Hello guest
0
Your basket is empty
 
T: 01823 254020 
A: 27 Orchard Centre, Taunton TA1 3TP 
 
Exceptional Service 
Our Promise to You 

The English Channel : "The Undone Way" : September 2013 
I am afraid my Channel swim did not turn out at all well.  
The undone way remains undone. 
 

 
What is the English Channel "The Undone Way" ?  
Haydn will be starting his Channel swim from Dungeness. This adds around 25% to the distance and a whole new ball game with the tides. Haydn will be starting the swim at 12 noon on Thursday 12th Sept and hopes to have completed the swim by sunrise on Friday 13th. 

 

I suppose it just has to be said: It was twenty years ago since I last swam the English Channel and I simply have to have another go...........just to see if I still can.......not just have a successful swim, but to handle the required training prior to the swim. 
 
As is usual with the best of ideas, I had considered a number of ways to do the swim. Even spending a few weeks training breaststroke. For me a breaststroke swim would target two world records . The oldest person in the world to swim breaststroke and the first person in the world to swim the Channel using three different strokes. (I am already the first person in the world to have swam the Channel using two different strokes). I changed my mind and considered a number of other ways, many of which had never been done. 
 
The trouble is, I really don't need to swim the Channel again, having swam it twice before ( including the worlds first backstroke). I felt I needed to find a new focus, so came up with an audacious idea, to attempt to swim The Channel in a way that no swimmer had ever managed to accomplish. To swim the Channel 'The Undone Way' . It is surprising how many firsts are still out there. 
 
As soon as the final idea came to mind, it was obvious I had to try and all other thoughts fell into a stupor. However, it would be misleading to imply that 'The Undone Way' is unswimable. Just because nobody has yet succeeded . It is wrong to suggest it is simply too audacious, or that I am not good enough. I believe, the reason 'The Undone Way' has yet to be achieved, is simply that only one person has ever tried to swim it.......and failed. The subsequent couple of thousand other swimmers (successful or not) have ignored the obvious challenge of 'The Undone Way' for the 'easier' ways to swim. 
 
Swimming The English Channel 'The Undone Way' will be a new world first. A swim that I hope will redefine the nature of Channel swimming and create new horizons. 
 
In September 2013, I will attempt to swim the English Channel from Dungeness. 
 
For me, 'The Undone Way' offers the opportunity to give absolutely everything I can possibly give. To be able to swim my heart out until France simply gets in my way. 
 
Now, most Channel swimmers succeed or fail. Those that succeed, often have more to give, but simply were not required to give it before they reached the shore. Those that fail, often come up short, unwilling to give the required amount, on the day. Sometimes, otherwise successful swims are thwarted by weather and the swimmer reluctantly is not able to play his part in fullness, that day. There are other times though, when The English Channel allows a few ( just a few) swimmers, to have the best swim of their lives, where everything is asked and success requires everything to be given. The swimmer gets the opportunity to give it. 
 
It is times such as these when you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left. 
Previous English Channel swims. RED 1992 Freestyle 13 Hours 42 Minutes. Black 1993 Worlds First Backstroke 17 Hours 2 Minutes 
GREEN..The Undone Way 2013. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The day everything went wrong 

It’s a difficult time considering why a swim fails in such a fashion. In the few days since the swim, I have spent much time trying to understand where the whole plan started to unravel and how it collapsed so dramatically. The following notes try to explain and help me to understand how it was. 
 
Swimming the Channel has a few basic procedures, any of which have the power to affect the outcome of the swim (excluding of course, the most obvious.............. yourself). I have looked carefully at these procedures and realise that for me at least, they could be altered somewhat to support the swimmer better, (rather than, it might seem, to support the needs of the Association or even the pilot). I would say this though, things should never be manipulated in order to make the swim easier, therefore maybe the procedures too, should also be less than perfectly helpful. 
 
First, you choose one or other of the recognised governing bodies, the Channel Swimming Association or the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation . Either of these can validate your swim. Next, you book your pilot for the date you would prefer to swim. The associations have six pilots each and many of them are booked up, two years in advance. If you choose the CSA, you have a list of six pilots. The CSPF also have a list of six other pilots. Therefore if you choose the validating Association first, your choice of pilot is limited to six. Otherwise you choose from the twelve pilots and accept whichever validating Association they are signed up to. Wouldn’t the swimmer be better served if the twelve pilots could work with either Association? 
 
The two validating Associations have virtually similar rules and in my view, either are acceptable, (although both Associations need having their heads knocked together and unite). For instance, the CSPF will ratify a successful swimmer wearing swim shorts down to the knee, whilst the CSA insist on traditional ‘Speedo’ shaped trunks which do not extend past the groin. Wouldn’t the swimmer be better served if the rules were identical? 
 
