Euphoric Misery – english channel swim

Euphoric Misery – english channel swim

During the last few hours battling the waves, I came up with the expression – “euphoric misery” to describe my swim.   I am not sure if this expression is grammatically correct, but it states clearly how I felt — “euphoric” because I was swimming in the english channel, but “misery” because it was so painful…
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Sometime at the end of May…

I decided I wanted to swim the English Channel.

I figured it would be an achievement to do in my 39th year (I turn 40 in January 011)  as well as something to motivate and encourage the people around me to make their lives happen.

Via google, I learned the three months of the year attempts can be made were July, August and September  – perfect.

When I decided to attempt the channel, I had no idea how it works.   I thought I could just hire a boat and a few friends and off we go… but its much more complicated.

There are a couple of associations who must approve and certify all channel swims, and you can only use certain captains/pilots who are certified by these associations.  Channel Swimming & Pilots Federation and the Channel Swimming Association.

Naively, I emailed the contact on the website of one of the pilots of  CS&PF telling him I wanted to swim the channel this year …
I received a somewhat aggressive response: “NO WAY for 2010 or 2011 the earliest would be 2012” ….. he said all the boats and captains have been booked for the next two years.

Hmmmmm.

By chance,  I emailed Julie Bradshaw the Secretary of the Channel Swimming Association – she emailed me back within 2 minutes.
She explained that I missed the deadline, all the boats have been booked, but … if I sent her my paper work immediately, she would apply for me and at the same time look for a pilot. (Julie was incredibly helpful in getting me registered to swim – she is the reason why I was able to swim this year — thank you Julie!)

A few weeks later, I found a new pilot, a fisherman who has fished the channel waters for 45 years, thus knows the tides better than most  – Peter Reed.  Peter and his son had just passed all their certifying tests and he did not have anyone registered to swim yet ….I was his first swimmer.

Reflecting back … it’s funny how naïve I was – I never doubted that I would find a slot and be able to swim…

While I was applying and trying to find a boat for my English Channel swim, I had just begun tapering for ironman France (the ironman was on June 27th )

I figured that once I was finished with ironman France, I had two full months of swim training — I have done two ironman this year, thus have somewhat of a fitness base.  I was a competitive swimmer for 13 years of my life and still have a good feel for the water.
I sincerely, believed that 2 months of focused, hardcore open water training would work for me.

I laugh about it now, but I organized my crew before I had even officially registered for the swim ….Andy aka “Candy”, Claire, Simon aka “Oxymoron”, Anna, and Jules all agreed to crew for me.  (“crew” means to assist the swimmer and pass food, drinks, etc for the duration of the swim)

Until the week before my swim, I had never met my crew.  Candy and Oxy are part of the original Pirate’s, the UK based triathlon club which I am a proud member …

The crew is very important because they feed you, but more importantly, they keep you focused and positive — I wanted Candy to crew for me because I knew he was not a quiter, and I would be too ashamed to quit with two original Pirates – Candy and Oxy on board.

Candy has done a triple ironman, run in several 100+ mile races.   His training routine is intense –after work he will run 30-40 mile runs a few times a week…
imagine doing more than a marathon for a training run “a few times a week.”
Oxymoron has done a few ironman, Marathon des Sables, and the North Pole Marathon just to name a few.

Over the past 12 months via email, these two, esp. Candy played a key role in challenging me/motivating me to start making these ironman, endurance challenges happen.

I needed my swim to be in September so I could get 2 months of good training, and also because my two girls have to go back to school in Dubai September 11th and I could fit the swim in my summer vacation ….

Once I got the name and number of Captain Pete, I called him to discuss my game plan of trying to swim beginning of September – he said the best tides in the month of September were on September 3rd.  Perfect.

Therefore, sometime in the beginning of June, I paid the deposit for the captain and booked my swim.

Although I live in Dubai for most of the year, when my girls are out of school (during the summer) I work from Monaco and live in our home in La Turbie in the south of France which enabled me to do nearly all my swim training in the Mediterranean sea.

