Sunday, 19 August 2018

21.3 mile Lake Tahoe Solo, California/Nevada, USA August 11/12th 2018

2 dominant forces drew me irrepressibly to Lake Tahoe. Firstly, the purity of the water (deemed to be 99.994% pure versus commercially bottled water at 99.998%!)  and, secondly, the continuation of the path-less-travelled (the feeling of being a bit of a pioneer). This is a common thread of many of my swim challenges when I reminisce (see blogs on Loch Lomond, Lac Leman, SCAR etc)

This challenge saw me commit over 18 months in the planning then just over 12 hours in the execution. Indeed, for this one, I had to reappraise my adaptability not only to the cold, fresh water but the altitude at over 6200 feet (!) which is considered to be far more impactful on the swimmer than the runner or cyclist. This was a whole different ballgame altogether. When I asked the only other Brit I knew who had completed it solo (Kevin Murphy in 2003) he repeatedly expressed to me the difficulties of altitude combined with a particular lack of buoyancy.

I remember being pretty nervous in the few days leading up to this swim given the altitude, the fresh water, the lack of references or islands breaking up the swim. There had also been widespread forest fires in northern California in the few weeks before so I was praying for the air to clear (which thankfully it did JUST before my swim). The task at hand was still an English Channel distance after all but with way less buoyancy. The best word to describe Lake Tahoe is 'vast'. However, experience definitely counts for something and my 70km Lac Leman swim in 2016 (see blog below) certainly put this one into very meaningful perspective. More recently though, I was appreciative of my friend Jane Bell who had helped me execute an absolutely flawless OVERNIGHT one-way Windermere 2-weeks prior which really stood me in good stead mentally the whole way as we started the swim in the final throes of daylight (see pic below) and the next 10 hours (i.e. 5/6ths of the swim) were pretty much in the pitch black. In this situation you really have to trust your stroke and be on your mental game as there's no sensation of moving anywhere like in a pool or a narrower lake - the only reference points were the feeds on the hour which helped to break the swim down into manageable chunks (I fed every hour on the hour). I told myself, therefore, that it would be a ca. 12 feed swim as I knew deep down I could swim the 1st half in around 6 hours.

(Stunning sunset just before our 'jump' on 11th August 2018)

On the evening of 11th August, my wife Emily and I turned up at Camp Richardson Marina at the southernmost end of the Lake at 8pm to meet with the support team. Thanks to the Swim the Suck swim in 2016 in Tennessee and the SCAR Swim in Arizona in 2017, I had the chance to get to know not only a very able and chilled out swimmer/pilot in Tom 'Reptile' Linthicum but also a very accomplished swimmer and kayaker in Amy Appelhans-Gubser who had recently smashed out a very enviable 14 hour North Channel (body of water between Ireland and Scotland). At 8.30pm I was ready for the 'jump' as Reptile likes to put it. Looking over to our left & at the western-side mountain range on the western part of the lake, we were treated to absolutely incredible pinks, purples and reds illuminating the sky as the previous day's proceedings were concluded. After seeing Bill Shipp, another soloist, and his crew including (the great) Sarah Thomas off, I entered the chilly waters at around 08:30pm.

(Only 21.29 miles to go...)

At first the water felt pretty bracing and the task at hand rather overwhelming but I soon got into my usual predictable swim rhythm of ca. 50 strokes per minute. The water never really felt cold (it may have been 18c) and at that temperature it was never going to bother me greatly or put the solo in jeopardy. Over to my right I could see the bright lights forever delineating the state line between California and Nevada. Reptile warned me that I would be able to see those lights for hours and once long behind me there was then going to be extreme darkness (and a meteor shower that at least the crew would enjoy!)

I am not going to lie. The first 3 hours of this swim were very tough indeed. During the first 25% of the swim, the mind starts to complain along the lines of 'WTF are we doing this again?' & I had to dig deep to combat this & hide it from the crew. This wasn't helped by a very unpredictable and choppy current for the first 3 hours which left the sense of humour elsewhere making it tough for the kayaker, the boat crew and the swimmer. Thank god it settled down and I got into a rhythm, got on top of the swim mentally by deciding to pretend I was doing a Two-way Windermere & visioned all the landmarks that I knew from that swim (Belle Isle, Storrs, Fell Foot, Bass rock, you name it!). It worked a treat putting myself mentally somewhere else!

It's funny but I realise now that it takes me sometimes until during the actual swim to fully understand why I am fundamentally undertaking the thing deep down. The aspect that really cracked this swim for me was visualising a 12 hour swim with feeds every hour on the hour pretending I was doing a 2-way Windermere. There were no islands breaking up the monotony and the notion of having to nail this swim predominantly in darkness that made this very gutsy.

Hourly feeds came and went. As usual I got my mojo after around 6 hours when I promised myself I had to have been half-way with the rest of the swim downhill to the finish. I decided I would throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the swim and my 5:47 overnight 10.5mile 1-way Windermere only 2 weeks prior really stood my confidence in great stead. My friend Amy was nothing but encouraging at feed times telling me 'Mark you are a beast, you are a machine my friend'. Her positivity was infectious and I really didn't want to let her down. All of the crew were here just for me and to see me succeed! At 6 hours I decided to change my feeds from maxim & a mini choc-chip cookie to something entirely new of flat coke & bit of banana (really enjoyed that btw). That was pretty much all I had in the 2nd half save for a bottle of water. Whenever I felt thirsty, I have to admit, I just opened my gob in the lake and drank! LOL.

Nothing was really too much bother other than the air temperature dropping to a fresh feeling on the shoulders at around 4am. I had the best support team in the world being led by swimmers for a swimmer with my wife diligently sorting feeds on the hour. It was lovely having the kayak to my side and the support boat further to my left. I generally kept my mouth shut and got on with the task at hand. It was really no bother.

(magical moment welcoming in the sun with my friend Amy smiling all the way)

(we spotted 'Tessie' - the Tahoe monster)

After about 9-10 hours, darkness lifted and the next day gradually dawned. I could see I was approaching the last u-shaped bay which housed the finish line. It was a bit of an optical illusion (similar to the lighthouse on the Catalina swim) and after enquiring to kayaker Gavin how much longer he noted '5-miles'. WTF....I was feeling suddenly disheartened as I had kidded myself I was closer. My mind was beginning to play tricks on me. I thought I had less than 2 to go! I got my head down and focussed hard on my stroke (especially ensuring to breathe close to the water and get chin to chest). Now and again I would start to try and count to 400 with each stroke to distract the mind. I also reminded myself of Teresa Roberts' mantra of 'Just keep moving forward' from my Geneva swim and Gez Lyon's 'If you can still put one arm in front of the other then you can keep going'.

