Sketch Note

I was interviewed by Tough Girl last year following my channel swim.  This year she produced this sketch note which is great summary of my swim  Take a look.

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Beautiful Scilly

Two years ago I remember seeing a friends Facebook post about a new swimming challenge which was being held in the Isle of Scilly, it looked amazing and I added it to my ever expanding swimming bucket list.  I was reminded again about it last year when another friend did it and the photo’s again looked simply divine.  So when the Scilly Swim Challenge opened their entries for this year I emailed a few friends to see if anyone wanted to join me.

The swim had become so popular already that Kerry and I found ourselves on the waiting list within only twenty minutes of it opening.  Luckily for us just a few days later we were both offered places.

The challenge is made up of 6 swims and 6 walks over one day, this year they also ran an alternative option which was for people to do the challenge over two days instead of the one.
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What we hadn’t added into the equation was the challenge of actually getting to the Isle of Scilly in the first place, for those of you that don’t know it is off the coast of Cornwall about 28 miles out from Lands End.

Just a month before we were frantically trying to find somewhere to stay and work out our easiest and most time efficient way of getting there.  It wasn’t easy as ferries are only once a day and although planes fly from Newquay, Exeter and Lands End they aren’t cheap.  We opted to drive down to Lands End and then take the 15 minute flight from there to St Mary’s.


We needed to register on Friday before 4.30pm at Portmellon beach and then the briefing and acclimatisation swim would be at 5.30pm.  There were about 130 taking on the challenge with about 15-20 of us swimming without wetsuits, although I believe some did put them on as each of the swims progressed on the actual day.  The water temp was about 14.5 degrees so we were hoping for a bit of sun so that we could warm up on the walks between swims.

7am on Saturday morning we met at the meeting point on Portmellon beach ready for the walk to Bar point on St Mary’s Island to the start of the first swim.  Swimmers had been divided up by speed into Red, Amber and Green hats and the idea is that each pod goes off together and then kayakers support each group as they make their way across to each island.  Throughout the day there would be approximately 15km of swimming and 10km of walking.


Once we arrived at Bar point, St Mary’s we arranged into our groups and got our bags onto the boat so that they would meet us on our arrival at St Martins.  For the skins swimmers such as myself they had an extra facility which was bags which you could put your dryrobe or towel into that would be there as soon as you got out of the water to help prevent too much cold shivering.  As we started the 2.8km swim to St Martins it was really overcast but the water was lovely flat and we soon arrived at Higher Town Quay – St Martins to the supporters/volunteers and our bags.  We had a short walk up to what appeared to be a village hall where we were greeted with soups, bacon/sausage sandwiches and warm drinks… I wasn’t sure we deserved it just yet but it was a lovely welcome!

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Another little walk down to Lower Town Quay where we would start our swim to Tresco, this was about a 2.3km swim but seemed to take us longer than the longer first swim.  The water was still flat and the sky overcast but the water was still feeling warm and the shivers hadn’t started yet.  We weaved in between some smaller rocky islands at the beginning and it was difficult to know where we were heading to other than follow the kayaks.  As we got closer to our landing point on Old Grimsby Beach in Tresco and started swimming parallel to the shoreline I could see that I wasn’t swimming anywhere very fast and there seemed to be a current heading not with me but against.  Eventually we landed on the beach to the big smiley face of our pod leader Dawn who was ready to mark us in.  The group who left after us came flying in from a different angle and had obviously enjoyed the current in their favour.

After another short walk up to the community centre we were treated to lunch – a variety of pasta’s (including Gluten Free for the annoying people like me with difficult eating requirements), cakes, chocolate, banana’s, hot and cold drinks.  We had an hour here and to my delight the sun had come out so an opportunity to work on my summer open water suntan!


With our tummy’s full we headed down to New Grimsby Quay, passed over our bags to the boat to meet us after a quick 600m sprint over to Bryher by Church Quay.  As we waited for the swim someone remarked to Kerry and I that we looked like we were on our summer holidays standing there in our costumes enjoying the sunshine.  This time all pods were going off together for the short swim so there was a little argy bargy as some of the swimmers raced off wanting to be the first on the beach.

After arriving we walked up to the church and were treated to more cakes (including delicious homemade gluten free brownies – thank you to whomever made those), there was time again to enjoy some sunshine until we started the walk over to Rushy Bay.  We were treated to amazing views, as we had for all of the walks, but as we came around the corner we all looked a little worried as we saw the waves crashing fiercely upon the rocks in the distance.  We turned another corner and arrived at Rushy Bay, like all the others a beautiful white sandy beach.  The water was definitely looking rougher than the calm waters we had been swimming in previously.


This was the start of the long swim which would end in St Agnes Quay, with a little stopover to walk across a sandbank on Samson about 1km away.  We had to swim around two large rock formations, one had attracted a host of cormorants. Our pod all gathered again on the sandbank before the short walk across and then the start of the longer swim of a further 5km.  Between the islands we had experienced patches of long weeds which enjoyed wrapping themselves around your arms, torso and legs… without a wetsuit it felt very slimy but luckily made it easier to swim through although at times I would put my head up and pull myself through them.  This was no different, a large area of weeds until we headed out to the open sea to swim over to St Agnes.  During this swim you could only sight off the kayaker in front as the swells were reasonably big and you couldn’t see St Agnes, when we could it didn’t seem to be getting closer for quite some time.  Eventually I could see 4 bright orange t-shirts standing at the end of the quay ready to welcome us in… for you got it… more warm drinks and cake!!  There was definitely no going hungry on this challenge.  For the first time during the day I had started to feel a little cold towards the end of this swim and the shivers definitely started when I got out.. it made me feel a little better when the wetsuit swimmers couldn’t keep their warms drinks in their cups due to the cold shakes either.

