Well, 2021 was a hell of a year wasn’t it.
For the first 3 and a half months in the UK, all of our pools and gyms were shut due to COVID lockdowns. This meant that I got veery familiar with my local rivers, lakes and beaches, and participated in my first ever through-winter swim season! I achieved Polar Bear Arctic level, and had my first break-the-ice swim, at 1.5°.
2021 was the year that my instagram page begun to truly ‘take off’ (as far as a little niche open water swim training diary can take off), and I hit 2000 followers on June 18th, and 2600 in early December. I also got my first ambassadorship- with Zone 3 as an Open Water Ambassador. This helped hugely with my swimming and training costs over the year, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of the open water swimming community and my followers on instagram.
2021 was the year that I really found out what I was capable of, and how inventive I could be with my training. On the 30th September 2020 I put a deposit down with Matt Clarke on Lionheart, to attempt to become the first ever person to successfully solo swim from Guernsey to France- 30 miles as the crow flies. My window opened on the 12th of June, which gave me a whole 8 months to train. I merrily drew myself up a training plan, put my head down, got to work, started training aaaaaaaaaand boom. The pools closed. 24th December until 12th April- exactly one month before I was due to swim. I did everything I possibly could to prepare for a 30 mile swim while not actually being able to swim. I got a rowing machine and I rowed, I bought swim cords and attached them to doors and fence posts and tried to replicate sets, I bought a paddling pool and tethered myself to our patio. I dressed up in head-to-toe Zone3 heat tech, just to try and eke out an extra 10 or 15 mins of swimming in 4° water before I couldn’t stand the cold any more.
When pools reopened, we were only allowed to book an hour at a time, with 30 min gaps in between sessions, or a maximum number of sessions you were allowed to do per day. My weekends became endurance challenges of a different kind; do 1 hour of swimming, put on a dressing gown, go and sit in my car for 30 mins, do another hour of swimming. Or do an hour, drive to the next pool, do another hour, drive to another pool, do another hour. Looking back now, I can’t believe I had the audacity to think that that level of training could allow me to complete a World First swim. I have no idea how I had the confidence to even show up on the starting line. But I did.
And I completed it.
On the 15th June 2021, I became the first person to swim from Guernsey to France, in 15 hours, 59 mins, 25 seconds. It was my longest ever duration swim by 9 hours and 20 mins, and my coldest ever long swim at 14°.
I had kept G2F secret, only announcing what I was going to be doing on the day my window opened. I explained why in my instagram post; “because I have the opportunity to be the first ever person, I didn’t want to announce my plans on the off chance that someone else would try and race me to it. If someone else is already prepping and planning and thinking about it then fine, but I didn’t want to create my own unnecessary competition!” And indeed there was competition- a man from Australia attempted the swim shortly after me, and was unsuccessful.
Post Guernsey, it took me a lot longer than expected to settle back into a rhythm and pattern, and to start training again. I did lots of smaller races; the Hever Castle 10km on July 4th, Coniston End to End (12km) on July 11th, Outlaw 3.8km on July 24th, but I couldn’t seem to settle down and get back into really good, organised, useful training.
My English Channel window seemed to creep up on me at lightning speed, and I didn’t even really notice it coming. I thought that I had planned out my last couple of weeks of training and taper (and where or how I managed to go wrong, I still have not figured out….) but on the 7th September when I thought that I was starting a 2 week taper I actually realised that I only had 7 days to go.
Nevertheless, I did it. It was hard. So hard. And it took me so much longer than I thought it would. 13 hours and 21 minutes of slog, of arguing with myself in my head that I would not touch the boat and ask my crew to take me home. 13 hours and 21 minutes of being absolutely convinced that I would never make it. Hitting the beach at Wissant wasn’t so much happiness that I had completed it or pride that I had finished – it was pure relief that the ordeal was over.
But it was all for a good cause- thanks to the generosity of friends, family, the instagram and open water communities and my work colleagues, I raised over £2900 for Bowel Cancer UK.
This fundraising meant so much to me, especially in 2021. On January 6th 2021, I lost my father to Bowel Cancer. The grey clouds that this has tinged my year with are still there, and I think will still be there for years to come. I cried for the loss of my dad after Guernsey to France, I cried for him after my English Channel swim. I’m shedding a fair few tears now writing this blog, looking back over what I have been through this year without him. I have tried to be as honest as possible on my instagram: sharing when my struggles with grief and my mental health have stopped me from training, or conversely when the training has saved me from the grief.
And I think this has been one of my strengths this year- one of the areas I want to celebrate and take forward with me to 2022.
- I’ve been so proud of my mental fortitude this year. Throughout my grief, throughout my struggles with depression, through hard training cycles and long swims when all I have wanted to do was quit. Mental strength is in so many different areas, and I am so proud of my journey.
- I have always found a way to train, no matter the situation. I want to extend this even more in 2022, but I will always remember what I achieved in Guernsey with barely 1 month’s proper swim training.
- My family. My wonderful family who form my team, my crew, my support system. My partner Will, who supports my training and both my swims this year. My mum Jo, who takes care of my nutrition needs on every one of my swims and who devotedly looks up the newest research on SIPE before every event. My sister Becca, who single-handedly ran a one-woman PR team from Edinburgh, getting me interviews with BBC News, ITV News, newspapers and radio stations. I couldn’t have done it without you, thank you.
And on the other side of the coin, the lessons I have learnt. The areas I have identified which need strengthening, practice, research or just changing for 2022.
- Strength training. All of the research proves how useful strength and resistance training is for endurance athletes – for speed, for efficiency and for injury prevention. I know this! I know it all! But do I do it?? No I do not. That is going to change for 2022, definitely.
- Speed. I want to be faster in 2022. I know I can be faster. I’m going to have a higher base speed, and I’m going to be able to hold it for longer. Watch this space.
- Nutrition. Oh god, what can I say about the nutrition. I thought I had it sussed, but the English Channel chewed up my nutrition plan and threw it back in my face while laughing at me. 2022 is going to be all about the research, trial-running and practice of different and better nutrition strategies.
So yeah, a hell of a year. 627,477m over 198 swims, with a total time of 215 hours and 45 mins. A world first swim, a personal best distance and time swim, a shortest ever open water race. A first ice channel swim, a first winter season, first time swimming on a tether. A loss, a year of grief, and a year of achievements.
Thank you to everyone who has been along for the journey in 2021, and to everyone who has supported me this year. See you all in 2022!