Category Archives: Adventure

Swim4miles. A Lotus Rises meets Coach, Boat Pilot and Loch Lomond expert Chris Sifleet

Chris Sifleet is an open water swimming coach based in Balloch near Loch Lomond. Chris was a County pool swimmer and transitioned to open water many years ago at age 13 and has completed solo swims of the English Channel 1976 and 1979 and two-way Windermere, Bala Lake, Torbay, Mewstone Rock to Torquay (first person), Weymouth to Lullworth cove and return (first woman) and many more. She now helps swimmers achieve their ambitions be that one mile or 21.6 miles in Loch Lomond and soon various locations across Scotland. She and her firm Swim4miles are partnering with the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships being held in Loch Lomond on Saturday 11th February, and along with her group and individual tuition is hosting a swim camp in Banff Scotland in September involving sea swims, castles and a ceilidh!

Why did you become a swim coach?

Well I had been out of swimming for several years through illness, but always maintained an interest and reflected very much on what swimming had done for me. For example, it increased my confidence and fitness and introduced me to lifelong friends that I am in touch with to this day – Who would not want any of that?

So I decided to share my experiences and love of swimming and help people achieve their aims and ambitions and try and instill in others the belief that anything is possible. I passed my level 1 and 2 open water coaching qualification and started coaching three years ago. I formed Swim4miles, took my piloting qualifications and moved to Balloch Loch Lomond where I run a bed and breakfast, so I can offer the whole package – swim, sleep and socialise!

ef94eabf-8854-433c-843c-690fb8889b81
Emma Lister on her 6 hour qualifier in Loch Lomond. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What does Scotland and Loch Lomond offer to open water swimmers?

21.6 miles of beautiful scenery and a very challenging swim. The challenges are the weather; particularly wind directions. It can be very variable – sometimes it’s behind you, but at some point it will be in your face! There is also the temperature. In a good year it might be 16 to 18c, and in a poor year it can be as low as 13c. Because the bottom of the Loch undulates and there are many small rivers flowing off the hills the temperature can go up and down, which is why acclimatisation is very important. If you don’t want to swim the whole thing then there are various routes across and around the islands, which I map out on an individual basis.

d39a75ca-880e-4d24-9baf-a9dbcdfbceda
A swimmer enjoying the loch! Photo Copyright Chris Sifleet

Please describe some of your recent coaching successes.

I was very proud this year to coach the Arran Troonautics. A mainly female team with one chap swimming 16 miles from the Isle of Arran to Troon on the Scottish mainland, in aid of the Jo Walters Trust and the RNLI. There were two relay teams: ‘Clyde’, the non wetsuited team who gained recognition from the BLDSA; and ‘Firth’, the wetsuited team who were on a separate boat. There were a variety of abilities, so I had a busy time formulating training plans for the beginners as well as the more experienced swimmers. They all completed the swim and raised twenty five thousand pounds for charity.

img_0006
Troonautics swimming from Arran to Troon. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I also coached a lady who had done very little swimming and wanted to undertake a swim challenge in aid of MIND. We worked towards her swimming the three miles across Loch Lomond, which she did. We started off with stroke analysis and then I gave her a program of swims so she could swim the distance. She wore a shortie wetsuit and to help her acclimatise I recommended that she blow up a paddling pool in her back garden, fill it with cold water and sit in it for as long as she could stand through the winter! She was so proud of herself and that smile will stay with me for life! She raised seven hundred pounds for MIND.

How does the role of a boat pilot differ from that of being a coach?

I am responsible for the administration and safe running for the whole swim. I have my own boat so it is my responsibility to get the swimmer plus the boat to the start, and ensure that before and after care is dealt with efficiently. I am a qualified pilot and I have a co-pilot with me. I also have a medic and encourage the swimmer to bring along someone who knows them well. I can be responsible for feeding them etc if they have come alone.

fullsizerender
Swim Camp! Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I need to make sure during the swim that the swimmer is not becoming hypothermic and I will pull a swimmer out of the water if I feel their health and wellbeing is compromised – We live to fight another day! It is a long sit on the boat, as it can take in excess of 15 hours to swim the length of loch Lomond, however the minutes at the finish of the swim when the swimmer gets out, realises what they have achieved and smiles, makes it all worthwhile!

cf83a5a9-2df3-4111-9f8c-715933545140
Coaching the Sunday Morning Swim Group. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What are you looking forward to most about working on the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships?

Very excited about this event. We have ‘tartanised’ it as much as possible and have a piper, highland dances and a Scottish Ceilidh in the evening. There are events where swimmers can challenge themselves and the temperature is likely to be a tad chilly. I am the one person cheering when it looks like snow! I am looking forward to introducing this wonderful Loch to people who have never been here before and hopefully renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

img_0136
Loch Lomond. Copyright Chris Sifleet

 

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

New Blog: A Lotus Rises Meets Lynne Cox…We talk about her new book ‘Swimming in the Sink’, the power of love, and realising swimming dreams

Lynne Cox is an American long-distance open-water swimmer, motivational speaker, and author. Over the course of more than 35 years, spanning a period equal to 8 Olympic Games, Lynne has accomplished swims setting world records and opening borders, contributed to medical research, supported environmental causes, and inspired people to overcome great obstacles. She is best known for her swim across the Bering Strait from the United States to the Soviet Union 7 August 1987.

She twice held the overall record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel from England to France and has completed over 60 challenging swims around the world, including being the first woman to swim the Cooke Strait and first person to swim off Antarctica in 32 degree water, for 25 minutes!

lynneprofile

It is fair to say Lynne puts her heart in to everything, and in her latest book “Swimming in the Sink. An episode of the heart” Lynne tells the story of facing her biggest challenge ever – a broken heart – dealing with the grief of her parents passing, the loss of her beloved Labrador and diagnosis with atrial fibrillation, placing the real possibility of her own death before her.

As her world unravels, she becomes estranged from the water, but courage, patient determination, friendship and love take her on a healing journey, reconnecting her to her heart and mind, rebuilding and making her whole again.

Why did you want to write this book

My goal was to write a book that would help people in many ways. I explain the process that I went through to become an elite athlete, how the stress of life made me lose touch with my body and heart and how I nearly died. I write about the process I went through to recover my health so other people may adapt that process to their lives to recover from illness and thrive. 

What have you learned about life both in and out of the water from this journey of the heart?

