Distance training with a group can be life-changing, says SwimTrek founder Simon Murie
It was 17 years ago that I swam the English Channel. My training leading up to it was a mix of different things: British Long-Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA) races around the country; training in various London swimming pools; and, on weekends, driving down to Dover and swimming for hours in the Harbour under the eyes and tongue of the Channel General herself: Mrs Freda Streeter.
In those days (I’m sounding old!) training was what you made of it yourself. Dover training was normally between May and September but in the off-season you were pretty much on your own. Long sea swims were generally only possible come mid-to-late June which was somewhat problematic if you had an English Channel swim happening sometime in July. Throw into the mix the requirement from the organising associations that you needed to have proof of a 6-hour swim in waters below 16°C and there were a few obstacles for any wannabee swimmers contemplating going from England to France. Having only a few weeks of proper long-distance training before your big event obviously wasn’t an optimum training regime.
Hence a few years after starting SwimTrek, we looked at creating overseas training camps for prospective long-distance swimmers that would allow them to carry out long swims earlier in the year. The benefits of these camps were much more than just earlier swimming times: technique classes meant swimmers could hone their technique earlier in their training cycle; experienced guides could impart their own knowledge gleaned from years of long-distance swims; and last but not least, the camaraderie built up between swimmers helped them achieve their swim goals, not only during the week but afterwards as well.
Long distance journey
Since starting these trips we have had over 750 swimmers train with us for a variety of swims, including the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and the North Channel, and we have helped over 200 swimmers successfully complete the English Channel.
A long serving veteran of our long distance training camps is senior guide Cliff Golding, who has a host of solo long distance swims of his own under his belt. “One of the most edifying aspects of our long-distance camps is the number of guests who return year after year to complete all the swims themselves because they have another long swim event planned or because they are supporting and encouraging a friend on their own long-distance journey” says Cliff. “The beauty of a long-distance trip is that if you are not training for a Channel solo, or other swim where one is required, you aren’t obligated to do the six-hour swim if you don’t want to. For many it’s a question of, ‘Let’s push the barriers and see what happens. If I complete the six hours swim great, if not, I have still had a great swim experience.’”
We have many guests on our trips who state very clearly that their goal is not to do the six-hour swim, but who then go on to exit the water triumphant having completed the full six hours. The sense of wonderment and achievement they feel and what they have learnt about themselves is amazing to see. Witnessing these achievements, and the empowerment it brings, is a joy to see.
But the mainstay of these trips are our guests. We have had people from all walks of life – from Olympians to those who only learnt to swim the year before. We have had comedians who regale us with tales and exploits, and we have had guests who sit timid at the welcome meeting, barely saying a word, who finish the week a changed person with a six-hour certificate in their hands. We sometimes wonder what their partners and families think when the swimmer returns home after a long distance camp.
These trips have life changing effects on our guests. One of the best and – to our guests – often surprising things is how quickly they bond and build up camaraderie with their fellow swimmers. Cliff feels that this is due to the toughness and joint adversity they are facing during the week. “It is hard, of that there is no doubt, but as they soon discover, it’s also something they can achieve.”
One swimmer was an academic who had two university degrees and a PhD. She completed all the swims including the six-hour swim and, on the last day, told one of the guides that the whole week of swims had meant more to her than the two degrees she had earned. She said the swimming was harder than academia. It’s a fair bet that the six-hour certificate has pride of place on the wall next to the degree certificates.
Seeing how successful these long distance camps have been over the years, I really wish that something similar had been available to me when I set out on my English Channel journey all those years ago.