The Road to Gibraltar by George Bradbury

By Jaclyn A.
October 18, 2011 on 6:00 am | In Random Musings | 1 Comment

A couple of weeks ago while passing through the retail store a co-worker stopped me and asked me to help answer some questions for a man who was about to traveling to a swim race. We chatted for a couple of minutes and I grew more and more intrigued by where this man was headed. Finally, I got it out of him that he was headed to Spain to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. As a swimmer myself I was ecstatic to hear that a local Tucsonan and customer of our’s was under taking such an adventure. I gave him my card, and told him I would love to hear about his swim. So, without further ado here is George Bradbury’s recap on his training and swimming of the Straight of Gibraltar.

The idea to swim the Strait of Gibraltar started circulating in my head after I finished Ironman Arizona in 2009. Actually, I think that while I was swimming that day I thought to myself, “what would it be like to swim twice this distance, or longer?” I had a great race that day, but after 5 ironman triathlons I needed something else. Geoff Glaser, my masters swim coach, suggested I try a marathon swim for variety. I was intrigued, and the mystique of swimming the Strait of Gibraltar, from one continent to another, sealed the deal. With the demands of my job I find it hard to train for big events more frequently than every other year, so I set my sights on 2011. This coincided with my 50th birthday, so that seemed fitting, too.

In January of this year I started ramping up my swimming. Initially, I was swimming 6 days a week, logging about 4000-5000 yards/day. I thought that I would keep track of weekly and monthly totals, but I just lost interest after 4-6 weeks. Each month the distance would increase 1000-2000 yards per workout. By the time I was swimming 7000-8000 yards/day, it was getting tough to find enough time to get in my workouts. Around March, Geoff changed it up and gave me short and long days. This helped a good bit, and I was swimming around 40,000 yards a week. That is a lot of yards, and a lot of flip turns, in a 25yd pool. Boring. SwimP3 helped, but Prince really began to get on my nerves.

In April I started open water swims one weekend a month in San Diego, each time for progressively longer periods. During the summer months, things really picked up and I was swimming 45,000-54,000 yards a week. Because of expenses and vacations, I did a high altitude swim in Flagstaff, nearly freezing to death after 5 hours. In July I swam in Lake Mead for 6 hours. That was much warmer, but I started during a lightning storm. Not smart, but you can’t be choosy about swimming venues when you live in the desert.   Final big open water swim was in San Diego over Labor Day. That was seven hours of fun in the San Diego bay. I had hoped to swim in the open ocean but the waves were 8-11 feet that weekend. No way! That swim was tough, but I thought if I could do that I ought to be ready for the Strait.

The two weeks leading up to the trip still had a fair amount of swimming, but I did taper some. I felt a bit over-trained, so I erred on the side of rest. It is difficult to know how to work the taper since you really don’t know what day the weather will permit a crossing. Additionally, I was behind two other swimmers in the queue, but they failed to materialize and I was bumped to the front of the line.

I was blessed with perfect conditions on the appointed day. The wind had dropped and the sea was calm. The minutes and hours flew by without much notice. There were dolphins swimming around me and a seagull spent a long time hovering over me trying to decide if I was edible. The water was cold and clear and I felt great. At the halfway point, two hours in, I decided to step on the gas to see what I could do. The ocean had gotten rougher closer to Africa, making it hard to know how far I had left to go. I was working pretty hard for the last 3 km and the Moroccan Coast Guard was not helping by creating turbulence as they circled me. Finally, I cut through the current that was sweeping me to the east and made landfall after covering 18.5 km in 3 hours and 57 minutes. Would I do it again? YES! Although often lonely, it was an awesome experience, peaceful in so many ways.

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