02 June 2009

Dover Weekend Four: Three Hours Or Bust

After a week of reprieve from Dover thanks entirely to Carly deciding to get married (I’m sure that was her top reason for getting hitched! Thanks Carly!), I headed back down to Dover to re-embrace the good times. You know, 52-degree water, polluted harbour currents and of course, a rather mixed bag in the weather department. Thankfully, I had two bonuses this time: a cloudless sky and Josh around to dress me post-swim.

I had done two hours in California, where the water was 63 degrees and the waves were much larger. The only reason I stopped, really, was because I was mind-numbingly bored. Naturally, the Dover group had made their most significant distance increase ever, leaping from 90 minutes to 4 hours while I was gone. Super.

If I know anything, it’s my own limits. Wait, I don’t know them at all. Anyway, I was certain I could not reasonably leap from 90 minutes to 4 hours, so I decided on 2.5 hours as a happy medium. I like baby steps. If you know you can do 2, then it’s just 30 more to 2.5 and so on. If you know you can do 2, it’s TWICE AS MUCH to 4. That’s mentally and emotionally defeating when you don’t finish. So important to set reasonable expectations (beyond the fact that weight 160 pounds and have - by far - the lowest BMI (body mass index) of anyone attempting to swim the Channel this year.

This time we added one additional element to training - feeding at two hours and every hour after on liquid energy carbohydrate maximizing explosion of warm goodness. It’s basically spiked gatorade served warm. When you’re shaking violently and have little clue as to where you are in relation to land, water and other people (never mind attempting to find your mouth with your hands), it’s heaven on Earth.

I did my 2.5 on Saturday and ended up getting out because the beach monitor said “oh yeah, he’s freezing. Get out!” I naturally said to him, “I feel like a failure.” He looked at me perplexed. With everyone else doing 4, I wanted to be with the big kids! Josh dressed me (the usual shaking ensued) and we hit the Guest House for some cocoa and a hot shower before lunch and studying (which turned into chit-chat, naturally) before watching the finale of Britain’s Got Talent and calling it a night.

I was determined on Sunday to hit three hours. It felt like a threshold for me, though I’m not sure why. I just really needed that mental boost to get me over whatever hump seemed to exist in my mind about this swim. What’s odd is that after your body is freezing cold, it just becomes about sustaining for however long you’re supposed to go. Part of my issue is that swim quite a bit faster than most, meaning I cover much more “water” in the allotted time. It’s beneficial when there is a fixed distance (England to France) but more difficult when there is a fixed time (training) because I’m using quite a bit of energy when my swim isn’t any shorter than everyone else’s.

The Sunday swim is always easier - you know the water temperature, you know the “settling point” and you know that you can swim at least as long as you did the day before. That said, it’s still freezing. The first 12 minutes are the same - pounding ice cream headache. That evolves into a rather comfortable first hour. The second hour is cold but not unbearable. Post feeding, however, all the muscles in my stomach and legs lock up. My hip flexers start to ache and my jaw becomes permanently stuck in a half-open position. I fight the chattering of my teeth and keep my arms moving so as to ensure they don’t lock up too. The key at this point is to keep my mind busy. The less I think about being cold, the less I want to make for the beach and get out.

At 2.5 hours it really hits me - I am freezing cold. Any movements outside my normal freestyle hurt quite a bit because my muscles aren’t stretched out enough to really move in that direction. “This is go time,” I say to myself. “30 more minutes. You can do this!” I stroke and stroke and stroke. “Just to the wall and back and it’s over. Wall and back and over. You can do this!” My stroke is shortened and I feel like I’m not moving. “Focus and calm down. Stroke. Relax. Stroke.” What feels like only seconds later I am being dragged up the beach by Josh, who is saying to me, “Good job mate. Good job.” I look at my watch: three hours and two minutes. I made it, and it feels good.

Next week it’s four hours or bust. Bring it Channel. Bring it!


Kyle Taylor

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