A few swimmers were pulled out before the end of this swim as it had been taking them too long, were tired or just didn’t fancy it anymore.  We just had one more swim to go and all swimmers were given the opportunity to board a boat back to St Mary’s (the Island where we had started our day).  A few swimmers took up that offer as the swells according to one of the kayakers were above their heads – in fact at one point during the swim I heard a large ‘wooohoooo’ as one of the kayakers next to me started surfing them.  The last swim was about 3km but again you couldn’t see the finish due to it being around the corner and then another into Porthcressa beach.  Not being able to see your final destination or know where to sight to I found difficult at times but luckily the kayaker I was following had a large wide brimmed hat that I could always see.  The last swim was tough as the swells were coming in from the side but as I turned the corner to the last part of the swim into the beach the water was incredibly calm and I flew into the beach (over more weed).  As I came out onto the beach many supporters were there cheering us in, a mixture of people who were there supporting friends and family but also locals and those on holiday (who were bemused as to why anyone would want to do all that swimming in one day).  I arrived onto the beach to a big hug from Dawn our pod leader – a lovely welcome after what had been 12.5 hours since we had left earlier that day.

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A quick change and then we headed to the pub for a celebratory drink and steak dinner!

The next evening (Sunday) Scilly Swim Challenge organised a ferry over to St Martins to Karma Hotel where drinks and BBQ awaited and was a great opportunity to catch up with new swimming friends and chat about the swim the day before.  A really lovely evening enjoying burgers, Pimms, talks of swims around the world and listening to live music.

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I cannot praise this swim enough, for many reasons.  It is in a beautiful location and the local people on the Isles couldn’t have been more friendly, supportive and a complete pleasure to talk to.  At times you could have been mistaken to think you were in the Caribbean. The event was run incredibly well and had obviously learnt from the two years before.  Every time we landed on the beach our bags were there and there was drinks and food galore (even for a gluten free pain like me!) – I am sure I put on rather than lost weight on this swim.  Lastly all those helping on the day always had a smile on their face and were incredibly supportive, that includes the kayakers, pod leaders, those providing food/drink etc – so thank  you to everyone.  Another swim ticked off my bucket list.

It is also a challenge that both skins and wetsuit swimmers are able to join in and is promoted as a challenge rather than a race.  So if you are looking for a timing chip and a winners medal then perhaps this isn’t the swim for you (you do get a t-shirt though :)).  Swimmers are able to wear fins for this swim too – I am not sure I personally agree with this and having been kicked in the face on a few occasions by some it made me disagree more, however, it is an option if you aren’t keen on swimming without them and want an extra boost.

Throughout the swim I was asked by many wetsuit swimmers was I not cold?  I don’t think that I was any colder than any wetsuit swimmer, and in fact was probably warmer than some.  Most of the skins swimmers had big swimming pedigrees including solo Channel, Catalina, Manhattan (to name a few) swims under their belts and therefore had been training without wetsuits for years so wasn’t really a problem.

My only advice before booking this swim would be to look into the accommodation and transport to get there.  The flights aren’t cheap and only fly from Newquay, Exeter and Lands End (and are often cancelled – our homeward flight to St Ives was cancelled in the morning and we had to get the ferry late afternoon meaning we got home at 1am instead of 4.30pm and people had had flights cancelled on the Friday night meaning they missed the first swim in the morning) and the ferry only leaves once a day from Penzance.  The restaurants also get booked up very quickly, we tried to get into all the restaurants and pubs for dinner on the Friday night for an hour until we managed to find a space so ensure you book up in advance.


Next years event is currently planned for the 2nd September with the two day event planned for the 5th & 6th September.  Make sure you sign up for the newsletter so you can enter as soon as it opens (around October/November) – as I mentioned before it sold out in twenty minutes for this years event.  You can find out more information on their website here.

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The Big Escape

As part of our honeymoon Tom had surprised me by booking us in for the Sharkfest Alcatraz swim.  The email arrived into my inbox telling me I had booked onto the Alcatraz swim just days after a great white had been spotted ‘playing’ with a seal by the ferry port.  So as I packed to leave to Vegas, followed by our California Road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco I took the brightest  cozzie I could find and advised Tom to leave his wetsuit at home so we looked less like seals!

There wasn’t many training opportunities whilst we were away but we did have a chance to have a quick dip in Tenaya Lake in Yosemite – a beautiful location and setting and was lovely to cool off and have a short ‘acclimatisation’ swim!  We did also do a few laps between cocktails in Vegas in one of the pools at Caesars Palace but not sure I can count that!
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We had been staying Santa Cruz, where Tom had managed a quick dip, and so after the Friday night concert we drove up the coast to the outskirts of San Francisco where we stayed for the night.  It was incredibly misty when we arrived and when we woke up and drove down at 6am the next morning it was still the same.
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When we arrived to register we still couldn’t see the Alcatraz so there was some question as to whether the swim would be able to start.  From the registration there is a walk to the Ferry port, as 900 of us in swimming costumes and wetsuits walked to the ferries the tourists out for their early morning strolls and breakfasts were very bemused!
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We boarded the ferries and headed out to Alcatraz island all hoping that the swim (Sharkfest) didn’t live up to it’s name.  As we neared Alcatraz all the swimmers started jumping off the side of the boat and headed over to the start of the swim – a line of kayakers.  As we neared the mist lifted and we could see the mainland and where we would be finishing. As we jumped into the water, 2 of very few without wetsuits the water felt fresh – they had said that it was between 14-15 degrees.  I waited at the back with Tom and when the horn went off we went.

The swim is only 1.5 miles but due to the strong currents (hence why the prisoners were never able to escape) unless you aim for the right place then you get swept past the Aquatic Park where the finish is.  I checked Tom was okay and stopped a few times to check he was on his way and then decided to head off.

I completely sighted wrong and went too far to the left and ended up swimming along the Aquatic Park wall for far too long but after 48 minutes I arrived safely on the beach to the crowds who were cheering in their loved ones.  Mine was still out there somewhere, so I went and got changed and grabbed my camera to get some snaps of him finishing – luckily by not wearing a wetsuit he was much easier to spot.
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We were two of twelve Brits represented at the swim and people had flown from all over including Australia to come and swim in this iconic swim.  It turned into a lovely afternoon as we cheered in the last of the swimmers.


We grabbed some lunch and then carried on with our honeymoon festivities – a night at the ball game watching the Giants win!
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There are many Alcatraz swims and triathlons organised throughout the year, if you find yourself out there have a look and see if you can find one – definitely an iconic swim to tick off the bucket list!

