Dover Channel Training Conference Part 2

Day 2 started with me wanting to stay in bed and my sister staying in bed, not the best start. 

The morning sessions weren’t overly relevant to my sister and after the faff with trains and a busy day on Saturday I was kind enough to let her sleep…aka I couldn’t wake her up!

The journey to the venue wasn’t too bad but I was also very tired and sore. I will admit, I was looking forward to the pastries when I got there. I was let in and decided to sit on a different table, not only because I would get to talk to different people but also because I could see better and get to the cake better in the breaks too!

The day started with a session presented by Paul Cross and that led onto a ‘what if’ session with Mandi Bodemeaid & Mel Tyrrell. We spoke about all the things we thought could or may go wrong during our swim and in the training in the lead up to it. We also had time to write down some of the solutions and ideas on how we can prevent those things from happening or can help us if they do happen.

I have gone through this exact process before when I was planning my 2 way Windermere swim in 2021 and by doing it I learnt to plan for the worst and always hope for the best. The way I planned and went through things worked for Windermere but to be honest I hadn’t even considered doing it for my channel swim, so this was a great reminder and another thing to add to my tick list that I need to do in the next few months before my swim.

In the same session we also listened to someone who had pretty much everything go wrong on the day of their swim and I don’t think my swim can go worse than someone that managed to fall off the pontoon with all their nutrition and dry, warm clothes on the way to their pilot boat and after hanging their clothes up to dry on the boat whilst she was swimming her trousers blew overboard….at least I hope it can’t!

The second session wasn’t too relevant to me, but it was interesting to hear how someone went from not swimming in open water to swiwhatmming the channel a couple of years later. The third was more relevant and it was about The Dovercoaster. What is the Dovercoaster you ask?

The Dovercoaster is the nickname for your tidal window, the time when you’ll find yourself ready and waiting to go for your swim, weather, tides, other swimmers, boats, Pilots and more all have an impact on when you can set off for your swim. You may find yourself being told you are likely to go on Tuesday night and you’re ready to go but, on Tuesday afternoon you get a call saying you can no longer set off that night. 

You will find yourself constantly on the phone with your pilot asking for updates, you don’t know if you should go for a swim or if you should rest and you probably have everyone messaging you if you know when you’re setting off yet and wishing you luck. It is an emotional rollercoaster and is easy to get caught up in it but, it is important that you manage your stress and concentration levels. We were given a few tips on how to manage our stress during that time, the main thing I took away from it was “don’t panic”. We were told to keep in touch with the pilot but also our coach and support team. We were also told to stay packed and take kit everywhere with us during our window, just incase we only have an hour or so notice.

The final thing I took away from the session was a reminder not to be in charge of my social media channels and to not post when we think I will start my swim publicly because then if you don’t go you end up having to post again saying change of plan and end up with lots of “why haven’t you gone yet?” which, for me, feels like I have more pressure on me. At the time of my swim and in my tidal period I will have someone else running my social media channels to remove as much outside influence and as much pressure as possible. Basically, the session reminded me of the importance of being focused on my goal and blocking out all distractions.

The final session before the first coffee break was from Emma France who spoke about the process, not only of the actual swim but in the lead up to the swim and through training. One thing that really stood out to me was to turn up to every training session with a plan and as if it is the big day. 

Something I struggle with as a result of my health conditions is planning ahead, I never know from one day to the next how my pain levels and fatigue levels are going to be, and it can make planning my training sessions tricky. So, since the conference one thing I have been working on is always sticking to my plan for every training session, no matter my pain and fatigue levels. Its made me realise that on the day of my swim its not going to matter what my pain and health is like, the channel doesn’t care if I am tired or in pain, it’ll still challenge me all the way to France and as a result I need to learn to train when I’m exhausted, in pain and feeling rubbish incase I feel that way on the day of my swim too!

After that, a coffee break was needed, I was exhausted and hungry. It also gave me the chance to have a chat with Dr Heather Massey to see if she would be interested in writing a blog on cold water exposure for ADOWS.