I had preferred to sign up with the CSA and this choice was confirmed when, after speaking with my coach Tom Watch, he said I should have Freddie Mardle to be my pilot. Freddie was also a CSA registered pilot, so the choice matched. Had Freddie been with the CSPF, I would have been obliged to have swum through them. Swimmers might choose their pilot or the Association based on a whole raft of preferences, maybe due to the personalities heading each association, maybe a friend recommends one over the other or maybe there are cost benefits. 
 
The first problem (for me) had therefore been set before I had even begun my training. The second problem was consequential on the first. The summer of 2012 was drawing to a close and I had spent the year considering a few swims culminating in another Channel attempt. I therefore decided to book a date for the following year, and calandered a date on an early September 2013 tide. I could have chosen any month sensibly between July and September, but decided upon September in order to allow me an extra month or two to prepare . I signed my contract and paid my £1000 deposit and agreed a balancing payment of £1400 on the day of the swim. I was now committed to a legally binding contract and the first die had been cast. I chose the date* of the swim and the second problem rolled forward. 
 
Choosing the date acts as a harsh taskmaster, the countdown begins and mine started to tick with about 400 days and counting. In hindsight, I should have allowed two or even three years to train, thus removing the pressure to perform to a far too tight training schedule 
 
* The actual date of the swim is dependent on suitable weather or tides. This timing complicates your preparations as you enter a contract and book your swim maybe a year or two before your swim, but the pilot may decide only a day or two before the swim, that the weather is wrong and you are postponed. The actual swim might easily not take place at all within the dates you originally chose and may even be delayed until the following year. The problem though is this: You could be ready to swim before your date or, you might not be ready at all. Wouldn’t the swimmers be better served, if they could attempt their swims, once they were actually ready? Would this improve the success to failure ratio? Would more swimmers be encouraged? Would it be safer? 
 
I guess I could always have postponed my swim. Had I done so early enough, maybe I could simply have changed the dates and rescheduled for the following year. I am sure all of the pilots would be amenable. But I reckoned at the time of the contract, it gave me a purpose to strive for and this would focus my efforts (rather than have them go all woolly causing my training to have less purpose). I considered a year was sufficient, after all, I wanted to swim the Channel, I didn’t want to wait two or more years. This was a mistake. 
 
Swimmers may consider being committed to a deadline will serve as a great training boost. For me it started as if I had at long last got on the train and the journey had begun. Later as the train approached closer and closer to its terminal, the journey was worrying me, deeply. I had set a date with the hangman. 
 
I am often critical where I see problems and will highlight them in order to find solutions. The above procedures were to some measure, affecting the outcome of my swim. I imagine many swimmers have found themselves sinking in the same turmoil with which I was now well and truly submerged. As the date of the swim approached, I argued with myself whether to postpone (even cancel) the swim. In actual fact, I hadn’t even considered such a possibility when I entered into the contract. If I was not ready, the swim would simply become a rather expensive training swim. Fred was my pilot and I was not planning to choose a pilot on the strength of their contract or the ease (or otherwise) with which I might be free to postpone. 
 
With twelve pilots, all independent businesses, there would be twelve differently worded contracts. Wouldn’t the swimmer be better served if these (normally private) contracts were available on line? Maybe one or two clauses would be better written to gently allow a swimmer to reschedule without embarrassment or soul searching.  
 
Having said that, I am quite happy to negotiate additional clauses and delete nasty ones, but somehow it didn’t quite seem the thing to do. I wanted Freddie and almost couldn’t care less regarding the contract. I signed it happily, but added one clause with his agreement……..The swim would start from Dungeness. I accepted the clauses regarding cancellation, as written. 
 
I know, contracts are private things, but they could also be powerful tools for the pilot. If your contract is better than any of the other pilots, you are likely to receive more bookings. Unfortunately, the swimmer doesn’t get to see more than one or two contracts and therefore cannot select from twelve pilots on the basis of what they offer. We simply choose the pilot that comes most highly recommended, the one that is still available or the one we used last time. I doubt anybody chooses their pilot because they approved his contract over the others, whether he was the cheapest or whether he had the most comfortable postponement clauses. 
 
I had Freddie, the saltiest sea dog of them all. And having said all the above, I would have him again next time, if I went CSA. 
 
I wonder how my preparations would have been had there been no contract. Would the tension have dissolved before it started? Had there been no contract, there would have been no pressure to be prepared in time. Is it possible to turn up to swim The Channel without having contracted with any of the pilots? You simply arrive in Dover knowing you are absolutely ready to swim, not too soon, not too late. 
 
On the day of my swim, there were eight Channel swimmers in the water (I was the ninth). Leaving three pilots who might have a slot available to escort another swimmer, had one just turned up. Or more likely, had a previous unsuccessful swimmer needed another swim. Maybe this would work for some, although such a proposal would cause other difficulties. Simply, booking your swim with the CSA or CSPF gets more expensive, doubling even tripling their booking fees, the later in the season you book. Of course, you can dispense with their services and simply book your pilot. Your swim will not be ratified, listed or publically documented. You get your day in The Channel and maybe save a few hundred pounds. 
 
