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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

C-O-D-E-I-N-E Spells Relief (by Clara)

I spent basically the entire second half of my second sophomore semester worrying about coming over here to swim the English Channel. I worried that I wouldn't be able to train properly, since I definitely didn't train as much as I needed to during the semester (largely due to a particularly grueling academic schedule). Also, once I moved in with Mallory to begin training, I think the sudden large amounts of dryland (as opposed to in-pool) training was really taxing on my shoulder, and began to limit my pool workouts. However, I seemed to have gotten all my worrying out of the way, as I didn't once feel nervous after getting to England (although I worried that all the people asking me if I was nervous would cause me to become so).

So, on Saturday, July 26th, I boarded the Samallan at 3 in the morning to watch Mallory swim to France. I'm embarrassed to say that I slept for large chunks of her swim, but in my defense, I was to be swimming in two days and needed to conserve my strength. I watched her enter a period of extreme pain about 8 hours in, struggling to keep going and crying with the pain. I wanted very badly to enter the water to be her pace swimmer, but I wasn't allowed to do this unless she asked, so I just ended up swimming with her to the finish. Even though I could obviously tell she was in unbelievable pain, and she shouted it at me at the finish (in case I had missed it before), none of this made me want to swim it any less. Her shoulder pain made me a little more worried about my own shoulder, especially since hers had never been injured before, but there wasn't much I could do about it at that point, so I just took my medicine and tried not to think about it.

At 5:15 on the morning of July 28th, we met in the lobby of the hotel again and headed headed over to the Folkestone Harbour to board Eric Hartley's Pathfinder. We met a one-armed Frenchman with a penchant for kissing who was also going to be attempting to cross that day. When we were heading back, we heard over the radio that he was about 6 miles out, but making little progress, and a thunderstorm rolled out that night. I'm not sure if he eventually made it, but I'm pretty sure making it 15 miles with one arm is pretty damn impressive.

We boated over to Samphire Hoe, a beach and sea-wall constructed of dirt from the Chunnel diggings, just off of Dover. They gave me the option to climb down the ladder, but I decided to jump over the side: no chance to try to turn back that way. I exited the water, waved, and then re-entered at 5:57 to begin my swim. 11 hours and 12 minutes later, exhausted and sore, I hauled myself out on the barnacle-covered rocks on the south side of Cap Gris Nez. To be honest, I was surprised to have swum as fast as I did, seeing as how much my shoulder hurt through the whole swim. Also, I didn't think I would be so close to Mallory's time, but she wasn't quite as accustomed to dealing with shoulder pain, having never had a serious shoulder issue before.

I would like to thank my parents, the Cooks (who, at this point, I might as well start calling Mom and Dad No. 2), Calley, Mallory, and my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Ralph for being such a smashing support crew (Janece wasn't on the boat, but I know she was pulling for me from England... and probably chewing off her fingernails with worry, as she is wont to do). Eric Hartley was a fantastic captain: I was the first person to reach shore on my day, even though I'm quite sure another swimmer with whom we were playing cat-and-mouse for a while was actually swimming faster, and that's all thanks to Eric's skillful piloting. We ended up getting swept past the cape, but not nearly as far as the other boats. Also crewman Lee and my observer Ann (who overlooked my incidental boat contact! I pushed away quickly...). I definitely wouldn't have been able to hoist myself into the dinghy without Lee's help with the condition my arms and shoulders were in. And last, but not least, I would like to thank Boots Pharmacy in Folkestone and the nation of Great Britain for providing acetaminophen (Tylenol) with codeine without a prescription. Hallelujah!

So on to the bit where I describe details of the swim:

I was able to commission the infamous MIT Weather Machine for my swim. (For those of you who don't know, the MIT Weather Machine is used during the admitted students' weekend in April to fool the prefrosh into thinking Boston has good weather.) There were some issues with getting it to work in England, but I managed to find a loophole in that in only functions in Cambridge. Since we're reasonable kinda close-ish to Cambridge in England, we were able to get it to operate from there, and then just increased the range to get it to the English Channel. It was a stretch, and there was only enough power to run for about 12 hours, but it worked! Smooth sailing for basically the entire swim, and the water was a balmy 62-63 degrees Fahrenheit.

