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.


How to get your triathlon wetsuit on…and off

April 21, 2011

In my capacity as an age-grouper triathlete and triathlon feature-writer, I’m often asked the best, easiest and quickest way to get a triathlon wetsuit on and off. When someone asked me the question on Twitter today, I thought – why not write a quick “how-to” blog post. The open-water training venues are opening up very soon and the first triathlons of the season won’t be far behind. And I daresay this glorious sunshine will tempt a few of you into the open-water. But it’s a bit chilly to go without a wetsuit just yet (don’t be fooled by the air temperature!) And why swim without a wetsuit when the event you’re training for dictates you wear one?

So, here they are: my top tips for getting that skin-tight triathlon wetsuit on – and then off again!

Getting your wetsuit on

Remember a couple of things: firstly, no prizes for being the fastest person to put their suit on. Secondly: yes, it really should feel that tight (it will loosen off a little once you’re in the water, which is all that matters).

The clock doesn’t start ticking til the starter sets you off on the swim. So you can take as long as you like. Leave yourself plenty of time and find a cool spot (it’s amazing how hot and sweaty you get struggling into a wetsuit). Take your secret weapon (thank you to my triathlon pro and super-speedy swimmer pal Richard Stannard for this tip):

Yes, the common carrier bag. Put the carrier bag on one foot, like a sock. Slide that foot into the suit (the leghole, obvs). Take the bag/sock off, repeat on the other side. You should now have the suit on both legs, up to about the knees.

Pull it up. The zip should be at the back. You now need to make sure the groinal area of the suit (I know groinal’s not a word, but how I wish it were) is right up into your groin. Do this by inching the suit up, from below the knees if necessary, in tiny steps. Don’t yank and pull at it – therein lies a future of rips and tears to your suit. Use the pads of your fingers to pinch a bit of suit, and pull it up a few inches…and repeat all over the legs until the groin is in the right place.

Now check there are no rucks or folds behind your knees. This+swimming=ouch.

OK now check the time. Is your wave nearly ready to go? If so, proceed to the next step. If not, leave things here for a while. You really don’t want to be walking round for ages completely zipped up into your wetsuit on a hot day.

Put one arm and then the other into the suit (different arm holes). Then repeat the process you went through with the legs, but with the arms, making sure the suit fits right into your armpits. This is really important. So, inch the neoprene up in tiny bits from the wrists until it fits properly. Get someone to help you if necessary, don’t feel shy to ask, after all you need to keep your strength for the triathlon and it can be exhausting getting a wetsuit on!

Once your arms and legs are in and your groin and armpits are aligned with the relevant bits of the wetsuit, it’s time to zip up. Again, don’t do this if you have a long wait for your swim, it’s just not worth getting overheated.

Ask someone to help you zip the suit up (you may need to breathe out and draw your shoulders together right back behind you). They’ll need to press the velcro flap down over the top of the zip. Get them to hand you the end of your zip leash (if that’s what it’s called?) so you’re confident you can find it on swim exit.

Now just a couple of things to do to really check your suit is fitted snugly. Bend forward at the waist and grab any spare neoprene around your stomach. Yes, it really is neoprene and no I will not believe it is your belly. You are a triathlete! You have trained!

Ease any spare neoprene up, over the boobs (if you’re a lady…) and onto your upper chest/shoulder area. This is really the only area where you want any ‘spare’ neoprene. Can you grab a fistful of neoprene in that dent in front of your shoulder/under your collarbone? That’s OK. Can you grab a fistful of neoprene anywhere else? This is not so OK.

Check again for folds and creases in your elbows and behind your knees – get rid of them.

You’re ready to go (assuming you have your hat and goggles on). Enjoy.

Getting the wetsuit off

OK so you’re out of the swim. Time really does count now so it pays to practise getting your wetsuit off as fast as you can. What makes that super-tight wetsuit come off quickly? The layer of water inside. So act quickly before the water drains out. Here’s the drill.

Stand up out of the water, pop your goggles on top of your head, and start to run/walk towards transition. Immediately, reach behind you for your zipper leash and pull.

As you run/walk along, take one arm and then the other out until the suit is flapping around your waist.

