Channel Swimmers

Madhu Nagaraja

His Own Words
90% Mental

Madhu's bio page. | Madhu's acknowledgements.

I woke up at 3:20 am and tried to eat a Peanut butter and Nutella sandwich and a banana and tried to drink 600 mL of water. I was sipping electrolyte (500 mL) till about 5:30 am and tried waking Shelley at about 4:15 am. I was stressed at the fact that it was raining heavily (weather report for the day was cloudy and heavy thunderstorms, and in the French waters - sunny, and the wind force was 2 - 5, Beaufort scale). We had to meet the boat pilot, Lance Oram, at the Dover Marina. He piloted the SEA SATIN. We had scheduled a cab to pick us up at our Bed and Breakfast place at 4:45 am. We loaded up the car with water bottles, my feed (Carbo Pro, GU2O, Gpush (1 and 2), Vaseline, change of clothes, warm clothes, feeding pole, feeding basket and Shelley's food (biscuits, bananas, diet coke etc.)

Photo, L-R: John Doolittle, David Cech, ??, Madhu, Slotan, John Ottersberg, Rick Avery.

The cab ride was 10 minutes and it was raining hard. We had no shelter at the marina and we had to wait out in the rain for about 15 minutes. We saw Mike Oram pulling out his boat "Aegean blue" (he was taking Vijoya Claxton from New York), and Lance's boat was next to his. But we noticed no movement of the Sea Satin as Lance was sleeping! Lance has a cool personality and is calm. He woke up at 5:25 am and made sure that the boat was ready at 5:30 am. We got in and the boat sailed towards Shakespeare beach, which is about a 20 minute ride. I got a big jolt in my heart when Lance asked me to grease up. Shelley put on her gloves and greased me under my armpits, neck, and shoulder. I was using the cheapest Vaseline from LONGSDRUGS to prevent chaffing! At 6:10 am I jumped off the boat - the water was cold and I didn't feel good. I was scared - I swam slowly towards the beach. The other two boats - Aegean blue and Suva (Suva was taking Kevin from UK) had already left the beach. Unfortunately Vijoya and Kevin had to stop their swims at 19 hours and 18 hours respectively, as they couldn't pass through the strong currents in the French coast - they are great motivators, they were always cheerful and always shared their positive energy. At 6.15 am I was the last person to start. The ritual is for the boat to blow the horn. When this was done, I felt another jolt in my heart! I hesitantly got into the water thinking "Am I capable of swimming across the channel????, and, am I bluffing myself with taking up such an overwhelming challenge?". The channel is huge and I had heard all about the failed attempts in the tides of Aug 6th - Aug 15th.

I told myself to focus on my first 30-minute swim and thought about talking to Shelly at my first feed, but I ended up silently drinking my feed at the 30-minute feeding time. It was still raining heavily - this was putting a lot of strain on my mental state. The weather was cloudy and rainy for about 6 hours. I was struggling through my swim during this time. Our feeding strategy was to feed on 8 oz of a mixture of Gu2O (electrolyte) and Carbo Pro (a complex carbohydrate). With the clouds and thunderstorms I felt cold and asked Shelley to give me some hot feed and some lemon tea. This was a big change we made during the swim, as I had never tried tea during my long training swims. Fortunately, the tea worked well for me and I asked for more tea whenever I felt bloated. Feed is a very important parameter in long distance swimming. Many good swimmers with poor feeding strategies have failed in their swim or performed poorly. I'm very fortunate that my body responded well to the major changes in feeding strategy during the English channel swim.

The water was calm for the first 6 hours; I should've swum harder during this time. I had entered the French shipping lanes (past the separation zone). I got a peek at "THE POINT" Cap Gris Nez. But, by now the winds had picked up to Force 1. I remembered my 10-hour swim in the bay (Bob Roper and John Meyer made me swim in those conditions saying "the channel would be harder"). I'm so glad I did that 10-hour swim where I had encountered some rough, choppy conditions. The channel had some bigger waves and I took the shelter of Sea Satin. As I had got a glimpse of "THE POINT" I started swimming harder (this was a big positive mental factor) and this helped me swim through the choppy waters. I did fairly well during this time. At about 8 hours into my swim, my right shoulder started hurting (the stronger of the two!!!). I had a sharp pain for the rest of the swim. This pain made me stop every now and then and it also bothered Lance, who came out and yelled at me for stopping frequently. He convinced Shelley to give me 3 Advil (I was paranoid about taking the Advil (Ibuprofen), as I had bonked once during my long training swims - it had shut down my system, my stomach became bloated and I had eventually quit that swim at 5 hours). I started by taking one Advil and two more at the next feeding interval. By now I realised we were aimed directly at the "POINT" - the tide near the French coast (Cap Gris Nez) is very tricky and the sea was very bumpy and I swam in the shelter of Sea Satin. Another thing that was constantly bothering was the thought of landing on the rocks at Cap Gris Nez. Swimming to Cap Gris Nez is the shortest - if I missed that point, it would add another 45-plus minutes to the swim. Also, if I wasn't in the shelter of Cap Gris Nez, I could be pushed out as far east as Calais, which would mean another 3-plus hours of swimming. At about 12 hours into my swim I found that Lance was slowly changing the course to the east, which meant I wasn't landing on the rocks. I was a little scared - "How much more had I to swim?" Fortunately, the tide wasn't strong and it was only slowly pushing us east.

