Top Tips

As with anything on my blog, I can only write and talk about my own experiences, my journey and my swimming. This is not the ‘right’ way or the ‘best’ way and is certainly not the only way. It is not how I would necessarily recommend other people do it, I don’t feel qualified to tell anyone else how to swim. In the years before my Channel swim though, I found it incredibly helpful to be able to read about other people’s experiences and to learn from talking to them. So I am sharing my experiences and thoughts in the hope that it may help other people take to the water and be successful too. Read about lots of different people’s experiences and pick out what works for you, then do it your way!

The following are, therefore, just my personal top tips for things that helped me and may, hopefully, help you. (They are in no particular order, just written as they come in to my head!)

1. Want to do it
This may sound obvious and basic but you HAVE to want to do it (whatever IT is). And you have to know WHY you want to do it. Without this, there are too many reasons to give up and too many excuses that will distract you. Something like swimming the Channel requires a lot of sacrifice, in many areas of your life, so you have to want it more than you want everything else. I have a quote written on the wall in my kitchen… There are two steps to success: 1. Decide what you wan to do. 2. Do it! So you have to start with the first step. What do you want to do?

2. Work hard and be dedicated
The CS&PF share a quote from the memorial to Captain Matthew Webb “Nothing Great is Easy.” And it’s true. If it was easy, then everyone would do it. You have to work hard. I believe you get back what you put into life. Working hard for me meant getting up early and going for a swim before work, then swimming after work too. Swimming at the weekends and repeatedly saying no to invitations from friends and family. Being exhausted but still turning up at the pool or the lake and training… Hard! Hours and hours of hard work. 1 million metres from November to August were not easy to swim, but that hard work meant when I stood at Samphire Hoe to start the swim, I knew I had given everything I could and worked as hard as I could to be ready. I might not make it to France but it certainly wouldn’t be because I hadn’t worked hard or given my all in training.

3. Prepare
“Failure to prepare is preparation to fail.” And I have seen this a lot over the past couple of years. You have to prepare for everything and prepare early. Know what you will be feeding on and have too much of it, weeks before you need it. Be prepared to swim for longer than you think you might need to. Be prepared to swim before your tide, or after it. A long time after it if necessary. Be prepared for cold water, jellyfish, strong tides, changes in your crew, changes in your pilot, swimming at night, swimming in the rain, being attacked by birds, being sick, feeling ill or tired or disorientated. Be prepared to hurt and swim in pain. Being prepared means planning and practising… Over and over again.

There is only one thing I will never be prepared to do, and that is quit!

4. Plan: Expect the unexpected
Read lots, talk to people and find out as much as you can. Sieve through and filter the information, to formulate a plan that works for you. How much training do you need to do? How many metres will you swim a week? How will you build is up? Who will be on your crew? How will you select a pilot? What will you do to acclimatise to the cold? What will you wear? Which goggles? Write your plan down. Talk about it with other people, who you trust, adjust it where necessary but then stick to it! This goes for training as well as the actual swim. Plan what you will eat and when. Write down what will happen if you start to feel sick. If your stroke rate drops, what is the plan to get I track up? I have a plan. I am a control freak so it is weighty. But this was my dream, so I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. I am very happy to share it with anyone who might find it useful, just email me at elladunn@live.com and then you can adapt it to suit you and your swim. I adapted my plan from one shared with me by the wonderful Channel Swimmers Stephanie Voss, Jenny Zwijnen and Nick Adams. I am also really grateful to Dave Quartermain, Ned Dennison, Paul Savage and Manchester Triathlon Club who helped me with my training plans and schedules.

