Monday, 27 August 2012

and then

A knackered but happy Wayne back at home.
Once he's recovered sufficiently to be able to string a coherent sentence together, we'll be posting his recollections about The Swim, along with some photies.

The Evidence

Sunday, 26 August 2012

He Did It!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 23:33 (approximately) Wayne touched down just outside of Ballycastle, Ireland - making him the first person ever to have swum this section of treacherous water.  Well done Wayne - you deserve a big pint and a warm steak and Guinness pie.  You are an inspiration to so many!

500 metres to go

They are about 20 minutes on the outside from landing!!!!

Paul just commented that this was definitely his last stint as 'Handler' - this stuff is just too stressful!

Looking for a landing spot...

The second boat has gone off to look for a suitable landing spot and is guiding them in!!!!

They are aiming to land at Port Campbell, just west of Ballycastle. I have checked for this on the map but can't find it, but will keep you posted!

Night swimming

With all the drama of the last 2 hours I have completely missed the point that Wayne will be swimming in the dark now.  This is a notoriously low time for swimmers, as they lose the sun on their backs and it is quite common for a bit of a depression to kick in.  

In terms of logistics, the crew will have passed Wayne a glow stick to his swimming trunks as well as to the side of the boat.  Wayne will focus on these glow sticks in order to position himself in the water, as there is nothing else to use in order to find your bearings.

Wayne was very keen to do as little as possible swimming in the dark...  Hopefully we can finish this soon then!

Hour 12

Some good news at last...

They are almost due north of Ballycastle right now and the conditions have improved dramatically. When I last spoke to them it was mayhem on the boat as they were experiencing big winds, strong currents and struggling to keep steering in a way that helped Wayne in his swim - as opposed to I guess steering over him?!

From the latest update from the boat all seems to have calmed down, the tide has slackened dramatically and they seem to be 'picking' where they would like to land - the discussions were along the lines of 'Shall we go straight into Ballycastle, or just to the right of the beach?'

They estimate less than an hour's swim - but bear in mind folks, he has been in the water for 11 and a half hours already!

Watch this space - the boys have proven that they could be chucking a few surprises our way before we get to celebrate...

Just isn't getting any easier!

So they've swept past the Fairhead mainland area and are now heading towards Ballycastle - all under the influence of a very strong current. Latest GPS position shows them quite far out from land.

Basically, everything that was said about distance to shore and timing before they rounded Fairhead is now out of the window as they are in a whole new territory, being swept along the coastline. It will be a constant battle to punch through the tide enough to make dry land.

Ballycastle lights very bright on the land - if you're in Ballycastle right now - pop your head out the window and please shout for the man - he needs all the support he can get!!!

Buckle those safety belts Folks, it seems it might still be a rough ride.


In the agonising static that is coming from the Irish Sea, frantic correspondence is happening between people across the world. Spare a thought for the long-suffering Bernie, who has put up with many disturbed mornings and late nights due to Wayne's training schedule, and now, sitting at the Command Centre in Bagshot with her two children, and not knowing what is going on as her hubby bobs around in his eighth hour in the freezing, jellyfish-infested, angry water.  One can imagine her anxiety - it came across heart-wrenchingly clearly in her most recent SMS:  "The next time Wayne comes back pissed from the pub with a effing map under his arm I'm booting him to the curb!!!"

Still chugging!!!

He is still there! 

Apparently he is giving his crew more verbal abuse than Prince Charles will be handing out to Harry this weekend, but they are taking it as a good sign that he still has fight left in him!

Last feed was tense, but when they broke it to him that he has less than 1.6 nautical miles left (that's 2.96km - I had to look it up), he was extremely psyched and completely sure that he will make it!

Knowing Wayne's pace, this usually should take him about 1 hour to swim, but we're talking about a very tired boy out there, so perhaps 90 minutes?

Come on Wayne!!!!!

Who's who on the boat crew

While we wait for news, let's chat about who's who on the boat crew.

First up there's Paul. Paul is the co-instigator of the Really Big Adventure. He was there in the pub on that fateful night when, after a couple of beers, The Plan was hatched. Paul has been Wayne's manager in this endeavour - or is the trendy word nowadays 'handler'? He's certainly done a better job looking after his charge than Prince Harry's minders have done. Today he dons the additional hats of jellyfish/orca spotter, co-swimmer and motivator.

Second up there's Jonny. Jonny, like Paul, supported Wayne during the English Channel swim. His energy levels might lead one to suspect a urine sample would show traces of Ritalin. But Jonny's just one of those people with enviable levels of energy. He's Wayne's rah-rah man, a cheerleader sans pompoms. And a superb one at that. He also has a speedo handy and will hop in to keep Wayne company when he needs it. And he looks out for jellyfish.

Sean McCarry is wearing the captain's hat. This means he calls the shots as to when, where and how. He assures the team he didn't go to the same captain etiquette school as Francesco Schettino, the dude who ran the Costa Concordia aground off Italy earlier this year. Cpt McCarry has driven the endeavour from the Irish side. A man of stature in many respects.

Jo and Carlos - navigators. Critical for keeping the swim on course through the passage of erratic currents and tidal turbulence. Also quite important is that they apply their skills to dodging wind farms, tidal turbines, submarine testing grounds and any jellyfish flotillas. And Wayne.

Mark is the on board entertainment officer and catering cad. He feeds the boys' tummies and also their psychological state. His natural ability with the spoken word means he's also in charge of boat comms.

Gerard. If he was so inclined, he would make for a superb wedding planner. He's planned, coordinated, promoted and networked in a way that would be the envy of any self-respecting event organiser. A real people person and a valuable asset to the team, for sure.

Gary is the monitor - he will officially ratify the swim for the Irish Channel Swimming Association. He has spent many hours in this stretch of water and (aside from having a mad hobby - I mean, swimming in treacherous waters WTF) is a valuable source of information about the conditions. He's also doing a fantastic job motivating and motivation for wayne. It's reassuring that he knows a lot about jellyfish stings too. 