My training started off with gentle one and two hour warm swims whilst on holiday in France virtually one year to the day before my tide. Back home the water temperatures were declining and as they dropped, my immersion times failed to increase beyond two hours in the open water. Suddenly I swam straight into the third problem, the one which contributed the highest potential for failure towards my Channel swim. From here on, the ‘writing was on the wall’. 
 
I loved swimming in the chilly waters, especially as the immersion times reduced. Sessions were exciting and totally absorbing. They were too short for boredom. I loved it. Then, I came across the Internet site of the International Ice Swimming Association and knew immediately I wanted to swim a mile in frozen water. An Ice Mile. I watched the thermometer with excited anticipation as each lower degree showed up on the thermometer. Soon, the temperatures were single figures, and the immersion times were 30 minutes. 
 
As the temperatures fell, I spent the next four months having a ball. I was deceiving myself into believing the time spent acclimatising to ultra cold water would pay dividends later. This was a mistake. I was effectively trading the opportunity of focused Channel training and hour building, into focussed training for an Ice Mile. I would have been better prepared for the Channel, had I of stayed focused on it alone. I would have taken maybe a week off each month and travelled to Malta for 15 degree water temperatures, which would have provided me with substantial hour building though winter. Rather than swimming sixty Ice Mile training sessions over those few months, all hovering around 30 minutes, I would have been better trained had I swum sessions leading up to six hours each by mid winter. 
 
I swam my official Ice Mile and must say it was one of lifes’ greatest adventures. Not just the swim, but the whole journey, degree by degree. The Channel would not challenge me with the cold, ever again. 
 
I had decided not to enter the World Cold Water Championships the following month. I had to draw the line and become more serious with the Channel. It dawned on me I now had only six months to switch my attention back to the Channel. Unfortunately, UK waters were still too cold to even think about hour building. Spring was well advanced and turning into Summer. I checked my twenty year old journals needing to see the benchmark swims. What date, twenty years ago were my first 4 hour, 6, 8 and 10 hour swims? Could I match those dates in the time remaining? 
 
Six months earlier, I had left behind two hour swims and now it was April and I was still on two hour swims. It was totally impossible to hit fours in such un-seasonally cold water, even more impossible to believe I could get to a ten by the first Saturday in July. 
 
I had been invited to Tunisia by Nejib Belhedi to take part in his Swim for Peace. I loved the concept and considered that a week of early morning swims would help. I intended to hit four hour swims and maybe pop in a six before coming home. Of course I had little idea of the water conditions, I just knew my schedule for a UK eight hour swim would clash with the first day of the Swim for Peace. 
 
Unfortunately, conditions every day in Tunisia were blustery and a fierce onshore breeze caused the water to be extremely lumpy. Great training water for one and two hour swims but not fours. Nevertheless, I suffered them and built up to a couple of four hour swims. I had hoped to do four hour swims every morning before breakfast, five of them back to back, one six and once home in England, go for the eight, only a week or so behind schedule. 
 
Returning to England raring to go, the water was still too cold for more than fours. A few weeks later, it was left for me to see what Cork Distance Week might bring. But even by then I was feeling my training (up to that point) had barely been sufficient to even qualify me to attend. Rather than being happy and peaceful doing fours and sixes by Distance week, I was still only happy with twos, plodding with fours and hadn’t even done a six. Worse still, even my twos were simple swims, none had found a pace, none were racing. My journal suggested I needed to hit a ten by the last day of Distance Week and I should already have achieved a few sixes and an eight. 
 
All this time, I was swimming sessions in my pool, or at Weymouth, always, always trying to convince myself I still had four months before my Channel swim, and that would be enough. I always knew it was not. 
 
Then, the forth contributing problem crept up on me and messed with my focus, big time. Almost without my noticing, one by one, my Ice Mile Facebook friends were being invited to swim the Bering Strait relay. Many had been to the World Championships and were therefore known personally by the relay organisers, but I was just an unknown face with a name on a list. Nevertheless, I let the organisers know who I was and if they had need of another swimmer, I would love to be involved and maybe they would consider me as a reserve. A couple weeks before Distance Week I received an email and I was in. I had been selected to swim the Arctic waters of the Bering Strait. An International relay, from Russia to Alaska. 
 
It was like getting a ticket on the Space Shuttle. You simply don’t say “No Thank You”. 
 
I didn’t see them coming, but suddenly a few challenges at work and home started to interfere. It hit me during a swim at Weymouth, as I realised I had spent the whole two hour session trouble shooting issues in my mind. Over the next couple of weeks leading to Distance Week, all my swims were the same and I was spending them fire fighting and nothing was being resolved. The beauty, loveliness and peace of swimming was displaced and my head was filling with a messy gloop of junk. 
 
During the last few days before Distance Week, the Bering Strait swim looked as though its organisation was crumbling. Visas were delayed, commities were squabbling, swimmers withdrawing. And of course, International Agreement or the lack of it, could call the whole thing off. Not even contemplating what the Arctic weather might do to scupper all plans. My head was in turmoil. 
 
