Jeff’s 7 Swims and 2 Cycles

24 June 2017 Bantham Swoosh 6 km 1:38:37

I was up before dawn after ‘sleeping’ in my car. My body was tired and aching. It was dark, cold, windy, and raining. The promised sunrise was not going to happen. Never mind I thought, I have a delicious breakfast of cold rice pudding straight from the tin to look forward to! I managed to be first in the queue at the mobile tea van, so suitably fortified, I paid a refreshing visit to the open air toilet block. Then there was the contortionist’s wet suit wriggle inside the car, and I was ready to go. Unfortunately there was a briefing and a shuttle bus between me and the swimming bit. As the cold drizzle swept through the car park, the swimmers clustered into a dense pack, reminiscent of Attenborough’s penguins huddling together for warmth in Antarctica. An hour later, and shivering with cold, we finally arrived at the Aveton Gifford start. In we all trudged in a long line, following a muddy little channel. Soon it was deep enough to lift up my legs, and relax into the ‘warm’ water of the River Avon. This was why I had come; let the enjoyment begin! The river was generally quite shallow and clear, and it was great to see the river bed whizzing below. The ‘swoosh’ was exciting, when it finally came, with large standing waves as the river met the sea, but didn’t last long enough for my liking. I simply stopped swimming, and just bounced along with the current, waving at spectators on the beach. A quick cuppa and the obligatory bacon bap, and I was soon wending my way back towards the M5, mission accomplished.

1 July 2017 ISOMAN swim 7 miles 5:14:03

I made a good start from the back of the pack, gradually settling in to a steady rhythm. This was important, as there was truly a ‘marathon’ distance in front of me. Eight laps of the beautiful Arrow Valley lake to do, so I invoked the same mental strategy as when running marathons – steadily chip away at the distance until you get to halfway, then start counting down to the finish, saving a little to push through the pain barrier on the final lap. I unexpectedly passed a stationary Phil near the end of the first lap. However, I was in ‘race mode’ so after a quick ‘are you ok’, I pressed on. The next couple of laps went well, gliding along with long relaxed strokes, and passing quite a few of the early sprinters. However, on the fourth lap I started to ‘feel’ something amiss in my left shoulder. By the fifth lap this had developed into a pain, serious enough for me to wonder whether I could actually finish. I tried altering my arm action, but it didn’t help much. So I limped on, virtually swimming with only one arm. Time really dragged. I just wanted to finish and get this over with. However, there was one moment of light relief. I stopped for refreshment after the sixth lap. Popping a cube of flapjack into my mouth, the chewing bit seemed to be taking too long, so I grabbed a beaker of coke to slosh it down quicker – omg, there was an explosion in my mouth – and at the same instant a microphone was thrust into my face asking my opinion on how the day was going! Thank goodness there were no cameras! Struggling on, and feeling very lonely out there, I delved into depleted energy reserves, and foolishly blasted through the pain for the final lap. Finishing nearly three quarters of an hour slower than last year, I was still not last. Unbeknown to me, there were still some out there, and suffering more than me. Well done Phil!

My Garmin recorded my swimming distance as 8.26 miles! Other swimmers also recorded longer than the designated 7 miles. My Garmin has proved quite accurate on other swims, so I am tending to believe it – and claim a club distance record?! Perhaps I could think about having a go at Windermere…

