Answering Questions About Channel Swimming

July 22, 2016

swim the channel swimming questions answers
Did you watch the documentary film on BBC4 this week – “Swim The Channel”? It was a touching, very honest look into a world most people know very little about.

I know a fair bit about this random topic – I swam the English Channel solo in 2004 and again in 2008, and have also been part of a relay team that swam there and back. I also swam around Jersey in 2007.

This blog has a decent amount of posts, pages, and FAQs about Channel swimming. So I’m not surprised to see that lots of people have found their way here this week, from Googling various Channel swim-related search terms.

Here follows the laziest blog post ever a timely and responsive blog post šŸ˜‰ , using exact search terms people have Googled… and answering them.

“what fat do they use on people swimming the channel”

As far as I know, it’s still Vaseline or similar. That’s what Barrie (the guy you saw “greasing people up” on the BBC4 film) used on me last time his be-gloved hand smeared its way around my armpits. I recall (all too vividly) the one day in training that we all tried something different. It wasn’t good. We emerged from our 6+ hour training swims that day red raw and chafed to smithereens. Back to Vaseline, please!

“cover body on goose fat for swimming”

I’m not sure what the three people who typed this into Google meant. Let’s have a guess….why do/do Channel swimmers cover their entire body with goose fat for swimming?

They don’t. I believe they did, once, many many decades ago. They certainly used lanolin (“sheep grease”). If you have a picture in your mind of a Channel swimmer coated head to toe in a thick white layer, that’s probably where you’ve got the idea of “goose fat” from. It’s kind of a Channel myth which won’t die.

Nobody uses goose fat, goose grease, or indeed lanolin any more. It stinks, it’s heavy, it gets cold and breaks off in chunks, and it covers everything it comes into contact with (including your goggles, and your pilot boat when you get in).

“why do swimmers wear goose fat”

See above. They don’t. Goose fat is for excellent roast potatoes, not for swimmers.

“why do swimmers grease up”

To prevent chafing. Think about it: hours and hours (9 if you’re fast, and lucky, 24+ if you’re not) of swimming in salt water. Your costume will chafe you. Your own skin will chafe you. Chaps, your stubble will scratch your shoulders as you turn your head repeatedly to breathe. Even if you shave before leaving for Dover marina, by the time you finish your swim it may be starting to grow back (if you are uber-manly).

A Channel swimmer might maintain a stroke rate of 60 spm during the swim. The average swim time is probably 15 hours. That’s 50,000+ turns of the arms. 50,000 times the armpit skin will rub against itself. 50,000 times your thighs might rub together. “Grease” (Vaseline) goes some way to easing the chafing.

It’s not to keep warm.

“channel swimmers why grease duck fat”

See above. No. This myth is strong in this one!

“why 6 hour swim Channel swim”

I think the four people who Googled this are referring to the 6-hour qualifying swim which was mentioned in the BBC4 film. To be eligible to swim the Channel, you need to do various things (including a medical) – one of which is complete a 6-hour swim in water of relevant temperature. This is part of the paperwork. If you haven’t done your qualifying training swim, you won’t be able to start your swim.

Ideally, that’s the very least you’d do. Be realistic – your Channel swim is likely to take 12+ hours. If you’ve only ever done one 6-hour swim, you have no idea how your body and mind cope from 6:01 until…whenever you finish. I swam in late July, and I did 7 hours (Saturday) and 6 hours (Sunday) several times. If your swim is later in the season, you should be doing 7+7 or 7+6 as often as possible. It sucks, but not as much as aborting your swim at 7 hours because you haven’t prepared properly.

Think of your 6-hour qualifying swim as a milestone in training, not the end goal.

“swim channel in dark why”

Channel swims set off according to tide times. So – unless you’re very fast, or swimming on the longest day of the year – you will probably swim through darkness for some portion of your swim. Both mine started at around 2am (just a coincidence). So I started in pitch dark, and swam through the dawn. It was beautiful, one of my most cherished memories, and something I can’t really put into words. Other swimmers might “land” (finish) their swims in the dark. Just one of those things!

“why do cross channel swimmers not wear wetsuits”

They can do. You are allowed to swim the Channel in a wetsuit. But it won’t “count” as an official Channel swim, and you will not be listed in the record books or the lists of successful Channel swimmers. Why? It’s just the way it is. The rules of real Channel swims state you can wear a swim suit, hat, goggles, ear plugs, and a lightstick for night swimming. That’s it. It’s a bit like asking “why can marathon runners not use roller skates?” They could. They’d still cover the 26.2 miles. But they wouldn’t be in the list of people who ran it.

