Channel swim training the wrong way – cold water swims went wrong
It’s now January 2021 and my Channel training hasn’t gone back to the right track yet. Everything is still wrong. Today I have come closer to giving up.
Last month, December 2020, I tried to ramp up my training from 18 km / week before my head injury to 28 km / week in Christmas period. I got too tired and had to reduce to 20 km / week in the first week of January, and this week I should get back up again. An intense cold surge came, bringing a few stations down to record temperature, to the extent breaking 0 at low-altitude stations. This meant the sea temperature would very likely reach 16°C by the end of the cold surge so I planned accordingly.
I mainly did 2 days on, 1 day off recently, targeting about 25 km / week at this moment. My last long swim was the 16 km benchmark swim last December, and I did a 3.5 hours session on Christmas. My sessions are generally between 1 – 2 hours long. My last swim before the cold surge was on 6th January, at that moment the air was 20°C and the water was 19°C, fully within my comfort zone.
The temperature started to go down, air 10°C water 17°C on 9th January. I did 2 hours with my regular group in the morning, felt that’s not enough, and did another 1:20 in the afternoon. I still felt good at that moment. After that day I was totally fucked.
On 11th January, I planned for a 4-hour session. The sea was 16°C, however it was very windy to the extent that there were whitecaps in the bay, the air was only 9°C, and it was cloudy. I got out at 1h14 feeling too cold, considering that 2 hours would be my maximum in this condition. 12th January was a rest day for me, I got back in 13th January. It was a warm sunny day with little wind, the air was 17°C and the water was 15°C. I felt a bit better but I came out at 2h10 because I didn’t want to make myself too tired, as I decided to try my qualification the next day, i.e. today. Despite that I got a little headache when getting in and a little afterdrop after getting out, and took about 20 minutes to recover, but it was not comparable to my experience when I travelled to Sweden and Finland in 2019 (that was real hypothermia). I expected I could last about 3 – 4 hours in such condition but I still tried today.
Today is probably the last day of the cold surge. Shane offered to help me overseeing and recording my 6-hour qualifying swim so I decided to try. Also Simon (my mentor) and Libby joined at the beginning for their 31 days swim challenge for Splash. I swam along the rope line at Stanley Main Beach such that Shane could see me all the time, and I would feed every hour with 120 g of maltodextrin in 600 mL water. At the beginning of the swim, the air was 10.2°C and water was 15.3°C, and I started at 64 strokes per minute. The first hour went well and I came in for a feed, however, in the second hour thing already started to get tough. The cold started to set in, I started to lose coordination and my stroke rate started to increase. After the second feed, I tried my third hour to see if I could get comfortable again. However, things became even worse. At 2h30 I started to have strange feeling, feeling cold inside but warm outside, and I started to shiver in the water. I even asked my observer what’s the temperature. Keeping track how many laps I had swum started to become difficult. I started to turn back early on my lap. At my 3rd feed at 3h10 I decided to give it a call. By the time I got out the air was 13.8°C, the water was 15.9°C, and my stroke rate was 72. After getting out I needed half an hour under the sun to get well.
I have concluded that I am not fit enough to make my qualification. Today is only my 3rd day I can swim in the sea below 16°C so I am not acclimated yet, and due to restrictions I can’t even get a single session of pool training beforehand to train my technique and fitness in cold water. Although I will still get back in the water and try again later this month or in February, I’ve got one more step closer to giving up my Channel attempt after my 16 km benchmark swim last month, because if I can’t make my qualification by the end of winter, I’ll give up my emigration plan and apply for a working holiday visa to Sweden instead. I’m already one year behind my original training schedule and there are only 8 months left for me to do my training which I suppose to do in 1.5 years. It will be very tough even if the world returns to normal right now, and outright impossible if restrictions continue.