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.

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