Thank you all so much for the feedback on pilots, tides, etc. We received dozens of emails from people who are training and those who have completed the swim. Most of you gave quite candid and humble reasons for your success as well as a few who discussed reasons for unsuccessful attempts. We valued every bit of it.
Here is one particular email that stood out to us from a well-seasoned open-water swimmer. It was so good we had to post it for every one to benefit. It’s well worth your time to read it to the end.
ADAM & NEAL —
Fascinating project! I’m sure you’re having a blast coordinating your efforts and travel plans. You’ve certainly captured my imagination with all the possibilities….
Here’s one swimmer’s thought about escort pilots in the English Channel: IT BARELY MATTERS WHO YOU CHOOSE.
ANY of the certified English Channel pilots will steer you across. You could swim it a dozen times, under each one of them, and discover the
success of your crossing relies… upon you.
It’s up to you to be the successful swimmer. If you’ve trained properly, acclimated to cold water, learned to consume enough fuel while treading water, learned how to keep that fuel in your stomach while floating in a horizontal position, and built your open water endurance, you’ll be able to swim the English Channel. No matter which certified pilot you select. In fact, they’ll be thrilled to have 2 swimmers who’ve done the arduous — but necessary — training. Their job becomes relatively simple: Pick the right day and guide the swimmer from point A to B.
Therefore a “successful swim” relies 100% on the swimmer’s shoulders. Literally and figuratively. Likewise, a swimmer who doesn’t make it must take a look in the mirror. There is NO ONE else to blame.
Your pilot’s fee goes toward their knowledge of negotiating the currents and choosing the proper day to make an attempt. The tidal currents are strong, but your pilot will account for this as s/he guides you. Again, any of the dozen English Channel pilots are fully capable. They are well-trained and experienced in handling swimmers in the open water. With negotiating the shipping lanes. And knowing when to “pull” a swimmer.
Swimmers don’t make it across for 5 reasons. Illness (nausea), Injury (shoulder – cramps), Hypothermia (core body temp drops leading to
confusion), Exhaustion, and a collapse of mental fortitute. In other words, THEY QUIT.
I encourage you to pursue your dreams. I think they’re magnificent. So place that deposit with one of the Dover pilots – NOW. Actually you’ll need two pilots for two swimmers. Or one pilot escorting you on separate days. Then, for the next 6 months, don’t think about your pilot(s) — not even once.
Instead, focus on these 5 marathon swim training essentials. I trust you know how to train for a multi-day 1200-mile cycle… I am clueless
there. But I know a few things about how to prepare for a long swim:
PACE– It’s imperative you swim your first mile at the same speed as your final mile. Your pilot steers based upon a steady pace. If it deteriorates, so does your chance at success. Like a triathlon, your goal is to conserve your energy! The currents near France are the worst. You’ll need to muster even more effort to succeed in those final miles. MANY swimmers don’t and fail.
COLD– Hypothermia is a very serious issue in the English Channel and official crossings are without a wetsuit. It is REQUIRED you swim non-stop for at least 6 hours in 60-degree water well in advance of your attempt. There is no skipping this “test swim”. It is for your safety!
Some marathon swimmers “grow” additional layers of insulation by over-eating. This could become a challenge, considering you’re training
for a long-distance cycle and marathon swim. Still, try to carry as much excess weight as you can tolerate. Skinny swimmers usually don’t make it, unless they’re super-fast. To avoid hypothermia, you’ll need to train months in frigid waters. Eventually, your body acclimates and protects against painful & potentially deadly drops in core body temperatures. The warmest the Channel becomes is 64 degrees (Late August). The cold days are 58 degrees (early July & October).
FUEL– Marathon swimming brings a unique challenge for fueling. Not only are you tossed on the waves but a swimmer’s body position causes your stomach & mouth to be on the same horizontal plane. It’s very simple for the fuels you pour “down” your mouth to travel back the WRONG direction. Vomiting is commonplace. Therefore, your fuel must taste decent both directions. Find an endurance fuel drink. Train on it as if your life depended upon it. Like a triathlon, an English Channel swim is as much an eating competition as an athletic event.
FEED– Different category of the same problem. Swimmers can’t touch the boat and supporters can’t touch the swimmers. So FEEDING becomes a unique problem to marathon swimming. How will your support team deliver your fuel from the boat to water level? Some use rope tied around a bottle. Others use a basket attached to a pole. I have used a fishing pole. My liter bottle, half-filled with fuel, is lowered to water level. As I chug and drift with the currents, the fishing line is free to unfurl. As soon as I finish, I drop my Nalgene bottle in the water and my support member reels her in. Like any endurance event, quickly feeding is essential. The currents are not working in your favor in the English Channel. Every minute wasted while feeding is another 100+ meters of swimming. Over the course of a dozen hours, this becomes a serious disadvantage.
TRAIN– Nearly 1000 swimmers have crossed the English Channel. I suspect they’ve done it 1000 different ways. Find your path. Tailor your days, weeks, months to your school schedule and lifestyle. Make and KEEP your priorities. I am a proponent of swimming the “Channel distance” every single week. I suggest 40,000 meters. In addition, once a month, you’ll want to choose one day to swim non-stop an increasing distance. Starting this month, until a few weeks before your scheduled crossing. Make that final training swim at least 16-miles
straight. Ideally, under similar conditions: cold, open water, escort boat with fuel and feeding device. We’re in November, and I’m guessing you’ll swim July 2008. That requires 4-miles non-stop this month, 6 miles in Dec, 8 in January, 10 Feb, 12 March, 14 April, 16 miles in May. June you’ve started your cycling challenge. July cross the Channel!
Does your February 10-mile training swim become your REQUIRED “test swim”? That’s a brilliant way to double-dip. IF you spend at least 6 hours in 60-degree water. I cannot stress enough: This REQUIRED test swim is for your safety. Hypothermia is likely in the English Channel. Do not discount its effect. It is potentially deadly.
I hope this helps. You’re asking the right questions. You’re obviously smart enough and strong enough to surmount the challenge you’ve laid before you.