June 06, 2005

The first weekend in Dover

The water wasn't 14 degrees... it was 12.

Cold? It wasn't just cold. As I waded into the water, I realised my legs were already going numb. I pushed off the bottom and swam out, and my body screamed in agony. The air whooshed out of my lungs as my chest muscles compressed, and I gasped for air, struggling to breathe. Pins and needles prickled my hands and legs as I stroked and kicked vigourously, trying to keep my blood moving. The wind howled around my head and whipped up the waves, which crashed on me and sprayed in my mouth as I took breaths. The sun was concealed by a layer of thick cloud and the water was impenetrable- I could not see past my elbow. It was a cold, windy, depressing day- and it was my first day swimming in the Channel.

Within half an hour, I was shivering uncontrollably, my body spasming as it tried to keep producing heat. My quadriceps were inexplicably cramping- I had never cramped there before, but now they tightened up and were threatening to knot up. My neck felt like it was being twisted as I kept craning up to get my bearings and to breathe over the waves.

Still I persisted. I eventually looked at my watch and it read 50 minutes. More than anything else, my fear was that I was about to lose control over my body. My mind was still strong, but my body was uncontrollably spasming and the pain shooting up my body was terrible. The only part of my body which wasn't hurting from the cold were my shoulders, which had been doing most of the work- perhaps because they were warm from their constant movement. I finally waded ashore at 55 minutes, shivering uncontrollably and I stumbled up the shore. It took me over fifteen minutes to finish getting dressed and wrapped up as I was shivering so hard my fingers refused to obey my commands.

The next day I made an entire hour, and the cold was a little more bearable, but if there's anything I learnt this weekend, it's that I need to put on a lot more fat. The best swimmers out there this weekend- not the fastest, nor strongest, but those who had the most endurance- had heavy slabs of body fat to protect themselves from the cold. The importance of body fat has been driven home. The danger of losing control is very real- one of the other swimmers was sick thrice and lost control of her bowels while she was swimming.

Apart from my exhausting weekend swimming, I had to deal with the farce that is the British public transportation system. Wisely, I set aside an entire day to travel- and I needed all of it. On the way down, there was a delay on the train to London Paddington; 'severe delays' on the Circle line of the underground (which took me from Paddington to Victoria) which delayed the tube for ages; and two delays on the train from Victoria to Dover. On the way back, I accepted a lift to London from fellow swimmers who live in London, thinking I would avoid the train delays. That I did; however, when we entered London, we promptly ran into roadworks, which delayed me longer than if I had taken the train. I finally limped into Victoria, and then to my horror read a sign saying 'District/Circle Line closed'. I asked a station official, who promptly gave me wrong directions. Fortunately I verified his directions against the map, and was able to take the Central line to Oxford Circus before changing to the Bakerloo line to get to Paddington. I arrived in Paddington three minutes before the train to Oxford left; I sprinted, got on the train, and collapsed into a seat. Miraculously, the journey back to Oxford was uneventful.

Thus went my first weekend of training in the Channel. I think I did alright. I was hoping for better, but I have to be reasonable. I'm sore and exhausted, but give me a good night's sleep and I'll be all ready to get back in the pool tomorrow to continue training.

Channel Swim 2005 008.jpg
What the picture doesn't show is that I'm shivering uncontrollably... while people in shorts and summer shirts walk by along the promenade

Posted by pj at June 6, 2005 04:13 AM

Wow! I'm proud of you, PJ! I can't imagine how painful that must have been. Cold gets to me quickly. Congratulations on making it this far. I'll be thinking of you as your training continues.

Posted by: Erin at June 7, 2005 04:14 AM

Thanks Erin!

Posted by: PJ at June 7, 2005 06:53 PM
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