Tag Archives: Mark Sheridan

THE BLDSA SWIM SERIES EXPLAINED

This post has been blatantly stolen copied from a post on the BLDSA’s Facebook page and was written by Mark Sheridan, the author of the excellent Reminiscences of a Long Distance Swimmer blog – worth a read.

Anyway, Mark has swum every event on the BLDSA calendar, plus several other marathon swims (including the Channel (x2), the Catalina Channel and SCAR amongst others).

If you’re interested in any of the BLDSA swims, this summary is well worth a read.

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THE BLDSA SWIM SERIES EXPLAINED

With my publicity hat on, I have been intending to write a post about the BLDSA Swim Series to inform new and existing members roughly what each swim is like. I hope at least someone finds this of use out of the ca. 1000 Facebook followers we have on this page.

Not only can I talk with an element of experience (after having done them all) but, more importantly, each swim is cleverly designed to help you on your way from open water novice to serious marathon swimmer or whatever you want to be in between (of course with the wonderful BLDSA safety cover by your side)!

I think the calendar is perfect for both those who just enjoy the open water for what it is, up to potentially more determined Channel aspirants who can ensure that that they keep intensity up competing with others. You will see in the yearbook that there is a Grand Prix with points awarded for each mile swum & bonus points for those placing in the top 10. Some people travel around and do most of the circuit each year to get their fix!

The spirit of the events is unique where swimmers are treated with a name rather than trying to fill the course with huge numbers! I also like the fact that it is YOU swimming against YOURSELF and no-one ever beats anyone up over time taken (although there are generally sensible time limits at events for safety purposes) and you’ll get a certificate after each successful event (which I have found great bonus for motivation).

If you are around more and more events you will learn from other friendly people cutting your teeth on differing conditions & distances. You will also meet more potential kayakers who can help on your journey!

When I started out it was the blogs of Mark Robson and Karen Throsby that joined the dots for me and were SO vitally instructive discussing so many subjects such as feeds, stroke, training etc. They had also done some serious mileage that I was particularly envious of – be it 21 mile 2WW or the English Channel. I have also written a blog which makes a poor attempt to be anywhere near the Throsby/Robson league but at least writes up what it is like to do the odd bit of swimming: (http://reminiscencesofalongdistanceswimmer.blogspot.co.uk)
There are many other good bloggers who publicise the BLDSA swims – please add them below or let me know them so we can add them to the BLDSA homepage!!

Anyway, let me talk you through things in order of date first if you have THIS SEASON in mind….

(Observe below that wetsuits ARE PERMITTED at Wykeham 1km, Bala 3 miles, 3km and 1km, St Mary’s Loch 1km & 3 miler and Lynn Regis 1km)

1. COLWICK PARK 22/5/16 – This is an excellent 5km swim set up in a pleasant lake in Nottingham. It’s very early in the season (MAY!) and great to know where you are with your acclimatisation (have you eaten enough pies?) plus it is far enough in terms of distance to challenge all entrants and to be more than just a sprint. If you are a complete novice but can swim 2 miles in a pool environment, you might want to cut your teeth on this one for a starter BLDSA swim. I personally find the open water arena much easier than slogging up and down the pool – you see nature instead of a plaster floating by! Bring yourself – no kayaker required. Centre of the country so accessible for most.

2. WYKEHAM LAKE SWIMS 5/6/16 – Similar to Colwick in Nottingham but different swims and this time the BLDSA takes you to a seriously stunning area in God’s own county of Yorkshire. On the Sunday, the BLDSA offers 3 swims: A 2-miler, a 5km and a 1km. Bring your family and friends for the 1km as they can pay on the day as non-members. This year we are running a 5km night swim on the late evening of the 4th June to give those training for Loch Lomond, 2WW or the EC a chance to know what it is like to swim in the dark. Bring a kayaker along and get stuck in under a moonlit sky. I usually bring my elder daughter for a weekend away and we either stay in a tent or a pod in the campsite opposite. You will ONLY need your own kayaker for the night swim.

3. CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS 18/6/16 – Race Directed by yours truly. This is a 5, 3, then 1 mile swum one after the other in Dover Harbour. Still early in the season when temperatures have been 14.3 degrees on average over the last decade. The proper Champion of Champions are the man and woman with the fastest aggregated times over the 3 events – I usually give better prizes for those coming last having endured the conditions longer than everyone else (as long as they are within the time limits!). It’s legendary for dishing out relentless gut-wrenching misery, cold water & mind-shock, shaking of hands, much spillage of tea and realising how much of marathon swimming is down to your mental side. Upon overcoming yourself, the conditions and what the harbour has to throw at you, a successful completion will earn you the right to the famous red swim cap plus you will go home happy that you have achieved something seriously impressive – sure swim coach and my mentor Giovanna Richards would agree. We usually have people from all over the world completing so bring your autograph book. After opening entries early Jan, the 60 places filled up in 39 hours. If you didn’t get in this year, then volunteer & watch Facebook like a hawk in Jan! Bring yourself and perhaps a helper to sort you out between swims (Simon Griffiths I’m not taking your trunks down this year after the 5-miler!). BTW you won’t need a kayaker either.

4. TORBAY 2/7/16 – This is set up as a Torbay to Brixham and back 8-miler for seniors and 4-mile just Torbay to Brixham for the veterans. For an extra £50 we will introduce you to a local sea kayak expert. I’m sure Adrian Rotchell, Philip Yorke and André Roberts will agree with me that this is THE BEST training event for an English Channel attempt!! This is swum in the proper open sea with jellyfish, swell and tides to contend with. I love the challenging finish that never comes closer! Either bring your kayaker or request one when entering for a small extra fee. Urge you to enter early as possible! Helen Beveridge might agree with some of above as she travelled all the way from Inverness to swim this in 2014 training for a successful Catalina!
The current swim secretary is one of my heroes who swum Lomond, the EC and Windermere 50x. Ledge.

5. BALA WEEKEND 9/7/16 and 10/7/16 – This is a brilliant weekend of swimming which will send you home feeling fitter & better than when you arrived. I usually take the Friday off work each year to make the trek from Sevenoaks. The Saturday am offers a 1km novice and 3km circuit events. The Saturday afternoon then presents the formidable 6-mile 2-Way Bala to the more serious people wanting a challenge which last year presented a tough (force 6!) outward leg but a swift surf-like return amongst the stunning Snowdonia national Park. For those not worse-the-wear for the delights that Bala town on a Saturday night has to offer, the Sunday offers a 1-Way Bala swim which ends up as quite a sprint back to the top of the lake which finishes around lunchtime presenting enough time for a leisurely contented return home. Water temperatures have surprisingly varied each time I have done it from 13 degrees to 24 degrees celsius depending on the state of global warming or recent rainfall. I usually enlist the skills of local kayak legend Chris Jackson & team who charge a fee but means I don’t have the extra layer of complexity to badger a reluctant kayaker from Kent. The 1km and 3km events don’t require a kayaker. The 6 miler and 3-milers DO.

6. CONISTON WEEKEND 23/7/16 and 24/7/16 – The Veterans 3mile swim takes place on the Saturday with the Senior & Junior 5.25mile full length on the Sunday. It’s a magical swim under the watchful eye of the Old Man of Coniston mountain & sharing the same body of water where Campbell broke so many waterspeed records. You will need a kayaker.

[Patrick note – I’m organising the Senior & Junior event on Sunday 24th July]

7. ULLSWATER & DERWENTWATER WEEKEND 13/8/16 and 14/8/16 – This is a brilliant weekend similar to Bala where the serious marathon swimmers can cut their teeth on a combined weekend of 12 miles of swimming (going home glowing!) or you can elect for the 7-mile Ullswater on the Saturday on its own and/or 5miles or 2miles in Derwentwater on the Sunday. You can’t fail to see some of the most impressive sights of mountains – Helvellyn, Great End, Scafell range (not to mention some of the purest water) that England has to offer. You will need a kayaker for all of these ones but every yard will be worth it.

