Sunday 21 September 2008

British Long Distance Swimming Association - Lynn Regis Championship 2008 - Winner!?

Above: Very happy after 'winning' the BLDSA Lynn Regis Championship 2008, covering the 4.5KM fresh water river swim in 01:02:55 (hh:mm:ss).

Just 8 days after completing my second English Channel swim, and after two light training sessions in the pool at Clarice House, we set of for Kings Lynn in North Norfolk to compete in the 2008 BLDSA Lynn Regis Championship. Due to all of the weekend training sessions required for the channel, this was only my second BLDSA event of the season, the Champion of Champions race in Dover Harbour was the other one, and I was really looking forward to it.

This was a big family day out with our dog Casper in the back, and Baz with his friend Ben all attending on what was an absolutely beautiful September day. In fact it was probably the best weather we had had since back in July. It really has been an awful year for the weather as far as open water swimming is concerned.

Above: Beccy massages a small but painful knot from my left shoulder just before the swim.

We were all briefed by the race organiser, Stephen Smith, given our numbers (I was M16) then prepared ourselves ready to enter the water to start the race. Just before I got in, I drank a full 500ml of "Channel Swimmers" energy drink (Maxim with water) then proceeded down to the river to enter the 15.5 degree Centigrade waters of the River Great Ouse.

Above: Entering the water and swimming to our start positions, which was to form a line between the river bank and the kayak.

Above: Video of the start of the race, I was closely watching Simon Lee of Solent Swimming Club who has won 54 BLDSA races over the years, and in my mind he was the man I had to beat to win this race.

Above: Baz and Ben watch the race and thanks to Baz who took all of the photos and video of the race.

The start of the race was the usual affair with lots of frantic swimming, jostling for position and kicks in the face. To my left just ahead of me was BLDSA committee member Dee Llewelyn from Bradford Swimming Club and to the right was Lee Portingale from Hitchin. The first lap was quite physical, and try as I might I could not get past Lee who constantly veered in front of me whenever I tried. I was sandwiched in between Dee and Lee and out to the right just ahead was Simon Lee.

Above: Swimming down the back straight after about the first 1KM of the 4.5KM race.

I swum at about 85% effort from the beginning and I felt really strong. Not at any stage did I feel that my arms were getting tired or that I was fading. I think I still had my non existent second channel swim energy to get rid of from last week, and I was absolutely fired up!

Eventually, I decided to go for it and squeezed myself in between Dee and Lee. As I crossed the start/finish line for the first of three times, I thought to myself that I was in the lead. I couldn't see Simon Lee anywhere and I assumed that I was either behind him, or he was way out in front. I looked up a couple of times, but could not see anyone ahead of me, and so just kept swimming. For most of the next couple of laps, Dee Llewelyn was just to the left of me and slightly behind. As I turned around each buoy at 750 Metres, I could see that Lee was a good 30-40 seconds behind me, but I still didn't know where Simon Lee was so started to increase my pace.

Above: Swimming alongside Dee Llewelyn for about 3KM of the race. Casper watches patiently for the race to end so that he can get in the river. Each time I went past he barked at me!

Eventually, still not knowing if I was definitely leading or not, I started to sprint at about 95% effort and broke clear of Dee. I was now out on my own, but unsure of my exact position.

Above: Out in the clear on the final stretch before turning for the short sprint to the finish line.

As I turned round the last buoy, I saw a blue hat around the other side of the buoy about 100 Metres in total in front of me. It must be Simon Lee I thought, and so sprinted flat out. I caught the swimmer with ease and realised that I must have just lapped someone. As I crossed the finish line, I shouted "Where did I come?". One of the judges put her forefinger up and said "First!". I was absolutely astonished and delighted to say the least. I had won my first BLDSA race, beating everyone in the field, Male/Female/Juniors/Seniors at the age of 45! I was chuffed to bits.

Above: Getting my breath back immediately after the finish of the race.

Above: Chatting to Dee Llewelyn and Lee Portingale immediately after the race. Simon Lee (left) came in 3rd position.

Dee came in about 12 seconds behind me and Lee about 1.5 minutes behind me (I will know exactly when the results are published). "You've speeded up!" said Dee. "It's all that Channel training Freda's put me through" I replied. We stayed in the water for a couple of minutes chatting before getting out.

