Deborah Herridge started open water swimming in summer 2013 and has just completed a 14 mile two-way Solent swim, raising funds for three charities close to her heart, The Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation who provide holidays for children with life-threatening illnesses, Cancer Research and Canine Partners. Inspired by the London 2012 Paralympics to get fit and to try and raise funds for good causes through swimming, she has raised nearly £10,000 for charity in the past few years and motivated many in the open water swimming community along the way.
Why did you want to do a two way Solent Swim?
Last summer (2014) I swam a new route across the Solent, a 7 mile swim from Ryde on the Isle of Wight to Hill Head Sailing Club on the English mainland. We had near perfect conditions, a flat calm sea, a beautiful sunrise at the start, warm air and sea, around 18C and it all went really well. I enjoyed it so much that at the end I thought, “hmmm, that wasn’t too bad, I wonder if I could swim a longer distance…?” The seed was planted.
That Autumn I did lots of research on English Chanel swimming, and sought lots of advice from previous Channel swimmers, and decided to go for it. Life is for living, why not! So I booked my solo for 2017 and started planning The Quantum of Solent II. The swim was meant as a stepping stone – if I could successfully swim two thirds of the distance of the English Channel by swimming two widths of the Solent without too much injury; I reckoned my shoulders may be able to have a bash at swimming across the big one.
I know the EC is a different ball game all together though, but I think the conditions for the latter leg of the Quantum of Solent swim (a horrendous and un-forecast F5-6 with white caps for the last 3+ hours) was great training for how unpredictable the English Channel can be. It is a mental challenge as well as a physical one, and my head and body coped well considering the conditions, although I did want to stop a few times. I’ve heard a saying about the EC, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”. It seems apt.
What training did you do and how do you keep it fun?
I started training for the two-way swim on January 1st with a dip in the rather chilly Solent with 500 other New Year’s nutters. I was trying to swim throughout winter for the first time, as always just swimming in my swimming costume, which proved to be an exhilarating experience, if a little refreshing to say the least.The first tidal window to make the crossing in the complicated tidal flows of the Solent was on the 26th June.
My husband Robert writes all my training plans using a training method called Periodisation Training, where you work in three weekly cycles, light/medium/heavy, and they build in intensity as the time goes on. So I started going to the pool 3-5 times a week as well as a couple of short sea swims to keep acclimatised until it got warmer, and the pool sea swims would then transfer to the sea.
We also have help, advice and swim coaching from Danny Bunn, who has been working with Robert to devise pool and open water interval sets which have made me stronger, faster and fitter.
How do I keep it fun? I love it all, I love the intensity, the hard work, how my mind will clear when I swim, I love it when it’s so tough I feel my heart is going to burst out of my chest, I love the feeling that swimming brings, so I guess I find all that fun. And I love swimming in the sea with friends. Some of my longest training sessions took place in some very challenging conditions, but I had many pals from my local swimming group, The Shack Sharks, who trained with me and having their company through the long sessions (the longest being 5 hours 20) and having them beside me made it much more fun.
The ever changing conditions keep one feeling alive as well, and my favourite swims are in the rain, nothing more special than being rained on whilst swimming.
How was the swim? What were the highs, the lows – we hear you fitted in a tumble turn?!
There were many highs, the anxiety at the start, the elation of the finish, the first third of the swim was wonderful, but the latter part was hell.
I started off feeling very nervous. My pals were there to support me and help me get ready, and they were there to make me smile and try and relax me, but there was an ominous feeling in tummy, a fear that the swim may be cancelled again if the weather changed.
It had been postponed back in June when I was standing at the waters edge at 3am ready to swim, when the wind had picked up and visibility was very bad with a sea mist rolling in, so the pilot called it off – in hindsight it was for the best safety wise but I was gutted to say the least at the time.
