10 Years Ago Today…

September 17, 2017

10 years ago today, I was stretching out a cold, wet hand to touch the wall of the Elizabeth Castle breakwater on the Channel island of Jersey, signalling the end of my Round-Jersey swim. Today is the 10 year anniversary of my 44 (ish) mile swim around the island.

As good an excuse as any to kick start the blog. Sorry it’s been so long!

nicola joyce copywriter swimming round jersey
That Round-Jersey swim in 2007 wasn’t the first of my sporty adventures (I did my first or two English Channel swims in 2004, and I had run marathons before that). But 10 years is a nice stretch of time to look back on. So let’s do that 🙂

2007 To 2017 – Sporting Adventures

2007 – Round Jersey swim

44 (ish) miles of solo swimming, with boat support. No wetsuit, just swimsuit, ear plugs, and goggles in the grand tradition of open water long distance swims. This was actually the second attempt at a Round-Jersey swim. The first attempt, a month or so prior, was stopped halfway round. The boat pilot aborted the swim and pulled me out, because the conditions were so bad that it simply wasn’t safe. I think we had Force 6 on that swim.

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2008 – 2nd English Channel swim

14 hours 27 minutes of swimming – you can read more about it here if you’re into that kind of thing.

2009-2011 – Triathlons and Cycling

Um…I can’t honestly remember exactly what I did in this time period. And I’m sitting on the sofa and cba finding my old training diaries. They’re in the attic and it’s a Sunday night – come on! It was definitely land-based and mostly wearing lycra. So let’s go with various triathlons (including a half-Ironman distance one called the Little Woody), at least one half marathon, and some road riding events/sportives.

2011 – Present Day Bodybuilding & Powerlifting

If you know me via this blog and my social media, you will mostly know me for bodybuilding. But it’s not my background (I was all about the endurance stuff!); it’s a relatively recent incarnation. I did my first bodybuilding season in 2011, entering one show* but ending up doing four: BNBF qualifier and British Finals, NPA qualifier and British Finals.

(* side note – in locating that link, I discovered that I wrote FOUR blog posts about my first bodybuilding comp – LOL bless me!)

I competed in Bodybuilding in 2012 and 2013, going to the WNBF Worlds (via the UKDFBA – the UK’s WNBF affiliate) in 2013 and bagging myself the amateur world title for my category of Women’s Bodybuilding. I did the same again in 2014, and then took a year off (much needed!) in 2015. In 2015 I did a couple of Powerlifting comps – which you can read about here. Last year (2016), I got back on the Bodybuilding stage with the UKDFBA but didn’t place top 5 at the UK Finals. I’ve kept up with the road cycling all that time, but not the swimming! I literally get goosebumps when I think about getting in the sea. I’ve paddled – and fallen off my kayak – but haven’t been back in for a swim. Maybe it’s time… 😉

(If you want to read about any specific event or comp I’ve done – use the search box on this blog. It’s all here!)

Right. That was just a very quick post to get me back in the habit of blogging. I have a few things to tell you about, and some ideas for regular posts, including ANSEM (A New Sport Every Month) – the first one of which involves 8 wheels and a gum shield.

It’s good to be back. Don’t be a stranger!

PS I’ve been profiled and interviewed a few times since I blogged last:

Afletik Nicola Joyce: a writer who walks the talk

Pullup Mate Nicola Joyce fitness copywriter interview

The Fitness Network 7 Steps To Making A Copywriting Relationship A Success

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Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist with 13 years experience in writing content and direct response copy for the fitness industry. Get in touch via Facebook, by sending a message here.


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 😉 , 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.


“Oceans Seven” Adam Walker on ocean swimming technique

January 11, 2016

Those of you who’ve known me (or the blog) for long enough will know about my other life.

Back in the day, I used to be a swimmer. Specifically, a Channel swimmer. I’ve swum the Channel twice and done other long open-water solo swims. (You can read more about all that here).