Distance Week was the great healer. Nothing else mattered. Swimming washed everything away. I found a spark of pace and a little racing. I hadn’t raced for so long, it was exhilarating being on the edge of puffed out for thirty minutes. If only I could hold it for two hours…..I knew it would come. I suppose I should have shared my concerns with Ned Dennison, but Distance Week was simply a venue for fifty swimmers to swim. It wasn’t a coaching course. I quietly hoped the Total Brain Body Confusion swim might have lasted eight hours and on returning home I would only have been a couple weeks behind schedule for the ten. But I needed answers as much as hours. Would Distance Week give me the foundation from which I could springboard the remaining ten weeks before my Channel swim? I felt it could…………but for the Bering relay, freezing my reasoning. 
 
On my return home from Distance Week, I would only have a few days before being required to report in Moscow for the expected two or three week duration of the trip. I had no official invite (apart from an email, no Visa, no itinerary) . I hadn’t booked flights. Once back from the Bering, I would have only one month or so to complete my Channel preparations. 
 
I knew the issue was one of balancing a swim which would be the one I would tell my grandchildren about. I can hear them now. “Grampa, tell us again about the days you swam with walruses and icebergs”. The Bering relay would only enable me to do a few hours swimming in those three weeks. With a Channel swim looming, would I be better prepared if I get back from Distance Week and spend the time building good solid hours and do my eight and ten? 
 
At about the same time, a Facebook swimmer tried to explain how she cancelled her Channel swim and how immediately she rose out from a slough of despond. People would be unhappy, it was costly, but she had mended overnight. I needed to do the same. Except I chose to cancel the Bering swim. 
 
Returning from Ireland, my training schedule tried to absorb the slack. Awaking at 5am three or four days each week, driving to Weymouth and swimming from 7am for four or five hours, back to back, getting home early afternoon. Swimming sometimes felt like a part time job, other times like an old girlfriend wishing to get re-aquainted. Some mornings it was just beautiful. All the time though, with unresolved issues of staffing at work and my head still suffering from the gloop which now appeared as if I had cleaned it out, but used the wrong type of cleaner, swimming the Channel was going to be a mental battle, not a swimming one. 
 
I had been experimenting at work to leave the shop to itself somewhat. To let the staff run the shop, while I ran the business. To work on the shop, not in the shop. I wanted this year at work to throw up the challenges that would need to be resolved if I were to take a gap year. Indeed the gap year, would also be an experiment, for a few years later when Nicola and I hope to serve as missionaries for two years before we receive our old age pensions. The business plan requires the shop to run without any input from either of us for two years, whilst we serve. I would put in place whatever was needed to resolve whatever came to light. Unfortunately a valued staff member has a medical emergency lasting many weeks, is still too unwell to work, with no indication whether the situation will be better, even by Christmas. And I am off swimming? 
 
To complicate things further, I feel I have cancelled the wrong swim. Had I of gone to the Bering swim, I would have been back to work a month ago. The Bering swimmers have returned, having accomplished a life defining swim. Their lives changed forever. It seems the Bering swim will indeed be the one the grandchildren will be asking their various grandparents about for generations to come. Actually, I guess it might go like this, “Grampa, you told us yesterday about the day you fought off the polar bear during your relay hand over, we want to hear how that Ram guy drank too many vodkas and stood naked on the prow of the support vessel doing a Titanic pose”. 
 
The English Channel would have waited for me, just as it waits for you. The Bering swim had come and gone, I had given up my place and was left with a dream which was fast becoming a nightmare. 
 
The last few weeks also come and go, and my head is a mess. Training has been great recently, but my ten hour swim never happened, my resolve never tested. I had it twenty years ago, but it hadn’t shown its face for rather a long while. 
 
In 1992, I stood on the shore of Shakespeare Beach with a youthful enthusiasm for what lay ahead. Anxiously waiting for the right weather to make my first swim across. Same again in 1993 for my backstroke swim. True boyhood adventure and I would play Captain Webb. Good weather couldn’t come soon enough. Things were so different now. 
 
For weeks, I have fretted over this moment. I would now happily trade my boat with any swimmer that asked. I pray the weather will be so poor, the swim will be postponed. And if the weather improves in a fortnight, I will say I am sick. The next moment I argue with myself to stop such thoughts. I can do this. In fact I have already done it, twice. Goodness, I was even the first person ever to swim it Backstroke. I have nothing to prove. Then Smeagol pipes up and says “Yesssss, but that was twenty yearssss ago my precious, we aren’t so young anymore”. I turn my head “ But now I have wisdom, I know how to make things work, I don’t need you anymore. Go away and don’t come back. Gollum, Gollum”. 
 
I go to bed early and lay there. Adrenalin pounding through my body. Laying on my left side I feel my heart, it wants to punch its way through my chest. Laying on my back is best. I try all the tricks in the book to find even a few minutes of peace. But when comfort comes, I notice the change and hope it lasts long enough to get off to sleep. The anxiety returns immediately. 
 
