Sunday, 31 July 2011

Less than 3 weeks....

So, after last weekend's 2+2 the plan was 90mins run and 90mins in the sea this weekend. It is hard to get motivated for the sessions now as they don't seem to have a purpose as such. I know it is just to keep me ticking over and to stop my body from shutting off but it is hard mentally. I did a 90min run on Saturday at the gym on the treadmill as I have been a bit worried about my ankle. It is just a niggle, but it is frustrating as I have never had any problems in all my training time. I can just feel it, it feels in equal measures weak and stiff but it survived the run on saturday fine. I just worry about what 87miles might do to it! Plus I have my RAF fitness test on Tuesday which involves the bleep test shuttle runs and I am worried about the effect of that. I have considered asking the PEd staff to allow me a few months leeway but it seems silly that I can't pass a basic fitness test when I should be the fittest I have ever been!

Physically everything I do seems to make me tired at the moment so I am giving myself lots of rest. Emotionally I know I am also struggling. I am not nervous yet but accomplishing easy tasks seems such an effort. I was trying to explain something simple to Adam about how we could do my feeding yesterday and I just couldn't make myself understood. And it was too hard to try and explain so I got frustrated and we had a little row. So then I went upstairs to have a little cry. Thankfully Ad has seen it all before and understands so soon afterwards came upstairs to give me a cuddle, run me a bath and pack me off to bed!

Anyway, the swim today was a bit lumpy but that's all good training. Though the time seemed to drag actually enjoyed being out there on the oceans waves with my boy and Cedric the Seal for company. It was really fun and I only have one more dip now over at Anderby before the big swim. On the weekend of the 13/14 Aug all the people who have supported me with my swimming are coming to join me for a final good luck swim followed by bacon butties like normal people might do!

I am frantically making lists, buying things I probably don't need, washing piles of clothes and packing and unpacking over and over. I just want to get it all done over the next week so the final week I can just focus and not be worried! We'll see how that works out!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Some media links......

Air Cadets

Is this the taper.....?

So I have spent the last two days at the beautiful Belvoir Castle which was the site of the RAF Interservices competition against our sister services and teams from the Fire, Police and Prison service. Obviously I am not competing but have been extremely busy in my role as Safety Director for the event. I am now not only physically tired ( I was up til midnight working on the Emergency plan and then up again at 5.30am to get there in time for registration to open) but mentally tired from trying to remember everything I had to get done. Thankfully the event ran smoothly with no major incidents and everyone finished safely. A huge well done to all those who competed especially the brilliant RAF teams who gave a fabulous effort as always and were rewarded with some great performances. People are often staggered by the distance I am attempting but I always tell them it is because I don't have a fast twitch fibre in my body so have to find other ways to challenge myself!! And boy, would I have got a hiding today - I am certain I would have come last by miles and I was so impressed by the speed of everyone racing and their ability to wring out every last bit of effort even though muscles would have been screaming and lungs burning! Chapeau as they say a la Tour! :)

I have one more thing left to do, which is host a two-day 2* visit next week at work before I can literally just concentrate on normal tasks and start focusing on the huge event ahead. I am nearly there with the logistics of everything, I just really need to secure a support vehicle and we are about ready. This weekend is the big list making weekend and then the mad shop will start. I managed to snaffle some flourescent 'CAUTION CYCLISTS' signs from the race today and some marshal vests so we're one up already with the financiers. :) The spare room is about to be transformed into Race HQ........

Monday, 25 July 2011

BBC Lincolnshire....

Today I went to do an interview on the Breakfast show of BBC Lincolnshire. It was another great opportunity to publicise the challenge and the charities. The media machine is kicking in and I am glad I have someone now to organise it all for me as I have other things to concentrate on!

Brilliantly P&O ferries have agreed to give my crew and support vehicle free passage across the Channel which is fabulous and every little bit helps to reduce the cost of the challenge.