During this time we overtook a wetsuit swimmer who had gone out 25 mins in front of us and I was also closing in on skins soloist Bill Shipp & his boat ahead who also went out ahead by about 30 mins. I also hit a lump of wood/branch in the water (which I tried to throw to the boat as a souvenir) and then below me saw a massive dark shadow move in the motion of a shark. It was scary and stopped me in my tracks....I laughed and told myself to get a grip: Tessie (the Tahoe monster) doesn't exist - it was just the light & depth playing tricks on me in the water. Now I was in daylight with the sun rising above the mountains (pic above), this was magical moment and nothing but encouragement from Amy and thumbs up from Reptile confirmed that I had this one pretty much nailed.

Slowly but surely we approached the very quiet Incline Village and just before 9am on 12th August we meandered our way through the moored boats. At last I could see the very welcome sight of sand confirming that I was going to be successful. Amy piloted me into the finishing beach where I limped ashore and we had a massive hug declaring our victory - Amy maintaining I 'had smashed it' and that 'I was a beast' and 'a machine'! 12 hours 26 mins and 58 seconds for the 34.2km. I had done a fresh water 21 mile PB by over 1 hour (my prior best was 13hours 29 in Two Way Windermere which is shorter at 33.8km) and smashed Kevin Murphy (King of the Channel's) British Record by almost 90 mins (and note that the route that he took from Pope's Beach to Kings Beach is actually 1km shorter at 33.2km). I had become only the 52nd human in history (and 2nd Brit) to swim the full length of the course from Camp Richardson to Incline Village! That feeling of humble achievement suddenly just sat so well and I patted myself on the back for all the hard training & preparation i had put in over the prior 18 months.

Hugs all-round then a mere 1 hour boat ride back to Camp Richardson where I treated the crew to breakfast at Bert's cafe (which is becoming a rite of passage for soloists!)

(Team Shezza: Gavin (kayaker), Reptile (pilot), Shez, Em, Joel (observer) and Amy (kayaker))

My recommendations for completing Lake Tahoe:
1. Do an overnight swim of over 10 miles within 3 weeks of the swim. This will give you confidence on the night and will be great prep without overdoing it.
2. Get to Lake Tahoe at least 3 days prior to your swim. The altitude might mess with you. I was pretty breathless for the first 2 days but was fine on the night. I have heard stories of many others turning up on the day or day before and feeling very sick the whole swim.
3. Train hard in fresh water. This is not the sea and doesn't offer much buoyancy. Some say that altitude also offers less buoyancy.
4. Try and do some workouts in an altitude chamber. I did HiiT classes on a rower at the altitude centre in London. That definitely got me fitter, gave me a new outlet during the week and replicated oxygen at 2700 metres (which is actually higher than Tahoe).
5. Work hard on your stroke. I did the weekly Tuesday session under the watchful eye of Dan Bullock from SwimforTri. Those sessions helped get me ready.
6. Swim feed to feed
7. Choose a good pilot. I chose Tom as he is a swimmer, has done this solo 3x, follows a straight course marked by GPS and therefore there is absolutely no wasted effort or a question over the course. He only wants to see you succeed and has piloted people who have taken over 20 hours to swim the length! His patience is incredible.

Some random facts about Lake Tahoe:
1. Lake Tahoe is the 2nd deepest lake in the US and 10th deepest in the world with maximum depth of 1645 feet
2. Average surface elevation is at 6225 feet
3. 2/3rds of LT is in California and 1/3 in Nevada
4. The sun shines in LT 75% of the year or 274 days
5. The lake holds 39 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the state of California to a depth of 14.5 inches.
6. The place is vast - there are 75 miles of shoreline around the lake
7. The average surface temp in winter is 42f with a peak around 65f during the summer months
8. 125 inches of snow falls at lake level every year with 500 inches not uncommon on the surrounding peaks
9. The surface of the lake takes up 191 square miles. If you stood on the lake surface shoulder-to-shoulder you could fit nearly 1.87 billion people on it - that's over 5x the population of the US.

(Southern 1/2 of Lake Tahoe looking south from atop Cave Rock - the start is in the far distance left of centre!)

(Northern 1/2 of Lake Tahoe looking North atop Cave Rock - the finish is below the mountains in the very far distance to the right!)

Monday, 1 January 2018

Swimming La Bocayna Strait (Lanzarote to Fuerteventura)

I have been fortunate enough to have swum all over the world but I think this relatively short ca. 16km swim has served to remind me the entire reason why I took up this fine sport and genuinely define what I want to get out of it...'To plan and complete the pioneering swims of the path less well travelled'. This was a similar vein in why I took on 70km Lake Geneva solo in 2016 (and indeed Loch Lomond in 2012) but this one actually was remarkably easy to plan/execute and involved some fun strategising with a local pilot, Mauro Poggi, who takes a real pride in his piloting. I only knew of 2 soloists in skins prior to our swim in December 2017 but again the beauty of this swim is that it can be done all year round! We completed it on the 27th Dec 2017 so if you are wondering what to aim towards to keep the training fun in the Winter, why not aim at this one which is only a cheap 3.5 hour flight from the UK?

I had been holidaying over the Xmas period for a while in Lanza (the girls can surf and I can swim!) and in the last few years had witnessed posts from Vicky Middlemast (nee Miller) and Ned Denison succeeding so wanted desperately to get a window to execute this before getting any older.

To cut a long story short, organising one of the finest pilots I’ve ever met was just luck. A friend of a friend of Vicky’s pilot was around during the dates, not only had the fastest 34 foot rib Lanzarote had to offer, was willing and keen to meet me beforehand to plot the route, answer questions etc so that all I needed to do was swim. Mauro Poggi was outstanding and a craftsman of his art with a perfect boat for the job - very stable in a wave, easy to get into and out of plus 640bhp thus only a 10 minute ride back to base. It has two engines, great at idle speed and holds the route perfectly with autopilot. We essentially plotted a route which would be longer than the birds-eye route but would avoid 2 very busy ferry routes.

I managed to rope in Lucinda and Mark Bayliss who also came along for the swim and are always up for one mad harebrained scheme or two! (Most of the photos on this blog are theirs btw - thank you).

We decided to start our swim at a particularly secluded beach 1/2 km west of the famous Papagayo horseshoe shaped bay which Lanza is famous for. Our starting beach was ONLY accessible by boat (in centre of pic below). The coldest part of the swim was stripping off at 9am but once we jumped into the water to swim to the beach, it felt so much warmer in the water than on the boat. The beach was magical and encircled by an amphitheatre of steep rocks. Quite a contrast from a Channel Swim beginnings I remarked! We soon cracked on with the task at hand, cleared the beach and slowly got into a rhythm making steady progress as we could still see the bottom and after 20 mins cleared the southern most point of Lanzarote. 

