Saturday, 27 August 2011

Interview with Netherlands Open Water Web now in English translation

On 19 August I posted the text of the interview that Richard Broer from NOWW did with me. A very generous colleague in Brussels, Rose O'Duffy, volunteered to translate that long text for me so the detailed account of my swim is now also available to non-Dutch speakers. Thanks a lot Rose!

If you visit this site for the first time and are looking for pictures of my swim, you can find them by scrolling down to my posting of 28 July, or by clicking here.

Milko

(Interview has been slightly updated, and I've put in the international bank account number for donations.)

INTERVIEW WITH MILKO VAN GOOL FOLLOWING HIS SUCCESSFUL CHANNEL SWIM

By Richard Broer – Netherlands Open Water Web (NOWW)
Translation: Rose O'Duffy

You’ve been preparing for this swim for a couple of years now. Have you learned any lessons from the experience ?

I’ve learned a lot, not just in terms of swimming and training, but also in a more general context.

The most important lesson of course is that with willpower and determination virtually anything is possible. I know that is a well-worn cliché but I came to realise how true it is.
Three years ago I was so unfit that I could only just about manage to swim 500 metres in a swimming pool, and now I’ve done The Channel and in a pretty good time too. That is an important lesson for me, not only in relation to anything else I might want to do in my life but also where my children are concerned.

I also believe that is was sensible to start preparing gradually although that is not normally like me!  In 2009 I did my first 10 km swim (Vriezenveen), at the beginning of 2010 I did a 20 km  warm water swim (Rottnest Channel Swim,  Australia, 24°), in August 2010 I did my first Stavoren-Medemblik (19°), then in February 2011 I did the Rottnest swim again. After that I left Bangladesh for the Netherlands and spent two months training in cold open water, (the river Meuse (Maas), the IJsselmeer as well as a weekend in Dover Harbour with the Channel swimmers’ group organised by the legendary Freda Streeter) in order to round off my training.

I discovered I have good resistance to cold water.  At the beginning of June in Dover it was a revelation to me that I could deal with 5-6 hour training sessions in 12-13° C water. Mentally that was a boon because since then I haven’t been very concerned about temperatures experienced during a Channel crossing (16°).

Given my limited open water experience it was important for me to have an experienced coach, Marcel van der Togt, as sounding board. Although I was well able to organise my own training, at crucial moments over the past two years he intervened with the right advice about technique, (preventing a shoulder injury), training build-up, the need for variety in training and about training intensity viz. the importance of rest and recovery. Two or three weeks before the Swim he gave me a stern talking-to at a time when I was in danger of overtraining and probably saved me a lot of misery for which I’m truly grateful. Marcel’s training philosophy involves among other things increasingly imitating your goal in your training: hence you swim the whole Channel distance in peaks divided by intervals, first over 4 consecutive days,  then over 3, then 2 and finally in 1. This proved a highly successful method for me, and for him too as it turned out:  Marcel swam the Channel the day before me having started training for it only 7 months previously!

Overtraining is a serious risk, both in mental as well as in physical terms. Round about March this year, in particular following a none too brilliant performance in the Rottnest Channel Swim, I became thoroughly fed-up.  Remote consultation with Marcel produced a solution and after a few weeks of reduced swimming and increased cross training (running, rowing, cycling in the gym) I was back on track again. Since then I no longer train when I don’t feel inspired. If you really want to swim the Channel, that inspiration will return of its own accord.

How did your family react ?

Well, with mixed feelings given the amount of time I spent in training over the last few years but right now they are proud and delighted. For me it was absolutely tremendous that my wife, Asha, travelled on the pilot boat too so that she could witness the result of all that training. Her presence along with that of Marcel was a huge support to me.
My job in Bangladesh (Head of development cooperation at the EU Delegation there) is very demanding. Hence my training could not be at the expense of my job but rather at the expense of time spent at home. So that’s why I’m postponing all further major projects for this year in order to make up for lost time with my family.

You were swimming for a good cause. How did you hit upon that cause and did you collect as much money as you expected ?

In Bangladesh I came in contact with the work of the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) thanks to previous sponsoring activities by my Masters swimming club in Dhaka. This organisation, founded by Bangladeshis and entirely run by them, aims to reduce the appalling number of drowning fatalities among Bangladeshi children (nearly 50 a day!) by simple means like providing information and swimming lessons to the poorest sections of the population. I wanted to give the CIPRB a share of any publicity which my Channel swim might generate. I had no precise idea of the actual amount that I might succeed in collecting, although I now realise that in order to attract big corporate sponsors you need to invest far more time in lobbying than I could manage. All the same,  thanks to numerous donations from individuals I have already reached a figure of 4500 euros (6500 US dollars). Contributions are still coming in and hopefully will continue.
Donations are of course still welcome at account no. BE44 8601 1176 9745 (= IBAN; BIC = SPAABE22) mentioning ‘MvG Channel Swim’.

How did the actual Swim go ?

Around 06.30 am on 27. July we boarded the boat in Dover Harbour,  Marcel, Asha, Captain Paul Foreman with a crewmember and the observer from the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation. After all the tense waiting it was almost a relief to be able finally to jump into the water and swim calmly to the shore for the start.

After the start I spent half an hour swimming fairly slowly in order to warm up and get into my rhythm, then I moved into a higher gear. I was given feeds (Maxim Carboloader (97% maltodextrine) or Aptonia Hydro Endurance (with electrolytes) every 20 minutes,  plus half a banana every hour with ibuprofen and paracetamol alternately) and that proved to be the right pattern; I never felt hungry and right to the very end I was able to keep swimming with powerful strokes. The sky was grey, looking threatening at times and the sea was choppier than we’d hoped. As I breathe in only on my lefthand side, I had to swim on the righthand side of the boat where the skipper couldn’t see me as well. At the outset it wasn’t easy either for him or for me to keep alongside but then I started to swim sometimes in front of the boat, sometimes behind it, which meant suffering occasionally from diesel exhaust fumes. Fortunately later on things improved, although due to the wind and waves it was not easy for the skipper to manoeuver the boat at very low speed, while maintaining that speed constant.