Lauren has just brilliantly pointed out that not even Stephen King could come up with a plotline more tense than this one!!!


As if things aren't tense enough, we are about to enter a stretch of water where the mobile phone reception is virtually non existent. So when the crew finally do have something to share with us, they won't be able to get it through!! Hang in there Wayne!

Not over...

Paul is swimming with Wayne at the moment. The tide is providing some useful forward motion and things are slightly more positive than 30 minutes ago. But in no way a done deal...

Tough times

Things tough out there at the moment. Wayne battling a really nasty patch of jellies and high winds. There's not a whole lot of happiness out there in the ocean right now.

Hour 8

Only 17 people ever have successfully swum from any part of Ireland to Scotland, over 73 have tried. This is done further down along the Irish coast where the tides are slightly less severe and the water isn't pushed through such a tight gap. What makes Wayne's swim so challenging is the strength of the tides, combined with the cold water temperature (between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius) and of co
urse, the jellyfish. No one has ever successfully swum across the stretch of water that Wayne is currently trying to wrestle down.

He has had a few tough feeds - morale is a bit low and he is beginning to express doubts. As Paul said - he only has about 2 - 3 hours left - this is what the swim is all about.

Go WAYNE!!!! you can do it!

Hour 7

Wayne is over halfway now and still stroking at 50 strokes a minute - incredible! He has had a few ups and downs with cramping and fatigue playing a major role, but seems to have picked up his stroke rate at the moment and apparently quite perplexed at the absence of jellyfish I'm told! I am also informed that he is a bit grumpy at feed times!

Crew feeling strong at the moment and there was talk of a potential finish time of around 9pm. 
This will never be corroborated by anyone on the boat as the variables are too plentiful to be tied down enough to make an accurate forecast. If he makes enough progress south during this tide and uses the slack in the tides well, the next tide will literally push him towards the coast. But if he isn't far enough south at the turn of the tide, he will end up sweeping past the mainland and into a very turbulent area between the mainland and Rathlin Island - not something he has on his to-do list...

Wind speed has picked up and is providing a bit of a challenge to him and the boat - steering is becoming a little tricky at the moment.

Having a whale of a time

While on the topic of seal behaviour, did you know that orcas are quite fond of munching these slippery marine mammals? 

And that the more common name of the orcinus orca is The Killer Whale? 

And that killer whales migrate through the Northern Channel? 

And that killer whales, referred to as wolves of the sea, are territorial? 

And that Wayne will be slicing through their migration route? Just saying....

Fuelling up

Behaving like a seal makes you eligible to be fed like one too... but this is a bit more scientific than a bucket of dead hake every day.

Wayne will be using a massive amount of energy over the duration of the swim. He will obtain this from two sources: his stored body fat (yes, he was for a stage really referred to as “fat boy Soutter”!) and the nutrients he takes in during the swim. Oh, yes, and even though he is in near-freezing water, he is dehydrating, so taking in copious fluids is just as important to avoid hitting the ‘wall’.

He will be ‘fed’ by his zookeepers on the boat every half an hour. This will include 250ml of water, as hot as he can take it to bring up his core temperature, mixed with two energy supplements - SIS Go fuel (which has some taste, but ironically for someone stroking through the freezing Irish Sea, he goes for ‘tropical’ flavour), and is packed with carbohydrate, and Maxim, which is tasteless but packed with power too.

Every one and a half hours, he stops for a snack too, either half a banana or the innocuously named ‘porridge’, which we believe he found in a long-lost annexure to Lance Armstrong’s memoir. No, actually, it’s simply porridge - something to fill the belly.

And there’s another thing: given the severely strict rules of solo open water crossings, in true seal fashion this stuff is literally tossed to him, so there is no physical contact with him at any time.

And so it goes, until that hand strikes land... and be rest assured there will be a beef and guinness pie and a pint of Ballycastle's finest on order.


Wayne has just had his 7th feed. He is experiencing minor cramps but still motoring along at a very respectable 50 strokes a minute. 

For the past hour he was joined in the water by Paul. This helps him break the tedium as all the adrenaline has now worn off and the excitement of the start is a distant memory. Now its just the miles stretching out in front of him, so having someone next to him gives him something to focus on and set a pace to. Another reason why he will be very grateful to have a buddy in the water is to help spot Jelly Fish. It places a huge strain on his neck to constantly look ahead so he will avoid this as much as possible in order to pace himself. Once Paul gets out of the water, Jonny will take over to help out.

From a navigational perspective they are very happy about Wayne's progress too. Whilst he has veered quite a bit off course to the West, this seems to play in his favour - right now he is being swept almost due south, which means he will end up nearer the coast line once the tide slackens and eventually turns again.

For those of you who would like to relive those tense moments during Wayne's English Channel swim you can do that here:

Jelly Spotting

Paul is in the water with Wayne at the moment and hoping to do an hour alongside him.  This helps to relieve the monotony that sets in around this time when the excitement and adrenaline wears off and the miles stretch out ahead of him.

Paul is also helping Wayne to spot Jelly Fish - it places a huge strain on Wayne's neck to look forward continuously, so to have someone else looking out for them is an enormous help.

Jonny will take over once Paul has done his hour.

Hour 3

They have just completed his 4th feed. In terms of positioning, they are very happy, despite their location seeming to be way off the predicted swim line when you view the Google Maps of the swim. Wayne is currently swimming in the slack part of the tide and will shortly be shunted down the channel in a south easterly direction as the tide increases. The navigation team are very happy with their progress.

Physically Wayne seems to be powering away brilliantly. He is maintaining a stroke rate of 52 - 51 strokes per hour - this has always been his strong area - even after 17 hours in the water during the English Channel swim, he was still grinding along at this phenomenal rate. He has indicated to his team that his shoulder is beginning to feel stiff. This was a worry for him in the week leading up to the swim, fingers crossed that they can manage that sufficiently to complete the swim.

Could not be better...

