Long distance and channel training swim ‘holidays’ are one of those things I’ve talked about doing ‘one day’… Happily the other week I found myself enjoying not just one, but 7 days of distance swimming, in the turquoise waters of Formentera with SwimQuest.
In my heart I’ve always wanted to experience long distance swims and I booked the trip because I wanted to explore what I can do and get some perspective on my swimming aspirations.
Add to that, Swimquest’s Alice (in Waterland) Todd told me that I would be rewarded with a mojito at the end of the week, and as an elite endurance athlete that’s the kind of thing I take very seriously.
This trip is a great opportunity to put winter training into practice and assist with acclimatisation – the swim plan for the week is tailored to each person (keen novice and experienced long distance swimmers are catered for), but in general you build up each day with 1-2 swims; each increasing the time in the 14-16 degree water – providing a great platform to kick off the northern hemisphere summer swim season.
For those with distance swim objectives on the horizon, the week is also the chance to get a confidence boost for the challenges ahead and perhaps get some paper work done by ticking off qualifying swims: For an English Channel Solo ,that’s a 6 hour swim at 16 degrees or lower; and for and English Channel Relay that’s a 2 hour swim at the same temperature.
Of course it’s not all about the English Channel – Lake Zurich and S.C.A.R were amongst the imminent swimming objectives of participants. I’d booked the trip without a specific objective in mind, but a few weeks ago joined a 4 women Channel relay team setting out in late June, so this was now a great opportunity to get my 2 hour qualifier done.
In between swims there is food and workshops on key topics for long distance swims like training plans, nutrition and feeding, fatigue, mental preparation and swim technique analysis (including footage taken towards the end of our swims in order to get an insight on how well we were able to maintain technique over time).
An Open Mind
For some reason until we started to swim, I hadn’t really appreciated the cumulative nature of the week and as we notched up more and more time in the water, it began to dawn on me what a big step this was.
However instead of freaking out at the potential volume of swimming , I enjoyed each swim as it came and kept in the moment, concentrating on technique, exploring the wildlife (beautiful fish, coral, sea grass and even an octopus!), enjoying the changing rhythm of the sea and taking every opportunity I could to learn from those around me.
That enabled me to consolidate and trust my potential, and, ignoring the slight hiccup where I managed to beach myself on a rock and was incapacitated with giggles for about 10 minutes (#eliteenduranceathlete), I found myself completing a 1.5 hour, then 2 hour, then 4 hour and then a 6 hour channel qualifying swim (my longest swim ever!) all with a big smile on my face. Proper wicked.
What a team! It’s the people that make these weeks. Swimquest’s John Coningham Rolls and Charlie of course (how many armpits can one smother with Vaseline in one week – quite a few it seems!) but also my fellow guests, all working towards amazing swimming goals and sharing their knowledge and inspirational stories along the way.
As the hours of swimming progressed, each of us met different challenges, gained new perspectives and surpassed personal goals and expectations.
To complete a four hour swim one day and then go into a 6 hour the next, did require a couple of deep breaths and I was somewhat wide eyed with expectation – but as John said “It’s just a 2 hour swim, you’ve already done the 4 hours.” – so rather like the rest of the week, that’s how I looked at it; in bite sized chunks, and any nerves translated into excitement – I was going to do my first six hour!
The experience also brought home to me how important support crew are. Often when I swim my mind goes to magical places, and keeping track of time or anything more than a high five, cup of UCan and a jelly baby, can be tricky.
Things got particularly surreal when at 5 hours I spotted an octopus. I spent the next 30 mins with ‘An Octopuses Garden’ by the Beatles going around my head and talking to fish.
This was a gear change for my mind’s juke box which had previously been playing classic hits like Wham! Club Tropicana and Ant and Dec’s ‘Lets Get Ready To Rumble’.
I know that completing a week of swimming like this culminating in a 6 hour channel qualifier would not have happened without the laughter, encouragement and insights of everyone who I meet along the way.
In January when I was swimming at the Jinan international winter swimming festival in China, Ranie Pearce gave me her South End Rowing Club pool parker. I’m sure it’s a pool parker with super powers and I wore it religiously throughout this distance swim week – before and after swims.
To me it represents the love and encouragement of the swim community, the people who don’t laugh at another person’s dreams, but have faith and see potential in them and share that all important spirit of adventure
I wear that parker with pride as well as it being rather comforting and toasty – thank you Ranie!
Once upon a time I was a wetsuit only swimmer and thought non wetsuit swimmers were nuts and that whole skins swimming thing seemed daunting. I still wear a wetsuit from time to time, but somehow via fun swims, mentors and encouragement at the Serpentine and South London Swimming Club, along with events like Chillswim, The UK Cold Water Swimming Championships, The Dart 10k, Henley Swims and others, I have become an all year round skins open water swimmer.
Swimming with my mates means acclimatisation to cooler temperatures has happened naturally through fun swims that have also lead me to explore different waterways, all at my own pace, rather than being on a rushed pass or fail mission.
My comfort level with distance is also progressing, along with a love of meditation that gives me a freedom of mind and body I cherish, and I reflected very much on the A Lotus Rises interview with endurance swimmer Beth French, about mindfulness and swimming, throughout the week.
All of that enabled me to enjoy and progress through the week.
Rest, Food and Recuperation
During the week I had two massages, ate a huge amount of food, and slept A LOT. I’m still taking things pretty easy and I make sure I get to my physio regularly. As my roommate Emma said, you need to build a team around you. Juggling swimming dreams with the demands everyday life is not simple – I don’t get it ‘right’ all the time.
Equally I am not in a rush – give or take a few global environmental challenges, the Channel et al ain’t going anywhere…Swimming is a sport for life and I want to have fun, be kind to myself and look after my body and mind as this journey progresses.
Overall this Swimquest week is about realising your potential and finding out what suits you as a swimmer on your individual path. It provided me with some important general advice and has empowered me to explore what’s best for me too – for example, a lot of people really like maxim as their main feed for long distance swims, but it seems I get on better with UCan.
Life in and out of the water
Last year when I was at the Camp Eton long distance swim training weekend, John described how in life there can be two types of people: “Drainers and radiators…Surround yourself with radiators” – and that resonated throughout the week – thank you to my fellow swimmers and in particular Emma and James who often kept me company and embraced my somewhat Dory – like qualities when in the water.
Other things I learnt:
- No matter how long you spend in the water, however acclimatised or however warm the climate, when you spray p20 sunscreen on your back it feels really cold!
- Long distance swimming is a team sport.
- Doing your bra up after a 6 hour swim in 15 degree water is a significant challenge.
- Never underestimate the importance of a powerfully named nail varnish. My room mate Emma has a selection of nail varnish with fantastic names for her big swims. For the six hour swim she let me borrow one entitled “Up the Anti”…And I did!
- An open and positive mind unlocks potential
- Anything is possible
- I love swimming
…. Thank you SwimQuest!
At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.
Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!