Sunday July 10th, 9am
Today is swim number 16 of 16, the schedule says:6 Hour swim at Sandycove- Meet at 8am
Isn’t it amazing how things can seem to move so slowly yet be over so quick, just 9 days ago this point in time that I am at today seemed like a century away, all I could think was ” how am I going to endure another 15 swims, it will take FOREVER, well it didn’t take forever, it took me focusing on one swim at a time, I made a commitment to attend this distance week and I am going to see it through…..and now here I am, so surreal, my last dip in Ireland during the 2011 Sandycove distance training week.
Today’s swim is a 6 hour swim, it is a qualifying swim for the English Channel for many, the water temperature is said to be 11-13 degrees celsius ( 51.8-55 F), my plan to swim the strongest and longest my body allows me to.
So onto the swim we arrive at 8:45am with 6 premixed Feeds of Maxim, hot water to be added to them to make them hot feeds, today I have my New Zealand Cap on and temporary tattoo on my shoulder for a little extra ” KIWI DRIVE”. Ned pulls us in for our swim debrief, he starts with a summary of yesterdays TORTURE swim, asking each of us how it felt to have the boat drive away, our feeds not given to us when we were swimming, confusing instructions shouted at us and all the boat wakes. ” Today will not be like that, we are here to help you succeed, there will be a team on the island to feed and support you, you swim laps around the island we will be there for you”
Ned then goes on to announce thanks and awards to the many who have helped make the week possible, a big one is Neave, Billy’s Mum, she has been on shore during most of the swims, putting on a spread of hot drinks, home baked muffins, biscuits and even BBQ’s for us to savour post swim. Robbin has been helping her and they have had a right laugh, even getting in and swimming too on occasion and lending Robbin a wetsuit so she could swim to the island…which she did on Friday, way to go Robbin. We all applaud, then Ned announces all the English Channel swimmers who have come to swim and support the newbies, I clap hard on that one, what a treasure to have these accomplished, experienced swimmers share their knowledge and finally acknowledgement of the one swimmer who attended every swim, and wouldn’t you know it, it was me, the stubborn ” skinny penguin”, 16 swims ,14 of them hypothermic, I tilt my head slightly as the group applauds, I am EMBARRASSED with the attention.
With the awards out of the way we get down to the business of the last swim, ” Find someone to swim with, it is much more digestible with company”, Ned says, as he says this I start shuffling closer to Colm, I look up with a ” pick me” look in my eyes and we walk down the slip way side by side, the tide is low and we all walk out, Colm asks if I prefer the rocks or sea weed to swim through, ” sea weed please”, I say, it feels warmer to me in the seaweed, with that we are off.
Today the water is extra special cold for us, I don’t swim my usual punchy pace I hold it steady and swim beside Colm, I am pleased with my choice it is nice to swim alongside him and I sense he knows this Island well, I follow. Around we go one lap down and time for me to take a feed, Colm had told me at the start that he was not feeding until lap 2 , ” I’ll wait for you”, he says as I swim towards the island, I swim in and take my feed, the feed feels lovely and warm sliding down my throat, I swim off with a burst on energy, Colm kindly waits for me and we take on lap 2 together, I notice it is colder around the back side of the island, then in for the next feed we both feed and head out again, then things get fuzzy, we swim another lap or so, I see the island, Colm pointing me in to feed, someone standing with a bottle, I stagger up to take it, I stare at the bottle….” that’s not my feed”, I say, Robbin, my sister replies ” this is your feed, here drink it”, ” that’s not my feed, it’s orange, my feed is green, that’s orange”, I say again, Robbin again replies, ‘ Charlotte you made this feed yourself, look you wrote your name on the bottle, it is not orange”, I look down I don’t see my name and the bottle still is orange to me, I don’t trust them, why are they messing with me? Next thing I know the hot fluid is tipping down my throat, it is scalding hot, ” I can’t believe they are feeding me boiling hot water’, I think as I stumble back in the water, Colm is there, ” come on this way” , we head out to swim another lap, next time I come into the island there is no recollection, only what I have been told I said and did, so here is an account from Robbin….she tells me after the swim that I again was convinced the feed was not mine and refused to drink it, then she tells me ” you looked like a walking corpse, no color in your face, there was no blood in your outer extremities, your eyes had sunk into their sockets, you had big dark blue smudgy circles around them, you looked puzzled and then in an inquisitive way said” Who the F*ck are you….., anyway”, apparently I could still swear!, Ned tells me I didn’t recognise him at all, ” no more laps of the Island for you Charlotte, you swim to the slipway and back with Carol” Ned says, then there was Carol, my savior, she took my hand in the kindest voice, ” come on Charlotte we’ll swim to the slip way and back, just 3 minutes there”, OK I said in my head and with that I put my head down and swam, ” now we go back to the Island”, Carol said,” OK”, I mumble and I put my head down and swim back to the island, next thing I know I have swum back to the slipway after swimming one more width and Carol is helping me out of the water, next comes a blur and I am in the car with blankets. My last swim is over, I gave it all I had, thanks to the support of the crew and other swimmers, my camp is over OR IS IT?
