andy’s english channel swim: august 2007

Why another website?

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Why bother (or why build another website) ?

I have found the Cape Town swimming community incredibly supportive to a new entrants to the sport, none more so than the open water swimmers. The experienced swimmers have been friendly, encouraging and prepared to offer advice – whether solicited or not. In particular, the core members of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (Tony Scalabrino, Peter Bales, Tony Sellmeyer, Hugh Tucker) have contributed freely of their time, enthusiasm & experience for many years.

Hugh Tucker has been an integral part of this community for over 30 years (the length of time it took him to swim the English Channel) and has been present during a number of the pivotal decisions in my life. Unsurprisingly, Hugh also played an important role in my decision to swim the English Channel. He continues to play a significant role in my planning – both training and logistical – and, if all goes according to plan, he will be on the boat during my attempt to swim the Channel in August 2006.

Hugh’s English Channel website was built in the run-up to his Channel swim in 2004. It contains a significant amount of information on the history of the swim, on climatic conditions, provided live updates of his successful swim while he was in the water, and also a number of contributions by his support team after their (?) crossing. In 2005 Dion Woodborne, who together with Fran had seconded Hugh on his 2004 swim, piggybacked on this website, and used it for the live updates of his successful swim. I understand that Dion intends to document some of his thoughts and memories while they are still fresh and intense after his recent swim. This should contribute to the fleshing out of Hugh’s website (which has apparently still been getting over 250 hits a month, a year after Hugh’s swim), and make it an even more useful source of information.

In order to further expand this concept, I have volunteered to post an ongoing record of my training schedule for my attempt to swim the Channel in exactly a year’s time (I have reserved the 1st slot for the week of 16-23 August 2006). If future (and past) swimmers also contribute to the website, it may become a significant repository of information for swimmers preparing to swim the Channel. This accumulated wisdom of generations of Channel swimmers is well worth preserving, as anecdotal reports suggest that South Africa (almost exclusively represented by Cape swimmers) has the highest ratio of successful swims to attempts of any nation in the world (I will attempt to verify this statistic).

Personal preferences

While any sportsman or woman needs to note general principles of training for specific events, each person will customise their schedule to suit themselves; this includes factors like training and diet preferences, family and work life, and also economic circumstances. The training schedule that will be reported here is one that I trust will work for me. In setting my schedule have taken the "old bull" approach of measured and timeous increases in training, as I am anxious to avoid any panic-stricken attempt to increase mileage and intensity shortly before the event.

The following points may be of varying practical and/ or novelty value to the reader:

  • I was a competitive swimmer until 1976 (16 years old), when I beat my mother for the first time. I then "retired" from competitive swimming to concentrate on rugby. My mother was an Olympic standard swimmer, having beaten South Africa’s Olympic gold medallist Joan Harrison on occasion in the 1950’s.
  • I played competitive sport until 1988 (28 years old), when work in the financial markets became a viable adrenaline substitute for sport.
  • After a break from regular training of any sort for 14 years, I began training with Hugh Tucker in late 2002, and have progressively built up my capacity for training in the Cape Dolphin’s 05h30 training squads under the coaching of Brian Button and also Gary Freeling. 3 years later in 2005, I am comfortably able to swim a 4 km session 3 times a week.
  • I have swum the Robben Island – Blaauwberg 7.5 km swim once in warm and calm conditions with (who else but) Hugh on the boat in a leisurely 2h30, and a limited number of other minor open water swims in fresh water & sea.
  • Something that many swimmers & surfers have to live and deal with is exostosis (surfer’s ear) – the closure of the ear canal due to prolonged exposure to cold & wet conditions. I have it in both ears; the right ear being currently significantly more closed than the left ear (approximately 90% and 50% respectively). After rejecting surgery prior to my swim (due to a paucity of statistics on the success ratio of this surgery, and a significant number of anecdotal horror stories of post operative problems), I will rather attempt to limit water access to my ears by the use of custom-fitted silicone ear plugs. Initial indications are that they will significantly reduce water access and the associated ear infections, but not eliminate it completely. The frequency & duration of ear infections, and the interruption in swimming training, will be monitored. Hopefully gym sessions will effectively compensate for missed swimming sessions when the inevitable ear infections keep me out of the water.

The real work

So much for the background: now the real work starts. All my training sessions will be logged & posted on this website on a weekly basis for the next 12 months, and hopefully the fact that there is an audience will contribute to my diligence.

My first target is to increase weekly training distance from 13 km to 20 km, and simultaneously introduce at least two gym sessions per week. This increased swimming mileage will include at least one non-squad session of 3-5 km at Channel speed, as interval training in a squad is good for all-round fitness but not specific enough for the 35 km English Channel swim.

Andy Pfaff

14 August 2005