'I'm not really a swimmer...'

One man's story of his attempt to swim the English Channel for charity...
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I am not really a swimmer. I’ve never had a coach or a club. Recreational holiday swimming, with the occasional bout of keep-fit morning swims at the local pool, was about my lot. But I’ve secretly dreamed of swimming the Channel for years and years. I just never told anyone.

I signed up to the Light Fund swim around Gozo, Malta in the summer of 2008, which is how I started. I got the bug, so I carried on in 2009 and completed my first two marathon swims, Lough Erne and Lake Windermere.

In September 2009, I decided I would declare my dream and try to make it a reality; booking a pilot and his boat and crew for an English solo Channel attempt for the first week of August 2010.

I took technique lessons in December 2009 and trained alone at indoor pools throughout the winter. It felt futile, tiring and isolating. I started my sea training in Easter week, 2010 in Cornwall in temperatures of seven degrees. From May I went to Dover Harbour and swam both days every weekend. On June 19th I completed my six-hour English Channel qualifying swim, and swam seven and six hour back-to-back swims until my Channel attempt; if it hadn't been for the support of Freda Streeter and the other beach-volunteers at these weekend sessions, I don’t think I would have completed my training.

At 2.45am on Tuesday August 3rd standing on Samphire Hoe beach under a starlit sky, nerves-jangling with the enormity of the task ahead, I raised my hand to signal to the observer that I was ready and in I plunged. I had tied glow sticks to the side of the boat so that I could see that I was swimming parallel to it. I had a flashing battery-light on the back of my goggles-strap and one tied to my trunks, so my boat pilot and crew could see me. It soon became light and a stunning sunrise with a blood-red sky followed, presaging bad weather for later in the day.

I re-fuelled every half hour with high calorie-drinks and the odd treat of a couple of jelly babies, peach slices or a piece of banana.

After only three hours into the swim, I felt physically dreadful, exhausted and very nauseous. I tried my whole repertoire of mental 'coping' strategies and had to settle for the last resort of telling myself 'left hand, right hand, left hand right hand' for the next two hours. But after five hours, I suddenly realised my shoulder-injuries weren’t troubling me, I'd stopped shivering or feeling tired and nauseous and I felt strong enough to tell myself ‘I can actually do this’ and to truly believe it for the first time. 

The weather started to change rapidly halfway across, six and a half hours in to my swim. The wind got up from the South West to a force five, the sea-swell rose ever higher and the forecast and my progress was inevitably counter-acted. Concerned, my pilot asked me about ten hours in to the swim to give as much effort as I could to try and improve progress against the wind and swell, before the tide turned and combined with the winds.

For two hours I tried to swim as fast as I was able before running out of steam. I could see France all the while but it seemed a long way off and, now the tide had turned and we were being swept towards the North Sea at nearly five knots an hour, I knew that the land would be receding the further up-Channel we were carried. For the next three hours I ploughed on as best I could, trying not to get dispirited by the thought that I was swimming hard simply to stand still and that, if I couldn't break through the currents, this is where my Channel attempt would end like many, many attempts before mine. 

But after an age my pilot told me that the tide was beginning to weaken and we would now make more progress. I swam harder. My crew shouted to me that I only had half a mile to go, but I didn’t hear them; I couldn't work out if I had one, two or three hours to go.

Next thing, I suddenly realised the boat wasn't alongside. I turned round and saw that it had stopped behind me and my crew was frantically waving me on. The penny slowly dropped that I must be very close. Excited, I swam on and before long found I could touch the ground; the advice I'd received was to be careful before standing up - swimmers have fallen at the last by fainting after so long spent horizontal. Did I heed this advice? Did I heck. I ran through the water and out on to dry sand as fast as I could go before leaping up and down with excitement like a child. I'd made it!

Visit Ian's official Just Giving page to donate: http://www.justgiving.com/Ians-channel-swim2010


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