From the boat:

"Sea still very kind! Just short of 2 hours and we've done 4 nautical miles.  Could not be better at this point"

Sunshine at last

First hour completed

Wayne is well underway now, having completed his first hour in the water.

Conditions are very good out there - calm waters and not too much wind.

Wayne has had 2 feeds and is swimming very strong at the moment. I have asked the boat to update us on his stroke rate, as this becomes very interesting to observe as he gets more tired and needs to dig deep to keep the pace going against the current.

There is also a Google Map going as we speak with pins to track his progress. You can find it here:  The blue pins indicate gps coordinates that we receive from the boat every 30 minutes.

This just in from the boat:

"Slight swell now. Progress is good. The first part of this swim was always going to be the most challenging and it could not have gone better. So far so good now as the tide slackens we need to make good progress across the channel."

Keep you posted as we get more in!

The Start

ready, steady, go!

It seems Zeus and Poseidon got the memo for today's swim. The weather is fair and the tides as predicted.  Let's hope they can keep a cap on sibling rivalry issues for the rest of the day as Wayne has plopped into the water and the swim has started.

The Crew shortly before leaving Ireland

In in 10 minutes...

Last photo of a dry Wayne... 
Eagle Radio are running Wayne's challenge on the news between 11:00 and 13:00 today. or listen at 96.4fm.

An Epic Adventure About To Begin

At 11:45 (UK time) Wayne will wade into the waters. Crammed into his psychological backpack, along with his own (not insubstantial) personal goals, are tons of global good wishes. Good luck Wayne - Hercules had nothing on you! 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Google Map Link

If you want to track the progress of the swim, here is the link to the map we will be updating on Sunday.

Cold feet...

...more like cold body!

I can't believe the swim is nearly upon us.  Been spending time with Carlos, Paul and my Dad over the past 2 days doing some last minute route checking and fine tuning.

I am very fortunate to have such a great team of committed and intelligent people behind this swim, without it, it wouldn't ever have been possible.

My team will consist of:
Sean - Captain
Paul - Swim Manager
Carlos - Navigation
Joe - Navigation
Jon - life blood of the boat and the swim
Mark - Communications man.... know something about everything.  Except about women.
Gerard - Coordinator & planner in Ballycastle.
Gary - Observer

Back home we have:
Bernie - communications HQ
Lauren - ghost writer extraordinaire!

Thanks guys... will try to make it all worth while!


Just sayin'

Luckily I have the face for radio - doing two live interviews with BBC today: BBC Belfast with William Crawley at 13:20 and  BBC Radio Foale with Mark Tyreson at 14:30.

and then there's this:

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Just checked the weather..... it's a GO!!

Paul and I met this evening to discuss and although the weather is unsettled i.e. it could change, we don't think it will change enough to affect the swim.

So it's official... it's on! Now to book flights.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Jellyfish - what's the wobbly?

Jellyfish, a deceptively innocuous name for a rather vicious blobby bit of skeleton-less, skinless cartilage. The Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest mean that, in the absence of a heart and brain, the jellyfish had to evolve something with which to defend itself. This it did with aplomb – by lining up its cells into long strips of incredibly stingy tentacles. I am very, very afraid of these tentacles. The mere sight of a jelly in the waters turns my inside to custard.

My swim will see me invade the territory of the rather nasty Mauve Stingersas well as the tellingly named Lion’s Manevarieties. And, thanks to the USA’s repeated demonstrations of what happens following a territorial invasion, I am primed to expect a little bit of backlash from the gelatinous inhabitants of the Northern Channel.

Margaret, someone who previously attempted the swim, shared her experience with me. She discussed the enormous challenges presented by the cold and the tides and the weather. And the *drumroll* jellyfish. In her words: “A mega problem”. Life threatening in fact. A few weeks ago on Dover beach, Kevin Murphy, a seasoned channel swimmer type, buoyed my spirits by advising that if I did get stung, modern medicine and a short stay in hospital under sedation should see me recover, provided I am timeously transported. He knows because he’s got the proverbial t-shirt three times already. And then finally, just yesterday Diana Nyad said she’d had enough of interacting with jellyfish .

I refuse to be swayed off course by something with no sentient thought processes. And so I put my faith in Paul and Jon who will be my jellyfish spotters. And medivac if necessary. In the end, I’m really hoping that Dr Jonathan D R Houghton’s years of studying jellyfish give credence to his opinion that the Mauve Stingers aren’t out in full force and that the Lion’s Manes appear to be on their last legs (tentacles?) and are dying off rapidly.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Decision update...windy question?

I have been struggling to know what wind speed would allow a swim to succeed, as this decision is normally handled by the Captain of the boat.  But in this instance, the Captain (Sean McCarry) is only used to pounding the waves with his 300 horsepower 2 engined craft.  So between Paul, Carlos, Joe and Sean, we need to decided if it is a go'er.

To get a better perspective, I chatted to Andy King (my English Channel swim captain), and quizzed him on wind speed. 

He said:
15 to 20 knots would be ok if wind is behind you.
Ideal would be 10 - 12 knots.
If wind is blowing with the tide it's ok, if against tide it's choppy.

Current wind direction expected for Saturday is South East, which would be perfect for the swim i.e. the wind is behind the tide and speed currently ~ 8 - 10 knots.

At the moment, it would be a go-er, let's look again tomorrow, when we can see the predictions for Sunday. As far as I can tell from the satellite imagery it will be very similar i.e. there is a big low pressure sitting over the UK and going nowhere fast.

Writing to Wayne

So, it's a mere five sleeps until Paul, Jon, Joe, Carlos, Gerard and Robert spend the day in combat against sea-sickness in a (probably) rain-drenched boat-sized arena. All to support Wayne in his effort to become the first person EVER to swim from the Mull of Kintyre to Ireland.

There are many, many more enjoyable ways to spend a Sunday, so one must assume that Wayne must be a pretty special specimen to warrant such a substantial gesture of camaraderie. And indeed he is.

In a change from standard practice, I post this entry, not as Wayne's ghost writer/editor, but in my capacity as a friend. This I do because I want to reiterate what a truly remarkable event Sunday is going to be.