Above: Beccy and Casper waiting to congratulate me after my win. (He spent the rest of the afternoon jumping in and out of the river having a great time!).

Above: Chatting to other swimmers about the race while waiting for the other swimmers to finish.

Disappointment after a great day!

When all the swimming was complete, we went into the Ouse Sailing Club clubhouse for the prize giving. When I entered the race and paid my entry fee, there were quite clearly three levels of entry on the form:-

4.5KM (Senior) / 1.5KM (Junior) / 1KM (Novice)

I paid my £18.00 entry fee for the Seniors 4.5KM Gents Freestyle race. When the prizes were given out, I was presented with the "Veterans" trophy as the winner of the "Veterans" race. I was confused as I didn't know there was a "Veterans" race. To my knowledge I had won the entire event! Matters were compounded when Lee Portingale of Hitichin, was presented with a trophy for "First Male Finisher" and winner of the Senior Men's race. He came over to me and said "I asked them to give this to you but they wouldn't!". He was clearly uncomfortable accepting the trophy, and so would I have been if I was in that position. So the "Senior Male" who came second in the race, was presented with the winners trophy and the winner (me) got presented with the "Winner of the Veteran's race" trophy!

Above: BLDSA President, Janet Wilson presents Paul Hopfensperger, first person home in the entire swim, and therefore first Male over 16 home, with the Men's Veteran trophy, while...

Above: BLDSA President, Janet Wilson presents the second Male swimmer over 16 home, Lee Portingale of Hitichin, with the "First Male Swimmer over 16 home" trophy!?

I queried all of this with race organiser Stephen Smith, who said during the presentations that they had never had this position before where a "Veteran" (45 years old and over on the day of the swim) had beaten the "Senior Men" (Male swimmers aged 16 and over on the day of the swim - (Includes Veterans)) and so they were unsure what to do.

I telephoned him on Sunday evening, and he has promised to look into this for me at the next committee meeting in October, as he feels that I have a point, and the official results will show that I won the race. I entered a race as a "Senior" and there was no mention of the word "Veteran" when entering the race. The people I have spoken to think that I should have received both trophies and this is what I feel as well. I am a male over 16 and was the first male over 16 to finish the race. How can that be any clearer you would have to ask? I have never heard of anyone being too old to win a race! Isn't that discrimination?

Click here to download report and preliminary results

Watch this space for further news...

Sunday 14 September 2008

A long night in The English Channel - England to France, September 11-12, 2008, 13 Hours 03 Minutes

Above: Left to right - Chris Enyon (Channel swimming aspirant, September 2008), Megan Forbes (Channel Swimmer 2007), Michelle Toptalo (Channel Swimmer 2008), Me and Sam Jones who swam the channel yesterday after me with her son assembling for my two-way channel swim attempt. Thursday September 11, 2008 about 7.30pm.

Pilot: Neil Streeter
Pilot Vessel: SUVA
Support Crew: My wife, Beccy Hopfensperger (feeder and all round 100% support), Mark Ransom (fellow West Suffolk Swimming Club member and 2008 Channel Swimmer) and Chris Enyon (Sudbury & District Swimming Club).

We arrived in Dover Marina at about 7.30pm on Thursday September 11, 2008 which was a little earlier than anticipated due to there being traffic problems in Dover as the Channel Tunnel was on fire. At least the sea would be a little warmer I laughed as we all gathered on the pontoon and chatted. Megan, Sam and Michelle had come down to see me off which was fantastic and I would like to say here a big thank you to all of you for doing this. It really was much appreciated.

Lance Oram on Sea Satin was moored next to us to take out his swimmer, Greg Woods, and Vasanti Neimz from Heidelberg, Germany was also there to start her channel swim on board "Queen of The Channel", Alison Streeter MBE's support boat ROCO. We had a photo taken which she e-mailed to me (see below). I was totally relaxed, and felt ready after all of my training and mental preparation to tackle this immense task which had only ever been completed by 18 swimmers before.

Above: With Vasanti Niemz before our channel swim attempt on the pontoon in Dover Marina.