But Adam Walker‘s sea swimming accomplishments are something else. Adam was the first British person to complete “Oceans Seven”, thought to be the toughest seven sea swims in the world:

– English Channel 2008 (finished 11 hours 35 mins)
– Two-way Gibraltar Straits 2010 (finished 9 hours 39 mins – he broke the British Record one way and was the first Brit to swim back)
– Molokai Straits in Hawaii 2012 (17 hours 2 mins)
– Catalina Channel in USA 2012 (12 hours 15 mins)
– Tsugaru Channel in Japan 2013 (15 hours 31 mins) (the first British person to complete this swim)
– Cook Straits in New Zealand 2014 (8 hours 36 mins)
– North Channel Ireland to Scotland 2014 (10 hours 45 mins)
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So when Adam asked if he could grab a guest-blog spot on TFW, I had no hesitation. If I still have any open-water swimming readers, Adam’s story and stroke technique advice will be golden for you. And for the rest of you? Be inspired by his story, and consider reading his book “Man Vs Ocean” by Adam Walker (published by John Blake Publishing and available at Amazon here – Man Vs Ocean, Adam Walker, Amazon).
Man V Ocean Book Jacket

Over to Adam for some serious technique talk.

On 6 Aug 2014 I became the first British person to swim the hardest seven ocean swims in the world, known as the Oceans Seven.

My swim stroke was the conventional style of a high head and winding my arms, entering long and flat.

I trained with this style for 18 months, resulting in a ruptured bicep tendon whilst swimming the English Channel. Having completed the swim I had to have two operations. The surgeon told me that the bicep tendon had attached itself to the supraspinatus, and they were unable to separate them. He advised me to give up swimming as the arm rotations would irritate it and cause more injury. He said “If you do another long swim you will have serious long term problems!”

Giving up was not an option for me. I love the sport so much. So I began studying the front crawl stroke and how to take pressure off the shoulder, limiting irritation, and becoming more efficient.

At this stage I wasn’t concerned with speed, I just wanted to find a way to prolong my swimming career. Here’s what I learned.

Head position

After many months of practice and video analysis I established that having a still head looking downwards is critical in the stroke: if it’s not still, you could zigzag.

If you immerse your head then your legs will come up if you are on your side. It’s better to work with the water than lift your head up (which takes energy), not beneficial when the head is the heaviest part of the body.

Core movement

I thought about other sports such as golf, cricket, bowling, tennis and cross country skiing – they all use core stomach muscles to instigate the initial phase. Therefore it didn’t make sense for me not to use rotation as part of the swim stroke.

Rotating using the core only, allowing the hips to push the arms forward instead of throwing them overhead had a number of big benefits:

– Using fewer muscles
– Less impact when entering the water
– Reduced pressure on the shoulders
– Stronger propulsion in the stroke
– More length out of the stroke

If I drive the arm/hand into the water, I am using my chest as well to do this, using more muscles than necessary. Using the core helped keep my hand and arms as wide as my hips. If your chest dominates, more often than not they will drive into the centre line, particularly when you breathe.

You will then have to push them out again in order to pull back which takes time and is an added unnecessary movement. By driving them into the centre you have the potential to pinch tendons and cause friction which will eventually tether and cause significant damage (something unfortunately I know a lot about!)

Early arm entry

I was taught to enter my hand into the water as far out in front as possible to gain a good pull. However, if your hand enters the water early with a bent elbow and then extends under water this creates less resistance and will take pressure off your shoulders.

If you think about diving off a block in a race, they only allow you to go 15 metres under water. Why? Because you are faster under water than you are on top of the water. Therefore the sooner you get your hand and arm into the water the better.

Recovery arm

I discovered that by holding the front recovery arm in place until the stroking arm is just about to enter the water, I gained constant momentum. This aids with stability, which is necessary if you get knocked by a competitor or if a wave is about to hit you. This happened to me in the English Channel with my old stroke and I was flipped onto my back.

Pulling

Pulling to your hip only is your ‘power section’ – beyond that it turns into a tricep movement with your power significantly reduced and delaying the time needed to get your hand back in for the catch.

Leg kick

My leg kick is just enough to keep me afloat, nothing too vigorous. 70% of energy is used up in your legs and you don’t get that benefit back. The kick is a sideways kick as you are swimming hip to hip (never flat).

By carrying out a simple two-beat kick I’m not wasting excess energy and am limiting the calories burnt. This is also important in colder temperatures.

My suggestion is to swim the majority of a triathlon with a two-beat kick, then kick a little more in the final 50m or so to get blood flow into the legs in readiness for transition. The limited leg kick will serve you in good stead when you get onto the bike as they have had limited use. On my 17 hour Hawaii swim, when I climbed out of the water, my legs were so fresh they didn’t feel as if they had be used.