5. Practise
You don’t want to be doing anything for the first time in the Channel, or during whatever challenge or swim you are doing. Practise swimming in the goggles, hat and costume you will wear. Practise swimming in all your spares. Practise swimming at night, in the rain, in the cold, in the afternoon, into the dawn and into dusk. Practise swimming when you are hungry and sick. Practise swimming when you are tired. Practise feeding using your exact equipment, schedule and foods / powders that you will use on the swim. Practise swimming alongside a boat and with a support swimmer. Practise being stung. Practise weeing while you swim. Practise swimming when you don’t know how long it will be for or where you are going. Practise sprinting, hard, at different times for different distances. Practise breathing to just one side, and the other, and bilaterally. Practise panicking in the water and having to calm yourself. Practise getting hit by big waves. Practise swimming towards the end and it getting no closer. Practise swimming on your own. Practise swimming in the sea. Practise accidentally swallowing salt water when you breathe. Practise swimming in circles while the boat is fixed. Practise being shouted out and encouraged by your crew. Practise not wanting to swim another stroke but keeping yourself in the water.

You get the idea. But I know lots of people who have not practised some of these simple (and seemingly obvious things) and their swims have failed as a direct result.

We are creatures of habit and therefore become what we practise. It’s no good saying, I am tired now and so getting out, but I’ll still in on the Channel swim because that will be different. It won’t be different. It will be what you practised. If you don’t practise swimming at night and your swim ends up starting at 6pm then the dark could throw you or affect you in an unanticipated way and then that’s it. Game over if you can’t keep yourself in the water.

For me, there are two essential ways to practise. The first is physically. You try to have all of these experiences in real life. You don’t just always swim at the same time at the same place with the same people. You vary your opportunities and swims and build up a bank of experiences that you can draw from. The second is mentally. You make designated and specific time to practise everything in your head. You visualise and run through alternative choices and options. Imagine your goggles coming off and the different scenarios that can come out of them. Practise it going wrong and practise it going well.

Through your physical and mental practise you learn strategies to adapt, cope and deal with things whilst continuing to swim.

6. Know the Channel
Do a relay swim first. Crew for other people’s so swims. Get out there and see the Channel. Experience it first hand, in small chunks, before your big swim. Look at maps and learn the different areas and zones. What are the tides like? What is a neap and spring tide? Where does the water come from and go? Wo are other people that have swum it and what did their swim routes look like? I even read books and articles about how the Channel was originally formed.it helped ,e understand the water and where I was. It built my respect and knowledge of the challenge and the swim. This has multiple benefits. It helped make my visualisation more accurate and gave me an understanding that helped me to prepare and plan. I wasn’t just guessing or make it up. Wile I was swimming it helped me to make sense of things. I knew where I as from the direction ships were sailing in (they sail in different directions on the French and English side). I knew when there was lots of flotsam and debris and jellyfish that I was in the Separation Zone, and that if I just kept swimming I would soon be through this. I knew what the Cap was when I saw it, and that even though it seemed so close, it could take forever to reach and that many many swims failed at that point. I knew what it felt like when the tide turned and I knew the species of jellyfish to look out for.

This is the same for any challenge or swim. Educate YOURSELF about it. Don’t rely on other people. Share the relevant bits of this knowledge with your crew and supporters.

7. Remember there is no such thing as a solo
While you will be swimming there is a whole team with you and you can not do it alone. Don’t let your ego take over and make this about I. Respect and appreciate the other people supporting you and involved in your swim and choose them wisely. Be picky about who you involve in what. You need to be able to trust your crew 100% so that you can just swim. Be prepared to be flexible about your crew though, as long as you are in the water that is the most important thing. Don’t allow your swim to fail because you have to make unexpected and / or last minute changes to crew. ,ale sure your crew are well informed and prepared themselves about what to expect and be clear about what you expect and need from them.