(Papagayo beaches)

We were headed for the eastern flank of the island of Lobos which marks the 2/3 point of the swim and breaks up the vista with a lovely lighthouse and volcanic rock. Our sighting point was actually the large mountain on the left of the picture below which is a volcano on FV. The water was stunningly clear turquoise with terrific visibility but save for the odd fish, very little came into view in terms of marine life the whole trip. Not a single jellyfish!
After 4.5km, we were in the middle of the channel,  Mark’s calves cramped up and his swim was over having to spend the next 10km helping with feeds and chatting to the pilot - his payback from doing too much running (something I will not suffer from)! Lucinda and I upped the pace and we thumped out a good 3.4km hour. We were absolutely flying along with a pleasant 10mph northerly breeze helping to blow us towards FV! After the 3rd feed on the hour, the lighthouse at the northernmost point of Lobos was right upon us and it was stunning having the island as a distraction. The feeling of liberation being out in the middle of the ocean for me was pretty magical. For someone who limps around on land, this felt like proper nectar. I loved every single minute of it tbh. All the winter training (including a 100x100m session only 11 days prior) really paid off as we flew alongside Lobos island. 

(Looking out from the Papagayo beaches across the straits past Lobos island to Fuerteventura)

(Lucinda and Shezza in the middle of the straits with Playa Banca the southernmost town on Lanzarote in the background)

At the end of the island, we had a good 2km stretch to the sandy beach at FV famous for its kitesurfers and we made towards the right side of a big hotel. It was going to be a tough last hour as now a decent westerly wind was cracking in and the sea felt REALLY big. These were some of the biggest swells I have ever encountered in my life but just felt so much fun. I was never far from the support boat and couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Contrastingly,  Lucinda was now beginning to feel sick in the swell but we had come so far, throwing in the towel was never going to be an option. 'Look how far you have come' I urged! She really showed considerable bravery after being sick to crack on to be within sniffing distance of landing the swim.

We battled through a confused sea into the last kilometre and after seeing the sea bed again, felt reassured we were making enough progress to conclude this swim was ours for the taking. One arm after the other we finally got into a position where the breaking waves meant we could navigate our exit which was easier said than done. I raised by goggles on top of my swim hat to try and work out a clear path to take to walk out of the water but a wave came and ripped them clean off my head never to be seen again. I put my right foot in a hole in the sand (there were many voids from a big rocks) which could have been a real ankle breaker if you didn’t have your wits about you. Eventually, inch by inch we were freed from the breaking waves congratulating each other and in search of shells for the kids as souvenirs! I found 2 massive rocks and shoved them down the back of my trunks without realising how much they were doing to drag me down in the goggle-less swim back to the boat!

It was easy to use the stern ladder to haul oneself back onto the boat and the boat ride back was 10 mins of thrill-speakers exhilaration as Mauro unleashed the potential of 640bhp across 2 engines. It was something to behold being on a boat which only takes 2 hours from Lanza to Africa! Back on the dock, Mauro pulled out some lovely local beers (8% strength!) out of the boat's bountifully-stocked fridge and we toasted with smiles all round. He even stopped at the local Queseria on the way back to wash some local goats cheese down with the beer - sure that helped with the recovery!

I never felt cold once and could estimate the temperature of the water around 18c-20c the whole way. Even Simon Griffiths could do this in skins I think! We reckon the swim was around16km all-in which is an ideal marker for someone new to the sport or upping their distance. I actually couldn’t think of better training for Catalina than this. Would I do it again? Certainly. Everyday of the week. I am even plotting returning for a few other swims I want to do in these waters. Mauro was awesome from start to finish and charged us 100 euros per hour whilst on the boat but threw in pick up and drop off from the hotel too. Between us execution was Eur 700 which I think is a bargain for such a trip. Everything was just perfect, all we had to do was swim.  This is no 'gimme' of a swim and the last 2km is tough (but isn't it always!?) but if it were too easy, it wouldn't be worth doing!

Get in touch if you want more details of the swim. You can find Mauro's page here:

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Reminiscences of a BLDSA President (2017)

So, the last BLDSA swim of the season, Lynn Regis, is complete and swim event appearances as BLDSA President have drawn to a close for 2017. Everyone has got home safe n' well and everything else is merely a bonus, if truth be told.

It's hard to believe that one can take up this sport in 2010 (barely being able to swim a mile) then emerge 7 years later as president of the nation's most decorated & prestigous long distance swimming club, the BLDSA. The Association would not be run without the dedication of volunteers and it seemed fitting to do one's duty after 4 years on the committee and the whole swim series under one's budgies. The summer has been a delicate balancing act of juggling 60 hour weeks in the city; becoming an expert on the country's transport network; organising 2 major swims; and meeting loads of new & old inspirational people with the backdrop of some of the most stunning locations the country has to offer.

The first port of call for the Presidential year was actually abroad in a swim capacity taking on the SCAR swim in Arizona for the second time after a 1 year break. Pete Fellows was kind enough to donate his time and kayak expertise again as we reunited for the 5000 mile trip stateside. Race Director, Kent Nicholas, RT and the crew run an amazing event of 42-ish miles over 4 days at the end of April and that swim is highly recommended for getting in early-season miles in possibly one of the most beautiful and warmest landscapes on earth. The application process starts in November and sells out in minutes. It's fair to say that Arizona has become almost a second home for me now and it was great to have that 'selfish' release before the season started properly. It was a new experience (to say the least) finishing the C (2nd SCAR swim) at Canyon Lake where a rattlesnake had been swimming only 10 mins previously!

Back in Blighty, the first swim of the season saw a decent contingent of swimmers from far and wide congregate in Nottingham for the annual Colwick Park swim on 21st May. It became apparent very quickly to the safety officer on the day, Richard Hardy, that after taking out the boat for an initial circumnavigation, a thick layer of blue-green algae was seen across the entire 1km course and it was going to be absolutely unavoidable (and potentially very dangerous to all participants). Concurrently, the officials received accounts of how 3 swimmers had been ill during the week, so the difficult decision was made to abandon the event before swimmers had been given a chance to get their budgie smugglers & cossies wet! Safety first.  This decision was not taken lightly, however, in hindsight, absolutely  the right decision was made and all swimmers received a full refund including Entry Central fees.
('All dressed up but nowhere to go?' - Peter Ingham, Howard James and Ollie Wilkinson)

Next up on 4th and 5th June was the annual Wykeham weekend, superbly organised & marshalled by Liane Llewellyn-Hickling with all the help from her family and friends. The swim offers a night-swim (5km on the Saturday) washed down with 5km, 2km and 1km events on the Sunday. Needless to say the event ran as smoothly as ever. Phil Yorke kindly stepped in as President-elect to hand out prizes/certificates as I was rushed stateside again sadly for my father-in-law's funeral in St Simon's Island, Georgia. Liane has been running this swim now for 19 years and steps down as Race Director this year. Million thanks Liane from all of us at the BLDSA for your (and your family's) selfless service to the Association.

The organisation and planning for the Champion of Champions this year made the D-Day landings look like a spur-of-the-moment decision.... In March, we were told that we wouldn't be allowed to use Dover Harbour for the annual 9-miler (despite having 65 sign-ups and 20 on the waiting list) due to pile driving for a new marina which would potentially damage the swimmers' hearing. However, after consulting extensively with Mike Oram (President of the CSPF and experienced pilot), Jane Bell and I managed to find an alternative site in Ramsgate with the help of Mandi Bodemeaid. Our application to Ramsgate was within 13 weeks of the swim but unfortunately we had missed their deadline by one week (wasn't like the pope was coming!); thus we pleaded with Dover to re-accommodate us. They relented and agreed but couldn't guarantee a start time! It is impossible to describe how un-nerving it is to organise a swim not knowing start times OR length of event. As usual we muddled on! In the end, swimmers & volunteers enjoyed one of the finest weather days Dover has ever seen and even an accident in the Folkestone Tunnel blocking most of our kayaker volunteers for over an hour wasn't going to spoil what was, in the end, an amazing day. Once we got the green light, a 10km event with 5km, 3km and 2km events were then swiftly implemented. For someone who really appreciates observing the dark art of front crawl, we were treated to a masterclass with James Leitch (all the way from Glasgow) and Ollie Wilkinson (all the way from Cheltenham) go at it 'hammer-and-tongs' until James emerged as victor by only a couple of minutes. Val Smith showed great tenacity and stubbornness to complete the event with only 5 mins of allotted total time to spare before the cut-off.
It was lovely to meet so many new faces this year, along with the more familiar faces of the Red Top and Nutters contingents. Thank you to all swimmers for being so understanding and I look forward to directing an easier race to organise next year!

One week later, it was up to Ellerton Lake near Richmond in North Yorkshire. Amanda Bell has pioneered a new swim for the BLDSA mirroring the meteoric success of the Champion of Champions (South) format but on the doorstep of our Northern members. Amanda is one of the most charismatic people I know and was able to deploy one of the most enthusiastic gangs of volunteers ever seen at a BLDSA swim. Again it was ace to see so many new faces and the Association is very thankful for this awesome new event. It was very well attended, with very few places spare given no kayaker is required. Liane Bentley and James Leitch dominated the Ladies and Gents 9-Mile event with a young Ellie Knight becoming one of the only juniors in recent years to complete a Champion of Champions event in its entirety. Great swim, Ellie and very much one to watch for the future! Swimmers enjoyed the pure 20c water. Behind the scenes, one of the rescue boats broke the axle of the trailer on the motorway on the Friday (thank god no-one was injured) meaning Mick Blackburn & Martyn Coates dropped everything to repair the axle on the Sunday in time for the long journey to Torbay the following weekend. Oh boy, there's just so much going on behind the scenes to make this all happen!

Andre Roberts stepped up to give back to the sport & the Association by running a sold-out Torbay swim this year. Again, the weather gods smiled upon us and the full experience of the event was  shared thousands of times over social media thanks to incredible footage taken by a drone from a very experienced media friend of his. How innovative! The water was a refreshing 14.9c and very welcome given the blazing sun. The President was treated to kayaker legend Mike Roberts leading him to the first of his PBs of the season but the swimmer made the schoolboy error of forgetting to put sun cream on backs of legs and thus spent the next week regretting it massively (hardly being able to sit down!) Ollie Wilkinson showed again why he is a force to be reckoned with in the briney with a storming 3-hour swim over to Brixham n' back. No doubt this swim will be sold out in minutes after release next year and it is a 'must-have' badge of honour for any Channel aspirant. Andre's enthusiasm is infectious and his experience in swimming & organisational skills boast that of someone far older than his years suggest.

The Bala weekend this year was run by President-elect Philip Yorke (aka 'Yorkie') who is everyone's friend. Again, great weather was enjoyed by ca. 81 swimmers during the course of the 3km, 1km, 6- mile and 3-mile events. 17c water was more than comfortable for most, and we were treated to young Ellie Knight walking away with a new record in the 1-Way 3 mile breaststroke. You have never seen a 15-year-old more comfortable in the water without a wetsuit than Ellie. Without fanfare or bravado, she just 'gets on with it', leaving many experienced front-crawlers in her wake. Yorkie went on to become only the 2nd person in history to swim the Catalina Channel in California on breaststroke during the summer, breaking the previous record by over 7 minutes. Many congratulations from us all mate and good luck in your year as President in 2018!

The Coniston weekend saw both the Veterans (on the Saturday) and Seniors (on the Sunday) take to the water. 35-odd swimmers took part during the weekend. It was a pleasure to be Race Control on both days for Swim Sec. Patrick Smith, who appeared chuffed to get both swims off the ground, especially after all his hard work for the Colwick Park event was snookered by blue-green algae earlier in the season. It was an absolute treat & honour to meet (and re-clothe (!) a cold) 74 year old  Bryan Finlay who is one of the BLDSA all-time greats, joining us all the way from Canada. His stories, energy and 'joie de vivre' are exemplrary; he had Karen Throsby, Stephanie Voss and yours truly mesmerised with his tales of the glory days & sensible views on the state-of-play of the world. The Sunday Seniors event proved to be the more blustery of the two days. Most memorable was witnessing an incredibly brave 13-year-old Isobel Kelly, who came an impressive 3rd in the overall race despite having already swum across the bay before the start, shivering for 10 mins before the swim even got underway (faced with the same situation most of us would have had our first DNS!). That was one of the bravest things seen during  the season; unsurprisingly, she walked away with the Perseverance Trophy presented by aforementioned Bryan. Priceless. I walked thru the door at 1/4 past midnight back in Sevenoaks smiling from ear-to-ear re-living this achievement trying to forget about the 5.49am train a few hours later taking me back to work on that Monday.

Barbara Harding from the Warrington Dolphins then invited the President to be referee for the annual Albert Dock swim with the added bonus of joining the Dolphins for a 90 mins workout the night before at a local pool. I enjoyed learning what a Hungarian Rep session looks like  as I led the second lane, chasing down Michela Richard in the fast lane. One of the best (if not THE BEST) pool workouts of the year. Thank you Barbara & co. The Albert Dock swim itself is open-to-all and superbly organised by Barbara and her group of enthusiastic Warrington Dolphin volunteers. If you are based in that area and are not a member of that club, then you are seriously missing out, as I am envious of the vibe they have. It was a treat to get to know Barbara who does a fabulous job volunteering in the sport and having a few hours along with Andy Wright on the safety boat was ace. Must admit, I was itching to get into the crystal clear water the whole race - definitely one for the bucket list next year.

The weather gods smiled again with Two-Way Windermere this year being the longest and most challenging event of the BLDSA calendar. Being Swim Secretary for 2WW presented challenges due to not only organisational workload but also residing a mere 312 miles from the venue! Thankfully, 20 (YES, TWENTY) volunteers put their hands up to spend a weekend sans-sleep to help,  including the entire 'Class of 2015' swimmers. Thank you all! En-route to the swim a detour was taken on the Friday to pay respects to a hero (who I never met) and first person to swim Loch Lomond, Gerry Forsberg. Anyone can make that pilgrimage to Morecambe. It is an amazingly uplifting experience and one that has been done by past presidents too I see.

