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

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Sea swimming and the Forestman

The New Forest, 12th July

This weekend I was down in the New Forest supporting my friend and Channel Swim team mate Ruth, as she undertook her first ironman distance triathlon: The Forestman. Although not an official Ironman event, this course is arguably tougher and certainly longer than many long distance triathlons. Arriving bright and early at Ellingham lake for the 5.30am start, around 120 athletes set off on their 3.9k swim. Ruth nailed an impressive 1h17 time into T1. After seeing her onto the bike, Burt and I then headed off – swim gear at the ready – in search of the coast, on leg two of our own triathlon of sorts.

Southbourne is a sandy beach and well manned by the friendly life guards; the ideal place to practise sea swimming. With the team Channel swim just two months away, this was our first experience of English seas this year. Thanks to the warm weather the temperature was a comfortable 17 degrees and we quickly adapted – a relief! We swam for 40 minutes between two groins spaced 200m apart. The tough aspect was maintaining technique as the rough waves battered and buffeted us around. Occassionally a break would sneak up unannounced just as I turned to breath; after a while the horrible salty taste at the back of the throat almost burned. Next time we should probably swim further out from the coastline. All in all a valuable session both for swim strength and fitness, and psychologically in prep for September.

We made it back in time for leg three: a few beers supporting the athletes for most of the hilly marathon course. Hats off to all those that finished; it’s an amazing achievement. Ruth came home in 14h52. Next objective for her is the Channel Swim, and we’ll be hitting the beach again soon for more sea swimming. The weekend also proved a good reconnaissance mission for me for the New Forest 70.3!

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits us in the Channel.

Swimming in the Med

Here’s where I went swimming a few days ago.

St Pauls, Lindos

St Pauls – near Lindos on Rhodes Island – provided fairly hospitable surroundings for my first serious swim in open water. I swam for an hour out of the bay and into the sea, then back again via some caves at the bay’s mouth. The choppy waves took a little getting used to, as did the current on the way back in. Mind you, the 35-degree heat kept the water comfortable. The salty water had the potential for rapid dehydration so I employed a tip from Ruth and Ewan (two of my Channel Swim team mates): breathing with my lips pursed preventing – as much as possible – any water entering my mouth.

I managed to fit a second shorter swim in whilst fishing out at sea later in the holiday – colder and rougher, although clearly tame in comparison to what the Channel Swim will bring!

St Pauls from the Acropolis, Rhodes Island

St Pauls from the Acropolis, Rhodes Island

Sunny Surrey

I’ve made my first couple of ventures out of London for some cycling over the last week – and it feels great to be back two-wheeling in the sunshine. Catching the train from Waterloo to Epsom, I’ve broadly followed this route down to Rusper in Sussex, then across to Leith Hill and the North Downs, through the idyllic Ranmore Common and finishing with the Alpe D’Huez-like Box Hill bends and a downhill run-in back to Epsom.

Tuesday was a lone ride in windy conditions, whilst Saturday I was accompanied by Matt on his first countryside outing on his new Trek 1.7, basking in the gloriously warm bank holiday weather. The latter ride’s enjoyment was heightened by Jonny chasing us for the duration: he’d started early from Fulham, and called us from Betchworth whilst we were in Rusper. A track style pursuit followed, but I’m pleased to say we kept our distance up the road until he slid off to Cobham and we to Epsom! I added a 12-mile warm-down to Regents Park from Waterloo and around the North London hills on the way home – 75 miles all up at 16.5mph average.

Leith Hill from this direction is a terrifically enjoyable climb, made even more satisfying by the fast decent through Abinger Common. And I also particularly liked the narrow winding lane from West Horsley back into Effingham Forest, with flowing fields bathed in sunlight emerging around each bend through the tall trees and long shadows. 

There are tons of variations around the North Downs for more climbs or longer rides; see Al’s blog for our February/March rides. I’m also tempted to try the double-chevron climb from Cranleigh up into the hills towards Shere soon – my friend Ruth recounted a scream-inducing experience on a recent Forest Man training ride. A rival for Toys Hill?