Get to your bike and roll the suit down to your knees. Then lift one leg and the other until you can pull one foot free. Use that foot to stand on the other leg of the wetsuit, so you can pull the other foot free.

You’re done!

If you struggle with this technique, experience dizziness after the swim (me too) or feel a bit flustered, there’s no shame at all in just sitting down by your bike and pulling your suit off whilst you sit on the ground.

Hope that helps!

Do you have any tips or personal experiences to add? Please do!

Edited to add: My friend Dick (yes, really) has alerted me to the fact that “groinal” is, in fact, a word. Thanks, Dick!

How to get your triathlon wetsuit on…and off is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


Giving it a tri

February 27, 2011

I hope you’ve had a nice weekend. I had lots of family over today, including my Auntie Rose, who has decided to take up triathlon. Now, it’s terribly rude to talk about a lady’s age but, if I tell you that I’m 33, you can probably work out for yourself that my Auntie is not quite a teenager. So I think it is fantastic that she is training for her first triathlon.

Auntie Rose and my little sister 20+ years ago yesterday 😉 – sorry both of you, ha ha!

Auntie Rose is no couch potato – she’s a good swimmer and plays tennis (very well, I’m told) regularly. But triathlon is quite a challenge for anyone.

Before lunch, she picked a few products from my cardboard boxes of items I’ve kit tested for magazines (PRs, if you want them back, please just ask – Auntie Rose has only borrowed them). And, over lunch, she picked my brains about the mysteries of brick sessions, transitions, race belts and lock laces.

I’m thrilled to be able to help her out and can’t wait to cheer her on in her first race. And I’m delighted to have someone else sporty in the family!

I’ve asked her if she’ll do a few guests posts on this blog as her training progresses. If there’s any part of the learning curve you’d like her to write about, please let me know.

Did you take up a particular sport later on in life? Would you ever consider doing a triathlon?

I’ve got an exciting day lined up tomorrow with one big bit of kit to test and a talk to give at an industry event. I also owe you a blog post about fitness kit I’ve tested this week – some interesting stuff! I’ll blog again soon…

Giving it a tri is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


The Fit Writer tells you what you want to know

January 24, 2011

I love blogging. One of the bits I love the most is looking at the search terms people out there type into Google which lead them to these pages. Some of them are just bizarre (yes, I’m looking at you). However, weird or not, they do tell me something about what people are searching for. And sometimes, maybe, this blog is the right place for them to find the info they need.

So today I thought I’d have a look at my site stats, grab the top 10 search terms which have led people here, and address them. Here they are:

ONE
Liam Tancock

Ah, you all love yourself a bit of Liam, it seems. And who wouldn’t? Buff, a great swimmer, and a jolly nice chap to boot. Well, “Liam Tancock” Googlers, why not read my post here about the time I met (and swam with!) him. Oh and here’s a picture, cos I know that’s what a lot of you are really after (see point “five” below).

TWO
The Workout Mix

A ha! The Workout Mix is a double CD of workout tunes released last December. I was invited along to the press launch and had the chance to interview Matt Roberts, personal trainer and one of the experts behind the CD. As a matter of fact, the workout mix, the workout mix 2011 and workout mix 2011 are all up there in popular search terms. The PR company must be pleased! And I’ve just realised I’m now going to get a lot more hits for people searching for info about it… Read my review, all the links are there!

THREE
The Fit Writer

Well, that’s me innit. Hiya! 🙂 That’s not actually my name. That would be weird. It what I call this blog because I’m a freelance sport and fitness writer. And I go to the gym a lot. And I have a biro and a pad of paper in my kit bag. Enough reasons?

FOUR
Wetsuit

Wetsuits, wetsuits, wetsuits. I do spend a disproportionate amount of my time clad in finest neoprene. It could be because I’m testing wetsuits and reviewing them for triathlon magazines, or because I’m training/racing for my own enjoyment. Just be assured that, for several weeks every summer, my house smells of drying neoprene, and there’s usually at least one wetsuit hanging up in the shower.

FIVE
Liam Tancock speedo

Perverts! (Scroll up to the top of this post.)

SIX
Gravity training system

There’s another happy PR out there! Yes, lots of people end up at my blog looking for information or reviews of the Gravity Training System, a bit of fitness kit I was invited to try out at the end of last year. Here’s my review. I thought it was great.

