As we move into February, SEGA Europe’s Jason Goonery updates us on the team’s continued preparations for The English Channel Relay Swim 2022, in aid of The Light Fund.
Looking for adventure
Like a lot of people after repeated lockdowns and an unexpectedly long bout of working from home, I had gotten into a bit of a rut and needed something to get me moving and provide a bit of excitement.
Luckily for me that’s when Stephen Gould came along with the opportunity to take part in a relay swim across the notorious English Channel.
Are you particularly susceptible to cold water?
Are you prone to motion sickness, like the kind you might experience on a slow moving yogurt pot of a boat out at sea for 18 hours+?
Okay, but I assume you’re a good swimmer?
Roughly 20 years ago I would have been … does that count?
I managed to convince Stephen that I was up to the task, having previously completed The Light Fund London to Paris row, and with that I got the start of the adventure I was looking for.
With hindsight, if I had been spoilt for choice, experiencing life threatening environmental conditions while clad only in Speedos would not have been high on the list.
Life threatening or life enhancing?
Exposure to cold water, through showers, baths or outdoor swimming has been in numerous articles and news stories of late touting its virtues as being beneficial for physical and mental health and well-being. So surely swimming cross the English Channel will be good for you?
Well, short but regular exposure to cold water, really anything from less than a minute up to about ten minutes can help reduce stress, anger, fatigue and leave you feeling more invigorated and has even been shown to help symptoms of depression.
That’s fantastic. But, on our adventure we’ll be in the water for a minimum of an hour at a time and longer if circumstances require it, such as having to hold our right of way at night or in fog in the busiest shipping Channel in the world.
Our Channel crossing is planned for swim window of 30 June to 3 July when sea temperatures will likely be around 13°C to 15°C. When you consider that your average indoor swimming pool is around 30°C, we’re talking a significant difference!
Combine the water temperature with the time in the water and wind chill and hypothermia is a very real risk. Having succumbed to the latter once before I can tell you it is frighteningly horrible. Indeed, it had such an effect on me mentally I didn’t get into any open water for years.
The good news
Being a good cold water swimmer requires a combination of ‘fitness vs bioprene’ and in a juxta-position to a lot of endurance sports, the more body fat in this scenario the better. I’ve never been more excited to hear about a ‘nutritional plan’ in all my life.
You see, the fat acts like a blanket keeping in the heat that your muscles are generating while you swim. The faster you swim, the more heat you generate and the more body fat you have, the longer you can retain that heat. As little as 2cm of body fat provides insulation similar to a 5-7mm wetsuit. Bring on the buffet…
Unfortunately for me I’ve always been ‘slim’ and putting on weight has always been a struggle. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the world’s smallest violins being played in harmony by my work colleagues as I mentioned that over my second lunch. They were much more pleased to hear about the uncontrollable shaking and shivering after a cold shower or winter swim to help acclimatise to the sea temperatures we’ll face (you can read more in this blog here).
Cold showers are tough to get through but if you persevere, you’re greeted with increased mental resilience, a decrease in stress and an incredible elation. After a particularly long and gruelling one, I came out with such an endorphin and adrenaline rush I screamed, ‘WOOOOOOOOO!’ and ran up and down the flat telling my significant other about how amazing this was and she HAD to get involved. If you’re ever feeling stressed at home or need a quick boost, there is nothing better to clear your head and focus on the now than an ice cold shower… give it a try!
While getting acclimatised to cold water has some amazing benefits, it’s a bit of a double edged sword if you plan on swimming long distances in cold water. Your body shivers to generate heat by twitching your muscles very quickly, this happens when your body gets below a temperature it’s used to and acts as a sort of ‘emergency heating system’. The more used to the cold you get, the more comfortable you are and the longer your body waits before starting to shiver. Studies show however, that your body is still getting cold, it’s just more comfortable doing so and your body waits longer before it feels like it needs to help you out.
To give you an example of why that might be a bad thing I’ll use that of Jason Zirganos, an incredible cold water swimmer who was the first Greek ever to swim the English Channel. Sadly his life came to an unfortunate end when he attempted to swim the 22 mile North Channel of the Irish Sea and literally swam until he was blue and unconscious, but had not felt ‘cold’ prior to this. It’s scary to think you can become so accustomed to the cold you can swim until you die.
Now, while we won’t be swimming for long enough each for it to get quite that bad, hypothermia remains a real and serious concern for many of us and especially so as swimmers themselves are not a good judge of when they’re in trouble.
To re-align and lift the mood, we are most fortunate to have a fantastic team around us and we will, of course, be looking out for each other. This is a team effort made up of solo component parts. Morale is high and we are gaining more experience by the day. We are, of course, doing this to raise as much as we can for the amazing causes The Light Fund supports. Every pound raised is going to help improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.
How can I help?
Share the story with your network! If you’re able, a direct donation at our JustGiving link below or contact one of the team at the bottom of the article for corporate sponsorship.
If you want to experience the highs and lows with us, and all the social media content in between, then check out our social media links and give us a follow.
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.