I've known Wayne for about 20 years. He even had a full head of hair when I first met him. Whilst his follicle count has diminished over the years, his waistline has expanded, as has his repertoire of skills and interests. In the decades I've known him, I've seen him embrace not only the lovely Bernie (cue an 'aahhh') but also new challenges on all sorts of fronts: projects, hobbies, jobs, countries and an inexplicable relationship with a temperamental Landy. In all this time I never, I repeat NEVER, witnessed Wayne even indicate the slightest interest in physical exertion beyond reaching for the next beer.

It came as some surprise then, to both me and the skipper of the accompanying boat, when Wayne conquered the English Channel not so long ago. Missing the crucial turn of the tide, Wayne hung in there for close on 20 hours in an exemplary demonstration of stamina and endurance and sheer pig-headedness. In that moment when he flopped ashore in France, two things seemed changed: firstly he was several pounds lighter and secondly a burning coal had ignited where his brain used to be. Apparently only a nine hour swim in icy cold, jellyfish infested, tide turbulent waters is going to douse that flame.

Ladies and gentlemen: Wayne. On the face of it, the most unlikely candidate to swim into history's record books. But on closer inspection, a man who's not afraid of a challenge and someone who has shown he has what it takes to see it through. He's done it before many times, in many different contexts. Except maybe golf. Whilst this is probably his biggest challenge, there's no reason to think this will end in anything other than a congratulatory round of drinks in a Ballycastle pub. Wayne, good luck, and may the jellyfish-repulsion-force be with you.

Sesa hantle

Sunday, 19 August 2012

This time next week... I may be swimming

Yikes,  it's starting to get very real.  My preferred swim date is the 26th of Aug, next Sunday.  

Looking at the Met Office 5 day forecast, next Thursday the wind seems to be subsiding (5 to 10 knots) and turning from SW, which I would be swimming straight into (not good), to SE which will be hitting me in the face but allow me to cross faster.

My training this past week was ok, I didn't quite hit my training targets, but it was good enough.  Only problem is that I got a little ear ache (starting to clear) and my right shoulder is fairly tender.  I am not going to swim at all this week, give my shoulder a chance to recover and hopefully be fresh for the swim.

My bulk swim feed (Maxim carbohydrate) arrived while I was away, so my feed, costume (purchased a new one and tested it last week) and new googles (also tested) are ready to go!

Now we wait and see if the weather is good enough next weekend to swim i.e. the wind stays low.  All other considerations are out of my control i.e. water temperature, jelly fish and tides

Tick tock.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Here comes the man

For those of you who don't know Wayne personally, here's a short video clip of him. 
You can familiarise yourself with the man and the outcome of his pie eating habit and Toastmaster membership at while he chats to the camera about his recent trial swim.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

As time goes by

So, what are you up to next weekend? Me? I'll be swimming the Northern Channel. So if you've nothing better to do, while I'm getting super cold, it would really be super cool if you would support me. Updates will be appearing regularly here and on the Facebook page.
Now let me go put away a couple more pastries.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Swim around the corner.....GULP!

Swim possibly 2 weeks away, weather allowing... best I get some more training in! (and a few pies). 

Training is actually going ok, did 4 hours last weekend and felt strong.  Next week I will be doing a number of 3 hours swims in a lake which will add strength and speed.

At the moment, the biggest risk is the cold.  Because I am doing so much training, the weight is falling off me and I am struggling to eat enough.

Weekend before last I went up to Ireland to do a test swim, climbed in 1 mile off-shore, swam directly at the shore for 1 hour and .... finished up 1 mile off-shore. Oops.  Didn't exactly go as planned, but we did learn from it.  The currents are so much stronger than I imagined, just mind blowing!  When I was stopping next to the boat to take a feed during the 1 hour swim, I was travelling at times at 10.6km per hour!  and I wasn't even swimming!

The biggest surprise was the jellyfish.  I knew there would be some, but it was the massive number that was, quite frankly, terrifying.  I was seeing a big jelly fish every 20 to 30 seconds.  Most were down around 5 feet and therefore not a problem, but now and again there would be one near the surface and I would need to swim around them.  I really didn't want to be stung and kept looking forwards.... by the end of the 1 hour swim I had a very sore neck.  Can't do that for the 9 hours.  So need to find an alternative solution.

Fund raising is picking up, the company next door to our office is owned by an incredible guy called Kevin Dougall (he owns D-media and the Red Lion Pub in St Margaret's at Cliffe) who heard about the swim and overnight is sponsoring about £2000 worth of kit / collateral etc to help Community Rescue Services raise money.  Humbling.

Can't wait... am both excited and terrified!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Planning is everything!

So, as they say, the devil's in the details. In this case, the details pertain to the when and where of my swim. And what a bladdy little bastard of a devil he's turning out to be. In short, at this point it seems that if I don't hit the itsy bitsy pinhead-sized bull's eye that is the timing sweet spot, I'll miss North Ireland completely. More specifically, I have to correlate the tides, the weather and Paul's (my manager) leave schedule perfectly with a fairly optimistic stroke speed of 2.7km/hour over a nine hour swim if I want to beach at Torr Head. A mere decrease of 0.1 knots (that's just 2%, I repeat, 2%) over the course of the swim could see me docking at Denmark's Faroe Islands instead. 

For my swim to be successful I need a good team and good maps. Thanks Paul, Sean, Carlos, Jon, and the rest of you, for more than adequately fulfilling the requirements of the former. Quality maps have, however, proved a little more challenging. Nevertheless, as this whole exercise is (largely) about endurance, persevere I must. So I've plotted the predicted course from a combo of the maps I have available, namely the Mull of Kintyre chart (UK Hydrographic Office) and Tidal streams info. What emerges is that the little deficiency in info about the tidal conditions around High Water (see where blue arrows split into two) escalates into potentially a rather big deficiency in terms of achieving my goal.