The feeding schedule I followed was very similar to Mallory's, except that I got mouthwash more often. On the half-hours, I got a more sugary juice drink and mouthwash, and on the hours I got less sugary juice and a Maxim gel pack. I was a pretty big fan of the Maxim gel packs for a number of reasons. 1) There were three servings per pack, so I could get more gel if I wanted than with the Power Gel, etc. 2) The opening was a rigid tube (rather than a flat slit), and the consistency was fairly runny, so it could be sucked down quickly. 3) The flavor was quite nice, both while I was eating it and while I was spitting part of it back up... I didn't know until after the swim, but my dad was dissolving regular Tylenol (acetaminophen/paracetamol) into my drinks the whole time. What I did know was that I took a Tylenol with codeine before I swam, and starting at 3 hours, I got a Tylenol with codeine every 2 hours in my gel pack (another advantage of the Maxim pack was that the pill could be easily inserted, since they were non-dissolvable tablets). There was really no change to my feeding schedule, except that I didn't get my 11 hour feed, since they figured I'd be landing in a few minutes anyway.

My mental difficulties were totally backwards from normal. Most people (or so I've been led to believe) do all right for the first large chunk of the swim, and then encounter a "bad patch" some 8 or 9 hours in (often corresponding to the time when the swimmer uses up the glycogen in the muscles and turns to fat for the primary energy source, I think, though neither Mallory nor I ran into that particular difficulty). For me, however, I was having extreme mental blocks at the beginning of the swim. It seemed like forever to my first feeds, and I ended up facing backwards on my first gel feed (at one hour) and ended up seeing how close we still were to the Dover Cliffs. Somewhere around 1.5 to 2 hours, I began to get a serious twinge in my injured left shoulder. By 2.5 hours, I was sobbing, and the combined effect of boat fumes/pain/thoughts of not finishing were causing me to retch and dry heave. I stopped and floated for probably a minute or two, while everyone from the boat was yelling to ask if I was okay (at this point I was on the non-pilot side of the boat, so I had to be far away so that Eric could see me). I yelled that my shoulder was hurting, and Eric came out of the forward cabin to basically ask if I needed to get out (I think his words were "It's your decision Clara, either way"). Anyway, I obviously decided to keep going.

After about 3 hours, I had a complete mental shift, and from that point forward, it never occurred to me that I might not make it. The question was when and how (because it seemed pretty clear that my shoulder wasn't going to hold up in normal fashion the entire way... sidestroke maybe? elementary backstroke?). I knew the crew must be pretty worried about me after my mental break, so I did my best to show them that, while my shoulder still hurt, I was doing much much better in my head. I grinned, squirted water through my teeth, and made faces at my support crew as they watched me swimming over the side of the boat. While I was feeding, I made jokes about whether I'd be allowed to use my arm as a paddle if it fell off, and told Kip Cook that if he didn't stop looking so grim, I was going to give him a big greasy hug when I was done. (At 7 or 8 hours or so, he performed a rap for me during a feed with Mallory doing the beatboxing. Lyrics to come in a later post, and perhaps a video, if I can get him to do it again. This may involve shelling out more than a few pounds for beer, but it would be worth it.) I think it worked. After I was done, Calley (Mallory's little sister) told me that they were really worried after my breakdown, but after witnessing my antics, confusedly commented to each other: " I... think she's happy!...?" The comedian Lewis Black says that sense of humor is the only way to survive and stay sane in this world, and I don't think I could have come up with better advice while I was swimming.

My plan at three hours was that I definitely had to make it to four hours at least, because I swam for four hours into the wind in 5 foot waves in Boston, so it would be embarrassing to stop after that. Then, once I got to 4 hours, I had to get to 6, since that's the amount of time you have to swim in 60 degree water to qualify to attempt the English Channel. Once that was done, I had to at least get to 8 hours, since the 70-year-old who tried to break the age record the day Mallory swam made it 8 hours before quitting, and he's freaking 70! I figured after that I would throw in a few hours for good measure, and then I'd be able to see France, and I wouldn't be able to quit then. My plan broke down a little there, because it was too hazy to see France until we were really close. I managed to get around this by setting myself times to ask whether we had exited a certain shipping channel or whatever, or a time at which I would allow myself to look for France. I thought I was a lot further back than I was though, because my plan was to not look for France until 11 hours... I got a few incidental glimpses before then, but I didn't get a really good look until just a few minutes before landing. I definitely didn't want to do what Mallory did and look up for France every 10 strokes for 3 hours, so I kind of took the other extreme. It worked out okay for me though: I was completely content to ask how many miles from shore, or whether I was at least making progress. Any more information would have been enough for me to overthink things a little too much, instead of just getting my butt in gear and finishing.

