I did it!

I don’t normally do sponsored walks, cycles, etc. My last sponsored event was a parachute jump before they became popular, almost 40 years ago – and there’s a story to tell about that. But yes, I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself in a sponsored swim, having swum 22 miles, equivalent to swimming the Channel. Admittedly not all in one go, but in BIG chunks (for me, anyway). And I’m honestly feeling touched by the sponsorship and virtual cheering-on from people including friends and family across the globe, and from people I mustn’t have seen for about 30 years. What a humbling reminder that I need to make an effort to catch up in person with them – covid allowing.

‘How do you know you haven’t lost count?’ Several people have asked that, and the answer is that in each length, for every stroke I repeat the number of the length I’m on. And to double-check I wear a lap counter. So – no cheating, and no stopping or putting feet down for breaks along the way in each session, including when I’ve had cramp as I’ve learned to tread water until I can massage it away.

Discoveries along the way:

I discovered goggles for myopia sold on Amazon which were near enough my prescription strength but a tenth of the cost at the optician’s, and they opened up a whole new world when swimming. I can actually see the wall clock to time myself. From my friend Margaret in New Mexico, I discovered the trudgeon stroke. Never heard of it before, and tried it and failed to master it. But I’ll give it a go again at some point. I learned that with the help of prophylactic painkillers alongside the regular controlled ones I take, (and the angina spray not too far away, just in case) I can push through the pain of two forms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, today’s untimely bout of diverticulitis and other health bits n pieces which sometimes prevent me from undertaking activities. I love dancing, for example, but my knee or ankle often twist, (not in a Chubby Checker style), or give way. I learned that with practice it really does get easier. Yes, I know that’s pretty obvious but I didn’t expect such rapid improvement in speed and ease. And, because I started to wonder about the REAL Channel swimmers, I also started to wonder how they go to the loo during the swim. As you do when you’re bored with just doing lengths. Obviously pee-ing is easy, but the other…? So I’ve now learned that many don’t need to go because they are only taking in liquid carbohydrates. But if they do need it, the support crew turn away discreetly and there is a phrase which is, ‘releasing the brown trout’ – yet another phrase to add to my collection of animal words and phrases we use in our language. And I may never again eat trout…

I discovered that even a challenge like this can play on the mind.  I woke up one night to find that I had slithered out of bed head first and was trying to swim on the floor. And Rory O’Donnell happened to be awake and watching! ‘What the **** are you doing?!’ As I started to wake up at that point, (and realising that this could not be a pretty sight), I answered, ‘I’m swimming of course. Or maybe I’m a snake.’ No – I have no words for this either. And thank goodness I didn’t decide in my sleep to do a full-blown dive out of bed.

I recognise and appreciate that I can swim outside quite easily, and I take my hat off to the people who are going to great lengths (pun intended) by doing this challenge in tiny above-ground pools, tethered at one end, but knowing how many strokes they have to do. However, like having to book a lane at a public pool, I couldn’t just swim at any time and had to plan my swims around work and BnB guests, and found that early morning was the best for me – sometimes at 5 am. Better than lying listening to a certain someone’s snoring. (And I learned by chance that early morning before having anything to eat is the best fat-burning time to swim – yay!) I learned that I’m not the most stylish of swimmers but I can stay afloat – and I probably should have had some lessons to improve my strokes before I embarked on this. I learned that helmet head from the cap and bruised googly-eyes from the goggles is not a good look to channel and can last quite a while on skin losing its elasticity! I learned that it’s easier to swim without any distractions such as one day when I was on length 113 and Rory had joined me in the pool, only to try and attract my attention to ask, ‘Darling, have I done 2 lengths or 4?’ And he’s an accountant, for heaven’s sake! Given the appalling weather recently, I learned to follow the forecasts before diving in and I also learned from the internet that you have less chance of being struck by lightning in the water than if you try and make it on-land and then become the tallest point. But I had to get out of the water one day (and start the mile afresh an hour later) when I saw a streak of lightning – I certainly wasn’t being flashed because I was speeding!

So – outputs:

Diabetes UK set a target of 22 miles in 3 months. For some unknown reason as at the time I could only do about 10 lengths before conking out, I set my own target of 22 miles of mainly breast stroke, in 22 days without a rest day.

I achieved it in 18 consecutive days. In roughly 29.5 hours. Which, as the slowest official timed Channel swim is 28 hours, can’t be too bad. Mind you, I didn’t have the waves to contend with, or the cold, or the ships, or the fish, or the sharks, or the brown trout… By the way, the fastest official time is apparently 8 hours. I have only one word for that – HOW?

I swam 3,168 lengths.

And outcomes:

I swam to France. Sort of.

I’m fitter.

I’ve lost exactly one stone, which was certainly necessary post-lockdown excesses. Fear not, I will find it again.

I went from swimming 10 lengths at a time, to celebrating getting to the 100 marker, to climbing out of the pool exhausted once I got to the mile, to swimming a mile of breaststroke in 45 minutes. (Only once, but it was a good day!)

And thanks to so many WONDERFUL other people, I’ve raised a huge amount of money – £1476 so far – for Diabetes UK, in memory of my dear cousin Anne who died in a diabetic coma, leaving a 12-year old.

Will I continue swimming? Yes.

Will I continue with a mile every morning without fail? Er – no.

So – I’ll raise a glass of wine (French of course) and have a chunk of cheese (Roquefort will do nicely), then I’d better get going and swim the 22 miles back to England.

But I’ll take it easier this time.


8 Comments. Leave new

  • Really enjoyed reading this…although not sure I fancy eating trout either now!

  • Julie O'Donnell
    12th July 2021 1:09 pm

    It’s amazing what paths of learning the internet can lead you down, and what imagery sticks in your head… !

  • Fab writing Julie!

  • Julie O'Donnell
    12th July 2021 4:03 pm

    Thanks, Jacky – though not yet up to the standard of some of the books we have read in our lockdown book club…!

  • Margaret Hunter
    12th July 2021 5:34 pm

    Your account of channel crossing via your pool days brightened the days of a lot of us. It was a win-win situation, both for diabetes and for yourself. I had to look up stone/lb. ratio and therefore can be impressed with your weight loss as well as physical fitness! And think of the trudgeon as swimming a side stroke with an overhand crawl. Where 1 arm stays in the water with side stroke, with trudgeon it lifts out of it as in crawl. Enjoy the celebration, though with a second glass of wine for me!

  • Julie O'Donnell
    12th July 2021 7:25 pm

    Thanks, Margaret. Starting tomorrow I plan to have another go at the trudgeon – during my leisurely return trip! As I’m now onto my second glass of French rose wine I’ll raise a glass to you, our friendship, and to Rotary which brought us together as strangers becoming life-long friends.

  • Elizabeth Weeks
    12th July 2021 8:44 pm

    Wow fantastic .pleased to hear about the well deserved snak in landing in beautiful France.bit just shows what we can do when we set our minds to it and especially to help our much loved friends and family .
    Julie crackerjack achievement .proud if you ! Jane xxx

  • Julie O'Donnell
    13th July 2021 9:38 am

    Thanks Jane! You’re right – I would never have thought I could swim that distance. But no, I’m not going to do the real thing!

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