I'v indicated my path with blue arrows on the map. I chose blue because I happen to like the colour and it's probably going to be the colour of my body as it heaves its way through the chilly waters on the day. Based on the info available to me - have I mentioned it's a bit deficient - I think I've done a pretty good job of plotting my possible outcomes. And one is perfect and the other isn't pretty. 

In order to know which one is the more accurate, and as you can see from the two options, it IS vital to know, I have to get reliable info about the following:
1. Tidal conditions at HW. 
2. My swim speed in the channel conditions. 

In the absence of credible information on either of the above, it's going to be necessary to go to source. I intend to do this around 21-22 July if anyone feels like joining me for a recce. When up at Ballycastle I'll hop onto a boat and head out to observe first hand what happens with the tides at HW. And then I'm going to have to hop out of the boat, into the water, and measure my swim speed in the actual sea and tidal conditions. Seasick tablets are advised for those of you whose inner ears struggle with conflicting sensory input. Read - I don’t want vomit in the boat or over the side. There's only so much a body and mind can endure at one time.

The information I get from my outing will help immensely with the detailed plotting of the swim and my intention to avoid Denmark. So too will the Polpred software that Proudman (now the National Oceanographic Centre) have very kindly agreed to let us use for free for the period over my swim. Carlos's outstanding negotiation skills are to thank for this very useful, nay critical, addition to the team kit. The detailed model of the Kintyre to Northern Ireland streams is so much better than any info we already have, and should help stitch up any remaining uncertainty (jellyfish aside) that may arise after my fieldtrip. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Science Behind Bonking

My coach / manager Paul pointed me to this article.  It puts forwards a few new theories around nutrition, which may or may not be true / valuable to you.  BUT, along the way it provides the simplest layman's description of the relationships around nutrition / energy creation / energy storage / endurance exercise that he has ever seen.

When your body stalls mid-run, it's called bonking. When scientists debate the causes, it's called a food fight. Here's everything you need to know. 
Chiang Kai-shek is said to have received news of his army's mutiny while still in his pajamas. Chances are you will be equally unprepared for the mutiny of your own body--in other words, for bonking. We're not talking about the mere cramping of a calf, or the everyday slowing caused by lactic acid build-up, or the deep muscle pain sometimes caused by downhill running. Marathoners used to call bonking "hitting the wall," but it's actually a bodily form of sedition. In some form or another, it becomes a collapse of the entire system: body and form, brains and soul.

Consider the muscle-glycogen bonk, where the brain works fine but the legs up and quit. Then there's the blood-glucose bonk, where the legs work fine but the brain up and quits. Let's not forget the everything bonk, a sorry stewpot of dehydration, training errors, gastric problems, and nutrition gaffes.

And then there's the little-purple-men bonk. "After about 20-K, I started to see little purple men running up and down the sides of these cliffs," says Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., who wears hats as both a leading sports nutrition researcher and an endurance athlete. "I knew it was an hallucination, but I stopped in the middle of the race to look at them anyway," he says. "It was kind of crazy."

If you have run a distance race, chances are you have already become an aficionado of the bonk. You remember how your form held until you hit mile 18 and your feet turned into scuba fins. How your motivation held until you faced that last hill and became preoccupied with the idea of lying down on the pavement. Or, if you bonked thoroughly enough, how you began to see beings that belong in Dr. Seuss. And you thought sports nutrition was dull.

And now, the field is undergoing the scientific version of a food fight. The sanctity of carbohydrates has come under question. Endurance athletes are rediscovering protein. Products are making new claims, nutritionists are taking sides. And we haven't even gotten to the reasons why many runners act so weird about food in the first place. But in essence, the science of bonking comes down to 10 laws. If you learn them, you won't merely be on the cutting edge of sports-nutrition science, you may never bonk again.

First Law: Food is Chemistry
Start with the very spark of movement, wherein our muscle cells power their contractions through the continual breaking and reconnecting of a chain of molecules called ATP. Cementing their bonds anew requires stealing energy, in this case energy holding together bonds in other compounds--specifically, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. 
Even as they all sit on the same nutrition label, these three meta-nutrients are different beasts altogether: Proteins are amino acids, the alphabet beneath our very DNA and the material used to make flesh. Fats are also acids, in the form of oils, and as such help with the insulation of cells. Carbohydrates, on the other hand--literally hydrated carbons, shorthand for the carbon-and-hydrogen hexagons informally known as sugar--are different. Mammals have virtually no body parts made of carbs. While fats and proteins can ultimately be rendered into carbohydrates, the carbs you eat serve no purpose other than as booty, appropriated loot to be ransacked for its atomic mortar.

Second Law: Cinnabons=Plutonium
Upon entering your stomach, carbohydrates are broken down for transfer to the small intestine, where these sugars change into their blood-traveling form known as glucose and shoot on up into the liver. The liver extracts as much glucose as it can hold from this blood supply, which comes out to around 100 grams, or about the amount found in two Clif bars--enough to feed the brain for about four hours. Red blood cells burn some of what's left over. The remaining glucose molecules travel on through the bloodstream. This is what muscles burn. They take it preferentially from your bloodstream but also use glycogen stored locally. All told, your muscles hold 300 to 400 grams of glycogen. Your skeletal muscles, the ones that do the running, only hold about 100 grams. Still, this is enough fuel for a couple hours of fairly hard running, given the way the body eventually begins to burn primarily fat. (In other words, your skeletal muscles' maximum burn rate is twice that of your brain. Think about it.) 
When your liver and muscle stores max out at a combined 500 grams of carbs--pretty much the case for the typical American moseying back from lunch hour--the surplus triggers a hormone, insulin, to spike, which causes the sugar leftovers to turn into fat. Some carbs provoke bigger spikes, and more fat-packing, than others--they have what's known as a high-glycemic index. No matter where the extra calories come from, the average person totes enough fat to fuel a month's running at a pace slow enough for the oxygen necessary to burn it near-exclusively. But you couldn't, physiologically, and if you could, you would cross the finish line just after the cleaning crew. Which is why carbs were seen as the limiting factor in sport performance and the scientists' sports nutrient of choice from day one.