At 8 hours, I asked if we had left the Northeast Shipping Lane (the second shipping lane we pass... exiting at about 3/4 of the way). My dad said "almost there," and at 8.5 hours told me that we'd be out before the next feed. At 9 hours, however, he said nothing, and I worried it was because I wasn't making progress and they just didn't want to let me know that. It didn't seem implausible, given how little water I was pulling at this point: having overloaded my right arm the whole way to save my injured left shoulder, my right shoulder had become very painful as well. Also, at 9 hours, I was supposed to have a Tylenol with codeine pill in my gel feed, but I guess it had slid to the bottom of the pack, and I didn't get it. My right shoulder was really suffering from carrying the larger part of the load the whole way, so I was a little snappy about the fact that I wasn't getting the painkillers I had so been looking forward to. My dad managed to locate the pill, and sometime between 9 and 9.5 hours, I picked my head up and asked for it. That was definitely the worst I felt mentally since the first two hours: I don't think the pain got significantly better, though the codeine was definitely helping me cope. However, knowing I was close really helped me ignore the pain, and soon the muscular pain was getting to be on-par with the joint pain, so it was easier to ignore (for a while I was convinced that I had torn my right bicep).

At 9.5 hours, it was very obvious that the people on the boat could see France, but I told them I wasn't going to look until 11 hours. My dad said, "Well, make sure you're looking down then, because you might see rocks first!" That cheered me up a good bit, as I was thinking I wouldn't be finishing until the 12 hour realm. I asked how far I was, and, after a little hesitation, my dad told me I was 3 miles from shore, but that I would probably have to swim further than that. Since I had never been informed when we left the Northeast shipping lane, I had been thinking I was 5 or 6 miles from shore, so 3 miles was joyous news indeed. From that point forward, I really ignored the pain and just pushed as hard as I could, kicking like a madwoman (or at least, a very tired madwoman). I got a view incidental glances of the shore while breathing, but I didn't look straight up until Lee and Mallory got in the dinghy to lead me into shore. Since the ground dropped off so much faster where I landed than where Mallory did, I only had to swim 50 meters or so into land, rather than half a mile. I kept climbing (stumbling more like) over barnacle-covered boulders until people from the boat shouted for me to come back twice (I didn't want to get disqualified for not reach a point beyond all water). Then, I grabbed three rocks and stuffed them in my suit: one for me, one for Mallory (who forgot to grab one), and one for good measure.

I tiredly swim-limped back to the dinghy, and Lee tried to haul me in, but the rocks in my suit made me get stuck. I told him to let go, plopped back in, pulled the rocks out, and he hauled me out again. I flopped headfirst into the dinghy like a large greasy fish (see photos), boated back to the Pathfinder. Once I got on the boat, my Uncle Ralf exploded a bottle of champagne (real champagne) on me, and then I curled on up the air mattress for a while, trading jokes with Calley and nursing my swollen eye.

So how did I feel after I got out? Well, my hands, knees, and feet were all quite cut up from scrambling over barnacle-encrusted boulders. My shoulders were obviously in extreme pain, and my ankles and calves were pretty stiff and sore. Mallory didn't kick during her swim to try to stay warm, but as I wasn't so worried about that, I kicked a solid 2-beat (2 kicks per arm-cycle) through the entire swim (except when I had to pee... that requires still legs), and switched to a 6-beat/4-beat broken rhythm at 9.5 hours. In fact, I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to stand on those rocks given how wobbly my ankles felt. I had had some small particle under my right contact for basically the entire swim, and as a result, rather than blinking, I just allowed the small amount of salt water in my goggles to swish over my eyes every time I turned my head to breathe. I'm pretty sure that eventually that salt water became nearly isotonic from all the tears that streamed out when the salty salty ocean water hit my eyes, but I definitely had a serious eye puffiness problem, especially in my right eye. I definitely looked like I had come off worst in a fight. (If you think about it... I fought with the ocean for 11 hours and change and came out pretty banged up, and the ocean never had a scratch! I guess it stormed later, so I had some indirect revenge...) My mouth and throat weren't nearly as swollen as Mallory's had been: probably a result of my having the diluted mouthwash every hour, rather than every 2.5 or so. Obviously my arm muscles (and hand muscles!) were very tired, but the next day I was able to raise them over my head without too much difficulty (only rather slowly, and not for a very long time).