There are various challenges that involve swimming across the English Channel, wearing a wetsuit. Arch to Arc is one such challenge. Clearly if you do that, you would have “swum the Channel” as part of “completing the Arch to Arc”. But you wouldn’t be able to say you were a “proper” Channel swimmer.

I hope that doesn’t sound elitist. It’s just the rules of a very old (and purist) sport.

Hope that was useful or at least interesting! Do you have any questions about Channel swimming?

I have another Channel swimming blog post planned after watching the BBC4 Swim The Channel film this week. I’ll get to it!

Answering Questions About Channel Swimming is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


My UK Health Radio Interview: Bodybuilding and Channel Swimming

July 3, 2016

nicola joyce interview uk health radio bodybuilding

Does ANYBODY like the sound of their own voice? I don’t. It won’t surprise you that I’m far more comfortable being interviewed in print

…but UK Health Radio managed to persuade me to go on their Fitness Hour Show to big up the sport of drug-free bodybuilding. I’ll take any opportunity to talk about it people who might not know about the sport. So… here I am! In all my “I sound like a 5-year-old” glory.

You can listen again to it via this link >> Nicola Joyce bodybuilder interview on UK Health Radio

(I’m the opening interview on the show – it’s just after the first song – at around 5 minutes in)

As predicted, I went off-piste… here are a few of the topics the interview covers:

– My background in Channel swimming
– What goes through your brain when you’re swimming the Channel?
– What are the skills you need to be a Channel swimmer?
– Is swimming the Channel scary?
– How and why did I make the transition from swimming to bodybuilding?
– Can anyone get involved in bodybuilding?
– Is age a barrier in physique and strength sports… or a bonus?
– What are the different categories and types of bodybuilding?
– Is bodybuilding healthy or not?
– How can a bodybuilding lifestyle benefit our health?
– Why is lifting weights and eating like a bodybuilder healthy (even if you don’t compete)?
– What does “clean eating” really mean? Is it always a good thing?
– Healthy lifestyle improvements vs extremes of diet and exercise
– Advice for anyone wanting to get into bodybuilding

Hope you enjoy the interview. If you think it would be interesting or useful to anyone you know, please do share.

Nicola Joyce UK Health Radio Interview: Bodybuilding and Channel Swimming is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


thefitwriter on local radio Academy FM Folkestone

December 5, 2013

Morning! Just a quick one to post up a link to a radio interview I did last weekend

I was invited in to speak to the guys on the morning show at Folkestone’s Academy FM and we managed to quickly rattled through the sports I’ve been involved in, from Channel swimming to endurance sports like triathlon, to my recent bodybuilding win at the INBF Worlds.

If you’ve ever wondered what I sound like (my opinion=”weird”!), would like to hear me speak about my feelings on going to the Worlds, or are interesting in finding out how a Channel swimmer becomes a bodybuilder, have a listen. The interview is just over 9 minutes long.

Thank you to the guys at Academy FM for inviting me in!

thefitwriter on local radio Academy FM Folkestone is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


How do others see you? 8 year olds on sport and fitness.

July 1, 2012

We all influence other people. Perhaps your job puts you in a position of power, or maybe you’re in the public eye. It could simply be that one person sees you as an inspiration. Whatever the reason, each one of us influences those around us. Hopefully in a positive way!

Have you ever wondered how other people see you?

When my friend Katherine – who’s a school teacher – approached me recently to ask if I’d help out with a school project, I said sure! I didn’t know what she had in mind but I’m always keen to help out with anything which informs or inspires kids about sport, healthier eating and activity.

So, “year 3” (for the clueless – like me – this means boys and girls of eight and nine years old) sent me a load of questions about the sports I’ve done.

Hi Nicola,

We have learnt a bit about you today and some of the sports that you have done. We have some questions to ask you about the things that you have done, and Miss Palmer says you have very kindly agreed to answer them! We loved your photographs on your blog, you must work really hard when you are doing all your sports. Here are our questions:

Some of the questions were hilarious, some were cute and some really made me think. Here are just some of them:

Do you enjoy being an athlete?
Do you have to work hard to do your sports?
Have you ever coached anybody else in any sports?
What did you see when you swam in the sea? Did you see any animals?
Were you cold in the ocean?
Were you exhausted afterwards?
Why did you enter the triathlon?
Is bodybuilding easy?
How did you grow such big muscles?
What exercises do you have to do to be a bodybuilder?
Do you have to eat healthy food to make your muscles bigger?
Do you go on the treadmill? Do you go on the exercise bike?
Do you have to eat different sorts of food when you are bodybuilding to when you are channel swimming?