Training wise, we went over to the coast first thing on Saturday morning to get a 2hr swim in but the waves were manic and it would have been too dangerous to swim so we just enjoyed walking the dog up and down the beach and playing with her in the breakers like a normal couple! It has been weird enjoying weekends like 'normal' people may do, shopping, visiting friends, cleaning the house - all the exciting things! Anyway, that left me with a 2hr pool swim to do which I enjoyed - I broke it down into a proper multi-stroke conditioning session the same as I would have done normally when I was a 'proper' swimmer and not just an endurance plodder! On Sunday I got a two hour run in which will probably be my last 'long' run now before the event. I have been having a little bit of stiffness in my ankle which was bothering me a bit but I'll get Sid at the Lincoln Sports Injury Clinic to have a look for me. They have been a massive help in keeping me in top shape!

Taper time.....

Since the 10hr swim I have found myself to be quite demotivated and lethargic. With now less than four weeks to go I have started my taper which is strange as normally I would only taper for ten days or so before a big event. I know that because it is such a big event I need to concentrate on shortening the workouts, eating well and getting lots of rest but the normal taper anxiety is setting in. This is a common phenomenon where you start to panic about all the training you haven't done and what fitness you will lose before the big day. It is actually pointless worrying! There isn't any scope for me to do another long workout before the big day and anyway I wouldn't get any fitter for doing so and may even compromise the race if I got injured or pushed too hard etc. All I can do now is rest and try not to go too mad. I am experience enough to know all these things but I still spoke to Steve and Eddie, the Enduroman directors to take advice on the taper. Needless to day, they told me to do all the things I knew I should be doing which was good. Even if you are experience, the 'taper madness' makes you a little crazy so it is nice to get some reassurance!

Now is the time to focus on the publicity, logistics and fundraising side of things. I have involved both the Herbalife PR team and the RAF Media Comms cell and since then it seems the publicity machine has kicked into high gear. The first article to come out was a piece in the Grantham Journal which can be found at here. Following on from that piece, a reporter from The Sun called to talk to me as they are a huge supporter of the military in general and Help for Heroes in particular. They will hopefully publish a piece over the weekend sometime.

Other than that I am trying to create a fundraising strategy as, bar completing the race, the main emphasis for this is to raise money for good causes. The two charities are linked to this blog and are ready to receive your donations!!

Friday, 15 July 2011


The big one. The KEY session. The moment whether I find out if I really have what it takes to swim the Channel. No pressure then. 10hrs. It's a long time to do anything. Let along swimming.......

I woke up tired on the day of the big swim. Not surprising really as it's just before 6am and I haven't really slept. Ad says that it's good that I'm tired. That it's replicating how tired I will be during the real thing. It's slim comfort. Plus it makes me slightly want to hit him.

Despite having tried to be organised and loaded the kayak the night before we are still late getting away. We have decided it is only fair to bring the dog with us today as we are away for such a long time but as she starts catawauling away in the boot, I wonder if it is such a good idea. I have marshaled lots of support for today and many brilliant people are going to turn up to help and support me swimming. First up are the Bainbridge family who we meet on arrival at Anderby. Jackie asks me what time of the day do you call this (no surprises, we are late) but I think she's kidding! Their eldest son, Sam, is going to join me for the first few hours trying out his new wetsuit (a BlueSeventy Helix like mine - good lad) before a race he has tomorrow in Wakefield. I think it is for Jane's appeal (the charity set up in memory of Jane Tomlinson) as that is who they did their Channel relay for. Sam is a much better swimmer than me so, knowing we are pressed for time, I head out into the water knowing he will catch me up once he has finished struggling into his wetsuit.