When we got back to the hotel, I showered quickly, and we rushed into the dining room about 5 minutes before it closed. I ate whatever soft and bland foods wouldn't offend my poor, salt-swollen tongue, wrote some of this blog, and then went up to bed. My pain and the heat in the room kept me up for a little while, but after sitting by the window with some music, watching the storm, I was able to conk out like a sack of potatoes for some 10 hours or so.

Through all of our training, I've never really had a problem with the cold. True to form, I never really got cold on the boat ride back, except perhaps a little from the wind and splash after about 30 minutes. When I asked Mallory what she thought my "power animal" would be, she replied, after short consideration, "polar bear." I figure that's probably about right, although I'm not sure polar bears are as goofy as I am. Maybe some kind of polar bear/dolphin hybrid, what do you think?

Forrest Gump's mom said, "Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get." I've decided that the chocolate that is swimming the English Channel would be a large candy-coated dog turd with a 10-carat diamond in the center. It's pretty icky the whole way through, but the result is totally worth it. Also, you can practice eating dog poop all you want, but it's still going to be tough to get down.

**Note to anyone who made it to the end of this post: Thanks for putting up with such a ridiculously long summary! I didn't mean to make it so long, but writing in chunks for a day and a half can do that. Also, pictures will be posted soon in another post.

Monday, July 28, 2008

OUCH! That hurt! It's STILL hurting! (by Clara)

I finished. 11 hours, 12 minutes. Details to come later when I'm not so effing tired.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

And Tomorrow is Clara's Big Day (By Mallory)

We meet at the dock at 5:15 am London time for an estimated start time of 6 or 7 am (1 or 2am Indiana time).

I hope life is a little easier from the spectator position.

Unofficial Swim Report (By Mallory)

Yesterday, I swam the English Channel.

When I woke up and realized what took place the day before it felt so surreal.

Then I realized that my shoulders hurt if not as bad then worse than the day before. As I started to move my body it started feeling very real.

It started as a great day for a swim. I jumped in the water at 4:15 London time and labored on for 10 hours and 34 minutes until I landed on the beach right next to Cap Gris Nez (the shortest point). It was dark at the start, and they had to attach a light stick to the butt of my suit before I got in. My mother and Clara slathered my body in sunscreen and grease (purchased at the Boots Pharmacy in Dover) and Keith, the Channel Swimming Association Observer, took a few photos of the “getting ready” including one of me with the coveted Hilltopper red towel. There were three other channel swimmers starting at the same time and place and I waved vigorously to one of them and yelled “WE’RE NUTS!!” Later I learned that of the four CSA swimmers, two were pulled from the water. I was the last one in so I saw the other three start their swim. When I was ready I jumped from the boat and swam to short a couple of hundred yards up onto the pebbly shore just outside of Dover. The pebbles were hard to walk on and I had a hard time getting “one half pace” away from the water to make it a legal start. I started to fall, but then I realized that my observer needed to see the light stick on my butt or he would start time before I was ready. I struggled to point my rear in their direction, collected myself, took a deep breath, then turned around to face the channel and waved my arms to signal I was ready. Then the whistle blew and it all started, and after that, I never looked back toward England.

When I got in the water felt pretty good and I started off fairly easy, trying not to strong arm the channel into submission too early. That was for later. I had no problem swimming in the dark (I think that the night swim helped) and it didn’t take long until I caught up with the boat and we were on our way. In my head I was singing any song I could think of that had to do with warmth or sunshine. One of my biggest concerns going into the swim was the night swimming portion, just because warmth-wise the sun makes a big difference. It ended up being a non issue and I stayed fairly warm even though the sun hid behind the clouds most of the day.
My feeding schedule was set at every 30 minutes. The first feeding was a high-calorie juice drink, and I tried to keep those stops under a minute. The second was a sports gel pack with some liquid (started out water, but my crew switched to juice later on to increase my caloric intake) and these took a little longer, but still less than 2 minutes. One of the most frequently asked questions is can you stop? The answer is yes and no. At any time you are allowed to stop swimming, but you cannot touch the boat for even a second. If you stop, you have to tread water. So that’s what I did, tread water until I sucked down my gel or my liquid, as fast as I could so that I could avoid running up the time or losing too much heat. One good thing about the feeding schedule was that it allowed me to track my time in the water. Juice, 30 minutes. Gel, 1 hour. Juice, 1 hour 30 minutes and so on. Another good thing is that it worked! I never once felt exhausted or out of energy. Halfway through the swim I started to understand the people who turn around for a double crossing. I definitely had the energy for it.

