On Thursday 2nd February it was time for my first adventure of 2023, this time it was to Maidstone, where, may I add, I was born!
Channel swimming isn’t all about swimming, there is so much more to it and I have always been a believer of knowing more about something means a better potential for success at it. As a result, I jumped at the chance to go to The Dover Channel Training Conference 2023, being held in Maidstone and of course my sister was the person to come with me!
The conference was the 4th and 5th of February, but due to train strikes we had to travel down a couple of days early. I had decided to travel down mid-afternoon and my sister was going to travel down after work that evening. My journey was pretty smooth, I am pleased to say that I have now mastered pushing my suitcase when using my TriRide and assistance turned up everywhere that I had booked it; it was great!
I arrived in Maidstone at around 3pm and started heading for the hotel (Travelodge). I rolled down the hill from the train station and thought “ohh this is great, I can see the Travelodge im staying in from here”, I got to the bottom of the hill and then realised the river was between me and the Travelodge – not helpful. I couldn’t help but investigate and see if the river was swimable; it wasn’t. I then managed to get lost as I was crossing the river and ended up going in a circle (don’t ask me how – I have no idea!). Eventually, about an hour after getting off the train I arrived at the hotel, checked in, went up to the room and collapsed in a heap from travelling.
I then waited for the message from my sister saying she was almost in Maidstone so that I could go and meet her at the train station, instead, I got the message that there was a fire on the train after mine and Maidstone East train station was closed. Thankfully, my sister did manage to get to the hotel safely, just about 3 hours later than planned!
Not exactly the best start to the weekend.
We had to have travelled a day early due to rail strikes so we had a nice lay in on Friday before heading into town and I then went to the pool to get an hours training in before going out for dinner. Whilst I was at the pool, I was also given a tour of the leisure centre as I was considering signing up to the STA Certificate in Swim Teaching that was being held there mid February. I wanted to make sure it would be accessible and suitable for me if I decided I wanted to do it (which I have since completed).
We had a nice early night ready for an early start for the conference on Saturday morning.
The next morning we were up and out the hotel early to get to the conference venue and we arrived about 9.15am. The conference was talking place at the Kent Association for The Blind which reassured me that it would be accessible to me. One of the organisers met us outside and took us in through the accessible entrance and directed us to the main conference room where we were greeted by lots of smiling swimmy people and pastries – lets be honest, that’s not a bad way to start the day!
We were introduced to The Dover Channel Training and what they do and what they hoped we would get out of the conference. There were seasoned channel swimmers, people considering attempting a channel swim, relay swimmers, people training for the 2023 channel season and even those training for the 2025 channel season. I was in my element.
The first session was on goal setting, something which I am pretty good at and like to think I have down to a T. Each day, I have a goal for that day, I have to have to do lists and aims for each day or I lose track of what I need to do and when I need to do it by, I just get in a real muddle. We were given a goodie bag with lots of bits and bobs in and the first thing we used was a piece of paper with the title Outcome Goal (the big dream)
For some reason, on this occasion I went totally blank, luckily, my sister was there to use her creative skills and create this
We were then given the choice between a thin, medium and thick bit of wood and told to write anything that we thought may stop us from achieving the goals down on the piece of wood; I’ll come back to that later!
After that, it was on to discussing medicals and the day to day medical considerations. For me, this is obviously important, I’ve multiple health conditions, one that rears its head when im incredibly stressed and under a lot of pressure and others that decide if they are going to be good or bad within a click of a finger. In general, I knew everything the doctor there was going through, he discussed painkillers like Ibroprofen and paracetamol and reducing the risk of injuries but, when you have multiple chronic pain conditions, Ibroprofen and paracetamol are, sadly, just not going to cut it. I had some more personal questions so asked to speak to the doctor afterwards. We went through a few things and I now need to discuss them with my doctor so that we can plan ahead and try things before my swim. I did a similar thing when I swam Windermere but this time I will not be in a wetsuit so my legs won’t float in the same way they did during that swim.
Then it was break time, we got to socialise and network and I got to meet a couple of people that I have spoken to online but never in person, meet new people and I also had the chance to chat to Dr Heather Massey who I am hoping to do a project with in the future. It was lovely to be in a room full of people that love swimming, have similar goals, be it for different reasons and who don’t think you’re totally bonkers. It was basically a marathon swimmers nerd fest – it was great!
After break it was onto a talk from a member of the Ambulance service about things we can do in an emergency that make a difference. We discussed things that are specific to our sport and common injuries amongst swimmers and how to help keep each other safe.
After that we split into 2 groups, the group taking on or looking at doing a solo swim and those signed up for a relay swim. I obviously stayed with the solo swim group and we listened to people that did the swim last year, how they trained and what it was like on the day landing in France! The next thing was one of the topics I wanted to hear about – Feeding. Something that has worried me about the swim is feeding, there are strict rules and you want your feeds to be as quick as possible as they all add time to the swim and when you aren’t swimming you get pushed in the wrong direction by the currents. We learnt what sort of foods we need, how many calories we should be taking in and different ways to feed too. Its something I am still concerned about but when my swims start getting longer, I can start trying different things out and see what works best for me.
Believe it or not, all those sessions only led us up to lunch time on the first day!
We kicked off the afternoon with more information on medicals and things we should take in to consideration when training. It was then onto Dr Heather Masseys talk on Hypothermia and how to deal with it. The 3rdsession was talking about what things we should take to training sessions, what is useful and what it a little pointless and waste of time. A lot of that talk and the next one (safeguarding) was specifically tailored to those that will be training off Dover Swimmers beach so it wasn’t all relevant to me. After it was time for another break and some yummy cake!
The last chunk of day one was split into 4 sessions, all of which I thought would be key to a successful swim and were very important. The first one was about building your support team, it helped me to think who I need round me, what I need my support team to do, who will be able to keep me going when things get tough and how best they will be able to support me both through training and on the big day! We also spoke about the things that the support team should and shouldn’t say, about what they should watch out for when I am swimming and ensuring that they know me and my swimming style well enough to be able to adapt my plan if and when needed.
We finished off the day by talking about how to get into a peak performance state and about the domino effect. Firstly, by the time it comes to the swim I should be at the top of my game, I want to be able to say I am going to swim the channel, no matter what happens. I should be confident in my abilities and my support team; I should ensure both myself and my crew have all the knowledge they need so that they can help me make quick decisions when swimming. The domino effect is quite simple and self-explanatory it is about how one thing can affect another and cause a catastrophic outcome or situation. I’ve always believed in breaking things down and the domino effect is no different.
After going through the final few things we headed to Pizza Express for dinner and then back to the hotel to collapse in a heap before an earlier start, longer and busier day on Sunday!