10 swimmers managed to get to the start line with their crews, with 50% completing. Rebecca Lewis again smashed her own course record by ca. 8 mins with most spectators wondering how her Dad, Roger, managed to keep up with her.  She set off over 2 hours after the initial wave of swimmers and finished before the whole lot while it was still dark!! Adrian Rotchell won the men's race in a very credible 12 hours 18 mins.  Clare Watkins, Mark Yare and Stephen Maloney also completed the swim, proving that preparation is key to completion. This swim is arguably tougher than the English Channel as it does NOT afford the sun on one's back and far less bouyancy! All finishers should gain huge confidence as they must have learnt a great deal about themselves and their crews. One has to question whether swimmers want their family there at the finish as it is such an extreme event and you may be feeling a bit queazy at the end! I hope that those who were unable to finish  return in 2 years time or even have a crack at Loch Lomond next year in the interim. This was my last time organising the race as I am standing down as 2WW secretary this year. It would suit someone who lives closer to the venue but happy to run through details thereof to the next Race Director who comes forward.

The Ullswater & Derwentwater weekend was a game of two halves, with a very wet and windy Ullswater prove to be no 'gimmie' in unlocking her secrets. Amazingly, we had only one retirement despite some reasonably tasty 13c-ish temperatures. Observe Patrick below regain his swimming mojo after his kayaker capsized near the finish line trying to shelter Patrick from a submerged jetty! Richard Davidson ran the swim again this year but next year hands over the reins to Francis Zielinski. We thank you very much for your contribution to the Association, Richard.
Derwentwater was baked in very welcome sunshine as both 5.25 mile and 2 mile events were started. The finish line had to be moved slightly mid-race to accommodate a slightly irritated private boat hire manager (armed with a rather large adjustable spanner!). Annie Stafford and husband Simon did a great job of keeping everyone in order again this year, and it remains one of the most stunning locations in England. Georgia Amison led the longer event from start-to-finish ably supported by Patrick Smith again volunteering his services for the cause.

With the following weekend responsibility-free, the President took the opportunity to fly out the Shezza clan to Geneva for 10 well-earned sunny days in an AirBnB on the French banks of Lac Leman which (just so happened to)  coincide with the inaugural 12km border-busting swim from Lausanne in Switzerland to Evian in France. A swim where one needs the passport in the feeds bag! This is organised by Tim Davies, Charlie Masding and Ben Barham of the LGSA (who are good friends of the BLDSA) and I expect this swim to sell out fast in 2018, especially as I didn't have to sort my own kayaker - they laid those on for everyone! It was a particularly rugged affair enduring 29c air and 21c water but the pic below showed that one just about coped. Proper open-water swim heaven indeed. It was particularly pleasant being in the same water without the pressure of executing a 43-miler but still a champagne finish. My feed-bag included a bottle of Evian of course!

Dee Llewellyn kindly did much of the behind-the-scenes work ably assisted by marathon-swim-legend Caroline Lewis ahead of One-Way Windermere. Chris Malpass did a superb job of marshalling the troops and leading the swim on the day and thus the President managed to have a dip (and boasting a hour PB finishing in 5 hours 36 with Mike Roberts on the paddle again). It was a real treat chatting to Chris at the finish line and hear him enthuse about enjoying watching front crawl as an art form. Chris is one of the real speedsters in the sport and it must have been gutting for him not having a crack at the record attempt on the day itself as conditions were conducive to fast times.
Fell Foot cafe hosted the dinner again & we shouted out Wendy Figures on a very fine 1WW swim only 3 weeks after her successful English Channel swim. Frances Zeilinski was also celebrated for being one of the few people in history to complete Windermere on both crawl and breastroke. Well done, both!
Overall winner on the day, Rebecca Hollingsworth (who had also joined us for Torbay) headed home to New Zealand having experienced some of the finest weather at swim events Britain has to offer. We are an international bunch now and the world seems smaller somehow!
The President was particularly honoured to present the 2nd man home, Ray Gibbs, with his trophy after all the patience he had with yours truly sorting out his terrible stroke in 2011 & 2012. Ray's coaching and understanding of swimming has resulted in 100s of us swimmers achieving goals that before would have been completely out of reach. Thanks Ray.

The following weekend, after flying into Edinburgh and hiring a car, I drove round the corner into the borders area (between Selkirk and Moffat) and was absolutely blown away again by the beauty of this little talked about place.  I even managed to spot 2 young buzzards sitting on their fenceposts. It's uniquely stunning and has to be a pilgrimage for all marathon swimmers as it is a 'proper workout'. Janet Wilson offered 1km, 3.25 mile and 6.5 mile events with the great Liane Llewellyn-Hickling showing how it is done winning the overall event in water that was recorded at 12.7c.  It appears there is life in the old dog yet with the President posting a PB by ca. 20 mins for the 6.5 miles @ 3hrs 12mins, chasing down Adrian Rotchell who again won the men's inside 3 hours. Helen Brindle deserves a special warm mention as she completed the full event, refusing to be beaten and enduring the water longer than everyone else - almost 5 hours! Quite some achievement and you obviously have come a long way on your swim journey, Helen. The personal highlight of the weekend was watching 2 local swimmers (Susan Angus and Maggie Brown) enter the 1km novice race with their wetsuits, complete the event, then jump back in without artificial insulation to enjoy the water on their skin for another 10 mins under the watchful gaze of the safety boats. Priceless. It brought back personal memories from 2010 doing precisely the same thing -  my wetsuit has been gathering dust in the wardrobe ever since!

For 13 years, Stephen Smith has been expertly running the season finale swim at Lynn Regis. 30-odd swimmers took part in either the novice 1.5km event or, the more challenging 4.5km event. Despite rain being on the forecast, water was above seasonal norms at 16c (although some swimmers begged to differ) with only one retirement on the day,  Peter Ingham. Special mention must go to David Randall who took the 'bull by the horns' and blew the field away to take 1st place overall. Dave is in his 60s and puts us all to shame by training daily and refusing to acknowledge that there is an ageing process. It was a treat also to present Janet Wilson with the last person home and oldest swimmer trophies - again another swimmer who sets herself goals and achieves them without fanfare! Stephen has now 'hung up his trunks' as Swim Sec after finishing this year's 1.5km swim and therefore we are looking for a Swim Secretary to run this amazing event. If you live in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk or Norfolk, I couldn't think of a more wonderful swim to run as a way of giving back to the sport we all love.

It has been a pleasure either being on the sidelines as official or doing the odd swim this year (only did PBs thanks to Mike Roberts and Pete Fellows on the paddles!). There have been so many times when swimmers & volunteers have amazed me with their bravery & stories. There are simply too many to mention but here's a flavour.....

One such person is Karen Throsby. She had the goal in 2017 to swim 43-mile Lake Geneva but during training got hampered by a wrist injury. To say that must have been gutting is an understatement after ALSO getting injured a day before the starting line the year before in 2016. Refusing to feel sorry for herself, Karen often made the ca. 4 hour round-trip journey to BLDSA swims in the lakes and to Colwick Park to support swimmers in her kayak so that THEY could achieve THEIR goals. You have never seen anyone rejoice more in the accomplishments of others than Karen. She is just one example of many selfless people who generously give up their time to help others in the sport.  If you are one of the people who has benefitted from swimming and want to see what it looks like from the other side then why not kayak or crew on a longer swim?