I love their curiosity and imagination! I also think it’s really interesting that the “top three” questions for Channel swimming (goosefat, sharks and water temperature) didn’t crop up at all, and nor did anything about tan for bodybuilding. I wonder why adults tend have such a limited range of questions to ask (at least at first) whereas these kids presumably either understood why we wear tan, or just thought it was too boring a thing to ask – a waste of a perfectly good question šŸ˜‰

So, I answered all their questions, unsure of what the project was or what would be done with my replies. I felt quite a lot of pressure suddenly! For all I knew, this could be the first time some of these children had ever learned about or thought about nutrition, being active, body image. I didn’t want to patronise, but nor did I want to pitch it too high and risk them switching off or feeling overwhelmed. I really wanted to encourage them, to spark some interest, perhaps even to encourage a dream of their own. (As I told them, I was exactly their age when I first thought about swimming the Channel.) Here was a great opportunity to get these children to realise that they have the power to achieve anything they want to, and that dreams should be dreamed big! I didn’t want to mess it up!

A few days later, my inbox was full of the most wonderful pictures and stories. They are just about the best thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve printed them all out and will keep them in my kit bag. I can only hope that I inspired and motivated at least some of Year 3. They have certainly inspired me.

Thank you, Year 3!

Read on for some of the pictures they sent me, as well as a few choice quotes from the stories they wrote.


This one is quite simply immense. The power! That triangle-me is owning that stage! I can only hope to be this large and in charge when I next compete šŸ™‚


Crazy separation I’ve got going on there! As well as the most muscley shins I’ve ever seen. I think I need to work on my quads a bit more, though šŸ˜‰


I’m so happy in this one! With good reason – I appear to be shoulder pressing two 80kg dumbbells overhead. I’m not sure what I’m wearing. I love that I am training outside on a beautiful sunny day, and also love that one of the podiums (?) says “well done” on it.


Just me and some crazy-cute seals hanging out together. Check out the whiskers on those seals! Adorable!


Hi! I’m swimming the Channel and there’s a really big tanker and I’m really happy about it all! šŸ˜€

Now for the words of wisdom. I should point out that these are not my words, they’re written by Year 3. They presumably read my replies to their initial questions and then let their imaginations go… Quite right, too. That’s the best way to write sometimes: just get going and start writing, then see what came out.

If you want sporting success, Musfirah tells us to “look insid, start being healthy!”

Imaan tells us that, to build muscle, you must “lift really heavy weights or small, digit number weights. Then you can enter the competition, but you will have to show off your muscals to the jujes.” He also reminds us of the importance of safety when cycling. “..she had to were a helmet for safety just in case she falls off.” What are you saying, Imaan? šŸ˜‰

Jasmine has a few words to say about diet. “…lots of eggs, meat, fish and even kangoo – but it is meat, it keeps you fit. When you are a body builder you can’t eat cakes or choclett!”

Adeed has the impression that I am a “musly millionair”, love him. Perhaps he has had some sort of premonition? Fingers crossed. He chronicles my 2011 season by saying that “on her first day she won a trophy and she was proud of her self.” Well, yes, I suppose I was, and should be more often! “Eat meat, fresh eggs, kangaroos, healthy food and sports drink,” advises Adeed (as opposed to rotten eggs, I assume!)

Elliot keeps it real. “If you want to be a body builder, get to that gym!”

I’ll leave you with these simple truths from Haiden and Joshua W:

“Give it a go!”
“Always remmember, don’t give up.”

They said it!

What did you dream of doing when you were eight or nine years old? Have you done it yet?

How do others see you? 8 year olds on sport and fitness. is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Byline in The Washington Post (and “Swim: Why We Love The Water” giveaway)

June 27, 2012

I don’t just train. I do a bit of work, too šŸ˜‰ I work as a freelance writer, doing both editorial work (features in consumer magazines, mostly, but some trade/industry publications, too) and commercial work as a copywriter (content for B2B clients, B2C clients and agencies).

