Last year Vicky Miller became the tenth woman to swim the North Channel, one of the toughest crossings in the world. For her next challenge she has chosen to swim from the Scilly Isles to the UK mainland – a 28-mile swim that has only been completed by three people. We caught up with her before her window of 24-27 June.
What inspired you to swim from the Scilly Isles to the mainland?
I was trying to decide what swim to go for next after my North Channel swim. The North Channel was definitely tougher than the English for me, as the cold water was hard to deal with, but after I had completed it I wasn’t sure what I wanted to aim for. Having a big swim in 2016 wasn’t in doubt, as I love the training and the challenge, but there’s a lot of swims out there! In the end Freda Streeter [legendary Channel trainer] made the choice for me. I was discussing my plans with her and asked for her thoughts, and in her thoughtful but decisive way, that we all love, she said “Scilly Isles to mainland – that’s what you should do.” So, as always, I decided to do what she said.
How important to you is it that the swim has only been completed by two people before, both women? (Alison Streeter swam from Scilly to the mainland in 1998 and Beth French swam mainland to Scilly in 2014.)
It’s not actually that important to me. Every swim is unique whatever the distance or popularity so it isn’t that I see it as more of a challenge because it has been done less; and actually when I decided to do it, I wasn’t aware that there had only been two others. I have suggested to a few male friends that they should do it and become the first man to complete the swim though!
How long do you expect it to take?
Alison Streeter took 15 hours 11 minutes and Beth French took 17 hours 28 minutes so maybe somewhere between the two, but let’s just see… Conditions play such a huge part that I try to never put a target time on a swim, but I chose the swim in part because it will definitely push me way beyond the longest swim I’ve done before – 12 hours and 6 mins, so it’s a step into the unknown for me.
Do obscure swims appeal to you more than better known challenges?
It’s not necessarily obscure swims that appeal to me; part of the reason for choosing the Scilly swim was for work/life/swim balance! After the North Channel I looked at some of the Ocean’s Seven swims such as Hawaii and New Zealand, but they would have wiped out most of my holiday for the year, and as much as I love swimming and swim challenges, I don’t want it to totally take over. By swimming in the UK, I’m able to just take a couple of days’ holiday and I have my friends and family nearby to come along and crew. I’d love to take more time out to travel more and do some more faraway swims, but at this stage in my career, work is a key part of my life too, and four weeks holiday a year only allows so much! This year, my girlfriend and I are going to spend two weeks in August cycling through Europe so it’s nice to have a balance across swimming and other activities or adventures. However, I am lucky enough to travel a fair bit with work so I’m hoping to fit in some swim challenges on work trips too.
How has your training been going?
Training has been really good, despite a lot of changes this year as I’ve moved up to the Manchester area from London. I trained with Manchester Triathlon through the spring and I was happy with my pace on long threshold sets. I haven’t swam as far as I have in previous years but once I got down to Dover, six and seven hour swims felt very comfortable, so I’m hoping the mileage from the past few summers will make a positive impact too. I think it helps me relax about my training when I judge it qualitatively from how I feel when I swim versus the distance I’ve covered, but I would like to try to get a bit more swimming into my average month.
When is the swim scheduled for?
My window is 24-27 June – it’s an early swim but long daylight hours so I’m just hoping I get good weather!
What conditions do you expect?
I haven’t actually checked the water temperature yet – I sound a bit disorganised don’t I?! I did some research ahead of booking the swim and based on previous years, I’m expecting about 15C. I feel pretty comfortable with that as the North Channel was 12.5-13.5C last year when I swam it. Currents are hard to predict as there’s obviously not as much experience as the English Channel swims, but I have a great pilot in Mark Fox Johns who took Beth French over in 2014 so I’m confident he’ll steer us on the best route. As for jellyfish, who knows where they’ll be?!
What are your coping strategies when the going gets tough?
I guess believing in myself is the key thing. I know that it’s a mental challenge not just a physical one, so I try to convince myself that my body can manage and it’s all about getting to the end. The other thing that makes a huge difference is interaction with others during the swim – my parents and crew on the boat, or messages from friends on the whiteboard that I take onboard. One thing I need to do differently this year is avoid looking to the shore!