23 July 2017 Brownsea Island 6.5 km 2:01:27

A badly planned journey in the very early hours of the morning got me to a very expensive car park in Sandbanks. Sheathing my credit card, I gathered my kit and wandered half a mile or so to the end of this spit of expensive real estate. I didn’t quite make it onto the first ferry, so with time to spare, I invested in a pre-swim bacon bap in the café across the road – I deserved fortification!. There was a mounting air of anticipation as the gaily painted yellow ferry chugged across the narrow gap to Brownsea Island, with its lovely castle getting ever closer. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and everyone was happy and excited. The swimmers were all corralled into a tiny bit of lawn in front of the castle, in which to change. It was fun, and everyone was soon helping each other. New wet suit on, we were soon all warming up in the sea, and having to swim against the increasing tidal current to avoid being swept past the start line. It was a very enjoyable sea swim, with lots of waves and choppy bits. Somehow, the organisers seem to have arranged for the tidal current to push us all the way around the island, so I was very pleased with my overall time. There was a parkrun style finish funnel, albeit floating. As we approached the finish, I was neck and neck with a female swimmer, and every time I upped the pace, so did she. Unfortunately, I did not go cleanly into the funnel, but ricocheted around like a ball in the jaws of a pinball machine. Even so, I reckon I crossed the line first, but the ‘lady’ overtook me in the funnel! Good job I am not competitive. It was a lovely finish on the beach in front of the castle, followed by endless cups of thick tomato soup and crusty bread rolls. Great swim. I’ll be back.

30 July 2017 Shakespeare Swim 2.5 km 49:57

Having done this ‘bacon bap’ swim last year, I thought it would be more of a challenge to try and swim it without a wet suit. I seemed to be very much in the minority at the start, however, there was a lovely sense of freedom once my body was enveloped in the coolness of the Avon. The river was clear and shallow, and soon the river bed was whizzing by. I was glad to see the two bridges though, as I was getting decidedly chilled after 2.5 km of swimming. I think I have found my limit for ‘skins’ swimming. The worst part for me was crossing the wide expanse of water in front of the theatre, as I found it difficult to sight the finish, especially with the low glancing sunshine. Getting warm clothes on this year took much longer, so disappointingly, I only managed two bacon baps. Will try harder next year.

6 August 2017 Myton Hospice Cycle Challenge 100 km 4:40:27 / 12:57

My strategy this year was to dawdle along, and ‘save my legs’ for the chip timed Saintbury Hill. This worked well, although it resulted in a very lonely ride. I even took it steady up the first big hill at Ilmington, if that’s at all possible. Finally, arriving at the foot of Saintbury, I stopped just before the chip timing start, to compose myself. I then set off at a rate I judged to be sustainable to the top. The crunch point was at the bend, which coincides with the point of steepest gradient, and where it is touch and go whether I fall off or not! This year was also my first attempt whilst being clipped in, which added a little more to the stress. Weaving through stalled and dismounting cyclists, I must have sounded like a steam train as my lungs fought for every available scrap of oxygen. However, my strategy and effort paid off – I was over three minutes quicker up the hill than last year. I collapsed on the grass verge at the top of the hill, and lay there gasping for quite a while, at the same time watching others struggling to the finish. Then I was off again, and unlike last year, I felt quite strong, so I really picked up the pace – no need to save my legs for anything now! Stopped briefly at the second feed station for a cuppa and a muffin, before the final push for the finish. Passed lots of other cyclists, but sadly didn’t catch up with anyone else I knew. Just managed to scrape in for a cheeseburger, as friends were leaving. Good ride.

2 September 2017 Coniston End to End 5.25 miles 3:28:08

The lake was fresh and very clear. Looking down into the depths, there was even a hint of vertigo! Relax, and get into a steady rhythm I told myself; there’s a long way to go! However, I took it very carefully, as I did not want to reactivate the ISOMAN arm injury. Quite soon the first mile buoy was passed, and the swimmers entered the gap between ‘Wild Cat Island’ and the east shore. I swam a lot with my head out of the water through this channel, so that I could nosey excitedly at the island, which is exactly as described by Arthur Ransome in his classic, Swallows and Amazons. The swim was enjoyable for the remainder of the lake, albeit a little uneventful. Just a slight twinge or two from my injured arm. Made only one feed stop, and only glanced at my time at the mile marker buoys. Disappointingly, each mile was successively slower than the last! Soon, I could see the end, and started ‘sprinting’ for the finish. This was a little premature, and I had to ease off a few times, before one final push. Nice to see the drone zooming about over the water, videoing me beaching myself, and trying unsuccessfully, to stand up in the shallows!

