Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Conquering the English Channel Swim

Amongst the open water swimming fraternity there exists a small but elite group that have conquered the English Channel.

Sure - for many marathon swimmers 34km  isn't all thaaaaaat far.  Quite a few of the FINA races are longer than that.  But there are quite a few things that make this challenge so tough that fewer people have achieved this great feat than have conquered Everest.  Gives it a little perspective (or just means there are fewer people nutty enough to want to do it - but we're going with the first option).

Our friends at Swimsmooth know better than most what it involves, and the training it takes to make this intrepid crossing.
Wayne Morris, Ceinwen Williams, Paul Newsome
 and Paul Downie pre-swim at Trigg.

The water is a chilly 15-17ºc, and features strong tides and rough conditions.  The swim will take somewhere around 12-16 hours and to stay within the rules of the English Channel Swimmers Association the swimmer can only wear normal bathers (like you wear to squad) and a swimcap.  So no nice warm wetsuit or neoprene cap for these guys.  Just think about that for a moment... that's icecream headache temperatures. For 12 hours or more. In nothing but briefs or your standard swimsuit.  Brrrrrrr....

And you better like swimming in the dark.  Because you have to work in with the tide times you may find yourself setting off in pitch black.  Team member Ceinwen Williams commented "Swimming in total darkness is extremely disorientating as you lose perception of where the water ends and air begins - very freaky at first but thankfully you do get used to this!".

And you can't just rock on up and decide to take on the swim.  Besides the ridiculous amount of training (up to about 60km a week, half of which is in cold open water) you need to complete a qualifying swim of 6hours in 16ºc water or less, and also find (and fund) yourself a pilot (aka dude in a boat) who will guide you through the strong currents to France.  Oh - and for the eight swimmers from Perth tackling this crossing there is a support crew of 30 - most of who are travelling to the UK to assist during the crossing (does that make them sherpas?).

Now Swimsmooth Head Coach Paul Newsome is no slouch in the pool - but even so we were really impressed with the pace he maintains during these swims.  For his six-hour qualification his actual swim speed was just under 13'40"/km, or the equivalent of doing 245x 100m intervals, hitting 1'22" for every 100m, leaving every 1'27".  That is pretty sharp - plenty of triathletes would be happy with that pace for Ironman let along 34km!

AND if conquering such a unique challenge was not enough of a goal, they are also raising money for Breast Cancer Cure WA.  So far they have raised a stunning AUD$25,000 and hope to have raised more by the time they have finished.

You can read more about their efforts on Swimsmooth's blog or their Channel Dare website.

No comments: