Swimming A TRIPLE English Channel Crossing World Record

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Newsflash: Swim Smooth Perth swimmer Julie Isbill on Tuesday evening completed the Catalina Channel Swim in California. Another amazing swim! Read her report on the Perth blog here.

This week on the blog we have Swim Smooth Coach Lucy Lloyd Roach's full race report from her team's English Channel TRIPLE Crossing World Record set from Tuesday to Wednesday last week.

This amazing team of six women not only smashed the women's triple record but also broke the men's record too!

Three channel crossings in a row is over 100km of swimming as the crow flies but with huge tides pulling the swimmers up and down the busiest shipping lane in the world, the total distance swum is actually much further.

What does it take to swim across the busiest shipping lane in the world 3 times? Lucy takes up the story with her full race report:

The Big Day Finally Arrived...

We knew about a week before our crossing window that we wouldn’t be going on the Thursday/Friday (29/30th June) because the winds would be too high.  This meant I worked Thursday as normal and then could pack, on the Friday.

The weather was nice on the Friday and some single crossing relays went out – it looked idyllic – calm and sunny, but the weather wasn’t good enough for a triple crossing of 30 hours.

It was looking like Monday was the hot favourite and so the Manchester contingent were going to drive down on the Sunday.  On Sunday morning however, the weather took a turn and it looked like it would be Tuesday or even not at all…

We made it down to Dover and the weather looked glorious – sunny, not a cloud in the sky, we could see France from Varne Ridge, the legendary Channel Swimming camp site. However as our pilot Andy King was to point out later on there were some white caps out there and the sails on the boats were full of wind:

The view from the cliffs at Varne Ridge

Andy drove an hour to meet with us all on Sunday night and to explain to us all how it was looking and what it meant for the swim. If Tuesday didn’t look do-able then there was a chance with the weekend, but the same could be said for Monday the week before, so if Tuesday looked do-able then we would grab it with both hands and go for it. The wind forecast was changing almost hourly. He would give the nod either way on Monday evening when the final wind forecast of the evening was announced at 7.30pm

On previous Channel swims, I’ve explored the delights of Dover, and fancied a change, so Jane, Nat, Emma and I headed into Folkestone. Being from a busy city (Manchester) we were surprised that most places had shut by the time we got there! We came across loads of places that looked interesting, but were sadly closed.

As we woke up on Monday morning, we were grateful that we hadn’t gone – the weather was overcast, grey and miserable. A complete contrast from the day before.

After a lot of team faffing, we eventually made it to Dover harbour for a training swim and some photos. Having been stood around for 20 minutes or so going for a swim was the last thing on my mind. The wind was up and the air temperature was cold.  This meant it was wavy and was the waviest I had swum. Although once I’d managed to get in, the water was surprisingly warm and turquoise! It’s not normally that colour in the harbour. If it was like this on the ‘cold side’ of the Channel then I knew it wouldn’t be too bad out in the middle!

The World Record Triple Relay Team: Lucy (left), Nikki Fraser, Natalie Massey,
Emma Ross, Jane McCormick and Dee Llewellyn-Hodgson.

We headed back to Varne Ridge to get changed and then for some of us to explore Folkestone whilst the others caught up on work.  We got our last minute food purchases and then headed back to Varne Ridge where Nat had prepared a fine feast for our last meal! As we sat down, Andy phoned to give us the nod; we would be going at 7.30am. The wind looked ok. Eeek!

After minimal sleep, we were up and away to the port with seemingly little difficulty. It was strange to be heading off in the light (previous crossings had involved v. early starts)! Once the boat was packed, we had the customary photos taken and then we were speeding off towards toward the start it was pretty bumpy! Everyone started to feel a little green and hoped it would be ok once we weren’t working against the chop.

Nikki jumped off the boat and swam towards the shore to start the swim.  She cleared the water, the horn sounded and we were off! Official start time was 7.39am:

The running order swimming an hour each was:

Nikki (7.39am, 1.39pm, 7.39pm, 1.39am)
Nat (8.39am, 2.39pm, 8.39pm, 2.39am)
Me (9.39am, 3.39pm, 9.39pm, 3.39am – I had worked out the night before that I would end up with 2 dark swims)
Emma (10.39am, 4.39pm, 10.39pm, 4.39am)
Jane (11.39am, 5.39pm, 11.39pm, 5.39am)
Dee (12.39am, 6.39pm, 12.39pm, 6.39am)

The first leg was an odd one, you wanted to get going, but at the same time you knew that you had 4 more swims to go…

The conditions were choppy and more often than not we were smashed in the face by a wave as we attempted to breathe! :

The chop was a learning experience as we swam along. At least it distracted me from the potential of jelly fish and how long we had been in.

Having taken on quite a bit of salt, I felt a bit sick for around 30 minutes after this leg. Full of energy and the excitement of getting going, everyone was awake for the first set of swims

Building on the lessons learned from the first swim, the second was choppier and rougher, but it was fun!

After Emma had touched France, I decided it was time to start focusing on recovery.  This is something I didn’t do in our previous channel swims, but I knew was key on something of this length. In previous attempts, I didn’t feel like I could have gone on past the 3rd swim.  Having just read Sleep by Nick Littlehales, I borrowed the sleep kit idea employed by Team Sky and created my own. Essentially this is a covered piece of memory foam. I got out of the swim, got dried, changed into the next swim suit, put on clothes, sub suit and dry suit and then climbed into my sleeping bag (despite the air temperature being 20 degrees). Have a warm drink and small snack and nap until Dee was in the water. Then eat a larger meal. Then smaller snacks whilst Nikki and Nat swam.  Then an energy gel about 10 mins before I got in (and an emergency gel in my suit in case I got cold).

Emma speeding towards France

By the third leg I was getting a little angsty and just wanted to be off the boat. I was feeling a little nauseous, possibly from all the sugar. Or maybe from ingesting too much salt.

The third leg had a beautiful start – swimming into the sunset!

Swimming in the dark is also a beautiful experience as it’s not as dark as one might think. There are different shades of dark; it’s almost textural. Then out of nowhere a drift of sea weed and rope (accompanied by jelly fish caught underneath) went over the top of my head and across my back and down the back of my legs. It made me jump and that set the mind games going. My body tensed up and I was then just waiting for the next sting to appear from the lurking jelly fish that I couldn’t see. As I tensed, I started to feel the cold and the negative chatter increased more as a result.

This sting went all away around my right leg, down my shins and my left arm too!


It was getting darker and so was my mood. The light on the boat was the only thing I could see, it was a comfort, but it was also disorientating. It suddenly felt really lonely and I had no idea how long I had left.  All my senses were dampened. I couldn’t see or hear anything.  It was at this point that I was also grateful that I had done sessions that replicate these psychologically challenging places in training (if you're a Swim Smooth fan  - Red Mist and Long Steady Swims), so I knew I had experience of dealing with myself in these situations. Although with my mental toughness diminishing, I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep going for. Then I saw a misty silhouette through my goggles and I knew one of the girls was with me. It helped to keep going. If I’d have been doing the swim by myself I probably would have given up.   I got to a point and I was going to have a gel to give myself some more energy to keep shivering and swimming. It was also welcome to help break up the monotony. As I went to do this, Nikki, the mysterious silhouette, said that I had 5 mins left. Just 5 minutes, I could do that and the gel remained untouched.

It then took a team effort to re-warm me as I was shaking uncontrollably and unable to dress myself! I was glad for the sub suit. The sub suit and dry robe combination was a good one. Although I couldn’t get my hand in when I was really cold or work out which was legs and which was arms!! I then retired to my sleeping bag with my dry robe, and subsuit on. I was shivering for at least an hour but eventually warmed up. I got shaken awake as it was my turn to watch Dee. I put the LED gloves on, had a pizza and kept going. I knew how hard it had been, so I wanted to make sure that I was there for her.  There was a moment where my dancing caused confusion – so I had to be more selective about the moves I was doing! The gloves and I then ended up dancing our way through some of Nikki’s and Nat’s legs too.  We also brought out Nat’s glow stick party pack for her leg too!

On the 4th leg, I felt like I had something to prove to myself as the previous leg had almost broken me. I also knew that I had to swim hard to fight the tide.

It was completely dark and swimming towards England was a boost during the night shift, which had been tough for us all. We all had to face our demons be that the dark, the lurking jelly fish, the cold, or the fact our bodies were telling us that we wanted to be asleep, yet here we were throwing ourselves off a boat into the English Channel...