I don’t often blog about work (I probably should do so more often), in fact there are only a handful of work-related posts on this blog:

Where you could have found my byline back in May 2010
How to engage with fitness journalists and bloggers
How I became a freelance writer (and other FAQs)
More bylines
My favourite commissions (at that point!)
A few fitness copywriting examples
– And a few more here.
The importance of quality content for fitness professionals

You can also check out some of my clients on my Pinterest board “my lovely clients” (cos they are all lovely – one of the benefits of being freelance is that you don’t have to work with the non-lovely ones).

On the whole, I am excited by everything I write. Every new commission still gives me a thrill, even after eight years. However, this one’s a bit special and I’d really like to shout about it. Indulge me, please. I promise we’ll be back to photos of my weightlifting belt and reviews of protein powders soon šŸ˜‰

In March, I was contacted by someone who purported to be a commissioning Editor at The Washington Post. Yeah right, I thought. Ha ha! But… it’s not quite 1st April. So maybe this isn’t an April Fool. Sure enough, it was real. The Washington Post had been looking for a book reviewer for the book “Swim: Why We Love The Water” and had found me. (For those of you who have only known me, or this blog, since I took up bodybuilding, you need to know that I come from a swimming background and have swum the English Channel twice). The Editor had read a few of my articles, blog posts and online features about swimming and decided to approach me.

I was very excited. I mean, come on. The Washington Post?

The review came out and is still online here.

Would you like to win a copy of Lynn Sherr’s book, “Swim: Why We Love The Water”? Because you can. I have a spare copy here (not the review copy with my bits of paper stuck all over it).

To win, please:
1) “Like” “Swim: Why We Love The Water” Facebook page
2) Tweet a link to this blog post, including my Twitter name (@thefitwriter) and Lynn’s (@LynnSherr) and include the hashtag #SWIM in your Tweet
3) Come and leave a comment on this blog post to let me know you’ve done those two things… and then tell me your most memorable swimming experience. I’d love to hear about it, no matter where or when it was. Pool, sea, lake or lido… tell me šŸ™‚

Byline in The Washington Post (and “Swim: Why We Love The Water” giveaway) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Guest post over on Girl on the River

March 23, 2012

Hi all, happy Friday: we made it! *wipes brow*

This is very quick post to let you know that I have an interview/guest post over on Girl On The River’s blog: go and take a look. As a bonus, you get to see a bee-yoo-tiful picture of my “muscley fat” Channel swimmer’s back (with a pretty sensational swimming tan!)

GOTR has been doing a fascinating blog series about whether it’s possible to get leaner and stronger at the same time. She’s a journo, like me, so her posts are full of interviews and great Q&As with really interesting people (I don’t mean me! I mean people like Paul Mattick, double World Rowing Champion!)

I hope you like her blog – have a look around – she’s a rower and tackles some interesting issues, tells some funny stories and gives a good glimpse into the crazy world of rowing.

You can follow Girl On The River on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Thanks for the opportunity, GOTR!

Guest post over on Girl on the River is a post from the Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


Channel swimming vs bodybuilding

January 17, 2012

As some of you know, my previous incarnation was as an English Channel swimmer. I’ve swum it twice. In fact, when I started this blog, I wrote a lot about Channel swimming (hence the Channel swimming tab and Channel swimming FAQs, both of which I urge you to read if you’re at all interested in the pursuit).

Sometimes, when I’m pondering my general awesomeness, I wonder if I’m the only person to have swum the Channel and competed as a natural bodybuilder (perhaps one day I’ll do the research). From the outside looking in, they seem poles apart. But when I think about the two sports from the point of view of the athlete, I realise they’re really not that dissimilar. “But you’d never catch me fannying about on stage in a pair of budgie-smugglers,” the Channel swimmers amongst you cry. “And you wouldn’t catch me getting in that dirty cold water,” the bodybuilders agree.

They’re not so different. To prove it, I’ve conjured up this handy chart (click for a larger version, if my formatting incapabilities render it impossible to see…)

Channel swim vs bodybuilding

Which would you rather do? Jump in the sea in your swimmers all by yourself? Or jump on stage in your swimmers in front of an audience?

Edited to add: it has been pointed out to me that the “you are up at 3am because…” answers are the wrong way round. But you spotted that already, right? *oops*!

Channel swimming vs bodybuilding is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


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