As far back as the 1930s, researchers put athletes on a high-carbohydrate diet and compared them with people eating mostly protein. The carb-eaters had three times the endurance of the protein crowd. The Swedes got similar results when they put endurance athletes on high-fat, high-carb, and high-protein diets. Then researchers began to wonder: Can you make your muscles stockpile more than their usual share of glycogen in the days before an event?

Third Law: The Spaghetti Dinner Isn't Just A Cheap Way To Feed A Bunch Of Cheap Runners
By the late 1960s, the most popular method of carbo-loading touted a seven-day pre-event cycle. You went on a low-carbohydrate diet during the first three days to deplete glycogen stores, and during the final four you got 70 percent of your food from carbohydrates (or 8.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, to be exact, though it's hard to see how a person could manage to so precisely calibrate every meal and still have a life). The method increased muscle glycogen by as much as 150 percent, a big boost to endurance. Researchers eventually refined this method by eliminating the carbo-drain phase, substituting it with a taper in exercise, and making carbs compose three quarters of the diet. Either way, carbo-loading staves off the classic muscle-glycogen bonk, in which the body seemingly runs out of available sugar and starts burning even a larger ratio of fat in the fuel--a process which, because it must first convert fats to sugars, entails 20-some metabolic steps compared with the 10 or so for burning glucose. It's like switching from high-test to coal. Fat takes its sweet time--even for runners like the Kenyans, who are the best of all of us at burning it--and you slow down. 

Fourth Law: Your Brain is a Pig
So carbo-loading seems to aid your endurance by stuffing fuel into muscles. But let's not forget the brain. It burns only liver glycogen, and it's a glutton. As the fuel demands of muscles and brain draw down blood-sugar stores, your motivation, decision-making, and agility can go on the fritz. "You get what's called central fatigue," says Tarnopolsky. "It's the perception by your brain that you're tired, even though your muscles are fine." 
In experiments that only cash-poor students would volunteer for, test subjects pushed below three millimoles of glucose per liter of blood (normal is 3.5 to 5.5) began to lose the ability to do calculations. They couldn't even read. In real life, according to those who've been there, you just stop caring. You lose your competitive edge. If your sugar level continues to drop, you can eventually hallucinate. Tarnopolsky credits late-stage central fatigue with his little purple men episode during a triathlon. When the brain is starved, neurons in the occipital cortex misrepresent incoming images. A tree could be perceived as a human. The brain could make up things that don't even exist: falling snowflakes become . . . purple men. "Some people incorporate them into their consciousness, like a dream state," he adds. Not a good state to be in when you're running. "Those are the people you see delirious, running off the edge of the road, collapsing," he says.

But there's a miracle cure, albeit a rather mundane one: the sports drink. Barring such a dire situation, as little as 50 grams of carbohydrates can bring your brain back to normal in 10 or 15 minutes.

Common wisdom once had it that you should eat only slow-burningcarbohydrates just before a race. Fast-burning (high-glycemic) carbs--those milled to a particulate size not seen in nature prior to the invention of the Ding Dong--are possibly the chief reason most Americans are overweight. In sedentary people they cause an insulin spike followed by a blood-sugar crash. More recently, however, researchers have learned that the moderate activity and nervous energy of a runner before a race counteracts any insulin spike and renders all carbs equal. (Bagels, anyone?)

Fifth Law: A Long Run is No Time to Watch Your Weight
In the mid-1960s, the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University found that carbohydrate supplementation during exercise could not only keep the brain fed but also spare glycogen in muscles and improve endurance. And so they begat the sports beverage--water with salts and electrolytes (they keep up osmotic pressure among the cells to prevent dehydration), along with fructose and sucrose in as concentrated a form as the blood-depleted stomach can handle (generally a ratio sweeter than water but more watery than Coke). "The concept of consuming carbohydrate during exercise meant that you were raising blood-glucose levels, moving more glucose into the muscle cells, and the muscle cells were using the energy coming from the drink and sparing the muscle glycogen," says Robert Portman, Ph.D., a biochemist and president of the New Jersey-based PacificHealth Laboratories. "That's been the byword for sports nutrition since that time." 
For 30 years, the equation changed hardly at all: Load up muscle glycogen the week before a race, load up liver glycogen the morning of, reload to spare muscle glycogen during the race. All was well. For a while anyway.

Sixth Law: Protein + Carbs = Kaboom!
Sports nutrition scientists naturally wondered whether they could find a way to speed up the body's own synthesis of glycogen, allowing us to draw down our stores more slowly and restock them faster. But how to get around our metabolic timetables? The conversion rate of each category of foods has been charted out for years; they seemed to be stumped. Unless. 
Unless one dropped the quaint assumption that the body's only use of protein, carbohydrates, and fat was for each one's primary purpose. In 1987, researchers first began considering whether certain combinations of these nutrients actually interacted with one another in a helpful way. For instance, could protein make carbohydrates drive into their metabolic garages even faster? The answer was yes, says Portman, who has since gone on to carve out a growing niche of sports-nutrition research and commerce dedicated to the question. "They realized that protein strongly stimulates insulin release." Insulin speeds muscle cells' absorption of blood glucose by as much as 50 percent, so when you're burning stored carbohydrates at a break-neck pace, speeding up the entry of blood glucose is vital. Insulin also moves amino acids into muscle, blunts the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and stimulates blood flow to the muscle. "Carbohydrates were always the most obvious focus for insulin stimulation," says Portman. That's because the body tends to release insulin when glucose levels rise above a fixed rate--100 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood, to be exact. "But here they noticed that when you added protein to carbohydrates, you got an additive effect."

