Friday, October 30, 2009

New Blog (By Mallory)

So its been over a year since my channel swim and I'm still swimming. I was recently awarded a sponsorship with the Endurance Trust and I am now swimming for Riley's Children's Hospital and the PLGA Foundation (Pediatric Low-Grade Astrocytoma i.e. Highly fatal brain tumor). I have a new blog that will chronicle my swimming adventures from now on so if you read this blog and enjoyed it please hop on over to the new one and sign up to follow me. There you can also find links to my Sponsored Athlete Page (with my firstgiving account) and links to the these two great charities.

See you on the other side!


Friday, November 28, 2008

Prizes! (by Clara)


The CSA Awards Banquet was held at the beginning of the month, and I've been waiting for some kind of email or website update to see if Mallory or I would win any awards. Julie Bradshaw previously had sent out a preliminary set of completed swims, which had yet to be officially ratified. From that document, it appeared that Mallory would win both fastest American and fastest woman for the season. There weren't any ages listed, so I could only sit and wait.

Today, I discovered that there was a short summary of the awards banquet online here. The report confirms that I was the youngest swimmer to make it in 2008, at 19 years of age at the time of the swim. For some reason, the writeup didn't seem to name the winners of all the awards (namely, the awards Mallory seemed poised to win weren't mentioned), so I've sent an email to the secretary to inquire about the status of those awards. Will update when I get a reply. I received the email from the CSA, and apparently the list had been given to the webmaster for posting on the website in October (and thus ahead of time for the banquet), but somehow was never posted. They are working on that now, but in the mean time, we have a definite confirmed for Mallory getting BOTH fastest woman AND fastest American! Woot! We rock! (Or, rather, Mallory rocks, and I'm just a wee young tot.)

In other news, there is at least one photo of Mallory on the home page of the CSA website. It's possible there are two... the in-water picture looks like Mallory, but I'm not 100% sure. Mallory thinks the in-water photo is not her, because the cap appears pink. I'm not completely convinced... I still think it looks like her. You can check it out and make your own decision.

Clara, a.k.a. Polar Bear, a.k.a. Youngest CSA Swimmer of 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Clara the Polar Bear's Helpful Tips for Swimming the English Channel

It's been nearly two months since Mallory and I completed our channel swims, and I thought I'd write down some advice based on our experience. I must stress that this advice is based on the experience of two people, both college-aged girls and life-long competitive pool swimmers, so you will have to decide for yourself how our experience would apply to your own attempt, if you are reading this to get advice for that purpose. I think there are definitely some things that are universally good advice, and I was certainly happy to get whatever advice I could while in the planning stages. So, that in mind, here we go:
  • It doesn't matter how much you train physically if you aren't mentally ready. It is possible to make it with minimal or spotty training if you can tough it out mentally, but it's impossible if you don't think you can make it.
  • That being said, make sure you train! The more you train, the faster you will swim, and no matter how mentally strong you are, there is a minimal amount of fitness you will need to get across. I would think that level of fitness would positively correlate with speed of recovery afterwards. Also, I think the minimum amount of fitness necessary scales with proficiency at swimming: very strong swimmers will not tire as quickly and can get away with training less, but weaker swimmers will probably need to be in very good shape.
  • I don't know how to know if you are mentally ready. I think you probably can't know for certain, but you can do things to increase your mental toughness. Make yourself do a long, boring, grueling, repetitive set in the pool, or swim for many hours at a time outside. When race day comes, do whatever it takes to make sure you stay in the water. For me, that was thinking about all the people who helped me out along the way, and not wanting to let them down.
  • Swim in open water as much as possible, especially if your open water experience is limited. If you are land-locked, get to the ocean as much as possible, because it's totally different than fresh water.
  • There isn't one tried-and-true training program that works. Marcia Cleveland, who wrote Dover Solo, had a high yardage-based training program. Mallory and I worked a lot more on quality interval training and cross-training. We rarely got above 7,000 meters in a day, and on days when our dryland training was particularly rough, that number dropped significantly. (Note on cross-training: make sure you ease into any new kind of exercise to prevent injury, especially if you have a recurring one that might flare up from new stresses!)
  • Don't underestimate the power of cold. Along the same lines, do your qualifying swim as early as possible, so that any unforeseen complications (like not realizing how bad the cold can be) can be worked out before the real thing.
  • Practice swimming in the dark. Preferably with a buddy.
  • All the usual logistical advice: book everything early, be there early, be ready to be flexible on your time slot, etc.
  • Go into this knowing that it's not a sure thing. You could do everything perfectly -- the training, the mental toughness, the cold acclimation -- and still be dashed by the weather. Mallory and I had tried to schedule in August and ended up having to move to July for better slots. We had perfect weather, and the poor folks who tried in August were dealing with storm after storm. So, be prepared for this to happen, and have a plan B. We didn't, and we should have, and if we had been more on top of our stuff with scheduling, we might have needed it.
  • Finally, when you get the opportunity, GO FOR IT. But, go for it within reason. Don't do something ridiculous like drive 6 hours straight and jump in the water straight-away with little sleep and little food, and, also, be reasonable about your abilities. If the weather is borderline, and you are a poor swimmer, maybe it's not the best idea (especially if the weather looks good ahead). That said, if you hesitate, the opportunity may disappear, and, especially if you're foreign and have a limited window of time, it may not come again. And once you're in the water, don't waste the chance: there is NO guarantee of another good opportunity later in the season, as a number of the swimmers this season found out.
As a parting thought, I guess what I most want to get through is that you can really handle a lot more than you give yourself credit for. When I started out on this, I thought I was going to need to be in the best shape of my life to have any shot at making it. Don't get me wrong, being in the best shape of my life definitely would have made the whole thing a lot easier and more pleasant. My course of crash-training last minute left me with a nagging shoulder injury and a lot of worries, but I made it anyway. So, I guess what I'm saying is that it's okay if your preparation is not textbook or up to the expectations you set for yourself. There wasn't a single point leading up to my swim that I felt prepared. You can do it anyway.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More Photos (by Mallory)

