Tuesday, 19 June 2012

BLDSA Champion of Champions 9 mile swim 2012

Sat 16th June 2012

So, onto the next big challenge of the season, the formidable Champion of Champions organised by the BLDSA. I had memories of this in 2011 when the weather was utterly ghastly. My swimming CV prior to this entry boasted 2 reasonably long events in 10.5mile Windermere from 2011 and a 6 hour swim in Gozo2012. I had heard on more than one occasion from various swimmers that this event was seen as harder than Windermere as it is early in the season, the water is usually around 13 degrees, there is always a bit of swell & chop in the harbour and the constant getting in and out (getting warm again) can be a bit of a mental game changer (where the mind again tells you to stop once the body gets warm again).

The year before I only entered the 5 miler as I was training for Windermere. I finished the 5 mile event in 3hours 17 mins in atrocious weather with gale force winds and hail being present at times. I thought the 2012 couldn’t get much harder but was absolutely stubborn and resolute about getting to the end....The forecast was for sunny spells but winds of 28mph increasing to 40mph by noonish. I really didn't feel nervous before starting as I didn't view this as an event but just decent training...

(Pic: Boy Sheridan - come in no. 21...9 miles to go)


The task ahead was to complete 5 miles in allocated time limit  of 4hrs 15mins, 3 miles in under 3 hours and then finish off the final mile. I had prepared meticulously with oodles of hot summer fruits & maxim, bananas, mars bars and the like in a cool box. Also ensured to pack 3 pairs of trunks to make life slightly more pleasant per swim. We all got down for the briefing after registering for the 5-miler and we were going to be doing a triangle course. 400m between two buoys running parallel to the western harbour wall and a 3rd leg to mean that we then didn’t run into each other as we went round the triangle course clockwise. Seemed to me that 2 laps round (to make up every mile) was going to exceed 1 mile but suppose I would say that as I was going to have to swim it! We were then obviously going to swim 10 laps to complete the 5. Got into rhythm and wanted to ensure to keep pace reasonably upbeat to make progress. Stroke was in a different league to the year before and managed to get round with no real problems until hit lap 7 where it started to drag on a little. Strange sensation finishing as I thought I was one of the only ones still out there but I must have managed to keep a reasonable tempo as there were a number who finished after me. The water in the harbour didn’t feel cold and the sun beating down was magical. Swimming into the wind was a bit of a challenge but going up the harbour wall we were all really flying as we had tide and wind with us (until the tide turned at lap 7 when it became more of a challenge). I've got to say how impressed I was when one of the really fast rascals, Nicky Fraser, had a minor collision at one of the buoys and she stopped to apologise - that was a super touch given I know she was competing to win the whole event...

(Pic: Triangle course - can just about make out the yellow buoys...)

Once out, think I gorged on too much food as nailed a sandwich, crisps, 2-3 bananas, 2 mars bars and a litre of maxim. Made me feel pretty snoozy sitting down in the sun…Noticed that Keith Bartollo was loosening his shoulders using one of those elasticated bands and he let me have a go which will become an interesting addition to my swim bag to help loosen up after swims. Tried not to switch off too much as there was a whole deal of swimming ahead.

Registered, briefed and went in for the 6 lap 3-miler which seemed to drag and the leg along the harbour wall was feeling colder as this was now in the shade and tide still not assisting. Managed to get through and was told I did a time around 1hr 45m which seemed reasonable to me given the fact we had already swum 5 miles beforehand and this wasn’t on a millpond. 10 mins later was still shivering from the cold when were told we were going in for the final 1 mile in 10 mins. This was the lowest and coldest I felt all day.

(One of the starts...very civilised and not as mad as some of those triathlons you see on the tele...)

We got counted through by the starters for the 1 mile and all of the people around were shivering and there wasn’t much talking going on. A few of us were giggling and hid from the formidable wind behind Philip Yorke the brave breaststroker for the day who displayed a great deal of courage to nail the 5 miler into those waves. We eventually were told 30 secs to start and all dived into the water….cold again…quick get moving.....and once off gave it the absolute kitchen sink to get around the 2 laps as fast as possible to nail this swim. On the 1st lap was in a group of about 6 of us who were trundling along and then at the beginning of the 2nd lap noticed there were just 2 around me. I then focused on burying my forehead as deep into the water as possible and breathing as close to the water to maintain a decent pace. I then lost the 2 as we headed for the finish. Was chuffed that I’d been able to give this absolutely everything after 8 miles already in the bag.

So, back to the shingle beach in front of the sports centre for tea and medals – nailed 1.5 litres of hot choc and then with super efficiency the organisers presented us with our certificates of completion along with glamour shots for the photo wall.
When I got home I re-read the programme to get another perspective on why I entered this event (other than training for Loch Lomond). The blurb Leslie Du Cane wrote had it summed up perfectly;
'Long-distance swimming is about individuals setting themselves challenging targets and achieving them...' I think the sense of achievement once these targets are met seem to make one glow for a considerable time and furnishes one with confidence which conveniently sits with us in daily life..nice one Leslie......

(Picture of Boy Sheridan with Swimming legends Kevin Welsh and Philip Yorke waiting for certificates and planning next piece of self-inflicted unrelenting mayhem)