As we move closer to the start of the challenge, Hasbro’s Tasmyn Knight updates us on the team’s continued preparations for The English Channel Relay Swim 2022, in aid of The Light Fund.
So we are now starting the final countdown until D-Day when we set off on one of the toughest challenges The Light Fund has ever faced – swimming the English Channel. It feels like only yesterday when we signed up to this one of a kind challenge, and now we are only 50+ days away and counting (gulp!)…
If we go back around 18 months ago, we couldn’t even set a foot outside the home due to various Covid lockdowns, and like many others I wondered what would happen while my exercise for the day was heading to the fridge and eating my weight in pasta I’d managed to hunt down in the shops.
Even though I hadn’t had any open water swimming experience previously, I remember seeing this challenge advertised and thinking that this was an extraordinary opportunity to delve into something new and an awesome goal to strive towards. Being honest, Covid was tough, and this challenge really kept me going.
It feels like I’ve blinked and the last 18 months have flown by. In that time, we’ve done our qualifier, Kevin Langstaff has launched our Light Fund beer (what better way to raise money for charity), we have frozen ourselves to the bone during winter lake and river swims, completed our 1k time trials, passed our stringent medical assessments and lots more.
I thought I would start off answering some of the burning questions which I’ve been receiving these last few months.
You get to wear a wetsuit right?
Sadly no – wearing a wetsuit provides extra heat and buoyancy and consequently is deemed to be cheating. The kit we will be allowed is a swimsuit, swim hat, goggles, nose clip, earplugs and vaseline. For those who are unaware, if you don’t use vaseline against your swimsuit, you can get really painful salt run or abrasive burn. A lesson I learnt with lasting scars from the qualifying swim last June. This is our core kit.
If you have seen the new BBC series, Freeze the Fear with Wim Hoff, you will be able to get an essence. The key to this is all about acclimatisation, but please note this does not happen overnight.
A lot of us have invested in daily cold showers and were also tackling raw open water during the winter months in skins i.e without neoprene.
One of the most infamous examples has been our very own Kevin investing in a whisky barrel for his back yard filled with Yorkshire’s coldest dales water to acclimatise to the cold in true style!
How bad is cramp?
OMG, the worst! I actually got cramp in my right leg during the 1k time trial which we submit to the pilots. After stretching it out, this was when I set off again and then got cramp in the other leg (you couldn’t make it up). Pro tip, if you ever get cramp in the water, you should get your thumb and index fingers and pull the very glamorous look of pushing down on your top lip as seen below. I tried this first hand and it definitely works! Also taking an isotonic drink 45 mins prior to swimming is key to avoiding cramp, a valuable lesson I learned from our Sir Gripper (aka Mark Kingston) that day.
Breast stroke will get you through right?
Wrong! So we have been training hard focusing primarily on front crawl and getting the stroke technique perfect. In order to cut through the waves, front crawl is the key. We are unlikely to cross the Channel if we swim breast stroke as we will be up against the current and simply won’t move any further to France. It is also frowned upon by the pilots as it makes the support boat handling even more complex.
You are setting off in June, the water will be warm by then no?
We are anticipating that the water will be around 14 degrees when we set off. Even though we will be setting off in June, the channel is a, humungous stretch of water to warm up. For context, most open water swimming venues in London wait until the water is 12 degrees to open in line with Health and Safety regulations. We are setting off only 2 degrees above this, if even that, so please don’t be lulled into a false sense of security with us setting off in June.
You can switch in people if one of you falls ill or can’t take their turn, right?
Wrong, and this is one of the biggest pressures of the challenge ahead. Once we set off from Dover, the rotation is locked until we reach the other side. If one of us falls out of sequence, the team is disqualified. This really is a team effort of solo component parts. No pressure!
I can say that I have, and it is an absolutely gorgeous stretch of water. If you ever have a free morning during Brand Licensing Europe 2022, I will likely be down there getting a morning swim in as the sun hits the water perfectly.
Don’t be surprised if I come into meetings smelling of the Thames…
Do you have a team mascot?
