Tuesday, 2 September 2014

An interview with the only 2 out of 9 who conquered 21.6mile Loch Lomond in 2014

9 entered and set off from Ardlui on Saturday 23rd August 2014 but only 2 emerged from the water at Balloch on Sunday 24th August 2014: Philip Hodges (1st photo) and Adrian Rotchell (2nd photo).

I don't mind admitting to you that I get emotional even now when I think about my successful attempt in 2012 and feel that Lomond is one of the most magical places on earth. Finishing that swim has given me untold confidence and enriched my life more ways than I care to mention.

I was fortunate enough to catch up and sit down with Philip and Adrian yesterday which is less than 10 days after their swim to try and get to the bottom of what they did that made them succeed. I really love the ethos of the BLDSA where we can achieve amazing feats of endurance and yet give back to this wonderful sport on a voluntary basis & try and educate others. It really isn't about making money out of swimming in any way for me. I know others share that ideal.

To put their name into the history books as numbers 49 and 50 to conquer the loch respectively, it wasn't just down to their repeatable stroke. They depended on boats and boat crews, had to swim through the evening then the entire night (!) through cold water and freezing air temperatures. They had to navigate islands, deal with exhaustion, feeds and the small matter of swimming further than they had ever swam before………….

I hope you find this blog useful, instructive and inspirational as I asked them to respond to 10 insightful questions:

AR = Adrian Rotchell
PH = Philip Hodges

Why Loch Lomond?
AR: I really selected this swim as the key milestone swim prior to my Channel attempt in August 2015. Many of my swimming friends had gone the route of a Two-way Windermere in the year preceding their attempts and I wanted to 'change it up a bit' and do something that none of them had done before and were in fact a little scared of!
PH: A few years ago I had wanted to organise a Loch Ness attempt but it never really got of the ground. So my attention switched to the BLDSA Loch Lomond swim.

When did you first hear about the swim?
AR: Actually Mark, it was you that inspired me to do the swim. Having read your blog it felt right to include it in my plans. It has kept me focused and motivated in my training over the past two years.
PH: It was initially through doing other BLDSA events that I became aware of it and then reading Mark Sheridan's blog post on his 2012 BLDSA Lomond swim was the catalyst that inspired me to give it a go.

What did you do to prepare? Did you feel under-prepared at the start-line?
AR: It's rare I know but I felt ready both mentally and physically for the swim. I had worked on reducing stroke rate throughout the year and went from 60+ down to a pretty constant 56/7      per minute, just to save my shoulders. I did 4 six hour swims in the sea this year, completed Champion of Champions and did one ten hour sea swim four weeks before the main event. I then tapered down in final preparation. Nothing was left to chance and ensuring I had all the logistics, gear, boat, right crew sorted early was really critical to my sanity and stress levels. Based on some sound advice from you, I made sure my crew had Friday afternoon on the loch together and all day on Saturday before the start to ensure they knew their jobs on the boat, were fully confident and had the route nailed down.
PH:  I work long hours and also commute so most of my training consisted of weekend loading, primarily a season in Dover Harbour with Freda Streeter and I also joined Cambridge Masters for two interval sessions a week. I also attended Ned Denison's Cork Distance Week.
I felt a little under-prepared. Mainly to do with the unknowns of swimming through the night and just swimming for potentially twice my previous longest swim.

What was your longest swim before undertaking LL?
AR: Ten hour sea swim four weeks beforehand
PH: My longest swim prior to Lomond was seven hours in Dover Harbour. Lomond at 13 hours was a bit of a jump.

What was your feeding plan? Did that work or go wrong at any stage?
AR: Fed every hour after the first two hours. 500ml Torq lime carb powder mixed with warm water, alternate banana and flapjack each feed for solids. This lasted until hour 8 when I ditched the Torq and moved to hot / warm chocolate in the same quantities and relied just on flapjack for solids. Had a sneaky milky way just before the last mile (just because I was worth it).
Feed plan was generally good and although I got fed up with the Torq, the hot chocolate was perfect and I had not tried that before. I also had a box of my favourite Torq gels (Rhubarb and Custard) in the boat but never needed one.
PH: My feeding plan was Nick Adam's "Keep it simple, keep it fast!" 
I had two 1.5 litre bottles of double strength Maxi and a 3 litre Thermos pump of warm water. For the first 10(?) hours I had about 300ml once an hour and for the last three hours switched to 150ml every 30 minutes. In total, for the 13 hours I used about 3.5 litres of the 6 litres of feed available on the boat. 
For all but one of the feeds we used a large open cup handed to me. When the wind picked up and we switched to a plastic bottle on a string. I tried to keep all the feeds fast. Towards the end it became increasingly tempting to use these stops as "rest breaks". Not 100% sure but like to think I manage to keep even the slowest feeds under a minute.
I also had snacks available, jelly babies, milky ways, bananas etc but never desired any.