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Crossing the Strait

Back in April Kerry and I flew to Spain to attempt to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar and I have been meaning to write it up since then… however, planning my wedding, being made redundant, going on honeymoon and finding a new job have meant I have been a little busy but I have got to it now!

Kerry and I flew out on Friday 8th April to Malaga airport and had a car booked for the week.  Like the English Channel you are given a week slot and hope that the weather is kind to you at some point of the week so you can get out to attempt the swim.  Our slot was the 9th – 15th April.

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Map of Strait of Gibraltar

Some quick facts about the swim.  The swim starts in Tarfia in Spain (not Gibraltar as many assume) and finishes on the coast in Morocco. The distance of the crossing can be between 16.5 & 22km depending on the strong current.  Crossings are usually attempted between April and October and the temperature of the water can range from 14-22 degrees during this period.

We landed in Malaga at about 8.30 and called Rafael who runs the Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association, it was then he mentioned there was a ‘high possibility’ that we would be swimming in the morning and to call him again when we got to Tarifa.  There we were at 1am having our briefing in his office in Tarifa and told to meet at 10.30am the next morning in the harbour just in case we could go.  Hardly the best of preparations but given what the wind is like in the area – big kite surfing destination – we knew that it may be our only opportunity that week so we had to take it.

After a quick supermarket trip in the morning, prepping all our feeds and a quick journey in the car to the harbour the next thing we know we are being told we are off and to get ready.

We were to be taken around to the lighthouse where we would start by boat and then we would follow a boat whilst we swam and have a RIB next to us which we would feed from.  We didn’t take our own crew with us and had agreed with Rafael that the guys on the RIB would feed us.  We had prepped them that we only wanted to feed every hour and we stuck with the CNP mix that we had both used for our solo Channel swims.


Unlike the Channel you are able to swim the Strait of Gibraltar as a tandem solo, therefore we would both be recognised as having done the swim solo but swam next to each other.

The day started lovely and sunny and calm, as we jumped in I was reminded that I hadn’t swam in cold water since my Channel swim back in August (8 months prior), the water was 14.5 degrees.  Luckily after 5 minutes or so and with the sun on my back I was okay and didn’t feel the cold through the swim at all.

We hadn’t been sure how long it would take but as we started swimming we could see how strong the current was, which would determine where we would land.  Within about 30 minutes the lighthouse which had been so close was all of a sudden miles away.  Funnily when we had our first feed we both mentioned it, it was that noticeable.


About halfway into the swim the wind picked up and the swell and waves got so big that for much of the last part of the swim although we were swimming next to each other we didn’t really see much of each other as we were hidden by the waves… however, it was fun surfing them.

As we approached Morocco the boats stopped and we told to swim in to shore and clear the water.  There were a lot of rocks submerged in the water so we weaved in and out of them as came into shore and also avoided the fisherman to the left of us, we didn’t fancy becoming dinner!  However, just as were trying to clear the water we saw two Moroccan’s come running down the mountain in front of us screaming.  And in Kerry’s words “they didn’t seem to be shouting ‘welcome to Morocco'” I had heard the whistle to confirm the finish of our swim and we quickly tried to avoid the rocks to get back out and not get knocked over by the waves – which of course I did.  In the meantime Kerry had managed to pick up two ‘pebbles’ and once we’d cleared we laughed in bewilderment at what had happened!  Who knows what they were shouting but we hadn’t been that keen to wait and find out.


We climbed back on the boat and were told our time of 4 hours and 14 minutes (we covered 18km in that time) which we later found out was the third fastest British female time and we became the 517th & 518th people and the 105th & 106th women to have swam it (without wetsuits).

It was a pretty uneventful swim, we didn’t see any marine life which is often seen, we didn’t have any injuries, we landed and got back in one piece.  However, it was a really enjoyable swim.  After the drama of my Channel swim it was nice to see a smiley face every time I breathed, have someone to have a quick chat with during feeds and to just enjoy a swim.  It is a great first swim if you are looking for a long distance sea swim that is challenging but is smaller than the likes of the English Channel.

So that was Oceans Seven number 2 ticked off! Who knows if I or Kerry will ever do the others but we can be part of a small group of people who have done two of them!

If you are interested in doing this swim you will need to register with ACNEG , they are a bit slow on the admin side of stuff but were fantastic when we were there and we felt very safe during our swim….get in touch if you have any questions about the swim.

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What’s been going on?

It has been some time since I last wrote a new post so with just three days till Kerry and I fly out to Spain to attempt to swim between Spain & Morocco (across the Strait of Gibraltar) this is what I have been up to.

After many years of training for the English Channel with back pain I thought it was time I got it looked at.  After multiple blood tests, x-rays and MRI scans my back consultant concluded that I have a Grade 1 slip between my L5 and S1 joints as well as Facet Joint Syndrome.  So over the last few months I have been trying to get that sorted, whilst I wait to have an injection in my spine to try to relieve some of the pain I have also been seeing a guy who gives a treatment called Gunns IMS.  It has been helping to get my movement and flexibility back and although the pain is still there on a day to day basis progress is being made.

My boyfriend also proposed between Christmas and New Year so we have been busy planning our wedding for July which has been lots of fun and whist other personal things haven’t been going as planned this has been a really exciting part of my life – I wondered whether planning a wedding in 6 months or swimming the Channel would be more of a challenge and so far the Channel is still harder.

I always thought after I swam the English Channel that within a few months I would just forget about it but it is amazing what an important part of my life it has been.  Recently I had to attend a challenging meeting and to give me some strength I cut off a piece of my swim hat that I wore whilst I swam the Channel (it recently broke in a training session) and during the meeting I held it in my hand to remind me that I am stronger than I sometimes think I am.  And although I thought it was a silly idea at the time it really worked.

By swimming the Channel I had wanted to try to inspire as many people as I could that you really can achieve anything that you want with some courage, determination and commitment.  I have been in a wonderful position to be able to do this through a host of talks at events such as Tales of Adventure and guest blogs/interviews.  I hope that through these mediums I have been able to inspire just a few people to reach out of their comfort zone and hope to continue doing so.