In the car I go through my usual shakes and tremors, my muscles spasm and cramp up, that is the most painful bit, today I am fascinated with my feet, they look like those of a cadaver, I used to study anatomy using cadavers when I attended Otago University in New Zealand, granted my feet don’t smell of formulen, but they do look so drained of blood like a corpses, ” how could I be alive and have dead looking feet, wierd”, I think. At Otago I completed a 4 year degree in Physical Education, we studied Anatomy for the first year, I never forgot the muscles names after seeing then first hand on a body, kind of sticks with you, just like the smell of the formulen, our anatomy lab was always right before lunch and whatever I did I couldn’t get the smell off myself, duing lunch it hung over me while I ate, I didn’t look forward to lunch on those days.
Robbin notices me drift off to sleep and decides to whisk me away for a shower and food, a good call, as we drive away I glance back at the island, many swimmers are still out there, Ned had asked me if I would like to come over to the island and watch the other swimmers feed after I was done swimming today, ” you’ll learn alot”, he said, so my plan is to go change and come back, I have already decided, I am coming back with my suit on underneath my clothes, if Colm wants company towards the end of his swim I am getting back in.
Back to the apartment, a warm shower, food, dry suit on, I pick the one that simmers like a fish, brightly colored, warm clothes on top, then I stuff my swim cap, ear plug and goggles into my pocket so no one can see and am off with Robbin back to the island.
I catch a ride in the dingy out to the island and sit and watch the remaining swimmers as they swim in, feed and head back out for another lap. Ned is right, I do learn alot, ” look how calm and controlled they are when they come in”, says Ned, I look, sure enough they swim in, walk up to the island, ask for their feed, maybe something special like a jelly baby or mint, even mouthwash to give the mouth and tounge relief from the salt water, then thay are off again. They don’t argue, shout or reject help, the swim on. I am amazed that they can talk at all. There is still 1.5 hours to go, Kevin is still swimming, along with Alan from Montreal, Donal is still out there too and Colm, who had helped me so much earlier in the day. I continue to watch and notice it is hard to look upbeat and positive knowing how hard this must be for them swimming, I spare a thought for my own crew and realise what a tough ask I give them..” look happy it helps me when I swim”. More time goes by, now only 40 minutes to go, Colm swims, Lisa brings him his feed, ” It’s getting tough out there now”, says Colm, her looks up and sees me all bundled up sitting on the rock, ” coming in for another lap?”, he asks, ” Yes I said I can if it would help”, I reply, ” No, no, I was just joking you stay warm”, Colm replies, ” really Colm she has her suit on, cap,and goggles ready to go”, says Lisa, ‘ no Charlotte I have slowed down over the hours, I’ll be much too slow for you”, as Colm continues to say no I am ripping off my pants and jackets, and shouting to him, “you go I’ll catch you up”, with that he resumes swimming, I tug on my cap, ear plugs in and goggles down, I dash into the water chasing him, I don’t care if he is slow or fast I am going to be there for him if it helps him through. So off I stroke, winding in and out of the weed and the rocks, the water is refreshing and before long I pull up alongside him, he was right I have to slow my stroke down to stay alongside him, I look down at all the wonderful activity on the bottom of the cove, I breathe to my left and fondly look at the powerful waves crashing on to strong rocks, it is beautiful, I feel so grateful to be in such an amazing place, then I breathe to the right and see Colm soldering on, nearly 6 hours completed in this water in the low 50s, what a feat. The cold snaps my mind back, I swim fast past Colm to warm myself up, swim in a big circle and then pull up beside him again, hoping I am not distracting him. We swim along like along the backside of the island, round the 3rd corner where the water is a bit warmer and then back into the island where I get out and Colm goes about finishing the last little bit of his 6 hours and he does, what a terrific swim. Alan makes his qualifying swim and Donal his mentor leads the way, setting a good example for Alan by keeping him company and swimming the 6 hours also, Kevin cruises in and completes his as well.
So there we have it, distance training week comes to a close, time to gather round and say some goodbyes and some thank yous for all the good swimming, lessons learned and support offered, Ned headed up one heck of a wild ride, it was the most miserably painful wonderfully enjoyable experiance I recall, thanks Ned for everything. So into the car and off Robbin and I go, is this the last story from Kinsale, absolutely not, we have not it is 3:30pm and we are going to high tail it to make it in time a harbor cruise at 5pm and tour Charles fort, we haven’t done any sightseeing yet( apart from in the water!) and I am determined to learn a little history about this wonderful little village and harbor before we leave for the airport at 4am tomorrow morning,what will we discover, I ‘ll keep you posted!
Closing thought: True success is the only thing that you cannot have unless and until you have offered it to others