We do indeed. We got to meet Brie, Rhys Fleming’s very adorable 12 week old puppy during one of the last Saturday afternoon training sessions at the Aylesbury Grammar School. An almost dream to meet her after a two-hour session in the pool doing drills and stamina work.
What do you need to pack in your bag?
With six of us on board, we will need to pack light but extremely carefully. The primary items are warm layers. As soon as we get back on the boat, you have a window of around five minutes to get as many layers on as possible otherwise the cold will chill you to the bone, and will make the prospect of the next swim even harder.
On top of this, we will need to pack several swimsuits for perhaps three or four swims. Our illustrious kit includes dryrobes so we have a decent chance of warming up once we are back on the boat. We will also have two types of goggles (x1 night and x1 tinted for day), lights for the night swims and of course our passports. There is no room for luxuries in our single waterproof bags, the priority is essentials only.
How does swimming in a pool compare to swimming in the sea?
An entirely different experience. I can safely say that I probably smell of chlorine about 80% of the time these days. One of the biggest things for me is the mental challenges that come with it. The feeling of looking down in the sea and seeing an abyss of jellyfish vs a pool bottom is terrifying. It really is a case of mind over matter, and being honest was one of the biggest challenges for me personally.
Another is the tides, nothing can prepare us for being beaten by the waves while we try to cross. We will face intense conditions during the crossing, and this is simply not comparable to swimming in the pool.
You set off during the day, right?
Wrong, we are likely to be setting off in the wee early hours of the morning between midnight and 3am, so rather than night swimming being a possibility, instead it is an almost certainty. The only thing keeping us company during these night swims is the spotlight from the boat which the swimmer must adhere to religiously. And not forgetting the various beasties including jellyfish that we won’t be able to see but will 100% be there.
What is the perfect front crawl technique?
Good timing! We had a front crawl technique webinar last month with Olympic swimmer Cassie Patten who won the bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics (we even got to see her medal). The perfect front crawl technique has a lot of power behind it. There are so many elements to think of from the angle your hand enters the water, through to the rotation of your body 45 degrees either side of your centre point. You should be aiming for around 54 strokes a minute – imagine 3,240 strokes in a single hour.
It really isn’t that easy. If you ever see me in real life, more than happy to talk you through the ins and outs.
What food will you be eating on the boat?
No Prêt sandwich platters here! The only piece of cooking apparatus we will have access to is a kettle. We will be reliant on foods which are pre-mixed, quick, easy and provide enough carbs to help us get through. If you see my kit bag, this is likely to be 70% pot noodles, 20% Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches and 10% Colin the Caterpillars…
Taz, what don’t we know about you that will become aware during the swim?
So, you’ll probably learn that I actually have six tattoos (these will all become apparent). And one thing I didn’t anticipate is that these pictures will likely be seen by my family who are totally unaware (sorry mum…).
For those of you who attended the B&LLAs last month, you will have seen us modelling our rather glamorous towelling robes and dryrobes featuring our sponsor logos. I can tell you standing on that stage with the lights and those layers, we were absolutely boiling! You will have also heard the sound of the sea as it will sound when we are on the boat.
I cannot emphasise enough just how real this is now, and I cannot wait to experience what it will be like. I already imagine myself physically fighting against the tides and various beasties in the water… did I mention there are beasties?
There really is a stark challenge ahead of us, and we truly appreciate and thank all those who have sponsored us already, it really does go a long way but we are still aiming towards the £250k goal which will be the biggest ever for a single Light Fund challenge event.
For those of you who are wondering what will happen after the swim, you can catch me in a different stretch of water – a jacuzzi with a large bottle of equally chilled Prosecco.
See you on the other side.
The English Channel Relay Swim in aid of The Light Fund is due to take place between 30 June and 3 July, 2022. For full details on the sponsorship opportunities, you can contact Stephen Gould, Mark Kingston, Simon Gresswell or Anne Bradford by clicking on their respective names. Everything you need to know about the swim can also be found by clicking here.