Fitness

11 things you need to know before swimming the English Channel

© Ken Yonekura; Flickr
It's one of the great swimming challenges and it's right on your doorstep. We asked one athlete who recently swam between the UK and France to give us the lowdown.
Written by Tom WardPublished on
Crossing the 21 miles between the UK and France by just slashing your arms and legs in open water is no mean feat. As a crow flies it works down to 1,352 lengths of a 25m swimming pool – but of course then you have the icy cold waters to deal with. And for UK-based adventures, it’s hard to beat.
Jai Evans – a professional swim coach who recently completed the crossing in a creditable 13.5 hours (Totalimmersion.co.uk) – knows a thing or two about making a splash when it comes to testing your mettle in the Channel. Here are his tips for your own attempt.

1. Assemble your team

It isn’t as simple as just wading into the water at Calais. You’ll need a support team offering medical assistance, moral support, a hug and a cup of tea to warm you up on the other end. Oh, and they’ll need a boat to travel alongside you in, too. A support boat is absolutely necessary if you want to make it back in one piece, so no going it alone.
“The first thing I need to know is that I have the full support of everyone around me. I was very careful when choosing my support crew," says Jai. "Your captain will be important, too."
The captain should be someone with great experience at sea. It’s their job to make sure you’re aware of inclement weather, rogue tides and anything else that might hamper your success – and crucially – health.

2. Save your dosh

It has to be said that swimming the Channel isn’t cheap, so plan ahead to avoid any surprises. It’s the last thing you need.
“I think just for the support boat and joining the association (CSPF) the cost was around £3500,” says Jai. “There are many other expenses along the way such as medicals, training swims, nutrition and all sorts of extras. Many people raise the money by getting sponsors or doing it for charity and taking the fees out of what is raised. I personally decided that I wouldn’t do that as it was my challenge, so I paid everything myself and gave all of the sponsor money to my chosen charity which is Keep The Beat.

3. Take your time

Just because Jai is half fish doesn’t mean you have to go at the Channel swim at breakneck speed. Imagine you’re David Walliams, leisurely taking your time (the comic completed it the swim in 10 hours and 34 minutes) and you’ll fare better. The same goes for training: take your time and build up to it.
“I took a couple of years doing various different swimming events of all different distances in open water, but my actual training for the event was around 4 months,” says Jai. Show off.

4. Mix it up

“A good mix of pool and open water swimming is best,” advocates Jai. “I personally did most of my longer swims in the open water and lots of quality work in the pool to make sure the skills stay in good order. As for temperature, I tried to swim in the coldest water I could find at the time so that I was prepared for the worst case scenario."

5. Give yourself a fat chance

You might be slathering yourself in goose fat for layer of insulation, but piling on some pounds around your middle will help keep your internal organs warm, too. It isn’t essential, though.
“I think it’s a good idea not to let the body fat percentage become really low,” says Jai. “As for diet, this will depend on what people want to use to fuel their body. Personally I change [my diet] all the time so I can’t give a definite answer."

6. Find your zen

Swimming, swimming and swimming onwards towards France might not be the most stimulating experience. At some point you'll just be a grown person flailing across water for miles and miles of liquidy nothingness. It’s important, then, that you remains IN THE ZONE.
“I think it is very important that you are able to switch off to the world around you,” says Jai. “Going in with a clear mind is important. You must prepare so that you go in without any doubt as to whether you can succeed. From the day I signed up I never thought about not finishing the swim."

7. Book early

Remember that boat we mentioned? Well, it’s not as easy as turning up with a dingy and a pack of sandwiches and setting sail…
“Getting the right crew together and booking the slot with the boat captain is the most difficult part from a logistical standpoint,” says Jai. “There are only so many opportunities to swim each year, so it gets very booked up and you normally have to wait at least a couple of years."

8. Take it easy

We must repeat here that SWIMMING THE CHANNEL IS AN AMAZING FEAT. So don’t worry about your time. If you’re doing it for charity, everyone will still cough up whether you do it in 15 hours or 30.
“I think the average time is around 15 hours,” says Jai. “The longest is around 28, and the quickest around 7. When people get sore the important thing is to put your focus into your body, work through your stroke and try to switch off any of the muscles that are aching. And keep going.”

9. Different strokes, for different folks

Obviously it’d be hard to swim the whole length underwater, but other than that, if it works for you, and you’ve trained a certain way, go for it.
“The main trick is to have complete faith in your swimming ability, knowing in your own mind that your stroke will not let you down no matter how tough it gets,” says Jai. “The work for this should have been done in preparation. Most people swim Front Crawl (Freestyle) but people do occasion-ally use the other strokes including Butterfly.”

10. Don’t stop

Well, do stop once you’ve finished the swim (and if you really can’t make it – there’s no shame in trying again another time). But do keep busy.
“Once you’ve finished, refuel and enjoy the moment with the people that shared the journey with you,” says Jai. It’s good to have a new goal, too. “I swam a One way Windermere event a few days later!"

11. Yes, you do need a passport

Unless you’re planning on swimming from the UK and France and straight back again without touching the bottom (which we don’t recommend), you absolutely do need your passport. Store it safely in the boat. Something tells us it might get a bit damp otherwise.