In my mind the real challenge of the event is the 3 mile race. Each year I have done this race I have nailed the 5 mile race, got out but been very cold and struggled to warm up. Then got back in and about a mile into the 3 mile race fallen into a deep dark hole and really laboured to finish.
I had a different strategy this year which involved skipping the hot showers after the 5 and 3 mile swims (a controversial method to warm up anyway). Instead I would throw on multiple layers of clothes and critically I would eat, eat and eat. I theorised that previously I had wasted too much time warming up in showers which may not have been getting my core warm anyway when I needed to be replacing lost energy by refuelling. I also understand that you are burning a large amount of energy shivering and warming up, maybe as much as when you are exercising (if you get very cold) and one of the main reasons I have struggled in the 3 mile race was not a lack of fitness but a lack of glycogen used up trying to maintain my core body temperature. With this new strategy in mind I was almost looking forward to this year's race and when I headed off at 5am to make my way down to Dover, I was as upbeat about the challenge as I get when contemplating a long, very cold swim.
I arrived in Dover just after 8am and was greeted by the new event organiser Mark Sheridan. It was 3 years since I had last swum in Dover harbour and one of the nicest things about doing another BLDSA race was all the familiar faces. BLDSA events are not for the faint hearted so attendances are not going to challenge the Great North Swim, as a result there is always a sense of familiarity and camaraderie among the regular faces and swimmers. As people steadily arrived the sun was shining, the water was calm and I was almost looking forward to getting wet. Despite the fact that this was really a training event for me and I needed to save myself for the 6 hour qualifying swim I would be doing the next day I was sizing up the competition. I suspected Chloe McCardel would be my main competitor, Chloe is a good friend and I have swum and trained with Chloe many times over the years. She is an extremely accomplished long distance swimmer having swum the English Channel 7 times and is the current world record holder for the longest unassisted ocean swim, she is also very quick!
I was a bit slow getting into the water for the first race and was still making my way out to the optimal start spot when the siren went. I jumped into action and headed towards the first turning buoy of the 1/2 mile circuit. I was second to the buoy behind a green capped swimmer but I soon passed him on the way to the second buoy and by the time I reached the 3rd and final buoy, of the first lap, I had opened up a small lead over Chloe who was now in second place. I settled into a steady pace and tried to tick off the laps one at a time. By the time I was on my 3rd lap I was passing the back markers and I could no longer tell how close Chloe was. I had a few uncomfortable moments between laps 3 and 6 as I went through the normal phases of feeling the cold and then adjusting. By the time I turned for the start of the 7th lap I felt reasonably comfortable and started to think it would be more desirable to keep swimming and get the 9 miles over and done with in one hit rather than having to get out and back in again. I was swimming strong in the last few laps and was surprised to find myself lapping the green capped swimmer who had led me at the start, nevertheless as I made the final turn and headed to the finish line I felt glad the first part was over. I got out quickly and threw on the clothes just as the shivering started. I quickly got some hot energy drink into me and saw that I had a opened up a small lead of about 5 minutes over Chloe. A good start, but I knew it was not enough if I struggled in the 3 mile as I had in previous years.
|Finishing the 5 mile race|
|Champion of Champions - Chloe and me|