Friday, August 22, 2008

Believe in Your Dreams!

(Photos by Prabhakar)

Dreams may take time to manifest, but never stop keeping them alive in your heart! And never stop preparing! The time will come....

One gigantic dream come true is a project of friends in Australia: running around the whole Australian continent with a flaming torch for world harmony with two international teams: 15,000 km in 111 days. Had I not had my own Dover-Heidelberg project this year, I might have become part of it! My stay in Canberra where I did my first ultra-triathlon in 1998 was one of my best experiences!

World Harmony Run Video

The World Harmony Run is one of my favorite "children" - projects can be like children - in which I have been involved in Germany and internationally since its beginnings in 1987. It is amazing to see how this project has grown and developed over two decades and how many people of all ages and backgrounds and especially children it has touched all over the world.

A magical journey with a torch, spreading joy and the spirit of friendship and harmony, and experiencing the beauty of this world through running.

Experiences by a participant - what it is about to be part of this project.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gratitude and Patience

France in the distance, even visible from water level! So close and yet so far! (foto taken after my 7 hour swim on Thursday)

One might think the Channel is there to teach a few things: patience, determination, humility, a never-give-up attitude, and that you have to put your heart 100 % into something, if you want to succeed. And even then there is no guarantee. (In regard to the mind-philosophy: some say, 80 % is in the mind, others say, best is "no mind". Both may be right.) Also it seems the weather has become much more unpredictable and unstable.

Friday (15th) morning 13 boats went out. Only 2 swimmers and one relay (if I am correct) made it to France. The wind picked up earlier and stronger from the South than expected, making progress extremely slow in conditions that were becoming dangerous, especially in the dark (feeding in high waves, being swept away from the boat or hit by it). Only a relay and two fast swimmers made it, one of them Liz Fry with her two-way attempt, who reached France in under 12 hours and even managed to swim a big part of her second leg back to England through the night, before she had to be pulled out due to the conditions after about 20 hours.

It was hard to believe when we heard the stories this morning on the beach. I felt so sorry - we had been so sure for Jonathon (caravan neighbour at Varne Ridge) and others they would make it. And at the same time I felt a deep sense of gratitude that I still have an opportunity to go. I would not have lasted in these conditions either, being a slower swimmer who might need a window of 15 hours plus. And the night was chilly - only 11 degrees Celsius even for Calais!

Even felt grateful in hindsight for the late money transfer, the bike problems etc. which had been keeping me and my mind busy during the "unswimmable" time. Had I tried to go out by all means and failed, I would not have been able to afford a second attempt in September.

Patiently hoping now that the Channel will again be like a fruit: all the efforts put in are part of the ripening process, and when the time is ripe it will happen. You can not force it or push it. Sumeru told me about an experience Reinhold Messner had with his Mount Everest climb without oxygen: He wrote that he tried to communicate with the mountain, and one day he felt it was "the" day where the mountain would allow to be climbed. Messner even fell into a deep crevasse, which under normal circumstances would have been it, but he had no fear and just knew he would stand at the top of the mountain at the end of the day. And he did.

I remember in 1985, when the day finally came, how smooth it felt. After 6 hours, in the middle of the Channel, I had the same feeling that it was already done, I just had to execute it. Maybe the fruit is not ripe and I am not completely ready yet.

Today only 3 hours in the harbour, yesterday the same, although I had hoped for two more long swims (at least Thursday I had managed a 7 hour swim) - the energy did go down a bit. Glad to get a break from Dover.

There are a few inspiring DVDs to keep spirits up for those waiting: Kanalschwimmer (Channel Swimmers) featuring Christoph Wandratsch in his record attempt plus two other swimmers, and "Heart", the true story of Marilyn Bell, who swam lake Ontario at age 16, outswimming Channel legend Florence Chadwick.

Quote from Marilyn Bell:

And gratitude again to the Beach Crew, especially Freda, Irene, Barry, as well as Evelyn and Dave from Varne Ridge and all the support so far from other swimmers, friends and family.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sadness and another 7-hour swim

Shakespeare Beach - just wild!

Yesterday, after confirming with Alison that for me the tide is definitely over (Alison feels I can go on a good spring tide, but I couldn't now because of lack of helpers for the triathlon), I felt sad and empty. Went to the Euroline ticket center to check how I will get back, and then to Shakespeare beach again. The sea wasn't just powerful but violent, ferries were even held up for a couple of hours. In the evening it cleared up and there was a beautiful moon, almost full, over the waters which were becoming calmer. My 2 helpers had a last bus trip to Deal and walked back over the cliffs (4 hours) to Dover. Sumeru left this morning, Bea is leaving tomorrow, I may stay until Sunday.

