Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dover "Training Camp", Part 1

Sorry for the delay - laptop didn't work, camera gave up (I did exchange batteries, not knowing, however, that it only seems to work on accus or Duracell) - and now, typing away at the Dover Marina, I cannot upload any photos. (Pictures will be added later.)

Otherwise things are great!

Arrived on Thursday afternoon (24th July) by train and ferry again, totally enjoying the crossing and being out on the Channel again. Even went for a half hour dip in choppy harbour water in the evening sun before bedtime, another 1 hour dip next day - keeping it short for the 7/6 swims on the weekend, but trying to get the body used to the water temperature. It was nice meeting other swimmers on the beach and in the water, like Lynne Smith, who brought me some Advil I might need for the bike and running leg, Cliff Golding and Laura, Marcy MacDonald and others, and sharing experiences and inspiration. Greetings to Bea, Vedika and Vijaya if you are reading! And Praphulla!

The weekend - first split Channel swim in 16 degree C water (July 26/27 - 7 + 6 hours)

We were very lucky with the weather this time. The sun was out, giving the helpers and the swimmers a much easier time, although quite a sunburn to some, and the water was almost flat.

The 7 hours passed quite uneventfully - no collisions, no hitting on my head from behind. This time I fed not only Maxim but pieces of Swiss Lemon Cream Roll every hour after the second, in addition to half a banana and chocolate roll handed by Barry, Beccy and Cliff along with lots of positive and encouraging words. So plenty of carbohydrtes to keep me warm, but again my hands froze after the first hour, getting back to normal over the next hours. The only problem was a strange paralysed feeling in the groins which I tried to counteract with some stretching. It came back the next day, but today I was fine again. The 7 hours felt harder than the 7 hours at home, probably due to the cold. I felt best, however, during the last two laps. My shoulders and arms were fine in the evening, and the same after the 6 hours next day.

It was nice to meet more swimmers and faces well-known from blogs and Channel chat group - e.g. Beccy and Hoffy, Chris Poutney, Leanne, who is going to Zurich next weekend etc. And I was very happy to see some swimmers back fit and positive who had had some motivational or physical problems over the last few weeks. This is one of the great aspects of Channel swimming or long distance sports in general: mostly you are happy when other people are doing well and you sincerely try to encourage and support each other. Only very few are here to beat others and establish records - mostly the goal is challenging yourself and transcending your perceived limits.

Sunday was very similar to Saturday, only one hour less, luckily, I thought - although like most others I could easily have done one hour more physically, just mentally it can be a relief to know you are on the last lap - again, this was when I felt happiest.

Monday - bike day

I had asked Freda for advice on my training schedule for the next week, and she had "given me a day off", and recommended 3 and 4 hour swims the following days. I was hoping for bumpy water now, to get my muscles a bit bigger still. The weekend there would be a regatta in the harbour, so there would only be 4 hour swims maximum for everyone anyway. Then tapering towards the 7th.

So on Monday I took "my" mountain bike, which the owners of Westbank Guest House are allowing me to use, and had a hilly but leisurely and very scenic training ride along the bike trail to St. Margrets Bay, Deal and Sandwich where I wanted to visit the Sectret Gardens (not quite as striking as I had hoped). I spent all day, taking lots of pictures until the camera died and replacement batteries didn't help, and took the busy road (A258) back - but cars were very considerate. Coming back I passed by the harbour, which attracts me like magic, and met Freda and Alison, just to collect a scolding from Freda for not really taking the day off ( I explained to her that my training is not limited to swimming), and some helpful sharing of information with Alison.


Just two 1 1/2 hour dips in very lumpy water, nice Channel chats with other swimmers and helpers, e.g. Brent Hobbs who did a great sub 10-hour swim, accompanied by dolphins, the day before and was going in just for a short dip now. (Check his website for an inspiring report!: http://englishchannelogopogo.blogspot.com/) I am trying to hear about as many experiences as I can - there is always something to learn. Tomorrow 4 hours, hopefully.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things Get Rolling

Tasty food - an important part of Channel training!