Did you have any dark thoughts during the epic challenge and what did you do to overcome them?
AR: I got quite paranoid at one point in the swim when the boat stalled. I stopped to ask if all was well and was told by someone the carry on. Before I knew it I was a way from the boat and was being told off.. I stayed very close to the boat after that and was questioning if I had actually imagined being told to carry on... The dark and the cold can play tricks on your senses but not sure I would put this in the category of 'dark thoughts'
PH: Yes. There were very dark thoughts. Whenever these felt like they would overwhelm me I would zone out and just concentrate on my breathing. Bubble, bubble breath... bubble, bubble breath...
Sounds like dippy hippy stuff I know but worked a treat.

Was it cold? Did you shake after getting out? How are your shoulders now? 
AR: It was chilly.. I did three hours in the sea in early April this year and it was almost as cold as that. I also swam in Loch Long several times in the week up to the swim, which meant I knew what I was in for, and getting into Loch Lomond was not so much of a shock. I did shiver afterwards for 30 - 40 minutes but James L (the machine) let me warm up in his car which was very kind. I felt good at the finish and my shoulders were fine, if anything I felt good enough to keep swimming. Even in the days following I had only had minor stiffness in my neck and shoulders :-) the sore throat was far worse (from breathing in the cold air all night I expect)
PH: I was told the air temp dropped to 4C for most of the night and that the water temp ranged from 14C at the start to 16C at the finish. The water temp I was OK with but the cold night air wrecked my throat and lungs. I was initially sceptical that the air had been that cold but the weather report for the night seemed to back it up.
Shoulders felt fine.

Did you actually enjoy the swim itself and how do you feel about the achievement now?
AR: I enjoyed every minute and am delighted that my training is exactly on track for the Channel. I may look back on this swim as an even greater achievement than the Channel but right now I am very focused on that goal. In the back of my mind I feel I could have swam quicker and looking back at some video footage that my crew took, I still have some more things to work on that will help me achieve and maintain a faster pace for swims next year.
PH: A week later it is very easy to say yes. All the difficult parts seem to be fading away and you are just left with the awesome memories. Loch Lomond is stunning! It is an amazing and humbling swim. I am very pleased I attempted it and very pleased I did it as part of a BLDSA event. 

What do you have planned next?
AR: A full year of training, a healthy mixture of sea swims and BLDSA events based around the same schedule as this year to prepare for my Channel attempt.
PH: I have an EC solo booked for July 2015.

Any other key pieces of advice for any swimmers contemplating LL?
AR: Be brave, sign up, train hard and expect it to be cold (We were all spoilt this year by warm lakes and seas and I was not expecting 14 degrees in the run up to the swim. I don't know how I would have felt if I just turned up on the Saturday evening and jumped in without a few cold swims under my belt earlier in the week) and make sure your crew is well informed and confident. My crew were exhausted after my swim, it is very 'mentally' intense and a challenge in its own right. It's a real team effort and the shared feeling of joy and sense of achievement will stay with us all forever.
PH: The fish and chips from the Ardlui Hotel are pretty awesome and a great second lunch prior to the swim!!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Swimming the English Channel Solo 11th/12th July 2014

So there I was on the way to Bala for the annual BLDSA 2-way and 1-way (9 miles in total) swim weekend, stopped at Cirencester in the Cotswolds to have lunch & pick up one of my best mates, Hugh, then get up to leave when my phone suggests that I have a text. That's odd I think - none of my mates would text at 2pm on a Friday and must have had a 6th sense that it's my pilot, Neil Streeter.

'Are you one of the ones keen to bring your Channel Swim forward?'
'Sure, ready when you are' I replied.
'10pm tonight?'
'No problem, see you at the Marina at 9.30pm then...'

And that was that - everything was meant to be. Turned round the car headed 3 hours back to Sevenoaks with Hugh, called the other 3 crew members - Kev, Mick and my brother Richard - they were all up for it although Kev seemed more upset than the others as he had to cancel a hot date of the evening and a table at Gaucho in Richmond.