SEVEN
Fitness journalism

Perhaps a lot of people come here hoping I hold the key which will unlock the door to freelance journalism. I don’t, I’m afraid, but I am always happy to give my advice and my story to anyone over email, and I have done several times. Perhaps that’s an idea for a blog post, actually. In the meantime, I was interviewed by Essential Writers about freelancing in the sport and fitness niche. Here’s the interview.

EIGHT
2xu project x

These kit reviews are popular aren’t they? Sadly for anyone wanting info about 2XU’s pricey but fantabulous Project X triathlon wetsuit, I didn’t actually review it on this site as I’d been commissioned to review it for a magazine. I wrote about, er, writing about it. Not too helpful!

NINE
Wetsuit lads

Perverts! There are probably pictures of “lads” (?) in wetsuits on this site, but not a post dedicated to that fine topic. Apologies! Might I suggest you train for an (open-water) triathlon? Or volunteer to help at one? (At longer-distance triathlons, there’s even a helper role called “wetsuit stripper”. No kidding! Sounds like your kind of job.)

TEN
Fitness industry trends 2011

I have an image of several Sports Management students tapping away at their keyboards and ending up here. Sorry about that! I did, however, go to the FIA keynote at last year’s Leisure Industry Week, and blogged about what was said. That might be of some use? I do keep up with what’s what in the industry, and follow some useful people on Twitter. Feel free to rifle through my follow-list if you want.

The Fit Writer tells you what you want to know is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


How a swimming journalist works

November 8, 2010

Whilst the majority of my work days are spent at my desk researching, sending pitches, looking for case studies and writing, my work as a triathlon and swimming journalist does take me to some less-typical “office spaces”.

Remember the time I had a coaching session in London’s Serpentine Lido with Keri-Anne Payne’s open-water coach and then wrote up my notes from this deck-chair in Hyde Park?

Or the times I conducted interviews with Liam Tancock and Bill Furniss on the side of a swimming pool whilst in a towel (me, not Liam or Bill)?

Not to mention that one time I interviewed top triathlete Tim Don. He was in an ice-bath, in his pants. He said it was OK!

Last week I had a couple of bits of triathlon kit to test for 220 Triathlon and Triathlete’s World, so took myself to Hampton Lido (I know! It’s heated: what’s happened to me? Well, you try and find a body of open-water in Berkshire in November. Not easy.)

Here she is: 36m of heated loveliness under the crisp November air

After testing some great goggles and a really exciting yet-to-be-released wetsuit (keep your eyes on 220 Triathlon and Triathlete’s World for the reviews!), I went up to the lido’s roof cafe to write my notes.

Bypassing the array of giant muffins and cookies the size of my face, of course (since I’m currently on week 6 of 8…)

And this was my peaceful view.

Do you sometimes get to work somewhere other than your office? And do you have an interesting view from your desk?

How a swimming journalist works is a post from The Fit Writer blog


Top-end wetsuit testing

May 4, 2010

I quite often get asked by magazines to test sports kit sent to them for their review pages.

Testing wetsuits


Today I had to test a wetsuit and goggles – nothing unusual about that, apart from the fact that they were the most expensive wetsuit and goggles I’ve ever touched, let alone tested!

I had Blueseventy’s new carbon fibre goggles, the Carbon Race, and 2XU’s top-end wetsuit, the Project X. Mike Trees of 2XU kindly let me use his Berkshire wetsuit testing facility (I fully intended to go to the lake, but my drive back from Aviemore yesterday was a lot longer than anticipated and I was a zombie this morning).

I can’t reveal the results of the test – that would be somewhat unfair on the magazine which will be publishing the review on their kit pages in a few months’ time – but can reveal that I had a great time as these photos show! The wetsuit testing facility is a lovely little pool and I had a lot of fun bouncing around against the current which felt a bit like swimming in a choppy sea (my favourite).

Project X's catch panels


As an added bonus, I got to meet Mike and Rieko’s teeny tiny little 5-week old baby daughter, who was as good as gold despite my journalistic gate-crashing! So when do we see her in the water, Mike? 😉


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