Another person to highlight at this juncture is Zoe Sadler, who has completely transformed the role of BLDSA recorder in the ca. 2 years that she has been running it. She is on the BLDSA 'front line', every day helping swimmers get individual swims recognised. She has also managed to get the Grand Prix in order. She has hardly swum herself this year, save only the 1.5km at Lynn Regis, so that swimmers again can have their swims accredited properly. It goes without saying that Zoe has been managing literally HUNDREDS OF E-MAILS throughout the year;  she has turned these around RAPIDLY and without complaint to ensure the smooth running of the recorder role & the broader Association. That is, of course, on top of her full-time job in a high-powered industry and key role as Mum of two teenage kids with one finishing GCSEs. Often the role of Recorder is utterly thankless, go OUT OF YOUR WAY to praise ZOE and MAKE HER LIFE EASY.

Vince Classen is another linchpin of the Association. He processes all our memberships which often results in a particularly busy January as swims fill up quickly and immediate solutions to computer/systems glitches are sought.

Sue Coates again spent another year on the 'touchline' often armed with a stop watch which enabled swim secretaries to get on and manage their swims safe in the knowledge that records would be taken properly, standing up to any scrutiny. She only missed 2 swims as an official this year (both Windermere's) and is therefore a rock star of the highest order giving up almost each weekend voluntarily but doesn't even swim!

This remains a sport where swimmers set themselves (in many cases) very daunting goals then realise them. The confidence that then brings is meteoric. Some swims are thoroughly enjoyable for swimmers from start to finish (I hit some proper 'zen' moments myself for most of 1WW!) but in some cases conditions dictate that it's more of the 'Type 2 fun' variety where one enjoys it perhaps more after the event (!)  Either way, the BLDSA is a perfect avenue for anyone to learn something about themselves (and others). As President, I really enjoyed watching the most inexperienced or youngest swimmers beam with pride of achievement for what was very often only a short swim in relative terms. I also observed how some of the older volunteers lead by example and don't blow their own trumpet.  They often get little or no recognition, but without them, the BLDSA wouldn't be where it is today. They have achieved an incredible amount in their lives but they'll only tell you about themselves IF YOU ASK. I put Pat Llewellyn, Janet Wilson and Jean Wilkin-Oxley firmly in this category and wholeheartedly admire the way they all lead by example.

It is worth reminding everyone that the BLDSA is run purely by volunteers. No-one takes a single penny of salary or wage from this organisation. It remains my sincere wish that the Association exists for not only my children but my children's children so that they can benefit from it the way we all have. If you share this aim, then do ALL YOU CAN to put your hand up to help in whatever capacity that may be so that we all IMPROVE THE LEGACY. The Association is always looking for Swim Secretaries, kayakers, boat crews, officials (you name it!). If we all just gave an extra 10% of effort (not leaving it to the next man) then the paying it forward mantra continues to be powerful.

Let me also spare a few moments thought, however, for the boat crews. ALWAYS the first to turn up to swims and ALWAYS the last off the water often 2-3 hours after swimmers had departed. Nothing was ever too much bother. The BLDSA is a complex animal and it's not just a question of taking an admin fee for a channel swim but the reality is in order to run our events successfully and safely, it involves towing boats from Yorkshire to Dover to Torbay, Wales and Scotland (and many other places in-between) to ca. 14 events with often 7 hour drives in horrendous conditions not to mention the many days taken off work voluntarily. Everyone's time is valuable and THAT IS THE REALITY. Fixing axles or replacing trailers WITHOUT A HINT OF COMPLAINT. Thank you to ALL who helped on the boats this year. WE SALUTE YOU and are indebted to you.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Emily, and girls, Sophia and Isabelle, for again having to make do with an 'absentee Dad' for much of the summer. Without their support I wouldn't have the platform to just crack on and enjoy the sport that I so very much love. They have been nothing but encouraging all season (ably assisting in Dover too!) but we acknowledge that we are fortunate that this sport has drawn us to places as a family that without the BLDSA and marathon swimming we simply would never have uncovered.

Good luck for the rest of 2017 and look forward to seeing you all at the BLDSA dinner in Cambridge in March which is open to ALL (both members and non-members).

'Shez da Prez'
BLDSA President 2017

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Swimming from Switzerland to France (Classic 12km)

So the LGSA (Lake Geneva Swimming Association ( has opened up the old 'Classic 12km' swim route which offers swimmers the chance of swimming from Lausanne in Switzerland to Evian in France. A(nother) border buster swim! Liked the sound of that hence applied for the inaugural swim last Saturday 26th August 2017.

Having completed the full length of Lac Leman/Lake Geneva in ca. 33 hours in July 2016 I really fancied the idea of coming back with the family without the pressure of a 43 miler during a 10 day vacation. We stayed in Nernier in France which I think is the most stunning village on the lake but that is another story altogether for another time.

This really should be on everyone's bucket list and is suitable for seasoned veteran or mad-keen newbie. I really couldn't envisage a more idyllic setting & event for someone attempting to increase mileage for the first time over 10km. Wish this had been on the international 'open to all' circuit when I started. Not to be taken lightly but ideal for someone properly stepping it up...

(Easing oneself into proceedings...only small bit of swell to disturb one's stroke)

Stunning crystal clear blue ca. 21c water, air temperatures in the high 80s and hardly a breath of wind. This has to be as close to open water swim heaven as one can get. Usually when I swim in warmish water in the UK I get bitten by duck fleas - NOT so here!

I really love the idea of a cross border swim (ensuring to take one's passport in the feed bag!) and  the LGSA laid on the kayaker (I had 'Chris' from North Devon who was absolutely first class). I have seen the title 'border-buster' used in another swim in the US and this is applicable here.

(Saying Goodbye to Lausanne with attentive Chris giving encouragement)

What was the swim like? Got in and the water felt warm, pure and absolutely divine. Silky smooth like nowhere else on the planet. There was almost no chop in the lake but the odd bit of swell (probably from the odd ferry that is the life blood of this lake). If you stopped to feed (I did 4 times) it was one of the quietest moments of your entire life surrounded by massive mountains. If you are trying to achieve zen in swimming then I think they've cracked it here as most of the ca. 5 hour swim I was in that zone.

3 safety boats with lifeguards, every swimmer had their own kayaker (laid on for them!) and felt safe 100% of the time. Briefings for kayakers and crew were incredibly detailed. There was only one retirement on the day (a wetsuit swimmer who got cramp but after a short rest did get in to finish!)

(My girls swam out for last 200m so we could have the 'champagne finish' together. Observe Sophia taking after the old man's front crawl recovery!)

Tim Davies, Charlie Masding and Ben Barham from the LGSA have put on a great event here and I reckon it'll sell out quickly next year so you can check it as a weekend away or dovetail it in nicely with a family holiday like we did. It's probably more like a 13.5-14km by the time you have finished (and by judging by many of the finishing times) but that's just to warn you to put in enough training. My advice is to look to the side at the stunning mountains & scenery as you'll be finished before you know it and the best views are from that lake.