As we have Heidi we us, Ad is going to walk the shore for the first few hours with John (Sam's Dad) to keep an eye on us before my in-laws arrive to take over dog duty. It is surprisingly warm in the water and I feel calm and relaxed. Today is the day and I just have to get on with it. I think Sam swims in circles round me as I only see him periodically but that suits me at the moment, I am happy in my own little world and the time passes quickly to my first feed at 45mins. As Ad is on the shore I come into the beach for my first feed and am met by lovely fiance and very excitable dog who swims up to me gulping saltwater as she snaps at the waves. It is a nice break but I head back out quickly, wanting to establish a rhythm. I feel great during the next 45mins before my second feed at an hour and a half. For the first time ever the time is passing quickly and I like the control of having the watch on my wrist counting me down. I am very happy being alone and not feeling stressed by anything. I am almost jubilant at how easily it seems to be coming to me today but in my head I caution myself not to jump too far ahead. I know how quickly the low points come and how hard they can be to climb out of.

At 90mins I waded back into the shore for my next feed and Sam, finishing his stint, headed in. I told Ad all was going well, chugged back my warmed energy drink and headed out again. I was enjoying the solitude and being lost in my own thoughts and the water was the best I have ever seen. I had thought with the heavy rain the night before the silt may have been churned up and the temperature cooler but it was just the opposite, warm and as clear as can be expected in the North sea! For the first time I didn't have a cold dip around the 1hr 45 mark. I knew from the 2hr mark lots of good things would happen in sequence each planned to get me to the next feed. By the 2hr mark my in-laws had arrived and I gave them a wave as they struggled to stop Heidi flying into the sea again to say 'Hi' as Ad gave me my next feed. I told him that so far everything was going well and it was the best first few hours I had had. I had asked Hannah to come in and join me between 11am and 12pm which, had we been on time, would have been hour 3-4. However, as I came in for my 2hr 30 feed I was still feeling like I wanted to be on my own and was going to ask Ad to delay Hannah until a bit later. However, I saw her already suited up and on her way down so I felt like I couldn't ask her to wait now. Hannah is my secret weapon! Her and Robert got me through my last swim and I wanted to keep her in reserve almost, until I really felt like a needed a boost. She is just perfect to swim with as she always gets on the right side of me (literally not figuratively!!) because I only breathe to my left side and she swims at exactly the same speed so gets me into a perfect strong yet sustainable rhythm. She's ace! :)

Anyway, Han came into join me and I settled down again knowing that she would pull me through the next hour whatever happens. She assured me there was also more help to come. Lots of her wonderful friends who literally only know me through being on Han's distribution list, had also turned up, some to sit ALL day and were there just for me, to support me and swim with me when I needed it. Honestly, it restores your faith in the good of humanity and I couldn't believe all these people would willing give up their time to sit on a cold beach all day and help someone out who they didn't even know. It was very much appreciated!!

Nearing the end of Han's hour, Debs came in to join us. I have met Debs before at a session at Whisby and she had been concerned she'd be too slow to come and help out today. Not so! She was easily matching the speed of Han and I which was great because I knew I'd have at least another hour of someone swimming around the same speed as me. I could feel though that the happiness of the first few hours was beginning to fade and I set myself up for the first dip which was bound to come soon! It is important when the dips come to just keep focusing on small goals and working through things that occur. This is why I love endurance stuff, it's pretty much a metaphor for life! You get some real down moments when you go really long and you have to learn to work through them and every time you do you grow more confident and appreciate that you can get through most things that life throws at you. I knew if I could just work through the hour with Debs then that would take me to 4.5hours and from there I could get to 5hrs. I couldn't wait to get to the 5 hour point as then I knew I was working downwards towards my goal of ten hours. I kept working out the minutes a lot. I do this when I am running too. I knew I had 600 minutes in total to do and if you count down in minutes in seems to always be quite a big proportion that has gone everytime you reassess. For example after only 40mins I was down to 560 minutes which sort of sounds like a good chunk of the total! I don't know, it seems to work!