( From left to right Kev 'I gave up a hot date at Gaucho to go on this swim' Dalton, Richard (my brother), Hugh 'let's play forget the passport game when we get to the Marina' Yarrow, Mick 'Sea Dog' McCarthy'. Do not approach these men in the street - they mainline Chablis and go weak at the knees for Wagon Wheels.)

We met at my house, Rose Cottage, near Sevenoaks at 8pm and finalised all the kit that I had been meticulously preparing for weeks after washing down the finest plate of Ginger Chicken Udon at Wagamama on the way back from Cirencester.

We got to Dover Marina. Hugh had a massive panic as had left his and (more importantly) my passport at home (45 mins away) cue a phone call to Emily to meet him half way on the M20 at breakneck speed to get back asap!! (There's always some crisis that ensues in these swims!!

Whilst Hugh was retrieving said passports, Neil and Adrian decided that would be an ideal juncture to throw co-pilot Sam Jones into the water of the Marina....twice! I giggled so hard any last nerves were obliterated and definitely took the edge off passport-gate!

Anyway, we stowed all the kit on majestic Suva that Neil Streeter had painstakingly refurbed over the winter and were told that as we were swimming on a Spring tide would leave from Samphire Hoe. Ok no problem....bring it on....Forecast to get up to 4/5 at some stage and then drop the closer to France. Neil was reasonably happy with wind direction of south west. Fine. Ok - what experience do I have of Channel swimming? - I just had masses of desire! Hugh came back with the documents and we were off! No turning back...

(Feeling relaxed and not like a condemned man on boat from Dover in the background round to Samphire Hoe).

Took 25 mins to motor to Samphire Hoe. The crew commented how fast the tide was shifting outside of the harbour with the boat making hard headway against it. Wow. First time I had been outside of the confines of the harbour. 5 mins to go.

Greased up by my brother, goggles, lights, ear plugs and then said 'see you in a bit' and swam the 50-100m in to the beach. Hooter went off and then we were underway. It was 10.49pm Friday 11th July 2014.

(Swimming to beach - swimmer with green light and beach lit up by Suva's spotlight)

Felt absolutley terrific as I hadn't been at work but had 8 hours in the car all day. I reminded myself that I had swum over 21 miles on 3 occasions, definitely had the distance in the shoulders plus a stroke to work for the occasion which seemed to extinguish any anxieties completely. The water gradually felt like something that I was going to acclimatise to although it felt quite tasty & chilly on the initial plunge! The plan was to swim for the 1st hour then have a feed then 40 minute intervals thereafter. In the end that worked just fine.

The crew had the spotlight on me for that first hour until it was making me feel like I was in an interrogation room & was disorientating. The first hour was spent getting used to the odd pale jellyfish bumping into me ('what the hell was that?') but not stinging me plus trying to get used to the swell. 1st hour gone, in for a feed and 2 jelly babies. I asked Neil to turn off the spot light and now it was me in darkness save for green LED lights and the boat lit up with green lightsticks that were placed below the gunwales.
Ploded on and then, completely unannounced, felt a sudden rasping burn all the way down my left arm as I was stung my a more aggressive variety of jellyfish which hurt from elbow to hand but gradually dulled during the swim - but at the time felt like one of the Dover massive had knifed me all down my arm. Ouch - bloody ouch I thought. The swell and waves increased the further we ventured from the shore and was hard order swimming in the dark - I just couldn't work out a rythmn that is usually so easy to find anywhere else I have swum.

(Dodging ferries as we get swept up towards the North Sea - can just about make out my green light middle left)

The next feed came quickly at 40 mins with maxim and a mini Mars bar. Little was I to know then that this would pretty much be the last solid of the day. Swam up to the boat and got a mouthful of engine fumes (like each time I fed). Yuk. I swallowed the feed and fought off the urge to gag. This was a similar pattern for most of the night feeds - almost praying for the wind to get up to move the fumes as far from me as possible. The lights of Dover continued to shine brightly (seemed like forever) although we first managed to lose Folkestone into the night gloom. Ferries went up and down and seemed spookily different lit up at night almost like something from outer space - the Varne lightship seemed like something from a James Bond movie..... I thought I was beginning to hallucinate and forced myself to get a grip.....

