Swimming The English Channel – Part One
by Christine Bradley
Hi, I’m Christine, a self-employed swimming and fitness coach working in Skipton. I reached a big birthday this year (I won’t tell you which one; it’s a closely-guarded secret!) and wanted to celebrate in style. Surfing in Sri Lanka was a fail: a disaster with the accommodation and a broken toe saw to that! But not to worry, because I had another gift to myself planned – a birthday present I’d booked two years ago. A swim. And not just any swim… a swim across the English Channel.
Channelling My Focus
Swimming the Channel had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I even told my dad one night as I was falling asleep that I was going to do it, so he bought me a tatty old book from a library sale called “It’s Cold In The Channel”.
Which makes a difference to the usual fairy tales that are read to toddlers!
Early Setback & Recovery
I swam a lot as a child but one day on my way home from school I was involved in a road accident. My injuries were pretty gruesome and I almost lost a leg, so that at age twelve and with massive scars behind one of my knees I couldn’t face the embarrassment of going back to the pool.
This psychological block stayed with me for 36 years, but my physical recovery was helped by my Dad. He took me along to his jogging club, where I’d run around Swinton Rugby League Club’s pitch with other runners, some of whom were also injured. This was huge for me, as at the time it was thought possible that I might not walk again, let alone run.
I eventually settled in Yorkshire, moving to Silsden Moor with my husband, two daughters and our myriad of pets. Bitten by the running bug and inspired by my beautiful surroundings, I entered 10km events and half marathons. I loved keeping fit, going to aerobics, step classes – anything, really, just so long as I could keep my legs covered whilst staying active!
From Computers to Coaching
Unfortunately, my marriage wasn’t to last, and I moved off the moor and into Silsden proper. I was looking for new challenges in my life – and that was when I discovered triathlons! In 2012 I did my first sprint – a 750m swim followed by a 20km bike ride and a 5km run to finish. And, more importantly, I did it in knee-exposing shorts!
I became involved with a great set of people who motivated me, gave me confidence and helped me enjoy swimming once again. Inspired by all this, I decided to change career and I went from managing an IT service desk to teaching swimming and coaching open water swimmers and triathletes. It was some transformation!
The Channel Challenge
One evening, after a couple of glasses of wine (where all good ideas come from!), I began to wonder… how fantastic would it look if I had Channel Swimmer on my CV too!
And that was when my journey really began.
I decided to get some friends together to do a Channel relay and after a lot of hard work and a punishing training schedule four of us undertook the swim in 2015. And I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. We had a rough crossing, everybody suffered with sickness and we all agreed we’d never tried anything so difficult before!
But I had already booked my solo swim so there was no backing out now…
As a coach I believe that training has to suit your lifestyle – you can’t just buy a book, write a plan and consistently stick to it. I teach thirteen fitness classes each week and coach swimming on top of that, so my normal lifestyle already has a taxing effect on my body. As a result, in preparing for the swim I decided to use the winter months to improve my technique. Then, once it was warm enough to swim outside, I gradually increased my swimming distance to a maximum of 130km a month.
I varied my sessions, technique, endurance levels and speed. I swam outdoors whenever I could and even joined a group on Dover beach for long training swims. I worked loosely within my plan and, crucially, listened to my body – I had ‘off months’ where I had no energy or when everything hurt (likely as a result of overtraining), and so just took the swim time off. But if I felt good and had the opportunity to swim I would do so.
Basically, I worked bloody hard!