I had been in constant contact with my Pilot- Matt Clarke on Lionheart- since we arrived in Jersey, discussing when we would be leaving. The first 2 days of my slot were completely blown out by the tail end of storm Francis, so I knew we would be leaving on either Sunday or Monday. Leaving at low tide during the day would mean that I was landing in the dark, and as anyone who has played on or around the sea knows, the wind tends to drop off at night, so I would have far less chop and waves to contend with. Basically, my only option was leaving at low tide at midnight!
Barely able to contain my excitement pre-swim
At 2pm on Sunday I got the call, it was going to be tonight. To be honest, I was really scared. I had been holding out hope that somehow, I would still swim in the day??! I had never swum in the dark before, and I had no idea how I was going to react to it. But there was nothing I could do about that now, I just had to trust my training, trust my preparation, and trust my pilot.
Someone on my instagram page asked me the very good question of how I prepared for the night swim? The answer; I didn’t. It is highly recommended for any big swim like this that you complete at least one night swim, but I did not. In retrospect, this worked for me because I’m quite a confident swimmer? But if you know that you aren’t a fan of the dark, don’t like seaweed, or ESPECIALLY if you get motion sick in the dark, I would do a practice night swim.
We (my wonderful mother as support crew and official photographer, and me) met Matt the pilot and the rest of the crew- Bianca Kempster of the JLDSC assisting Matt and Sam Pipon observing for the JLDSC on the St Catherine slipway at 11:15pm. A little ride out and around the breakwater to the start, and it was time for me to get in.
Matt got us as close to the beach as he could, and I slid in to swim the rest of the way. Get to the beach, clear the water, turn around, arms in the air, siren goes off, time to swim!! 11:52pm.
I didn’t find swimming in the dark to be anywhere near as scary as I expected, but it was incredibly disorienting. There was bioluminescent plankton in the water, so with every stroke and every breath the bubbles around my hands and goggles lit up bright green.
It was absolutely stunning, and I’m so glad that I got to swim in phosphorescence like that, but it did mean that my eyes never adjusted to the dark at all. If I looked down, all I could see was pitch black and green flashing lights. And if I looked up towards the boat, all I could see was pitch black and the incredibly bright lights of the boat! I had nothing to focus my eyes on, which made me feel pretty ill until about hour 3. So much so that my crew had to decrease the volume of my feeds to make sure I didn’t bring it back up.
But other than that, the first 3 hours passed pretty uneventfully. I was feeling strong, ready, chilled and at ease.
That tiny green dot in the moonlight; c’est moi
At about 3am, my sickness started to pass. I was able to keep down a feed with a double dose of coffee, so I was feeling better mentally too. It really surprised me that it is possible to feel sleepy while doing something a active as swimming, but it turns out it is possible!
At about 3-3.5 hours in, I started to notice a pain in my right shoulder. I’ve had a lot of issues with this shoulder- a water polo background always means rotator cuff tears- and I am absolutely atrociously bad at breathing bilaterally, so when the going gets tough I only breathe to my left. This puts more strain on my right shoulder (imagine that every right arm stroke, I’m not just powering through the water, but I am also trying to generate the additional upwards force to clear my head from the waves to be able to breathe.) Couple this history of injuries with a 14 week training plan (that is short for a swim of this distance) with no access to
sports massages, and a swim where I’m pushing harder than I ever have before for longer than ever before, and we have a recipe for disaster. Luckily, even though I could feel the pain building, there was no weakness in it, so I decided to push through. It’s about 4 hours in now, and I’m thinking I’m just over half way.
At 4.5 hours, my crew told me that I had 4 miles to go, and if I could “push a little bit more, I would get sub-7 hours”. I spent the ENTIRE next 30 min swim panicking about this. A little bit more??! Push more???? For 4 miles??! 2 hours???!!! Did they not know how hard I was pushing already?? How could I explain to them in a 20 second feed that there was absolutely no way I had that much more to give? I could push for a mile. 45 mins. Absolute maximum.
A very tired swimmer!
This actually became a critical learning point for both me and my crew from this swim- always make sure you communicate before you set off what your pacing tactics were going to be. My crew thought that I was planning to cruise the entire thing at a fairly easy, ‘go all day’ pace. What I had actually planned to do, was to try the entire swim at a ‘threshold’ pace, i.e. right at the top of my aerobic capacity. This meant that my crew thought I had another gear, when in fact I had been working in my higher gear for the entire swim already.]
At 5 hours they told me 3 miles left, at 5.5 hours 2 miles left, and at 6 hours they told me it was my last feed. But I didn’t have any more time updates, and in my disorientated state I had no idea which feed I was on. I assumed, because they had given up telling me that sub-7 was in sight, that I had been going too slowly. I kicked up the pace as much as I could after my last feed, but my shoulder was limiting me pretty heavily now.
The hat says “dangerous when wet”- a DCT classic
The sun was staying to come up, and I was on the final stretch. But even with France in sight, the swim did not get any easier.
The closer I got to France, the more jellyfish there were.
The closer I got to France, the brighter the morning got, and the better visibility of the jellyfish I had!
I tried to dodge most of them, but I still got stung all over. But I didn’t care at this point, it was light, I could see a beach, and I’d had my last feed!
I picked up my pace, put my head down, and tried my hardest not to look up at the beach. When you’re that far out, the beach never ever looks like it’s getting any closer, and that can get disheartening…
Finally, the boat turned away from me where the beach got too shallow for her to follow, and I made my last sprint in.
I climbed out, stood on the beach at Bretteville-sur-Ay, and stopped my watch as I heard the finishing siren. 6:39:07.
At this point, I actually had no idea what my time meant. I knew it was fast, because it was a lot sooner than I was expecting. But I hadn’t paid any attention to the existing records, because I didn’t think I would be anywhere near them!
I picked up my French pebble and made my way back to the boat. It was there with my mum and crew that we realised what my time meant- joint 2nd ever fastest female!!
Huge thanks to my number 1 crew member