Over July and August…

I swam 2 – 9 hours every day, lifted weights and read every blog, swim report, book, etc I could find on the English Channel.

I emailed people who had swum it — and several gave me great input (thanks Nial!)  I  joined an open water swim forum to gain as much “mental” insight as I could.

I became friends with 6 time channel swimmer Nick Adams, the President of CS&PF.  Nick was exceptionally helpful – amazing how much time, input and support he gave me.  Nick Adams is one of the best people I have met and he played a key role in helping me get prepared to swim.

Its worth mentioning – over the year, I lost a lot of weight esp. body fat training for the ironman – but I read how people who swim the channel try to gain weight.  Some people intentionally gain up to 40 lbs … After my training trip and cold swim in Dover harbor in the middle of August, I worried that I was too thin and decided to gain as much weight as possible before my swim.
For 3 weeks in August, I ate as much as I could.  I think I gained 5-10 lbs in those 3 weeks.
Did it help me on my swim?  I have no idea.

August 31st….

Sophie, Marie, Giovanna and I took an easy 90 minute flight from Nice, (France) to London on August 31st – we rented a car and then drove an hour to Dover.  We stayed at a great bed & breakfast, the “St Martin’s” in Dover.

My swim had been scheduled for Friday, September 3rd, but the weather had been terrible the entire month of August, so Captain Pete told me if the weather forecast on Thursday, September 2nd was good – we would shoot for my swim to start around 2-3am on Thursday.

Channel swims are organized around the time of the tides and weather forecasts.
I was told the best tides for the month of September were on Friday, September 3rd, but the tides on the 2nd were almost as good.

I remember being excited to think if I did my swim on Thursday, we would have an entire weekend in London …

After checking into our BB, we went for a walk around Dover … it was 5pm and I was wearing jeans, two long sleeve t-shirts, a large parka jacket and a buff on my head…. I was still very cold.
I thought to myself as we walked back to our B&B, “if it’s this cold now, what’s it going to be like at 2:30am when I am scheduled to begin my channel swim… ?”

To make matters worse… in the middle of the night, I had to wake up and close the window because it was too cold.

….September 1st

After breakfast, I walked down to the Dover harbor to do a 30 minute swim … I wanted to prove to myself that once in the water, I wouldn’t notice the outside temperature.

With the exception of the 6 hour swim test in a cold lake in Austria and a short swim in the Dover harbor a few weeks prior, all my swim training had been done in the somewhat warm Mediterranean sea… but I didn’t care, I gambled that I would be able to acclimatize to the cold – I figured it was all mental.

The weather was perfect – clear skies and the outside temperature was warmer than the day before.
When I got to the beach, I stripped down to my speedo, walked down to the water’s edge and decided to just “jump” right in and start swimming.

Immediately, as I began swimming,  my body, especially my face burned from the cold … the pain was unbearable.
I thought to myself, “I don’t think I can last 20 minutes, how will I last 12 hours???”

I stopped to just tread water until my body was numb to the cold, kind of like when you ice your shoulder or knee … it hurts for a few minutes, but then your body gets used to it and it feels good…
I stopped and stood up to my neck in the cold water for 3 minutes, then my body felt good and I started to swim again.

I had a good 30 minute swim.  I easily acclimatized to the cold which gave me renewed confidence in my ability to finish.

After my swim, Romain and I went shopping for supplies I needed for my swim.
We bought three large jugs of Maxim, the carbo energy drink which nearly all channel swimmers drink.

“Maxim” is not sold in France or in Dubai (at least I couldn’t find any) and the online stores in the UK wouldn’t deliver to France because my credit cards are not from the UK…

A funny memory … Romain and I walked up to the counter of the Boots pharmacy with just 4 large canisters of Vaseline and a box of rubber gloves…. we both had big grins on our faces.

The Vaseline was to protect from chaffing and help keep me warm from the cold.