Anticipation - talking to my goggles

Today, when I bought an extra pair of those Speedo goggles I have come to like so much, this time with a pale purple rim to distinguish them from the older bluish ones, it was so cute, I was talking to them with a deep inner conviction: "You are going to accompany me to Calais!" I know you have to be very humble towards the Channel (I liked very much when Christian Hübner, who had the first successful Channel crossing this year, used this word) - even with your best preparation or capacities, you never know what the Channel has in store for you as a learning experience.

This year, for the first time since my first swim, I feel completely surrendered. I am not afraid of failure or defeat. It is not in my hands. At the same time I am very confident and increasingly full of anticipation - with 2 more weeks of Dover training I should be ready to go.

As I am packing and organising to leave for Dover on Thursday, the inner joy is getting more intense. Things start to fall into place, although there are still a few loose ends - the extra bike, helpers. But it will come. I remember back in 1991, when we did a humanitarian help convoy to Russia, the last drivers joined at the last minute - and everything turned out easier than we imagined, weather, customs, roads etc. I love the vibration of these "very special" events - they take you like on a different level with a deeper inner intensity.

Thank you

I want to thank again all those who have helped or supported me in this project and are continuing to do so.

For example the Waves team - the owners and workers at the vegetarian restaurant Effulgence Waves in Heidelberg, who have offered me free meals for the last few weeks (and I have gladly accepted it, working almost next door, not only the desserts, but also Mexican omlette, tortillas, burritos, tofu-salad and so on...).

From the left: Kai, a great runner (just broke his arm biking), Marc, who joins the World Harmony Run whenever he has an opportunity, and Saumya, who was an incredibly selfgiving and inspiring helper on my boat back in 1985 (photo by Kallol, who ran the Marathon des Sables some time ago and absolutely refused to be in the picture himself). Also mssing is Tusheet, an ultra distance runner, who just finished the 100 k of Biel.

The restaurant will also be a "liaison office" where people can get news about my event once we are off to Calais and then to Heidelberg (Tel. +49 (0)6221-22814) If you should ever come to Heidelberg, don't miss stopping by! Ask for Channel swimmers' special!

Btw, the weather is crazy over here - the evening air just now is colder than the Channel. Monday and today have been very cold and rainy - I am just infinitely grateful for the sunshine over the weekend, I don't know if I would have done as much training otherwise. Today one hour swim, one hour biking, same tomorrow.

in Dover I will be staying at the Westbank Guest House until the 7th, and then move to Varne Ridge Holiday Park with my helpers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend-Triathlon (6:30, 6:30, 2:30) - and Getting Ready to Go!

July 19./20.

It will be VERY difficult - if not a miracle. But I believe in miracles. I have experienced them.

Friday was my last workday at my part-time job, now I am going to concentrate only on my big event and getting things organised before I leave for Dover on Thursday. I will take some translation and web work with me, but I don't expect too much to get done over there.

Saturday: Bye-bye Silver Lake

This weekend I knew I had to do some more biking and running (I can't take my bike to Dover). So Saturday saw me at the lake again, for the last time in a while, only around 9:30 a.m. When I arrived it just started raining. While taking shelter to avoid my bag and clothes getting wet, I got into a conversation with a former police sports lady walking Titus, a cute poodle, about the beauty of swimming, especially alone in the peaceful rain, the general fattening of "civilised" humanity (Channel swimmers not included) and other related subjects. By the time I got into the water around 10 a.m. I had missed the opportunity to swim in the rain - the sun was coming out.

6,5 hours in even windier and choppier conditions than last week - very grateful for this good training, arms felt better, nothing really hurt, just felt a bit strained at the end. More conversations mit the DLRG people (lifeguards) in between who wanted to know more details. Saw a huge carp, like the king of the lake, for the first time ever (there are supposed to be lots of them), met a swimmer in the middle of the lake and totally enjoyed swmming side by side with her for some time. She had no cap and almost got run over by the windsurfers, so took some shelter at my side (with bright red cap). Not 7 hours because I talked too much to people and wanted to catch the 7:30 train for an appointment at night, having to bike 1 hour back to Mannheim train station again.

