(Embarking on Wastwater 2011 - ca. 3 miles - my 1st major marathon swim)
So...you enjoy a few lengths, the buoyancy of the water, can swim a mile (maybe a mix of freestyle and breaststroke?) and think you want to take it to a new level? Take the plunge! It will take you on an AMAZING journey but you might want to consider the following (from my very own experience!):
1. PAY UP TO SEE A GOOD COACH - *THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT OF ALL 10*
Before you embark on your marathon swim journey ensure you are putting your hands (and legs) where your mouth is. You will simply NOT be able to lay down a mountain of training & events on poor technique plus you’ll get injured and end up throwing money at physios and/or surgery which might have been totally avoidable in the first place. Prevention is better than cure! I saw Ray Gibbs at SwimCanarywharf but would also recommend Dan Bullock at Swimfortri and Chris Malpass for the northerners. There are many others but make sure it is in a pool with cameras where they are looking at your stroke BELOW the water not just above! Keep working on that stroke. Every week I watch the YouTube videos from Brenton Ford’s Effortless Swimming who I really rate and often watch something from his channel before a session.
2. FIND GROUP(S) of PEOPLE TO SWIM WITH
Easy in the summer as there’s the amazingly supportive Channel Training group led by Emma France for example. But where are you going to go in the Winter? My recommendation is to swim with some sort of club at least 1x per week plus outside 1x per week to keep the acclimatisation up. They’ll provoke you and help you improve. Keep dipping in the winter. You’ll find loads of groups along the length of the country from the Kent Sea Swimmers in the south east to the Fausto Bathing Club in Sunderland! If you go to the pool on your own HAVE A PLAN of what you want to achieve. Don’t just go there and faff - you can do that in the bath-tub!
3. CONSIDER EACH AND EVERY SWIM SESSION AS EXPERIENCE
No matter how demotivated you might feel at times you will ALWAYS feel better (and more relaxed) after going for a swim - plus you will probably sleep better. Even if you don’t achieve the set goal of the day ensure to take the positives out of each swim/event. I have been at the start line of so many events and heard other competitors almost talking themselves out of it before they have even started therefore not surprised to see them pull out. Remember, it is still all experience in the bank and its cumulative. Swim in many different conditions and locations as you can. Life isn’t just about going up and down Dover Harbour or your local lake. Each sea or lake swim presents different learning points no matter how many years you’ve been doing it.
4. SIGN UP FOR EVENTS (AND SET YOUR GOALS HIGH)
As soon as you register for events (and pay the race fees) your training will get renewed focus and you’ll be less likely to skip sessions. I personally find that most people don’t stretch themselves enough - you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when push comes to shove.
There are literally thousands of events to chose from globally. I never set out to do this but completed the entire BLDSA calendar and am now taking on most of the what the USA has to offer. There are so many sources of inspiration many of which you will find in the links section to my blog!
5. BE METICULOUS IN YOUR PREPARATION AND TRUST YOUR CREW
This mights seem obvious but have seen many a swim fail as the swimmer has left too many things to chance and hasn’t taken control of all the issues they might be confronted with ahead of time. Take care of every minor detail so that all you need to do is swim. Don’t leave this to chance or others. Also, spare a minute to think of your crew. On a long swim they are there for YOU and not the other way round. Make sure they get fed, watered and reimbursed for their time. I reckon a successful swim is >50% down to the crew. Etiquette dictates you ALWAYS reimburse your crew.
The more you swim and do events the easier it is to find crew. Kayak for someone and they will kayak for you.
6. CONSIDER ADJUSTING YOUR TRAINING REGIME IN THE WINTER
It really isn't all about distance travelled per week - I never stress about that.
I use the colder months to work tirelessly on technique and speed (100m repetitions). I am a firm believer that if you train well in the winter you will find the summer months easier where you escape the confines of the pool and lay down more time in the water. If your shoulder hurts then you are probably doing something wrong as your body is giving you feedback. Listen to that and work out what you can do to mitigate or see a coach. I swim 3-4 times per week in the winter and this mantra has worked in the last few years. I am lucky as the finest outdoor 50m pool in the UK is 30mins from my house at Charlton Lido.
7. EVERYONE CHAFES IN DIFFERENT AREAS!
In the last year I volunteered on the Dover beach to be a grease-monkey for the odd Sunday early in the season and it was eye-opening how we all seem to create chafe in different areas given body types and stroke technique. I know over a long swim that I get sore in the area called the ‘cubical fossa’ or inside of the elbow for most people. #weirdo!
8. DON”T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF SUNCREAM AND ZINC
Many UK swimmers boast monumental hat-tan lines after swims but with global warming we are doing ourselves quite a lot of skin damage which is magnified if you are in the water. One of the only sports where one can get hypothermia and sunstroke at the same time!!! If you swim in the parts of the US they really don’t mess around and know from an early age how to apply suncream AND zinc (sudocrem) to protect skin from the suns rays. I did a Torbay 8 mile event once and forgot to put suncream on the backs of my legs - didn’t sit down at work for a week afterwards! LOL!
9. PILATES, YOGA AND STRETCHING WILL PROLONG/IMPROVE YOUR SWIM CAREER
So many of us sit behind the desk during the week and then expect our bodies to take 100s of miles of swimming throughout the year. Eventually your body will complain about something even if you have the finest freestyle stroke in the history of mankind. I did a 1:1 with a Pilates coach for 4 years and arguably the best money one could spend on oneself. The older you get the longer it takes to warm up the muscles therefore respect the warm up (and warm down!)
10. CONSIDER AN ANNUAL MEDICAL
If you are contemplating big events take the time and money to know your bloods, ECG and other measurements. Many swims are self-declared and even if they are not if you do extensive medical then you at least will know where you are at physically and will get advice on what you need to work on to help your results. I do this every year and am living proof that such a thing can save your life.
Good luck and happy swimming!