I have learned that life is a gift and that it’s important to remember each day is precious. I have learned that love heals your heart. And there are many forms of love – romantic love, love of family, friends, love of the ocean, love for oneself, and love for other beings. Love is a powerful emotion and force that connects us and makes us happy we are alive

Your book explores the mind-body connection. How important is that for open water swimming?

The mind-body connection is essential for open water swimming. You have to be constantly aware of your body when you are making a long swim or a cold swim. You need to continuously monitor how your body is performing, to adjust your pace and you need to continuously maintain a positive attitude. 

“Each day I told my heart that I was happy that she was still a part of me, and I was grateful for her. I told her that she was strong and powerful and that she would endure like she always had. I told my heart that I loved her, that I always wanted her with me. We still had great things we would do together, and I wanted to do them wholeheartedly.” Lynne Cox, Swimming in the Sink

What advice do you have for other people embarking on new challenges, facing a broken heart or a loss of swimming mojo?

I would give different advice for the three things you’ve listed. If people are embarking on new challenges I would suggest they determine the level of their commitment to the challenge, figure out how much research they need to do, and focus their training to meet their goal. As for facing a broken heart, I think there are so many components to consider when people are doing that, and there are so many possibilities and options.

That’s why I wrote the new book because you can’t advise people in a few sentences. If people are losing their desire to swim the best thing they can do is to get out of the water, do something else, take a break, enjoy hiking, kayaking, going to the movies, do something different with friends. There will be a time when the water calls them back and it will be impossible for them to resist that invitation.

swimpic

What next for you? 

I am doing speaking engagements for: companies, physicians, libraries, and associations. I’ve begun to work on a new writing project, and I am swimming whenever and wherever I can as I continue to travel to promote Swimming in the Sink.

Finally, as you may be aware A Lotus Rises is working in partnership with the International Institute for swim Cake studies to answer the critical question: what is the best cake for optimum swim performance? What is your favourite swimcake and why?

A slice of moist rich dark chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream frosting was a swim cake that I’d dream about when I was doing a four hour ocean swim 🙂

Thank you Lynne!

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

Swimming Robben Island, A Lotus Rises Meets Natasha Dyer

Natasha Dyer is a London-born and based open water swimmer, working as a communications specialist for international development, focused in Africa. She is passionate about social justice and ensuring people have equal access to quality education. She’s currently conducting research into the drivers of conflict behind xenophobic violence in South Africa.

20160504_085832.jpg

On May 4th 2016, she swam 11.3km around Robben Island, becoming one of less than 10 women to have completed this swim. This was her first swim over 10k and in challenging temperatures of between 13 and 16 degrees.

A Lotus Rises spoke to Natasha to find out what it takes to break through the 10k barrier, acclimatisation and the story behind her inspiring swim!

20160504_141644
Natasha and her swim crew!

What’s your swimming background?

I always loved swimming, especially in the sea, but had never considered taking up open water as a challenge until I moved to South Africa in 2010 and was looking for ways to fundraise for the educational charity I was working for. The first South African to ever swim the Channel Peter Bales, suggested I swim the 7.5km crossing from Robben Island to Cape Town (Big Bay). I initially thought he was crazy but then I met the rest of the Cape Town open water swimming community and never looked back! I completed that swim on my second attempt (1st go I was pulled out 500m before the shore due to hypothermia) but when I moved back to London I let my inner fish lie flat for a while, while I did other things. Luckily, last year I joined the Serpentine swimming club, a collection of weird and wonderful people, and my swimming took off again! 

20160504_111100

Why did you choose a circumnavigation of Robben Island?

This year I set a goal for myself of swimming over 10km in open water. As South Africa was where it all began for me, and I knew there were several 10k+ swims around Cape Town, I wanted to do it there. Robben Island is of course a very significant landmark, as its where Nelson Mandela and many other struggle heroes were imprisoned for almost 30 years during apartheid. It was quite something to contemplate while swimming around it. Definitely provided motivation, as did swimming towards Table Mountain! 

 I was in town to be a bridesmaid for my swim buddy’s wedding and with all the celebrations had given up hope that I’d get a swim in before leaving. Especially as the crossing I’d planned to attempt – from Robben Island to Three Anchor Bay – was off the cards because of a recent storm damaging the landing area. However, the day before my skipper Derrick Frazer – head of Big Bay lifesaving club  and the man who had pulled me out when I was hypothermic during my first crossing (and thus saved my life) – suggested swimming around the island, so I jumped at the chance! It was all pretty last minute, but I think that’s the way to approach it as you can never be sure a swim will actually happen. I was pretty nervous about the temperature and whether my mind was up to the challenge, but everything happened so serendipitously, I knew I had to make it! 

20160504_091357

The water temperature ranged between 13-16 degrees. It’s also famed for having a few exciting inhabitants. How did you prepare to swim in those temperatures and were you nervous about sharks at all – if so how did you overcome that?

The sea life on the day was amazing. On our way out to the island we met a pod of more than 100 dolphins. It was such a thrill to see them jumping in and out of the water at breakneck speed! During the swim my crew also saw penguins, seals and a couple of whales! People always think of great whites in the Atlantic, and they are there, but are hardly ever seen around Robben Island as they prefer the warmer waters at Seal Island and around Fish Hoek where the seals, are found. Occasionally they mistake surfers for seals in the waves, but human attacks are pretty rare. We just hear a lot about them when they do. People like to hype up the shark element to Cape Town swimming to make it sound impressive, but the truth is that the cold is the biggest challenge. 

Saying that, the thought does sometimes enter your mind that you might meet something, so you have to push it out and carry on. At the beginning of my swim, I had to skirt quite a lot of jellyfish which freaked me out at first. But I soon realised they weren’t stinging, so I focused on avoiding the kelp (thick sea weeds) instead! 

In terms of training, I swam at the Serps during the winter, where the temperature got down to 3 degrees at one point, so I felt fairly acclimatised to the cold. I’d done a half an hour sea swim the week before however and felt pretty shivery, so I was still nervous. And on the day, it definitely was cold! 

20160504_094121

Was the swim difficult to organise independently? What logistic considerations were there? Who were your support crew and what role did they play in this swim?

