Water – and swimming- have always been a refuge for me: I could swim before I have memories of not swimming. As a child, I felt compelled to head out into the ocean and just keep swimming to the horizon and beyond- keep going til I hit land. I don’t remember hearing about channel swimming, but I have early awareness that a woman had swum to France and I thought that was incredible. And proved I could swim someplace else.
I was struck with glandular fever at 10 and didn’t fully recover- my adolescence being marred by periods of immune dysfunction and exhaustion. It was not until I was 17 and wheelchair bound that ME was given as a diagnosis.
Recovering from ME at such an early age was life changing and liberating- I live without symptoms and spent years regaining trust in my body and my ability to challenge myself. In fact, ME defined my life in so far as I cannot ignore my dreams for fear of frustration triggering a relapse! Life has become a true adventure in the 15yrs since the wheelchair. I travelled and studied abroad, learning indigenous alternatives to healthcare and cultural perspectives on life. I ordained as a Buddhist nun to intensely train in meditation and challenge myself both in mind and body. I relish times I get to immerse myself in that balance of physical being and consciousness. Endurance swimming is nothing if not that!
I now find myself drawn more than ever to share my experiences- the sense of empowerment in overcoming and ultimately learning to rise above challenges is a habit that seems impossible the first time: insurmountable odds are just a few more steps than you think you can take. So far my life has taught me that unless you take as many steps as you think you can, how are you ever going to learn that it really is only a tantalizing few more to get where you want to go?
Human endeavour is miraculous. Pioneering spirit is within all of us: our own lives are there to be explored and this incredible planet we live on is an absolute gift to be cherished and learned from. It’s our right to learn about ourselves and our responsibility to do what we can with what we learn.
@ 2013-08-10 – 20:50:38
@ 2013-06-23 – 20:25:32
The road to becoming your own hero begins with defining what a hero is for you; what it means to be a hero.
For most, once we separate the marvel comic ideal of super powers and alien technology, heroism usually involves overcoming adversity, helping others, rising above the commonplace and striving for good. The path that leads you to being heroic is often not of your choosing- adversity is not something most bring on for fun; but once encountered, it loses its fear and so in the overcoming we learn more about ourselves, our strengths and tenacity, our integrity and self. This can lead to seeking out challenges to dig deep within ourselves to keep alive that connection to our inner hero.
Also, in overcoming adversity we learn tools that most feel compelled to share and discover a bond with others that is hard to define but unshakeable. We seek to find ways to express how it all came to be, how to fit feeling ‘normal’ and yet doing something extraordinary or dealing with something unusual into one moment. Trying in so many ways to help unlock in others that which holds them back from their dreams and potential.
I discovered that I became my own hero when I walked up on that beach in France, having swum my way there- completing a cycle that began in my youth with devastating illness; and yet looking back, it is the juxtaposition of the wheelchair with the herculean effort of the swim that most people think remarkable. To me, it was a quiet recognition that walking away from the wheelchair 17yrs previously was the moment I chose the path of being my own hero- it just took me 17yrs to feel it.
So, for me, the road to being your hero begins with defining what hero means for you and ends with recognising that person is you.
@ 2013-06-19 – 20:18:49
What a difference a day makes! Sunshine, light breeze and enough time to head to the coast for a swim! It was like taking a first fresh breath after struggling in smog for months. I had wondered how the bod minus channel chub would handle and it was so obedient! Within 10mins I could feel the metabolism revving up and after 30mins I could feel the slight warmth coming from the water. Sure sign I’m comfortable.
Huge thanks to Erin for ditching her plans for a sunny walk to come with. Although she was wetsuited up, it meant that I didn’t have to worry about her getting cold; and as I swim a fair bit faster, I could swim rings around her line if I needed to, but in fact, I lay on my back and enjoyed being buoyed and lilted; pootled and thoroughly indulged myself. We swam for about an hour and 20mins and I barely shivered! It all came flooding back; given that I last swam in 26’c sea!
The exit from the water was less than gracious- Porlock weir is rocky and benumbed feet are not steady, but we giggled our way up to our things and partook of a delightful luncheon…..It all felt decidedly continental (apart from the 13’c water)!
Aaaaaaaaah. (When can I go again?)
@ 2013-05-26 – 20:09:54
I love my child ferociously- and indeed, one of the fundamental reasons why I challenged myself to not procrastinate further and swim the English channel was to allow my son to see that dreams can be realised, that one can attain fulfilment without selling those closest to you down the river.
He is instrumental in giving me a reason to push myself, to better myself and to search for all that I am. There are, however, some major stumbling blocks that arise as a single mum- some of which I believe end up being a boon to my marathon swimming…eventually and with hindsight!