How my new stroke technique has saved my career

This stroke, which my clients are calling ‘The Ocean Walker’ technique, has not only saved my swimming career but meant I was the fastest man on a 21-mile two-way swim in Windermere, and completed all seven channels including fastest British crossing of Gibraltar Straits one-way, and became the first British person to do a two-way crossing.

I’ve had three operations in total on my left shoulder, I can’t sleep on that side and I can’t hold over 10 kilos of weight with a straight arm, yet with the ‘Ocean Walker’ stroke I can swim 17 hours and am 1:15 mins faster over 1,500 metres and 5secs faster per 100 metres.

And my stroke rate has gone down from an average of 72 SPM to 52 SPM, showing that holding form in the stroke is generating more speed. I am saving 1200 strokes per hour! I am not pulling any harder than I did previously, actually if anything I am pulling with less power, showing the importance of body position and efficiency.

What I have realised is the key to swimming efficiently is to make the water work with you. By being relaxed, getting body position right and reducing resistance you will go faster.

The best athletes in the world are normally the ones who make it look effortless, use timing to their advantage and are efficient in what they do. Just look at Roger Federer or Usain Bolt!.

(It’s me, Nic, back again…. 😉 )

Thank you Adam, what an incredible amount of information. For more information on the ‘Ocean Walker’ stroke and Adam’s swim camps and 1-1 coaching, go to Ocean Walker.

Want to read more about Adam’s amazing swims? He’s on a “blog tour” and here’s where you’ll find him:
Man vs Ocean blog tour banner

“Oceans Seven” Adam Walker on ocean swimming technique 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 Olympics: day six, 100m freestyle (swimming)

August 2, 2012

In this blog series, I take inspiration from one of the day’s Olympic events. Today: the 100m freestyle (swimming).

Sorry about yesterday by the way. I did actually do football, but only with my dog, and he’s not much good with the camera.

As I said in this morning’s Conditioning Chronicles post, I do have a swimming background. Most certainly not a sprinting one, though, and not even really a competitive one. Yes, I have swum in swimming clubs but mainly for the structured training. I was always in either the bottom (slowest) lane apart from one year where I reached the heady heights of second lane in. Open-water solo swims were my thing, slow and steady winning that particular race (if the tide and weather were kind).

Today I tackled the 100m freestyle. This evening, eight of the world’s fastest female freestyle swimmers took to the pool at the Aquatics Centre to blast out two lengths – 100m – to see who would take home the Gold. Our lady Fran Halsall, who qualified in 53.77, came 6th. The winner, Ranomi Kromowidjojo took Gold (the first non-American nation to take a Gold in the pool this Olympics!) in a time of 53:00 – a new Olympic record.

Somewhere in Berkshire, the 9th member of this illustrious crew was limbering up for her own 100m final. It was qualifier, quarter final, semi final and final all rolled into one, cos I wasn’t going to do it again! I wondered if the short course (25m) pool would seriously hamper my blistering pace. I wondered whether I’d be able to manage one tumble turn. I decided against diving in.

The World Record is 52.07
The Olympic Record is 53:00
My time? 1:32:00 🙂

Kromowidjojo, love, your Gold medal is safe. Enjoy it.

How have the London 2012 Olympic Games inspired you today?

My Olympics: day six, 100m freestyle (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.


The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes Fitness

August 2, 2012

With 6 weeks to go until my first bodybuilding competition of the year, it’s time to step up the conditioning and get shredded! I’ve called in various favours and asked some people in the biz to blast me, beast me and generally put me through my paces.


Today’s installment of the Conditioning Chronicles needs a bit of background.

I used to be a swimmer. I wasn’t much of a speed-demon in the pool but I could grit it out through hell and high water – and did, swimming the English Channel twice (and the length of Windermere once, and round the Channel island of Jersey) with all the long, long training such swims demand.

So, when I approached my good friend Ellie Barnes of Barnes Fitness with the familiar plea of “get me lean!” (the battle-cry of every Conditioning Chronicle), I did so with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach (nothing to do with my fibre supplements). Because I knew that Ellie would either put me on a turbo trainer, make me sprint round a track or – worst of all – pop me in a pool.

Ellie is a Personal Trainer at Reading-based Barnes Fitness, and a very accomplished athlete in her own right. In fact, she has been selected to represent Great Britain as an age-grouper at this year’s World triathlon championships in New Zealand. You can support her here, and I urge you to do so if you can.