Sunday: My bike needs repair

Instead of a scenic and hilly bike tour I decided to bike my running leg via Weinheim and Hembsbach to Worms and on to Wörrstadt (80 km), and if possible a few km more. I had hoped for 160-200 km for a last really good bike training. During the week I had done two 4 hour sessions (partly hilly), interrupted by a 1 hour swim each in the Waidsee in Weinheim. Otherwise it was usually just 1 hour bike per day to the pool and back (or to Kieser), plus another hour to work and back.

My intuition to check out the running route again was right. I discoverd a few tricky places where we might have gotten lost with the helper's van, or at least would have done unnecessary extra miles, and stretches where a helper on a bike is needed because the van cannot stop for a long time.

However, after 60 km, where it started getting a little hilly, my small gears stopped functioning properly, the chain was too loose and continued jumping. With the risk of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere I had no choice but turning round and biking back. It still took me 6.5 hours including checking those tricky spots and a cappuchino break, and although I did only 125 km or so, I felt pretty wiped out when I arrived at home. How to do 560 km after 15 hours (or more) swimming? In the triple ironman it is only 12 km swimming - but there I did less bike-training and it still worked....

Evening half marathon

After about 3 hours rest and some food (still trying things out) I went out for an (longer/shorter - very relative terms) evening run along the Neckar, first to Neckargemünd and back in the setting sun, with a fresh breeze. Short stop at home, then another lap towards Heidelberg city and back in the dark, along a well lit road - about 21 k in 2:30 hours. Felt really wiped out afterwards. But still I know I could have continued somehow. For the running leg I don't expect to need less than 15 hours (about 8 hours per marathon in the triple-ironman, including breaks).

The next three days will be organising - van, bike-repair, replacement bike, helpers (safe only until the middle of the tide, if I swim late there will be a shortage, because of work appointments of some helpers), food and gear to take on the van, writing out instructions and routes etc. Looking very much forward to Dover to get some peace and rest, along with the intensified Channel training.

Wishing all the other swimmers all the best in their preparations and the actual swim, and see you soon there!

And HUGE THANKS to all my helpers, supporters and well-wishers, inner and outer. An event like this can only be a team-effort!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 12/13 Silver Lake - Power & Peace

First split "Channel swim" - 7 & 6 hours, plus 3 hours biking

This week I felt so tired. After only one 45 min. swim since Dover (on Tuesday I was travelling, Wednesday evening pool, Thursday evening I fell asleep, Friday Kieser weight-workout, too much actually) - I finally did my first "split Channel swim" - 7 plus 6 hours over the weekend in the Silbersee / Silver Lake near Roxheim.

Conditions were very windy - towards the end I felt like in Dover harbour on Sunday. No rain, luckily, but sunny spells, which made things easier and was like a gift from above. I was thinking a lot of Dover and all the swimmers trying to do 6 or 7 hours there. The blogs of various Channel aspirants like Mark, Hoffy etc. really help to keep inspired and connected to the Channel world, even when I am training out here by myself.

It was my first 7 hour swim in rough water this year. The first 2 sunless hours again the most difficult until it flows, last lap the best, also with the sun coming out bright, making the air bubbles around the hands in the water look like stardust! I enjoyed the power-aspect of the lake, great training for the Channel, and at the end I was very happy, even though a muscle in the right shoulder or a tendon really started to hurt to the point I was afraid I would not be able to swim next day.

Next morning, however, I felt like I was dead. Looking out of the window it was drizzling. my rain trousers were nowhere to be found - great excuse to take a later train and lie down again for half an hour.

Finally I had to drag my body out of the house, take the train to Mannheim, followed by a 1 hour bike ride to Roxheim (no proper train connection again due to construction work on the weekends). 10 minutes into the bike ride the sun came out and my energy level was soon rising.