Thirteen and a half minutes quicker than 2015 – result!

9 September Dart 10 10 km 2:36:20

The week preceding the swim had been cold and wet, so it was no surprise that the temperature of the Dart made my gasp a little as I went down the ramp at Totnes. Unlike last year, there wasn’t a trace of saltiness. The rain must have raced off Dartmoor during the preceding night!

Consequently, it was a little until I managed to submerge my face completely. I soon forgot the cold, and settled into a steady pace, enjoying my non-leaky goggles. Once again I adopted my non-stop strategy, with Lucozade in my ‘camel belly’, and gels tucked into various parts of my wet suit. Conditions changed during the swim, from dazzling low sunshine, to grey and murky, and even rain I think. Spotting was difficult, so keeping to the optimum flow line was problematical, and I relied heavily upon the guiding board paddlers. Indeed, it was due to their help that I narrowly avoided being swept under a small jetty. As usual, the finish ‘sprint’ seemed to go on forever! I tried to concentrate on thoughts of the welcoming warming tent, and the scolding hot chocolate and burger waiting for me. However, faster waves were now swimming over me as if I didn’t exist, as it turned into a free for all frenzy; so I joined in, arms and legs flailing without care – it was a race after all!.

Over three minutes quicker than last year – another result! Will be back, if only for the coveted gold cap.

24 September 2017 Birmingham Velo 100 miles 7:10:42

Arrived in ‘my pen’ an hour early, and the start was delayed by 20 minutes. Although it was sunny, the air was chill, and the sun’s heat failed to reach down into the depths of the Broad Street chasm. As a result I was forced to put on a jacket, knowing full well that I would have to stop quite soon to take it off.

Finally, we were off! Once again, I dawdled, as fellow tri club riders sped off in front. Ducking under the Five Ways roundabout, I emerged to see the start arch in the near distance. Cycling down the wrong side of Hagley Road gave me some sort of perverse thrill. I wonder what Strava would make of this, I thought!

A short way into the Staffordshire countryside, the lanes narrowed, and there seemed to be a blockage of stationary cyclists ahead. My first thought was that there had been an accident. However, as I hopped closer on one leg, I realised that is was the first stop, and dismounted cyclists were backing up the lane, queuing to access the rest area. What a ridiculous place to locate the rest area!

I only had a single bottle of drink with me, as I thought that it would be quick and easy to replenish at the official stops. I decided I needed a top up as I approached the Wombourne stop. I turned off the road, only to be confronted by a melange of cycles and riders. There was no obvious water supply to be seen. A few seconds later, I was back on the road again; appalled at the chaos of the official stop.

Kinver Edge was the first real testing hill, and although not particularly long, I was dreading the congestion and unpredictability of other riders, especially now that I am clipped in. True to form, cyclists were wobbling and stopping all over the road on the hill, although I only had to shout once when I could see ‘my gap’ closing. Pleased with my survival, I crested the hill, only to be surprised by the grinning faces of Andy Fishwick and Kev Stanley, who popped up at the side of me. They made some brief derogatory comments, then whizzed off as quickly as they arrived. Hmm.

I now had a serious drink supply problem. I needed a top up soon. Then, up ahead I spied a cyclist dismounting and handing his empty bottle to a crowd of spectators ensconced in a farm entrance. Quickly I shouted ‘me too, please!’, as I swerved in, and thrust my bottle forward. Two minutes later I was en route with a full tank again!

A fantastic welcome awaited us in Bewdley, with the crowds cheering us like troops returning from the front. I was feeling good now, especially after having past the halfway point – I even dared to started counting down the miles. Then the Great Witley sign suddenly appeared sooner than expected. Wow, I was making good progress – psychologically this was a significant ‘turn point’ – I was now heading back to Brum!