What else has happened…

Award

In March Kerry & I joined many of our Channel swimming friends from around the world at the annual Channel Swimming & Pilot Federation’s Channel swimming awards.  It was great to catch up with so many friends and meet new ones, such an inspiring group of individuals.  To my complete surprise I won a Special Recognition award for the most successful swim against all odds.  As you can tell by my smile I was so chuffed to have won it.  We had a wonderful night and reminisced about our swims and training and our new challenges ahead!

Talking of Challenges ahead it is just 3 days till Kerry and I fly out to Spain for our swim across to Morocco.  Last week on our way to our training session with Spencer masters we both agreed that we weren’t as prepared as we had been for our Channel swim and thought we better get some plans in place.  We saw a video of a guy who had just completed the earliest crossing of the Strait and it looked pretty choppy.

Watch the video here of the highlights from a crossing this year

We have been in contact with the pilot and we have to call on Friday before we fly as there is currently a chance that we will get to swim on Saturday… nothing like getting it over and done with!  Like the English Channel the swim is weather dependant so we hope that we get the opportunity to attempt it as we are only there until the Saturday 16th.

I haven’t done enough swimming training and I haven’t swam in 16/17 degree water since August when I did my Channel swim but as Kerry reminded me – last year when we went over to Mallorca for our training camp we were able to swim 6 hours in 15 degrees without any acclimatisation training or long swims so I will keep that in mind.  This swim is also much shorter than the Channel and I get to swim next to my training buddy.

Really looking forward to hopefully ticking off another big ocean swim and a relaxing holiday all in one.

Next time you hear from me we may well be Strait of Gibraltar swimmers as well as Channel swimmers… hold that thought!

 

 

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What next?

Since the day after my Channel swim I have been asked by countless people…what next? At that point there was nothing, I was happy to have crossed the Channel successfully and was looking forward to not having to get up early at the weekends and to spend some time with Tom and my friends & family.

I have only done one training session since my Channel swim and have enjoyed doing other things such as spinning and pilates at the gym as well as a holiday to Tobago.  But that is soon to change, now I am able to share my answer to the question.. what next?

Next year I have two swims booked, both with Kerry my Channel training buddy.

First one will be in April when we will attempt to swim across the Straits of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco.  We will be able to swim this side by side and will of course be doing it without a wetsuit.  The water will be around 16-17 when we swim so similar to that of the English Channel but it won’t be as far.  Many of the challenges from the EC will be valid here as well as strong currents.

Strait of Gibraltar

Strait of Gibraltar

We have also booked to swim around the Isle of Scilly’s in September.  We will swim and walk our way across the Isles – 6 swims and 6 walks (15km of swimming and 10km of walking) over the day.

Scilly swim challenge

Scilly swim challenge

So there you have it, the answer to your long awaited question.  Wish us luck…

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Life After the Channel

Today marks 2 months since I swam the English Channel so I thought I would write a quick blog on what it has been like since and what I have been up to.

The days after the swim were very surreal and actually still to this day I find it hard to comprehend that I swam for over 17 hours.  It was never something I had planned for or even thought I would have to do but I did and that is the most important thing.  I haven’t swam since as the pain under my shoulder blade still shows from time to time and I also have torn a smaller muscle in my glutes which is still giving me some grief but to he honest it has been nice not to be swimming and taking some down time from it all. It has been nice not getting up early every weekend morning and having time to catch up with friends and family as well as being lazy from time to time. Things I didn’t do much of over the summer.  I will be back swimming soon but for now I am enjoying the rest.

I have been astounded by the amount of money I have raised through swimming the Channel. For the Royal Marsden I have raised, thanks to so many generous people, £8,060 (£9,700 with gift aid) bringing my total for the last three summers of swimming fundraising to over £18,000 for three great charities (Aspire, COSMIC & Royal Marsden). I received a wonderful letter from the Head of Breast unit and another from one of the lead Professor’s in cancer research at the Royal Marsden thanking me for all the money I have raised for them which was so nice to receive and so pleased to know that the money raised will go towards ensuring a brighter future for others.  It has made it all worthwhile.

One of the other things I had wanted to do after swimming the Channel was to inspire others, I truly believe that if you are going to take on big challenges that you should do something with it and for me it is to inspire people to inspire others by doing things slightly out of their comfort zone.  Life is too short for all the negativity in the world so if I can help make some small change then I’d feel pretty happy about that.

Through the power of social media this started soon after my swim when I was contacted by Stylist online to talk through my experience, of course like many things it has been edited with some exaggeration but was some great coverage which helped to raise funds but also inspired a few to do something.  You can read the article here.

Appearing on the Tough Girl Podcast

Appearing on the Tough Girl Podcast

Next was when I was contacted by Sarah from Tough Girl Challenges asking if I would mind doing a podcast, the idea being that I would talk about my Channel swim but also about how people could get into swimming.  It was really fun and hopefully I have given people some practical ways to be able to get into open water swimming.  You can listen to it and some really inspiring talks on the Tough girl website I must admit I did find it quite funny being interviewed when the likes of Olympic Marathon runner, Liz Yelling and Gale Bernhardt, the USA Olympic Triathlon & Cycling Coach has been previously been interviewed.  Thank you Sarah for asking me to join a group of inspiring women.

A few weeks after the swim an old school friend had contacted me to see if I would go and do a talk at her company and then one of my companies clients contacted me to see if I would do a talk about my experience at their 15th Anniversary celebrations.  I have really enjoyed doing these and the feedback from people has been amazing.  I really wanted to concentrate on the power of courage, determination & commitment and what you can achieve through these three attributes. I believe these are the key things that helped me to my success.  I really hope that I have been able to make a small difference and it seems from some of the feedback that I have which is great.

Telling my story at Accelerator's 15th anniversary.

Telling my story at Accelerator’s 15th anniversary.

Lastly I am hoping to support a women’s charity that helps to get women back into work which I am really excited about so watch this space.

After being inspired by a wonderful friend who unfortunately isn’t here to see how she has inspired me I am pleased that I have been able to doing a little bit of inspiring myself and I am enjoying hearing the stories of how I have done so.  The last few months have been some of the most humbling of my life… thank you.