We trundled on and I remembered how mentally exhausting it is swimming at night with only the outline of the boat and a few lights for reference points. 2 of the crew were now noticeably not on deck and I envied them being wrapped up in the sleeping bags we packed. It was sensible of them as the 4 took it in turns for each team of 2 to have 2 hour shifts (and I would recommend such a plan btw). We got to the end of darkness and I was beginning to feel really sleepy and just was desperate to get my head down myself. Get a grip Sheridan...The gloomy night gradually lifted and the cloudy day began.

The air temperature felt cold at this early hour and I went in for a feed. The 5 litre pump-action thermos which had been initially filled at 8pm the previous evening was now tepid at best. I complained about craving a warm feed. 40 mins passed and then I had another cold feed but was reassured that the kettle was on and the next feed would be warmer. I was beginning to feel miserable and marginally sorry for myself......

I swam on through the gloomy morning into a reasonable swell (witness the odd white-cap in the picture below), the boat was pitching back and forth & I was terrifically thankful that I was not on that rocking boat following a slow motion swimmer (I giggled to myself for a while about this that kept me going). Then ALL OF A SUDDEN a pain in the knee!!! A biting mouth!!!

What the heck was that? A fish was trying to take multiple chunks out of my right knee (thank god it wasn't going for the middle of my 3 knees I joked to myself) I reached down and just about managed to get hold of the slimy eel-looking creature and threw it as far as I could and let the crew know that I had been attacked by a fish. They must have thought I was completely bonkers - 'nothing will do that to you in the Channel'.  It was thought to have been a Gar fish but was definitely a Sea Lamprey Wikipedia Link now I've had a chance to consult.... Very odd and entirely unexpected.…We soldiered on...

Anyway, the swell was continuing and each feed was just about being held down despite me gagging forever and a day until I couldn't take any longer and did 3 really terrific wretches and I produced enough sound effects to create as much drama as possible to make people laugh - I don't think they heard me over the sound of the engine though. Felt marginally better after losing much/most of my stomach but really burning the back of my throat in the process. Ouch. Masterpiece of crewing from the lovely Sam Jones was the immediate change of feeds to tea with fruit sugar then coffee with fruit sugar. Game changer as I felt more with it and after those feeds could then get back on the maxim - but this time much more super-charged maxim that Sam takes a great pride to stir up in her cauldron like chewing gum!

We steadily made our way passed the French shipping lane and into French in-shore water where it gradually and finally became much calmer & the air and sea was warmer. I found a decent rythmn and the water felt ace. Still swimming over masses of jellyfish 6 feet down but I certainly wanted to be nowhere else but here in this warmer calmer water right there and then. I couldn't see the French coast although the boys assured me it was visible through to cloud. The crew noticed my pick up in pace and were congratulating me as had probably long concluded they were dealing with serious plodder here trying to get his money's worth.

We eventually swung down the coast on the spring tide and France was there in front of me. To the left I could even just about make out Cap Gris Nez (above) and the lighthouse behind the headland. Wow. Is this the fairytale ending that people talk about I wondered? I started to feel slightly excited although didn't count my chickens. France never came closer but I decided to give it much more beans in the water to give it a proper go. All of a sudden the tide turned and we were heading back up towards the Cap. Wonderful I thought. Little did I realise that the now 5 knot tide was sweeping me past this ideal and I was a mile out with no chance of landing it at 12 hours….. I had lost touch with the boat and when I finally caught up with them, Neil was out on the rail giving me a blasting that I deserved:
'Forget the fairytale lighthouse, that's over. Stop looking at your f-ing watch, stop f-ing looking up at France, get your head down, follow me and graft. Let's get this swim done and we're going into the Bay'.
'Yes Sir' I replied with the compliance of an obedient child who might have jeopardised getting their bike for Christmas...'I will follow you'.

(Heading into Wissant Bay above)

Missing the cap was going to cost another 4-5 miles of swimming and perhaps 2.5 hours in the end but bit by bit I assured myself that if I could put one arm in front of the other then I would get there eventually which was something that I had remembered reading Zoe Sadler's Channel write-up.

I then began to pick up and see a beach that Neil seemed to be aiming for. There was no-one on it - oh how ideal - a deserted beach all to myself. But the more we kept going it never seemed to get closer. I stopped swimming and enquired 'please can you assure me that I am actually moving somewhere? Am I making progress?' Affirmative came back the answer. The thought entered my head that Susan Taylor had perished tragically in this bay (perhaps close to this very spot) almost a year to the day and I empathised with her at this very moment struggling like me in this particular spot trying to get the job done.