I met Ellie at a local pool (outdoors – lovely!) and I’m not joking when I say I was really apprehensive. It was a fear and dread which ran much deeper than “this is going to hurt” or “I’m not sure I can even do this sport”. In fact quite the opposite – I know I can do it, and I know because I’ve done so, so much of it. Hours and hours of training in the cold sea (I’m talking 7 hours on Saturdays and then 6 hours on Sundays) does build up a kind of trepidation on a cellular level. It wasn’t just my brain which was nervous. It was my body. Don’t get me wrong, I love swimming and will always adore it. We just have a tempestuous history and needed a bit of time apart. We haven’t spoken for a while and it was going to be… awkward.

I also had no idea if I could even swim any more. I haven’t done it in ages. I sometimes have anxiety dreams where I’m swimming through glue, or can’t lift my hands out of the water for the recovery phase of the stroke.

Hopefully by now you have some idea of the frame of mind I was in before today’s conditioning session! 😉

Ellie is a great coach and a good friend and put me at ease in no time. We did some mobility work before I lowered myself into the water and set off on a 200m freestyle warm up. My arms worked! My hands didn’t get stuck in the water! I was actually moving. This was OK. I could even tumbleturn still (well, sometimes).

After that I did:
– 100m for time (more on that later)
– 1x200m (this was meant to be 4x200m but I wasn’t feeling the love and asked if we could do shorter intervals instead) – 3:38. We did this using paddles and fins (flippers) to work on power.
– 4x50m – 44s, 47s, 50s (oops), 47s
– a kick set (100m with fins/flippers, 50m without)
– 100m backstroke cool down (ahhhh)

For the amazing, earth-shattering, flabbergasting total of… 1150m. Haha!

Here’s me during the 200m with fins and paddles

And me barely moving during the bit of kickset where I wasn’t wearing fins! This was truly agony (I did a very heavy squat session yesterday).

Ellie said:

“When you asked me to help you with a conditioning session, I wondered whether you’d feel more comfortable with longer intervals of 3-4 minutes (aerobic) or shorter bursts which would call on your anaerobic energy system. I think we can see from today’s set that you find anaerobic efforts easier, hence cutting the planned 4×200 short and turning it into 50m repeats instead. This isn’t really surprising since your weights work is probably quite explosive and, even though you might do a lot of volume and several sets, you’ll be taking a recovery after every set. So you don’t often ask your body to work at a relatively high level for 4+ minutes.”

This is definitely true – even my longest weights set might only be 20 reps (even when I sometimes do a very high rep squat set of 40 reps, it certainly doesn’t take me 3 or 4 minutes to complete the set) so most of my “intervals” or work periods are short, with a recovery. Even when I head out for long cardio, on my road bike for instance, there are still long periods of recovery between efforts like hill climbs.

I was interested in the effects of a short swim session on “pump” so did a bit of posing (I have no shame, bodybuilding has seen to that!), here we go:



Verdict: tough during the intervals but I recovered quickly. Will be interested to see effect on metabolism (hunger?) later today…

Thank you, Ellie at Barnes Fitness! 🙂

The Conditioning Chronicles: Barnes 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 😉 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 😉

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 🙂

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.


thefitwriter on BBC Radio 4

August 17, 2011

Hi all! Just a very quick one – remember when I was interviewed by the BBC about triathlon, whilst coaching open-water swimming down at Dorney?

The interview finally aired last night as part of BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight show. You can listen again here I believe. (Tuesday 16th August) I think it’s towards the end of the programme – I haven’t had a chance to listen yet myself!

Here’s the relevant section of the show http://www.webfilehost.com/?mode=viewupload&id=9997435

thefitwriter on BBC Radio 4 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.


Surprising similarities: Channel swimming and bodybuilding

May 29, 2011

Those of you reading who’ve known me for a few years *hi Mum!* already know that my sporting background isn’t in bodybuilding (my current challenge). New readers might be surprised to hear that I’m probably best-known for a very different type of sport: I’m a Channel swimmer. I’ve swum the English Channel twice (as a solo swim), once (as a relay swim, both there and back) and I’ve done similar swims like around the Channel Island of Jersey (USA readers: the Channel Islands are between us and France. They’re nice. Go and visit some time!)

So, when I decided to give bodybuilding/figure/physique* competition a go, I felt as if I’d taken a sudden and rather odd turn off my normal sporty track. Channel swimming had always been the big one for me, and I was also passionate about triathlon (and its component sports, swimming, road biking and running). (*back when I made the decision, I didn’t know which category I’d end up in).