After 4.5hours Debs headed in and my last support swimmers swam out to join me. I've never met Caroline before but I knew that she was coming out to do a stint and she also introduced Simon to me. They set themselves up on either side of me and we headed off down the bay. With Caroline on my right hand side, I couldn't really see her but I could tell immediately that Simon was a much stronger swimmer than me. I could tell he was trying to stay with me to encourage me along but despite this he kept pulling ahead. He even resorted to doing breaststroke at points. It is funny writing about it afterwards as you realise how fragile your mental state is during big sessions like this. Obviously Simon was trying to help and had given up his time to come and support but during that leg down the bay I was getting more and more cross with him! I was having a real dip and when you're in a down moment and really struggling just to keep yourselves moving forward and someone is next to you doing breaststroke because it is just so easy for them, it makes you go a little crazy!! Anyway, we turned down at the bottom and began the return leg back to base camp for my next feed, the 5hr point, hurray! I was keeping very close to the shore, almost able to touch the bottom. When Caroline gestured for me to move out a bit, I explained I was keeping close because I was due to come in for a feed and didn't want to have to make my way in from too deep. She accepted this but I think they both understood I was feeling the need to be by myself a bit and they stayed out deeper whilst I struggled along feeling sorry for myself.

I hadn't realised it but around the time Simon and Caroline got in the tides had also changed and now I was fighting the tide the opposite way to what I had when I first got in. This was also messing with my head as I had built up a routine - fight down the bay against the tide for 15mins or so, turn and drift fast back to base for about 6 minutes, swim past base along the row of houses on the shore line for a few minutes and then turn and fight the tide back to base - 30mins dead. It was a good routine and I was settled but with the tides turning I know couldn't work out how long I was suppose to go in each direction so the first time I swam 15mins down the bay with the drift of the tide and it took an age to get back to base. It took so long that I was late for my 5hr feed and psychologically it was a struggle. Anyway, Caroline and Simon cheered me on through my 5hr feed and congratulated me on making it through half way. I was trying to be pleasant but I felt so bad for them as they definitely got the worst shift having to put up with down and grumpy and spiteful Rachael!! We set off again up the bay fighting the current along the row of houses to the turn point. I was really starting to feel quite sick so Simon took me out deeper to try and help avoid the choppiest of the waves nearest the shore. It was a sensible strategy but I was just desperate for the next feed to come so I could get in and see Ad. I was starting to get a bit worked up on this point, I was feeling sick, mentally quite down and also my breathing was seeming to get a bit shallower - I was probably just getting a bit overwhelmed by it all and panicky. Funnily enough, breathing to the other side for a few strokes helped a bit so maybe it wasn't all psychosomatic and actually all the breathing only to my left side was compressing the ribs on that side a bit thus impeding my breathing.

After an age we came in for my 5.5hr feed and I definitely had quite a massive mental wobble. Ad came out to meet me with my next feed and I burst into tears. I told him I wasn't sure if I could do it, that I was struggling to breathe and generally got totally overwhelmed by everything and started to panic. I think I felt stressed by trying to keep up with Simon and also the change to the routine Ad and I normally have of just the two of us with me feeding out of the kayak. Having all that support was utterly amazing and I couldn't have done it without everyone but I think the pressure of everyone being there for me and the expectation on me just got too much.

Ad was totally brilliant and manage to calm me down. He subtly funnelled Caroline and Simon out of the water (bless them I felt terrible, they had just been trying to help and I had gone all mental on them!) and told me to take a deep breath, head out on my own, taking it steady and getting back into my own headspace and that he would get the kayak and come out to join me in a few minutes. It was just what I needed and I took a deep breath, pushed all the panicky feelings back down inside and set off. After first the panic and tears threaten to take over again but I took it steady and soon I calmed again. Adam came to join me in the kayak which was a great comfort as ever, and soon we got back into a rhythm. We stopped heading so far down the bay as fighting to tide to get back to camp was too stressful mentally so we did small circles along the few hundred metres of shore either side of camp. By the time I reached the 6hr mark I was feeling a lot more settled and knew that after my next feed, it would be my longest swim to date and a series of milestones were to come. It was funny how at my six hour swim, I had my dips around the 3hr mark but at 6hrs I felt like I could have swum forever whereas this time I didn't really get a dip until 5 or so hours in but I was totally ready to quit it all at that point!