Short Clip of Swimming into Wissant Bay: The Home Straight

Another 20 mins went by and the beach was still yellow sand but then, all of a sudden, I could see people on the beach, a tractor, a dog running perhaps and loads of seagulls overhead.
Then a few arm strokes later the boat stopped and Sam said over the rail:

'Hugh is going to get in and swim with you to the shore. The boat isn't going any further as it is too shallow'.

I hadn't realised that Hugh had donned his jammers and had launched himself off the stern of Suva to accompany me the last few hundred meters.

(Final yards with Hugh on left Shezza on right)

We made for the beach and then noticed some steps that led out of the water on the right-hand side. How ideal I thought of them to put them there for someone with a disability who struggles  to get out of the water. We rocked up to the steps through the waves and cleared the sea amid cheers of all the watching French people who stood beside the Coastguard Tower on the promenade. I raised my arms in the air and Suva's horn went off. We had made it:

YouTube video of the finish here: End of Swim Film

(that'd be me - the fool that missed Gap Gris Nez in the background costing him 2.5 hours of more self-inflicted punishment…but the round of applause was worth it…)

A smiley Frenchman enquired where I had come from and how long I had taken - 15 hours I thought but was corrected by Hugh that it was nearer 14 1/2 hours. Bonus. I would have bitten your hand off for under 15 hours before getting in.

(The only civilised way to finish a Channel swim complete with applause and welcoming committee)

Hugh suggested that I find some stones but, in my state and where we landed, that looked like an absolute impossibility. Next thing I knew he duck-dived down and found 3 immediately shoved them in his trunks and we swam the few hundred meters back to majestic Suva glistening in the sunlight. The whole world seemed warmer all of a sudden and there was no urgency anymore. I even did the odd breaststroke or 2 which was a relief after 14 1/2 hours of front crawl!! I climbed up the ladder onto the deck no problem at all,  my brother got me dressed in short order and spent the rest of the trip looking back to France with a can of Fanta gradually falling asleep with my brothers sun glasses on until we were stopped by HMS Valliant for a passport check 1 hour later!!

(HMS Valliant keeping the Riff Raf out and Mick insisted the only reason they came on board and stopped us was because they mistook Kev for a Bosnian…..)

What an ace crew and top swim. All I had to do was to get in, get on with it, swim some more, then get out. Mission accomplished - simples (cue the meer-cat!). All the meticulous training and preparation stood me in good stead. Particularly the 7 hour & 6 hour Sat and Sunday weekend at Dover in early June plus the BLDSA Champion of Champions & Torbay 8-milers as particularly ideal training. Nothing was left to chance and it was only going to be a serious weather pattern surprise that was going to spoil the show.

(Above from left to right: Adrian, rockstar Neil Streeter, Sam Jones, Hugh Yarrow, Shezza - limping gimp, Richard Sheridan (brother), Kevin Dalton, Mick McCarthy, John Thorpe (Observer).

I owe a particular shout out to the following people, the 'Sherpas' (other than crew) as super honorary mentions without whom my swim would never have been possible

Giovanna Richards - Made me realise in 2010 that I could swim a mile in an outdoor pool at David Lloyd in Kings Hill, Kent and encouraged me to go to the local lake in a wetsuit to see how liberating open water swimming would become. Never worn the wetsuit since.
She's a Swimsmooth swim-coach and really motivated me to believe I could keep testing my boundaries - nothing is deemed impossible for G. She will attest that 4 years ago, during a midlife crisis, I was able to come to this sport with no experience and deliver a Channel swim.

Ray Gibbs - Swim coach and founder of Swim Canary Wharf. Helped me craft an effortless stroke over the years. When I got back from swimming the Channel on the Saturday, I swam for an hour in Dover on Sunday and did some sprint sets.... This is testament to the teachings of Ray 'Mr Miyagi' Gibbs. If you are serious about becoming a marathon swimmer or encounter shoulder pain in training look up Ray. (he gets booked up though so use the Winter months to do the grunt technical work)

Anne-Mette Friis - My Pilates coach who after the Marsden single-handedly has helped me get the most of what my body can deliver. I have unreal flexiblity & core strength after 18 months of 1:1pilates 1x per week and very rarely require a sports massage. Find her in London (at scandipilates.com).

Pascale Kippelen - Brunel university - The expert who helped diagnose that I had exercise induced asthma (or EIB) - & gave treatment prescription. Had no problems breathing during the swim thanks to a healthy dose of Serevent before getting in the Channel. Amazing how many experts you need on your side to deal with what your body throws at you as my body started developing EIB after all these relentless long distance swims....