At the lake, however, the wind was chilly and I was not tempted at all to go into the water (about 20°C). 6 hours seemed unimaginable, and I wished to be back in bed. On the other hand I wanted to feel happy in the evening and also make it to France! So no escape - take it as work and use a great training opportunity. To calm my mind I was telling it that 3 hours is the minimum goal - then whatever happens is fine, I could still go for a longer bike ride.

Once in the water, however, things changed. The surface was just a bit ruffled by the wind, but there were no waves. In fact, the lake was quite peaceful throughout the whole day. First I was stiff and slow and without energy (lactic acid), but after 30 min. the muscles loosened up and the power came back to my arms. Now it felt like 6 hours could be done "easily", with the usual 3 sessions of 2 laps, to make it easier for the mind. Still the first 4 hours were real work and kind of dragging, but there was no question I would stay in until the end. I kept thinking of the Channel swimmers that had gone out today and how far they might have gone, trying to "swim for them", and those doing long swims in the harbour.

Swan company (photo from lake Constance, but today I almost swam into swans twice in the middle of the lake, only without little ones)

I had short feeds every hour, counting again 8, 9, 10 etc. instead of 1,2,3 .... After 4 hours I felt chilly again and wondered how I had managed to do 4 hours in Dover in 16°C and why they had passed so much faster there! The difference may be more endorphines in Dover, and more exhaustion here due to the rough long swim yesterday and more routine/boredom.

After lap 4 I took a 15 min. cappuchino break with some food, enjoying the view OVER the lake instead of into the water for a change in a spell of sunshine. I need some joy when I am training - joy is a source of energy for me, and if it is missing I have to find a way to get it back. And a coffee or cappuchino break has worked wonders during 12 or 24 hour races when I was dead at 6 o'clock in the morning, but after a short break was able to run fast again and even enjoy it... In the Channel, however, I won't have any coffeine, last time I had black tea during the last hour and it did not do me any good to keep me warm ...

In lap 5 the joy of swimming came back. Funny enough, my right shoulder was o.k. today (I had taken some homeopathic Arnica, put some "horse balm" - for horses, not from! - with Arnica and other herbs on the shoulder and visualised light around it), I even managed to backstroke again at the end of the day, but now the left shoulder started giving me trouble, and at some point my left wrist seemed to loose power, some energy imbalance. Again I tried to send light into the arm or the whole upper body, and I was grateful it did not get worse but most of the time the pain or lack of energy even disappeared.

The last two hours were again the best of the day, with a feeling of freedom and a very peaceful flow, and lots of blue sky and sunshine towards the end. Still I was happy to be finished for today. 13 hours, first time this year, great! Thanks also to the weather gods!

Next weekend one or two more long swims, then the very serious 7/6 hour swim in Dover harbour. Then it will be tapering... My main concern and top priority now is the Channel - to reach Calais. Once across, running and biking to Heidelberg should only be a matter of time - there is no cut-off! I am not going for a record but rather take it as a kind of pilgrimage, inner journey or quest - a beautiful word a lady from Deal, wife of a coach, was using for the motivation of Channel swimmers when we were chatting in the harbour.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dover, finally! 8 hours in choppy water (in 3 days, though...)

When I arrived in Dover in the late afternoon of Friday, July 4th, for a 3 day training visit, it felt like coming back to meet an old friend. I hadn't had this feeling on the few other occasions I had come through Dover since 1985.

I had taken the train from Heidelberg and the ferry from Calais to Dover, just to get a real feeling of the Channel and the distance. And I felt it embraced me like a friend. The sun was out all the way, also next day, the water was not too choppy during the crossing (windforce 1-2?), it looked clear and beautifully turquoise or greenish, only the huge patches of seawead or grass didn't look so inviting - but good to know they can be there in order to try to avoid them, e.g. with the help of infos on the white board by the crew.

The famous White Cliffs

The White Cliffs of Dover were already very visible from Calais - as the French coast would be clearly visible from Dover harbour beach in the evening. Very encouraging again! Of course I am very much aware that what looks so close is not necessarily easily accessible - not only the extremely busy shipping lanes present a challenge (how on earth do the pilots manage to get the swimmers safely past these huge tankers and container ships that are continuously travelling the shipping lanes, I was asking myself) - but especially the currents off the French coast past the 10th hour into the swim can turn the last few hundred meters into half an eternity. And often the weather is changing, with the wind picking up!

