keep swimming hard as currents and timings are vital; one missed tide and we could add hours on, or even risk failure.

Karen and Luke put in further sterling efforts and by 2pm we were looking good. Channel swimming is very different from other endurance events: knowing you’re on your own in cold conditions, out of comms with the team, and questioning everything constantly – the mind plays tricks and mental fortitude is paramount. Progress is key but – in stark contrast to marathons or triathlons – the time length is not finite and, indeed, completion is far from certain. The third swim was hard: physically and mentally draining, the sunlight almost gone, the temperature cooling, the boat a dark shadow and visibility back to virtually zero.

6pm and Cap Gris Nez was tantilisingly close, like Everest’s summit from the Hillary Step. But, one simple factor would determine our success or failure: could we push far enough with the current before turning in to the peninsula? If we couldn’t, then when it changed course the current would take us sailing past and into channel swimming oblivion. But if we could, the shore was in our grasp. Luke finished his third stint strongly, and Burt stepped up for his fourth – an epic final hour for our tired but impressive lead swimmer. His mind visited some dark places – to use his words – but he swam hard and got us to touching distance, before Ewan celebrated his birthday with 16 minutes and a struggle up the rocks to land.

After cheering a soloist who’d been behind us through the day – whose identity I’m trying to establish – we commenced the journey back to Dover. I could write many more words on this experience. In retrospect, I could have been a lot better prepared and I shall learn from this; but to swim in such challenging conditions gives me a tremendous confidence for the comparatively simple Ironman swimming to come. Moreover, we are proud to join an elite and very unique club and it’s something to cherish for years to come.

Incidentally, below is our exact route as charted by our crew; this is the first ‘V’ finish in 40 years.

Channel Route

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How it’s done

Fabian Cancellara: the greatest time trial rider in history?

The best position. The most power. The fastest cadence. I know who I want to model my triathlon riding on!

Fabian Cancellara

Click image for highlights of the World TT.

New Forest 70.3

Just posted the pictures of the New Forest Middle Distance Triathlon! (click on the photo below or the Flickr photostream, right).

And the results are in. Finishing time 6h03 and 125th place. Swim + T1: 46min (132nd).  Bike: 3h10 (141st). T2 + Run: 2h06 (129th). Matt finished in a very creditable 6h25, especially considering his only previous tri was a sprint last year!

Overall I’m very happy with the result – I’d have taken 6hrs if offered to me beforehand. But, like most of us, I’m already looking at where I can considerably improve. If anything – on reflection – I took my running for granted, choosing to focus the middle part of this year (post-London Marathon) on cycling and swimming. Whilst this has definitely paid dividends, I dropped the ball on the second half of the run: my knee pain returned, and I just hadn’t done enough hilly long runs or brick sessions to cope with the ruthlessly difficult off-road run route in this tri. I know what I need to do for IM Switzerland! That said, this is a very tough 70.3 and having completed it in target time I’m confident in moving forward with winter training and 2010.

Half Iron 016A

Big thanks to the organisers, the marshalls and the venues. This is a fantastic event and is a must for any triathlete. 2010 races can be found here: http://www.racenewforest.co.uk/

Training diary: week 9

Fantastic week’s training; the final full week before the New Forest 70.3. Things kicked off with my first 3.8k lake swim – despite the cold, it went pretty well and has given me confidence in my swimming development. I followed this up with a reduction in lengths in preference for drills to keep loose and technique in tune. With the Channel swim looming large I also wanted to be fresh and ready to go, should the call come from Dover. Running has been improving; steady runs mixed with speedwork are my staple tapering sessions. And – further wheel problems notwithstanding – I also nailed a couple of good bike sessions to boot.

The only downer was bailing on a ride in the Chilterns with Al today due to knee ache; with one week to go I can’t be too careful so rest and icing was the sensible option. I can be confident that the hard training is done and it’s now just about staying loose, keeping the muscles sharp and the mind focused. Bring on race day!

Week 9 (w/c Sunday 6th September)

Sun: Aqua Sphere Long Swim 3.8k (Dorney Lake); Mon: RUN (1h30, steady); Tue am: BIKE (3h15, London Parks); Tue pm: SWIM (1hr, drills); Wed: SWIM (1h15, drills and lengths); Thu am: RUN (5min warm up + 5 x 1k /3min rec @ 5k pace + 3min warm down); Thu pm: SWIM (45mins, drills); Fri am: BIKE (1h45, N.London hills inc reps); Fri pm: RUN (1hr, steady); Sat: REST.

More Training Diary posts here.

Why….

…have I agreed to run this?

Birmingham Route

Like my season needed an extra 1/2 marathon! Glutton for punishment. A group of friends are running – all doing their first ever long distance race – so it’s great to see ever more people join the endurance sports fraternity! It should be fun; post-70.3 I’ll go in with no expectations and just try to enjoy it for once.

The race is also hosting the World Half Marathon Championships, and Paula Radcliffe has just announced she’ll be gunning for victory. Looking forward to it.

English Channel swimming

We got the call last night. Good weather is on it’s way to the south of England and our piloting team are ready to go whenever we are. So me and five others – Ewan, Ruth, Burt, Luke and Karren – could be starting out from Dover as early as Thursday this week for a minimum of 19 nautical miles in cold, choppy water (likely 15-19 degrees), navigating our way through flotsam, jetsam, and tanker shipping lanes all the way to Cap Gris Nez near Calais!

The team challenge involves 1hr stints in rotation for each swimmer in a pre-designated swim order. Depending on how we fare, each swimmer could do 2 or 3 stints. Our crew have been monitoring the tides; we’ll start either 1.30am or midday to swim with the current. Conditions look promising for success, but weather patterns can change very quickly in the Channel and a safe passage will rely on variables coming together in our favour. Fingers crossed!

Dover Straits_map

Aqua Sphere Long Swim Series 2009

AquaSphere Long Swim SeriesCompleted the Dorney Lake long swim today. 1h26, which I was happy with considering it was 16 degrees and I wasn’t using a wetsuit. For anyone looking to experience a mass start long swim in open water ahead of a triathlon or swimming event, I’d recommend this series. Dorney Lake is a great setting – my Channel Swim team mates also did the Bournmouth sea swim – and the organisers said they are looking to add another sea swim and one to two lake swims to the 2010 schedule.

Twitvid: at the start.