Channel challenge: treading water

22 02 2010
Training in the channel, October 2009

Last week was a milestone: it is six months until my channel swim. If all goes well, I will be standing on Shakespeare beach near Dover in the early hours of 18 August with just 21 miles of sea between me and France’s nearest fingertip, Cap Gris-Nez. Of course the English weather, unlike the tides, is far from being an exact science. In reality I could be on call anytime that week: waiting for the phone to ring with my very own self-imposed emergency.

But in many ways I feel lucky to be faced with an insurmountable challenge. The New Year arrived with a bang, or rather twelve of them, when hazy with flu I took a shortcut down my stairs. It was a month before I could limp more than a few hundred meters and six weeks before I got back in the pool. In this case, I could walk before I could crawl.

Tongue in cheek

As an unwelcome souvenir I have a large hematoma, much like an extra butt cheek, jutting from my thigh. It appears my bones, if not my blood vessels are unbreakable. After the medical equivalent of ‘phone a friend’ my doctor found a scissor-happy surgeon willing to excise it – for cosmetic reasons. But given that it will eventually go away naturally, and an operation would further set back my training, it’s a no brainer.

On the plus side, maybe it will distract me from fixating on the rest of my butt.

After six weeks off, I should be very nervous about the challenge ahead. But to take on something this big, you need to have a sort of perverse attraction to hardship and adversity. And to a degree, I can fall back on my previous fitness. Having started training last autumn, I was already strong before my injury.

Muscles it seems have memory. Which is more than can be said of my brain cells after one too many glasses of merlot.

Speaking of which, now that I’m back in training I’m off the booze, apart from special occasions. I have yet to define exactly what that constitutes, but I’m guessing that it might legitimately include birthdays but probably not weekends.

A sobriety sorority

To keep me company, a handful of my female colleagues at Earthwatch have volunteered to sign up for a buddy month of sobriety. And after hundreds of hours worth of training, I’ll also need to spend the month before my swim in a carb loading, pasta eating frenzy to ensure I have enough insulation to keep the icy seas at bay.

I have no shortage of male volunteers to join me in that.

 Training over the months ahead will not only be about building stamina. With successful crossings taking an average of 14 hours, I will also need to raise the bar on my boredom threshold. In the time it will take me to swim the channel, you could fly from New York to Mumbai, take a train from Paris to Vienna, or drive from Denver to Las Vegas.

Under the carbon microscope

To ensure the challenge is as sustainable as possible, I’ll be viewing my lifestyle under a carbon microscope, from choosing the most ethically sourced swimwear to following the lowest footprint diet. Do feel free to offer me your tips on training and treehugging, and in return I’m happy to answer any queries you might have, such as why I go swimming in a blouse.

I’ll also be looking for a more reliable training partner/coach than my camera-shy canine. Despite his enthusiasm for swimming, he is very short on advice and swift to abandon me for anyone with a ball.

Milestone or millstone?

And for your entertainment and my reassurance, I’ll seek expert guidance from survival gurus, marine scientists and fellow adventurers in a bid to find answers to the critical issues of the day, such as: “How can I take a cold shower without screaming?”, “Can you die from jellyfish stings?” and “Do I really have to do a Paula Radcliffe when nature calls?”

Milestone or millstone, the time for backing out has passed. I have booked my crew and support boat: the Viking Princess. I only hope I can live up to her name.

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