Hammering down towards Holt Heath I breezed through my previous distance record of 70 miles – and still felt there was plenty left in my legs. Another roadside top up of squash from some lovely spectators, and I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about stopping again. Just St Kenelm’s Pass between me and the finish, I thought. However, this worried me, as the pass was quite a narrow road. Would the field have spread out enough by the time I reached the KOM at mile 85? The answer was an emphatic no, and just to make things worse there was a very congested stop at the foot of the climb. Unbelievable, I cursed! Cautiously, I negotiated the human barrage balloons, and made my third and slowest ascent of the pass – better safe than sorry though, I thought. Ground up a little hillock called Romsley, followed by the tricky switchback up Dayhouse Bank, and I was returned to the suburbs of Brum.

Through red lights, no vehicles, and the wrong way around roundabouts – this was great, and rendered normally boring, cycle-unfriendly roads, a joy to ride on. ‘It’s the final hill’ spectators were shouting somewhere near Harborne. Ok, I can do this. So let’s get into race mode – nobody was going to overtake me now – after hours and hours in the saddle, it seemed like every second counted. A quick blast down Broad Street, and it was all over. All too soon, I was slumped on the kerb, big medal round my neck, and wondering how far behind everyone else I was. A few days later I had a play with Strava Flybys, and was astonished to learn that I was one of the first ones back. A difference of only five and a half minutes between my Strava ‘moving time’ and ‘elapsed time’ tells the story.

A new 100 mile distance record, at 14.0 mph average speed – well chuffed!

7 October 2017 Hurly Burly 10 km 2:57:08

Arising at 3am and driving to Barmouth was the easy part! Parked my car in the dark, then scuttled off to register at the Yacht Club, and consume porridge, tea, and the obligatory bacon bap. Extra bits of neoprene adorning my fragile and shivering body, I assembled with others on the beach. A forlorn little bonfire was being fanned relentlessly by the strong westerly. The briefing told everyone to swim out between the moored boats, and aim for the tidal race in the middle, which was visibly picking up as we watched. Seemed as good a plan as any, so off we all trooped, wading ever deeper into the cold salty water, and boy, did that current grab hold of us all! I hurtled under the railway viaduct at an amazing 6.3 mph (0.33 min / 100 yds) – wish I could do that in still water!

This was great – a vast wide estuary, big waves catching and lifting you up, white water all around, didn’t feel cold at all – all I had to do was follow the other bobbing yellow caps, jet skis, and paddle boarders. It was like the ‘swoosh’ bit at Bantham, but for much, much longer. This was endured enjoyed for the next hour and a half, then my speed seemed to drop off somewhat, and I could see swimmers up ahead actually walking! Suddenly, I jumped as my hand touched the river bed – I felt grass – could we be in the tidal marshes I thought – still, cannot be far to go now…

We were near the left north bank, and I knew that the finish was on the other side, so as the jet skis swung out southwards across the channel I sensed that the finish was near. In the distance I could see the distinctive white buildings of the George III Hotel and the low wooden toll bridge. I could also sense other swimmers picking up their pace, and I joined in, as the ‘sprint’ for the finish started. However, this ‘final effort’ went on and on and on. I was beginning to tire, and I could feel the cold seeping in. I just wanted to finish now. Jet skis were zooming all around, most with several swimmers hanging off the back, and I found their wash particularly annoying. What wimps I thought, giving up so close. Little did I know!

After an indeterminable amount of time I caught a glimpse of a rocky bank to my right – that’s very near the finish I thought, so I popped my head up to get the best line in. I instantly heard a loud voice shout, ‘hey, mate, don’t stop swimming – you are going backwards!’. Omg, he was right, and an instant revelation as to what had been happening flashed through my cold numbed brain. There was no way I could swim against this current! I grabbed the nearest jet ski, and he dragged me out of the main current to the bank. I then waded and crawled along the muddy shallows for the last 100m or so, using branches and rocks to pull myself against the current. Not quite the finish I envisaged!!!

It had taken just two hours to do the first 9 km, but another whole hour to complete the final 1 km. Epic swim. Bacon bap well deserved. I will return!