I swim in the morning and am too afraid to put an end to it. My heart beats heavy and another hour passes by. Soon it’s midnight. My heart is beating faster than when I swim and the hours pass more slowly. I listen out for the weather but can’t hear it. I know it is therefore calm and the forecast was right. Now it is 2am, people are getting in their cars. Swimmers for the 3am tide. Then another group leave, then another. My tide is mid day. I stay awake the whole night. In the morning I will be asked by many “Did you get a good nights sleep”? The answer is always the same. “I slept as well as every other Channel swimmer the night before they swim”. 
 
In the morning I feel my heart has already put in the effort of a twelve hour swim, it still pounds heavy and deliberate. I haven’t slept a wink, just laid there, fretting. I am fifty five years old and am trembling like schoolboy facing six of the best, the tears have been falling for over an hour. The task is too big and I cannot swim like this. I wouldn’t even do a training swim in such a state. Nicola comes in to wake me up and I struggle to get out the words. “I don’t want to swim, I can’t do it”. There is an hour before I am due at the harbour and I am a sobbing wreck. I must phone Freddie, call everything off and settle my mind to sleep. Nicola brings Donal Buckley in to talk. Donal will be crewing for me along with Lisa Cummins, both Channel swimmers. Lisa had swum a two way swim in 2009, the France to England leg landed her at Dungeness after 35 hours. It kind of eclipses my idea to swim from Dungeness on purpose. Speaking with Donal is helpful. I have trained alone all year and with no companions, have shared nothing of my fears. Donal had answers. My phone is in my hand and I dial Brendan (a friend from home) instead of Freddie. We talk. A man who cannot swim, lets me know how it is. I conclude I would live happily if I swim and fail, I would not be able to say the same if I fail to swim. Ella Dunn expressed it best, “Simply turn up”. 
 
Gosh that was a big wobble and maybe it was natural to have such things. I compared my feelings to twenty years ago. When I was anxiously hopeful every day for the pilot to give the word, “We’re swimming” . Then, standing at the beach, I was more excited than a boy facing his first ride in a rocket ship. My tide at last had arrived, I would make my dreams come true. But not now, not this day, not like this. Today I would happily have forsaken all my dreams. That which was beautiful had become a nightmare. 
 
There was no way out. My date with the Channel had arrived. I tell myself lies, “Maybe the water will wash away all my cares and I will have a great day”. For a moment I believe myself. 
 
My phone rings , it is Rebecca Jarre. I guess at times like this, she was simply the best medicine and it went down sweetly. But she knew the truth. Then Adam Walker phoned. I could almost hear Rebecca after ending our call, phone Adam and get him to phone me, quick. I was in trouble. Adam too knew the score. We all do. With those few moments I gained the strength to turn up and get wet. 
 
In a state of fragile confidence bordering on utter dread, we say our goodbyes on the beach, before going aboard Masterpiece. I try to speak positive words, but I knew everyone would see through me, if they looked. I was defeated before I began and no amount of thoughtful trickery would convince me I could really do this. The positive mental attitude had evaporated as quickly as it had been conjured up. How could I possibly have had the audacity to believe that I could ever have prepared myself for such a swim? I was a fool, a fraud, I didn’t belong in the company of those who actually would or have swum the English Channel. 
 
I had forgotten that once, even twice, I had done so in spectacular fashion. 
 
It’s odd really, but I am quite used to imagining in advance, how things would be. Through all my training sessions, as I approached the end of every swim, I imagined the coast was France, never England , Ireland or Tunisia. Every time after a training session when I waded those last few steps clear of the water, the sand was always French. In reality, twenty years ago, those moments had proved to be worth every effort, every sore, every tear in getting there. I had rehearsed these moments in my mind on every training swim, but had failed completely to consider the tough part might actually be getting to the start rather than the end. Not once had I considered how difficult this might be and I had not prepared for it. 
 
I liked Freddie the moment I looked into his wonderful craggy face. We motor out of the harbour and make the manoeuvre, only ever done once before in the history of Channel swimming…….. we turn right. 
 
We set course for Dungeness. I realise that this was the defining moment of the swim. I always knew I was just an ordinary guy that wanted to show the world that things can be done differently. It really wouldn’t matter if I didn’t get across (goodness, its almost presumptuous to think even the great swimmers could always do it). What mattered was that I was prepared to believe it could be swum. That I was prepared to train all year and attempt to prove it, win or lose, ready or not. To see a new horizon. Hoping others would also see . My favourite word is ‘hope’. 
 
Dungeness begins to loom large. It is a desolate place. Even the water looks moody under the deepening overcast sky. Somehow, the history associated with Shakespeare Beach suddenly mattered. Samphire Hoe sounded beautiful. Dungeness was simply desolate. A place to swim away from. No, a place from which nobody should even contemplate swimming. 
 
My escort boat, Masterpiece, brings me in close. I am greased up, say goodbye and slide into the sea. I swim the 50 yards to the steeply shelving pebbled beach. My goggles leak. I scramble ashore and am met by Sylvain* and the others. It makes me smile. It was so unexpected. Nicola stands some way off. The power station making a menacing back drop. 
 