I firmly believe that being a self employed single mum has allowed me to be better conditioned mentally for the privations of marathon swimming- I am regularly required to put in a good performance on woefully little sleep…night after night often. In fact, Dyl seems to have such a sense of timing that if I have a 6hr training swim booked, guaranteed, he’ll have nightmares and keep me awake most of the night before. This has ended up being in my favour- swims starting at 3am? No worries. I go on automatic pilot when woken and can function as ‘normal’ for whatever is required.
However, training does suffer- lack of sleep can’t be infinite.
Timing is a concern: I managed to train for the English channel whilst Dyl was in pre-school or asleep on all but 6 days. This was a logistical nightmare, but I did it. I ended up using him as a piece of apparatus- the PT used to come to my house and have Dyl sit on my shoulders while I did reps of drop downs off the edge of the patio, or have him sit on my back while I held the plank position… It made it fun…..tortuous but fun.
Working out when I can work out is mind boggling. I take being a mother seriously and wouldn’t trade it for the world- but man, would I love to be able to afford a live in nanny sometimes! Then I could pop off the minute he’s in bed and hit the pool! Or get up early and swim before work.
Worse is trying to get in the sea- the season so far has been cruel: on calm and sunny days, we’ve been booked for family fun, only for the weather to break evilly when I have time to head to the coast. At such times, I develop a distinct split in my psyche. The mother in me relishes the precious time I have with my son and I truly cherish it- whilst the swimmer in me is hurling herself at the bars of her cage! This year is a year of that split!
I've started to devise ways of training wit Dyl- one is have him in a dinghy that I pull- he's good for up to an hour if supplied with snacks and is a handy exercise in drag! Luckily he's water savvy and loves the sea so he comes out with me in a wetsuit if I tow a boogie board. He's proud of my swims and I'm devoted to allowing his passion as they arise to be followed- at the mo that's climbing. High ropes here we come!
@ 2013-05-03 – 09:42:35
So, the wetsuit debate is alive and kicking, as it will always be. This year has particular resonance in the UK as the water has been colder this year later than I can remember. I swam in Feb last year, at 8’c; and now on the 3rd of May, it’s only just reaching that in Dover! Many open water venues and races are trying to figure out what to do- open? Delay races? Allow wetsuits? Enforce wetsuits? Shorten distances?
Thankfully, the water is now warming and we’ll all be swimming away soon enough. Channel aspirants are sweating it a bit as there has not been the hour building in the water, by this time, most would be wanting a couple of hours in the water…. But I wish them well, dig in and eat chilli chocolate! South Devon Chilli Farm do the best- it really warms you through. I’m a total convert, and addict (I mean advocate).
We’d all be in a different mindset if Captain Webb had neoprene to help him- he swam with what was available to him, but we don’t eat roast chicken en route…. I wonder if he would have worn a wetsuit- probably, as the idea of purist cold water swimming wasn’t about. I swim without a wetsuit by choice, not because the rules dictate to me how I should enjoy the thing I love. I uphold people’s right to swim the channel and be marked as assisted! The courage to tackle the channel starts way before you get to Dover- just to be audacious enough to think you can swim to France is a dream only a few have, let alone realise.
@ 2013-04-20 – 20:40:43
Training for a marathon swim is always going to be slightly different from person to person- dryside activities vary and pre event tapering is very personal, but there are some golden rule tips that apply to everyone. The Kaiwi is a challenge for swimmers whether solo or relay.
More than any other sport, emotional and psychological preparation is vital to completing a marathon swim. You are going to be in sensory deprivation AND isolation for hours. The impact of that cannot be stressed enough.
My rule of thumb is:
First 6hours 75%body, 25%mind- your physical training is at the top of your priorities, you’re relying on your technique. Your body is just beginning to eat into it’s reserves.
Second 6hrs 50%mind 50%body the switch to internal fuel storage affects your fluctuating moods. Introversion puts anything experienced in the first 6hrs to shame. Cyclical mood swings can be greatly affected by correct fuelling timing. Mental exhaustion can halt you in your tracks, hence mind coming first.
Third 6hrs 50%body 50%mind Body comes first, technique comes back into play, although it may be very different. Conditioning is key here- you need to have had physical and mental toughness training planned in advance- sleepless nights followed by hard sessions in the morning and fasting all day to train hard in evening prepare your body and mind to cope with operating well under duress.
Fourth 6hrs 75%mind 25%body If you are in this region, your body is stripped, your power feels like it’s only maintaining. Get the mind right and you can be happy ticking along. There is more strength in there, and it will be your strength of mind that gives you oomph when required.
Efficiency of stroke is more important that speed for a marathon swim, so flexibility and core strength are vital. Yoga, pilates and massage are your best friends.