There are a few more interviews which I have done which will be coming out of the coming months but for now I am packing my bag and heading to the sunny shores of Tobago for some well earned rest and some possible warm water swimming and reflecting on a great summer.

Till next time… be inspired and pass it on!

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The Day I swam from England to France

Tall Ships in the Channel

Tall Ships in the Channel

On Friday 14th August I had just sat down for dinner when I got a text from my pilot Eddie saying ‘Can you swim this coming week’, this was the third time Eddie had asked if I had wanted to go early, the other two times I had been in Zurich and then was in the middle of moving house so it hadn’t been possible.  I had spoken to Eddie the year before saying I would like to go early as I had been worried about the weather in September and the possibility of having to be carried over to next year.  Eddie has said that the possible opportunity was to go Sunday night/Monday morning.

I had been ready to go but had a concern, would my crew be able to still come?  I knew that Brian was at that very time sat on a plane waiting to take off to Tanzania and Abby might have to work so wanted to talk to them first before I made the decision.  Brian had supported me on this journey since the beginning and so it was hard to speak to him to see if he would mind if I went without him, I felt pretty sad about it but knew that you have to take a weather window when you can.  Abby said she was able to move something around and join me, great!  I couldn’t let Abby crew on her own, although she had crewed for me for my two way Windermere swim the month before she hadn’t been around the open water swimming world so wanted to find some other support in case she needed it.  My first text was to Emma who had crewed for my 1 way English Channel relay 2 years before, she was absolutely amazing then and would be great to have on the boat, my text said ‘how would you feel about crewing for a solo on Sunday/Monday’.  All she came back saying was ‘if it is you then yes’, BRILLIANT.  I text Manda to tell her there was a possibility that I was going on Sunday and that Brian was sat on a plane and to my complete surprise she asked if I wanted her to come along.  HELL YEA! I couldn’t believe how easily it fell into place, I had been expecting a few hours of trying to find someone.  Manda and I have swum together for about 5 years and had she had been the person who had set up the winter challenge and our dip and dines so knew me as a swimmer well.  Perfect, crew complete… Eddie I will take the slot!

The next day I headed off to the supermarket with Abby to get all the supplies bought, food for crew and me and then had a comical hour drilling holes into plastic cups ready for reels to be able to feed me.  I had been so busy that I hadn’t had time to think about the swim, which was probably a good thing, it was 3 weeks before my swim was due to go and I had been so emotional recently that I was starting to wonder if I had the early menopause.  I’d decided not to tell anyone on social media and only a few friends for two reasons, one if the weather changed and I didn’t get to go in the end and secondly because I wanted a good night’s sleep.  Everyone had been so supportive throughout my Channel journey that I knew the messages would come pouring in so I decided to leave it until I got a text from Eddie the next day to say that I was definitely going.


We were to meet Eddie at 11pm on Sunday at Dover Marina and with a plan to start swimming at 00.30 Monday morning.  As most know I don’t like swimming at night so I tried to look at the positives in the situation, I wasn’t going to be having to swim into the night and it was only 4-5 hours at the beginning when I would be at my strongest.


We boarded Anastasia and Loretta my observer (from the Channel Swimming & Pilot Federation) went through the rules as we motored around to Samphire Hoe beach.  Manda & Emma lathered me in Channel grease and suntan lotion (felt a strange thing to be doing at midnight) and I was given the instruction to swim ashore ready for my swim to start. It seemed weird after all this time that it was finally going to happen.  So at 00.32 my swim started and I swam from the beach toward the boat.  My team had lit up the boat with lots of coloured glow sticks and had them around their necks so I could see them moving around the boat or standing there watching me. It was evident that they were doing everything they could to make me feel as comfortable as possible in the water, all three of them had torches shining on me and if I moved forward one of them would move up the boat with me, I remember at the time thinking ‘I have the best crew on board, they are complete stars, what more could I ask for’.  I remember the water being cold throughout the night and wishing the sun to come out.

My feeding strategy was to feed hourly for the first two hours to try and get going and then half hourly moving forward, it became evident that I was taking too long on my feeds as the crew stopped feeding me treats (jelly babies, chocolate, or peach slices/banana) and just gave me the carb drink, I found out later it reduced my feed time from over a minute down to 12-16 seconds.  Funnily when they offered it to me later on I declined, it had been making me feel a little unwell and the carb powder with summer fruits squash was going down okay.

After about 5 hours the sun came up and I started to settle a bit more, throughout the night I had seen all the ferry lights going past around me so it was nice to be able to see things in daylight.  I had an idea where in the Channel I was and went through 10/15 minutes or so of what I called ‘Jellyfish Alley’ I only saw compass jellyfish, they were brown and mean looking with long tentacles, there were lots below me and I pulled my head up a bit in the water so I could see any coming towards me and started swimming as if I was on the dodgems trying to avoid them.  Amazingly I didn’t get stung and then next minute Loretta shouts out to me ‘swim out swim out’ I looked over and saw loads of seaweed… ‘Seaweed Lagoon’ avoided and on I go.


The crew had been busy showing me lots of messages from friends and family on a white board and it was lovely to see everyone’s messages coming through, the advice from my nephew to ‘swim backstroke it is easier’ made me smile, little did I know I was going to heed his advice later on.  My head had started playing games with me and I had thought I had been swimming for about 14 hours and seemed miles away from France when Loretta shouted out to me, ‘you’ve only been swimming 10 hours it isn’t even a training swim’ it was amazing how I picked up my pace again because of those few words.

A little while longer I started feeling shooting pains under my shoulder blade in between my ribs, it started getting progressively worse and I could see Loretta trying to tell me to stretch out my arm, I tried but it was causing too much pain.  Next feed I was told to give it a hard push for an hour, I knew what this meant, if I swam hard I could hit Cap Gris Nez (I found out that it would have been an under 12 hour swim if I had) but with the pain I could feel myself struggling.  I started thinking of my friend Elaine who I was swimming in memory of, I dug deep and tried to blank out the pain and swam as hard as I could determined to hit the Cap.  I looked up at the feed and it was so close, I was so happy.  As I started swimming again though it seemed to disappear and at my next feed I asked if I had ‘missed it’.  It appeared the wind and weather had turned and a few minutes later the tide turned and started pushing my back out again but Loretta told me Eddie was going to take me into just the other side as we had only just missed it.


