Since finishing my longest ever bike ride in May 2016 from Pontypridd (South Wales) to Chamonix in the French Alps I fell into a bit of a ‘what do I do now?’ hole that was pretty difficult to get out of. It’s a common feeling – a bit of a sense of emptiness after dedicating so much time and effort to one sporting / adventure goal.
I rode my bike a little bit through summer but I was lacking inspiration. Riding 15 miles into Cardiff down the Taff Trail after pounding 70-80 miles a day for 11.5 days didn’t feel the same. Into the Autumn I got my trusty Alpinestars out a few times and took it for a couple of spins. The chilly bright mornings started to renew my passion for biking, but I knew I needed a new challenge. Thoughts already turned to planning for a 2017 adventure, but in the meantime I needed something else to get my teeth into.
One of my friends, super Sally (who was a passionate supporter of the Chamonix ride), mentioned the Aspire Channel Swim challenge; swim the distance of the English Channel in your local pool over a number of weeks and raise a bit of cash for the Aspire spinal injury charity. I gave it some thought…. I’m not a fan of swimming and I swim like a brick, but this would be a regular commitment to achieving a 22 mile distance. I signed up and started in earnest.
Very quickly after my first session, I realised that this would be a mammoth personal challenge. I think I did just 20 lengths that first time; 20 lengths of a 25 metre pool is only one third of a mile. If I didn’t up my game I’d be swimming into 2017! The next couple of weeks I nudged it up to 40 lengths in a session, and as I updated my mileage I could see a small amount of progress. However, I was barely making a dent in the distance and seriously doubted if this was a challenge that I would be able to complete.
I pushed a bit harder. I’d never swum more than 40 lengths in my life but I pushed to 50. I put my GCSE maths into practice…1 mile is equal to just over 1600m and that equates to 64 lengths of the 25m pool. I pushed my lengths up to 65 so that at least I could come out of the pool after an hour and know that I’d ticked off a mile. Since I don’t have a waterproof ipod (do they even exist?), I was plugging away with only my own thoughts to distract me such as:
“I wish I could swim properly”
“I hate swimming”
“Ugh, glug, cough, splutter”
To counter act this fairly negative self-talk I dropped into a better routine with a bit more instructional and positive talk:
“Strong pull, strong kick”
“You’re swimming further than you’ve ever swum before”
My goals were also broken down into mini goals, with the overall goal being 22 miles. Once I got into the routine of swimming a mile in a session I broke that into 6 sets of 10 lengths (plus a few more at the end), and in each set I’d only count the even numbers.
I don’t think my swimming ability has improved much since I was awarded my 1 Width Certificate about 34 years ago, but on the plus side, I could feel my fitness improving. I chipped away, and when I got into double figures it started to feel more achievable. Mile 17 was the tipping point – I realised that I could do it. A mile was taking me about 55 minutes so I’ve been swimming at a lightning speed of 1 mile per hour. It’s difficult to even walk that slow!
I’ve literally just got back from the pool now for my FINAL effort. I only needed to bust out 0.8 of a mile….just another 55 lengths hauling myself through the water. It seemed to take forever but I’m proud to say that I finally did it!! It’s amazing what the body can achieve if the mind allows it to push the boundaries. I can safely say that I will never ever, ever, ever want to do the proper Channel Swim crossing, but my mind is already on a new bike adventure for March 2017 (more news about that in early January). For the time being, wishing you a Merry Christmas and an adventure-filled 2017!