Seventh Law: Timing is Everything
Portman joined forces with fellow nutrition researchers John Ivy, Ph.D., of the University of Texas and Ed Burke, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado. Ivy had discovered that you get maximum muscle glycogen replenishment if you eat within 30 minutes of exercising. "After 45 minutes, muscle sensitivity to insulin begins to decline. After about two hours, the muscle cell becomes actually insulin-resistant," Portman says. "Anybody who is savvy about nutrition and performance recognizes that timing is key. Your muscle responds to nutrients differently throughout the day and in response to exercise." Portman certainly is savvy: He and Ivy recently published a book called Nutrient Timing, dedicated to the implications of what Portman calls, sexily, "turning a catabolic process into an anabolic process." (Translation: You go from tearing down your muscles to building them up.) 
The nutrition establishment counters that the body replenishes its glycogen on its own within 24 hours, which makes super-charged glycogen reloading a point academic to all but two-a-day workout fiends. But Portman points to a study in which a group (albeit seniors working with weights) who received a supplement immediately after a one-a-day workout enjoyed an eight-percent improvement in lean body mass over those who waited two hours each time. With this in mind, researchers focused on studying glycogen replenishment from postworkout recovery drinks, and in 1992 they hit pay dirt. "We were able to show that, postexercise, protein and carbohydrate had a very beneficial effect in terms of stimulating insulin release and stimulating glycogen replenishment," says Portman.

Then came the much more pressing question--whether it did the same during a race, when athletes need the glycogen-sparing effects of rapid replenishment. So Portman and his colleagues studied cyclists at varying rates of intensity. Some of them took a normal sports drink, some drank a four-to-one carbohydrate-protein solution, and the rest had plain water. VoilĂ , the protein-carb beverage enabled the cyclists to go an average of 27 minutes to the carb-only group's 20 minutes (the water group managed 14 minutes). The insulin levels were no higher, however. Which sort of meant they had no idea why protein worked better. (Later studies did assert the insulin connection, though.)

Eighth Law: Good Science is Like a Bar Brawl
The scientific community had a classic response to the protein studies: Do they compare apples and oranges? Tarnopolsky and others charged that the Portman gang had compared two calorically unequal beverages; more calories means more insulin. Ivy and colleagues went on to deliver the protein effect with drinks of equal calories. But their critics, including Tarnopolsky, had the same results leaving the protein out of the picture. 
Things haven't settled down much since then. In a response to a study I recently e-mailed to him, an unflappable Tarnopolsky gave his opponents' latest work the scientific equivalent of a wedgie: "THE AA + cho WAS NOT ISOENERGETIC TO THE CHO ALONE GROUP (AGAIN!)"

Well, it's hard to argue with that.

Ninth Law: Every Five Years, Good Advice Becomes Bad
At least your old sports drink does the trick. Or does it? "It is impossible to prove that muscle glycogen depletion alone limits prolonged exercise performance," writes University of Capetown physiologist Tim Noakes. See, while we know that loading carbs extends exercise, there's never been a way to reload our legs instantly, which is what you would need to do in a lab if you wanted proof that burned-out legs really caused your bonk. 
Here we stumble into the inseparable relationship between our head and our legs. You may think your gams have run out of gas, but that information comes from your brain, which is hardly a disinterested party. To see whether the brain is a culprit in bonking, scientists made athletes work out until they thought they'd hit the wall. Then the researchers numbed their volunteers' central nervous system and artificially stimulated the muscles. (Please, Sir, may I have another!) "They continued to twitch, which meant that they had not in fact run out of glycogen," says Dan Benardot, Ph.D., researcher and author of Nutrition for Serious Athletes. Writing in the online journal Peak Performance, Noakes has pointed to a host of other evidence that glycogen depletion has had a bum rap. In one study, athletes were driven to the point of exhaustion after four hours. Their muscle glycogen concentrations and carbohydrate burn rates were the same as at three hours. "The tradition in the science is, you hit the wall when you run out of muscle glycogen," says Benardot. But he maintains that the carbs stored in the muscles and bloodstream, along with the energy coming from fat, should supply the 100 extra calories per mile that a runner needs and then some, provided he stays aerobic. "When you do the math, there should be plenty of glycogen left in those muscles," Benardot says.

The brain may have another opinion. "It's a very interesting phenomenon that we're only now coming to grips with--that mental fatigue will lead to the perception of muscular fatigue," says Benardot. He notes that the brain has a lot of processing to do during a run, monitoring blood volume and sweat rates, core temperature, blood sugar, and stress hormones. "The brain is juggling all of this information and can eventually make the decision: 'Whoa, things are not good here, I'm going to shut it down.'"

Interestingly, protein may play role in protecting against central fatigue as well. "Researchers in Oxford have found that branch chain amino acid [translation: protein] depletion leads to elevated levels of tryptophan in the brain," says Portman. And as anyone who has gotten sleepy after ingesting too much turkey dinner can attest, "tryptophan depresses the central nervous system."

Tenth Law: People Never Listen
Then there is the larger question of people, and how we may be bonking for far less metabolic, far more goober-headed reasons. Running to lose weight, for instance. As most of us know, it works better than just about any diet. But heavy training with less eating equals frequent bonking. Eberle says some people think, " 'Wow, look at all the calories I'm going to burn during this long run. If I can burn 600 I don't want to have two gels and only end up burning 400 calories!' " In the world of sports nutrition, that's just not getting it. 
And there are the tactical mistakes. Some runners don't want to slow down and drink at the first and second water stations. "I was once on the ABC truck for the Olympic Marathon Trials, and there was only a small proportion of runners who were drinking anything early in the race" says Benardot. "That's a huge mistake. Perhaps the biggest one you can make." Even slight dehydration slows gastric emptying, the removal of food from your gut into your blood stream. You need to keep a constant flow into the system, he says. "A large bolus of fluid before a race will stimulate gastric emptying at the start. Then all you have to do is keep it up, drinking something every 10 minutes to keep the fluid flowing."

So if there were a law above all laws, it would be this: Never forget your bolus.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Map of route

Below you can see the channel I intend to swim across.  I decided to swim from Scotland to Northern Ireland - purely because there is a bigger chunk of rock to hit on the Irish side.  Trying to hit Kintyre... if I get the tides even slightly wrong I could totally miss it.