What an amazing and unique experience. Thank you all involved in the LGSA. All picture credits down to Jaimie Monahan and boyfriend Arik.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lac Leman/Lake Geneva solo (43 miles) 2016

It was the 27th August 2015. I was on another packed and sweltering train home from the City (of London) to home.  As usual on the journey back to the popular commuting town of Sevenoaks, I logged into Facebook to see what had been going on in the wonderful world of swimming. It emerged something TRULY REMARKABLE had just happened - an American lady who I had never heard of called Jaimie Monahan had just finished swimming Lac Leman/Lake Geneva - all 43 miles of it in almost 33 hours! Wow, bloody wow I thought! She was caked in white zinc all over and looked fresh-as-a-daisy despite a massive feat of human endurance.

(Before I go any further with this blog, we are going to have to name this body of water Lac Leman as the Swiss get properly haUIKeyInputDownArrowcked off with people changing the name - which I find entirely understanding btw!)

Social media had single-handedly delivered me (& the world) a truly amazing feat of human endurance in almost real time. The joys of modern technology. The pictures looked simply stunning and reminded me of a post shared by my swim buddy Adrian Rotchell earlier in the year with this being heralded as the 'New Everest of Swimming' or 'The Ultimate Trophy Swim for Pride of Place in your Trophy Cabinet'...the seed must have been planted in that previous post....without realising entirely what I was doing I then went onto the LSGA site and registered my interest for the swim....The qualifier involved a 7 hour swim on one day followed by a 6 hour the following day in water no warmer than 16 degrees within 30 months of the swim (already done that training for my EC swims so at least that formality was outta the way...yay!)

When I got home to tranquil Rose Cottage, I got changed to go out for a walk (as usual) and said to Emily (my wife), 'You are not going to believe what of your fellow country-women, an American lady has just swum Lac Leman - all 69km of it'!  She gave me a knowing look as I then left out of the kitchen door......My solo walk round the woods in our magnificent village was 15 mins of release zoning out of work issues into more relaxing home time. When I got back we were in the kitchen and I was getting quite emotional. 'What's wrong?' Em asked....'I am going to swim Lac Leman' I answered....'I knew it, I just knew it before you got outta the door earlier' she said 'I know you SO WELL!!!'.
I was pretty moved and we called the 2 girls down to see if they would endorse the plan too. I told Emily, Sophia (13) and Issy (11) that there would be a mountain of sacrifice, loads of hard training ahead that I (yet again!) would need their unflinching support (can't do this on your own - this is a team sport!) but I asserted to them that I genuinely had been PUT ON THIS EARTH TO DO THIS. We all embraced in a family group hug....
A big gulp moment of what lay ahead..... All roads had led me here after 7 swims over 21 miles and countless other events....I also started messaging back-and-forth with the victorious Jaimie and felt more and more comfortable that this should be the goal as she had done the English Channel and Catalina like me.

(My feed above was flavoured UCAN with optional Justin's Hazelnut butter - easy to feed as slightly opened and held with duck tape)

Over the winter, Ade, Sabina, Mikey, Danny, Liam, I and various assorted others did some truly horrendous interval sets at a local heated 50m lido as my mate Mark Bayliss had suggested that shaving 5 seconds off my 100m time might take the better part of an hour off Lac Leman time (we peaked at 100 X 100m off 2mins on 20th Dec which included swim buddy Steve Wand who is sadly no longer with us. (RIP our friend Steve who died tragically on Easter weekend 2016 out on his bike training hard as ever.).
I also spent 8 days in Sands Beach in Lanzarote with the family at Christmas enjoying the pool and sea, getting ca. 50km in and did one of the awesome swim training sessions with Bella and Stephen Bayliss. It was such a productive week, we booked again and went Feb half term (doing another 50km). The kids went surfing, I swam! (We love it over there and highly recommend it to you especially for winter training).

My first open water swim goal of the year was also my longest outright swim before Lac Leman was but a mere 17 mile Lake Apache in Arizona (the 'A' in the SCAR swim series - subject of another post after completing that event in 2015!) BUT this was going to be late March so still nippy. This was a huge confidence booster as it took 7 hours 18 mins,  this was the earliest swim ever done there in that lake and great to hook up with Kent, Danny, RT and the team. The rest of the training was mind-numbingly spent going round-and-round the 500m loop at the local lake with some of the other Nutters. . The longest weekend I did was half the distance (35km) over 2 days. The last few weeks tapering was spent just doing 10km swims on Saturdays and Sundays as a new job was dominating the week. You CERTAINLY couldn't argue I was over-trained for the event! At least I was uninjured and ready-to-go which is my usual want! I did feel that I was mentally in great shape though.

The other aspect I had changed completely was my diet. I wasn't bothered about the water  temperatures as I thought it might be 20c (which it generally was) so I went on the Banting regime (  recommended by Sam Jones at the Nemes Nutters Xmas party. I cut out beer, ice cream, pasta and was limiting myself to 50g of carb a day but swapping beer for gin or wine, pasta for cauliflower rice and ice-cream for raspberries and double cream ('ave it!). This is subject of a separate blog below but I think ABSOLUTELY made me feel I could rely on my own body fuel to finish rather than needing to carbo-load and end up with gut inflamation and a sore tummy which was such as common feature of my other swims. I ended up losing over 2 stone and feel great on this regime!

(Top crew - Teresa on the left and Kate on the right just before we boarded the boat)

I had a very carefully hand-picked duo of crew in Teresa Roberts and Kate Robarts. I didn't just pick them as their surnames sounded similar! I was thrilled when they took me up on my offer to help! They are seriously impressive endurance athletes in their own right. Teresa used to be GB Skulls rowing champ and has done 24 hour ultra runs recently finishing the Chamonix 1/2 marathon!  Kate has swum the Channel and 2WW amongst others. They are both  mentally hard as nails.  Realising I would be in the water for well over 24 hours would mean the crew would have to be endurance practitioners too! They never let me down once and were stars of the highest order. Teresa's mantra of 'just keep moving forward' was genius and all I needed to hear at feeds. Kate made the excellent executive decision that she and Teresa would stay up the entire night (getting the odd little nap during the day) so that I would feel completely and totally supported during the darkest hours. It was absolutely spot on. I never had a need to panic and didn't. I also took a great pride in being very polite at feeds and never complained once. No point throwing toys outta the pram as it just unsettles everyone! After one long hard bay in the early hours of the morning I had been observing  the Chateau at the end of it for hours...after we finally went passed I said 'Thank God we are going past that Chateau as I am sick and tired of f-ing looking at it'! The entire crew erupted and it lifted everyone materially for the final stretch.