Professor Meirion Thomas - Head of Surgical Oncology at the Royal Marsden - Was only one of 3 surgeons in the country who could have saved my life by removing a complex life threatening grapefruit-sized tumour that was discovered sitting on my left femoral nerve in October 2012. Was left with major left leg disability with no use of left quadricep. He though I would never swim long distances again but I take great pride in sending e-mails of my swims and letting him know that one can swim without a left leg-kick. He saves lives but it reminds you that you can swim the Channel with a good arm stroke and little leg kick - I am living proof! Don't give me any excuses if you are perfectly able bodied as I'm unlikely to have any sympathy!

Freda Streeter, Barry and Irene Wakeham - The solid beach crew, ever-present in all weathers with oodles of experience, patience and cuddles. They just give their time but isn't that the most valuable thing in life? They have given hundreds of swimmers their time & insights which are priceless.

(from left to right: Freda, me, Irene and Barry)

(Map of route taken showing strength of 6.8m spring tide)

Is the English Channel a tough swim? I would say of course it is. Loch Lomond and Two Way Windermere are much tougher on the shoulders as they are less buoyant in the fresh water & Lomond, in particular, is colder. Those BLDSA swims were also undertaken over a late afternoon, an evening then an entire night to get them done which was mentally very tough. HOWEVER,  The Channel messes with your constitution as it's salt water, swell and chop that all serve up a concoction that is quite aggressive on your mouth and makes you feel really grim at times. I finished Lomond in 14hours 44 mins and I'd say it's tougher as you have to organise so many of the logistics yourself and it was a huge unknown with so few people conquering it - there's no pilot hand delivered for you easily.... Some people also say the the 2 Swim 4 life is tougher than the Channel which I would probably agree with for the mind-numnbing factor but again no salt water so doesn't mess as much with your soul!!

See those blogs here:

Loch Lomond: Loch Lomond 21.6 mile 2012
2Swim4Life: 2Swim4Life2013
Two Way Windermere: 2WW 2013

If you want to learn more about the basics of long distance front crawl, the most popular post I have ever written is here: Long Distance Front Crawl technique

(Done - mission accomplished - ca. 1.30pm 12th July 2014, 14 hours 33 mins 59 seconds)

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Open Water Swimming in Arizona

To understand the beauty of swimming in the water of Lake Powell in April see this YouTube video:
Crystal Clear water of Lake Powell

I went along to the H2Open Day in 2012 and was so blown away by a photo taken by Strel Swimming of open water swimmers enjoying the water and breathtaking scenery of Lake Powell in Arizona/Utah that I had to see and experience it for myself. I was also inspired by some of the blogs written by Watergirl (as previewed in H2Open magazine) who has documented swimming in some of the lakes in Arizona whose blog I have linked here (ensure to scroll down once this opens in another window)

I've just got back & been fortunate enough to have almost 2 weeks checking out a few lakes around Arizona and wanted to share some intel in the hope that it might inspire others to go....

We started (and ended) the holiday in Las Vegas given location and frequency of flights (i don't gamble). We got an unreal rate of £100 per night for a 2 Queen Bed Suite at The Palazzo which we considered to be one of the best hotels in town - it has 9 small pools & a really magnificent gym if you are into pumping iron. Plus it's only 10 blocks due east to train at Desert Breeze swimming pool which is a 50m pool and split into lanes so you end up with a 25 yard single lane width of the pool all to yourself for the grand total of $3!!! No fighting for space like at  the public pool at Sevenoaks....

Anyway, after recovering from our jet lag, it took 5 hours to drive to Page, Arizona thru Utah to get to Lake Powell....

Lake Powell
Lake Powell is one of the remotest locations I have been to on earth. The air is unpolluted, the water is crystal clear and the sunsets & star-filled skies are just breathtaking. We didn't see a car, a street light or barely a person for 4 days. There is almost no phone reception so you have to unwind. That was part of the escape...

This is a huge lake created by the Glen Canyon dam which is arguably one of the most beautiful swim locations on earth. The Lake is fed by the snow melt of the rockies and other mountains but is certainly do-able without a wetsuit in April but expect it to be below 12 degrees celsius.