On the walk back to the St. Martin’s, I called Pete to get the 100% go ahead for Thursday (which meant I would be in the water in about 12 hours)

Captain Pete said it looked good, but he wouldn’t know for certain until 7pm weather forecast — but if the weather report was good, we would meet at his boat in Folkstone Harbor at 2am

My crew were still in London working, but they would be arriving to Dover around 6pm.

Around 4pm, I got a phone call from Jules Roberts who told me his train just arrived to Dover and was going to meet me at my hotel to start helping prepare my maxim.
I had never met Jules before – he is a friend of Candy and Oxy, he couldn’t crew for me because he had to work on Friday, but he came all the way to Dover just to help us all get ready – great guy.

A funny memory… Jules, Romain, Oxy and I were sitting in the room preparing the Maxim carbo drink … I asked Jules to mix one for me because I wanted to try it — I had never tasted it before.

As I type…I can still see Oxy and Jules expressions …. They looked at me in shock and Oxy said “you have never tried Maxim before???” I then explained how I couldn’t find it in France or Dubai and due to my travel schedule for work the past two weeks, I didnt have the chance to get it until today.

They laughed (nervously) as they handed me my first taste of the drink I would be relying on during my swim.

Just the week before, Candy, Oxy and Anna had come for a long weekend to visit Sophie and I in La Turbie (it was the first time I met them all in person) Over that weekend we planned the way they would feed me and how and when to give me ibuprofen, etc.

We also discussed the mental side of the swim battle – and I asked them NOT to tell me anything about the time or how far I had to go….

They have never admitted this –but  I am sure they didn’t have confidence in my chances of finishing … Oxy asked me a few times over the weekend “aren’t you nervous?”  Sophie told me that he also came up to her and asked “is Scott nervous…?”

Of course I was nervous, but I tried not to share it with anyone.

Sept 1st, at 7pm…..

I called Pete who told me the swim was on …. And we would meet at 2:00 am, and I would be in the water by 3:30am at the latest ….

I went back to the hotel and shaved my arm pits … but I would regret later NOT shaving my chest.  (I regret this because the lanolin and Vaseline was difficult to remove from my chest hair after the swim)

My crew took care of the maxim and organizing all the supplies for the swim and they told me to go to sleep.

I don’t think I slept more than 2 hours ….

September 2nd at 1:00 am

The alarm went off at 1am, I made my coffee, a large oatmeal and ate a joe weider bar (best tasting energy bars I have tried) and got dressed…

Everyone was down stairs waiting for me, ready to go at 1:30am … we drove 15 minutes or so, to Folkstone harbor.

The sky was clear and the sea was well lit by nearly a full moon, so it didn’t seem that dark … Sophie laughed at my good fortune and said “Giovanni is watching out for you again….”
(Givoanni was my roommate in high school and my close, brother like friend who died in a car crash in 1999 – I sometimes experience crazy good luck, so the big joke is Gio is watching out for me.)

We quickly, packed the boat and met the CSA official who would be riding with us to officiate the swim.

I said good bye to Jules, Sophie and my 6 year old Giovanna and off we went.

Although I acted tough – the truth is…. I was very scared of failing.

My swim got much more interest and media attention than I had considered, thus if I failed, I would look like a complete gimpy because so many people were following it…

The beach where I would begin my swim was about 20-30 minute boat ride from Folkstone harbor.

During the boat ride, to give me some protection from the cold, Candy and Oxy rubbed lanolin and Vaseline all over my chest, back, arms and legs … it was windy and cold on the boat, but I tried to block it out.

Finally, at 3:20 am I got into the row boat which shuttled me the few hundred meters from the main boat to the beach where I would begin my swim ….

I floated up to my neck in the cold water for 3 minutes until my body was used to the cold … then I walked completely out of the water, held both my arms up in the air – the horn blew and I dove back in the water and started to swim towards France.

The swim….