*A couple weeks later Sylvain became the first man to swim the English Channel........Butterfly. 
 
I start to swim. It is 1 pm. The water is warm and I pretend I will be glowing green by nightfall and wouldn't need my lights. I smile to myself, my first swimming thoughts were acknowledging I would still be swimming when it gets dark , in 8 hours. That’s a great start. The water takes a little while getting used to, a little lumpy, but thankfully gentle. My goggles leak, badly. I had messed up. I had previously dismantled the strap, to fit a night light. I guessed the tensioning would be correct but had to stop swimming a couple times in the first thirty minutes before getting the tension right. It made me angry to have made such a basic mistake. 
 
My swimming was gradually becoming comfortable and the first feed arrived much sooner than expected. Another great sign. I started to settle, to find the style that would best match the water and the pace that would carry me through the next 18 hours or so. Then the demons came. 
 
Eighteen hours, well it might be sixteen. But what if it were twenty? It could so easily have been thirteen had I started from Dover. But twenty hours was simply too much. I knew I could happily swim for six and soldier on for another six, but suffering for a further twelve was a different matter entirely. It was simply too far. “Just swim to the next feed, the next feed, the next feed. Forget the overall times and miles. They don’t count. Today is a swimming day that’s all. Thirty minutes, one hour……..nothing counts. Just keep swimming”. 
 
I notice thoughts laced with poison creeping in from the wings, I fight them off with what positivity I can muster. Within moments they reappear and I fight them off again. This time they have armour plating. Each defensive play requires a new thought. I am in real trouble and mentally tired. I have been swimming thirty minutes and am fighting demons. Normally, I would find a place of peace and comfort from the start. Often preserving the safety of this place for a few hours. Even when attacked, I can always find my refuge. 
 
Today I had no refuge. I had no time to build it before I was being destroyed and had not brought it with me. Indeed, if ever I had it, it had been in tatters for weeks. I searched my soul, somewhere, something would make a difference. Then it came. It just popped in there. I remembered the words of a 17 year old boy at Church. Luke spoke of his love for music, how hymns enriched his soul. How music and singing were a testimony to him. I do not sing much, I’m rubbish. But I do like listening. I knew one thing, music was something Luke loved, when he spoke of it, he spoke with passion. I knew one other thing, I could speak of swimming in the same way. I love swimming. Every single stroke. I pull through the water and feel the strength in my arms, my shoulders are bursting with vitality, I have an unlimited suppy of energy. I imagine a V shaped trail streaming behind me (at least I would notice it, if the water was smoother). 
 
I swim with purpose and forget everything of the task in hand. I simply swim. It made me smile. Suddenly it was feed time again ( a minor interruption ) and I was back in the zone within a minute, safe, content, happy, smiling, swimming. 
 
This is how all swimming should be. This is how we swim for hours. Of course, we gradually get tired, our muscles get sore, we get aches and pains and suffer. We freeze, we get stung and we carry on. Strengthened in spirit for the first few hours supports us through the next few hours. 
 
I stayed in the zone. Today was my day, I really could do this, I was swimming the Channel, ‘the Undone Way’. A few seconds later, it was as if I fell off the cliff. There was no warning, I just fell. There was no falling, I just smashed into a thousand pieces, like a car windscreen shattered into tiny fragments and scattered on the floor. 
 
I picked up a fragment then another and tried to rebuild my refuge. It was an impossible task. Luke could no longer help and the demons were back. “You can’t do this swim, it’s too far, you are not ready, you never were”. I had nowhere to go. Then Zoe Sadler came into my mind and spoke with me. I had never swam with Zoe but reckoned we had a similar pace. She had just swam a length of Windermere in 6.5 hours, turned around and swam back another length, faster than the first. Twenty one miles in 13 hours. I needed to find the resolve she had found for that second length, that special effort. Maybe I should swim a little faster and divert my thoughts. But still I was under attack and couldn’t find my space. I was trying to find peace whilst being unable to shut out the noise, “You can’t do this swim, it’s too far, you are not ready, you never were”. 
 
It’s one thing having negative thoughts, but frankly, these thoughts felt like truths. I knew it. It wasn’t a demon telling me lies. It was me, facing up to the truth. The English Channel, from Dungeness was always too far, I was never going to be ready, I was simply not good enough. 
 
Time for a feed. Donal probably saw it in my eyes as he passed me my bottle. Maybe for twenty minutes, things had looked normal, but now they were irretrevably lost. My thoughts were firefighting, not refuging. I had fifteen hours still to swim and I would suffer throughout every one of them. 
 
Long distance swimmers need to hide away. When a tough swim ends, and they are asked what they had thought about for all those hours. A swimmer never remembers. We bring with us a certain Zen and we are sheltered. Time evaporates. But not today. I had been overpowered before I started and fought a mental battle from a position of much weakness. I was a mental wreck weeks ago and now exhausted from the constant battle in my head. 
 