At the beginning of the swim I felt strong and fast. The water conditions were pretty smooth and the time seemed to go by quickly. For the majority of my swim I was in good spirits, keeping fairly warm (I shivered most of the swim, but no uncontrollable shivering, although my jaw was sore at the end from the clenching) and feeling good. In fact I will have to report that not too much happened for the first 7 hours! After the swim I got to see Keith’s report and the most eventful things in the report was that at one point, my father fell asleep (like I said, we started early in the morning, and it was hard to sleep with the nerves) and Clara visited the bathroom three times before anyone else on the boat did. There was once when I swam through a patch of jellyfish, the only ones I saw the entire swim. The first few were a couple of feet below me, but then I felt a sharp stinging sensation in my rear. I was reminded of the scene from Forrest Gump when a bullet ricochet into his rear and he yells out “something bit me in the butt!” So I yelled out “a jellyfish just stung me in the butt!” In an area of about 50 yds I saw maybe 20-30 jellyfish, and I think I was stung a second time in the legs, but my grease was so thick on my legs that it just felt like an itch. By the way, feeling itchy is abnormal. In 60 degree water nothing itches.
Sometime in the first seven hours I started to feel some pain in my elbows. To save my elbows, I changed my stroke a little bit which put more pressure on my shoulders. By the time the 7 ½ hour mark rolled around, I was feeling some significant pain in my shoulders. It was around this time that I started really looking to try to find France. Oh yeah, I broke that rule. I looked for France. Visibility was really low and I couldn’t see it, and I felt like I just HAD to be close. After that the swim was a struggle. I have been fortunate throughout my swimming career to have minimal shoulder problems, with the most severe being a slight overuse that goes away with rest. Therefore I was unprepared for the excruciating pain my shoulders would put me through for the next 3 hours.

When I started asking the crew where this “France” place was, they just ignored my questions and looked quite worried that I was asking them. Apparently it is protocol not to tell the swimmer how far away they are, especially since the tides can change and negate any progress the swimmer would be making. In his report Keith marked every comment, as an observer is told to do, in order to monitor the mental well-being of the swimmer. I had no intention of getting out, I simply wanted to know how easy or hard I should be swimming. Luckily, I just assumed I was close and kept my stroke rate up, which held very steady throughout the swim at an average of 68-70 strokes per minute. I thought I was “close” for a good 3 hours.
Towards the end I could think of nothing but my shoulder pain and getting to France. I first saw the coast at around 8 hours. The Indian swimmers were right, the coast never seems to get closer. It wasn’t until I could see people on the beach that I knew I was really getting close. Even though I could see it, I wasn’t really sure I could push through the pain much longer. Then I kept thinking about all of my sponsors, the proud t-shirt sporters, the people who sent me encouraging messages, my family, my husband, and I knew that I couldn’t stop. I was doing a sort of “swimmer limp” in which I pulled mostly on my right “better” shoulder. I stopped often. I cried out in pain. I didn’t know this at the time, but my mother was pleading with my crew to pull me out. No one asked me if I wanted to get out. My answer if they had would have been no. No way was I going to be the one who trained that hard and came that far to stop when they could see people on the beach. Once we got too close to shore for the boat to follow any longer, Fred jumped in the dinghy to row with me (he was surprisingly fast) and Clara hopped in to pace me to the finish. I must admit that it really helped to have Clara next to me, because she was going the same pace as me and made me feel as though maybe I wasn’t going as slow as I thought. Later I learned that she was barely pulling in order to keep the same arm speed as me and make me feel better about myself.