My memories of the middle part of the crossing are pretty vague. Not all that much happens; you just swim, concentrate on your stroke and your rhythm, look at what people on the boat are doing, think of your next feed. The water was cold and fairly clear; I could see jellyfish and garfish passing a few metres below me. Only one jellyfish sting. While swimming and feeding I tried to avoid looking at the British or French coasts because that wouldn’t help anyway in judging whether I was making good progress. In any case because of the swell and the waves I could see very little, just tankers passing from time to time a long way off. Marcel and I had agreed that he would not give me any information at feeding times about the distance covered or how much remained because it would be pretty meaningless given the tidal flows in the Channel. We were calculating on a time of more or less 12 hours so that’s how I divided up my time; 3 hours would see me through 25% of the trip, 6 hours 50% etc. As I had already noticed in the past, including during long-distance training sessions, I tend to take a fair while (sometimes as much as 2 hours) before I really get into my stride, and I start to feel better and swim better only when I’ve completed half the distance. The same thing applied this time. So it was a great boost for the morale when I heard that I was on course for a time of 11 hours, by which stage I was already more than halfway.

Having misunderstood the skipper at one stage, (hour after hour in the sea doesn’t exactly make you more alert…. ) I mistakenly thought that I had had my last feed so I put on a turn of speed. However there were two more feeds still to come! So towards the end for a whole hour I swam flat out. Apparently I still had sufficient reserves for that so the misunderstanding ultimately paid off; with a time of 10 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds I clocked in as the fourth fastest Channel swimmer out of 24 successful solo crossings so far this year and am ranked 241th in the all-time list (1658 crossings to date), i.e. in the top 15%. Apart from the fact that I got to the other side, I am very proud of my time too.

What was it like setting foot on land ?

It wasn’t all that easy gaining a foothold on land! We landed on the rocks just under Cap Gris Nez and the official observer had already stated that it was sufficient for him if I just touched the rocks. However after all that swimming naturally you want to stand on the rocks and it entailed quite a bit of clambering to get up on them with a few impressive grazes as a result.

Naturally I was absolutely drained after such a colossal swim. Yet I was not in the state of physical exhaustion, confusion even, which I had been half expecting. I was dead-tired yet I felt very calm, not euphoric nor over-emotional, rather “that’s it”! I allowed myself a few minutes to savour the moment, there, alone on the rocks. I tried to find a little stone to keep as a souvenir but there was nothing at all, nothing but massive slippery boulders!

Even getting  back into the water was not easy due to the crashing waves and smooth, slippery rocks. In the photos I seem to be literally scratching my head wondering how I can safely re-enter the water.

There followed a relaxed 200 metre swim back to the boat where hugs and congratulations were in order. No euphoria, just a sense of profound satisfaction. I was wide-awake and alert. Just a few physical problems; almost immediately I climbed aboard the boat I was violently sea-sick and during the three hour return trip to Dover I puked my guts out. Only after a few hours back in the hotel and after a gigantic evening meal with Marcel and Asha, did it finally sink in what I had achieved, when the first congratulatory messages started arriving. Despite my fatigue I didn’t sleep much that night because of all the excitement.

A month has passed already since your Channel swim and you’re back at your desk in Dhaka. Did you have the opportunity to savour your achievement ?

And how, and it hasn’t stopped yet! After all the Channel is an icon, it’s the Mount Everest of open-water swimming and the challenge has been fascinating people for over a century. You are made well aware of that. Of course I appreciated the countless messages of congratulation both in the Netherlands and in Bangladesh. It was a strange experience being the focus of so much attention in the – local – media (TV, radio and press) and it was great to be able to highlight the work being done by the CIPRB.

Got any plans for the future ?

After a week of complete rest and a bit of recovery training in the Netherlands, I am now picking up the thread again and resuming swimming and running at a relaxed pace. I have a few other ideas in the sporting context but for the present, nothing of the same magnitude as the Channel. I definitely intend staying fit and being able to do 10-20 km swims. I’d like to vary my training more with more speed- and cross training. But this year training takes a back seat to family and work.

Have you any tips for anyone else aiming to swim the Channel ?

One single Channel swim does not make me an expert but I’d be happy to let aspiring Channel swimmers share my limited experience (my e-mail address; mvgchannelswim@gmail.com). Here are a few general and strictly personal tips based on my own experience;

-          Start in time to train hard and frequently but watch out for overtraining, do not train when you don’t feel like it or when you’re genuinely too tired. Above all train “smart”, with well-defined peak periods followed by sufficient rest and recovery. Taper off adequately (at least two weeks) before the Swim.
-          Maintain balance in your life, don’t forget your family, friends and social life. Try to plan training peaks where possible before and after (and not during) busy times at work and at home, so that the one does not have to yield to the other. Relax over a beer from time to time. Ensure you get enough sleep.
-          Prepare yourself mentally for the sea temperature in the Channel by doing if possible a few long training swims in much colder water.
-          Vary your training more than I did … don’t just do long training swims, do interval and fast work as well, including cross training (running, rowing, …) for the sake of diversity.
-          Consider taking on a coach with specific experience. You should definitely get in touch with other (aspiring) Channel swimmers, e.g. via the Channel Swimmer's Google chat group.

Thank you very much.
My pleasure!

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