When we arrived there was panic stations when it turned out we had no observers for the swim, which is what also happened to me last year! I couldn't believe it. CS&PF Committee Member Tanya Harding sped off in her car, then eventually returned with 2 observers much to my relief, and off we went.

Neil told us that we were going to start from Shakespeare Beach, which is only about a 10 minute trip on the boat. I gave my name to the observer (apologies I didn't get either of their names) and my support crew's names. She told me that she had just rushed straight from work to get here.

Above: Giving all of our details to the CS&PF Observer prior to starting the swim.

Above: With my wife Beccy prior to the swim.

Above: Beccy starts to put Vaseline on the back of my neck, under my armpits, on the sides of my face (where your beard grows) and in the groin area where it rubs when you kick.

Last year I started from Samphire Hoe. Michelle, Sam and Megan were walking down to Shakespeare Beach to see me off when I landed, but it wasn't to be. When we got on board SUVA, I started to get undressed and Vaselined up immediately as it was such a short trip. However, when we got there, Neil said that the tide was far stronger than he had thought, and we would have to start from Samphire Hoe. I was greased up, hat on, ear plugs in, and we continued on our way to Samphire Hoe.

Above: Pilot Neil Streeter steers us towards Samphire Hoe where my two-way channel swim attempt would start. Just before I left, he said to me "Don't forget, this is a France to England swim." This meant that the England to France first leg was just a warm up for the main swim which was to be the second leg - France to England.

Above: Just about to dive in, swim to shore and start my two-way channel swim attempt. It was about 8.25pm and pitch black.

Above: Beccy and Mark Ransom on board SUVA at the start of my swim.

When I dived in, I was totally relaxed, focused and ready for the swim. However, as soon as I got in the water, I felt as though I had just dived into a washing machine on spin cycle. For any swimmers who have swum in Dover Harbour over by the Eastern Dock on a Saturday and Sunday morning, this is what it was like. However I tried, I just couldn't get into a rhythm of any kind. I wasn't swimming, I was just fighting with the sea. It was absolutely awful. Within 20 minutes, I knew a two-way was out of the question and I didn't even think a one-was was possible. I wanted to get out. It was all over. This was crap. Absolutely crap. This was not what I had pictured over and over again in my mind. This was just a F#%K*$G swimming nightmare!

I carried on swimming, if you can call it that until the first feed. We decided not to use a pole this year, just my Herbalife shake mixer on the end of a bit of rope. It actually worked really well. Much better than the pole method.

Above: The first feed in the pitch black night sky somewhere in the English Channel.

This was so different to last years swim. So, so different. Last year I could see Beccy so clearly, and the P&O ferries and the tankers. This year, I could just see the outline of her body in the spotlight coming down from SUVA, and everywhere else was just as black as black can be. No stars, no moon, nothing just black, and I was being tossed all over the place by this shitty, shitty water. I had mentally lost the plot and just wanted to get out.

Somewhere from deep within, despite all of the negativity inside me, I kept going. Don't ask me how, but I just kept going. At one stage I shouted to Beccy "That's it, I'm getting out". "No you're not she replied, just keep going." So I did. Then I got tangled up in a huge pile of seaweed. It was all wrapped round my neck. I removed it and just kept going. Then a Jelly fish stung my left forearm and bicep. "I've been stung by a Jelly fish" I shouted to Beccy. She just looked at me. I carried on swimming for a minute wondering why she didn't say anything. "I said I've been stung by a Jelly fish on my arm". "What do you want me to do about it?" she replied. She had a point. Nothing I suppose. I was hoping she would say that I could get out, but that wasn't the case!

Eventually at around about 4 hours or so, my arms were just battered to bits by the rough sea, and I shouted out "Can someone come in with me, I'm really struggling in here". Before I knew it, Chris Enyon was in beside me, and it was nice to be able to actually see something other than blackness. At first he had forgotten to put any lights on so Beccy threw him a light for his swim hat. Then the sea calmed down a bit and it was just rough as opposed to that horrible choppy water which had beaten me up for the first four hours.