When I could feel the sand in my fingers I stood up out of the water. Usually I would swim a little further before standing up, but I would have done anything at that moment to be able to stop using my shoulders. I started running up out of the water, but scattered throughout were large slippery rocks that I slipped on and fell a couple of times. It was a public beach, so happy vacationers were staring at this swollen sea creature that arose from the water covered in thick white grease and groaning in pain. Once I got out of the water I yelled to Clara “THAT WAS THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE IN MY LIFE.” And “I CAN’T IMAGINE ANYTHING MORE PAINFUL!” I threw my body on the beach and sat there for a couple of minutes. One lady came up and asked me if I just swam the Channel. I don’t remember what I said if anything at all. I do remember Clara talking to her for me. I looked down and realized that my foot was bleeding from the falls. Later I realized I had also cut my hip. The last hour I had thought I had something in my throat and I was trying to cough it up. Later I realized that it was just the little hangy-ball thing in the back of my throat that had swollen up because of all the salt water exposure. I climbed into the dinghy and spent the boat ride back scraping the grease off of my body. When we arrived there were two camping mats laid out on the deck with towels on top of them. I laid down on my stomach and stayed there with towels, raincoats, and blankets on top of me. I probably shivered for about 15 minutes, but it wasn’t severe. I fell asleep. I woke up a few minutes later and people were talking to me. My father was offering me water. My mouth and throat was too swollen to swallow. Keith asked me if I knew who he was. I thought about it for a second and answered correctly. Then I told him that he was lucky, because I’m really bad with names. I talked to my husband briefly on the phone. I laid there on my stomach for a good hour and a half. I finally got up because my ribcage was starting to get sore. Once I got up, I started feeling better. I sat in the cabin with Fred the pilot until we got back to England, another 2 ½ hours later. I wasn’t cold and ignored people’s requests to put on clothing, stating I didn’t want to get grease on them. I started eyeing a bag of potato chips, but decided against it because of my already swollen throat. I talked to Fred about various things, including monkfish, and we set a time to meet so that I could pick up my charted course on a nautical map. Keith came in the cabin and showed me his report and proclaimed me a “proper channel swimmer.” Once we got back to shore it was almost anti-climatic. I took a quick picture with my crew and walked back to the hotel. I showered, ate, and then went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning at 7 am, it all felt surreal. Then my day went on business as usual, even though my arms were unusable. Nothing else hurts, save my hip from the fall.

I asked the guy at the front desk today, what there was to do around here, and he told me “that the sandy beach was very nice; maybe you should check that out.” Yeah right.

*More Pictures to follow when I receive them from Keith, the official observer.

My sign made the trip across the big pond.

Sunrise on the Channel

Tankers have the right away, I was expected to swim around them.

I see London, I see FRANCE!

Clara and I going in for the finish.

My Parents Celebrate the Finish

The Dinghy bringing the swollen hideous me back to the boat.

Resting after the swim

Me and the Crew Left to Right: Keith Jeffers (Observer), Me, Fred Mardle (Pilot), and Russel ? (First Mate)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I MADE IT!!!! (By Mallory)

I MADE IT!!!!!

10 hours and 34 minutes

Details tommorrow, I'm going to go to bed

Friday, July 25, 2008

Looks Like Saturday is the Day (By Mallory)

I met with Fred Mardle today, and it looks like I will be boarding the boat at 3 am London time with an estimated start time of 5 am (11 pm Bowling Green, 12 am Indiana time). I've got my grease, drinks, sports food, passport (if I get stopped by French Coast Guard I will need it) towels, my red towel, camping mats for the boat ride back, and light sticks for swimming in the dark.

I swam 20 minutes today to finish up my training. Soon I will go to bed and hopefully get a good night's sleep. I have trained more for this day than any other. I will swim my heart out tommorrow.

The water was listed at 63 degrees today. All those warm thoughts from everyone is really helping. Thanks everyone for all of your support.

That's it, I'm speechless.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Fellow Member of the Laptop Gang is Listening to Rap While 70s Music Is Playing Over the Speakers and It's Awkward (by Clara)

Okay, so this isn't really a post about the dude listening to rap, but I'm kind of writing about a number of things, and didn't have a better idea for a title. I wish he had some headphones though. *sigh*