Boating to the start

Light Stick on my butt.....made me feel like a stripper.

Grease Application

Hilltopper Pride

Sitting on the Boat is Hard Work

And Again....


Did I mention Clara goes to MIT?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Father's Perspective (by Mallory)

Below is an email my father sent out to his mailing list that shows his perspective on the swim. I am sharing it with you all now.

At the start of her swim, Mallory, fighting the swells that occur next to shore was swimming at a 80 stroke per minute rate. Once clear of the coast (hour into the swim) she slowed a bit to around 70. Never during the 10 hrs and 14 minutes did she drop below 68, even with the pain.

There were about four other swimmers starting close to the same time, one swimmer (from Brazil) started about 45-60 minutes before her. During prep time, Keith (the Channel Observer) kept repeating that "this is not a race". During a feeding,three hours into the swim, after leaving the others behind, and passing the guy from Brazil (who later was pulled after 4 hrs because of the cold, and I think perhapse from Mallory blowing by him, sorry about that) Keith commented, "Mallory, you are doing great! to which she responded, with a smile, "who says it isnt a race?"

In order to conserve heat, Mallory did not kick until the last 40 minutes of the swim. Longest pull set in history.

I know my daughter, I know her stroke. Seven hours into the swim, I KNEW she was really hurting. With feedings every hour(energy gels), and drink every half hour I kept track with my watch, in order to conserver heat, we tried to keep the stops around 30 seconds, for drink, a minute for feedings. But for the final three hours I could not look at her in the water. I basically did the feedings then went back and set down, with my back to the water, covered my head with my rain poncho and thought "warm water, warm water" and "why did I allow her to talk me into this"over and over again until the next stop. The longest, most agonizing three hours of my life. I knew she wouldnt stop, no matter what, as the night before the swim she confided in me. "I sure hope I make it, I dont want to let everyone down."

Our crew and observer were the best! While all the pilots are great (there are only six certified pilots) our observer, Keith, was absolutely a gem. He talked to us all during the day, with stories of peoples wins and defeats. and called like 15 people on his cell phone after Mal finished. (The association people are as excited as we are when someone makes it) During the finish, our Pilot Fred, jumped into his small dingy about a thousand yards from shore. Standing up in the middle and rowing with small powerful strokes, he escored Mallory into the finish, and YELLED into his radio when she cleared water. Music to my ears. (Mallory told me later, she wondered if she would need to slow up for him to keep up, was not a problem at all. I told Fred I could tell he had rowed that boat a few times.) Fred is about the oldest pilot stationed at Folkestone, all the local kids call him Granddad. When asked about it, he said, "I'm not their grandad! Have you ever seen their grandma?" LOL

When Mallory was about 500 yards from shore, I called my mother on my cell. After talking to her for a few mintues, about how her cats were doing. I said. "Mom, I am calling you from just off the coast of France. Mallory is about to finish" I then proceeded to keep her on the line until Fred announced the end of the swim over the radio. I am so glad I thought to do this.

After she finished I walked around the boat, thanking them all for their help. Fred says to me, "dont thank paid for it!" then smiled, and I could tell he was quite pleased.

Dave Bennett (Claras dad) was an absolute ace on deck... Always quick to offer help/advice. Never pushy or concered if I didnt take it. Mallory told me later. "Dave is the one person I noticed the most on the boat."

