On August 21st I became the 1919th person to swim the English Channel. The moment my feet hit the Sand at Wissant beach in France will stay with me forever.
My swims took 13 hours and six minutes and I now understand why people tell you that Marathon swimming is 80% mental! When the wind picks up to 25 knots and you cannot see England or France, you need to dig deep and believe in your training. You need to have done the training, you need to be mentally strong and you also need a bit of good old fashioned luck! The English Channel throws many variables that cannot be controlled and many ‘unsuccessful’ swims are completely unavoidable. Focus on the things you can control and make sure they are right:
I wanted to write a little about one of the key elements of Marathon swimming – Feed planning. All endurance sports present obstacles when it comes to energy and nutrition, but swimming presents some unique problems:
Feeding in water makes eating solids difficult (even more so in the sea as nobody likes salty jelly babies!)
Feeds need to be fast as a swimmer can get cold quickly when not moving. In a sea swim, prolonged feeds can also add significantly to the swim duration as tides may be moving the stationary swimmer away from their destination.
Excess sugars can cause gastrointestinal upsets – This is a big factor for me and one that UCAN has solved!
There are a few factors that every Swimmer should consider when putting the feed plan together. First of all, your feed plan should not contain anything that you haven’t tried in training. Many people get carried away with planning the feeds for their big event and start to play around with all sorts of new drinks, solids and even medications. Use your long training swims to experiment with your feed frequency and volumes and then stick with it! Tried and tested is best!
I used Chocolate UCAN (yum!) for all of my training swims (about 350 ml including some warm water to give me a boost in temperature). My Channel swim lasted for 13 hours and 6 minutes. I fed on the hour and left it with my crew to make any changes to frequency based on my performance later in the swim. The crew dropped my feed frequency to 45 minutes after 8 hours of swimming which worked well from a physical and mental perspective.
One steep learning curve happened after about 8 hours of my swim. I suddenly cramped severely in my calf. I panicked at this point until my crew pointed out that I had become dehydrated. My particular UCAN mix was only 350 ml on the hour and I had not taken on any additional water during the swim (In a hurry to get going and not waste time). The crew resolved this by forcing me to drink a full bottle of warm water on the next feed which resolved the cramp. I ensured that I took on a little more water at subsequent feeds. This is a lesson that I will take into future swims.
In previous Marathon swims I have used Maltodextrose based drinks which do not agree with me after any significant volume. I get severe stomach cramp after any significant amount of these products and it has ended swims for me in the past. I also find that Maltodextrose based products give me a boost of energy which quickly passes. In Marathon swims (and most other endurance sports), you want a slow release sustained energy boost which UCAN brings for me.
Feed plans are unique to individuals and are a massive factor in the success of swims so give it the same attention in training that you give to the physical aspects.
We live on a blue planet and I am looking forward to some new challenges. Next up for me is swimming around Manhattan island! I am also starting a new swim coaching business in Northamptonshire and cannot wait to help others achieve their dreams.