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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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!

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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!

 

CAKE UPDATE

It’s been almost two weeks since we announced our groundbreaking research project in partnership with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies (IISCS).

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Our mission? To resolve one of the toughest questions in open water swimming: What is the best cake for optimum swim performance?

The response from the cake eating…sorry… we mean swimming community; to submit scientific data for our project, has been phenomenal.

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From the salt water of Spain…

JCR swim

 

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Swim Quest, Ray Gibbs from Swim Canary Wharf and team, having a really tough time on the frontline of #swimcake studies in Formentera.

To training pools of Australia…

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To London’s Lido community

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Gospel Oak with Caitlin Davies & @RuthCorney

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Caitlin Davies lead the charge facilitating #swimcake data submissions from all over London, including this of Hampton pond – Thanks @ruthcorney!

To the Lake District…

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Val Smith of #ThisGirlCan ‘Val versus Cake” and team enjoying a triple dip in the Lakes powered by Bllueberry Muffins

And Italian fresh water lakes

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Thanks Becky and SwimLab!

To the rewards of the  Golden Gate Bridge…

A hard earned Peanut butter cheesecake.

A hard earned Peanut butter cheesecake.

IISCS research fellows have been putting themselves on the frontline – no matter how far they had to swim or how much cake they had to eat.

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Brockwell Swimmers early research proving messy

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Team Mermaids swam 4k for these cupcakes #commitmenttothecause

Yes endurance sports can be tough, but with the right team , physical and mental preparation, anything is possible #nevergiveuponyourdreams.

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It can be tough on the frontline

Amy Sharrocks’ Baked Alaska also brought an awareness of global warming…

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And @Loveswimming’s cakes were certainly made with a cause – to raise money for her local swim club.

Cake from @loveswimming

Cake from @loveswimming

Of course, early on in a project like this it can seem like there’s an impossible mountain to climb, but one of the great things about the open water swimming community is that there are always friendly people around to inspire and guide you.

We were particularly grateful for Oceans 7 and Farallon Islands swimmer Kimberley Chambers‘ kind words:

“I applaud your perseverance. And thank you for pursuing this pressing issue :)” Thanks Kim!

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Swim Cake

We’re learning so much from these selfless #swimcake endeavours.

For example the Swim The Eden Wild Swimming Brothers, favoured Batternberg for their epic swim – “With wet fingers the marzipan keeps the cake dry”

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And Beth French will be relying on Chocolate Coconut brownie for her world record setting Ocean’s 7 in 1 Year Challenge.

More info on the latest scientific #swimcake data can be found on the Institute of International Swim Cake Studies Facebook page and via @SwimCakeStudies on twitter –

Of course it can be daunting on the SwimCake frontline, but your Swim Cake data is critical, so please get in touch with details of your selfless #SwimCake endeavours – Together: Yes. We. Can.

Thank you!

A Lotus Rises in partnership with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a love of openwater and freediving led to a new career. A Lotus Rises meets SwimQuest’s Alice Todd.

Open water can lead to all kinds of adventures. Alice Todd is an open water swimmer, free diver and triathlete. In 2014, she took the brave decision to follow her passion for open water and left her job in media to co-run SwimQuest Holidays with John Coningham-Rolls.

A Lotus Rises spoke to Alice about her love of open water, career change and the hardships of making a living by swimming all over the world…

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Alice Todd enjoying her new career

When did you start open water swimming and why?

I started open water swimming as a child, when we went on family holidays to Whitby. There are loads of photos of my sister and I splashing about in the North Sea, on what look like pretty chilly days. We had a blow up dingy, which we loved, and we used to take it in turns to drag each other around in it – one of us swimming, pulling the rope, the other sitting in the boat ordering the other one about: left, right, faster, faster … I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more than my poor sister did! I’ve always been drawn to water though – looking at it, painting it, and swimming in it, whether it be pool, river, lake or sea. I think the sea is still my favourite.

What do you enjoy most about open water?

I think it’s still the childlike, carefree adventure I love most about open water and the outdoor swimming community; splashing around, feeling free, enjoying beautiful spaces – and having fun with other people. In this sense, I started swimming in open water because it was great fun, and made me feel good. I’m determined never to lose that feeling even now open water swimming is my job.

How did you get into freediving – Is it dangerous, where did you learn?