My Aunt Cindy and Uncle Ralph arrived today (it might be yesterday by the time this posts... Thursday at any rate) from Germany. As interesting of a time as we had driving today, it is probably a lot more interesting for them. They are driving in a car that they are used to, but the driver is on the wrong side of the car in this country (alternate interpretation: the driver is on the correct side, but everyone in this country drives on the wrong side). Anyway, they also had an interesting time regarding hotel rooms. (Oh god, now the boy listening to rap is singing along. Badly.) The people at this hotel are really nice, but they seem awfully clueless... when my dad checked in, they gave him the room that I had reserved for the Cooks (i.e. a three person room... for just him for now, and my mom in a couple of days) AND had a real problem trying to figure out how much he owed. So, of course, when the Cooks showed up, they received the 2-person room for three people, so poor Janece is sleeping on a roll-away bed. And today, when my aunt and uncle showed up, there was no room for them at all! They have to stay in a hotel down the road for the night... but we did get upgraded to the premier restaurant for the night. (The rap boy left for a bit, but it was apparently just to get a power cable. Now he's back, and after stinking up our area of the lobby with his bad cologne, his computer is powered up again and playing more music. *sigh*) My mom shows up tomorrow, and seemingly, they wouldn't be able to screw anything up for her, since my dad is already in the room for both of them. However, he IS in a room on a smoking floor, and my mom definitely cannot handle being in the vicinity of a place where people have smoked, due to her allergies (non-allergic rhinitis actually, but it's basically allergies that don't respond to medicines). So don't hold your breath... they could screw up the room again yet.

I'm scheduled to meet my boat pilot tomorrow evening, but my father spoke to him on the phone today. It seems likely that the first two swimmers in the queue will go this Saturday and Sunday, and that I will swim on Monday. So, hopefully Mallory will swim on Saturday, for a couple of reasons. I want to go on her boat and be her pace swimmer, but it might be a bad idea the day before I swim. If I get in to pace several times, I might make myself overtired, and I'm unlikely to get much rest on the boat at all. Also, there is the liklihood of getting seasick, which might not be so great the day before I swim either. On the flip side, if Mallory swims the day before I do, so might be too pooped to come along on my crew and be my pace swimmer, etc. I guess it might be possible to pass up Monday in favor of Tuesday if she swims on Sunday, but I'm not sure that I really want to pass up an opportunity to swim, in case the weather suddenly decides to turn crap or whatever. So, we'll see.

I've got a few pictures from our trip to Dover to share... but they may have to be added later, because the picture thing doesn't seem to want to go. (Okay, really... what is this music? The lyrics are as sappy as boyband music, but the beat is all hip-hop and r&b, and it really just does not go.)

So, I don't think I wrote about this before, but the day I left, I went into the sports med doctor to see about my shoulder, which had been bothering me a lot. I was interested in getting a cortisone shot, and since I was in Indy, and then in Hawaii, this was really the only time I could go in to get one. It turns out, however, that the rest time after getting a cortisone shot is usually more than a few days. Of course, swimming doesn't accelerate the shoulder quite as fast as, say, baseball pitching, but apparently the shot weakens the tendons a little bit and you increase the chance of microtears. (Okay, now it's techno...) So, I was given a choice: get the shot have a 90% chance of dramatic pain reduction, but have an unquantifyable risk of injury; or continue with the naproxyn and hope for the best. I opted for the cortisone shot, because I decided it was worth the risk (especially because I would often have pretty significant pain within just a few hours, and it happens faster in rougher water). Anyway, since I've been here, I've continued with the naproxyn and have felt virtually no pain in my shoulder, which is very encouraging. I was pretty worried on the first day we swam, since the waves were about 5 feet, but I clearly got through that okay. I can't take the naproxyn on the day of the swim, because apparently it and all other anti-inflammatories (like ibuprophen) are metabolized through the kidneys. During exercise, there is a low-flow state through the kidneys, so you risk build-up of the drug which could lead to kidney failure (as I understand it). Tylenol (acetaminophen) is fine though, so I'm feeling pretty could about the condition of my shoulder for the swim. Hopefully I won't end up with shoulder surgery later though!

Okay, pictures work now! (Suddenly the hotel full of old people is inexplicably overrun with young whippersnappers who are being really loud... I guess they just don't frequent the lobby during the day, being of the nocturnal type.)

more jumping pictures

and again

so, we're a little close to the ground, but i think it looks like we're kind of floating away (like if the gravity turned off, as Mallory was imagining one day while swimming)

sculpture in dover

it was decided that, in order to complete her weight-gain diet, Mallory needed to eat Dover Castle

real photo with Dover Castle

nearish to where you start

Not Swimming On Friday (By Mallory)

For all of you who will be wondering…..I will not be swimming on Friday.

The good news is that the weather is looking good for the weekend, possibly some rain, but my crew has rain gear and I’ll be swimming anyway. The winds were pretty high today at 14 mph (which made our training swim interesting) but they will be down to 5 mph on Saturday and slightly high on Sunday.

