Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Arch to Arc (2)

First off is the swimming song:  I've really gone obscure here and rifled the archives for a song I used to really like.  If you were into Indie music at the turn of the millennium a band called JJ72 briefly dented the charts with this little song "October Swimmer".  I add it to the collection because open water swimming in October is one of my favourite pleasures.  The lakes are cooling and with the drop in temperature comes a drop in the number of swimmers.  The triathlon season is out of the way and so those lakes that remain open get a small hard core of people who swim for pleasure.  October is special because it can still be warm both in and out of the lake and sometimes the lake water can be warmer than the air above it.  This creates a light mist which is fascinating to swim in.  Quite eerie, but also very calming.  Last time I wrote about the sensory experience that motivates me and I omitted to mention one of the most beautiful phenomenon that I have ever seen.  It was the last weekend of swimming for the year and I was in a lake near Hitchin.  I was swimming with a small group in this ethereal mist and as we swam the sun came up and got warmer and warmer. Instead of the mist gradually disappearing it receded into the middle of the lake and for a brief moment was like a mysterious cloud hanging there.  And then it was gone.  Beautiful.  Where was I?  Oh yes, JJ72.  I bet no one remembers this song or has even heard it:

So it's been a big few weeks; the 100 mile run is done; I have begun to go down to Dover for sea swimming; I successfully completed a 6 hour sea swim off Weymouth. On Monday this week I took part in a 10k swim and knocked 35 minutes off last year's time, and on Sunday this week I will be taking part in a 35 mile run. Interspersed with this is 90 to 120 miles of cycle commuting and very early morning swim sessions three times a week and also run sessions where possible.  It is a lot of training, and it dominates my thinking now with three and a half months left before the attempt.  I want to get this right.....

Eddie Ette was the first person to succeed at the Arch to Arc in 2000.  He made it on his third attempt and made two of these attempts in one month.  He is passionate about people achieving their goals and has helped me in many ways including taking me out for my 6 hour Weymouth swim whilst he fished for mackerel.  When he succeeded in 2000, Eddie had already soloed the Channel in 13 hours and yet took 17 hours in a wetsuit for his Arch to Arc. Such is the cruelty of the Channel. He held the course record until 2012 when a guy called Mark Baylis smashed the swim without a wetsuit and romped to Paris in a faster time.

I won't have more than one shot at the Arch to Arc.  This road has been very long and I have put a huge amount into it, but despite what I say about having lots of willpower, I couldn't train like this for another year.  Anyway, it costs too much and I want to live on fresh lobster and other posh stuff like cranberry juice and food that doesn't come with gravy.

It's been a blast; I have continually found myself staring down long roads that stretch out ahead of me, believing that getting to the end would be impossible.  It started with that marathon in April 2001. I was so physically and mentally fucked when I entered it on November 22nd 2000, that it seemed a sheer impossibility, but the journey from that point onwards has been astounding.  That marathon led to a sprint triathlon, and that led to an Olympic distance triathlon at Windsor.  I ate gallons of pasta for weeks beforehand, unsure as to whether my body would be able to complete a 10k run after a 27 mile bike ride. Having completed that and subsequently many other Olympic tri's there came the moment when someone said I should attempt an Ironman.  Surely that was the pinnacle of all athletic achievement and the preserve of the tri gods?  No, it isn't anyone's preserve;  Mildly overweight middle aged men like me could complete them, and I romped in to the grounds of Sherborne Castle as high as a kite in August 2007 having completed a full Iron distance.  More Ironmen followed and then came the double Ironman.  The double was crucial because it gave me the confidence to look at the Arch to Arc and so in the Autumn of 2011 I signed up for an attempt scheduled for September 2014. That would give me such a long time to train and be in a position to succeed. So, that's all good then.......

........last night I read my diary from May 2013.  It's not pretty reading.  I had just completed the Windsor 10k and had been one of the stragglers.  I had also been speaking to Channel swimmers and discovering the truth about the enormity of attempting a Channel swim.  I kept hearing the same phrase; "so-and-so had a swim background".  I didn't have any background in anything.  I couldn't even swim in 2004, let alone have swimming badges from the 1970's to sew on to my big swimming shorts. So, at this time last year I was facing the fact that I was not really a contender and hadn't fully understood what I was signing up for.
I don't feel like that now.  Two crucial things happened.  I met a guy called Nick from Eton school who had soloed 7 times.  He told me that to swim the Channel you needed, yes, you guessed it, a "swim background".  I told him I hadn't got one and he told me that in that case I should speak to a man called Uncle Ray who had a swim school in Canary Wharf. Ray has worked with me these past 12 months and firstly deconstructed and then reconstructed my stroke. He has changed everything and the swim times I am posting are testament to what a good coach and a bit of practice can do.

Secondly, I am blessed enough to know a Kiwi by the name of Dave Dawson.  Dave is a great swimmer, but he has always generously supported my endeavours.  Whenever I have done an endurance triathlon, Dave has sponsored me generously and always come along to offer assistance.  Dave knew I didn't have a snowflake in hell's chance of swimming the Channel, but he knew I could probably manage the other parts of the event. So, last year, unprompted, he paid for me to join his sports club where he swims with a tremendously talented and committed group of swimmers three times a week.  Suddenly, I was swimming with people who were pushing me hard all the time and survival meant that I had to adapt.  As a real swimmer, Dave knew that this would be my salvation.

The result of all this is speed, technique and the beginnings of self belief.  Don't think for a minute I think this is a done deal.  I am still an outsider and I may have a 50:50 chance of getting across.  Combine that with my mental endurance and there is a possibility that I could reach the French coast (I wonder what Dave really thinks...).  If I do it will be because of these people.  

So, one more long road to look down.  I can't see the end yet, and I can't imagine finishing, but perhaps the horizon is looking more distinct.

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