Like all sports, freediving can be dangerous if you do it irresponsibly, or without proper training or knowledge. That being said, anyone who has held his or her breath underwater has technically been freediving. I used to do that all the time, diving down to look at coral on holiday, enjoying the way it felt to tumble and roll underwater and feel completely weightless, but I didn’t realize it was a ‘sport’, until a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until a friend bought me a freediving course for my birthday, that I became a little obsessive about how far some people could push themselves without the bubbles. The current depth record for dynamic apnea with fins (basically swimming down a line using fins – as deep as you can go, and back of course) is 288m. 288m! That’s further than swimming from the public viewing gallery at the Shard (244m, incidentally) and back, on one breath of air. This record is currently held by Goran Čolak from Croatia. I’m still just a novice on the scale of things, but its helpful to be able to get beautiful GoPro footage of our guests underwater – and it’s nice for people to be able to take home photos of themselves floating in the blue.

Alice in Waterland: Freediving

Alice in Waterland: Freediving

If you’re keen to find out more, I would recommend starting with an AIDA International course. This will give you a good grounding and knowledge about the risks and safety procedures. The course I completed was run by a real-life merman – Adam Drazga [see www.bluewater-freediving.co.uk]. A challenging but fascinating introduction – highly recommended for anyone seriously interested. I then joined a really friendly club in Victoria called Apnea Revolution, who train biweekly in a pool.

 What do you find most challenging about open water?

If I’m totally honest it’s the loneliness on the longer swims. It makes me realize how bad I am at being in my own company! When you swim for a long period of time, it’s just you and the water, and if you’re not careful your head can visit some scary places, especially when you’re cold. That’s the biggest challenge for me – learning how to deal with that – and I think it’s very personal.

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Swimming together!

Many people talk about making changes to their careers, but it can be daunting. What gave you the confidence to make the move to SwimQuest and do you have any advice for other people contemplating a career change?

It is so daunting. I actually enjoyed many aspects of my job in the media, and I worked with some incredibly impressive people, which made it an even bigger decision, however I did reach a sort of ‘now or never’ moment. I was confident in my own abilities, I didn’t have a mortgage, or kids, and always knew I wanted to work for myself in the long run. I bumped into John at The London Triathlon in 2013, and really liked the look of what he was starting. I knew I had the skills to help him build what was then Coningham-Rolls Swimming Holidays into a bigger brand, and I was excited about the concept and the idea. I decided to take the plunge (I know, I’m sorry).

My advice to anyone considering a similar career change would be to do it, but to make sure that you have the skills you need to bring in money independently of the business start up. Freelancing has been fantastic, but you need to be prepared to sell your skills, and live hand-to-mouth for a while.

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In her element

How has your life changed since making the move – What’s a typical work day for you nowadays? Is running SwimQuest all about drinking cocktails by the beach and swimming in warm turquoise waters or is there other stuff involved?

I live a completely different life now. I have the freedom to work my own hours, from wherever I like, which is amazing. The more I see the business grow, the more I want to work. Some days I will work longer hours, some days not. I do end up working in some form or another most weekends too, but the freedom of not having to sit glued to a desk from Monday – Friday is invaluable for me.

The other major difference is the breadth of work. As we are such a small team, I get involved in pretty much everything at the moment – which is great fun. Marketing, accounts, web design, print design, merchandise, planning, strategy, promotions, partnerships, bookings, SEO, and of course swim guiding!

The swim guiding is brilliant as you meet so many fascinating people. This week I feel particularly lucky – I am spending the week with our guest coach, Olympic Medallist Cassandra Patten, who is incredibly inspirational, an amazing role model for young women and has everyone hanging on her every word when she’s giving advice on stroke technique. Occasionally we do get to drink cocktails by the beach, yes, and I have to admit there is quite a lot of swimming in warm turquoise waters!

You’ve swum all over the world. Where’s your favourite swim spot?

One of our SwimQuest locations is a tiny little island called Mathraki, just off Corfu. The water is really, really sapphire-blue – and there’s a little pile of rocks I swim out to in the mornings, teeming with tiny little velvet-black darting fish. It looks like someone has cut tiny little black holes in the water – and they shift and dance as you swim through them. That’s probably my favourite – it really is idyllic. If you don’t believe me – watch this!  Having said that, I still have a soft spot for the Norfolk Broads. Not many people think you can swim in them, but they are some of England’s cleanest waters. We run a Swim & Sail weekend there in September, on a gigantic Wherry Yacht – it’s very surreal, there’s even a piano on board …

And finally, what’s your favourite swimming cossy and why?

The brighter the better. I have a luminous orange one with a high leg that is my current fave, but I’m open to brighter suggestions.

Thank you 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 to follow via our BlogFacebookTwitter and please don’t hesitate to get in touch at alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!