Saturday, June 27, 2015

Qualifying swim.....done

More details later.  Just wanted to thank my wife, son, GMUP swim mates, the LOST swimmers, and all of you who supported and continue to support me throughout the years.  I'm beat and ready for a good night's rest.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Last second thoughts before my 6-hour cold water qualifying swim


I sit here in my kitchen, thinking about what to write before we head off for Oakville, Ontario.  Funny enough, I am at a loss for words.  The past few weeks went very well for training.  I feel great.  My only concern was that the water might not be cold enough (61 degrees F or colder) to count as my qualifying swim.  Those concerns are gone.  Now, I hope that I don't get swept away by the cold winds that appear to be coming to the area.  Yes, the water will be cold enough and the conditions will be an excellent simulation for some of the worst conditions the EC has to offer - short of jellyfish, saltwater, and hurricanes.  Here is the forecast for this weekend:  cold (low to mid 60's air and upper 50's in the water), wet (85% chance of rain on Saturday), and windy (10 mph in the morning building to 25 mph by the time I finish).  Not bad.  I am really excited.  We push off early tomorrow morning so I need to get to bed.  The weather may press me into service on Friday night instead of waiting for Saturday.  Now that would be exciting!  The folks at LOST have been nothing short of amazing.  More on them later with pictures.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

EC training going well: Huge hurdle coming up


I sit here in my comfortably air-conditioned house while it is 90 degrees F outside and muggy like a swamp.  My comfort also comes from knowing that over the past 4 weeks, I logged more than 32km each week in swimming and I am slowly getting faster and fatter (started at 173 lbs and now tip the scales at 184 lbs).  When I first returned from Nepal, I could barely make Cheryl's workout sets. Who is Cheryl you ask?  Cheryl Ward is my coach, friend, and adventure supporter.  She rocks!  So how am I doing with Cheryl's workouts now?  I make the intervals now and seem to get stronger throughout the workout.  Not sure I would have been able to do that on my own.  Thanks Cheryl.  So, mission accomplished in the training department or at least on a mission and keeping my eye on the prize.  

The boat that will pilot me across the EC.  You can track it throughout the season here.
The huge hurdle that lies ahead is my last hurdle before I can really focus on the EC swim - my 6-hour cold water qualifying swim.  Yep, the EC has a qualifying swim.  Unlike Everest where anyone can throw their hat into the ring (provided you have the cash), the folks at the Channel Swimming Association require swimmers to go through a physical examination, pay a nonrefundable deposit, and submit evidence of competency for swimming long distances in cold water.  The best evidence is to actually swim long distances in cold water.  So this Friday, my family and I push off for the cold shores of Lake Ontario where I will complete my 6-hour swim in 61 degree F water (or colder as it may be later this week).  I plan to complete my swim with the support of my family and the gracious folks of LOST (Lake Ontario Swim Team).  More on them in a bit.  For now, I am focused and ready to swim.  The biggest trial for this swim will be sorting out my feeding schedule and working with my crack team of family members to keep me on track.

An extra layer of insulation

Getting fat and fast is important for the EC but no swim is complete without adding a nice buffer to stave off chafing.  I read a ton about what to use and finally came up with the solution.  Butt paint!  Kathy and I used to call this stuff butt paint because we used it all the time on our son when he was in diapers.  Now, I use it for swimming or at least will when I start my open-water sessions.  Here it is...butt paint:

I plan to smear this stuff all over me before the swim and try to keep it off my goggles.  Wish me luck on that last part.

The LOST swimmers

A couple weeks ago - perhaps now many weeks - I was searching for a place to swim a long distance in the open water.  I knew I needed to complete my qualifying swim, I just didn't know where.  My criteria were simple.  First, I wanted to swim in a body of water that was cold because the rules stipulate that I must complete my qualifying swim in 61 degree F or colder water.  Second, that body of water had to be free of real objective dangers such as hungry sharks, boat traffic, and drunk people fishing or jet skiing.  The latter of those three probably represent the greatest threat to any open-water swimmer.  Third, I needed the body of water to be relatively close to my VA home.  We all traveled a fair bit this year and with our upcoming trips, we wanted to be able to drive and keep the hassles to a minimum.  Finally, I didn't care if the water were salt or fresh water although I preferred salt water just so I could practice a bit more in an environment similar to the EC. 