Meditation helped me refocus - it is not even three weeks until the Sept. tide! So today (Thursday), with Bea's great support, I did another 7 hour swim in the harbour in beautiful sunshine and increasingly calmer waters again. Felt as if I had swum half the Channel (realising again the Channel is really no joke), strained but quite happy and upbeat again. And enjoyed the hard earned massage afterwards! We tried out a few things regarding feeding, such as throwing bottles and having a bit of bread with peanut butter when the sweet taste is getting too much (I like it during ultra races), and it felt good. Of course, in the Channel it will always be a bit different.

The usual swollen eyes after a 7 hour swim

Was happy to hear that Carol from Australia will come back with Max next year to finally do it (they have been so kind and offered us transport to and from the beach many times), and that Jonathan, also staying at Varne Ridge, will have his go tomorrow in what seems absolutely perfect conditions, along with many others. Amazed to hear that some pilots are still not going out. What a game.

Bea, Carol and Max

Hopefully 4 hours in the harbour tomorrow and a last long swim on Saturday, then back home, to get some work done. And looking forward to seeing quite a few swimmers back in September!

Good luck to all swimmers tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Postponed until September

At least now we know. Friday, the last day of the neap tide, will be a great swimming day, it seems, but the swimmer before me is going out. Good luck to you, Maggie, make the best of it and don't stop until you run out of water! I will go for a long training swim tomorrow and maybe again on Friday, just to make the most of my time here in Dover.

Yesterday and today the wind has been up to gale force, even with the sun out for lots of the time, which helped to keep spirits up. When we jogged down to the harbour from Varne Ridge yesterday via Shakespeare Beach, from where swims used to start (now they may also start from Samphire Hoe, created from debris from the Channel tunnel), the waves there were breaking so high, there was no way of getting into the water. The Channel was really showing its power - exactly like in July/August 1985, when Minati and Saumya were there with me.

I will be back in September. My helpers have to be home in Zurich and Graz by Sunday, and I would not swim on a strong spring tide anyway. Waiting for the next tide is no option for various reasons. The budget will be stretched, but I am still lucky - swimmers from the U.S. or from other far away parts of the world mostly don't have this option.

We had a nice chat with Alison Streeter, my pilot, on her boat in the morning. She had been more depressed about the weather than many of us swimmers, wanting desperately to give us a chance to go. She will try to take out as many swimmers as possible already on the next tide if the weather allows so that there may be "vacancies" on the first September tide from the 6th to the 11th or so or even a few days earlier. I will be able to go to Dover on very short notice as soon as the weather seems right and there is a slot.

On Alison's boat - Bea tells the famous story of her mid-Channel haircut for the umptieth time - and we just crack up laughing again!

All the preparation is done, loose ends have been tied together, things can only run smoother in September. New helpers will be needed for the boat, but for the bike and run part the crew is already confirmed (anybody else who feels inspired is still welcome!). We have gathered valuable experience here and sorted a number of things out (feeding schedule, what to feed, how to feed, things to take into account like stomach sickness of the swimmer etc., bought light sticks, grease etc.) - and my muscles have grown! All the hours of training in the choppy harbour and acclimatising to the cold will not be lost. I might have to take cold showers and maybe even an ice bath every now and then at home, but in September the water usually is even a bit warmer. The air temperature right now is not very helpful either, rather making for a higher chill factor during the swim.

I will leave some things in Dover, like food supplies, gear, clothes, so that everything will just be ready to go when we come back. Fingers crossed!

With 2 girls of the successful Teens on the Move Sea 2 See-Relay and their coach Dee from Australia, our caravan neighbours, and Dori (U.S.), who swam successfully last Friday, on the beach in Dover harbour

With Michael Read, head of the CSA (the Channel Swimming Organisation I swam with in 1985) and former King of the Channel with 33 crossings
My current pilot Alison Streeter is part of the CS & PF, the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, a new organisation to pilot, observe and ratify English Channel swims. For us swimmers the main thing is to swim under official observation - I am trying to keep away from politics.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

... and waiting....

