Tuesday 29 June 2010

Last open water training session before The Great London Swim and/or English Channel Relay

Above: Heidi McDowell and I enter the North Sea at Felixstowe on the hottest day of the year so far. For Heidi it was her first time without a wetsuit. Well done!

Following last weeks Great East Swim, I managed to pull a muscle in my left trapezius muscle picking a towel up off the bathroom floor. I keep telling Beccy that this picking up towel business is a dangerous pastime for us elite athletes. Bathroom towels are supposed to be left on the floor! Anyway, that aside, it hampered my training last week, with Beccy having to massage and Kinesio tape the area to assist healing. So as I entered the sea on Sunday, it was the first time since The Great East swim.

Heidi and I were the only two members of the Suffolk Open Water Swimming group who turned up this week, probably due to some football match going on in South Africa where The Sausage Eaters' were about to slay 'St. Georges Dragons' by 4 sausages to 1. They should have come swimming instead. It was a simply glorious day during which I had a beautiful swim down to the Spa Pavilion with Heidi where she turned round and went back while I continued on my way to the pier and back.

The trapezius muscle held out OK. A bit sore, but it was only pain after all. I completed 3,100 Metres before the beach crew, (pictured below) who had spent their time in a small tent this week to protect themselves from the searing sun, packed up, had a quick sausage and chips and headed home to watch the football.

Last night I completed 4,000 Metres in the pool with no problems and will hit the pool again tonight. Well not actually hit it, swim in it I mean!

Next Saturday is The Great London Swim, but there is a slight problem. I am swimming in Iryna Kennedy's English Channel Relay on the July 01 - 10, July and there is a chance the two swims will clash. The relay will most definitely take preference should the two clash. I will keep the blog updated when I know more. Meanwhile, it's just train, train, train this week!

Saturday 26 June 2010

British Gas Great East Swim, Alton Water, Ipswich, Suffolk, Saturday June 19, 2010

Above: Finish certificate for The Great East Swim. A disappointing time, but probably the best possible considering the conditions and an eventful 1,500 Metre race.

On the way to Alton Water, Beccy drove while I studied a map of the course (see above). Using NLP Visualisation and Mental Rehearsal techniques, I shut my eyes and pictured the course over and over again, so that when I actually swum the race, it would be just a re-run of the race having swum it many times before in the car. I learnt all the buoys along with their respective distances, and was mentally prepared when we got there.

As we arrived, the heavens opened, the wind was hurtling across the water and into the car park where we were parked, and it was a really miserable day. The BBC weather forecast said to expect winds of 21MPH in Suffolk. They were not far wrong. We sat it out for about 5-6 minutes in the car, then it just stopped. The sun came out, and it was scorching hot. All in the space of about 60 seconds! This was to be the pattern of the weather for the day.

As we reached the swim area, a "Wave" (as the groups of swimmers are known) was already in the water, and we searched around to suss things out, and prepare for my race which was the "Light Purple Wave" at 11.30am. I put my trunks on in the changing tent, and noticed that virtually everyone was wearing a wetsuit. It was not mandatory as the water temperature was about 16+ Degrees C. It was only mandatory if under 15C. After last week's experiences at Felixstowe, I didn't ever want to wear a wetsuit again, although they are mandatory for The Great London Swim on July 3rd.

Above: Jana Pechanova (Czech Republic - 8th in Women's 10KM Marathon Swim at the 2008 Beijing Olympics) with Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria - Olympian and 9 times FINA World Cup Open Water Swimming Grand Prix Champion and English Channel World Record Holder) start one of the waves.

As I watched Jana and Petar start a wave, Petar spotted me and waved from the podium. I hadn't seen him since Mexico in 2008, and he came over to chat. He was complaining that he felt really cold. It was certainly now very cold and windy, and the water didn't look inviting at all.

At 11.00am, our wave's gates were open to register. As I wasn't wearing a wetsuit, I remained clothed for as long as possible prior to the race so I didn't get cold. We had to enter the gate, wipe our timing chip across something to register that we were here, then entered the starting area. As I did, the heavens open again. The clothes I was wearing were the only ones I had with me, and they were getting soaked!

I started to drink my Herbalife H30 Pro Isotonic Drink, which I had put warm water in before I left home, and started to think about the course again, ensuring I had it locked into my mind. That done, and now starting to get really soaked, I stripped off and stood in the rain in my trunks.