Ad stayed with me until my next feed which was a great milestone. The longest I have swum to date was 6hrs 33mins during my 11mile swim in the Lanzarote Ultra. So I knew in just a few more minutes it would be the longest I had ever swum which was a good feeling. I also knew it I could just get 90 more minutes or so under my belt then we were home and dry, I could get Hannah in for an hour or so and soon we'd be into the last hour. So I really tried to zone out, get my head down and push on. When Ad had come out kayaking he had taken the watch back so as to be in control of my feeding and when he went in around the 7hr mark to swop with his Dad for an hour or so, I forgot to get it back. I am unsure whether having the watch helped me or not really. It was great in the first few hours when time was passing by so quickly but I'm not sure how I would have felt with it during the later hours when everything was becoming a bit of a struggle. Mike came in to do a stint in the kayak with me and we nearly lost Heidi to the sea again. She loves water and had enjoyed having a little swim out to join me so far when I had come in to get my feeds. However, now I wasn't coming in to feed she took this as a signal to come out and join me in deeper water and a few times we had to shunt her back into the shore. In fact, Ad had to swim out and get her one time as she appeared to be off to Holland!

Between 7 and 8 hours I was starting to feel a bit down again, mainly because the water had started to chop up a little and I was really starting to feel nauseous. I hadn't learnt my lesson of Weymouth and taken my seasickness tablets which was a bit silly. I just couldn't believe the water was actually making me feel this sick though actually the constant getting up from horizontal to vertical this time probably hadn't helped either. I was feeling really unhappy in the water just because I felt so dreadful. I stopped unenthusiastically for my feed at 7.5hrs and poor Caroline again seemed to get the short straw as she came in to join me for an hour or so. I followed Mike out a bit deeper where the water was calmer and just tried to get my head down and arms moving. My arms had been sore in both shoulders, which is unusual as normally only my left shoulder hurts, but thanks to some crafty ibuprofen at the 6hr point, they were easing well. Feeling really grotty I stopped by the kayak for my 8hr feed. I was really really happy to have reached this point as I knew know that not only was the 10 achievable but also that I could feasibly stop now and still have a good chance on the day. Eddie stopped Steve Haywood at 8hrs during his 10hr swim as he truly believe he was already ready at that stage to tackle the Channel; Steve successfully became the second person to complete the Enduroman Arch 2 Arc.

Mike handed me down my warmed feed and I tred water next to the kayak whilst trying to swallow down the drink. As Mike rooted around for a biscuit or something to accompany the drink, I was overwhelmed by a sense of nausea. Spinning desperately around to try not to inflict the inevitable on Mike, I was spectacularly sick 6 or 7 times with the final time projecting straight from the pit of my stomach out into the sea. Mike calmly stated, "Ooh, so that came straight back up then!" and hunted around for a bit of tea to wash out my mouth. I was creeped out that I might be swimming around in my sick but thankfully it seemed to have rapidly dispersed. Still, we weren't done yet so I got my head back down and started swimming. After actually being sick I did begin to feel so much better. I was worried that having lost a lot of food and fuel I bit start to feel more tired and weak but actually I felt rejuvenated and strong. We may have to tweak the feeding though, perhaps having a drink with protein in isn't necessary every 30mins and we'll alternate with a carb only drink every so often.