To be so ready to go, fit and healthy, my injured arm having healed well, bursting with energy, and then not be able to swim, and then try and keep up the fitness for the next two months was a challenge to say the least, physically especially, but most of all mentally, to stay focussed. But on this day, the day the big swim would go ahead, the weather seemed perfect, it was sunny and fairly warm, very little wind, but the sea felt very fresh at 16.5C. The summer hadn’t been that great and the Solent hadn’t warmed up as much as the previous year…
The first hour went very fast, I remember remarking on the first feed what a wonderful day it was! I should have remained quiet…I got to Ryde much quicker than anticipated, in 2 hours and 44 minutes, I did a quick tumble, (what had originally been meant as a visual humour on the map had turned into a real thing as a bet to get more sponsorship), cleared the water and then started on my longer than foreseen journey back….The ‘lows’ were about to happen.
People were watching the tracker online and thought I’d be back much earlier than expected at the pace I’d swam the first leg on, little did we all know about the winds that were to spring up. The sea changed from calm first it was small gentle bobbing waves, I had to swim against the tide for an hour or so, I kept thinking I wasn’t getting any further away from the main landmark around here, the Spinnaker Tower, and remarked about it, to be told that everything was fine, when in fact I really wasn’t moving very far.
Then the winds came, creating such big swells and waves which constantly slapped at my face arms and back and chilled me to the bone. I knew now that my feet had turned blue, I had looked at them on one of my feeds, I had lost all feeling in them, and my hands were starting to feel slightly numb with the wind chill. I really wanted to stop a few times, and said so more than once, but my brilliant crew, Captain Chris Godfrey, my husband Robert, Caroline Crolla and Heather Massey kept me motivated and encouraged me to go on.
I couldn’t see much, the waves were so big, but eventually we neared land and I started to recognise buildings. When eventually the sailing club came into view in the distance I felt a surge of energy, enough to get me to the end, one of my shoulders felt very painful, but it all went when I saw my buddies from the Shack Sharks in the water!
Sharon,Lorraine and Oliver had come to swim in with me, it was a wonderful feeling, knowing people were there to support me. Then I saw all the people at the sailing club, friends from The Oakley Waterman charity, neighbours, swim pals, I must admit to filling up a little in my goggles. I was near now, very near, not far to go at all, I couldn’t quite believe I’d done it, then I heard a little commotion, some shouts, and didn’t actually see the sailing boat come past me, from the video it looks like it got very close to my head, that would have been a dramatic ending indeed!
Then I saw pebbles beneath me, I knew I was in the shallows now and could see the waves lapping the beach and hear the muffled cheers and applause through my ear plugs. I went to stand up, and promptly fell down… My legs had turned to jelly. I tried again, and fell back into the water.
I heard “Come on Deborah! You can do it! Clear the water!” And I did. I then fell into the arms of my buddies Paula and Jeannie. I believe I was heard saying “never again!!!”. But the memory of the pain goes, and new adventures are planned.
I’m happy to say that the swim was recognised by the BLDSA as an inaugural record.
What have you learnt from this swimming journey?
So many things.That I’m stronger than I thought, mentally and physically.
I once saw a 10k at Eton Dorney and thought I could never do a swim that long, but anything is possible, two years later I did 22k.
That swimmers are amazing, kind, helpful, welcoming and resourceful folk.
That swimming is a happy drug, I’ve never been happier and healthier, and when I don’t swim I get very sad. It probably sounds weird, but I feel like I’m meant to be in the sea. Maybe I was a fish in a previous life.
What advice do you have for anyone thinking about taking up open water swimming?
Go for it. You won’t regret it.
And finally, what’s your favourite swimming costume and where is your favourite swim spot (although perhaps we know the answer to that!)?
My green mermaid costume, and I have two places, not surprisingly, the Solent and I also love the beautiful clear waters around the Isle of Mull and Iona. I’ve been holidaying there for ten years but only plucked up the courage to swim this summer, it was magnificent.
You can follow Deborah’s journey from the Solent to the English Channel here.
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