After I had checked into Westbank Guest House, a very cosy and friendly bed & breakfast in Folkestone Road with a nice terrace, I went down to the harbour full of anticipation. I didn't dare to get in at that time of the day all by myself, so I just walked around in the shallow cold water for quite some time, thinking "this is bearable". Then I sat down quietly on the beach to absorb the atmosphere and to let everything sink in a bit. France was clearly visible in the distance - I couldn't believe it! I also met a few swimmers from India who were training for a relay - they immediately recognised my t-shirt from the Lake Zurich marathon swim. "We have been there!"

Saturday, July 5th

Next morning I arrived shortly after 9 o'clock at swimmers beach, while about 30 or so swimmers from all around the world were getting ready to get into the water. Divided into short distances (yellow cap, mostly relay team members) and long distances (red cap, 4-6 hours or so). After saying "hi" to a few swimmers I knew and briefly chatting with Alison, my pilot, I introduced myself to Freda. Since it was my first visit to Dover I was free to do what I wanted. My only goal was to see how long I could stay in the cold water. So I got a yellow cap and in I went, to the left against the wind.

Meeting Alison Streeter, my pilot, and "Queen of the Channel" with 43 crossings! She knows many of our swimmers from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team and was honoured by Sri Chinmoy personally with the "Lifting up the World"-Award for her inspiration a few years ago

Walking to France?

The water was biting my face, but this feeling soon disappeared. I felt happy and comfortable in the choppy water, the sun was out most of the time. I remembered my successful 7 hour swim of 1985 in a rainy and choppy harbour - only I was 10 lbs heavier then. When I arrived at the PofW pier, my fingers had gone numb and were kind of fluttering in the water, creating a funny sensation, so I thought I should better get out and warm up a bit, even though the body still felt fine.

So after the first lap I got out, changed into a dry bathing suit and jogged up and down the harbour in the sun, taking pictures and chatting with Margit Bohnhoff (swam in 2007) and Miyuki from Japan after they finished their two hour swim. Both looked absolutely frozen - and Miyuki is due this tide! And has already 5 successful crossings to her credit!

Miyuki from Tokyo (5 crossings!) and Margit from Berlin before their 2 hour swim
Margit only came to Dover to meet Miyuki, who she had become friends with last year - Channel swimming creates friendships around the world!

Margit and Vasanti after their "dip"

Water in India is much warmer!

Back in for another lap, same story as above. When my fingers got numb towards the end, I got out again to warm up and get changed - I thought it better to acclimatise slowly. After some more chatting and taking pictures I turned to Freda and jokingly said: "I am a whimp!" Her very stern answer: "You have ten minutes to get back in and do another lap." (Before everybody else would be finished.) 5 minutes later I was back in the water, enjoying again the roughness, and the fact I had no pressure whatsover. Freda's goodbye words: "Tomorrow at 9 o'clock on the beach!"

Shakespeare Beach - where most of the Channel swims start (France is visible in the distance!)

After the swimming, some socialising, food shopping (btw great discovery: Heinz Weight Watchers canned spaghetti - really spicy! (I am not sponsored by WW, unfortunately)), shower and meal, I went on a two hour hike around Dover and over to Shakespeare Beach - where most of the swims start - and later up the cliff. Sat down on the beach for some silent moments, again the French coast visible in the distance, as well as an endless line of huge ships, visualising reaching the coast. Back via a trail through green pastures, with the sun out until past 9:30!

Sunday morning

Freda (the "General") and another seasoned and selfless helper ("There is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing," my father likes to say.)