I was lucky, as I already knew the people who could make it happen quickly. I had submitted my forms to the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association who verify the swim, but my skipper organised the logistics. If you’ve never done a swim like this, its wise to connect with an experienced skipper who can help beforehand and brief you to make sure all you need to worry about on the day is swimming! 

You can’t underestimate the importance of having a good support crew. As said, Derrick was my skipper and my second was my great friend and newlywed Zani Taitz, who swam the second half with me. It was a great boost, as I was definitely cold when she got in and its always nice to swim with someone, especially friends. Looking up at dear people that had helped me get into the sport, cheering me on and enjoying it as well was such a thrill. Also the thought of how good I’d feel at the finish and how happy I’d be to tell my Serps teammates, with whom I’ve signed up to swim across the Channel and Lake Geneva this year. So I (literally) gritted my teeth and just kept swimming!  

What advice do you have for any other swimmers wanting to break through the 10k barrier?

A month or so before, I’d gone on a swim camp organised by Nick and Sakura Adams, very experienced open water swimmers who do an enormous amount to prepare aspiring Channel and other open water swimmers to succeed. During the camp, we’d done a 10km straight session in the 25m pool which, although brutal, had shown me that I could swim the distance in one go. 

Having done other sea swims before also helped, especially because the sea is very different to river swimming. The salt water dehydrates you and makes your throat quite sore and you have to learn to swim in the waves. Completing other swims had also showed me I could stay in for a while and cope with the cold, though I knew it’d be tough. I just thought about how far I’d come from that first Robben Island crossing. There’s no magic formula however, just time in the water, learning from other experienced swimmers, gritting your teeth and enjoying it! 

20160429_115433

What next?!

As mentioned, in August I’m swimming in a relay across the Channel and in September another across the 69km Lake Geneva. Next year I’m considering swims around the bottom of Africa at Cape Point (where sharks are more common), between the Fjords in Norway, crossing the Gibraltar straits or swimming at Alcatraz! But I haven’t decided yet. For me, a huge part of open water swimming is not just about testing my limits of duration, distance and mental strength, but also getting to explore different parts of the world and its nature through swimming. 

As you know, at A Lotus Rises, we are working in partnership with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies on a groundbreaking research project to answer the question “What is the best cake for optimal swim performance?”. What is your preferred Swim Cake and why?

The best swim cake I’ve had so far is the Guinness chocolate cake fellow swimmer and butterfly swim nutter Sam Mould made for my birthday. It melts in your mouth and is absolutely divine. What a great study! Please invite me to try the shortlist.

20160504_085823

Thank you Natasha!

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Long Distance and Channel Training Camp: 0-6 Hours in 7 Days

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.

DCIM100GOPRO
We love swimming!

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.

IMG_3312
BRING IT ON!

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).

IMG_3314.JPG
The scene is set for an epic week!

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.

13173775_10153999583300168_1259295795837365333_n
We did it ! Chris, Stephen, James and Alice celebrating finishing our longest swims of the week!
IMG_3318
Wicked!

Team Work 

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.

13147645_10153999582060168_3330278917896721007_o
Post 4 hour swim and ice cream team selfie!

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!

13147877_10153999578740168_5783154867646457245_o

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’.

Swim Community

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!

IMG_3315
South End Rowing Club Pool Parker in action!

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.

12697394_950575658352459_6438522952458610379_o
Celebrating the 50m head up breast stroke at the Taierzhuang International Winter Swimming Festival in China – Tiara, earrings and sunglasses optional.

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.

13119767_10153999579715168_8409063717354266501_o
Post swim ice cream and developing swim hat tan line nicely (watch out Anna Wardley!)

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.

13131732_10153999577640168_791416037678151601_o
Rest, rest, rest!

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.

13147736_10153999580865168_1217303261587913887_o
Post swim potatoes bravas – Note. This is just a starter #eliteenduranceathlete

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.

13130972_10153999575350168_4554277501264328686_o
Emma awesome room mate and super radiator 🙂

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!

 

13119877_10153999582325168_8179871367119524935_o (1)
The night before the 6 hour swim: Up the Anti Nail Varnish applied and sleeping in pajamas entitled “You Are Awesome” – elite preparation for an elite endurance athlete
  • An open and positive mind unlocks potential
  • Anything is possible
  • I love swimming

…. Thank you SwimQuest!

IMG_3311
Mojito Accomplished – Cheers Alice Todd!

 

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

69km, 32 Hours and 52 Minutes. A Lotus Rises meets Marathon Swimmer and Winter Swimming Champion Jaimie Monahan

On August 26th and 27th, 2015, Jaimie Monahan from New York City, swam the 42.8 miles (69km) across Lake Geneva in 32 hours and 52 minutes. It was the 53rd longest solo swim in human history – and she is the first American to complete a solo crossing of the lake.

This is another chapter in an incredible swimming journey that has taken Jaimie across the globe from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, from Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier to frozen lakes in Siberia and Vermont to the Sahara Desert and the towering mountains and crystal blue waters of Switzerland.  And that’s just in 2015.

Jaimie has also just become the overall female winner of the 2015-2016 International Winter Swimming World Cup.

Paradise Bay Antarctica Courtesy of Arik Thormahlen
Paradise Bay Antarctica Courtesy of Arik Thormahlen

What inspired you to undertake this swim?

In February of 2015 I got an email through the English Channel swimmers distribution list about a new organization, the Lake Geneva Swim Association (LGSA) (http://www.lakegenevaswimmingassociation.com/) that was starting to organize swims across Lake Geneva in Switzerland for the coming summer.  I’d been focusing on ice swimming and winter swimming for the past year and hadn’t done any long swims for a while.  Lake Geneva was much longer than any swim I’d ever done and less than six months away, but something about it just called to me.  I researched for a few minutes about the lake, the surrounding landmarks, and the water, and decided to go for it.

I registered my interest on the website and within a few minutes was in correspondence with Ben Barham, the founder of the Lake Geneva Swimming Association (LGSA).  He was great and we locked down a date that same day!  In general, I try to only pursue swims that are exciting or meaningful to me personally rather than try and check off swims on arbitrary lists.

Lake Geneva Photo Courtesy of Ben Barham LGSA
Jaimie in her element in Lake Geneva

How did you prepare physically and mentally? 

