Mad Distance

Dover Harbour training continued this last weekend, after a weekend off spent with my lovely boys!

I pretty much knew what the score would be, even before Helen and I descended once more into Dover, with Mr Blue Sky blaring out of the car speakers.  It was going to be a 7 + 6 hour weekend for sure.  The happy crew of people milled about on the beach, remaking old acquaintance, basking in the summer sunshine (more about Dover weather later).

I registered with Irene (Freda wasn’t there this weekend, and was told ‘7 + 6, but you can do 6 + 5 if you want.’

‘Sorry eh?  What was that?’

‘Are they saying I have a choice?’, I thought to myself.

Straight away I answered ‘7 + 6 please’.  I wanted that challenge.

And so the usual getting ready routine commenced, with 7 hours in the schedule:

(1) Strip down to togs only.

(2) Apply sunscreen liberally all over.  Riehman P20 is the Dover beach-goer’s favoured product right now.

(3) Get greased up (Barry is the man!):

photo 1

This is Barry who does this for all the swimmers.  Liberal gobs of creamy yellow vaseline applied to pits, jowls, and backs of necks, and round the cozzy straps for the lassies.

(4)  Listen to the briefing: ‘Don’t swim too far out, only swim as far as the last bucket/groyne on the right, in after 2 hours for first feed then every hour after that’.  The usual stuff.  Getting to feel like an old hand now!

(5)  Put on the ‘Nothing Great is Easy’ red swim cap, and goggles, then down to the water’s edge.

(6) Crocs in the big green bag.

(7) Wade in to waist high.

(8) Have a pee if the urge takes you.

(9) Start the watch, and off you go.

Out into the murky greeny-brown waters of the harbour we went.  Sun shining on our shoulders as we all swam serenely to the inner harbour wall, 800 or so metres away, the ferries crouching on the other side, belching diesel from their stacks.


As usual I took it out nice and steady.  It’s always a temptation to take things out nice and fast while you are feeling fresh, but when 7 hours is your ration, and you’ve never swum that long in your life before, a cooler head prevailed (literally and figuratively) and a ‘par speed’ of 3.3 km/h was maintained for the first couple of hours.

After the first feed, I remember that the sun went away for a few hours.  Maybe I was imagining it, but I swear that a large cloud came and squatted over the town, with blue skies on all sides.

Conditions were not brilliant.  There was a good breeze blowing towards the ferries, which sends waves into the wall, from where they bounce back, creating very confused water to swim through.  This can get very bad with stronger wind, creating a washing machine effect that can be difficult to escape from.

Feeds were conducted as usual, warm cup of maxim with Jelly Babies (2), banana (1/3rd), Milky Way (1/2) in that order as I remember, though Helen who was nursing a dodgy shoulder, did manage to slip me an illicit fudge bar (that is more innocent than it sounds) on 2 occasions, as she could sense I was in calorie deficit.

Psychologically this was a bigger challenge than before.  As I went deep into the 7th hour I was in uncharted water for duration, and for distance, and I knew there was 6 hours more to come the day after.  Things got very hard if I am honest in the last hour, and I probably only managed 2.5 km, with a few dawdly stops to look at the view, and worry about  my aching shoulders.  I also felt like I had very little in the tank.  I am sure I could have carried on swimming, but it wasn’t an enticing prospect.

But in the end it was done.  Helen greeted me with a KFC for my 4 PM lunch, followed by 30 minutes of massage from the on-beach physios.

Day 1 was complete.


I hadn’t felt brilliant after my 7 hour on Saturday.  I had felt a bit sick and rather drained, and it took a few hours, a hearty meal, and lots of hydration to get me back in the game.  Surprisingly I had a good night of sleep, not something that happens usually after a long swim, mainly due to achy limbs.

And so it was that on Sunday I plunged into the cool waters of the Harbour at 9 AM for 6 hours of the same sort of stuff, feeling unexpectedly ‘OK’.  Not brilliant, but definitely ‘OK’.  It did take the first couple of hours to work the previous day’s efforts out of my shoulders though.  It took it easy, and only swam about 3 km per hour, well below my ‘par score’ of 3.3 km/h.  Things improved in hour 3 though, feeling looser and easier and up to 3.2 km/h.  Hour 4 easier still up to 3.3, and feeling very happy with life.  This swim was easier than the day before!!

In fairness the conditions were a little better.  The sun shone all day out of  a blue sky.  This seems like quite a theme for me in Dover.  I have been down there for maybe 10 days of training in total, and apart from 3 days, the weather has been sunny.  The harbour has also been unusually warm.  I have had it REALLY easy.  This time last year the harbour was still at a frigid 12C and life was miserable.  This year it’s been sunbathing weather almost from the start.

As I fed at hour 4 I felt like seeing if I had another gear, and as I eased out of the beach a great excuse soon presented itself.  Helen appeared at my left shoulder, swimming with Rohan, a visitor from India swimming the EC in July.  They had been swimming together since hour 1, Helen’s shoulder miraculously working again after some auto-massage overnight.  They are a good 10% faster than me, so I gave myself the challenge of seeing how long I could stay with them.  I kept pace all of the way to the harbour wall, and I was flying.  I dropped to breathing to the left only, and started doing some meaningful kicking.  I managed to keep pace for the entire hour, and registered my single fastest hour in the harbour.

I was totally stoked to be able to throw that in after 11 hours of swimming for the weekend to there.  Hour 6 was a bit more casual, as I was cooked, and before I knew it, the 7 + 6 was complete.

Back in 2 weeks for a repeat performance!


Photo credits – Helen Gibbs, Vanessa Impey, Patricia Legg


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