As we move into March, Mark Bezodis from YMU Group updates us on the team’s continued preparations for The English Channel Relay Swim 2022, in aid of The Light Fund.
3 months and 3 weeks… or 119 days… or 2,843 hours until we – the crazy dozen (plus support crew) – get on a boat and try and finish this epic challenge.
Yes that’s right the truth will soon be known – was it really worth taking a cold shower every day for the last two years, do two swim hats really make a difference and will my peanut ever recover from being constantly immersed in cold water (at least I already have kids!).
These are the questions I will soon have answers to as we enter the final training cycle of The Light Fund English Channel relay swim.
If only I had faked deafness when Anne Bradford mentioned it over a lockdown coffee back in 2020.
What you say? Swim the channel in a relay… for charity… without a wet suit?
That should have been my cue to take a fictitious call and hot foot it to the nearest warm pub, however, the alpha male in me already had other plans.
“I have done triathlons, I have done the Three Peaks challenge, I have run marathons and scaled the mountains of Nepal. If all I need to do is to swim for an hour then chill on a boat for five hours before repeating – easy I said, I am in!”
But why I hear you ask? You make it sound so easy. Having completed a form of physical challenge annually I had assumed this would be a nailed on success.
Well I will tell you why… because it’s cold and no matter what, you cannot short cut the training on cold water immersion, you cannot cheat, there is no walking or rolling or slowing down and taking a coffee at the side of the road.
And for a man who quite frankly lacked a key ingredient to cold water swimming – aka fat – I was going to suffer on this challenge. But as my kids now knew their daddy was swimming to France there was no backing out.
To help contextualise what we are going to be doing, go and sit in your fridge of an hour… then get out and get nice and warm. Then once you are truly cosy and feeling great, get back into the fridge and then repeat until you are physically and emotionally drained.
It is complete madness, not to mention actually quite dangerous. You see apart from the cold the channel is full of… how do you say it… stuff that wants to make you sick and stuff that wants to sting you, maybe even take a bite from you or run you over!
What the hell had I done?
So it was in the May of 2020 I began my open water swimming journey in the small back water of the River Thames.
I had worked out that from my local beach to Hampton Bridge and back was a mile bang on. So I had my pool sorted and now I needed a new wet suit right? How else do I start this? No – remember no wet suits allowed, damn!
Wearing my brand new dryrobe (it’s actually a moon robe, I am too tight to buy the real thing), I wandered down my road for what would be the first of over 50 or more open water swims in the iconic River Thames.
Did you know the source of the Thames is claimed to be in Trewsbury Mead and is guarded by an ash tree. It starts as a small bubbling underground stream but by the time it reaches me it’s a full flowing 50m wide beast. With all manner of creatures from your local swan to the odd turtle and water snake thrown in for good measure. Yep this was my playground for the next two years – and it was looking rather brown and fierce today.
I told him the story and he looked at me, tilted his head and asked “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Well,” I said, “it feels like the scariest thing I can do but if you want things to change you first have to change yourself”.
So with the words from my favourite kids book going around inside my head I set off on the first of many cold water swims.
So you may ask how did I get on? Did I smash out the mile and run home to celebrate? Did I heck!
I managed a 15 minute breaststroke face out of the water sort of dog slash drowning man swim effort. You know, on that first day because of the powerful current I did not actually move. The worst bit was I needed to get to one hour and 30 minutes to even qualify to be allowed on the boat. I was miles away!
And yes, the dog walker did stay and watch me flailing around like a man walking on LEGO – literally he stood next to me with dog in hand and smile on his smug face.
WTF was this new hell Anne Bradford?? What have you got me into and why I am I shaking like jelly on a fault line.
So when you expose your body to extreme cold your body starts to protect itself. After-drop is common after swimming in cold water – you get out and feel fine, and then you start to get colder, sometimes growing faint, shivering violently and feeling unwell.
So after a good 20 minutes of shaking more than Stevens himself, I staggered home full of fear and thinking is it too late to back out now.
Well clearly not, once a week after that faithful day I took the same path to the river and dipped myself in, slowly but surely getting stronger and immersing longer every week and soon (well, three months) I was getting to the bridge and back, then I was doing it twice.
Okay so maybe I can do this!
Next up was the qualifying swim on Bournemouth beach near Durley Chine. With most of my fellow nutters I strolled into the surf to try and complete what was the first key hurdle. I needed to swim for an 1h 30 minutes, get out for an hour and then get back in for an hour – all in a sea that looked rather lumpy and more than a little grumpy.
The training paid off and sure enough 3h 30 minutes later I was a qualified Channel relay swimmer!
Now, that qualifying swim was over nine months ago and since then we have all been training in our own Covid safe ways.
Some of us are back in the pool which is so nice and warm, some of us are smashing ice and becoming ice mile swimmers (yes, Stephen G you are officially the most nuts of all of us) and others have dropped out due to injury or having a moment of clarity.
That said, there are still 14 of us still in the mix from an initial squad of 21. That’s two boats and a support crew that come hell or high water will be stood in Dover come 30 June, looking out to sea and wondering WTF!
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.