Physically I swam as much as I could, and did a lot of yoga.  For me, yoga helps a lot mentally too because it’s taught me to just show up to the mat (or the water) and breathe through whatever happens.  I also thought it was important to get a long freshwater swim under my belt a few months in advance, so I signed up for Extreme North Dakota Racing’s Watersports Endurance Test END-WET http://endracing.com/end-wet), a 36 mile swim down the Red River of the North.  I had never swum much in fresh water, so END-WET was a great learning experience for me, as well as a lot of fun with swimming friends and the amazing people of Great Forks, North Dakota.  Definitely a great community race!

How important are logistics and support crew? Were there any particular instructions you gave to them? What did you eat?

Logistics are a very big factor on a swim this long. We planned for up to 48 hours worth of feeds which is a LOT of bottled water and carbohydrate powder.  Watching us load a huge shopping trolley cart of groceries onto the boat the day prior must have been really funny for the people watching us from Geneva’s stylish waterfront cafes.

Support crew is so important, perhaps THE most important thing.  I had a small but dedicated and experienced personal crew of one, the amazing Arik Thormahlen, and a wonderful team organized by the LGSA of our pilots Gérard Schoch and Jacques Massard and observers Ben Barham and Tim Davies.

I fed every 30 minutes on warm carbohydrate drink, interspersed with black tea and even some flat Coca-Cola at the end for variety. I don’t eat solids during swims but the drinks provide warmth and enough calories to keep me going, even for a long time.

JMonahan Feed with Arik and Ben
Jaimie and her super support crew Arik Thormahlen and Ben Barham, Observer and LGSA Founder

 

How much sunscreen and vaseline did you have to apply etc?

I could go on for ages on the topic of sunscreen but for this swim I used La Roche-Posay Anthelios factor 60 as a base layer with a thick layer of Desitin Maximum Strength brand diaper/nappy cream. It’s messy and we come prepared with latex gloves for a neater application, but with 40% zinc oxide, it is the only thing that works for me. It also prevents chafing so no need for vaseline! It was very effective and stayed (mostly) on, even after almost 33 hours in the water. I still daydream about ways to reapply in the water for even better coverage but haven’t found a good method yet.

JMonahan Zinc
WICKED!

What goes on in your head on a 32 hour, 52 minute swim?

Everything and anything!  I have a really slow stroke count so I often try to keep faster paced songs in my head to increase my turnover.  I felt quite sick for most of the Lake Geneva swim so I spent a lot of time monitoring myself…making sure my feeds were absorbing, that the cold I was feeling wasn’t hypothermia, just discomfort, etc. For this swim the scenery was a great distraction for me, beautiful vineyards, stunning mountains, and the water itself was ridiculously lovely so I tried to focus on that too.

Do you have a mantra? What keeps you motivated?

I don’t have a mantra.  Sometimes I count to myself, but always lose track.  It’s kind of calming though.  In terms of motivation, I just swim to the next feed, or sunrise, or some other landmark.  For long swims I try not to even think about being done until the very end.  It’s always the last 10% of every swim that’s the hardest for me, because my mind switches from swimming and being in the moment to wanting to be done.

How do you recover from a swim that big?

It sounds a little funny but for me swimming at my typical pace for long solo swims is not very tough on my body – even after swimming for so long I was only sore for about 24 hours afterwards.  Slept in the next morning, had a nice social swim on the second day and went on a (leisurely!) hike with friends before heading back to NYC.

Perito Moreno Glacier Photo Courtesy of Mariia Yrjo-Koskinen
The Perito Moreno Glacier: Jaimie Monahan overall female winner of the 2015-16 International Winter Swimming World Cup

We know that you love cold water swimming.  What are your top tips? Please refer to fancy dress in your answer.

Good question!  For training, my best advice is to ramp up gradually.  Start swimming in the summer or autumn and then just keep swimming outdoors as the water gets colder.  Keep your breathing under control, relax, and as you’re going in, try counting to 100.  By then it usually feels okay.  Don’t push your limits, get used to how your body feels and reacts and be conservative with temperatures and length of swim until you are familiar with what “normal” and “not normal” feels like for you.  And never swim alone!

Specific to winter swimming events and competitions – my best advice is bring as many swim costumes as you can, more than you think you need.  Keeping on a wet swimsuit between events can take a toll over the course of a long day of events.  In a similar vein, always dry off and get dressed immediately after a cold swim. You may feel amazing and want to hang out in the cold air, but dry off, cover your head, and get dressed including warm comfortable footwear as soon as possible.

And yes, fancy dress wherever/whenever possible!  I highly recommend a sheep hat.

Tooting Bec UK Winter Swimming Champs- photo courtesy Tolga Akmen
Sheep hats – The millinery of winter swimming champions!

A Lotus Rises is a community of women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water.

More inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog,  Facebook and Instagram and  Twitter – we’d love to hear from you at alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Swimming Diplomacy 游泳外交 “Yóuyǒng wàijiāo”

Tomorrow I fly to China to Swim…

300m in Daming Lake, at sub 5 degree temperatures, with hundreds of other swimmers from China and across the globe, at the 5th International Winter Swimming Festival, in Jinan City, Shandong Province, North China.

I love how swimming adventures pop up as if from nowhere; yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life, together.

10400575_24832525167_3552_n
Karaoke, Beijing 2008

 

China has been a part of my life for almost two decades. I first went to China in 1996 to teach English as part of my ‘Gap Year’. Since then, I have had the opportunity to study, live and work in the country on a number of occasions and have been fascinated by the countries economic and social development.

My last visit to China was in 2008, when I working as a lawyer in Beijing. It was amazing to be living in the city at the time of the Olympics.

1930280_25619380167_1780_n

It was the performance of female British swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Cassie Patten in the Open Water Swimming events at Beijing 2008 that helped start the growth of open water swimming in the UK.

In 2010 I swam my first mile and open water swimming is now my big passion in life.

Finishing my first 1 mile swim at Ullswater 2010

The human body is 90% water and 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. It’s what sustains us and connects individuals and communities across the globe; yet our never ending rush for advancement means the world is facing a fresh water crisis and our oceans are being decimated, etching the battle lines of the future on a fragile liquid landscape.

1625777_114864210167_6651327_n
River Crossing, Zhejiang Province 2003

It’s easy to get swept up in political and commercial agenda, and sometimes it feels we are at risk of forgetting that behind the brands, policies and rhetoric are people; each of us made of that same 90% water.

Now, more than ever it is time to remember that essence; our shared humanity.