Bodybuilding felt completely alien, brand-new and so far outside my comfort zone that I could just about see my comfort zone on the horizon if I looked behind me through binoculars.

However, here I am several months later and it’s dawned on me that Channel swimming and bodybuilding aren’t so different after all. Externally, yes, they’re worlds apart. But what goes on inside isn’t so different.

I’m not sure how many people out there have both swum the Channel and competed in bodybuilding but, if there are any reading, I’d love to hear your take on this in the comments.

Common themes in Channel swimming and bodybuilding

Get used to wearing swimwear
This is the theme which got me thinking about all the others. When I was training for my swims, it wasn’t unusual to spend 8… 10… 12 hours a day in a swimsuit. I thought nothing of it, it was just my kit, my uniform. OK, so the “swimsuit” I wear for bodybuilding is a little different (I’m not sure the velvet would cope for long in salt water!), but it definitely helps that I have no problem wandering around in swimwear. As a nice aside, I always used to choose to wear a two-piece swimsuit for Channel swim training (quicker to get off and therefore quicker to get warm clothes on). But they were a little bit bigger than my competition bikini!

Tweak your body fat

To swim the Channel, I had to get fat(ter). I consciously had to pack on bodyfat – and keep it there throughout all the training, in order to keep me a bit warmer. We don’t use wetsuits, so I had to grow my own under my skin.

To compete in bodybuilding, I’m having to lose bodyfat. There’s no point building all these muscles if I step on stage with them all covered up. That would be a bit like building a kit car, taking it to a show but forgetting to take the dust-sheet off.

Body temperature
This goes hand-in-hand with purposefully changing your bodyfat levels, but get used to changes in body temperature. In Channel swimming, I got so hot so easily. I gave up wearing shoes unless I had to, lived my life in shorts and t-shirts, and slept without a sheet. Partly because of the extra body fat and partly because I spent so long swimming in cold water that my body adapted and acclimatised.

During bodybuilding prep, I’m often chilly and it doesn’t take much for me to be sitting on the sofa dressed in hoodie, jeans and slippers with a rug around my shoulders. LOL!

Accept that external influences are bigger than you

In Channel swimming, you can be the fastest, strongest swimmer who’s trained better than anyone else. But if the weather’s against you, or you get sea sick and can’t hold your feeds down, you’re out. You have to accept that this thing is bigger than you. Bring your best and try your hardest, but there is always a chance you won’t make it, no matter how hard you try. That’s not defeatest. It’s realistic.

In bodybuilding, people are telling me to take the same kind of mental approach. Train hard, be as good as you can be and bring your best on the day. That’s all you can do. Then accept that external factors over which you have no control – the other competitors, the judges’ opinions, the subjectivity of judging – will play a large part in how you place on the day.

Consistency is key
Both Channel swimming and bodybuilding demand and reward consistency and compliance. In Channel swimming, you must swim regularly in cold water, or your mind and body won’t build up the physical and mental stamina they need to get you across. In bodybuilding, you must be compliant 24/7, particularly in the latter stages of prep: training, nutrition, sleep (ha!), rest, stretching, posing… there’s a lot to do and you have to be consistent. Every little decision counts. Each one can take you towards or away from your goal.

No cheating: it’s all up to you
Neither Channel swimming nor bodybuilding give you anywhere to hide. You can’t style it out. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready, and no-one can help. It is all down to you. That can be a pro or a con, depending on who you are how you take it. It totally works for me: I like relying on myself. I know what I can do (I also know what I can’t do!) and I like to get on with it. When you’re out there in the middle of the English Channel in the dark, you’re the only one who can keep your arms turning and your mind focused on how the sand will feel beneath your feet when you get to the other side. In bodybuilding, you’re the only one who can decide whether or not it’s worth eating that bit of cake, or whether it will matter if you put your weights down a kg because you’re tired.

Of course, you have people who care about you and support you in both sports: in swimming, your boat crew, the boat skipper, your personal crew, and the people back on land who are thinking of you. In bodybuilding, you probably have a coach and if you’re lucky a partner, family and friends who support you. But when it comes to the crunch, you’re the only one who can decide whether to push on or give up.