These four criteria set me up for a long search up and down the eastern shores of the US.  Obviously, the ocean would be ideal but probably not easily accessible without violating one of my stipulations above.  I found the only cold waters of the North Atlantic within an easy drive were probably a bit too busy for a 6-hour swim.  One website - - provided a good start where I could search all around the US to find a suitable body of water.  Narragansett Bay seemed to fit all my needs but the weather and the water temperature didn't seem to be terribly predictable - at least not from the data I found on the internet.  Next, I started looking at lakes.  

Yes!  Lakes should be a good alternative because many nearby (+/- 8 hour drive) were really cold and supported open-water swimming.  First, I looked at Seneca Lake.  That lake seemed like a perfect fit.  The water would be cold - perhaps not cold enough in some spots and really cold in others.  I thought I found my match.  Then, after a little more searching, I figured it might be best to find a lake where open-water swimmers already practice.  That search lead me to the LOST page.  I immediately contacted the president (Rob Kent) and manager (Miguel Vadillo) via email.  They both responded within minutes of sending out the message.  I was extremely relieved to hear that they were enthusiastic about my training and supportive for my qualifying swim.  They knew a fair bit about the EC and the requirements to qualify; I knew I found a great match.  So, I am off to swim with them this coming weekend.  Kathy and Patrick will kayak (I presume) alongside me while I swim, eat, and enjoy the cold waters of Lake Ontario.  

The LOST group starts their swims on Saturday mornings from Oakville, Ontario.  We plan to drive up on Friday and spend the evening in Oakville so we can get a little bit more sleep than if we stayed with family in Buffalo.  After the swim, we will drive down to Buffalo where I will warm up, drink a ton of beer with my brother-in-law (named Pat too - how could he be a bad guy, eh?), and eat enough Buffalo wings to support a mid-sized Irish village.  

Wish us luck.  OK, off for my daily Sunday double.  8km today, 8km tomorrow, and then I get to taper off a little to rest up for the big day.  Expect more on my complete training shortly but no graphs or anything like that for this training adventure.  I do have a ton of stories to tell.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for following.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Training for the EC: Some insights I gained from the experts

I'm not new to swimming nor am I a novice open-water swimmer.  The English Channel, however, is novel territory for me for several reasons.  Here they are in no particular order:

The EC is a long, cold swim.  Most of my open-water swimming came in triathlons years ago and my yearly pilgrimage to La Jolla Cove to swim among the seals.  I love being in the open water unconstrained by pool walls and lane lines.  Sure, I enjoy a pool swim but the open-water is where I really enjoy swimming.  What makes the EC different than most of my previous swims is that it is colder or at least somewhat colder than what I have experienced.  My brother and I went diving and swimming in 56 degree Maine water (an all-day outing one day) and experienced real hypothermia.  We turned on the heater in 104F weather afterwards and still shivered.  Combine the temperature in the Channel (65F expected in early September for my swim) along with the length of the swim (approximately 19 Nm, 21 miles, or 32 Km as the crow flies) and we have a nice recipe for hypothermia.  That direct distance is never the distance most people swim.  Instead, we must swim where the water allows.  The really fast swimmers (not me) swim an almost direct path between Dover, England and Cap Gris Nez, France.  Thus, the temperature and time in that cold water creates a novel experience.

The swim takes place alongside a boat.  Never before have I swum next to a boat - not even a kayak.  I can envision a nice position alongside the boat where my navigation skills may not be as important as my skills to avoid hitting the boat.  Those two are different.  In navigation, the swimmer must periodically look up to sight something either on land or on the water - a point that serves the swimmer as a goal.  When a swimmer looks up, that action leads to the hips sinking and a general slowdown.  Thus, looking up slows down the swimmer.  Avoiding the boat, on the other hand, merely requires the swimmer to pay attention to the boat and avoid it.   Most pool swimmers get familiar with this side-to-side action because lane lines restrict our motion.  The boat may merely serve as a single lane line but one that would be bad to hit; lane lines give a little but the boat does not move simply because we brush up against it.  So, not only is this a long, cold swim but it is one that takes place alongside a boat.  There is more....