Like many people, when I swim, I feel free. I am in my element and global and personal agenda falls away.

Sunset swim at The Jetty at Waternish
Freedom! Enjoying a Sunset Swim off the Jetty at Waternish, Isle of Skye (Photo Copyright Gill Williams)

It is a great honour to have been invited to swim in Jinan. I am really excited to return to China and rather than work or study, to be celebrating my passion for water with new Chinese friends and the wider international swimming community.

My favourite Chinese proverb is ‘芙蓉出水’ (fúróng chūshuǐ) meaning ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’ The proverb is used to describe strong beautiful women in water, and also overcoming challenges and coming into bloom, and inspired the poem that I wrote for Amy Sharrock’s Swimmers’ Manifesto in Summer in summer 2014.

That meaning resonates with me deeply and inspired the creation of this blog, ‘A Lotus Rises’ which is part of an online community, dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of water.

The symbol of Jinan is a lotus, and they rise up out of the water of Daming Lake. I am really excited to bring together all these different elements of my life by participating in the festival.

white_lotus_flower

From Beijing I will travel to Jinan, then to Shanghai and Hong Kong and on to Sydney and Tasmania.

Tomorrow marks the start of a journey connecting friends, personal, social and intellectual passions, swimscapes, landscapes, communities, and family history… and I am sure many more things I cannot anticipate; all the way to Tasmania…

‘芙蓉出水‘(fúróng chūshuǐ) ‘Out of the Water a Lotus Rises’.

Henley Bridge to Bridge
UK swimming – the Henley Bridge to Bridge  2015- TEAM!

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The Mermaid of the Solent

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.

12305695_10153253650573861_1615444910_n
The wonderful Deborah Herridge – Quantum of Solent II complete! (credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

12309432_10153253650463861_1154970126_n
(Credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

12305937_10153253650873861_678911843_n
In Her Element (Credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

12285974_10153253650738861_1974506397_n
…And she did! (credit Deobrah Herridge)

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.

12309440_10153253650488861_58664432_n
TEAM! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

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…

12305654_10153253650478861_1515226735_n
Awesome! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

12286089_10153253650823861_997490303_n
Deborah and crew! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

12306007_10153253650353861_1963847932_n
EPIC! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

12250174_993917793979656_233958400540819843_n
(Credit Deobrah Herridge)

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.

12285977_10153253650253861_1644239168_n
Mermaid and here’s the medal to prove it! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

 

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about taking up open water swimming?

Go for it. You won’t regret it.

12119123_974476125923823_3256143234877889694_n
Sunset Swimming Joy! (Credit Deborah Herridge)

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.

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

 

Love SwimRun

Domestic travel in the UK is set to get pretty exciting in summer 2016. SwimTrek taught us that “Ferries are for wimps,” and now SwimRun is helping us re-think land based travel too.

As Britain prepares for a SwimRun invasion, A Lotus Rises spoke to Chloe Rafferty, founder of Love SwimRun a new 16k event incorporating 12.5k of running and 3.5k of swimming in Snowdonia National Park  to find out what SwimRun exactly is and about her dream to make it as accessible as possible.

swimrun2_small
Love SwimRun (Credit Chloe Rafferty)

What is SwimRun?

SwimRun is a fast growing endurance sport in which you run and swim between two predefined points along a set course of cross country runs and open water swims without stopping in between. SwimRun is quite similar to the sport aquathlon, where participants undertake a swim and then transition to a run. However, in SwimRun participants switch between running and swimming many times during a single race, running in their wetsuits and swimming in their trainers.

PA231244
Swim! Credit Chloe Rafferty

The sport was conceived in 2006 when Ötillö (meaning ‘Island to island’) was held for the first time in Sweden. The concept of SwimRun was the result of a beer fuelled challenge between a group of friends – to race across the Stockholm archipelago, running over the islands and swimming between them. The race has become an annual event and this year Ötillö celebrated it’s 10th anniversary!

Ross Dolder Photography_Pic1
Run! Credit Ross Dolder Photography

SwimRun is gaining momentum and there are now SwimRun races all over the world, however, only this year has the sport reached the UK. There have been just a handful of events so far in Scotland and the Lake District and Love SwimRun is bringing the SwimRun craze to North Wales!

What inspired you to set up LoveSwimRun?

I discovered the concept of SwimRun early this year and loved it instantly. For me it offers the same great journey that I get from trail running with an extra element of adventure. I love the contrast between the swimming and running and the feeling of freedom that comes from seamlessly changing from one to the other. The stress of triathlon transitions has never appealed to me and I like the way you need very little gear – basically just your wetsuit, goggles, trainers and off you go! 

Soon after I entered a SwimRun event in Scotland (8km swimming and 23km running). You had to be a team of two to do it and I really struggled to find someone mad enough to want to do it with me! Eventually an old colleague agreed but we were unable to train together due to distance and when it came to the event we found we are not evenly matched. He really struggled and in the end we had to drop out about 2/3rds of the way around. I totally understood as it was so hard, but I was also frustrated and disappointed.

On the way back home to Wales I thought it was such a shame that all the SwimRun events taking place were so epic! I decided that I wanted to share my love of SwimRun and putting on a more accessible event was the way to do it! 

I wanted to make it easy for people to have a go and to find some else to have a go with! We are also offering solo entries for those people that can’t find a partner or just don’t want the pressure of having to keep up with a partner. 

P6302634
Credit Chloe Rafferty

How, if at all, does your love of sport help with running your own business?

I run a few businesses, Love SwimRun being one of them. Obviously my passion for SwimRun drives me to work hard on promoting our SwimRun events but my love of running, swimming and mountain biking are what keep me going through every working day!

I work at home and mostly on the computer so I’m always looking forward to my reward of getting outside! I’m so lucky working for myself that I can pretty much go out whenever I want so if the sun comes out – off I go! On the other hand, this can be a bit of a problem as sometimes I spend longer outside than at my desk!…

Why has SwimRun grown in popularity? What are your hopes for the SwimRun future?

I think SwimRun has big appeal right now as it’s new and a bit different! Otillo has been in the media lately and its very aspirational to watch the videos and read about it. Outdoor swimming has grown massively in popularity over the last few year and this also taps into that. Again, I think it has a more natural feeling than the regimented rules of triathlon – you can use your ingenuity and you are working with the environment rather than battling against it. It’s the adventure and the challenge but there is also a feeling of unity with the other competitors, it’s a very friendly sport!