Following the previous weeks tough swim at Felixstowe, and training during the week, I had slightly strained both deltoid muscles, and so Beccy had put Kinesio Tape on both shoulders 24 hours before. It seemed to create quite a stir with people asking constant questions about it, coupled with the fact that I was the only one with no wetsuit on. I just tried to focus on the race ahead.

At 11:29:30, we all pushed towards the front and waited for the countdown at 11:29:50. 10...9...8.....2...1... HONK!!! There was a massive sprint into the water, and everyone seemed to be on top of everyone else.

I seemed to have people on top of me, underneath me, beside me, everywhere! As I tried to swim, I couldn't actually grab any water. I just seemed to be grabbing bodies. It was unbelievable. But, that's open water racing! I was out of practice.

I headed for the first buoy, and as I passed it, I remembered the course, 200 Metres completed, now towards the second buoy at 400 Metres. Bodies continued to be in the way, the wind and waves were coming directly towards us, and I was purely breathing to the right to avoid swallowing water on the left. This was tough!

I headed past the 400 Metre buoy, looked up to see the 600 Metres buoy and sprinted at about 90% effort. I suddenly got into a rhythm, started to bi-lateral breathe and got into the zone. All of a sudden, at about 500 Metres, I decided to overtake a swimmer on the inside when I smashed into an immovable object. Head, face and right arm was stopped dead and it scared the shit out of me. I looked up, and there was some idiot in a kayak who said "Move to the left please. Keep to the left" quite calmly, and as if he hadn't got a care in the world. I couldn't believe it! What a total idiot! Didn't he realise this was a race? Once I had got my senses back, I pushed him out of the way, and had to start again from a standstill. It must have cost me a good 30 seconds, and I was absolutely furious! I was panting so hard I couldn't say anything which is probably just as well as he would have got a gob full I can tell you!

I turned at 600 metres and headed along the back straight where it was much easier to swim. The waves were now no longer into my face, and I again got into a good rhythm, and back into the zone.

As I turned the last buoy and headed for home, I was flat out. I went underneath the elite race finish line and slapped the board, but our race didn't finish there. We had to exit the water and run up onto the bank where our timing chips register the fact you have finished, along with your time. I crossed the finish line, and that was it. Job done.

As I finished, the race commentator came over to me interested in my Kinesio Tape on my shoulders. The conversation went something like this:-

Commentator (C): "So here's a finisher with no wetsuit and some tape on his arms. I've seen this quite a few times now, could you tell me what it is please".

Me (PH): "Huh ... Huh ... Huh ... Huh ..... It's ... cal .... called .... Huh .... Huh ... Huh ... I ... can't ... get my ....... breath back .... Huh .... Huh .... Huh .... .Kinesio Tape".

C: "Kinesio Tape, I've heard of that before. What does it do?".

I took a couple of deep breaths so that I could speak, until I felt as though I'd got my breath back.

PH: "Well it helps with sports injuries, by lifting the top layer of skin (epidermis) away from the bottom (dermis) allowing an injury to heal quicker by getting the blood flow to the injury. I have slightly injured my shoulders which is why I'm wearing it." I thought I would plug my business, so I added laughing... "...it's available at Body and Mind Studio in Bury St Edmunds!"

C: "Interesting. I note you are not wearing a wetsuit, why is that?"

Now there was an interesting question! I thought that I would plug true Open Water Swimming as I knew it and replied:-

PH: "I'm a two time English Channel Swimmer, and we are not allowed to wear wetsuits to swim the channel. Wetsuits are for wimps". I looked around and suddenly realised how outnumbered I was so laughed nervously and started to walk away, but he continued...

C: "We have some of the world's top open water swimmers here, and they are wearing wetsuits. Do you think they are wimps then?".

Now I was in trouble! I didn't know they would be wearing wetsuits, and even as I write this blog, I am not sure why they were wearing them as they don't usually. They didn't in Serbia or Mexico, so no idea really. I thought on my toes quickly.

PH: "I don't know, you will have to ask them." I replied as I walked away surrounded by wet suited swimmers!

I walked off towards the official photographer, collected my goody bag with medal in and went off to find Beccy and Luca.

When I found her we chatted about the race, then told me some sad news. She said that as my wave had started, she had seen a lady in a wetsuit being brought to shore in a boat and CPR was being administered. She said she looked grey, had floppy arms and looked dead. She said they took her away in an ambulance (see footnote below for more information). I listened to her and it makes you realise that we are in a dangerous sport. Everyone should know the risks before they contemplate any Open Water Swimming. No one knew anything else about it, and so all we could do was continue with the day until we heard anything else about it.