As is lung efficiency- if you can’t do altitude training or free diving (both increase lung efficiency) then breathing pattern switches are excellent: in the pool- 1 length sprint 3stroke/breath then no rest, 1 length 7- or even 9 stroke pattern. Rest 10secs. Then repeat. Or in open water, 3breaths 3stroke pattern, 5 breaths 5 stroke pattern, 7 breaths 7stroke pattern, 9 likewise if you can, then pyramid down again. These exercises increase your oxygen conversion. Bilateral breathing will make you more balanced and even through the water, but also allows you to breathe away from any chop.
Don’t neglect your kick! It gives your arms a well-earned break and if things go wrong, can get you to the other side! Try distance with a kick board- work up to 45mins kick only maintaining a decent speed.
Train in rough water, and swim through tides (make sure you have support alongside) as the Kaiwi is renowned for its current and training for the frustration of not getting anywhere cannot be replicated in the pool!
A sample workout
• 200m medium paced front crawl warm up
then stroke improvement sets-
8x50m FC (front crawl) kick only; rest for 20secs between each 50m
4x100m FC arms only; every other 100m use resistance paddles; rest 20secs between
500m FC swim steady hard pace
into workout proper sets (cardio and lung stress)
4x100m kick only hard pace; rest 10secs between sets(as training progresses, do 10 pull ups on poolside in ‘rest’)
8x50m arms only hard pace; every other 50m use resistance paddles, rest 10secs between sets sets (as training progresses, do 10 sit ups with feet on poolside in ‘rest’)
8x25m FC swim SPRINTS rest 30secs each 25m
50M butterfly swim, 50m fly kick only, 50m fly arms only,50m fly swim rest 30secs repeat
200m front crawl swim down, medium pace
@ 2013-04-17 – 09:58:10
I am self trained and coached- I do not have a particularly supportive family. I am also a self employed single mother- so where on Earth did the gumption, energy and well…. everything else needed to swim channels- come from?
I knew that whatever else was required, my son was not to suffer for my ambition. I wanted the impact to be minimal on him- but showing him the determination and drive, sacrifice and joy of realising a dream at the same time meant not shielding him entirely. First major decision was to train for longer and less intensively to avoid him feeling displaced. I gave myself 18months. I was already swimming half distance quite comfortably if not very fast in a pool.
I figured that if I built up a really solid endurance level, say popping in a half distance once a month without it affecting my work the I would be in a pretty good position to push my limits. I took to using a day off a month to swim 11miles in the time Dylan was at preschool. Then I picked him up, carried on my day; put him to bed then stretched and slept deeply myself. I felt ready for more quite quickly- in fact, I was champing at the bit a year ahead of my dates!
As I said, I don’t have the most supportive of families- they are lovely people, but as a single mother, the onus is on doing that and nothing else. Having ambition outside of my child-raising has been viewed as selfish and wanton. Swimming has become a swear word. This was a huge stumbling block to my quest- the implications of not being able to share excitement and triumph with those nearest has such profound knock on effects that it all but silenced me. It stymied my fund raising attempts almost entirely. I felt unable to speak out about my (selfish) dream that I was realising and putting myself forward became really uncomfortable. In fact, this is something I am challenging myself to change still.
The distance was never the biggest worry for me- the cold was something I was concerned about as the first thing anyone said was ‘you need to put on weight or you’ll never survive it!’ I was 57kg, and felt good. Still, I sought out advice from a nutritionist who was an endurance runner and they concurred that I would benefit from added padding. I’m not sure now that it was necessary, but I at least found someone to rattle on about my ‘journey’ with.
And I swam til December, started again in feb and that made all the difference. I switched to flip flops in feb, no coat and lightweight clothes helped build the tolerance to our beloved climate.
I realised that looking to others for permission or appreciation was never going to get me there, and coaching myself became part of that. Knowing my mind, going beyond imposed limitations and really exporing the levels of strength it takes to do something not in spite of, nor to spite, nor even regardless of others’ opinions meant that I was free to feel the joy and my son gets the full expression of that. Noone can tell you when you’re ready. If you don’t give them permission, no one can tell you you’re not!
@ 2013-04-13 – 21:16:10
I was confronted with a client today who is normally chipper despite being often in pain; and today it was not his physical ailments that concerned me. It was his loss of heart; lack of humour. It was thoroughly disconcerting and brought to mind the challenge of the emotions when swims don’t go to plan.
On the Kaiwi swim, I hit one such wall where I was left reeling. I looked inside to dig into the usually full well of heart that I almost take for granted. The time spent in intensive meditation in the monastery gave me such a grounding in how to tap into depths of character that I was thrown completely by the abyss that presented itself. Thanks to a few heart warming words from Steve Haumschild, it got turned on its head.