It was pitch black, but I quickly reached the boat and swam along the side of it … I was confident because I didn’t feel cold and I had a great feel for the water …

Up until this day, I had only swum in the dark one time so it took me a good 30 minutes to get used to the dark …

The sea was rough from the beginning … but I had a strong feel for the water and was not cold.  I was confident.

It seemed like instantly, I was battling the waves.

Naively, I thought to myself the more I swam away from land, the smaller the waves would be … although I had great open water swims in the Mediterranean – I never experienced swimming in these rough conditions — but I felt good in the water;  I wasn’t cold at all;  and I was swimming in the English channel so mentally, the rough seas didn’t bother me too much – at least in the beginning.

My crew and I decided before the swim that my first “feed” would be after 1 hour — and then I would stop for 10 seconds every 30 minutes and drink an energy drink …

The first hour went by fast, and I was in good spirits when I had my first maxim ….

I swam up next to the boat, Oxy lowered, and swung a small bottle of maxim down to me — I got bounced around by the waves, but managed to get a few good mouthfuls of  maxim pre-mixed with water, maple syrup topped off with warm water …

I drank the maxim under 10 seconds and started to swim again.

Swimming in the dark is a mental challenge, but the boat was well lit up so I used it as my guide and swam along the side it.

It took me a while to get used to the rough seas.  I swallowed a lot of water.  Sometimes my head would be knocked out of the water as I was breathing.  I like to breath every 3 strokes, but because the waves were crashing from my left, I had to breath only on my right … so I ended up breathing every 2 strokes for most of the swim.

What do you think about while swimming for 14 hours in rough seas?

I tried to get into a rhythm and focus on thinking about something to take my mind off the swim … but I spent so much time trying not to swallow water, being hammered by the waves that I never had a peaceful moment to think about anything.

For most of the swim, I just watched everyone on the boat …

I noticed Romain, my brother in law – who came all the wayfrom Dubai to Dover just to film the adventure …. I noticed he was standing up facing the other way, obviously not making a video …

I realized he was sea sick …

The first few hours flew by, but Dover never seemed to go away … I would turn around to look and see the lights … I kept thinking to myself “is that still Dover!?”

The sunrise was unreal – I stopped for 15 seconds or so, looked at the gorgeous sunrise thanked God for my life and kept swimming …

I didn’t wear a watch.
I did not want to know how long I had swum, or how much more I had to swim …
we had planned before the swim – no matter what, they would not tell me how much further I had to go…

However,  I was taking “feed breaks” each 30 minutes, I somewhat kept track of the time … but the sea was so rough that it kept me busy swimming and not swallowing water … the time went by quickly.

Around the 6th feed stop, I vomited a lot – but I felt much better.  The puking seemed to give me renewed energy.

Oxy and Candy kept telling me how great I was doing …
Candy told me how I had just passed another swimmer  (later in the day, my crew knew that 3 other swim attempts had failed, but  decided not to tell me because they didn’t want any negative thoughts to creep in my head)

I had zero visibility in the water …
I had read about other swimmers having 10+ meters and seeing jelly fish, but I saw nothing except green muck … I guess it was because of the rough seas.  I did not get stung by a jelly fish — I never saw one.

The channel swim is 90% mental….

As I swam, I felt very strong in the water … and during each feed break, my crew would tell me that I was “swimming very fast” “well ahead of my 13 hours schedule” “on track to be one of the fastest channel swims this year” etc.

I would learn after the swim – they were completely lying!

Apparently, as I entered the shipping lane, I got caught in a very strong current for 2-3 hours I did not make much forward headway … instead of swimming towards France, I got pushed to the south, further away from France…

The crew used a large white board to write messages from people who texted and to communicate with me
One time – I swimming, feeling great … and Candy and Oxy held up the large white board with the message:  “GOOD NEWS THE TIDE IS PUSHING YOU FORWARD”
This message gave me even more strength and I started to fantasize about breaking 10 hours…

The truth was … the tide was not pushing me forward, I was being carried away from land by a strong current… but my crew wanted me to think I was moving forward when I wasn’t.

