Stepping It Up in February

The longest distance I ever swam in a month was 100 km.  Not too shabby.  I did it twice in fact, in March last year, and in January this year.

This month I resolved to step things up a little, planning to hit 110 km in the month.

Things have been going well.  The month started on Saturday 1st with The Big Chill in Windermere.  Only 480 m that day, but it was in 5 C water.  I have a blog in preparation after this event, but there’s a lot to get in there, and it is taking time.  The first week continued with a swim in Bletchley on the way back from the Lakes, and swims every day till Friday, including 2 on Thursday, before work, and at lunchtime.  A mixture of short, sharp interval and fast sets, and one four mile steady swim before work.  28 km on the week.

No swimming on Saturday or Sunday as I had my boys for the weekend.  Also a steadier week to follow, only 18 km over Mon-Thurs, but again, a double swim on Monday, a rest day on the Friday before something bigger on the weekend…….

I had a back-to-back 10 km planned for the weekend of the 15th/16th.  I wanted to test myself and see how the shoulders held up to another sustained piece of swimming.  Helen gave me the idea, as she had done the same thing a few weeks ago in the build up to her imminent Rottnest swim.   It all went very well, surprisingly well actually.  The Saturday 10 km went off very smoothly in 2 h 51 minutes including feeds.  Not blisteringly fast, but steady, smooth, and mostly enjoyable!

I was daunted on Sunday driving to the pool, but needn’t have worried.  The second 10 km swim of the weekend also went well.  I could feel the previous day’s work in the shoulders, but dropped into a lovely effortless stroke for miles 3, 4, & 5 at least.  2 h 53 mins including feeds.

Monday was a 2 km recovery swim, 4.25 km of intervals on Tuesday, followed by a lunchtime, ‘swim 3 km as fast as you can without stopping’ set on the Wednesday.  Much to my surprise, it was a record time for me for 3 km straight, at 46 mins 30.  Awesome!  I did push pretty hard, and my shoulders complained a little, but that was fast for me!  I was slightly concerned that too many distance sets would have made me sluggish, but this proved me wrong, for the moment at least.

By breakfast time tomorrow, I will have swum 39 km on the week, which is a lot for me.  I will deserve my weekend of rest with my boys, and the 1 hour of sports massage I have booked for Friday lunchtime!

I remain on course for 110 km in the month, and February is short…….

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Fit!

Today I am off work as one of my boys is unwell, so I have got round to doing one or two things that I have been meaning to do.  One of them was to send off my application (and some £270) to CS&PF, applying to swim the Channel.  I also included my medical form (a mere £95 that was) which states that I am ‘fit’ to swim the Channel.

Another step taken on the journey to Shakespeare Beach, and thence to France….Fit

“Won’t It Be Cold?”

I am often asked this by people about my Channel Swim.  It usually follows hot on the heels of the “Will you be wearing a wetsuit?” question.

What is the answer though?  Will it be cold?  Well it all depends on what you consider to be cold, and what you are used to, both mentally and physically.  Loneswimmer ( http://www.loneswimmer.com ) has posted extensively on the processes of habituation and acclimatisation to cold water, so go and read his great body of work if you want Chapter and Verse.

It does get me thinking though.  Just what will the temperature be in the English Channel at the beginning of August, when I am slated to make my crossing?

Up steps the invaluable CSPF website, http://www.cspf.co.uk.  Amongst many other fantastic resources for the aspiring Channelista, there is a page which has all of the historic temperature data from the Sandettie Light Ship Buoy, which is owned and operated by the UK Met Office. Its position is 51.103 N 1.800 E (51°6’9″ N 1°48’0″ E) – roughly due North from Calais and due East of Dover.  While there may be variation in the sea temperatures in the channel, even during the course of an individual’s swim (it is rumoured to be warmer over towards France), this buoy gives a reasonable impression of what temperatures to expect.

As of 13th February 2014, the temperature is 9.0 C, a lot warmer than the rivers and lakes I am used to.  But then the sea lags quite a lot, but also varies from year to year.  This year has been relatively warm.  While storm after storm has trundled up to the UK out of the Atlantic, and dumped enormous (even for us) quantities of rain, this has kept the atmospheric temperatures warm, the skies largely overcast, and the English Channel relatively warm for the time of year.

I decided to plot the Sandettie temperatures over the last decade or so, using rough data from the Met Office, only plotting temperatures on the first day of the month.  This is what I got:

Sandettie Sea Temp by Month and Year

Sandettie Sea Temp by Month and Year

You notice a number of things about these data:

(1) The temperatures go up and down at roughly the same times of year.  Lows typically are in March or April, highs typically in August or September.  Dover training starts at the beginning of May.  Water temperature will likely be low enough to make grown men cry.  This is the reason I have been in the rivers all winter.  Mentally at least, I don’t want to be in a bad place at the beginning of the Dover training season.