I had a really good day today. Clara and I and our fathers took the harrowing (harrowing that is, if you are an American driving in England in a stick shift euro-car) trip from Folkestone over to Dover for a variety of reasons. One was that we put in an order for two batches of channel grease. The other reason is that I wanted to see this Dover Harbor for myself and meet a few fellow channel swimmers in the process. You see, most channel swimmers stay in Dover and swim in the harbor. Clara and I elected to stay in nearby Folkestone, mainly for financial reasons, but it is really going to work out well for us. For one, the Folkestone swim area isn’t a sheltered harbor like the Dover swim area, allowing us to experience the ocean in her full temperamental glory. Also, I am guessing that a sheltered harbor could be a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the channel. Lastly, both of our support boats are docked in Folkestone harbor, so the morning of the swim we will be able to sleep a little longer, cut out a little travel stress, and make the whole thing go a little smoother.

Like I said, one thing we wanted to do while in Dover was to meet a couple of channel swimmers, and that we did. In fact, I just happened to meet Pete, the man who is was supposed to go out with my boater Fred today or tomorrow. Obviously, Pete didn’t want to fight the 14 mph winds, and since Friday isn’t looking good either, he is rescheduling for possibly Monday or Tuesday. I also met a whole group of swimmers from India who have been in Dover since June and are scheduled to swim in August. Apparently the Indian climate isn’t conducive to cold acclimation. I also ran into Julie Bradshaw, the secretary for the Channel Swimming Association and the holder of the Channel Butterfly record. For each of them I asked “any last minute advice?” This is what I found out.
1. Don’t look at France. It never seems to get any closer and it will depress you.
2. Don’t look at England. It never seems to get any farther away and it will depress you.
3. Imagine your finish the entire time you are swimming. I will imagine myself jumping up and down in joy (with my last bit of energy).
4. Don’t think about that four letter word that starts with a “c.” (Cold) Only think warm thoughts.

On a side note, I received a channel swim inquiry from this blog from P.H. Mullen, a Michiana man who swam the channel 13 years ago. He had heard about Clara and I and dropped us a little note of encouragement. This is what he had to say.

The advice is simple: Before you swim, stand in front of a mirror and promise yourself you won’t get out until you finish. Promise until your brain is sick of hearing it. Somewhere near the end of the swim that promise usually comes in handy.

I like to follow good advice, so I did. Last night, I spent a good hour and a half talking to myself. The last couple of days a little bit of doubt had crept into my mind, so I had a little bit of extra promising to do to myself. Here is what I promised.

I will not get out. I will not doubt myself. I will swim the English Channel.

As I was saying this I looked at my body and assured myself that this would all come true with THIS body, not a body with 20 lbs of extra fat for insulation. THIS body was all I needed, THIS body and my mental strength.

I must admit my mental strength is not all my own. A couple of weeks ago as I was practicing at the pool in Indianapolis and the thought popped into my head “I hope God is on my side for this swim.” I started worrying about it, wondering if this was all me and my selfish ways, after all I wasn’t hungry or hurt or suffering, and wondering if this was the type of thing that God concerns himself with. I finished my set and was on the wall long enough to strike up a conversation with a little old lady who got in to do a couple of laps beside me.

“Wow, you are amazing!” she said to me. “You are so strong, and so much stamina!”

“Well thank you,” I said. “I’m practicing to swim the English Channel.”

“That’s what I was wondering! That’s amazing!” she exclaimed.

That’s when the doubt set in my voice. “Well, I’m starting to get very nervous about it.”

Her face lit up. “Don’t be nervous! You have all the support you need! You have the support of your family, you have spiritual support. You will do great.”

Later, it hit me. Right as I was wondering if God was on my side, a lady that I had never met and that knew nothing about me decided to tell me that I had all the spiritual support that I needed. I call them like I see them and I refuse that as a coincidence. Not one person said that other than her, not before she said it and not since. That’s all the proof I need. She left as quickly as she came, gone before I even realized what I had just witnessed. God is on my side.

To cap off this post, I would like to give you some photos since we’ve been here. There’s a lot more that I will publish later, but these are the most relevant ones.

What I will be imagining as the finish.....minus Clara and my sister Calley, of course.

Folkestone Harbor, High Tide

Folkestone Harbor, Low Tide (The reason you have to wait for high tide to start)