In my head I knew I had hours left of swimming left now and for a few short moments I thought about throwing in the towel.  I knew the pain wasn’t going to get any better and the swimming wasn’t going to get any easier, could I do this?  In my next feed I asked the boat ‘am I going to be able to land at some point’ and Loretta shouted back ‘Eddie will land you’.  That was all I needed and I swam on.
photo 20

The pain in my ribs in my back kept getting worse and worse and I knew I had to do something to try to ease it so I started swimming backstroke and then one armed front crawl.  I could see Wissant beach ahead of me and thought yes I am going in – I had landed here two years before for the one way relay.  However, it never seemed to be getting closer, I really started to worry now. The pain was getting worse, I had been asked to give it 100% (which was tough to hear when I felt I had been already for the last few hours) and again knew that it meant the tide was doing something. I was having to dig really deep here and was telling myself that there was no way after 2 years that I wasn’t going to land, it wasn’t an option. If I could swim for this long then I could do much longer if I had to but would my injury let me carry on?

I couldn’t understand why the beach wasn’t getting closer, I found out later that I had got caught up in an eddy and was being pushed back to towards the Cap – when you are in the water you just swim, the crew don’t tell you where you are or what is happening but I did get very confused when I looked up and saw the Cap again – I had been so close to this point 5 hours previously.

The RIB was launched and I knew that was the cue that I was going in to land, I was going to do it, this was finally it, I still didn’t know where I was going to land but I was going to land. I could hear Eddie playing ‘Rule Britania’ over the loud speakers; the French must think we are barmy! They kept pointing towards the rocks so I swam in that direction and saw a double kayak pass by – was it a mirage or was this indeed human life?

After 17 hours and 19 minutes I finally touched the rocks on Cap Gris Nez, I had done it.  I got hauled into the RIB back to Anastasia and burst into tears, the pain was over.  Oh and I had become a Channel swimmer!  I had never expected the swim to be this hard, I had enjoyed bits & hated bits and had many highs and lows and had been cold throughout but I had never given up believe that I was going to land.  After all if you want something badly enough and you give absolutely everything then you can achieve it.
photoAs I crawled up onto Anastasia my crew who had been amazing throughout wrapped me in towels and congratulated me – I was pretty emotional at this point and turned around to Manda and said ‘you and your bloomin story’.  A few days before I had been telling Manda that I was hoping for a nice flat crossing under 13 hours and in beautiful sunshine to which she answered you need some drama – you need a story!  I certainly had that…

It is still taking time to sink in that I have become a Channel swimmer but I have been overwhelmed by the amazing support I received throughout and after.  My two reasons for doing the swim were firstly in memory of a wonderful friend Elaine who had lost her battle to cancer 2 years prior – I thought about her a lot during the swim and it helped me numerous times to dig deep and secondly was to inspire others to do something different with their life’s and realise you can achieve things you never thought were possible with a bit of hard work and determination.

I could never have dreamed when I started on this journey that I would have raised over £7,000 in memory of Elaine for the Royal Marsden, but she deserved nothing less so all the pain and hard work has been completely worth it and asked would I still have done it if I knew what I would go through – ‘hell yes I would’.


The Oscars

Thank you so much to Abby, Manda & Emma for being amazing throughout, it was funny listening to the stories from the boat afterwards and you can read a blog from a crew’s perspective here.  I 100% had the right crew on board and know that with a different crew it might not have worked out – they were brilliant in every way and will always be the people whom without, I may have been telling a different story.

Also a big thanks to Eddie and the Anastasia gang & Loretta, they made this all possible and at no point chose to pull the swim despite seeing the pain I was in and how much longer I had to swim.

I also have to thank all the many people over the years from the Channel swimming community who have given me their time and advice many of which have become great friends.

As well as my Channel training partner Kerry who has been such great support when I had been going through huge lows and doubted my ability to swim the Channel and constantly reminded me about the things I had already achieved.  I will be with you every stroke of the way for your own swim.

Big thanks to Franco, my lovely Osteo from Natural Health Chiro who has looked after my back and shoulders throughout the year and ensured that I have been able to train without injury for the whole year.

And lastly thank you to all of you who have supported me with numerous amounts of support and donations, you have no idea how much it helped me.

PS – I am now a Channel Swimmer! #sohappy

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And we are back!

On the 25th July Paul and I flew over to Zurich to swim the prestigious Lake Zurich race.  Paul & I had entered the year before but not got a space so we were over the moon when we found out we got a slot for a two person relay for 2015.

This was the third relay Paul & I have done together in as many years.  The previous two were the six person one way relay of the English Channel and also the two way four person relay of the Channel.

We arrived into Zurich and headed over to Rapperswil the other side of the lake where the swim would start.  It is funny as you sit on a train for 26km realising that the next day you are going to have to swim that.  We headed over to the briefing where all the solo and relay swimmers were given details about the rules and schedule for the next day.  It was nice to see many others from the marathon swimming community that I have met and become friends with over the years many of which were doing it solo.

 Paul and I walked over to the marina at 6.30am to find our pilot.  One of the wonderful things about this swim is that the community comes together to offer its services for the swim and so you don’t know what type of boat you are going to get or who your pilot is until the morning of the swim.  As teams went off with pilots sporting fancy power boats to yachts to little rowing boats and kayaks we awaited to see what we would get.  Next minute Mat walks up and introduces himself to us as our pilot for the day.  This was Mat’s first time supporting the swim but he works on a boat school on the lake so we had no worries about him knowing the lake well enough to get us from one end to the other.  The boat was a spacious motor boat which we loaded up ready for the 26km trip and Paul headed over to the start.


Mat & I motored around to towards the start as we saw the solo swimmers set off and we waited for the relays to start.  The swim allows for solo swimmers and relay swimmers (team of 2 or 3) and in both wetsuits and non wetsuits, although at a balmy 25 degrees those in wetsuits must have been a bit toasty.  The start was interesting – the swimmers head off but then us on the boats have to find our swimmer – set with a pair of binoculars I found Paul and we motored over to him to lead the way for the next hour.