I missed the start of the Elite Women's Race, as I went to get changed, but got back in time to watch the end of it, and to watch the Elite Men's Race competitors get ready for their race.

Above: Petar Stochev (in wetsuit - bizarre, why did they have to wear wetsuits?) warming up for the Elite Men's race.

Above: Centre, Great Britain's James Goddard competing in his first open water race, following an interview by the race commentator.

Above: The finish of the Elite Women's race. Full results can be obtained by clicking here.

Above: Great Britain's Olympic Bronze Medalist and World Championship Silver Medalist Cassie Pattern who finished 3rd in this race.

Above: With Beccy and Luca after my swim and just prior to the start of the Elite Men's race.

Above: Petar Stoychev (red hat) and Brendan Cappell (blue hat) of Australia who will be attempting to break Stoychev's English Channel World Record this summer.

We watched the Elite men's race set off and they went at a blistering pace. At the head of the pack were some of the world's top elite open water swimmers. There was a large outdoor television screen on which you could watch the race. Luca was fascinated by my medal, which each finisher received.

I headed over towards the finish line ad watched as the race finished with Brendan Capell in 3rd place and Petar Stoychev back in 5th, both positions surprising me. Stoychev took a long time getting out of the water, and did not look happy.

I went over to chat to Brendan Capell about his forthcoming English Channel World Record attempt. We spoke about CSA/CS&PF etc., when over came Stoychev to confront Capell. Now retired German Open Water Swimmer Steffie Biller also came over, and a slightly heated conversaton occurred between Stoychev and Capell.

Above: Stoychev (left) accuses Capel (right) of wrecking his race, but Capell was having none of it saying that it was called "racing"!

I walked off with Stephie as they argued. I didn't want to get involved in that one! As it started to get colder again, we decided to head home having had a great day at Alton Water, even though I was dissapointed with my time and hitting the kayak. Next up is The Great London Swim on July 3rd.

FOOTNOTE: During the week, we discovered very sadly that the lady Beccy saw being pulled from the water was in fact 35 year old Tracey Rammell from Leicester who very sadly died in hospital after the race. The story can be found by clicking here. Our deepest sympathies go to her family and friends.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Motivational talk for members of the USAF 100th Maintenance Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk.

On Wednesday June 16, 2010, I was invited by Lt. Col Ralph Watson, Commander of the 100th Maintenance Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, to give my Channel Swim talk to members of the squadron to help motivate them and explain goal setting. To do this, I spent most of Tuesday, chopping it down and removing PowerPoint slides to make it about 25 minutes instead of the usual 50 minutes to fit in with their schedule. I e-mailed it across to MSgt James Duncan on Tuesday evening so that they could install it on the PC ready for the 7.30am talk on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, I set the alarm for 5.30am, got ready, and headed for RAF Mildenhall, some 15 miles away, ready to meet with MSgt James Duncan at 7.00am to ensure everything was ready. When we got into the presentation area, I estimated that there were well over 100 US Airmen and women stood to attention, waiting for the commander to enter the room. Just before the start, MSgt James Duncan informed me that they could not load the PowerPoint presentation due to the PC's being upgraded as we spoke. I said, not to worry, we could re-schedule the talk. I sat down in the audience and listened to the commander give his talk, totally relaxed, switched off and not even thinking about my talk.

Above: Msgt James Duncan outside the offices and work area of the 100th Maintenance Squadron.

As he spoke, he started talking about motivation, goal setting etc. and I started to worry. Did he know the PowerPoint presentation wasn't working I wondered? Then I heard "...and so now I'd like to welcome up Paul Hopfensperger who is going to give a talk on goal setting and motivation, and explain what he has achieved in swimming. Paul, please come up and give your talk". I was busy shaking my head saying "No, No", but to no avail! They all applauded, and before I knew it, I was up at the front with over 100 faces eagerly staring at me waiting to hear my talk! Quick thinking was required.

Using NLP visualisation techniques, I did the only thing I could think of, I visualised my PowerPoint presentation in my head, slide by slide and did my talk on the fly. I really got into it, and in fact it may have been better without the slides than with them. I was totally associated into the channel swim. I could see Beccy on the pilot boat, I could feel the water on my body as if it were only yesterday. I will ask for some feedback this week to see what they thought, although they all seemed to enjoy it. At the end, they all applauded, asked questions, and before they went to work, some of the more senior officers had a photo taken with me at the front of the room.