I think Chris was only in for half an hour as he got in when I fed, and got out at the next feed. After the first 3 x 1 hour feeds, we fed every 1/2 hour exactly as per Freda Streeter's feeding plan. It worked really well. At last I got into a bit of a swimming rhythm, and felt a bit better, but the first 4 hours had mentally taken everything away from me, and I never really recovered from this. I could see Mark Ransom hanging over the end of the boat, and he was obviously feeling ill. SUVA was rocking side to side violently, and on a couple of occassions I jumped as I thought it was going to roll over on top of me. Thankfully, it remained upright!

Out the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw lights. At last I felt as though there was something in this god damn sea other than me. I shouted "Photo" to Beccy and the result was the photo above. I think it was a Dover to Calais ferry. It was about all I saw for the next few hours. I just kept swimming, thinking of all of the reasons not to get out. All the weekends in Dover, all the money this had cost, Beccy had lost the opportunity to start a new job next week because of this swim, the sponsorship money for the charities., etc., etc. So I thought of the saying I kept telling everyone on the beach - "Just put one arm in front of the other and don't stop until you get to France". It mad me laugh, and I kept swimming from feed to feed.

At about 7 hours, it was still pitch black, and I had really had enough. I was cold. After all that cold water training, I was cold. I stopped and shouted up "I'm F#%K*$G freezing in here!". Like someone was going to throw a blanket to me or something! The cabin door opened, out popped Neil Streeter's head and the reply came "Then F#%K*$G swim faster then!". This was followed by the door closing and the boat speeding up and away from me so I had to catch it up. He's got a point I thought to myself, and then proceeded to swim faster.

A little later I stopped and moaned again, saying I had had enough and wanted to get out. The door opened again "What's wrong with you? This is a 'Text Book' swim. Try kicking your F#%K*$G legs!". Again he had a point, and the "text book" swim bit was interpreted by me as we were nearly there. I don't know why, but that's what I though he meant. So my head went down, and I sprinted for the best part of 2 solid hours. Flat out, I couldn't have gone any faster. Beccy told me afterwards that I was swimming at 2 miles per hour and about 67-69 strokes per minute constantly. I never went below this.

Above: Cap Griz-Nes on the left of me, and it was for quite a few hours.

As daybreak broke, it was a cloudy miserable day. Where on earth was the sun. All I wanted was a little bit of sun. But there was none. It was bloody horrible. I could see Cap Gris-Nes to the left of me, and I still kept swimming as fast as I could, but it never got any closer. Then having been on the support boat for Lorraine Vergehse's swim last year, I knew exactly what was happening and where we were heading. We had been swept past the cap, and were heading down in the direction of Boulogne. I knew this was going to be difficult to land.

Above: Swimming, swimming, swimming for about 3 hours, but just not going anywhere!

Eventually, over on the left, I could see Sea Satin, Lance Oram's boat approaching me at speed. This could only mean that his swimmer (Greg Woods) had either not finished or completed his swim. As it turned out, he had completed it. Eventually it pulled alongside me, and I could see Tanya Harding on board. I looked forward, and could see that we were making ground. The land was getting ever closer, and I was being escorted in, Sea Satin on the left and SUVA on the right. For some inexplicable reason, I just burst into tears, I felt so emotional. I really don't know why. It was probably because some 12 hours earlier I didn't even think I was going to make it this far, and yet here I was now going to become a two time channel swimmer.

As I got ever closer to the shore, I knew that I had been sprinting flat out for hours, and there was no way, not today, was I going to make it back again. I had mentally lost it on this swim in the first 4 hours when the water was so bad.

Suddenly, I saw Mark Ransom in the water beside me. "We've got to swim towards a small beach" he said. "If we don't hurry up, we will miss it." I went flat out for the shore. It was so close I could smell the garlic! Then Neil shouted from the boat to say "Follow the boat". So again we went sideways for quite a while. At the time I wasn't sure what was happening and why I just couldn't swim to shore. Afterwards I found out that it was due to the waves, which would have smashed me onto the rocks causing serious injury, we had to head for the very small beach.

Above: Mark Ransom swims to shore with me on Friday September 12, 2008.