The distance between the tip of Kintyre and Northern Ireland is ~11 miles.

Nutritional needs

Nutrition. The word I use to lend an air of respectability to my eating habits.

Let me put it out there: I like food. A lot. I'm particularly fond of bacon baps, lasagne a decent burger, steak, actually almost all foods that are not green. I strongly suspect that my South African genes carry within them the Khoisan compulsion to gorge when the going's good in anticipation of lean times. Problem is that with a Tesco's just down the road, the lean times  never come. This rather inconvenient fact doesn't get in the way of my enjoyment of eating, and more eating. The result is, rather obviously, my expanding waistline. I'd like to blame it on the ageing process, but in all good conscience I have to recognise that the extent of our grocery bill might have something to do with it.

Which is why, in some kind of macabre way, I quite like all this training. It not only allows me to indulge in my food fetish, but in fact encourages me to positively wallow in the pleasure of guilt- free and continuous dining.

But wait, there's more. Because I need to pad myself against the cold, I HAVE TO, repeat HAVE TO, eat carbs. Yes carbs, that currently much maligned food group that's getting a bit of a bashing on the dietary front in the media. Pork pies, hamburgers, pastries and pudding. 

I am a happy man.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Boat Team

My English Channel experience taught me that the composition of the boat crew on the day is absolutely vital. It also taught me that if any of those on the boat even so much as think of caressing a warm cup of coffee in front of me, I will throw a jellyfish at them!

Paul and Jon will obviously be on the boat. In addition to the cheerleader pompoms, or some manly equivalent, both Jon and Paul will also have a speedo handy so that he can hop in and keep me company should I need it.

[Jon and Paul]

Sean McCarry will be wearing the captain's hat.  This means he calls the shots as to when, where and how. He assures me he didn't go to the same captain etiquette school as Francesco Schettino and won't be bringing mystery blond Moldovian distractions on board.

Joe Breen, navigator.  I couldn't have hoped for someone more experienced than Joe for this role... he was the helmsman of Portaferry inshore lifeboat, an ex auxiliary coastguard, commercial diver, diving instructor and a commercially endorsed coastal skipper. Currently Assistant Regional Commander in the Community Rescue Service... With Joe around, I don't think I will go missing!   It will be his job to keep us on course, no mean feat given the currents in the channel. He'll also be dodging wind farms, tidal turbines and any jellyfish flotillas. And hopefully me.

[Sean McCarry]

Food, or more specifically nutrition. That’s Simon (Coiled Spring) Harwood’s responsibility. Simon’s an all-round nice guy and natty dresser. His penchant for male grooming products  belies his steely determination to cross the finishing line. His formidable knowledge on the topic of training and nutrition comes from a slight OCD tendency and his experience as a GB veteran triathlete – 19th in the world!

So he understands what to throw to the monkey in the water when the arms must keep going round, but the tank is empty. 

He’ll also have his speedo handy + wet suit….you don’t get to be 19th in the world and be a fat boy with insulation.

[Simon Harwood]

Peripheral and very valuable psychological and trusted support will also come from firstly Neal, my brother. We share the same Nordic good looks and love of challenge. And then there’s Graham Wolfson, friend and co-worker. If Graham was a tree, he would be a Leadwood (combretum imberbe for the scientific amongst you).  With his roots in South Africa, he's a solid, upright and valuable member of my backup team. Not much good at swimming though (there's a reason no one makes boats from leadwood).

And finally there’s the aeroplane-jellyfish-spotter-guy. Never met him.  Don't know who he is, but I know I like him already.  Have I mentioned how concerned I am about the jellyfish?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

And so it begins (post by Paul Greenhalgh)

Hi, I'm Paul, - or The Sadist as Wayne has called me more than once.  

Quite where this all started is a bit hard to pin down. Certainly it seems thatWayne’s 2010 English Channel swim ignited a burning coal in his skull – that place where a formerly logical and rational brain used to function. Fanning the flames might have been a bit of madness brought on by the English weather, a smidgen of mid-life crisis and definitely too much testosterone-infused-talk combined with Guinness intake. Because it was in a pub (isn't it always?), on a winter’s night, six months later, where we identified that:

1.       Wayne had a burning desire to do another swim,
2.       He wanted it to be significant, or put another way, he wanted his Andy Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame,
3.       He felt confident to do something similar in length to the English Channel,
4.       A glance at Google Maps on his phone suggested that the gap between the Mull of Kintyre and the north east corner of Northern Ireland seemed to fit the bill, and
5.       It appeared that no-one had yet successfully completed this swim.

So far, so good.

Interesting facts which were not apparent on that hazy evening, but which have subsequently come to light include:

·         That stretch of water is exceptionally treacherous - it's not just a case of strong currents but  of conflicting strong currents moving against each other, the opposing sheets of water causing tempestuous races and whirlpools,
·         The water temperature's significantly colder than at Dover,
·         When the water's warmest (relatively speaking...), it's also full of jellyfish (which really are a genuine issue, multiple jellyfish stings are biggest reason for failure of the swims that are attempted on the 'traditional' route further south)
·         Occasionally, (and it is just occasionally Wayne), orcas are spotted in this channel of extraordinarily cold, deep and turbulent water.

However, blissfully unaware of any of this, another round of drinks was purchased, backs were slapped, glasses were clinked and a challenge was born.
Wayne likes pork pies and Guinness. He likes routine and predictability. He loves his family. He's 40+, short(ish), balding and battling with waistline expansion. He's been known to occasionally play a good round of golf, likes to tinker with 'stuff' and has rescued a group of friends from the African wild by fixing a Land Rover with a jellybaby.

He's never been a great fan of physical exertion. In short (apart from the jellybaby incident), Wayne is an ordinary person. And he's about to do something really amazingly, astoundingly and astonishingly extra-ordinary. He's going to swim the the treacherous, never-been-swum-before channel between Kintyre (Scotland) and Ballycastle (Ireland). For charity. This is his story.