8. LOCH LOMOND 20/8/16 – BLDSA’S EVEREST of SWIMMING. There’s a 21.6 mile for the serious/delusional plus a 1km beforehand for crew & those up there for the weekend! We are only aware of 51 people now having swum this Loch and it is the largest body of water by surface area in the British Isles. It’s entirely stunning with mountain Ben Lomond watching over you from start to finish..The weather can be pretty unpredictable (crews had to content with max of 3 degree air at one stage overnight in 2014!) and cold water tolerance is recommended if you are going to endure to emerge proud as punch in Balloch. Theres a group of truly exceptional swimmers like Liane Llewellyn Hickling and Madfish Inwater who have done this swim more than once! You will need to locate a BOAT and CREW – but not for the 1km. Reserve a boat early as they can be hard to locate! When I did it I towed one all the way from Kent! Out of the initial ca. 9 entrants in 2014, 2 emerged as successful. Janet Wilson is swim secretary and inspired me, Jo Blackburn and Alister Stocks (& many others) to follow in her footsteps to have a go in 2012 where we got lucky with a reasonably calm night. Those conditions are rare.
Entry form stipulates that an 8mile swim must be done as qualifier but you’ll certainly do more in training won’t you!? See more on the entry form on the website..
Note – alternates in the calendar with 2-Way Windermere > next 2WW 2017.

9. 1 WAY WINDERMERE 27/8/16 – the full 10.5 mile length of it. I have heard others mention that they felt like proper marathon swimmer the day they completed a full length of Windermere! I think I agree. The entry requirement is 5.5 miles in 3.5 hours. I wished I had actually swum the 6-mile 2-Way BALA swim before attempting the length of this. That experience would have been vital. The views are picturesque and the swim takes you from Fell Foot country park through the islands finishing in Waterhead past the tallest grand fir in England on the one side with breathtaking views of the Langdale Pikes on the other. A successful completion of this will usually qualify you for a 2-Way Windermere – how cool is that?! There’s also a pub right by the finish so you can celebrate immediately with your crew because you/they will be thirsty! This could also be your English Channel 6-hour qualifier provided the water is under 16 degrees? The great Pete Larrad (swim sec. for Torbay) has swum this 50 times so what are u waiting for? – get cracking!! The great James Leitch also swam the length of this in 2014 without a single feed! LOL.
You will need to enlist a kayaker or get 2-3 crew for the rowing boat provided.

10. ST MARY’S LOCH 10/9/16 – One of the most undisturbed, undiscovered and magical parts of the British Isles but near the borders so accessible for most. Those from London like me might consider a cheeky flight to Edinburgh then it’s 1 hour in a hire car! There is a 1km swim for novices or a 1-Way or 2-Way events. The water can be quite bracing so worth observing that wetsuits ARE ALLOWED on the 1km and 3-mile events or just ‘man-up’ and endure. There’s camping offered on sight or at the local Inn if you reserve early. You might have a fighter plane or eagle fly over you whilst doing this swim.

11. LYNN REGIS – 24/9/16 – This is in north Norfolk so super accessible for most. A real buzz of a day with most people celebrating the last swim of the BLDSA calendar with a 4.5km course, 1.5km junior swim plus a 1km for non-member novices. In the past, there has been camping available so bring your tent and sleeping bag. In 2015 the water was around 16 but being late September there has been some variation. Plenty of chance to swap swim stories, see Jane Melita Langrick Bell fry up onions and talk plans for the year ahead. Also vital training for those completing events that take place in the USA for example which offers some swims in October. I treat my younger daughter to this one as our weekend away and it works fabulously well.

Disclaimer! Most/all sentiments & observations above are my own and would urge you to double check the individual swim itinerary with the website, entry central or the swim secretary. Also take time over choosing your own kayaker. Happy swimming and get in touch if you need more. Cheers, Shezza.

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A delightful interview with the 2 who recently conquered 21.6mile Loch Lomond

After my struggles to complete Windermere, here’s an interview with two guys who recently completed the equivalent of two Windermeres in one swim! Amazing swimming guys.