(A British smurf in front of the most visited monument in Switzerland, Chateau Chillon)

The Swim 
The swim itself is all a bit of a blur to be honest. Now as I write this blog, 2 days after finishing, it feels like I was never there. I am not sure why that is...perhaps I just spent the whole time in my mind in some kind of catatonic trance.  I do remember tho'  that this scenery and water quality is the most stunning I have EVER experienced. The water was about 20c on average but much colder only when mountain streams entered the lake.  Then it was absolutely baltic for a patch that you would just have to man up and endure! Everything went amazingly to plan as the weather was ideal. Hardly a breath of wind for most of it with blazing sunshine (hence applying factor 100 sun cream and zinc everywhere). I fed once on the hour during the first day starting at 10.30am on one of 2 flavours of UCAN (only 1 scoop with 400ml)  with a Justin's Hazelnut butter taped to the side for easy application if desired. Worked a treat. I knew I would get bored of that feed after 12 hours so switched to a bit of maxim at night but mostly just rehydration focus. Also had the odd tea. In the morning time on the 2nd day then switched back to the UCAN and then had more tea in the final straight coming in as I was feeling colder.

You know the most amazing part of this swim? After 3 hours, I looked to my left and could see 3 snow-capped peaks in pure  Swiss mountain  air whilst swimming in crystal clear blue  water which must have been over 20c. I thought 'If Simon Griffiths (H2Open magazine editor) were here now even he would love this water and not want to get out'! The sunset and the sunrise was amazing and the 100% moonlit sky made enduring the night much more comfortable.

(Ideal conditions as long as you weren't swimming thru a mountain stream!)

The hardest bit was not knowing the lake and brainwashing myself into thinking that I was MUCH further ahead than I actually was! The finishing straight was hard but then again, it ALWAYS is no matter the distance. Adrian and I had talked about taking it VERY GINGERLY at the begining tho' so the crew reckoned I negative-splitted and I pretty much kept to 48 strokes per minute (forgive myself for that being 6ft 3!).

(Near the start overlooking Montreux)

The mental side was pretty  easy tbh as whenever my body felt pain,  I remembered my poor  Mum suffering in Kings Hospital in April having survived a stroke and brain aneurism of the type  which usually wipes out 50% of its victims. I recalled/witnessed her enduring those terribly dehibilitating  headaches and anything I was experiencing was just  nothing in comparison to that pain. My stroke never let me down thanks to Uncle Ray's coaching at Swim CanaryWharf from years ago not been for 18 months! I remember spending huge parts of the swim humming songs from my Indie Rock hero, Bob Mould, over and over in my head. There were so many times wend random funny things from my past came into my head to help occupy my mind. I did giggle to myself in the water at times but I think you really need to be your own best mate in these long swims to hack them!

(Heading towards Geneva which never came the jut of trees it was to be 'only' 7km to the finish!)

I was physically most apprehensive about RSI in my wrist which had impacted me in Catalina in 2015. It was even aggravating me the day before this swim. Teresa had some great advice beforehand that I put into practise during the swim and it worked a treat - every once in a while, I pretended to 'play the piano' which relieved any tension build up in my hands. Genius!

The finish was amazing. When we passed the jut of land and trees with 7km to go, I had a VERY strong word with myself and shouted at myself to claim this swim. I asked Teresa and Kate for my first pain killer of the swim (!) and had a hot cup of tea and got my head down and grafted. Liz Fry had told me once on Apache in 2015 that 'now is the time to own your swim' - this memory had the desired effect and after 3 more feeds the tender boat came out and then and ONLY THEN did I realise that I had this cracked.  (Shouting at yourself can be very productive!)  The local bathers at the Bains de Paquis (all 500+ of them)  were cheering me in all the way until I cleared the water backwards (this then went viral on social media!) - I remembered Liane Llewellyn's 2-way EC where she didn't go vertical after so much time in the water! I then shook (mastermind of the swim) Ben Barham's hand a bit dazed and I was surprised that I wasn't emotional in the slightest. Relief that I was alive!  A very surprising feat of human endurance from the plucky lad from Woolwich who only started this lark 6 years earlier!  I had become the 4th solo of Lac Leman in history and 1st male soloist since 1986 and 1st Brit to complete. 33 hours and 6 minutes was the final time also presenting me with the bonus of becoming the 141st person to join the open water 24 hour club with the 54th longest length of time in water in history...! My very own piece of fame.. (Never too late to aim at greatness!)

(Proof I did it thanks to the MSF)

TOP TIPS from da Crew and me as we immediately reflect:
1. MOST IMPORTANT!!! - You need to know your stroke is good and will NOT get you injured. I (and many others) have Ray Gibbs to thank for that. My shoulders never let me down, I could lift my arms over my head at the end and mainly had pain in the chest and back.
 2. You need to have great sun cream and zinc. Sun stroke could be a show-stopper as alpine sun is VERY strong. You will get sore lips too so put something sun resistant on those. I'm glad I packed strepsils for afterwards as the worst thing I had was a sore underside of right tongue like an ulcer.  
3. Know your nutrition but have many alternatives as what you might desire during the 1st half, you will reject on the 2nd. I used  well OVER 30 litres of water (we took 36 litres on the boat which was just enough!!), 9 sachets of Justin's hazelnut butter, 2 UCAN flavours (Raspberry & Cranberry plus Blueberry & Pomegranate alternating), black tea and a packet of hob nobs. (The one fig roll and 2 feeds of hot chocolate did not agree with me but I never threw up once).
4. Arrive in Geneva at least 2 days ahead to get supplies and REST
5. Get an apartment near the finish. We found a gem on AirBnB which was £1300 for the week but PERFECT when needing to stagger back from the swim!
6. Build a mental map of what exactly you are going to think about when it gets tough. I had all 43 miles dedicated to various people who have moulded my life in this sport.
7. Split the swim up into manageable chunks - you could consider it 7 X 10kms. When it gets tough, don't look up but look to the side and remind yourself you are making forward progress (thanks Teresa for that!)
8. Swim feed to feed - don't worry about time and don't go out too hard. Enjoy each bit for as long as you can. Appreciate your surroundings! I said many times 'Isn't this just stunning'
9. 2 absolutely essential bits of kit  are Duck tape (for taping anything to feed bottle) and clothes peg on a string (for goggles and administering hob nobs!)
10. Make sure your kit is organised. The crew knew where to go for all my belongings at all times! Feeds weren't mixed with goggles/lights etc. You will need to have 3 goggle changes in the water - that's tough treading water and trying to avoid getting zinc in them when you are tired!
11. I actually think the best endurance training you can get in before this is the Swim4Life which is 24 miles in fresh water over 24 hours. If you can endure that and your shoulders hold up, then I think this should be achievable, mental aspect/injuries  notwithstanding!
12. Don't beat yourself up for under-training. Most of it is mental and stroke related but don't under-estimate the importance of FRESH water training!

That's it! Good luck and get in touch if you want more info?

(I love this picture. Looks like we are coming back from a pub crawl.....but this is after the swim and my legs wouldn't work. Covered in zinc. Ben carrying an (empty) bucket and Teresa and Kate lugging all the kit). We were asked a couple of times whether we needed an ambulance!