Sunday, 28 April 2013

23 kms

A more modest 23 kms this week:
  • Monday 3kms
  • Tuesday 4 kms
  • Wednesday 10 kms (in the pool at 5.00 am, plus a full day at work - pfff...)
  • Saturday 6 kms.
A pity that the pool of the African Bible College is closed on Sundays. On the other hand it is better for family life.

My shoulders and neck, which gave me considerable grief in the last few months before the EC in 2011, are holding up remarkably well - I haven't had to resort to ibuprofen yet. But let's see how the next weeks will be.

Next week another 40-50 kms week I hope, if work permits, increasing the long swim on Saturday to appr. 20 kms, and five 5-6 kms swims on the weekdays. Quite a challenge!

My aim in May-June is to alternate weeks with moderate and big training volumes to get in a couple of 25-kms Saturday swims in June (1000 laps, app. 7½ hours - very close to the maximum of solo pool swimming boredom that I can bear). My hope is that this will prepare me sufficiently for the hardships of the Cork Distance Week (90-130 km in 9 days, only swimming, eating and sleeping). My key aim for the nine days in Ireland will be the final temperature acclimatisation, going from the 21°C water that I am currently training in to the 10-13°C range that is needed for the North Channel.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

About my training

I am relieved that, after weeks and months of gruelling workload, no less than four bouts of bronchitis since September '12, and lately some back problems, I have finally been able this week to increase my training volume to a level more usually associated with serious marathon swimming.
To give you an idea, from Tuesday to Saturday I swam 41.000 meters as follows:
  • Tuesday 6000 meters (240 laps in a 25-meter pool))
  • Wednesday 10,000 (400)
  • Thursday 5000 (200)
  • Friday 5000 (200)
  • Saturday 15,000 (600; a pyramid: 5000+4000+3000+2000+1000, with 2-minute feeding breaks in between)
Most of my sessions these days consist of combinations of 1500 and 2500 meters, the shorter ones usually with a 8x50m sprint set included somewhere in the middle or the end to retain at least some sprinting ability. I also like to do sets with 100 or 200m IM in it (e.g 5x200 IM, or 10 x 200 m IM/freestyle alternating) for variety while maintaining volume, and to challenge myself with butterfly. Due to a dodgy back I skipped all butterfly this week.
As I get older (47 now), and with my main focus on long distance training, I have been getting slower. My 1500 meters nowadays is rarely faster than 23-24 mins (my PB from a few years ago is 20mins50s, hardly Olympic, but decent in amateur Channel swimming circles), my 2500 meters rarely faster than 38.30-39 mins. That is also a conscious choice. Rather than training to gain half a minute in speed, I prefer to train to keep my current comfortable cruising speed of 2 miles/h or 3,6 kms/hr up for a long as I can into a long swim.

It may sound surprising to many fellow long distance swimmers that throughout the year I usually train a mere 10-15 kms per week (if that), even though I try, not always successfully, to complement it with cross training (biking, slow jogging, weights).  More than 20 kms is a decent training week, >30 kms is very good, so > 40 kms is excellent.... A few months before the actual swim I up the volume. The key constraints are my working hours, but I must admit that without big goals coming up I find it hard to motivate myself for endless hours in the pool counting tiles.

Forty kms doesn't even get close to the training volumes of more professionally minded swimmers, but for this amateur plodder in his late forties it is quite enough! The last time I swam more than 40k in a week must have been in 2011, in the run-up to the English Channel. My biggest training week ever was a one-off  50 kms week, also in 2011, though that was in open water, which made it more bearable. 41.000 meters equals 1640 laps in the pool, which is very boring indeed. However, between now and the North Channel swim end of July I will need to do several more of such, and even more voluminous, weeks. This will be topped off with a tough 9-day (>120km) open water training camp in Cork, Ireland from 5-14 July, two weeks before the actual crossing.

This week also saw me, for the first time in a very long time, if ever, training on 5 consecutive days. Normally I always leave a day between trainings, to avoid injury, exhaustion, and boredom. While I do feel some pain in my shoulder tendons today, it is quite bearable, and I do not feel overly tired either. I take that as a good sign: even if I have been getting older, my body and mind have also adapted to several years of long training session and extreme swims. So apart from increasing the volume, I will cautiously try and increase the frequency of my trainings as well.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Supporting the renovation of the Chauncy Maples hospital ship in Malawi

Big swims are often done to raise money and publicity for a good cause. My English Channel crossing in 2011 aimed to raise money and awareness for the Centre for Injury Prevention and  Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) and their fight against the epidemic of children drowning in that country by providing swimming lessons in villages and slums on a fairly massive scale. 

It took me a little thinking to find a suitable cause to support in Malawi. Not that there is a lack of needs and consequently worthy causes to support in a country as poor as Malawi of course. But I prefer the cause and the swim to be somehow thematically related, and to always have children benefit from it. This worked out wonderfully in 2011. But drowning seems to be much less of a problem in Malawi, in spite of the many people living on the shores of the enormous Lake Malawi.
Widening the thematic relationship with water, I thought of the fight against bilharzia/schistosomiasis, a widespread and potentially very debilitating, even deadly disease among the population of Lake Malawi's shores (I suffered a bad case of infestation with this parasite myself once in 2008). Widening the issue even more, the issue of health care in general for the population living around the lake, often in remote villages far away from health centers, came to mind.

After a call for ideas by email through the professional network of a friend of a friend, I was contacted by Janie Hampton, a British author. Janie is also the founder of the Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust, which aims to renovate Africa's oldest motor powered ship, the Chauncy Maples, back into a clinic to serve Lake Malawi's mostly very poor shore dwellers. Renovation is well underway, with more than half of the funds already secured both through corporate and private sponsors. It is a cause that satisfies my criterion that the cause should be related to water, and there is no doubt that especially children will benefit in a major way from improved health care that will come to them instead of the inverse. Janie informed me that in due course the clinic, once up and running, will contribute also to the eradication of bilharzia in Lake Malawi. Finally, the fact that there is a clear link between the ship and Malawi's colonial history on the one hand (David Livingstone was from Scotland) and the destination of my swim on the other hand, is an additional element that Janie and I hope will pay fundraising dividends. 

It is worth checking out the following videos about the Chauncy Maples project on Youtube, first one from 2010, explaining the history of the ship and the project:

and this one from 2012, with more information on the renovation process:

I refer to the Chauncy Maples website for further information on the project. I am very pleased and proud for my North Channel endeavour to be associated with this great cause. I set up a fundraising page on, and hope you will visit it.