Paul swimming

Paul swimming

The relay swim rules state that swimmers must swap every hour so after enjoying the sunshine and chatting away to Mat it was time for me to jump in.  Compared to the cold waters of the UK this water was bliss and we were so lucky with the weather, just the day before the wind had built up big chop across the lake but today was so flat and peaceful – it was great to be enjoying some warm flat waters.

After I got out Paul had left me a little note which was great to receive, it was lovely not to be doing a solo swim and to have some company but the problem with a two man relay is you don’t get to speak to each other – so for the rest of the swim we left notes for each other.  As I got out of the water each time I really looked forward to reading my note.


Paul and I were motoring along looking at going just under the 8 hour mark when I noticed that Paul had started trying to stretch out his shoulders whilst swimming.  When you have swam with someone so much over the years you get to know their stroke so when it changes you know that something is up.  Paul started slowing down and so I left a note to see if he was okay – I would have to wait an hour till I got out to find out.

Turned out that Paul was in some pain from his shoulders and was suffering somewhat, but he ploughed on regardless and we carried on swapping every hour.

It was lovely having Mat aboard as he grew up in the area and was able to point things out and tell me about different parts of the lake as we passed them (when I was out of the water that is) as well as waving at friends fishing on the side of the lake.

Mat our pilot

Mat our pilot

As we approached the last 300m of the lake I jumped in with Paul and we swam to the finish together whilst Mat motored over to the marina.  At the finish you are greeted with a lei and your medal and interviewed by a lady asking you about your experience.  In the end it took us 8 hours 44 minutes and although Pail was clearly in a lot of pain he managed to grit his teeth and get us to the finish line. It is a very well run event and you are treated at the end to some wonderful vegan food and massages etc.  It was great to cheer in some friends into the finish and relax – that was until the last swimmer came in and the rain fell. We had been so lucky with the weather and as we sat on the bus back to Rapperswil following the lake I reminded myself ‘we just swam that’.

I wonderful day with wonderful people in wonderful surroundings.  A big thanks to Mat for getting us there in one piece avoiding the traffic on the lake including the ferries that were on a tight schedule and didn’t like to detract from their usual journey line.

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If you want a wise answer, ask a reasonable question

Questions

Like many aspiring Channel swimmers (& those whom already hold the grand title of being a Channel swimmer) I find myself always being asked questions about what it entails.  We often spend time laughing at some of the questions we are asked as they seem ridiculous to us but for those not living and breathing the life of a ‘Channel swimmer’ wannabe they must be reasonable questions.

For this blog I have decided to answer all those questions I am always asked and also opened up the question to my my facebook group to see what they might like to know, so here goes….

Do you wear a wetsuit?
No, I will be crossing the Channel under the rules of the Channel Swimming & Pilot Federation (CS&PF) their rules state that you are able to wear a swimsuit (one or two piece) that does not extend past the shoulder or knee, one pair of goggles and one swim hat.  For the full rules they can be read here.  There is also another Channel swimming authority –Channel Swimming Association.

What is the most comfortable costume to wear?
I think this is completely individual and as we are all different sizes different people will find styles that keep them all in place depending on their shape.  I have often seen people falling out of their costumes through training swims  or getting bad chaffing from the lining or the straps being too tight.  For me it is costumes that have a diamond back and not too many seams that will cause chaffing.  For those of you that know me well you will know that I also love really bright costumes with funky designs – many of which are from Funkita.

Do you cover yourself in goose fat/grease?
No, most people just tend to use Vaseline to help reduce chaffing and high factor sun cream to help prevent sunburn.

How much Vaseline do you use?  Can you re-apply it?
I apply it liberally under the arms, under my swimming costume straps on my shoulders and round the back of my neck where my hat my rub.  Very few people re-apply it during a swim but if you needed to you would need to be passed the Vaseline and apply it yourself (usually with a glove otherwise you get it all over your goggles).  You are not allowed to touch anyone through the swim so your crew wouldn’t be able to do it for you. I very rarely get chaffing these days even after my 12.5 hour swim it was minimal on my neck, I think my skin must have toughened up and the cold water seems to numb it so you wouldn’t notice it till after the swim.

Who is on the boat and how do you know where to go?
I have a boat that I follow, Anastasia, which is part of the CS&PF and my pilot is called Eddie.  Eddie has been guiding swimmers across the Channel for over 10 years.  The CS&PF has 6 pilots and their role is to look for the best weather windows for you to attempt the swim and whilst swimming get you across with the tides and ensure we avoid all the other vessels in the Channel (as well a ensure we swimmers are safe).  There is usually a co-pilot onboard and then also an observer who is there on behalf of the CS&PF to ensure you stick to the rules.  They are also a great source of wisdom and always there supporting the swimmer and helping the crew out if need be.  They have to write a report to the CS&PF about your swim which will be read and the swim will only be official once they are happy with what they have read.  I will also have two crew aboard.  Brian and Abby who have been supporting me and crewed for my 21 mile two way Windermere swim

How do your crew support you?
My crews role is to ensure that I am fed when I am supposed to be and to motivate me when I need it.  For me this is through smiling lots, giving me messages of support, feeding me on time and for me to see one of them at all times.  Having had Brian & Abby both support me on my Windermere swim they both did all these things and I have no concerns that they won’t during the Channel.  They are both fun people and will be doing everything they can to make me laugh and enjoy the swim as much as one can!

What do you eat?
During my Windermere swim I fed on the 1st hour, 2nd hour and then every half hour after then. My feeds consisted of a carb powder called CNP mixed with, fruit sugar, squash and warm water. With each of these I then have a little treat such as, a jelly baby, peach slice, fruit baby food, piece of chocolate or banana. My crew keep track of everything I eat and every now and then to give my stomach a rest from the CNP a cup of black tea and fruit sugar. The crew fed me from a cup attached to a reel which was lowered down from the boat and meant that I could just drop it afterwards without having to try to reach the cup back up to the crew.  This is how I plan to feed during the Channel too and is very similar to many Channel swimmers.