I have been kindly given permission to repost this article in its entirety by Mark Sheridan who writes the excellent Reminiscences of a Long Distance Swimmer (where this article first appeared). Please do read Mark’s blog too, as he is a hell of a swimmer himself (including a successful Channel swim this year).

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9 entered and set off from Ardlui on Saturday 23rd August 2014 but only 2 emerged from the water at Balloch on Sunday 24th August 2014: Philip Hodges (1st photo) and Adrian Rotchell (2nd photo).

I don’t mind admitting to you that I get emotional even now when I think about my successful attempt in 2012 and feel that Lomond is one of the most magical places on earth. Finishing that swim has given me untold confidence and enriched my life more ways than I care to mention.

I was fortunate enough to catch up and sit down with Philip and Adrian yesterday which is less than 10 days after their swim to try and get to the bottom of what they did that made them succeed. I really love the ethos of the BLDSA where we can achieve amazing feats of endurance and yet give back to this wonderful sport on a voluntary basis & try and educate others. It really isn’t about making money out of swimming in any way for me. I know others share that ideal.

To put their name into the history books as numbers 49 and 50 to conquer the loch respectively, it wasn’t just down to their repeatable stroke. They depended on boats and boat crews, had to swim through the evening then the entire night (!) through cold water and freezing air temperatures. They had to navigate islands, deal with exhaustion, feeds and the small matter of swimming further than they had ever swam before………….

I hope you find this blog useful, instructive and inspirational as I asked them to respond to 10 insightful questions:

AR = Adrian Rotchell
PH = Philip Hodges

Why Loch Lomond?
AR: I really selected this swim as the key milestone swim prior to my Channel attempt in August 2015. Many of my swimming friends had gone the route of a Two-way Windermere in the year preceding their attempts and I wanted to ‘change it up a bit’ and do something that none of them had done before and were in fact a little scared of!
PH: A few years ago I had wanted to organise a Loch Ness attempt but it never really got of the ground. So my attention switched to the BLDSA Loch Lomond swim.

When did you first hear about the swim?
AR: Actually Mark, it was you that inspired me to do the swim. Having read your blog it felt right to include it in my plans. It has kept me focused and motivated in my training over the past two years.
PH: It was initially through doing other BLDSA events that I became aware of it and then reading Mark Sheridan’s blog post on his 2012 BLDSA Lomond swim was the catalyst that inspired me to give it a go.
What did you do to prepare? Did you feel under-prepared at the start-line?
AR: It’s rare I know but I felt ready both mentally and physically for the swim. I had worked on reducing stroke rate throughout the year and went from 60+ down to a pretty constant 56/7      per minute, just to save my shoulders. I did 4 six hour swims in the sea this year, completed Champion of Champions and did one ten hour sea swim four weeks before the main event. I then tapered down in final preparation. Nothing was left to chance and ensuring I had all the logistics, gear, boat, right crew sorted early was really critical to my sanity and stress levels. Based on some sound advice from you, I made sure my crew had Friday afternoon on the loch together and all day on Saturday before the start to ensure they knew their jobs on the boat, were fully confident and had the route nailed down.
PH:  I work long hours and also commute so most of my training consisted of weekend loading, primarily a season in Dover Harbour with Freda Streeter and I also joined Cambridge Masters for two interval sessions a week. I also attended Ned Denison’s Cork Distance Week.
I felt a little under-prepared. Mainly to do with the unknowns of swimming through the night and just swimming for potentially twice my previous longest swim.

What was your longest swim before undertaking LL?
AR: Ten hour sea swim four weeks beforehand
PH: My longest swim prior to Lomond was seven hours in Dover Harbour. Lomond at 13 hours was a bit of a jump.

