STA Channel Swim 2023 Part 1

On Sunday 20th August, whilst at Folkestone Air show I got the call I had been waiting for. My swim was going to be the following day – Monday 21st August 2023. 

On the day of my swim Mike arrived at lunch time, this was so we had plenty of time to get all my feeding stuff organised and could generally have a chat about the swim and my plan. We went through and made all my feed concentrate up, which would make it easier for the crew on the boat to measure and give me my feeds. We made sure that I had more than I was hoping I would need, just incase I ended up in being in the water a bit longer than intended. We went through my feeding plan, and I explained what to do for solids and medication that I would need to take during the swim too. After that, I finished getting the last couple of bits packed in my box for the boat and packed my swim bag. Stu (my sisters partner) had cooked us a yummy Lasagne for dinner, which we ate at around 8pm. It was time to chill before and do one final interview for the STA before the swim whilst waiting for Camilla to turn up.

We set off at about 9.45pm and it was only when I said goodbye to my mum that it felt real that I was going to swim the English Channel. In my mind, there was no “I’m hoping to swim the English Channel” it was “I AM going to swim the English Channel, and I will just keep swimming until I get there”. 

The car journey was a quiet one and it made me think back to when I did Windermere 2 Way in 2021. A mixture of nerves and excitement; butterflies in my stomach and thoughts racing through my head. I have worked so hard over the past year to prepare for the swim. I have gained as much knowledge from experienced swimmers and other coaches as possible, and I truly felt there was nothing left for me to do but go and give it my absolute all. 

We arrived at the harbour before the boat did and had travelled down in 2 cars because of the amount of kit I had. We met up, got a trolley for all our stuff and got organised. I vaguely remembered from last year where we were meeting the boat so headed over to the gate. 

The first person I saw was Mia Oram, and as soon as she saw me, she smiled and said, “this is going to be an amazing swim”. Mia was my observer during my relay last year and subsequently, one of the people I had spoken to previously about taking on the channel solo (likely in 3 years time). Suddenly, despite the fact it was 11pm her being excited almost woke me up to what I was about to do. 

When the boat arrived, we loaded all the gear onboard and got all our stuff organised, we were given a briefing about safety on the boat, where things were on the boat and filled out the required forms for the observer too. Once all that was done and I found out I would be leaving from Shakespeare Bay, I started getting ready. 

I had already got my costume on, and I made sure all the kit I needed was on the top of my bag and box so that I didn’t have to faff about on the boat, whilst trying not to feel seasick, or sick from nerves. Once I was out of my clothes I gave my sun cream, tub of grease and some rubber gloves to my sister to go wild with. It felt bizarre putting sun cream on at midnight, in the dark but I knew it would be impossible to apply it once I was in the water. Once I had plenty of sun cream on my back she started with my channel grease, which was homemade – the idea being that the Vaseline would stop any chaffing so it was applied thickly round my neck, shoulders, under my arms and round the straps of my swimming costume, the Sudocream made it so we could see where the cream was and the combination of the lanolin, Vaseline and Sudocream meant it would stay on as it was waterproof, it also meant it would stop the sun cream from washing off in the water.

The final thing my sister had to do was rub sun cream on the back of my legs, I had done the front but obviously I was going to be on my front in the daylight for several hours. This was an incredibly painful process for me but the sun cream I used was also supposed to reduce the chance of jelly fish stings hurting so, despite the pain I was in whilst she was applying it (I was nearly in tears), I knew it was crucial and could save me a world of pain later in the swim.

In no time at all, we were there – Shakespeare Bay, my start point for the epic journey that was to come. I got my hat and goggles on and all that was left was to get in and swim to shore. Mike went down the ladder first so he could help me down and make sure I got to the small platform at the back of the boat safely. He then helped me to sit down, and I just said to myself “this is insane”, slid off the back of the boat and swam to shore…

Once at the shore I tried to stand up and walk up the beach, it was very painful for me because the beach was shingle. I nearly fell over a couple of times but managed to get up onto it and clear of the water. It was hard to see because it was pitch black but I had a look around and noticed what I thought was a seal next to me, I said “alright mate?”, lifted my arms up as a sign I was ready to start, the hooter sounded and I entered the water. It was only after the swim when I saw the photo I realised I spoke to a rock…

My plan was to swim hard until my second feed, make as much progress as possible and then settle into my ‘swim forever’ rhythm. However, after 30 minutes my swimming hat had started slipping up and it was pulling my goggles with it, causing them to leak – it was driving me nuts!

Thankfully my first feed came round pretty quickly and being honest I felt a bit sea sick and didn’t really want it, I felt like I was making good progress and didn’t want to stop. However, I knew that if I didn’t stick to my nutrition plan, I would end up being incredibly hungry by the time of my second feed so, after 1 hour and 20 minutes Mike threw my first feed to me.

Our method seemed to work really well, my legs had some strength in them but it was tricky for me to stay on the spot whilst drinking. As soon as I swallowed the drink, I threw it up again – a new experience. I had never been sea sick whilst swimming before and it made me feel uneasy, not because I had been sick, but because I feared what may happen if I was sick every time I tried to feed. If I couldn’t take nutrition I would be pulled and there was no way I was making it to France, I simply wouldn’t have the energy! I managed to put the thoughts out of my mind by returning my concentration to my aggravating swimming hat!

Throughout the second hour and into the 3rd I kept pushing hard but my hat continued to annoy me so at my second feed, along with my feed I changed my swimming hat. I then promptly, and discreetly threw up feed number 2, at which point I gave myself a right talking to and informed my stomach and brain that being sea sick was no longer an option if I wanted to get to France so my sickness needed to kindly bugger off and let me concentrate on swimming because I had a long way to go. Somehow, the talking to (which was nowhere near as polite as I am explaining) worked and that was the last time I was actually sea sick whilst swimming! 

(After the swim we did a bit of a team debrief and what we think had caused my sickness was that my bottle let in sea water on my first feed so I got hot chocolate with added salt water).

I was loving the night swimming, although it is a little surreal seeing ferry lights in the distance going past. I felt pretty good though, despite the rough start I had settled into a nice consistent and steady stroke rate and pace. I felt like I was making progress, slowly edging closer to France.

An hour or so later I was blessed with an absolutely stunning and incredible sunrise. At first I didn’t notice it as I was breathing towards the boat but I saw all the crew getting their phones out and taking photos!

I wondered if I was swimming with some kind of animal so started bilateral breathing for a bit and as soon as I saw the sunrise, I couldn’t help but watch it. The only issue being I kept swimming in the wrong direction and swam away from the boat because I wasn’t looking at it! 

It was also around this time that my crew tried to feed me peaches for the first time. One of the tips I had been given was to have peaches in syrup as part of my feeding plan. Im not a huge fan of peaches but the idea was the syrup would give me fructose, but also coat my tongue to protect it from the salt water a bit.

When you are in salt water for a long period of time your mouth and lips can get incredible sore; the peaches were going to help with that. However, I had 1 mouthful of them and didn’t want any more – an error that I paid for later in the swim!

Mike was doing regular video updates through the swim for the STA and it was around this time that he took my favourite by far – what I now call the David Attenborough video!

I felt incredibly fortunate during the early hours, everything was going well, I had beautiful views, my support team were being great, my feeds were good, I was feeling strong, wasn’t at all cold and no longer felt seasick. 

All I had to do was just keep swimming, one arm in front of the other and I knew I WOULD get to France!

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