We were lucky enough to rent a boat from Antelope Point Marina but if you are on a tight budget you can park up and swim in a few locations > we swam at the beaches at Wahweap Bay and Antelope Point. If you can spare the money, save up and hire a boat (even if its a day boat) as the really amazing landscape is better (and more dramatic) the further away from the Glen Canyon Dam that you go....The smaller the boat you hire, the further up some of the canyons and creeks you will be able to venture > when we were there, they were still expecting another 40 foot of water to enter the lake as the snow melt of the rockies had not taken place. Heading here in the summer would be ideal in terms of water temperatures but expect air temps well over 100 farenheit and for it to be much busier. We saw fewer than 4 houseboats on the water all 4 days we were out.....when we turned up we got a massive free upgrade to a 60ft instead of 50ft boat as I mentioned that I was training for the English Channel and they only had 3 boats booked out as all of the US schools were not out.

Out of the 180 photos I snapped with my iPad over the 4 days, this one above was my favourite picture and could almost double as a postcard. The picture above is of Camel Rock and Gregory Butte which is ca. 28 miles into the lake from the Dam. There is a really good beach here and the water is crystal clear. Whilst at Lake Powell in the 2nd week of April the air temperature was usually around 80 degrees (ca. 26 celsius) and the water was around 53 Farenheit which is around 11 celsius but was colder first thing in the morning.

The first evening we moored up near Boundary Butte and I was able to swim for an hour at a time without getting too cold. We had our own private bay all to ourselves with a ladder going into the water (and slide!) from the stern of the boat....

This location reminded me of the small bays/inlets I swam in at Malta but enjoying fresh (not salty) water and NO jellies! - in the picture above you can just about make out Gunsight Butte in the background which is in Lake Powell's biggest body of water called Padre Bay just round the corner from where we were moored up.

The setting sun was something to behold and we moored up the second night at this amazing spot above which is at a small inlet near Mountain Sheep Canyon (that's 45 miles of motoring from where we started from). I swam here for an hour in the evening and morning and it was refreshingly clear and (like everywhere) teeming with fish (I assume bass).

On the 3rd and last night, we moored up  in a bay to the west of Camel Rock & Gregory Butte (picture below) and I could have a decent swim around the bay. It's just so hard to describe the vastness of this place but might get perspective when you consider that the boat below was 60ft!!

We will be rebooking a trip next April - we did 3 full nights (Tue 10am to Fri 2pm) but next time would want to do 4 or 5 nights. Not cheap to hire (or to pay for gas/petrol) but like nowhere else on earth and therefore priceless really.

After visiting the Grand Canyon for 2 days which is 2.5 hours south west of Page, Arizona we then drove 4 hours south east to stay in Mesa near Scottsdale, Arizona to check out the lakes that comprise the famous SCAR swim S.C.A.R Swim Challenge. If you don't know it, its a 41 mile challenge devised by legend Kent Nicholas comprising challenging swims over 4 consecutive days in Saguaro Lake (pronounced with a silent 'g'), Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and Finally Rossevelt Lake. I intend to do this in 2015 so wanted to check them out.
These lakes were far warmer than Lake Powell so make for terrific early-season open water swim locations. Water is clear and many of the lakes had areas marked by buoys so jet skis and boats could not enter - thus making the whole idea appealing & safe!

Saguaro Lake
You'll need a pass to park up at any of the lakes in the Tonto National Forest area. Passes cost $6 for the day and are available at local stores en-route or near the lakes. Saguaro lake is probably the most accessible to the north east of the Scottsdale area. There's a decent area on the left for swimmers but entry and exit involves some clambering over rocks unless you dive off a boat dock. There's easily a 1000 meter stretch were you can thump out a decent training session. When we went the water was over 16 degrees which for the 2nd week in April is unheard of in the UK and air was almost in the 90s. There were quite a lot of boats & jet skis blasting up-and-down the main body of water which would prevent you from straying far out of the main buoyed area on your own.

The picture below shows much clearer one of the buoys marking the safe swim area with stunning views in the background. The water was clearer than anything I've experienced in the UK but shelves off steeply into the water.

Canyon Lake
This was our favourite lake of the stay with a great beach area (which gently slopes into the water) very near to where you can park the car and a really safe and long swim area which is just about visible on the right hand side of the photo below. To find the swimmers area make sure to park your car at Acacia beach:

There's also areas set aside for BBQs (of course - it's the US!) and there's a marina at the end of the lake plus a couple of restaurants a few miles down the road. To read more about the lake click here

Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake
We had a day driving the sandy track which is the Apache Trail. It starts at Roosevelt Lake and finishes after Apache Lake. We didn't swim at Roosevelt Lake as the main place to park close to the water didn't look too inviting with loads of reeds to wade through and seemed very popular for boats & jet ski's. We drove past the Roosevelt dam to one of our favourite swim locations in Arizona called 3 mile wash > you can swim out to (and around) this really cool island or swim up and down the salt river which was heavenly and water over 16 degrees.