8. Prevention is better than cure. Be proactive.
Training for something of this scale puts a huge pressure on your body and mind. The last thing you need is a injury or illness to overcome or prevent your swim. I had an excellent physio who supported me brilliantly. Find someone who knows you and your body as well as understand the challenge you are undertaking and can advice you about strengthening and Injury prevention, as well as helping of things do start to hurt or go wrong. I had a sports massage every week. I took at least one rest day a week. I got plenty of sleep, ate well and built up my training progressively. My big training swims were planned and built on each other with time for recovery in between. I managed to stay injury and illness free for the most serious part of my training, from November to August, and finished the Channel able to continue swimming the next day. Listen it your body and if it needs a break to rest and recover, make sure you do it. You will come back stronger. Your body knows what it needs, so listen to it, and don’t become hung up in what other people are doing and comparing your training to them. Have someone you can call to help keep you on the right path. I would phone Jen because I was stressed about having to miss a training session for work etc and she would give me back my perspective and put me straight. Importantly she could relate and understand because she had been there herself.

9. Be positive
You can choose your attitude. Choose a positive one. Moaning, complaining and wringing aren’t going to change anything for you, they will just make you feel worse. You have chosen to do this because it’s something that you want to do it. Remember that. Lots of things will happen and go wrong and obstacles will be thrown in your path, it’s how you choose to see them and think about the what will determine how they impact on you and your swim.

10. Turn up
I have been lucky enough to be having some conversations recently with someone far wiser and more experienced than myself and we came to the conclusion that actually the most important thing is that you have to turn up. When you turn up, things happen and progress is made. It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s dark, you feel tired and fed up and you are supposed to be doing a hard training session. Just turn up. That’s always the first, and most important step. But can be a huge hurdle that many can not follow through with. They stay at home, on the sofa, in the warm. When all those who turned up are getting a valuable training session in, meeting the new person that has turned up to that session and ends up becoming a good friend, they are setting PBs and leaving you behind. I talked with a friend recently who was very stressed and worried (for lots of reasons) about taking part in her second ever triathlon. She could have quit, she could have not gone. But she turned up. And ending up placing really well and really enjoying herself.

If you don’t turn up you are guaranteed to not succeed. If you turn up… Who knows what will happen.

A challenge like the Channel is unexplainable and unpredictable. You have to be prepared for things that you can’t even think of. A great quote that a fellow Channel Swimmer in Manchester shared with me: Even swimming the Channel does not prepare you for swimming the Channel. Because every time it is completely unique. But prepare for and practise what you can, make sure you turn up, put your heart and soul into it and you can achieve it. Just keep swimming. Ultimately that is all it comes down to. Keep swimming….

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14 hours to go…

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Have I got enough stuff? And the tent isn’t even in this photo?*! Red box is full of swimming costumes, hats, goggles, ear plugs, Vaseline, painkillers, deep heat, string, pegs, bin bags, waterproof camera, heat pads, sun cream, face wipes, SiS carb sachets and caffeine gels. The clear box is full of food: cereal bars, milky ways, jaffa cakes, fig rolls, rice pudding pots, fruit pots, jelly, chocolate milk, mini pots of custard, penguin biscuits, salted popcorn, pretzels, cheese snacks, rocky bars, jelly babies, mints, bananas, kit kats and no doubt other things I’ve forgotten about. Yellow bag on top is my Musuc sleeping bag suit. Big yellow bag has Dry Robe advance, Robie Robe, several towels, leggings, vests, t-shirts, long sleeved tops, jogging bottoms, wooly hats, fleece socks, gloves, mittens, ski gloves, scarf and flip flops. In with the tent there is two fleece blankets, hot water bottle and an inflatable roll mat (massive thanks to Simon for the loan of this!). In Llyr’s bag he also has my head torches, batteries, water / feed bottles, watch and moisturiser. Am wearing (as they wouldn’t fit in the bags!!) North Face boots, North Face padded jacket, North Face insulating Fleece, extra vests and joggers. Have probably got too much… But hopefully at least I won’t be missing anything! Just on the train down to Guildford now. Don’t get to the hotel until 11pm and then it’s straight to sleep and up early ready to start my first mile (of 24!!!!) at 9am sharp. Am not sure of the water temperature yet, other than having been told it’s cold. It was supposed to be 20 / 21 degrees but the cold snap we have had has put pay to that. Thank you so much for all the support and kind messages. They really mean a lot and will be great motivation tomorrow when the going gets tough. I haven’t underestimated this challenge, it’s going to be extremely hard, for a lot of different races, but I am excited and really looking forward to getting in the water. Llyr and I will be keeping the blog updated each hour. Hopefully we can share some pics, comments, how long each mile is taking and water temp etc. We will just write posts for this blog, which are the automatically shared on my Twitter and Facebook. This is just to keep things manageable. Please send your messages and motivation through, they will be greatly appreciated, although will be easiest to manage as comments on here. Fingers crossed my arms and mental strength last longer thab our phone batteries do 😉 24 miles across 24 hours