I wasn’t cold, but I noticed the water seemed to get colder as I swam … the sea also seemed to get more aggressive.

In my head, I figured I had been swimming for 8-9 hours … because I was “flying” as my crew had told me, I assumed I had about 90 minutes to go … so I asked my crew to give me “flat coke” …. And NO more maxim.

Oxy asked me if I wanted diet coke – but I told him “no, only regular flat coke …”

I did not know we didn’t have coke, we only had diet coke … so Oxy and Candy took diet coke, put sugar and maxim in it … did something (which I still don’t understand) to take out the fizz and gave me what I thought was “flat coke…”
By now, I was so tired that I did not notice, and it tasted great …

I had coffee a few times … although they promised me the coffee was just coffee, it was mixed with maxim to ensure I had fuel to keep going – I never noticed.

In my mind, I thought I was almost finished … and I started to celebrate.  I would learn after the swim, the time when I thought I was nearly finished …. I wasn’t even at the half way point!!!

I take ibuprofen during the ironman and it works well for me – so I planned to take ibuprofen every 4-6 hours on the swim ….

At one feed stop, I told Candy that I wanted 4 advil tablets at the next feed.

I must point out that the seas were rough and Romain, Claire and Tata were sea sick … and during all of this, Anna would be boiling water or preparing my drinks and keeping the thermos full of hot water.

Each feed break was done much the same way, I would lay on back as I poured the drink in my open mouth … I couldn’t put the bottle to my lips because of the rough sea.

When they tried to hand me advil, I dropped it into the water … instead of having 4 x 200 mg, I had only 1 x 200 mg

I didn’t notice any difference from the advil and I only took it one more time on the swim, and the 2nd time I tried, the same thing happened, I lost them in the water.

Towards the middle of the swim, I became incredibly hungry …  and asked them to prepare a “joe weidar bar” for me at the next feed …. they cut the bar into small pieces, put into the cup on a stick and kind of poured it into my mouth from the boat — those bars tasted so good.

Finally, we could see France …

I swam harder than ever – I noticed that I used a 6 beat kick for much of the swim … which is unusual for me because I normally use maybe a 2 beat kick during long training swims.

The last 3-5 hours were absolute hell.

I never thought about quitting.
I never thought I would fail.
But my shoulders were dead.  I kept asking at the feeds “are you sure I am getting closer to France because it doesn’t appear to me…”

They all said “yes, you are making great time ….”  Anna even told me that she was following me on GPS and I “was definitely getting closer…”

Of course they were lying…

The Captain would tell me later that the wind had picked up to force 4-5 … my crew knew that the other swim attempts were failing, but each time I would stop … they would all have smiles on their faces and tell me how great I was doing.

The day after my swim, Captain Pete told me he had been very concerned about me being able to finish because the weather had turned….

I kept hoping the next feed would be my last one … maybe 6 feeds after I started to think about it being my last one… finally, they said “your last feed – now go as fast as you can towards land…”

The waves were very big and seemed to be pushing towards land….

During the swim I had fantasized about what it would be like when I reached France.
I dreamed about my finisher photo, what I would say; who I would thank, etc.

But towards the end of my swim, I was unbearably cold – and my right shoulder was dead …

I could just barely swim free style … sometimes I would switch to breast stroke … I don’t think physically, I could have gone much further.

I wasn’t thinking about my finisher photo, nor my finisher speech … all I wanted to do was touch France, get out of the water … and then get into the row boat which would take me back to the main boat and go home.

After 14 hours and 1 minute … I stood on French land – I did it.

But the end was far less glamorous than I had dreamed …

I struggled to get out of the water and was out for less than 30 seconds.
I could hardly stand up.  I was freezing and my my right shoulder was dead – like it was paralyzed.
Euphoric misery…

When I got back to the main boat – it was very windy (gale force 5) and cold … and we still had a 3 hour boat ride back to Dover in rough seas!