The EC swim requires us to eat while swimming.  We all eat and most of us are pretty accomplished at eating.  When we were kids, we were warned never to go into the water right after eating.  So what do we do when we swim the EC?  We eat while we swim.  No waiting, no breaks, no mercy.  We simply need to eat while swimming and deal with the adversity that comes with eating while swimming.  Imagine grabbing some food while you are in mid-stroke, throwing it in your mouth, chewing (if necessary) and swallowing the mouthful all the while you keep your stroke going.  Now, imagine a little salt water creeping into that mouthful and you get a pretty good idea about eating while swimming in the EC.  Things don't go as smoothly as a typical picnic nor are they even remotely as smooth as poolside dining.  We simply need to eat to keep our bodies nourished.  Remember I said that the EC is a cold swim?  Well, that cold burns up a ton of calories - more so than even swimming.  Temperature regulation is the more calorically expensive activity our bodies engage in on a daily basis.  The greater the difference between the external and internal temperatures, the more the body must heat itself.  Heating comes from burning fuel (and exercising muscles) and that fuel needs replacement throughout the swim.  We eat to replace and ward off the potential for "bonking" (the rated G type of bonking) while out in the open water.  Eat to swim and swim to eat.  

The speed-distance tradeoff is critical to success.  As I mentioned above, the EC is a long, cold swim.  The length, however, is dictated by the speed of the swimmer.  Faster swimmers swim a shorter overall distance compared to slower swimmers.  Here is the route between Dover and Cap Gris Nez:

From point-to-point, the swim is roughly 20 miles (32km).  Faster swimmers swim close to that 20 mile route while slower swimmers can swim anywhere from 1 to even 10 miles (!!!!) more than the actual point-to-point route.  Amazing, eh?  I hope to swim the EC in about 11 hours or so and would be overjoyed if I only added one extra mile.  The current, waves, and wind dictate the extra distance and the track the swimmer swims between the points.  A nasty combination of those three could make for a long outing.  Not sure I could envision myself in those waters for 18 hours so I am training my rear off now to have a comfortable margin or error.

Enough for now.  I gotta get back to work and training.  Expect another update soon that provides some detail about my training regime.  Thanks for following.....

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Everything is possible

Want to get inspired?  Follow those who inspire you.  Trent Grimsey inspired me with his 2012 swim of the English Channel.  Watch this video to see if he inspires you.

No, I don't expect to set any records.  My aim is to finish.  I want to enjoy a few glasses of wine afterwards with my family and friends and see my friends Sam and Alex again in France.  

Are you inspired yet?  More about my preparation later.  Get inspired...nothing is impossible.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A new beginning - follow me while I prepare to swim the English Channel


Today is a somewhat bittersweet occasion - the date I was scheduled to fly back home from Kathmandu.  I don't sit here remorsefully recounting what could have been.  Instead, I remain thankful for all the support you all offered me while I was away.  The people who really need our support are the people of Nepal; they continue to suffer under poor conditions and recurring tragedies - both natural and man-made.  I urge you to support those organizations that use their contributions to directly support the people and not line the pockets of already well-off administrators.  You can find some good charities by visiting Charity Navigator.

I put Everest in my rearview mirror for now and focus on my next adventure - swimming the English Channel (EC).  Please come back to read more about the planning and preparation of this event.  My current schedule is to fly to the UK in early September (2015) where I will wait until my time comes up to start the swim.  The time is flying by and I am swimming and lifting like crazy.  I plan to post a few updates this week so everyone knows what goes into a swim like the EC.  

Hope this update finds you well and gives you something positive to think about after this year's tragedy in Nepal.  Thanks for following along with my adventures.


Climbing and now swimming on purpose