How much does it cost?
For the actual swim which includes the boat, fees for the swim and membership of the CS&PF is about £3,000.  However this doesn’t include all the costs spent on training such as trips down to Dover most weekends, food for swimmer and crew etc.  I have paid for everything myself so that the charity gets all the money that I raise.

How long will it take?
The fastest Channel swim is 6hrs 55 by Trent Grimsby and the slowest 28 hours 44 minutes by Jackie Cobell however the average is about 14 hours but it is all so dependent on the tide that day and the weather you are given.  We are always told never swim with a time in mind, just swim to each feed, one arm in front of the other until you run out of water.

What day do you go?
Each swimmer is given a week slot and then a position in that tide.  Mine is week 5th-11th September (my 38th Birthday week) and I am third position, therefore the third swimmer to go that week.  However, if the weather is bad and I don’t get to go that week then I join the bottom of the list for the following week and it keeps going on like that until I get to swim.  Last year for our two way relay we waited 6 weeks, for the one way relay we went on the last day of our slot – it is all weather dependant which makes it hard to plan for.  Fingers crossed for great weather the week of 5th-11th Sept.

Can you swim with someone else?
No, it is a solo swim.  However, during solo swims a swimmer may be accompanied in the water by 1 person only & not accompanied at all until after the first 3 hours. This can be for a maximum of 1 hour & cannot be repeated until at least 2 hours have elapsed after the finish of the accompaniment.  The accompanying swimmer may swim alongside, but not in front, of the solo aspirant & must not impede the solo swimmer. I don’t intend for anyone to get in with me through my swim, however I am hoping one of the team will be able to swim the finally hundred metres with me so I have someone to celebrate with me on the beach – and of course take that final photo!

Do you do it in one go or do you stop? Can you get on the boat? 
The swim is a continuous swim and the swimmer is not allowed to touch the boat or any other persons during the swim.  I will stop to feed but I will be treading water through the feed.

How do you go to the toilet?
You just go!

Do you get cramp?
So far I haven’t suffered from cramp in any of my swims or training swims but it is vital that I get my nutrition right to ensure it doesn’t happen in my swim.  In other sports people take on electrolytes to help prevent things such as cramps, in sea swimming you take on plenty of salts from the sea water so there is no need to take additional salts through electrolytes so I need to ensure that I take on plenty of other fluids and not to get dehydrated.  However, I do know others that have suffered from cramps in the calves whilst swimming so it can happen.

Does your mouth/lips swell from the sea salt?
The salt can swell your lips and tongue and can be difficult to talk and you may end up slurring.  I personally also find that for few days after long sea swims it is difficult to taste anything.  To try to help with this we may use diluted mouth wash and my favourite is fruit pastilles to try and help get some taste buds back.

What happens if you get stung by a jellyfish?
This year there have been masses of jellyfish, there isn’t much you can do bar swim through them and deal with the stings which feel like nettle stings.  During your feeds you may ask your crew to give you some pain killers or anti-histamines.

Where do you land?
The shortest distance across the Channel is from Dover to Cap Gris Nez which is where the pilot will try to guide me to.  However depending on how fast a swimmer you are and the tides on that day you may land anywhere either side of it which will make the swim longer. If you land in front of the restaurant in Cap Gris Nez it has been known for them to come down with a glass of Champagne for you – here is hoping!

Will you be staying in France?
The rules state that you can only be on land for ten minutes, so unless you choose to then go by boat to Calais and through passport control then a swim back to the boat and the 3 hour boat journey back to Dover it is.

Where do you keep your passport?
It stays on the boat along with everyone who is on the boats passports.  The French authorities do board the boats from time to time to check everyone’s passports and the pilots won’t leave Dover till they have seen everyone’s passports.

What do you think about when you are swimming for all that time? Do you not get bored?
I tend to watch my stroke, I watch my arms and hands through the water every stroke and tend to feel like a metronome as I get into a rhythm. When I feel bits hurting I have conversations with myself and tell the pains to go away and after a while they generally do.  The power of the mind is a wonderful thing!  I also remind myself that I can do it and there is no reason for me to stop and that really I am in the Caribbean in lovely warm water and not cold at all! Other people I know like to do little challenges such as their top ten favourite songs, books, places etc or complex maths sums… a bit too challenging for me!  I do from time to time remember the reason why I am doing the swim – in memory of my wonderful friend who lost her battle with Cancer two years ago.  When I am in pain or suffering I think about everything she went through over the 7 year period and remind myself that it really isn’t that bad in comparison and just keep swimming… just keeping swimming is the only thing that is going to get me to French shores.

How much cold water preparation/training have you done?
This is my third summer of doing cold water swimming in preparation for this swim.  I start in May in the sea, Lido or Lake when the water has been about 8-10 degrees and started with 30 minute swims to now where the water is about 16 degrees and swim about 6 hours at the weekend but recently did a 12.5 hour swim in 16 degrees in a lake.  I haven’t swam through the winter nor have I had cold showers as for me I don’t feel I need to but I know others that have.  I have also put on almost two stone to help combat the cold.

What do you believe makes the best Channel training coach?
I personally haven’t had one.  I used to train with a masters group and last year used a coach who used to write my sessions for me but this year I chose to go it alone.  In the winter I trained with friends and on my own and then over the summer as well as training on my own I also head down to Dover where Freda (whose daughter Alison, is the Queen of the Channel having crossed it 43 times – including doing it there, back and there again!!)tells us how long to swim for and we just get in and swim.  There is a huge amount of experience down on the beach and everyone is so supportive in giving you advice that I haven’t felt like I needed one. I have just taken on-board all the things those with Channel experience have told me and used the information and made it work for me.  However, I have ensured that I have a good support team around me to try to prevent injury.  I have a massage fortnightly and am very lucky to be sponsored by Natural Health Chiropractic  and Franco the Osteo and Abby the Chiro have kept my body in check on a weekly basis.  Which has massively helped and to which I am really thankful.

So I think that cover it all – any other questions post them in the comments and I will add them to list.  Just six weeks to go!

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