English Channel Swim: Choosing My Battles

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Three weeks from the start of my English Channel adventure, I’ve been choosing my battles and prioritizing. There’s only so much you can do in three weeks when you prep for an athletic event. When I see people training years to cross the English Channel solo, I realize that 21 days is not when I start focusing on a new stroke. It’s not when I focus on improving my speed. It’s when I pick the right strategy to get the job done when the moment comes. And right now, that means swimming outside in the coldest water there is. For better or worse, water temperature has become an obsession.

As I write this, the water temperature of the mid English Channel is around 14C/57.2F, with a couple more degrees here and there. A D-Day commemorative relay on Sunday June 8 reported water at 13C at the start and 17C at the end. Obviously, no water is a solid block and I’m expecting the Channel to be a millefeuille of warmer and colder layers all along the way. I’ll throw in a Dover comparison for perspective. I’ve seen the north-east side of the Dover harbor described as “the descent into the Gates of Mordor” and indeed, each time I’ve crossed the harbor, I’ve braced myself for cold spells heading into that area. The temperature has been a degree or two colder and below 16C, it really matters. I’m ready to bet that the English Channel will show similar patterns, but I may be wrong. We’ll see.

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At home in London, my main swimming ground–the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park–hit 17C two weeks ago and it’s probably 18 or 19 these days. Thus my only choice to find cold water is the coast or big lakes. The pool is now only for technique and drills, not distance swimming. Now in full bloom, the weeds at the bottom of the lake have been searching for light and covering the water surface with soft green blankets. I’ve been calling this “revenge of the lake weeds”. If I don’t pay attention, I’m regularly “wrapped” in greenery even in the buoyed area. The phenomenon is significantly more intense outside the buoys.

Last weekend, I was in Switzerland and went swimming in Lake Geneva both Saturday and Sunday. The lake was smooth as a baby’s bottom but the water clarity I enjoyed in January is now gone. Algae bloom alert! The water temperature was around 17C on Saturday, 18C on Sunday. Both days were gloriously sunny and I was joined in the water by my husband in his trademark wetsuit. Our swim area was 350 meters long (that’s around 1,000 feet) and we swam laps along the buoys under the watchful eye of a lone grey heron and a couple underwhelmed gulls. That’s the heron here. Looking regal and searching for lunch, I reckon.

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The rest of the week was essentially non-eventful. Between my masters’ swim class and a pilates class, I managed to fit in some fitness training in between open water swims. To keep the mind busy, I started reading a wonderful book called The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs. It has a few bits on reading water clues but nothing that could help me these days. You’ll hear about the book soon enough, it’s absolutely fantastic.

Now, I’ll put this down and pack up my bag for tomorrow’s swim day on the coast. May the waves roll smoothly and the jellyfish stay away!

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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