I wasn’t afraid of not finishing. I just wanted to have a long swim, the best swim of my life and in the water that mattered the most. A swansong. I was now having the worst swim of my life. This was not the plan. I had always thought that if the swim was going to fail, then it might as well become the best training swim of the year. I never really understood why swimmers gave up during a Channel swim. But they do, and now I knew why. 
 
I kept swimming, worrying how I would cope once the aches and pains began to arrive. They would be due in an hour or two. I hadn’t smiled for two hours and was hating every minute. There would be no end to the purgatory once physical struggle and pain combined with the mental anguish so firmly rooted in my head. 
 
Swimming alongside the escort vessel, Masterpiece, was new. It filled my vision. I could not see past it, I could not see the horizon nor the massive shipping vessels as they passed down Channel, some in front some behind me. All I could see was Masterpiece and I knew all I had to do was grab it, and I could end the swim. Otherwise, I could wait until I couldn’t swim another stroke and Donal or Lisa Cummins would dive in and get me. I knew that solution was many hours away at the soonest. 
 
I had always trained alone and as I breathed I could see the horizon stretching for miles. Not now though. All I had to see was Masterpiece, no more than ten or twenty feet away, filling my entire view. It only occurs to me now as I write this, that I could have swum on the other side of the boat. Masterpiece would have been on my left, and breathing to my right, I could have ignored the temptation. Maybe the horizon, this horizon, which no other Channel swimmer had seen (afterall theirs were twenty miles nearer to Dover than mine), maybe this horizon would have settled me. 
 
Masterpiece tempted me and I began to redefine my swim. My head knew I would not be able to suffer the mental anguish for so long and was trying to find a new solution. Maybe a six hour swim and rethink then. Maybe swim until dark. Maybe stay in until midnight. And if midnight, why not just keep on swimming? The overwhelming nature of the swim went full circle. What was the point of even staying in for six hours, it wouldn’t help. It was time for a feed. 
Maybe I will do six hours, I have done three already so only three more to go then. Even that plan simply underlined the failure of the swim. . “You can’t do this swim, it’s too far, you are not ready, you never were”. 
 
I had struggled without sleep worrying about all of these things and now for three hours swimming I am experiencing these exact issues. This swim was a complete mess. In fact, I had been worrying about it for weeks. This was not the swim I had been training for, and I was hating it. 
 
I was not prepared, not trained, to start hating the thing which I loved. The Channel was making me hate swimming, and I was not going to let it continue to poison my mind. 
 
I hadn’t felt sick, I had no aches, no physical pains, but mental torture was mashing my mind to pieces. In an instant, a pain gripped my belly and I was sick. I rolled into a ball and was sick again. Masterpiece had motored onward and I was drifting away. I was sick again. Sometimes my head is above the water, sometimes underwater three, four, six times maybe more. I am throwing up in the air and in the sea . My feeds were now fish food. I almost called out for help, but gathered my senses and struggled back to the boat which by now was reversing. 
 
I wasn’t going to give more. I was seriously unstable with such a poor mental attitude. I was unable to reconcile the unfathomable question, how on earth do I deal with the aches and pains when they arrive, when I am already swimming on the edge? Especially now I was sick and would no doubt suffer a rapid energy loss over the coming miles. And that took nothing into account of how the sickness served only to underline the mantra in my head , “You can’t do this swim, it’s too far, you are not ready, you never were”. Soon the separation zone would bring the jellies ( they were already lurking about ). Then the cold would come, then the darkness. 
 
Donal tried to console me. One thing was helpful: He knew how it was, probably more than anyone. I suppose he could have been more force full and kept me in. But he knew, as well as I, this swim was a lost cause. With some luck or persuasion I might have stayed in till dark, but it was never going to be pretty and definitely pointless. I was not prepared to pay the price the Channel was demanding of me this day. 
 
I looked at the escort boat, I knew I only had to touch it , if , once, I chose to give up. “Swim to the next feed, keep on swimming, it's too soon to stop, you're not even tired, not even done a training swim yet” I argue to myself. “ Don’t suffer. Come back another day. There is nothing to prove out here”. I reply. 
 
I wish Masterpiece would simply disappear. I was heading towards the middle of the shipping lane. Tankers were passing in front and behind me. Gosh they looked fast. I looked back towards Dungeness and ahead towards France. These would be the last few moments I might ever find myself swimming deep into the English Channel, maybe I should just carry on. I saw the steps placed over the side of Masterpiece. I wanted to swim away from the boat and be on my own, and if I were on my own, I would probably have just turned around and happily swum back. 
 
I gazed at the bottom rung of the steps and knew if I touched it, the swim was over. Only one reach away, one more pull and the anguish would end. The alternative was to resume the count towards another 60,000 strokes still to swim. It wasn’t the swimming, it was the thought of swimming that defeated me. The thought that 60,000 strokes and every single one a mental torture. Not the joy, not the adventure, nor the one and maybe last chance I would ever take, to spend a day or so, swimming the Channel. There was nothing romantic about this place. I looked again, gathering my thoughts. If I simply touched it, maybe the touch would be ignored. I must grip it, I must hold on long enough. Just swim one more stroke, reach the step and brave it out. I grasped the step and just held on for long enough to be sure. 
 