I very much hope that SwimRun has a future in the UK, but as it grows in popularity I hope that it can retain the unique qualities above. Our Love SwimRun races will always remain small compared to a lot of other commercial driven events. We want to make our events sustainable for the environment and the local area and community. We always want them to be fun, friendly and have a personal feel. 

out swim1 (1)

Do you have to wear a wetsuit and if so, is it different from a normal openwater swim wetsuit? 

Wetsuits are compulsory for most SwimRun races in the UK. This is for safety reasons. Wetsuits make you a lot more buoyant so you’ll float easily if you have to stop swimming for any reason. Obviously they also keep you much warmer. The swims can be long and are often in big bodies of water that rarely reach much above 15 degrees so unless you are a hardened cold water swimmer you are likely to suffer! We are working on another shorter event where wetsuits would be optional though… keep an eye on the website for news about this hopefully coming soon!

Until recently customising triathlon/open-water wetsuits was what everyone did but last year (2014) the first SwimRun specific wetsuits became available. These have zips at the front to make them easier to take on and off while running, integrated pockets, thinner fabric on the arms and hips to make them easier to run in and a host of other features. All very nice, but also very expensive if you are just starting out! I don’t have one, I just wear a shortie triathlon suit.

If you have a full suit the next step would be to SwimRun customise it by cutting the arms and legs off to make it a shortie, but don’t commit to that until you are sure you want to keep SwimRunning!  There’s more info about that at http://loveswimrun.co.uk/swimrun-wetsuits/

Do you run in the wetsuit and swim in your shoes? 

Yes you run in your wetsuit! On longer runs you can undo it and take the top half off to help you breath and keep cool. A lot of people swim in their trainers but you can carry them instead by clipping to your waist or towing them on a float, but then you have the faff of taking them off/putting them on at each transition. I just like to wear my shoes and swim normally – it feels weird to start with but you get used to it. 

DSC_0024

And what about trainers – are blisters a problem if you’re not wearing socks?

Trail running shoes are best as they have a snug fit and good grip on wet slippery surfaces. Designs that drain well and won’t absorb a lot of water are essential. You can even drill holes in them to help! You do wear socks, it would be very uncomfortable without. I find a good quality, quick drying (synthetic) pair of ankle socks are best. I have never had a blister. If you do short distances and build up your feet get used to it.

What other kit do you need? Do you have to carry it all and if so where do you put it?

There is a lot of expensive kit that you could buy and use for SwimRun (you can read all about this on our website www.loveswimrun.co.uk/swimrun-knowledge/) but, personally I am very much about keeping it simple. Whatever kit you choose to use, remember you have to manage it at each transition and carry it all on the runs! You can use a small bag/hydration pack (if you can swim with it), shove it down your wetsuit or wear a nylon waist loop and use light weight karabinas to clip things to it.

Along with the wetsuit and trainers you’ll definitely need a bright coloured swimming cap and goggles. Other common but unessential equipment are hand paddles, pull buoys, fins and a tow line if you swim as a pair. If you swim alone or even with friend in a big body of water it’s a good idea to use a tow float – this a bright float that you tether around you waist that makes you much more visible and you that can hold onto it if you need to rest. Some have bags you can store stuff in to take with you. It’s also a good idea to carry a phone in a waterproof case, a whistle to attract help should you need it and some spare food. This safety gear is the same kit you’d think about if you were just open water swimming.

Ross Dolder Photography_pic3
Credit Ross Dolder Photography

Do you need to be able to map read to navigate the course?

Most courses are well marked and marshalled – each race is different. You won’t need to be able able to map read at all for Love SwimRun events.

How do you train for a SwimRun event (e.g. adjusting from swim to run so quickly)? Particularly if you’re not based near lakes and trails.

The only way to train for it is to do it. It’s harder than you’d think to get straight out of the water and start running in a wetsuit – it’s such a different exercise your breathing is all over the place! I have to be honest, I don’t know how you’d train for it if you didn’t have access to open water – I am not sure the lifeguards at the pool would you like you wearing trainers and running around the changing rooms!

There are places you can swim outdoors all over the UK, be they man-made lakes or old quarries.  I am sure there would be somewhere not too far away. Check the Outdoor Swimming Society website and look for outdoor swimming groups on Facebook for ideas and advice. When I can’t do much SwimRunning, during the coldest part of the winter, I just concentrate on swimming in the pool (drills, speed sets and endurance/distance training – joining a swimming club is great!) and keep my running up outdoors. If you can keep this up and then get to some openwater at the weekend to just concentrate on the transitions I think you’ll be fine. 

What advice do you have for any openwater swimmers transitioning to SwimRun?

Start off with some easy sessions/short distances and build up, especially with the running to avoid injuries. Experiment with different gear until you find what is right for you – try using what you’ve got first or adapting things from stuff you have at home before spending lots of expensive gear. For example you can make a pull buoy from two plastic bottles! Watch any Ötillö video to see some amazing homemade gear!

Stay safe – swim with someone else, swim close to the shore or have someone spot you from the shore. Read up on http://loveswimrun.co.uk/swimrun-hypothermia/ . I will be running some free ‘Social SwimRuns’ in early summer to give people a chance to practise and try gear out. I’ll announce info about these in the spring – keep and eye on the website, Facebook and Twitter

At a Lotus Rises, we’re working with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies (IISCS) on a groundbreaking study to discover the best cake for optimum swim performance. What, in your opinion, is the best cake for SwimRun?

Any cake that isn’t ‘sponge’! You need to absorb as little water as possible! Seriously, it’s good to take some food with you for energy – any individually wrapped (waterproof) flapjacks or seed bars are great! 

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Oceans 7 in 1 Year

In September 2016, British Endurance Swimmer Beth French will commence her world record setting challenge to swim the Oceans Seven in one year. She will be swimming to highlight the relationship humans have with our fragile but vital oceans, looking at environmental issues in the marine ecology as she goes.

French is no stranger to overcoming incredible challenges. In 1993 ME had caused her to be wheelchair bound, but she recovered after almost a decade since contracting this debilitating syndrome. As such, she has, “different parameters for coping.”