Stuck in base camp, so to say. The Mount Everest of swimming is showing us its inaccessible side and has only allowed very few swimmers to cross this tide so far. Until Wednesday it will be extremely windy (25 knots and over from the south), Thursday getting slightly better but not great, still strong southerly winds, Friday is now looking like a swimmable day, but there is still one swimmer before me. Still hoping the good weather might move up in time. Saturday looked good yesterday, not today anymore, plus it is a spring tide, with 6.3 m and 1.4 m high and low tide. Opinions are divided as to how advisable it is to swim on a spring tide. A slow swimmer can end up just being swept parallel up and down the French coast - until the next neap tide..

Last Friday there was a narrow swimming window of 10-12 hours. Two swimmers I know of started in the afternoon around 3 and 4 p.m. in pretty grim conditions, with northern winds at about 15 mph pushing them and sky covered by clouds (the "chill factor", i.e. lack of sun, wind, adds to the cold water temperature). One swimmer gave up after 2,5 hours (felt sick), the other one, Dori from Connecticut, made it in 10 hours, conquering her sickness by only taking peppermint tea and carbo-stuff (maltodextrine and fruit sugar, I think) all the way, throwing up everything else. At times she could see the bottom of the boat coming out of the waves. During the night it got calmer, the water became warmer - and she touched French shore around 1 a.m., loosing quite a bit of skin in her effort to climb over the rocks in the dark night to touch firm ground. (Slower swimmers would have had the wind coming up against them a couple of hours later.)

Staying at Varne Ridge really helps to cope with the waiting time. Great views over the Channel even in bad weather, beautiful walking and running trails on the cliff tops, very friendly and supportive owners, Dave and Evelyn, who e.g. organised an indoor barbeque with great pizza and salads and German Zwetschgenkuchen (plum cake, bought at Lidl in Folkstone) on Saturday to help lift the spirits of all the swimmers and crews staying at the caravan site.

Evelyn cutting the Zwetschgenkuchen, I believe

5 Channel swimmers, 9 swims (not counting relays): Laura, Bea, Vasanti, Dee (Jersey) and Sally turning the indoor barbecue into a teddy bear party

Irish bagpipe performance (Enda's team) - there was no room for it inside....

Goodbye for the Sea 2 See-relay team - the Jersey girls are leaving with Sally, the Australians are staying a few more days (sadly, they were the only ones to get that "congratulations"-sticker on their caravans while we stayed there....)

Last night I had an evening run over the cliffs in a stiff breeze with the path of the half moon glittering on the waves, in the afternoon I treated myself to two hot chocolates with whipped cream at the clifftop cafe (open air) writing my diary, while my helpers were out for a walk.

All along the coastline (not only in Dover harbour) you encounter remnants of the war - bunkers, memorial plates and sites, like the Battle of Britain memorial which I visited a few days ago. I have been reading a book with swimmers' portraits, and one story touched me particularly: It was about a swimmer who felt his most significant swim was one between Bali and another island, not because of its difficulty, but because Hindu and Muslim fishermen, who had used to avoid each other for ages, started cooperating to help him with his swim. Similarly, swimming the English Channel - and doing this triathlon - for me has a feeling of helping heal old wounds, strengthening the feeling of oneness between countries instead of seperation.

Battle of Britain Memorial site

Swim training has been down to 2 hours in mostly quite wavy conditions, on the weekend (yellow cap from Feda) with lots of other waiting swimmers and one head on collision (actually only "hands on") and a few close misses (Kevin just barely...) Today only one hour.

So we are trying to keep our spirits up and remain focussed, ready to go any time a window should open. Trying not to catch a cold, not to twist ankels in rabbit holes along the cliff, not to break fingers crawling into other people's face etc. If it is not to happen now, I am definitely going to be back in September!

Thanks everybody for your e-mails and faxes of support! And check back soon for updates!

Friday, August 8, 2008


Tuesday evening, biking by the harbour, I was almost shocked: for the first time since I was back in Dover, the French coast was visible again - so clear, so near, almost in grasping distance.

Next day my two helpers for the boat arrived, Bea and Sumeru from Austria and Zurich, and we moved to Varne Ridge Caravan Park, where a whole Channel swimmer community is staying. A couple from Australia (Carol wants to come on my boat as a helper and support swimmer to get more Channel experience), Enda from Ireland, and the members of the Jersey-Australian Teens on the Move Sea-2-Sea Relay Team who made it only the other day (Aug. 6), barely missed by thunderstorms and lightning from three sides at the end of their swim in the night.

Sally Minty-Gravett, 4-time Channel swimmer in 4 decades from Jersey, coach of the Jersey girls and staying in the caravan next door, turned out to have swum exactly the same day as myself in 1985, on Sept. 9th. On that day all the faster swimmers had been held up by the French coastguards until the slower swimmers had caught up. Only then were they allowed to continue - otherwise she would have been quite a bit faster that year! We had a very nice conversation and of course took quite a few fotos.