Public interest
My husband told me to put this one in: he says both sports mean you need to get used to the fact that members of the public will stare at you, come up to you and ask about training, or ask random questions, either during training or just generally. I suppose this is true but I hadn’t really thought of it!

Misconceptions
I guess both Channel swimming and bodybuilding are unusual sports, odd even. Certainly niche. That’s probably why I come across a lot of misconceptions with both past-times. Misconceptions which naturally lead to…

The top three questions…
Channel swimming:
“Do you cover yourself in goose fat?”
“How far is it?”
“Do you swim it all in one go?”

Bodybuilding:
“Will you dehydrate yourself/not drink any water in the week before your show?”
“Aren’t you worried that you’ll get all bulky/look like a man/muscle will turn to fat after you stop?”
“So you have to cut all the fat out of your diet, right, because you need to lose bodyfat?”

(And, as a bonus, my least favourite “Why do you want to do that to yourself?!” <— this from a close friend…!)

Your grocery budget will skyrocket

True story: I found a receipt the other day from a supermarket shop I did one Saturday with two Channel swimming buddies. This was just for the 48hours we were spending down in Kent. It included a big packet of dried pasta, doughnuts, bread rolls, cheese, deli meat, chocolate, milkshakes, bananas… etc. It really made me laugh, because it so instantly transported me back to that Summer, when we’d swim from 9am-4pm and then have 4:05pm-8am in which to refuel, get ready for the next day’s swim and try to pack on a little more body fat. Of course, we could have made better choices and probably should have done, but it’s damn hard to meet a Channel swimmer’s calories needs in vegetables. So we indulged at weekends. And that amount of food costs!

Now of course my diet is markedly different, but I’m still eating a lot, and the amount I spend on vegetables, egg whites and other protein sources is noticeable! (Not to mention the supplements!)

You need a mentor
I know I just said that, in both sports, it’s all down to you, but of course you can’t go it alone. You need a support system, a team, a system of accountability, expert guidance. In both sports I’ve been fortunate enough to find the perfect coach and mentor. The legend that is Freda Streeter for Channel swimming, and my coach Kat for bodybuilding. There are many, many others who have helped along the way of course (in both sports). Too many to list!

You have to like your own company
Self-explanatory!

The exhaustion

Both Channel swim training and bodybuilding training leave me exhausted right down to the marrow of my bones. I guess it’s tiredness on a metabolic level. I only realised that a lot of people don’t know what I mean, when I tried to explain it to a non-sporty friend and she genuinely could not understand what I meant.

Running and road biking never made me feel this way, even training for marathons and long sportive rides. They made me very tired, but in an achy, sleepy way. Swimming in cold water, and lifting very heavy weights, both shatter me. I might not even be sore or achy, but I am drained of energy, to the extent that even the idea of leaning down and picking something up off the floor seems too much of a challenge. I can often be found standing in one spot, staring down at a bit of mud the dog’s brought into the house. I am OK. I’m just wondering whether I can be bothered leaning down, focusing on it, picking it up and straightening back up again. Then of course I’d have to walk out of my way to the bin. It’s all a bit much, you understand? 😉

Have you done sports which seemed totally different but, actually, had similarities? What were they? Aaaand which would you rather do, swim the English Channel or enter a bodybuilding competition?

Surprising similarities: Channel swimming and 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.


Coaching, cold water and the BBC

May 14, 2011

(I’ll wait to see if anyone Googles that exact combination of words!)

Phew, what a day. Lying in bed with my laptop on my knees and typing this is about all I can manage right now.

(Shortly after this was taken, clouds rolled in and wind picked up – brrrr!)

As long-time readers of the blog will remember, a few weekends a year I coach open-water swimming (I do this for triathlon coaching company thetrilife.com in partnership with event organisers Human Race). Time rolls around quickly, and here we are at the start of the triathlon season again, so it was time for me to zip up my wetsuit, put on my coaching hat (it looks just like a swimming hat but contains top tips and handy hints) and step into that cold water.

And, maaan, was it cold. I mean, it actually was cold, but it felt even colder. Not surprising really since I’m probably sitting at anywhere between 5-10% less body fat now than I was last year. And, as any Channel swimmer knows, subcutaneous fat makes a big (gooood!) difference when it comes to feeling at home in cold water.

I was in a wetsuit, of course. A wetsuit which was so baggy the other coaches were laughing at me. Yes folks, heavy weight training will not make a woman bulky. The baggy wetsuit didn’t do much to protect me from the cold water. Brrr!