Mallory had said that after this swim she was going to retire. When she got back into the boat, I went to her, and as she laid there I said, "Mallory, I dont know if you are going to retire or not, but I cannot ever do this again, I am absolutely retireing from being your support person" She replied, "dont worry dad I AM retiring"

During her swim around Manhattan Island (28 miles, 7 hrs and 44 minutes) four years ago. We took our time during feedings. In fact during one stop I handed her a water proof camera, and she swam over and took a few photos of the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge.That WAS a race, Mallory finished 4th overall. During Claras Channelswim, I mentioned to her, " You know Mal, I think if we had done the feedings like this during the Manhattan marathon, I think you could have won that race (as the winning woman, took her feedings right from her support kayak, did not even go over to the support boat). to which Mallory replied, "yeah, I was just thinking that". Dave Bennett says to us as he glances at his watch. "Total time of retirement, just under 36 hours."

While talking to everyone back on shore after the swim. I was describing the finish, and how excited and relieved I was. Clara's mom said to me, "did you cry?" I looked her in the eye and confessed. "Like a baby."

Thank you all for your support. Thank you all for putting up with all the updates. Now I need to go answer the 293 emails I received at work while we were gone.


Day in Dover (by Mallory)

There is a Mecca for Channel swimmers, and it’s called Dover. Of course the main attraction is the harbor, but for the elite there is The White Horse Pub (white horse is a nickname for “white caps” or waves). You see, when someone successfully crosses the channel, they get to marker their name to pub’s interior (walls or ceiling) and whatever wisdom they would like impart on the pub’s clientele, which consists largely of channel swimmers and regulars who know all about the channel swimmers.

So the day started with a trip to Dover Castle Clara and her family left early in the morning, and my family and I left later in the day. The Castle trip started with a “20 minute steady walk” from the bus stop which is neither 20 minutes nor what I call steady. As my dad put it “20 minute steady walk, if you’re part mountain goat.” The castle is situated on the highest point in Dover, looking out over the channel and protecting it from invaders as it has done for 1000 or so years. It’s features vary in time period as it was constantly being adapted for the new warfare. There is a Roman lighthouse, a medieval tunnel system, a castle fit for a king, and another tunnel system originally built for the Napoleonic Wars and later converted into an underground military base for WWII on up to the cold wars. It was very interesting and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially history buffs. After we finished exploring the vast acreage of Dover Castle, we headed over to the White Horse to do the deed.

When I walked through the door of the White Horse, it was almost overwhelming. There were literally hundreds of names written on the walls and ceilings. I saw short entries with just a name, date, time, and place of origin, and I saw longer entries with multiple attempts, dedications, and observations (such as “Cold? My willy has never been so small!”) Some wrote big and took up more than their share. Some wrote small and were definitely the more interesting ones. As I stood there in awe, an American woman turned to me and said, “So, what was your time?” It felt really good to be in the company of someone just as crazy as I was. The woman, I learned, was Marcy MacDonald, a doctor from Connecticut that has 9 crossings to her credit, including 3 doubles. She was the first American woman to succeed at a double crossing. I immediately fell into conversation with her about all things channel swimming. As we were talking, I was scanning the walls and ceiling for “my spot.” I felt as though it were a very important decision and settled on a small part of paint lining a wooden ceiling beam. I figured there was plenty of room and it was somewhere between the horizontal and vertical surface. It would definitely be seen, as it was located just above the bar. Just as I was about to grab the marker and put my name in the spot, I reconsidered. It was such a small space and what if I wanted to come back? There would be no room to put my additional crossings. I think that this thought was the official end of my retirement from open water swimming (although Dave Bennett places it much earlier, when I was crewing on Clara’s boat). I found a new spot, larger, and close to the bar on the ceiling, and I wrote this:

Mallory Mead – Indiana
10 hrs 34 mins
“Never Again?”

When I swam the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 2004, I met another lady who had swam the English Channel. I also proclaimed after that swim that I would never do this ever again. I will never forget what she told me.

“Open water swimming is like having a baby. It hurts so bad you swear you’ll never do it again, but then you forget and you do anyway.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Assorted Photographs (by Clara)

Preparation for the cold:

Mallory doubles up: ice bath and ice cream

she used a snorkel to breathe

I put ice on her back to increase the cold factor

Ice for my ice bath in the condo in Hawaii

My swim:

All greased up, with white cliffs of Dover in the background

Jumping in the water

Just before the start

One of the few large ships we could see in the haze

Getting out on the other side

Officially done!

Getting hauled into the dinghy, looking like a total loon (I couldn't really use my shoulders to pull myself in)

Looking chipper after a refreshing swim

Uncle Ralf poured Champagne on me, courtesy of Pilot Eric Hartley

First Mate Lee, Observer Anne Slone, Captain Eric Hartley, Swimmer Clara Bennett