Her previous swims include, the English Channel, the Molokai Channel – a British female first and the 26 mile Scilly Island Channel from Cornwall to St Mary’s – a world first. A Lotus Rises spoke to French about this incredible challenge and the power of mind over matter both in and out of the water.

Beth Swimming XXX
Beth in her element

This is EPIC! What inspired you to undertake this challenge?

I concocted the mad notion that I could swim all oceans seven channels in a year when I was up a gum tree, about 5miles from completing my solo crossing of the Molokai channel in Hawaii.

A couple of miles earlier, I had hit a wall… Recent heart-break meant I fell off the wagon psychologically, and I’d been beating my pain into the water for about 7hrs before that. My left elbow had twinged previously and all of a sudden, I couldn’t move it at all. My left shoulder froze- I could no longer get it out of the water to swim front crawl, nor could I put any resistance through it via breaststroke.

But this channel swimming lark is not for the faint hearted (or sane) so I one arm doggy paddled the last 7 miles, which with the Pacific swells, took me a further 12 hrs.

I’m not ashamed of holding the longest crossing of the Molokai channel to date- I swam for 24hrs 10mins, non stop. I realised that I loved channel swimming, but wanted more than an expensive day trip- I wanted to see if I knew how to drive my body well enough to recover quickly for the next one…. And the next one…

Having recovered from ME, which is relentless, I have different parameters for coping, I guess.

Beth French

What order will you complete the swims? What are the logistical challenges?

The order I am attempting the channels is to begin with the north channel from Ireland to Scotland. I want that one in the bag – It’ll be the coldest and I don’t want to have to attempt that without a full tank of gas. Then the Catalina channel in California, then the Molokai channel, the Cook Straits of New Zealand, the Straits of Gibraltar, Tsugaru channel in Japan and finishing with the English Channel in time for my 40th birthday.

How do you prepare physically? What does your training schedule look like and how will you avoid injury and ensure you have time to recover between swims?

Preparing for something like this is a pretty individual thing – I train a lot less than people expect, due to my ex ME health and hyper mobility.

I can’t train twice a day, or even every day like some competitive pool swimmers. I’m a single mum, which actually helps with the mental training and dealing with sleep deprivation, so they are not new experiences. I have a very physical job, 9hrs of deep tissue massage back to back 3 days a week and I’ll go train after at least one of them to really get the endurance going.

I sporadically torture myself with random sets of say, an hour and a half legs only, or towing my son in a dinghy in the sea.

You use what you have, so I get my son to sit on my hips and do lengths of front crawl with a 7yr old on me- great resistance training and efficient use of time.

Avoiding injury would be nice- because of my job I am pretty clued up with body mechanics so I go to the gym a couple of times a week to work on specific areas that need strengthening.

I also avoid over training. In this kind of event, one channel becomes training for the next, so it’s a perpetual taper once you are in it.

Beth French

You were ordained as a Buddhist nun. Please can you describe the relationship between your meditation practice and swimming. In particular, the importance of mindset for endurance swims.

In my 20’s when I was wandering the world learning different indigenous answers to ME, I ordained as a Buddhist nun in Thailand in order to intensively study vipasanna meditation, which has been popularised as mindfulness.

The mind is such an incredible weapon, but without training it easily works against us. The monastery was such an amazing experience and taught me so much about inner strength.

Swimming is a dichotomy of sensory deprivation and overload at the same time. You are forced to come face to face with your internal workings both physically and mentally and it is invariably your emotions that end a swim. You are immersed in your experiences moment to moment so you have to have a really strong grip on how you handle highs and lows to ride them out regardless in order to keep going.

Euphoria may feel great, but allow it to bubble up too much and you’ll be exhausted the next minute or hit a depression and slump. Learning to shepherd your emotional state means you can channel anything back into your swim.

Beth French

After 6hrs, you rely on your mind about 50%, I reckon. After 12 hrs it goes up to 65% mind, then when you are talking 20+ hrs, I’d say 80% is mental. Think it and your body will follow.

As you know, at A Lotus Rises we are working in partnership with the International Institute of Swim Cake Studies (IISCS), on a global research project to answer the question: What is the best cake for optimum swim performance?  Please can you help us with this critical research – What is your cake of choice for your Oceans 7 Challenge?

I am happy to help with this important research.  My cake of choice is a malt chocolate coconut fudge brownie. You can read a blog post I wrote about that on my website here.

What’s your favourite swim spot and swimming cossy?

My favourite swim spot in the world is kealakekua bay on the big island of Hawaii. The water is so stunningly clear, spinner dolphins come in to play and it’s utter heaven.

In England, I think you’d have a hard job beating the Isles of Scilly. Gin clear water, stunning scenery.

Beth in her favourite cossy
Beth in her favourite cossy

My fave cozzie is a metallic fish scale print little number by the finals. I’ve seen an awesome one that has your internal organs printed on it- would love to get my hands on that! I enjoy a collection of novelty hats too, including a minion one that says have a nice day of the back of it and a good old candy skull one.

Thank you Beth and thank you for letting us be part of your wonderful adventure!

You can follow Beth’s incredible journey on Twitter and Facebook.

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love 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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

 

The Women Champion Swimmers of the World You’ve Never Heard of, and other stories…

In April I went to a talk by Caitlin Davies about her book “Downstream. A History of Swimming the River Thames.” It’s a beautiful book and a timely accompaniment to the renaissance in Thames swimming that is blossoming this summer.

But more than that, Downstream tells the story of the British Capital ‘s river and the fantastic female swimmers whose mind blowing swimming feats along it, leapfrogged society’s imagined and real parameters of gender; were a training ground for global swimming endeavours; and helped pave the way for women everywhere to enjoy the freedom of the water.

Arabella Buck and friends enjoying a Tidal Thames swim
Arabella Buck enjoying a Tidal Thames Swim from Hammersmith to Chiswick pier in Summer 2015

 

The Pioneers

Putney Bridge is the focal point of a number of these swims. In 1905, Annette Kellerman swam from Putney through the “Flotsam and Jetsam” of the Thames, and on to a variety of international swimming achievements and global recognition[1]. She also designed what is regarded as the first modern swimsuit for women, and fought for the right of women to wear a fitted one piece bathing suit .

Annette Kellerman
Annette Kellerman

Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the Channel also used the Thames as a training ground and swam 27 miles from Putney to Silvertown in 1923.