Above right: Me, centre with Lt Col Ralph Watson and six members of his squadron after the talk.

Thank you to Lt Col Ralph Watson for inviting me to speak, and perhaps we could do it again sometime, this time with the PowerPoint presentation and the accompanying photos.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Donal Buckley's English Channel Swim 2010

Following an e-mail from Ned Denison in Ireland, I am delighted to be one of two crew members for Donal Buckley's English Channel swim on the August 01 - 10 tide, 2010.

Donal is an open water swimmer who lives in the South-East of Ireland, who is swimming The English Channel to raise funds for The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). He is swimming with the CS&PF, and his pilot is Chris Osmond.

I will be one of two crew members, Claire Morrissey being the other.

Donal is pictured training in the pool, and his Channel Swim website can be found at www.loneswimmer.com. Good luck Donal, and I am looking forward immensley to you becoming a channel swimmer.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Final Open Water training swim before The 2010 Great East Swim means only one thing - Trialling out a wetsuit!

Above: Something I'd never thought I'd see - me in a wetsuit, a necessity for The British Gas Great Swim Series if the water temperature is below 15 Degrees C. Hopefully it won't be! As I write it is 17.7 Degrees C in Alton Water Sports Centre, Ipswich. Looking good for no wetsuit! For a full set of rules and everything else about the event, click this link to download the '.PDF' brochure.

I had been dreading Sunday's swim for some weeks, but knew it had to come. I have never swum any significant distance in a wetsuit before, but I had to trial one before next Saturday's Great East Swim, just in case we have to wear one. If the water temperature is correct on the website @ 17.7C, we won't have to, but I had to be prepared. I put it on, and immediately felt confined, inhibited, cramped, enclosed. Call it what you like. I hated it and hadn't even got in the water yet.

As I stepped into the water with 2011 English Channel Aspirant Tracy Van Dyk, who was also wearing one in training for next weeks race, I noticed something immediately. Not only did I not feel cold, I couldn't feel anything. The suit totally kept me warm, and I didn't even feel as though I was in the water. If ever this was cheating at something, this was it! I started swimming and couldn't wait to touch the pier, get back and take this damn thing off. 3,100 Metres here I come at full speed!

The sea today was really choppy, and reminded me of my second English Channel swim. This was great practice as we were out in the elements here, out in The North Sea amid the wind and waves. Just like The English Channel. I thought about Tracy and thought what good practice this was for her, as well as for me for The Wash, if only we didn't have these damn wetsuits on!

'Little Hoffy' was with us today, along with 'Tiny Hoffy'. Little Hoffy was helping on the beach and taking photos, so thanks very much for that Baz.

At about 600 Metres towards the pier, I did what seasoned wetsuit swimmers would probably laugh at. I felt an air bubble down my neck, so stopped and pulled the wetsuit forward to let the air out. Or so I thought. What I actually did was let about 10 pints of water down the front of the suit, adding god knows how much cold water weight to my body! It felt cold and bloody awful. What an idiot! However, I carried on, touched the pier and headed back.

As I came ashore to feed and take the suit off, I asked Beccy where everyone was? "They've all got out" she said. I couldn't believe it! Must have been the wetsuits!

Fellow swimmers Chris Shutt and Philip Beer appeared, Philip to say goodbye as he had completed his training now for an event next week, and wouldn't be coming again. I got the suit off, had my feed and set off, suddenly feeling free without the water filled wetsuit on!

www.HoffyFlies.com? (Not really!!!) Great photo by Little Hoffy though!

Anyway, I set off back towards the pier for the second leg, and it started getting really rough in there. I was swimming against the tide, and it seemed to take forever to get to the pier. About half way down I saw Little Hoffy pushing Tiny Hoffy along the promenade, and it spurned me on as I tried to keep up with them. I eventually touched the pier, turned round and headed for home. For the first time this year, my shoulders were really hurting. The sea was getting rougher and rougher, and it was getting tough. But I just put one arm in front of the other, and completed the 6,200 Metre swim in 1 Hr. 58 Minutes.

Above: Back again to the beach after 3,100 Metres in a wetsuit and 3,100 Metres in just me trunks. I know which one I preferred!

Thanks to the beach crew again this week (pictured above) and good luck to everyone who is competing in next week's Great East Swim.

Footnote: I have got the sorest neck I have ever had from wearing that damn wetsuit. I have a large scab on the hairline, caused by friction between my skin and the wetsuit. I am reliably informed that I should have put Vaseline on my neck. Bit late for telling me that now!