What was your feeding plan? Did that work or go wrong at any stage?
AR: Fed every hour after the first two hours. 500ml Torq lime carb powder mixed with warm water, alternate banana and flapjack each feed for solids. This lasted until hour 8 when I ditched the Torq and moved to hot / warm chocolate in the same quantities and relied just on flapjack for solids. Had a sneaky milky way just before the last mile (just because I was worth it).
Feed plan was generally good and although I got fed up with the Torq, the hot chocolate was perfect and I had not tried that before. I also had a box of my favourite Torq gels (Rhubarb and Custard) in the boat but never needed one.
PH: My feeding plan was Nick Adam’s “Keep it simple, keep it fast!”
I had two 1.5 litre bottles of double strength Maxi and a 3 litre Thermos pump of warm water. For the first 10(?) hours I had about 300ml once an hour and for the last three hours switched to 150ml every 30 minutes. In total, for the 13 hours I used about 3.5 litres of the 6 litres of feed available on the boat.
For all but one of the feeds we used a large open cup handed to me. When the wind picked up and we switched to a plastic bottle on a string. I tried to keep all the feeds fast. Towards the end it became increasingly tempting to use these stops as “rest breaks”. Not 100% sure but like to think I manage to keep even the slowest feeds under a minute.
I also had snacks available, jelly babies, milky ways, bananas etc but never desired any.

Did you have any dark thoughts during the epic challenge and what did you do to overcome them?
AR: I got quite paranoid at one point in the swim when the boat stalled. I stopped to ask if all was well and was told by someone the carry on. Before I knew it I was a way from the boat and was being told off.. I stayed very close to the boat after that and was questioning if I had actually imagined being told to carry on… The dark and the cold can play tricks on your senses but not sure I would put this in the category of ‘dark thoughts’
PH: Yes. There were very dark thoughts. Whenever these felt like they would overwhelm me I would zone out and just concentrate on my breathing. Bubble, bubble breath… bubble, bubble breath…
Sounds like dippy hippy stuff I know but worked a treat.

Was it cold? Did you shake after getting out? How are your shoulders now? 
AR: It was chilly.. I did three hours in the sea in early April this year and it was almost as cold as that. I also swam in Loch Long several times in the week up to the swim, which meant I knew what I was in for, and getting into Loch Lomond was not so much of a shock. I did shiver afterwards for 30 – 40 minutes but James L (the machine) let me warm up in his car which was very kind. I felt good at the finish and my shoulders were fine, if anything I felt good enough to keep swimming. Even in the days following I had only had minor stiffness in my neck and shoulders 🙂 the sore throat was far worse (from breathing in the cold air all night I expect)
PH: I was told the air temp dropped to 4C for most of the night and that the water temp ranged from 14C at the start to 16C at the finish. The water temp I was OK with but the cold night air wrecked my throat and lungs. I was initially sceptical that the air had been that cold but the weather report for the night seemed to back it up.
Shoulders felt fine.

Did you actually enjoy the swim itself and how do you feel about the achievement now?
AR: I enjoyed every minute and am delighted that my training is exactly on track for the Channel. I may look back on this swim as an even greater achievement than the Channel but right now I am very focused on that goal. In the back of my mind I feel I could have swam quicker and looking back at some video footage that my crew took, I still have some more things to work on that will help me achieve and maintain a faster pace for swims next year.
PH: A week later it is very easy to say yes. All the difficult parts seem to be fading away and you are just left with the awesome memories. Loch Lomond is stunning! It is an amazing and humbling swim. I am very pleased I attempted it and very pleased I did it as part of a BLDSA event.

What do you have planned next?
AR: A full year of training, a healthy mixture of sea swims and BLDSA events based around the same schedule as this year to prepare for my Channel attempt.
PH: I have an EC solo booked for July 2015.

Any other key pieces of advice for any swimmers contemplating LL?
AR: Be brave, sign up, train hard and expect it to be cold (We were all spoilt this year by warm lakes and seas and I was not expecting 14 degrees in the run up to the swim. I don’t know how I would have felt if I just turned up on the Saturday evening and jumped in without a few cold swims under my belt earlier in the week) and make sure your crew is well informed and confident. My crew were exhausted after my swim, it is very ‘mentally’ intense and a challenge in its own right. It’s a real team effort and the shared feeling of joy and sense of achievement will stay with us all forever.
PH: The fish and chips from the Ardlui Hotel are pretty awesome and a great second lunch prior to the swim!!
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