I was sprinting all this time with a sharp pain in my right shoulder and I was also low on blood sugar - and I was tired. I used all my energy, lifted my head up as high as I could and finally saw this beautiful sandy beach. I smiled and began pulling long hard strokes. I was also trying to kick a lot during this time as my shoulders were tired and hurting (I'm so glad to have a strong freestyle 6-beat kick). The boat eventually stopped and I had to swim by myself. I couldn't believe I had swum this far and, if everything went well in the next 5 minutes, I would've swum across the English channel (England to France). I had read stories of people fainting/passing out with a few yards left to the finish. These thoughts were bothering me. But, I held my jaws tight and generated some energy and this put me in a positive mind frame - I swam to the beach - I felt the sandy beach and the waves pushed me back and then a big wave took me smoothly into this beautiful sandy beach - I crawled onto the sandy beach of Wissant Bay (about 700 m east of Cap Gris Nez). There were some friendly French people who welcomed me on the beach and they were all in awe about what I had just done! They chatted with me for a while - I couldn't stand up - I passed out on the beach and I felt the nice breeze and then woke up with a smile and I asked them if they had any sugar with them - they all searched their pockets frantically to find some sugar for me and they were in fact mad at Lance Oram - that he would not come on the beach to pick me up. The official rule is I had to get to a point, where there in no water behind me. I had done that. Shelley waved at me - I slowly began walking into the water - it was a shallow beach and I could walk very far. I slowly put my head in the water and began swimming to the boat. Codge and Shelley had big smiles on their faces. I climbed up the ladders and the first thing they did was put some warm clothes on me and position a black bucket in front of me - after long swim, swimmers get dizzy during the boat ride and throw up. Fortunately, this didn't happen to me. I crashed on the seat and Lance began calling Mike and the other boats and informed them that I had finished my swim. I called Suman, who was staying with my friend in Cambridge, as I had to share this moment with her, who had supported me during my training. I could hear my son Vivek in the background screaming and playing with my friend Madhu (his name is also Madhu!!!)

Photo, L-R: Alison Streeter, Vivek, Anne Cleveland, Madhu.

Shelley was happy for me - she had done a great job in communicating with me and making the changes as and when I told her. Well, we both crashed on the boat and it was a long 3-hour ride back to Dover. Waiting for us on shore, I was so humbled and surprised to see Alison Streeter (Queen of the English channel- 43 crossings, inducted into ISHOF and an authority on open water swimming), Freda Streeter, John Doolittle (Navy seal, who had dedicated his swim to his friend who had died in the war against the terrorists in Afghanistan), his father, his friend and Sally from Jersey island, and two people from the BBC who were working on making a documentary about the coast of England. I'll never ever forget this moment - that I had such a warm welcome at the dock. This meant so much to me. My first sentence after I got out off the boat was "In May 2003, I did my first Open water swim and the English Channel will be my last open water swim"!

The first part of my swim - I struggled mentally (I remembered everybody who had supported me in the venture - I remembered the spirit of all the people from Rinconada Masters who took the initiative in fundraising, their belief in me, and how much they loved me to do this for myself. Through the swim, I was trying to find a good reason to quit, but nothing was convincing enough (all the hard work by my friends and their support). I remembered John Doolittle's swim, Lynne Cox and all the stories I had read on The Channel Swimmers smart group website. Most of all, I thought a lot about my parents, my son, and my wife who had sacrificed so much towards this venture and I prayed every now-and-then asking for strength and courage.

Also, I did see some beautiful jellyfish (John, you were right, one of them was as big as you!!!) - they made me swim faster, as I was scared of getting stung. They were beautiful! - I think I did see a Portugese-Man-of-War. A jellyfish sting can jeopardise a swim - they can trigger a intrinsic cycle of allergic reactions. I had some antihistamine on the boat, just in case I was stung and got sick.

I might come back to Dover - but I don't know if I'll swim the English Channel again!

The tradition in Dover is to write your name in the walls of "White Horse Pub". If you are in Dover by any chance, visit this pub; it's a great place to talk and hear the English Channel swim stories. On the walls of this pub, I have written "I dedicate this swim to my family, friends and Rinconada Masters, Palo Alto, CA, USA - MADHU NAGARAJA, INDIA and my time 12:30, Aug/10/2004"

There are many individuals who made this venture possible and they are thanked in my acknowledgements.

This was a great experience. Thank you everybody.

Material provided by Madhu, Rinconada Masters, and The Channel Swimmers

Created: 9th January 2005
Last Updated: 22nd January 2005