With Sally Minty-Gravett, 4-times Channel soloist and caravan neighbour. We both swam on Sept. 9 in 1985, just like U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett, who needed 22 hours, and Philip Rush, who true to his name did a two-way in not even an hour more than I needed for a solo!

We feel like in heaven up here on top of the cliffs between Folkestone and Dover, with a fantastic view across the Channel to the French coast, with its lights glittering like diamonds in the evening. It helps us not to get too impatient waiting for the right weather. Last night it seems a few swimmers went out, I heard of one who got out of the water after only 3 hours because it was too cold for him(16.5 C water, "normal" temperature, i.e. what you have to be prepared for). Today around 3 p.m. in the afternoon more swimmers will go out, with quite a bit of wind pushing them, then calming down, but with a chance of stronger Southern winds in the morning. I still have to wait for my turn.

For the weekend it looks very windy, even Monday and Tuesday don't look too good right now, but things can always change.

Swim training is down to a minimum - two hours on Wednesday, quite fast for me in very calm water with Rashmi, the 18-year old Indian girl waiting to attempt a double. I was surprised to be able to keep up with her - confidence for a faster crossing than in 1985 is growing.

With my helpers Bea (Channel solo 2006) and Sumeru, a doctor from Austria

Yesterday, on Thursday, only one hour - all the time thinking "I am swimming in the wrong direction" - with the French coast visible in a haze in the distance, beckoning. Today again only one hour easy - like other swimmers who are waiting.

I was glad we had a chance to watch the Olympic opening ceremony - fascinating, at some points during the cultural part I had goosebumps. In spite of politics and pollution and drugs - there was a feeling something new is emerging, even if it will need time to grow.

Latest news: grim prospects even till Monday and later, some say for the whole tide! Will our prayers help? Or will it be similar to 1985, where my helpers had to come three times and I had to leave Dover in between? Coming back in September would be an option, if there is a place on a boat available. Plus it would stretch the budget quite a bit. But I cannot imagine training like this for another year... So let's at least stay optimistic!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dover Training Camp, 2

Dover Castle from the Marina Office area

Sunny Dover Harbour

Just a short update from the Dover Marina Office public computer. Photos will hopefully be added soon, in the meantime some Dover photos from a couple of weeks ago: Album DoverJuly482008FirstChannelTraining

53 swimmers and relays (at least) have been successful so far in 2008! For details click:

The week continued

Wednesday I felt very tired and only did three hours in choppy water, in bright sunshine, then Thursday four hours, Friday only 2 again in very lumpy water - on Cliff's advice, otherwise would have felt like a whimp, but I do have to allow for regeneration - we are no longer in our twenties, he wisely pointed out. Saturday red cap (for long swim) and 3 hours given by Freda in windy and sunless conditions (and a long run from Varne Ridge back to Dover over the cliffs in evening sunshine - yes the sun did come out at the end of the day!) and today, Sunday only yellow cap by Freda, i.e. serious tapering, only a short swim of 2 hours in very choppy water again. Tomorrow will be off, then only one or two hours, maximum another 3 hour swim.

View from Varne Ridge where we will be staying from the 7th to Folkestone

During the week which was mainly sunny and warm (up to 27C) there were only a handfull of other Channel aspirants on the beach. We heard that some swimmers hadn't made it on Tuesday, a perfect swim day, due to hypothermia and other reasons.

I met up with Rashmi Sharma, a 18 year old Indian girl from Calcutta, with her mother Kiran coaching and feeding her and watching our things and her 6-year old cute brother Adri. Rashi has done the Channel already twice, in 2006 and 2007 (at the age of 16 and 17, and in 2007 even got half way back on the second leg of a double attempt!) and is training again for a successful double crossing now, very serious, very determined and disciplined. She looks strong and happy and confident, and I have a good feeling that she will make it, weather permitting. Her mother is praying for her. While she did her 5 and 6 hours I did 3 and 4 - it is always nice to know someone else in the water, even if they swim at a different speed. Friday and Saturday Cliff came to help his girlfriend Laura and helped feed and advise the rest of us. He knows almost everyone on the beach and has done the Channel twice - although he looks and maybe feels more like a runner.