Back at Varne Ridge , I fall asleep immediately. But awoke at the sound of rain beating on the caravan roof. Its pouring, hard. Its 4 am. Had I of stayed swimming, I would be within the final few miles battling wind against tide and still fighting demons in my head. I know for sure, I would never have managed these last few miles, even if I had made it that far. Over the coming hours I doze in and out of sleep. Jellies seek me out, they hunt me down. First there was one, then three then ten. They stalk me and swim in for the strike. Time and again, like a pack of hunting dogs, each jelly trying to envelop me in a cocoon of stinging strands. I fend them off with a push and avoid their trailing tentacles. Next I am swimming in standing waves, its such fun, but am distracted by a phospherescent green fish. It enraptures me and I am compelled to swim after it. Entranced, I commence to duck dive the few feet to get closer. My arms stretch ahead, I bend my body, raise my legs. The weight of my legs now clear of the water, push me under. Both arms outstretched, I see Davy Jones, with skeletal arms, he grabs my wrists. He pulls me down, descending into the darkness. I wake up. 
 
The English Channel sucks you in. She lets you believe you are a contender. Then peeling back every chink in your armour , she examines your soul. Reaching down your throat she tears out your heart. Through all this, if you keep the faith and get across, she rewards you ten thousand fold . For the rest of your life, as you walk through the streets, cities and places where nobody knows who you are, you know exactly who you are. You are a Channel swimmer. 
 
And one day, when you notice a stranger crossing your path and they seem all of a sudden to smile to themselves, for no reason, you know they too have stood on the shore of Shakespeare Beach, looked out towards France and swum the most famous stretch of water in the World. 
Wish I had seen this sooner.  
 
 

 

06 April 2013 
 
Today, the most beautiful day of the year. I really should have gone swimming in order to keep up my target hours. But decided to spend the morning working on my pool. The thing is, as my Ice Mile swim is finished, the last thing I need is short 30 minute sessions in a freezing pool. I have ten weeks within which to build my hours up to a ten hour session before July. 
 
To accomplish this, I need to extend my pool training and put at least one extra long sea swim in each week. It would seem that all I should do is increase my swims by one hour per week and in ten weeks I will be at the ten hour swim. Of course, it doesn't work like that. I need to swim one hour swims this week, and maybe twos in the coming two or three weeks as the sea temperature allows. Then maybe in four weeks, I simply do a four hour swim and then drop back to twos. In eight weeks, I do an eight hour swim and drop down to fours. Then in ten weeks, I pop in the ten hour swim. 
 
 
23 March 2013 
 
Sometimes it is plain dangerous to swim. Golden Cap was such a place. Today was a day I saved two lives (my own and the person deciding to rescue me).To save these lives, all I had to do, was choose not to swim here. I went to Lyme Regis instead. Had a miserable swim, even there. The water was lumpy. The wind was bitter and I was alone. I even had to get dressed in the rain. Somehow it's always easier with friends. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The training begins: 16 March 2013 
 
Today the new journey starts. The water is still freezing but will slowly climb in the coming weeks. The rate e of climb will largely determine the duration of the training swims . There will be one major difference......The cold....... Yes, the cold is different. No more intense pain and suffering to become hardened too. I could say, that part is already in the bag. But that would understate the case. I accept I no longer hurt as I get into freezing water, my body has acclimatised and the sea is now, nowhere near freezing. The temperature does not cause pain and therefore I am no longer forced to conclude a swim after thirty minutes. This is the new arena. 
 
I am able to stay wet for an hour, and it is not pain but the ever invading creeping cold that brings an end to the increasing duration of each swim. The cold penetrates the pores and dilutes the resolve as it attacks the bones and core. Gradually forcing the resolve to give up or persuade itself there is always a few minutes more that can be swam. 
 
The weather too plays a part. The wind blows cold, the sky is overcast and grey, the choppy sea against the tide and wind spoil the easy flow of a gentle stroke. That is why it is called training and not play. 
 
Warming up afterwards needs no defrosting, but still the shivering takes an hour and feeling cold seems permanent. I try not to get warm quickly, the long term feeling cold is great training too. We are still in the one hour sessions, and soon the hour building begins. 
 
A few more swims and the hour becomes two, then four and by mid June a ten hour swim beckons. The immersion times alone make the training brutal, but I must remember to develop a lazy stroke that has pace . I must train a style that takes a micro rest between strokes. A time where the mind switches off and forgets about the many unswam hours still to swim. A rate of breathing that can maintain a high work load but never puff out. I must prepare for a swim that could take 24 hours and at the very least will take as long as I need it to take, time doesn't count.
 
 
 
 
Designed and created by it'seeze