The beach is excellent and slopes gently into the water and was quite popular with a few locals with boats....

We finally got to Apache Lake after a long slow drive down the sandy apache trail but the wait was worth it as we found another excellent beach at the main centre of Apache lake with stunning views. Another place teeming with large fish...bumped into a fisherman who had just hooked a 10lb bass and was getting it ready to go on the grill...

After leaving Scottsdale we made our back to Las Vegas and back to the UK. Over 1700 miles driven in the car, countless hours in stunning water in breathtaking locations. I'm definitely going back and intend to start as late as next April if not before. Can't think of a greater place on earth for fresh lake swimming so early in the season.
Interestingly, if you are on a budget I think you can still do this (or part of) this holiday. Flights direct to Phoenix are £350 single (if you were thinking of just doing the SCAR lakes). You can hire a car reasonably cheap with BA's partner Avis with all the insurances included. We stayed at a terrific holiday Inn at Mesa which was $105 per night or £60 for 4 of us (2 Queen beds) which included one of the best hotel pools I've seen (great for the kids) click here for hotel.

Please get in touch if you are thinking of heading out. There are plenty of lakes in the state that we didn't explore that I intend on adding to this post over time. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction - Are you wheezing after pool swimming?

I have developed Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction or EIB for short (here is the Wikipedia Link: EIB).

This is a type of asthma that I seem to have developed through extreme exertion and/or interaction with chlorine.

I have met a few swimmers in Dover Harbour with Asthma and the reason I am writing this blog is that I reckon more of us have this than realise it. It's degenerative so it ain't going away unless you do something about it. Plus it will be a show stopper if you don't get this sorted....you are spending ca. £3000 to swim the channel - this test will cost you £180 if not covered by your insurance company.

Since completing 21 mile Two-Way Windermere, I observed that after exercise I had started to wheeze a little (after the adrenalin of the exercise had ceased) and in the mornings after exercise I had started coughing up mucus like a smoker would probably encounter.

My GP at work duly put me in contact with a lady called Pascale Kippelen who is an expert in this field at the Sports Science at Brunel University. I went along to do a Eucapnic Voluntary Hyperpnoea Test or EVH test for short.

After measuring my height and weight, they predict what the power of your lungs are expected to be. After making me blow long and hard into something resembling a breathalyser, my lungs were deemed to be 128% of predicted which is absolutely off the charts and one of the largest they'd ever seen. I learnt that we are born with the lungs we are set to have. I just got lucky in the lung genes. There is NO scientific proof according to Brunel Uni that you can improve your lung capacity like you can develop your heart muscle.

Why then was I struggling for breath in the pool and waking myself up wheezing? - all this terrific lung capacity was not translating through into oxygen absorption. After conducting the EVH test which lasted 6 minutes of dry air & heavy breathing and loads of other blows into the breathaliser for 20-odd minutes, they found that I have developed a form of exertional asthma called EIB which many elite athletes in general and pool swimmers suffer from (it shouldn't be a show stopper if treated/managed properly!!).

Indeed, many athletes have this. Did you know that in 2004, 7 athletes out of the 62 strong British Team HAVE THIS (I am in great company!) who reported NO previous diagnosis of asthma. 1 in 5 GB athletes at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games were diagnosed with asthma.....that is a real eye-opener for me who does NOT have a history of asthma.

I can conclude that the TESTING IS GETTING BETTER!

I have seen and heard this being a show stopper in the Channel (sometimes as near as 1km from French soil). I now have to take a mild preventative steroid inhaler morning and night and will have a separate inhaler for the Channel swim. If you are wheezing after exercise or coughing up gunk you might want to get yourself checked out as when I talk to more and more long-distance swim buddies, more and more are coming forward suggesting that they are now suffering or have suffered with this. If I can help someone get across a body of water without this EIB spoiling the show then this blog will be a massive success! I was told that I can stop taking the inhaler if I decide to leave the sport (which I have no intention of doing of course).

Now I have been using the 'Roid Inhaler for 2 weeks and my pool sessions are SO much more comfortable with NO wheezing afterwards or waking myself up in the middle of the night. Plus the mucus cough/gunk has disappeared.

Happy swimming - it should be a breeze not a wheeze!