It was only a moment of despond, but it only takes a moment to decide to get out. I know I’m alright if I can laugh at my situation, myself and often those around me. Making light of the situation is a clear sign to me that I’m ok and everything’s good- even when there’s pain or exhaustion. Knowing how to cope with your own mind when it turns on you is such a life skill and managing negative self talk is vital. I love swimming for the chance to redress this path to my inner strength and humour.
Like cold water swimming- getting out, shaking so much you can’t hold a drink, getting the giggles so your legs give way under the overload of shaking and salt water spewing out your nasal cavity! Like swimming up to a beach and not being able to feel your feet, or hands and fumbling with clothes feeling daft and delirious, high on the experience. Like having to poo in the water in front of complete strangers. It reminds us of our frailty, our humanness and our commonality. We need to laugh at the absurdity of challenges, of times that would otherwise have us cringing.
Our strength is in our ability to lighten our own burden- making light of the situation and carrying on.
@ 2013-03-26 – 20:10:53
Fear is nothing to be afraid of- a life limited by fear is the real terror.
People have called me brave for a number of reasons through my life and it is something I have not related to in the same way- or over the same things. I have been called brave for surviving ME- to be honest, life so limited and weighed down, I hardly think it brave to avoid that like the plague!
Then people have considered me brave for going abroad alone. I moved country every couple of years for 8 years, exploring my surroundings and aspects of myself. It never occurred to me that it was a brave thing to do- it was a release. Meeting new people was enlivening- I could be whomever I wanted; no expectations as to how I should act. I learned valuable lessons with strangers as my mirror (and people are never strangers for long if you are unafraid to greet them openly).
Making the decision to become a single mother, encouraging my son’s father to strive for what he wanted which took him away from us as a unit, has been called brave- but to ensure we all three of us live fully, I did not feel brave. Many things, I assure you, but not brave. To cling to certainty- even if that certainty was crushing us- was the folly.
Training myself and swimming the English Channel, people called me brave- mad, crazy but also brave. For me it had become cowardly to NOT attempt it. It was a dream I had buried with living so much life, and yet it surfaced. So I did it. Swimming off the south coast of England, Leap years day, was called brave- going for training swims in the sea- all these things have been given that epithet.
These things have held no fear for me, so I have not felt brave. The people who dubbed me brave were voicing their fears- I say this with no judgement whatsoever. Without fear there is no bravery. For them, I was courageous. And it was a gift I could give them (so I was told) that they could experience these things with me, through me. People are petrified to call forth their deepest secret dreams and display them publicly- fear of judgement, fear of failure, ridicule….so many things to be afraid of. Even fear of succeeding!
What I have felt brave for doing is the background, unseen aspects of my questing. Seeking help, putting myself forward in the face of judgement. Challenging the moments of self-doubt. And doing my swims as a single mother- knowing that I am still doing the best for my son, even as I organise ‘treacherous’ pursuits- for how can he possibly learn to live his dreams if I don’t show him you can.
I thank anyone who has called me brave as it gives me a surge of goodwill towards you that you put yourself in my shoes (even tentatively for a moment, until you feel fear and turn away). I know no other way to be and swimming until all else falls away and I’m free to feel my inner strength carry me through brings me to peace.
@ 2013-03-15 – 10:20:58
With many thanks to Tom at S&X, Speedo's pr peeps, I've been trialling some kit. The swimsuit in question- endurance+ was already in my kit bag, and the racer back style I was kindly given proved somewhat lacking in boob room so I reverted to my pimped up version- I bought a 36" (don't know the style, but not a racer back) which would otherwise be too big for me and altered the straps at the back( cut out over 3" of them and reattached them so they kept me adequately covered)- for the trial.
To be honest, the trial was a pleasure- to have the excuse to jump in as often as possible, twice on some days, just for the heck of it. And I fell in love with my then-back up suit for real.
I bought the suit as the feel of the fabric is instantly comfortable- like a well worn favourite straight away. And light! no restriction at all- usually I buy my cozzies by bra size and they tend to be made from much heavier weight fabric that is designed to hold you in which is annoying until the suit relaxes. the Endurance+ more thank held it's own- it survived way beyond the trial 20 swims and is still going strong- no snags, no sags, no fading or discolouration. And due to the lightness of the fabric, it dried in miraculous time. Practically drip dried. No soggy second swims! Loved it!
As far as goggles go- I was given the general unisex training goggles and ergonomically designed female ones. To be honest, goggle fits are so personal and I am a firm beleiver in Speedo Pacific Storm. They were my goggles of choice for both my channels. No leaks, no adjustment and were comfy ofr over 24hrs! Can't get better than that! They fit me right and I haven't found a better fit for me.