Rain and wind. Down to the beach again. Freda asks me what my goal is for today. I just say: stay in as long as I can, that is until my fingers go numb. She says: everybody's fingers go numb. Red or yellow cap? Red! But I "warn" her that I may come in after an hour for a feed. Off again against the wind to the left, only today we are not allowed to swim all the way to the Docks - too choppy. So short circuit, but stronger effort. Punching the waves feels great again, I only come in for a feed after two hours. Bit of warm maxim and off again. I am amazed that I hardly meet any swimmers with so many people out there, but the waves are quite high and you don't see far. Suddenly I get a punch into my face from the right, right on the goggles - that hurts! Someone is crossing my way diagonally, swimming up from behind. He barely apologizes and just swims on. At the PofW pier some swimmers are swimming/sprinting along the pier. Otherwise I am by myself.

Feed 3 is warm maxim and a chocolate bar - and back in again. My fingers, which had started to get numb after the first hour like yesterday, are less numb now - progress! Only, at the end of the 4th hour, coming in for the next feed, my body starts feeling cold - probably also due to too few carbohydrates for a non-acclimatised warm water swimmer. The feeding helper asks me suggestively: "Coming in?" And I offer no resistance. In my mind I am telling myself: just to change into a dry suit, warm up again and go back in for 2 more hours. But! When I get out, it starts raining, wind picks up to gale force - and nobody is pushing me to get back in. So there I am - dry suit, cuddled up in warm clothes. Success or failure? Happy or not? 4 hours compared to yesterday is good - compared to 1985, well.... I know I would have been much more satisfied with 5 our 6 hours, but I had no set goal. I might have lasted for 6 hours, but then I would have needed more fuel.

What I also missed was someone to swim along with - in 1985 I had enjoyed it a lot to swim together with others.

To compensate for only four hours of cold water training and to give the poor lady in this horrible weather some business, I got some ice cream - and later went for a one hour jog again to the beach and lighthouse.

Braving the rain and the cold


Choppy water!

I had hoped to make some progress over Sunday today and had hoped for some sun, but the weather was horrible and rainy again. Maybe even windier. We wanted to meet with Margit, Miyuki and Ichi, her coach, as usual around 9 for a 2 hour swim, but they were late and not inclined to go in or stay longer. One brave Australien did a short lap supervised by his wife or girlfriend, otherwise no souls around. We agreed to meet again at 3 p.m., since the forecast was for sun in the afternoon.

Time went fast with eating, resting and some shopping (the famous 3 triathlon disciplines: eat, train, sleep). By mistake I went back to the harbour, not aware I was 1 hour early (German time on my watch), and sat there, watching the waves breaking more and more powerful on the beach with the incoming tide. When my three new friends finally arrived, I managed to convince Miyuki it would be good for her to get in at least for half an hour. The sun had actually come out, but the wind remained. As soon as we were in the water, we really enjoyed it. We were about the same speed, swimming alongside or close to each other, which gave a nice sense of confidence and security. We swam three short laps to the PofW pier, the safer side, but after 45 minutes it seemed the wind was picking up even more and the waves were breaking higher, so I felt it was better to get out. The two sailing boats that are usually anchored in the harbour, had already been taken out for safety reasons. We left the water at the boats' house, where the waves were breaking less fiercely. Miyuki was nicely dumped into the pebbles by a huge wave anyway. I was grateful to have swum - but somehow felt I could have done more, had I dared to get in in the morning.

Later I took the bus to Folkestone and got off at Varne Ridge Holiday Park, where we would stay with my helpers from the 7th until my swim. The view from the cliffs up there was simply breathtakingly beautiful. I was already so much looking forward to coming back in 2 weeks. I jogged back to Dover on the biking trail in the evening sun, and when I reached my B&B, it just started raining again. Next morning, on the ferry, a sunny goodbye, but huge waves - the Channel had shown me all his faces!

All in all it was a great and valuable, worthwhile trip. True, I did not get overtrained, but I "touched base" and got the confidence that I am on the right track.

This weekend hopefully again two longer back to back swims in the lake, next weekend long swim and long bike, and then it's Dover again, this time very seriously - 7 and 6 hours back to back and then getting ready for the big day.

"Ecstasy-Bird..." (from a song dedicated to Channel swimming)

Here are more photos from this trip:

Dover July 4-8 2008, first Channel training