Despite the cold, it was a great day. I truly love coaching and feel it’s a real honour to take people through what is often their very first time in open-water. And I got to see my coaching buddies again, and chat with Bill Black, perhaps one of my favourite people in triathlon. (He always seems to find new ways to introduce us to our coachees: this year I was “that little fish…”)

Last year, I finished off my days coaching at Dorney with a 20+mile bike ride home, having also ridden there. Not this year (no such long cardio for me, certainly not with 7 weeks to go til my comp). Today had a rather unusual ending: being interviewed by the BBC! This is not something which happens to me frequently. Or, ever. But on Thursday I had a call from a nice young woman called Charlotte, a BBC news reporter who works for Radio 4. It seems the BBC are putting together a feature or series of features about the explosion in popularity of triathlon in this country. They found me online via this very blog, decided I’d be able to be vaguely useful to the feature and came along to interview me. Happily, I was decked out in triathlon kit, soaking wet from lake water and set against a backdrop of a supersprint race.

I don’t know where the clip will be used (Charlotte said it could be on Radio4, on TV and/or online) but as soon as I find out, I’ll let you know. I just hope I was useful to them – I was seriously so cold that I was having trouble speaking (you know when you want to say a word but your mouth won’t form the correct shape?!)

A few people have challenged me with the idea that bodybuilding is a vain sport, and others have suggested I’m vain for working towards a bodybuilding show. I can’t answer for the sport in its entirety, but I’m hoping my willingness to be filmed whilst wearing a wetsuit and woolly hat and without a scrap of makeup on my face (which is tinged blue and chapped from the wind) answers the second challenge. (And remember when I wrote that piece for the Observer book? My portrait photo for that one… yep, me in a swimming costume (!) standing in a lake. In April). Or perhaps bodybuilding allows me to indulge the small scrap of vanity I have left after Channel swimming and open-water triathlons have taken their toll?

Right, I must go. Richard of Richards TransRockies is here because he and my husband are doing some mega-long off road sportive tomorrow. And there’s Eurovision to watch. I hope you had a good Saturday. 🙂

Do you think bodybuilding is a vain pursuit? Do you think it’s possible to engage in a vain sport without being a vain person? Do you find that once you’ve typed “vain” several times you start to doubt that you’ve spelled it correctly?

Coaching, cold water and the BBC is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


Fancy swimming a mile every hour…for 24 hours?

April 7, 2011

Like swimming? Free between 9.30am on 30th April and 9.30am on 1st May? Well then here’s a challenge for you: swimming a mile, on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours all in the beautiful setting of Guildford Lido.

This unusual challenge is the 2swim4life event and it’s all happening in aid of the charity Help for Heroes. I was contacted recently about 2swim4life but can’t take part myself this year. But I thought some of my lovely readers might be able to. So, do you fancy it?

Entrants include channel swimmers, open water swimmers, distance and sprinters all seeing who has the mental and physical staying power to go the distance. I would imagine the psychological and emotional challenges will be just as great – if not greater – than the physical ones. I remember that one of the worst bits about the two-way Channel relay I did in 2005 was the “getting in and out and in again” aspect. I wonder how the 2swim4life event swimmers will cope with having to get back in to swim a mile…23 times. Finishing that 24th mile will feel fantastic!

The organisers told me:

So far there are individuals from Spain and the Isle of Man as well as all across England. There are teams of three and individuals wanting to push themselves. There are a variety of reasons behind people wanting to do the challenge: some want to see how much they can raise for the worthwhile charity, whilst some have lost loved ones in conflict and want to give something back to help others.

The event is for swimmers over 25 years of age on 31/12/11. Swimmers aged 18-25 don’t have to feel left out – they are welcome to take part in the half event. It’s the same format, swimming a mile on the hour, but starting at 9.30pm and swimming overnight until the finish at 9:30am.

The event start date and time coincides with the first day of opening of Guildford Lido’s Summer opening so it’s a great chance for people to come and see the fantastic facilities at the Lido. Swimmers will be welcome to use the hot tub and marquee, get hot drinks and of course enjoy the wonderful company of…like-minded folk 😉

We do ask that each swimmer assigns a non-swimming buddy to help look after their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as ensuring their fitness for such a task.

Is this tough but exciting challenge for you? Go on, give it a go. Just be sure to let me know how you get on. There’s a guest blog post waiting for you here 🙂


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