As we got to within 10 Metres from the beach, I put my feet down, but couldn't feel the bottom. I was hit from behind by a wave which took me under. I surfaced and swam about another 5 Metres. I could just touch the bottom and started to walk forward. Another wave hit me from behind, and washed me up onto the beach very unceremoniously. However, it was so strong, that it sucked me back into the water again, and so it continued. I spent about 3-4 minutes just trying to get out, until eventually I crawled out on my hands and knees, tried to stand up, wobbled alot, then realised I had become a two times channel swimmer!

Above: Mark Ransom (left) and me (right) after I had completed my second English Channel Swim in 13 Hours 03 Minutes (about 8 minutes of it was trying to get out of the water!!!).

When we got on the beach, the conversation went something like this:-

Me: "I'm not going back. That's it. Finished".
Mark: "You've got to swim back. It's two-way".
Me: "No, that's it. I'm knackered and have mentally lost it."
Mark: "Go on, you've at least got to try."
Me: "No. Absolutely no way. This was a crap swim, and I hated every minute of it. I never want to see The English Channel again".

We got back in the water, and started to swim back towards the boat. Then I saw it start reversing away from me. I kew what Neil was doing, he was trying to start me swimming again. But there was no way. The first four hours of the first leg, scupperred any chance of a two-way attempt in my mind. I stopped swimming and was about to swim back to shore if Neil carried on reversing. He stopped, and I swum to the boat telling him quite firmly that I was a two time channel swimmer, I was quite happy with that at this present moment in time. I grabbed hold of the ladder and got out.

Above: Me, Mark Ranson and Chris Enyon, back onboard SUVA after my second channel swim.

It felt so good to be out of that water and back on board SUVA. I thanked everyone and explained that due to the start of the swim, it had mentally broken me, and I really do not know how I got across the channel. It was the worst swim, in fact the worst thing I have ever done in my life. I hated every minute of it. It was nothing like last year's swim. Freda is so right that you can never predict what the channel is going to be like. I had in my mind a mental picture of what the channel was like based on last year's swim. However, this years swim was so different, it is not even easy to put it into words. Last year was swells, and sunshine, this year was cold, dark, and extremely choppy for the first 4 hours, which is what did me in.

After I was dressed, we sailed towards Vasanti who was about 3 miles off Cap Griz-Nes on her channel swim attempt.

Above: Vasanti on her channel swim with her pilot and 'Queen of the Channel" Alison Streeter MBE looking out of the window. Unfortunately she didn't make it, but a brilliant swim anyway Vasanti.


I want to say a huge thank you to the following people:-

Freda Streeter 'The Channel General' - For her undying enthusiasm, advice and commitment every week come rain, wind or sunshine. Without it, there would be many many people who would not have realised their dreams.

Barrie & Irene Wakeham - As with Freda, they are always there week in, week out preparing and distruting the feeds in the harbour. Their help and assistance is much appreciated and invaluable to all who train in Dover Harbour.

Mark Ransom & Chris Enyon - Who dropped everything at the last minute to help onboard SUVA and be part of the support crew. I couldn't have got across without you.

Neil Streeter - and his crew for being an excellent pilot, and giving it to me straight across the channel.

Last but definately not least, my fantastic wife Beccy Hopfensperger, who week in week out, has sat on the beach for 7 hours then six hours, helped with the feeding and been an absolute rock. I most certainly without a doubt, not been a two time channel swimmer without her unwavering support.

I would also like to thank Nick Adams, who we trained with in Dover Harbour and has been a constant help over the phone and by text and e-mail, and who has my utmost respect for still being the last Englishman to complete a 2 way channel swim. He told me yesterday by phone, that I am in fact only the 84th person in history to swim the English Channel more than once. I am very proud of that. Thanks Nick.


The main reason for doing all of these crazy swims, is to try to reach our £50,000 target for our two chosen charities. If after reading the above you feel you would like to sponsor me, then please click on one or both of the links below and donate securely online. Thank you.

CLIC Sargent - Children's Cancer Charity


St Nicholas' Hospice, Bury St Edmunds

To see a short video of the swim <CLICK HERE>.

Next week I will be competing in a British Long Distance Swimming Association 4.5KM race in Lynn Regis. <CLICK HERE FOR REPORT AND PHOTOS FROM RACE>.