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How To Prepare For A Big Swim

Can your Crew Cut it?

“It might be billed as a solo swim, but there’s a whole team you need to prepare, and thank,” says Cliff Golding…

You made the phone calls, did the research, asked around and finally, with the forms safely in the postman’s bag, it’s job done – you have signed up for that swim. Whether it’s Windermere, Lake Zurich, the English Channel or one of the other big swims around the world, you are now dedicated to that frightening but inspiring goal. Whatever it takes you will prevail. No stone will be left unturned in the pursuit of your dream.

So, everything is covered, with nothing left to chance, right? Yes? Are you sure? Let’s check. Boat and pilot? Yes, sorted. What about travel and accommodation? Also sorted. Time off work? Yes. Does your boss understand the weather could dictate when you actually swim? Yes, yes, yes! Come on; hit me with a hard one.

Have you got a crew? “Of courser you say, “I was going to ask my mate from the pub and my dad. He’s 85 and a bit wobbly but matron says the sea air will do him good. That should do it.”

Er, perhaps not. Choosing the crew for your swim is a crucial part of the equation yet is often left to the last minute. It’s a lesson worth paying attention to if you are to avoid learning by experience, as I did. On my first solo Channel attempt I had seven people on my boat. With the pilot, his crewman and the observer that made ten. It was like a travelling circus and I got more involved in my crew’s        logistics and welfare than my own: to my detriment. Of the seven, six were sea sick from the start making them effectively non-combatant, to the chagrin of the pilot and his crewman. Mountains of food returned to Dover untouched. Not the best situation and completely my fault for not preparing properly. I thought that everything would gel on the day. Big mistake.

Crew selection should start very early in your preparation for a big swim and there are a number of questions you need to ask. Will any of your crew be able to support you with your training and be available to help you practise feeding for example? And how will they support you: from the beach, in a kayak or in a small craft? With regards to your actual swim, where is it and what is the maximum number of crew allowed? Do you get a pilot and a boat or, as in the case of a Windermere swim, are you restricted to a crew of two or three who take turns to row the 10.2 miles of the swim?            

Next what makes the ideal supporter? Great question – many answers. Your supporters could find themselves adopting several roles on a long swim: part friend, part foe, part helper and part psychologist. They might need to be all these, and more.

Unarguable, though, is that without great support you cannot swim. Whether it’s an understanding partner or friends you have asked to help, your supporters on training swims and the ‘real thing’ will form an integral part of your success. 

As swimmers our building blocks of training from those repetitive sessions in chlorine during the winter months to the unfettered release we feel when we hit the open water in the spring(‘ acknowledge and humbly bow in the direction of you hardy, all year round open water swimmers) are crucial to the success of a planned big swim.However, as well as training ourselves, also vital is that we train our support team. Some of us don’t respond too well or find it motivating when a crew member screams at us with faux, purple faced rage when the going gets tough. We might prefer a more subtle approach. Other swimmers ask for and need a good telling off when their courage waivers. On a Channel swim I always want to know when we are in and out of the shipping lanes but lots of swimmers don’t want to be told. It’s the swimmers responsibility to tell the crew what they prefer and what they don’t want to hear. And that needs to be done before, not during the swim.

One thing is sure. Supporters everywhere, without you we couldn’t chase our dreams. While we get the glory never forget, or let us forget to remind you, how important your help end support is to us. Thank you.

First Printed In H2Open Magazine (now called Outdoor Swimmer) April/May 2013

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