Mercedes Gleitze

It is a powerful coincidence that feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, author of “Vindication of the Rights of Women”, threw herself from Putney bridge into the River Thames back in 1795. “How desperate she must have been, and how ideal the Thames would have seemed as a place to end it all for someone who couldn’t swim,” writes Davies.[2] Miraculously Wollstonecraft survived.

Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women

As Davies describes, the liberation of these swims is juxtaposed with the social norms that they were swimming against. Downstream provides a home for the collective achievements of the female swimming pioneers, who it appears until now, have received only a patchwork of recognition or whose achievements have been lost in the passage of time.

Not to spoil what is a must read for any open water swimmer (or anyone really) the Downstream Swimming Hall of Fame includes the following incredible women, many of whose swimming stories you may never have heard of:

The Long Distance Lady Swimmer of the World Eileen Lee; The Smiling Swimmer Lily Hawke; and more recently in 1985 Alison Streeter the Queen of the Channel, swam the tidal Thames and in 2013 Ness Knight became the first woman to swim the length of the non tidal Thames – I know – it’s not just David Walliams!

Ness Knight
Ness Knight

 

Agnes Beckwith, the original #ThisGirlCan

The woman who inspired Davies to write the book is Agnes Beckwith who in 1875, at the age of 14, ‘plunged into the Thames’[3] and swam from London Bridge to Greenwich. I was born just down the road in Woolwich and hearing Davies talk about Agnes I was so inspired. She is the original #ThisGirlCan of openwater swimming and thoughts of Agnes and these other wonderful women have flickered through my mind throughout this summer of swimming.

Agnes Beckwith
Agnes Beckwith

As part of her father “Swimming Professor Beckwith’s” swim troop, Agnes performed various swimming feats but separately accomplished a variety of groundbreaking endurance swims, she also had plans to swim the Channel (thwarted by a lack of finances) and paved the way for British Women to represent their country in the 1912 Olympics. [4]

I was really excited to see Agnes appear in her famously pink frilled swimming attire as one of the lead characters in the new film Captain Webb, which tells the story of Captain Matthew Webb the first person to swim the English Channel. The 140th Anniversary of his historic swim was yesterday, 25th August.

Captain Webb

It’s a nice film, but despite her obvious passion for swimming and strength of character, the film falls short of representing Agnes Beckwith as the swimming pioneer and talent that she was.

Champion Swimmer Agnes Beckwith
Champion Swimmer Agnes Beckwith

A love story also develops between Agnes and Webb. So much so, that when Agnes believes Webb’s rival in the race to swim the Channel, American and showman Paul Boyton will sabotage Webb’s swim, she offers herself to Boyton in exchange for him staying out of the way of Webb’s swim (Boyton declines).

Clearly I’ve never met Agnes but I’m just not sure she would have been up for getting her baps out on Webb’s behalf. It sounds like she would have been more likely to jump in the Channel ahead of them both (if she’d had the funding to do so), leaving them to fight it out for second place.

Nothing wrong with a bit of artistic licence of course (and after all I realise in 1875 at the time of Webb’s swim Agnes was actually just 14 years old, swimming to Greenwich and perhaps inspired by Webb), but it feels like having chosen to give a prominent role to Beckwith, an opportunity was missed to represent her more strongly as a pioneer in parallel to Webb.

That unease wasn’t helped in the Q&A after the film screening, when having briefly mentioned Agnes was in fact an accomplished endurance Thames swimmer, one of the panel then quipped that Agnes was a “tank”.

Not quite the respect Agnes Beckwith deserves and hooray for Caitlin Davies and Downstream, for providing an accurate reference point and mnemonic for these female pioneers of swimming.

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

The Pioneers Continue

Coinciding with the 140th anniversary of Captain Webb’s swim yesterday, BBC Woman’s Hour featured an interview with Davies and Doloranda Pember, the daughter of Mercedes Gleitze (the first British woman to swim the English Channel) about Gleitze and some of these other pioneers.

It’s a wonderful listen, and includes anecdotes about how many of the female swimmers liked gramophones to be on their support boats, so they could have a musical accompaniment to their swims. It reminded me of my friend Lisa who recently swam the Channel with “Rule Britannia” booming out of the support boat speakers as she headed into  shore after an epic 17 hours of swimming.

And so the female pioneers continue…

Just a couple of weeks ago, from 8-10 August, we witnessed a truly extraordinary weekend for women’s open water swimming:

Chloe McCardel achieved the once in a generation feat of a three-way English Channel crossing (the first woman was Alison Streeter in 1990).

Also in the Channel that day was Sam Mould, a relative novice to open water swimming who was Flying to France the hard way as part of the world record butterfly relay team; following on from  Annabel Lavers*,  who had kicked off the whole weekend with her Channel success on the 7th and whose Channel Swimming journey is one of the most inspiring I know.

Sam Mould Flying along the River Thames
Sam Mould in training, Flying along the River Thames

On a different part of the French coast Wendy Trehiou was also busy making history as the first person to swim 36 miles from Jersey to St Malo; and on the other side of the globe, the awesome Kim Chambers became the fourth person and first woman to complete the “toughest swim in the world’ the Farallon Island swim.

“My goal is to be inspiring young girls,” said Chambers. “I want them to dream big.”

Here’s the trailer for the film about Kim’s swim, that will be released shortly. Historic times!

 

Back in the river, that weekend me and my mates also followed in the footsteps of the pioneers, joining hundreds of other swimmers in the 14k Bridge to Bridge swim from Henley to Marlow…

Ready for the off at Henley Bridge to Bridge. Photo credit Dan Bullock
Swimming champions ready for the off at Henley Bridge to Bridge. Photo credit Dan Bullock

Who knew Thames swimming could be so beautiful?  Well probably Caitlin Davies…Thank you for inspiring us Caitlin* and hooray for the Women Champion Swimmers of the world: past, present and future!

Celebrating
Celebrating an epic 14k bridge to bridge take down with swimming champions Fiona Bettles and Patricia Legg

 

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  alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

*Annabel Lavers finished kicked off the weekend completing her solo swim on 7th August.

*Davies’ next book is a novel about a Lady Champion Swimmer of the world – we can’t wait!

[1] Davies, Caitlin. Downstream. A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames, page 197

[2] Davies, Caitlin. Downstream, page 191

[3] Davies, Caitlin, Downstream,

[4] Davies, Catilin. Downstream , page 280