(2) Sea temperatures are not necessarily at their warmest when people think.  If you go to the British seaside in ‘flaming June’, don’t expect the sea to be warm.  It could be perishingly cold depending on whether you are there at the start or the end of the month, and what sort of year we are having.  You are much better off going at the end of August, when typically the temperatures are at their warmest, but paradoxically, the kids are all heading back to school.  Most channel swims happen in July – September, with August being the most popular month.  While the temperature is likely to be the highest in September, there are other factors in play, notably the air temperatures and number of daylight hours, both of which are already trailing off significantly by that time.  In fact, October is still pretty warm, but not many people attempt to swim the channel then, as it can be pretty nippy (air temperature), and hours of darkness already exceed those of daylight.

(3) There is a fair amount of variability in the temperatures you might expect right now.  Look at the March 1st data point.  In 2006 it was about 5C in the channel.  One year later it was about 10C.  As anyone who has swum at both of those temperatures knows that there is a world of difference to how they feel, and the duration of a safe swim.

(4) Despite this variability, temperatures once you get to the beginning of August, when I will don my budgie-smugglers and stand on Shakespeare Beach, ready to swim to France, tend to fall in a fairly narrow range.  The range over the last decade has been between 16.7C and 17.9C.

(5) Sea temperature at this time of year is no great predictor of what it is going to be later.  I have been telling myself that all of the warm rainy weather is going to keep the channel temperature up in spring, and give it a ‘head start’ to be nice and warm by the day I get wet.  Not so.  Infact, 2012 was very cold at the beginning of March, but positively barmy over the main months for channel swimming.

The take home message?  Chill out.  Literally and figuratively.  You’re gonna be cold in Dover Harbour, but it’ll get better as the season progresses.  The Channel when you swim it will not be ‘warm’ in the sense that most people think of warmth, but it should be warm enough, if you’ve done the training, can swim hard enough for long enough (that’s what the training’s for), and you’re not too thin (unless you’re very fast, which I’m not).

Review of 2013

I am fixing to post a review of The Big Chill shortly, but that’s a bit of an effort to put together, so I am going to review my goals for 2013 – see how many I managed to tick off, and which ones I missed, and why.

It’s a bit like performance review time at work; it’s a time for reflection on things that make you proud, and those you want to do better on next time!

(1) A million metres over all swimming.

MISS! – I worked it out and I ‘only’ hit 945,000 m for the year.  I am planning a MUCH bigger target for 2014!!

 
(2) Complete Windermere 10.5 miles – target time 6 hours – no wetsuit

HIT! – Windermere completed – 6 hours and 8 minutes.  I will let myself off the extra 8 minutes, especially as we managed to find ourselves a ‘bonus’ 1/2 mile from somewhere, according to my Garmin.

 
(3) Do the Dart 10 K again – 10 km – target time 2 h 25 mins – no wetsuit

HIT! Completed in 2 h 22 mins!  And a lovely day out into the bargain!

 
(4) First 20 km pool swim (ideally in a 50 m pool!)

MISS! Never got round to this one, though I have now at least identified a ‘candidate’ 50 m pool, the heated outdoor loveliness of London Fields Lido.  Comin’ your way one day soon!!

 
(5) Keep up this blog, and start thinking about fundraising for ‘The Big One’

HIT!  A definite hit.  I have really enjoyed the blog, and the readership ramp has been amazing.  Now I am sure there are many more established, and quite frankly more interesting, blogs out there, but 1,297 hits were made on my blog in January, which is pretty spectacular, from 404 people, which is a testament to the growing popularity of Open Water (and particularly cold open water) swimming in the UK and round the world.

My thoughts now turn increasingly to the English Channel.  My training is starting to ramp.  I hit 100 km in January across all types of water, rivers, lidos, indoor chlorine pits, the sea.  I plan to hit 110 km in February, and it’s a short month.  All of the cold water swimming ‘events’ I had registered for are now complete, but I still plan to jump in the Cam on the occasional lunchtime, so Dover Harbour will hold no demons for me come the beginning of May.  Infact, I want to walk down the pebbly beach, splash into the water, and utter the time-honoured phrase ‘It’s like a bath!’

Targets for 2014:

I only have 1:

(1) Swim from England to France, according to English Channel Rules, ‘put pebbles down my pants, and join the club’!

Bring it on!!!!

EC - Image Courtesy of Openwaterpedia

EC – Image Courtesy of Openwaterpedia