As a swimmer with a pool background, a turn is always a relief! It was nice, as I knew that there wouldn't be as many jelly fish towards the shore and I was relieved that the water started to get warmer as it got shallower. As we got closer to the shore the dingy came out with me and having spent the last few hours following a boat I wasn't used to following it. I remember asking Andy the minion, 'which part am I aiming for?' He said 'England'! I've heard horror stories about landings, people coming out with cut feet and scratches, so whilst I wanted to get to England, I didn't at the same time! It turned out that I had to swim through a mass of flat seaweed (or that's what I hope it was as I couldn't see), and my whole body got tangled towards the end but otherwise I came out unscathed!

England viewed from the main boat (the light is the dingy tracking me)

It was almost anti-climatic  as the girls couldn't see the landing and all I could see of the boat was a bobbing white light waiting for me to catch up with it.  In my haste to catch up with it I nearly swam into the dingy as Andy had a head torch on and had turned the dingy around to face the boat. I didn't enjoy the water getting cooler again, but the sun rising warmed me psychologically even if didn't start to warm my body up until it had risen higher in the sky.

I swam with arms only in the last 10 minutes of the leg as my hip flexors had gone (maybe over-kicking or the cold contributed to this). I honestly couldn’t move them, didn’t have any power in them. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with the ladder back onto the boat!

Thankfully it was easier than I thought it was going to be to get out and then the cycle of recovery began.

Up to cheer Dee on, and then came Nikki’s jelly fish party… I think we were all relieved that it wasn’t us! :

I tried rolling (Nikki’s roller) but I couldn’t seem to get the usual painful bits  it only seemed to show me just how much of my body hurt that I wasn’t aware of!

I got in for the 5th leg and knew that I would have to hammer it as we were looking close. Plus no-one wanted to get in for longer than they had to! That was motivation in itself.  I was weary about getting in having seen all the Jelly fish on Nikki’s leg, but I knew from the last couple of times that we would probably see the odd jelly fish.

It was calm and dare I say it boring on this leg…. I was just waiting for something to happen. Would it be jelly fish? I could see that we had crept into the shipping lane as there were some big ships by us. Then it started to happen in the last 30 mins.  Even though the big ships were probably half a mile away they were drawing up all the cold water from the bottom and it was ‘patchy, cold’ as I said to Emma in our handover. Emma reckoned it went from 14 to 19 degrees!

I got out, put underwear on instead of a costume as I was confident that I wouldn’t be getting back in… Then as the reports of the tide started to come in, there was a chance that I would have to get back in and blitz it to shore. If I was to get in, it would be tight! So I had to be prepared for a sprint for home!

Following the recovery cycle, the cheering went up a gear – no one wanted to miss out on the record.

France was doing that thing where it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. The cap (we were landing in Wissant) was going forward and backwards all the time. We would pull in front and then it would be seemingly by our side again.  Nikki battled hard and then Nat went in. Surely she would get France? She was so close! When they got in the dingy, this was a sign that something was going to happen – we would make France soon

Following a Baywatch style exit, Nat did it! Official time 31 hours 20 minutes!

We broke the 13 year old Women's world record by 1 hour and 11 minutes and the all comers record, which had stood for as long as Nikki had been alive (24 years) by 3 minutes!

Our splits for each crossing were: 9:47 (Emma on the turn), 10:20 (Lucy on the turn), 11:13 (Nat on the finish) with an overall time of 31:20:

The full record video on Youtube:

Our final route (English Channel swimmers get pulled side to side by the strong tides running up and down the channel):

We were overwhelmed by the support from people at home – it was phenomenal! We must have single-handedly reduced the productivity of the UK that day! So many people were sending in reports of being glued to the tracker.

It was such an incredible thing to have been part of. I don’t think it has all really sunk in yet. It has taken 4 days or so to start to process it all and recover!

There has been such as  team event.  The ‘team’ included the inspirational girls and crew of the Louise Jane Charters, but it also extended to the people at home (and secretly at work) who were sat glued to the tracker and watching our progress on social media.  Everyone did their bit to keep us going through the tough moments.

Thank you to everyone for doing their part to make this happen! :)


Lucy Lloyd-Roach

PS. If you're in the UK you can also watch the team's interview on BBC North West Tonight here (19 minutes in): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08xcs0q/north-west-tonight-evening-news-13072017

Find out more about Lucy's coaching setup in Manchester and book a session with her to improve your swimming at: www.swimmingmatters.co.uk


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great accounting! Congratz & Good on ya to you & the other 5 ladies, plus your support team, the Capt, & crew! Will look forward to your next adventure. Well Done!

Jim Malina
Redondo Bch., CA

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