And then a little voice said… “Now’s the time to work…”

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Am finding that since training ‘properly’ (from November) I’m on a constant roller coaster of ups and downs. Sometimes it’s going really really well and sometimes it plateaus and sometimes it’s really really hard. Which I guess I could have expected, but knowing that something will happen and experiencing it are very different.

I think the ‘lows’ in training help make the ‘highs’ even better, and it’s getting through the lows that is helping build my confidence, and reserves, to fall back on in the Channel. The thing that has surprised me the most is I am still absolutely loving training, even with the hard bits. It all just makes the experience more rewarding. To know you are doing something different and challenging myself in ways I never thought I could.

This fortnight has been a real high. I hit a high point back in about Jan, when every swim seemed to bring a pb, I moved up in the lane, I was coping well with the cold water outside and was comfortably swimmimg longer distances. And then it crashed.

Made some improvements to my stroke and it was like I couldn’t swim. Everything was tired, I kept picking up colds and coughs and moving my arms over my head was a struggle each time. I was still training but it was tough. Persuading myself to go to the pool wasn’t easy. Time to listen to my body and so I had a couple of weeks rest at the start of March. They weren’t complete rest. Just lighter weeks. Stayed around 10km rather than 20km or 30km. Lots of sleep. Looked at what I was eating. More fruit and veg. I’d also been taking a break from the protein shakes after each swim, to see if it made a difference. It did. So I got strict about having them again too. And spent some good quality time with friends and family. Then back to the hard training.

First week of more distance felt good, just a gradual increase and the past two weeks a bigger jump. It felt amazing. The rest had really done my body good. I felt much stronger in the water and could hold a quicker pace for longer. My arms felt relaxed again and my stroke was less laboured and forced.

It can’t last forever though.

I have a 24 mile / 24 hour swim in three weeks, so knew I needed to really push myself over the next fortnight. As this week progressed, with two swims most days and no rest day (which would usually be Wednesday) I started to flag. Friday morning was a tough set and rather than cruising on my own on Saturday morning, I went to the Man Tri session to push another hard set, faster turn arounds than I would have done on my own.

The plan for Sunday was another 10km, to take the week to a total just over 42km and the past 10 days to a total of nearly 60km. I did 3km at the Aquatics on my own, lots of pull and some drill work. Felt ok in the water, but was tired before I got in (fell asleep in the car on the way to the pool, thankfully I wasn’t driving!) and when I got out to walk downstairs to the USwim Masters session I didn’t feel great. I have IBS, which flares up every now and then, and it was making itself knowm yesterday. Super! Still, got in and felt ok for the first half of the two hours. Although time was really dragging. I was playing over and over in my head my mantra for tougher sessions… Just keep swimming… Just keep swimming… (Thank you Dory!!) And then I really hit the wall.

Arms felt like they were full of lead, body was sluggish and it was like swimming through jelly. I kept telling myself that this will happen in the Channel. I reeeaaaallllly wanted to get out. I missed 200m of the next 400m to stretch and eat half a banana. I did not want to start swimming again, especially when the coach said 3 x 500m. Everyone was groaning because we were all really tired. The temptation to get out is great. A couple of people did.

That lovely little voice in the back of my head was saying… You’ve done enough. Just get out. It won’t matter. You’re tired.

Thankfully, the other voice was quiet but a bit more persistent…

You’re going to get tired in the Channel Ella. You’re going to want to get out. You’re going to look at the boat and it will seem so inviting. Just get on. What are you going to do then?