As we headed to 8hrs 30, I could see the end was in sight. Caroline had swopped with Debs and I knew soon Hannah would be heading with me for the final stretch. Ad swopped with Mike again and came out with me and I felt as comfortable as I had all day. I knew it was just a case of getting into a rhythm and counting down those final 90minutes. With and hour to go, Han came into join me and we headed out for what was to be the last few laps of the bay. The tides were such that whichever direction we now swum in we didn't seem to be making much progress so we just headed in small laps up and down in front of base camp. At the 9hour point I took a feed from Ad which happily seemed to go down quite well and asked for the watch back so I could count down every one of those final minutes. I couldn't believe having started at 600 we were now down to the final 60. I really enjoyed that last hour, it is a tried and tested formula and I was feeling comfortable and, though tired, strong. Like the six hour swim, knowing I was about to be allowed to get out, I felt like I could have swum for much longer which is positive!

Finally as the last minutes counted down, Han gave me a high five and a massive congratulatory hug and we made the final turn at the end of the bay. All we had to do was swim in to base camp and we were done! Ad went on ahead to drag the kayak in and get my towel and stuff ready and Han and I enjoyed the final drift into shore, stopping the clock at 10hours and 1 minute!

Everyone came down to congratulate me which was amazing. As I watched my family and friends I felt an enormous sense of gratitude that these people would give up their weekend to come and support and help me. Hannah was a trooper, she had hot chocolate on the go for me before she had even taken off her own wetsuit and Ad sat me down and got me stripped off and wrapped up. I enjoyed listening to the tales of the day from the shore perspective and basked in the knowledge that we were now good to go for the swim. After saying good bye to the stalwarts Debs and Hannah who had stayed through to the bitter end, we bundled a wet and tired dog into the car and headed off for fish and chips at Horncastle before wishing Mike and Ellen goodbye and heading home. I just about managed to wash out the wetsuits and hang them up (the only compulsory post swim activity - everything else can wait) and then relaxed into a warm bath filled with my Neom Organics Bath Oil (a fabulous birthday present). Warm and dry, I rubbed some Aromatherapy Associates Deep Tissue Muscle Gel (another fantastic birthday pressie choice!) into my aching shoulders and thankfully slid into bed, fully aware that I would sleep like a baby!! A very successful day all round and a huge thank you to all those who made it so!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hello 30s..................

Some might think that the most exciting thing to happen to me this weekend was turning 30 (!) but actually it was not having to train!! I had the most lovely weekend really, I was woken up on Friday with balloons and champagne and presents, yippee! Ad had to work but had left me with a present treasure hunt so I headed out with Heidi to find some lovely vouchers for a dinner out with my lovely fiance and a new wallet of my choice! I then hit the gym for a lovely couple of miles in the pool, followed by a coffee and some bircher muesli. When I got to the gym, for some reason I couldn't get through the barrier. I asked the receptionist and was, in return, questioned as to whether it was my birthday. I said yes and was given a voucher for a free coffee for my troubles! Not bad!! After breakfast I headed to the spa for a fabulous Elemis facial which incorporated one of those face masks that sets on your face and can be lifted off in one go - very 'Face Off!' One of the resurfacing serums did have the sensation of CS gas on the skin though which was a bit perturbing!!
Back to the house and out with the pooch again for a nice walk along the canal to the pub for a lime and soda in the sun and a quick catch up chat to my birthday sister Aleks! Then out shopping for a nice outfit for my lovely meal before settling down to watch Mr Murray begin his campaign against Nadal. Ad came home around 4.30pm and I had a nice few hours of pampering with my new gifts before I was whisked out to town for dinner. We went to The Old Bakery in Lincoln and had the tasting menu with matching wines. It was a really really lovely meal and the patron is Italian so we got a few ideas for the wedding including a fabulous sparkling peach dessert wine which was delicious! An absolutely perfect day and a fabulous start to my fourth decade!!
On Saturday we took Heidi for her first trip to the beach. It was very interesting to see Anderby Creek from the shore this time as oppose to the sea where I normally get to see it! A wonderfully warm weekend which finished off with a trip to Donny to see our friends and their beautiful new born son and to have a meal out with the in-laws. A great relaxing weekend and one I hope to have many more of in about 8 weeks time!!