The advice of seasoned channel swimmers and coaches is consistent, don’t think of France, don’t look back at the white cliffs, swim from feed to feed and eventually you run out of water.
When swimming long distances I feed every 45 minutes, it takes less than 2 minutes and it’s hardly gourmet but when you’re in the water for hours on end, it’s a moment to look forward to and celebrate like you might a gathering of good friends for a meal. A feeding marks time and serves to break down an overwhelming task into manageable portions.
My mental illness prepared me well for this. In my worst depressive episodes, before being treated for bipolar 2, I learnt to live from half hour to half hour. It was a manageable period to see through the fog and long enough to achieve some goal the likes of which now seem pathetic but in those days was challenging. It might have been to brush my teeth in the first 30 minutes, water the plants in the next or cook a meal for the family. I tried to do two chores to one more enjoyable task, each one and half hours, and so my waking time would pass with me feeling a bit better and stronger each time I crossed something off my list.
Approximately five days out from my English Channel swim today I swam the Samphire Hoe wall to Shakespeare’s Beach and back with my training partners whom are here for the same purpose as me. It wasn’t a particularly long swim, 3.5 km return, but as we turned for the return leg the spring tide was running hard against us. It was the hardest stretch of water I have ever swum.
The walls of the Hoe, which hold the tailings of the tunnel to Calais, are some two storeys high and have small square metal plates secured to them about 10 meters apart. Today the small square metal plates were the markers of time and achievement. As I mowed each one down and set my sights to the next, I felt better and stronger, and momentum carried me to the next plate with seemingly less effort than the last.
It was yet another unexpected test of this odyssey and the hard learnt lessons of my past served me well.