Quit?

Or keep swimming?

We become what we practise.

So, I took a deep breath, looked at the end of the 50m pool, and saw France. That damn Cap that never seems to get any closer. I put my head down and I swam. Managed to do the last 1500m (despite being convinced earlier that I couldn’t possibly swim another metre) and even managed to force another sprint, just thinking about the tide turning and remembering watching a friend’s Channel Video last week, and the battle for the last few hundred metres.

I felt good by the end. And was surprised how, when you push through the tough bits, you do get a second, third, fourth burst. The body is incredible, if you can get control of your mind and your thoughts the body does respond.

I did decide not to do the last 2km of my 10km with Man Tri though. Enough was enough and am enjoying a rest day today. Woke up itching to be back in the water though…

When you’re tired and you feel like you literally can’t go any further… Now’s the time to work!

No one said it would be easy… They said it will be worth it!

Something to wet your appetite…

Have uploaded lots of new videos to the Events page on here, so take a peek at some of the swims I have already done this year… and others I’m excited about and looking forward to!

Maybe you’ll see something that takes your fancy and find yourself signing up a new challenge for 2013 🙂

ellathemermaid.wordpress.com/events/

And some photos below from Winter swimming fun…

Could you do it, on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours?

As part of my training for the ‘THE’ swim I have signed up to take part in a 24 hour swim at the end of April. It is not a continuous swim, rather, 24 miles completed over 24 hours, with a mile started on each hour. It’s down at Guildford Lido, which is a heated outdoor pool, making the water temperature around 20 degrees and the air temperature… well… who knows… with the weather at the moment it could be anything… cold at least!!  Which makes keeping warm in between each mile challenging and imperative! I’ll have a ‘buddy’ on the pool side (MASSIVE thanks to Llyr for this!) to help with feeds, lap counting, dressing and checking for signs of hypothermia, as well as fellow swimmers in the water at the same time. Wetsuits are optional and down to swimmers choice… so obviously mine will be nowhere to be seen!  It will be a good opportunity to get some wear out of the full 16 swimming costumes in my collection! Haha. Nearly one for every hour… will be appreciated towards the end even more, so that I can put on a dry one ready for the next mile.

For my Channel swim, as you will already know, I am raising much needed funds for Cancer Research UK and so I am going to use this as part of my ‘motivation’ for the 24 hour swim…

Help needed…

I would like to dedicate each of the 24 miles to special people who have bravely fought cancer (a lovely idea borrowed from the inspirational Mark Robson, who has a great account of his swim on his blog http://www.markswims.com/2011/05/2-swim-4-life.html).

I would really appreciate it if you could share your dedications using my email address (elladunn@live.com) or via the comments boxes below.  I will create a page on here to celebrate the inspirational people I am swimming for, and will add their names to the swimming costume I am wearing for the Channel.

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The organisers’ of the swim are fund raising for The Household Cavalry Casualties Operational Fund. If you would like more information about this cause, or to make a donation, please use the links below.

http://www.operationalcasualtiesfund.co.uk/

http://www.justgiving.com/operationalcasualtiesfund

Alternatively, you can make a donation to Cancer Research UK using my Just Giving page…

http://www.justgiving.com/ellathemermaid

New Years Goals and Resolutions

2013 Goals

Swim to France!!!!!

Complete minimum of 1,000,000m in training between January and end of July

Complete TBBC swim at Cork Long Distance Training Camp

I have a more detailed sheet with a breakdown of goal distance per week, number of swim sessions per week, target distance per month and specific training swims and events for example CWSC, Chill Swim, 2swim4life 24 hour swim, Cork Long Distance Week, Gone Swimming Anglesey weekend, Dover, Hebrides….

2013 Resolutions

Train hard
Believe in myself
Be kind (to myself and others)
Be on time
Listen more, talk less
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Remember what’s important
Smile and laugh a lot
Be happy! 🙂

What are yours?