Luckily, I slept most of the ride back.

Back at St. Martin’s, I slept very poorly that night – my body ached more than ever, especially my right shoulder.

We spent the weekend in London, but while Sophie and the girls went sightseeing, I relaxed mostly at Hyde Park or at a café in pain.

I felt like crap for a couple of days.  My shoulders still hurt 6 days after my swim.

A special thanks to my crew – team captain – Oxymoron, Candy, Anna, Claire, Marie and my Tata
There is no way I would  have succeeded if my crew had not been as positive and encouraging … because of their enthusiasm and confidence, I was confident.

I would like to make a special mention to my brother in law, Romain Tordo … he is one of my closest friends who constantly, challenges me to be better.  Leading up to my swim, he called or emailed me every day to hear about my training.  When I would have a bad training day, he would encourage me to get over it and helped get me back on track.

I appreciate all the interest and support I received from the Pirates.

Lastly, I want to thank my wife, Sophie — she is my inspiration to be the best I can be.
She challenges, encourages and supports me – probably my biggest motivator to finish this swim was to make her proud.

My swim is a good example of wanting something so badly, we make it happen …

Hopefully, this crazy swim will inspire others to go out and make life happen.

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For anyone looking to swim the channel:

I am a complete novice at open water swimming, but if you are a novice like me,  it is worth considering the following points:

Do not wear a watch and tell your crew and captain to NOT tell you how long you have swum or how much longer you still have to swim.
Example –  If my crew had informed me “you have 5 hours left….” my mental state might have collapsed because I was so tired.
The secret to my success (I think) was that I always thought I was very near the end, mentally I think this helped me not get too tired.
The time goes by quickly, esp. when you dont know how long you have swum.

For men – shave your arm pits and chest — I regret I did not shave my chest because the lanolin and vaseline was hard to get off after the swim.

Wear ear plugs –I wore ear plugs becaue I read they help keep your core temperature up — they work very well.

Take a water proof bag to put your cloths into while you swim (suggest your crew do the same) – if you dont have one, its worth buying one.  Your stuff will get wet.

Prepare what you will wear after your swim — have two towels, tshirt and jacket ready

Short feed breaks — I tried to drink as quickly as possible because the longer you take, the colder you will get – especially, the last few hours.

Visit Dover before your swim — I visited Dover 3 weeks before, thus I understood where everything was when I arrived for my swim.  Also – on that first trip, I swam in the channel, which helped me understand what to expect.

Make sure all your crew take sea sickness medicine before the swim – its a big negative distraction if you know your crew are sick and miserable … so make sure they take medicine before the boat leaves

The video of my swim:  http://7hn.11e.myftpupload.com/?p=3587

I highly recommend St Martin’s Guest House in Dover:  +44(0)1304 205938  www.stmartinsgh.co.uk
Channel Swimming Association:  Julie Bradshaw  swimsecretary@ntlworld.com
Captain Peter Reed:  petethecrab@hotmail.co.uk

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3 thoughts on “Euphoric Misery – english channel swim

  1. Great achievement of this challenge, Scott! You did it. Congratulations!

    This is a very detailed & useful blog for others to take on those challenges. Very inspiring.

    I would rather regard this challenge as a part of “Life Journey” and this will motivate me a lot in life.

    Thanks again for sharing all the thoughts and experience. We’re making it happen!

  2. Richard_Ma

    Excellent Challenge! Congratulation!
    Expectting your next challenge of Mt. Everest!

  3. Scott, I have read your informative blog and seen your video of your swim.. I found your site as I was googling Peter Reed. I am a Channel aspirant myself and he has offered me a first slot in July 2013. I was trying to find out some information, or references for him and I was led to this site by providence I suppose and turns out that your were his first swimmer! Now that is faith and you were successful and I would like to know how you felt about his competence as your pilot and anything else that you can offer as information. Thank you so much – (I am also going to enter my first Ironman70.3 this September in Augusta Georgia.)

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