Rashmi (18) and Adri (6) Sharma from Calcutta, Rashmi is on my tide, attempting a double crossing after two solos in 2006 and 2007

The weekend - 2nd/3rd of August

Big weather change. Saturday and Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the Dover Regatta with lots of things going on in the Harbour area - entertainment, swimming, Newfoundland dogs rescueing show (I hoped to get pulled out by one of those huge cuddly black beasts but they did only what they were supposed to do), boat races, English and French shopping stalls, yacht parade etc. But it rained a lot of the time and cooled down quite a bit! The sun had moved to the Zurich lake swim it seemed, where a bunch of about 40 Brits including Nick Adams had gone to swim the 26 km the length of the lake solo or in relays.

We only had a very small part of the harbour to ourselves, marked by bouys that were difficult to see in the huge waves, and about 40 channel aspirants swam for 1 to 5 hours, according to the proximity of their swim tides, in the eastern part of the Harbour which is the most choppiest when the wind is blowing - and it was about windforce 5 (all the private yachts are stuck in the harbour right now)! Great training not only for the arms and shoulders, but for the whole body, but with the tide starting on the 7th and a first swimming possibility on the 9th, I have to be careful! And Freda knew that, of course.

Feeding break with Nicola Millichip, who swam today (Aug. 6) on the sping tide - and made it!

The good thing is the water temperature has gone up, Sandette light ship between Dover and Calais has already shown over 64 degree Fahrenheit (18 Celcius), but went down a slight bit again. Saturday felt quite warm, but today it felt again much colder in the harbour, maybe also due to the weather. With my triathlon I am trying not to put on more weight (it goes mainly only to the wrong places that are heavily insulated already anway and would slow down my running even more...), and I have seen a number of much skinnier girls here who seem to have no problem after some acclimatisation. Actually I start feeling very comfortable with the water, the waves and the temperature, the longer I stay in. Swim day will be lesser waves and better weather anyway.

Met again a number of Channel swimmers (e.g. Hoffy who is doing Jersey to France soon, Damian Westray with lots of juicy Channel stories about Alison Streeter and others, Kevin Murphy (59) who is third place after me on Alison's boat for his 35th crossing (!), Chris did another successful long swim) and had many nice talks. Good advice for upset or funny stomach in the water (apart from Sea-leg pills for seasickness and coke): peppermint tea! From a Michelle from Dover who made it in 15+ hours on Sunday. Got more supplies like light sticks for the night, Maxim electrolyte, a good cap and a swimmers' check list and feeding list from Freda Streeter (mainly maltodextrin and fruit sugar with tea or water every hour, later every half hour, plus some electrolyte every third hour after at the half hour mark). A check list can be quite helpful - I heard that a well-known channel swimmer found she had forgotten her bathing suit when she wanted to start one of her swims from France, and a TV crew was there to film!

Thanks to Freda and the Beach Team with their fitting "open water junkies" caps again for their invaluable dedicated service!

Freda Streeter watching over her swimmers

Morning power

Evening peace


Getting more and more focused on the Big Day and the question "When will it be?" - checking the internet regularly for the wind forecasts, but it is hard to tell so many days in advance. Right now the 9th and 10th looks fine, but things are changing constantly (e.g. for this weekend there had been sun predicted only a two or three days before) and I am only second swimmer - unless someone changes their mind. Relays may even go out earlier on the spring tide.

Slight bike problem: Might have to get a new bike here last minute because the gears of my old one broke down and cannot get fixed and a replacement bike seems problematic. But I am confident that everything will work out fine.

"My", i.e. Alison's boat Roco, very spacious, but under repair right now with the old gears being replaced with new, smooth ones!

Charities and International Friendship

It has become very popular among Channel swimmers to swim to raise money for a charity, and there are many great causes supported by them. It can give inspiration and a deeper motivation to the swimmer to know he or she is not just doing it for him- or herself but for a greater cause. It can help to endure physical and mental pain, suffering or hardship thinking to be able to serve fellow human beings far worse off and doing the swim and training in a spirit of self-giving.

If anyone reading this blog is inspired to support a cause - please feel free to support any of the charities in the linked blogs.

I just want to dedicate my Channel triathlon to the cause of World Harmony and international friendship and understanding, which is so much needed to solve many serious world problems, and the Channel swimmer community is a great example of this spirit, even if also here there can be encountered some instances of human ego-problems and divided opinions. That's the world, we are the world, and we can be a part of the solution!

Never underestimate the impact of a positive attitude or positive changes in consiousness. Even for the Channel it is said: 80 % is mental. To which I only would like to add: not just mental, but deeper - you not only need the mind, but your heart and soul to reach your goal! Good luck to everyone!