After the short break with yummy cake we had a brief chat about front crawl technique and the importance of having the correct technique, especially when swimming for many hours at a time. As a swim coach it was interesting to see and hear others perspective on technique videos and how to improve strokes. This led on to us discussing swims in the USA, for me it was interesting but as soon as they spoke about someone being bitten by a cookie shark I decided “nope, no way jose”; I don’t want to be a sharks snack. I mean look at the nashers on that guy, just no.

It was then time for a breakout group for relay swimmers and solo swimmers. It was time to get more serious and discuss rules and regulations for undertaking a channel swim. We went through the rules for both the Channel Swim Association and the organisation I am doing my swim with; Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation. We talked about the role of the observer on the boat and the things that they are watching out for that may cause a swim to need to be called off. From touching the boat and issues with feeding and even about how you land in France. This caused anxiety for me, I needed to figure out how I was going to land and asked for advice and suggestions. It turns out it is down to the observer you have as you have to be completely clear of the water/have land between the water and you. Given that my legs don’t function well at the best of times its unlikely after swimming for that length of time that they will function at all. The solution appears to be bum shuffling up the beach, not elegant and it will likely be painful, but it’ll totally be worth it!

The second topic for our breakout group was on training programmes and plans. What to include in them, people we can get them from and suggestions on the best way to progress through training. We looked at how much we should be swimming per week, what sort of training we should be doing when and the best way we can prepare for the day of our swim, not only physically but mentally too.

Some how it was already lunch time and I got a message from my sister saying that she would hopefully be with me soon. Id taken my own pack lunch again but couldn’t help but have a slice of their toffee cake – it was just too good!

After lunch was, for me, one of the most important sessions of the day. It was about weather, tides, boats and pilots. Now, I have done a relay swim before and know the basic zones in the channel but as I said before, I want to be armed with as much information as possible, so I have more chance of a successful swim. Part of that, is knowing when to say to a pilot I don’t think I should go at that time because of the weather/tide. I learnt a lot from the session and it not only made me think about when my swim is and what to expect but also what I will need from my support crew and situations I may find myself in.

This session was followed by Cliff Golding talking about and telling us his journey with channel swimming and then it was time for another break. I was hoping by this time my sister would have arrived but she hadn’t. The last 3 sessions were:

  • 40% rule
  • Breaking through Barriers
  • Closing remarks.

For those that don’t know, the 40% rule is used by Navy Seals and it is the theory that when your mind is telling you that you are done and exhausted and that you can’t possibly go any further, you’re only 40% done. It’s about mental toughness and what it takes to swim the channel. 

Marathon swimming isn’t only having good endurance its being able to overcome the mental battles that you have during your swim. It can be a lonely sport, swimming for hours on your own with minimal contact from crew. You need grit, perseverance, passion and purpose and you need to be able to use them when you are struggling most. Remember the reasons you are doing the swim, how far you have come, what it will feel like when you land in France and more.

As a result of this, I have decided that in my head I will have a bag of mental tools ready to use during my swim. When I am struggling, I can go into that bag and use one to give me a boost and keep me going. In the bag there won’t only be things that will help me tp fight a bit harder and push on but also things for times when I get bored. Things like games I can play, songs I can swim, I could make up stories, or even think about what I am going to write in my next blog!

Before the closing remarks there was one final session – Breaking Down Barriers

You may remember that during the Day 1 blog I mentioned being given a piece of wood, well, this is where it came in. All of a sudden the organisers walked into the room in karate uniform and one at a time they broke the piece of wood with their bare hand and told us to do the same with the board that we had written our list of barriers on. It was a symbolic way to end the day, showing that we can all break through those barriers with the right support and information and that nothing, not even the bit of wood could stand in our way.

The only problem was that when I went to break my big of wood, I couldn’t. Everyone else had done theirs first time and I felt stupid but we reaslised that because the table was slightly too high we had put the wood on the chairs but the cushion on the chair meant that the board just bent slightly, it didn’t actually break apart. In the end it wasn’t until I put my bit of wood between the table and stood up like everyone else that I could break it. I broke it into 3 pieces.

What a way to end a conference.

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