I won’t lie, the lockdowns in the UK hit me like a tonne of bricks.

I had built my entire life around swimming. My whole personality, self-worth and values were based on swimming. My mental health relied on swimming. My social life was swimming. My energy outlet was swimming. My routine was swimming. When I was sad or depressed, I would go swimming and revel in what my body could do for me, pulling weightlessly through the water. When I was annoyed or angry about something at work, I would go swimming and sprint until my lungs burnt and my shoulders ached and I had forgotten what I was even angry about. When my mind wouldn’t be still, I would go swimming and meditate in the quiet of the water and the rhythm of left, right, breathe, out. I was Amy- the swimmer.

And very suddenly with lockdown, this was all taken away from me. I didn’t have that outlet, or that tool in my mental health arsenal. To put pressure on top of all of that, I was acutely aware that I was facing down the biggest challenge of my life, and I was suddenly doing the least amount of swimming per week than I had ever done. The last time my training volume was so low was when I broke my neck in 2011!

And then, just to top things off, my Dad went and died. Very rude of him. Quite rude indeed.

Grieving and recovering took nearly two months. Two long, long, dark, gloomy months. Two very long, swimmingless months.

And suddenly it was the end of February 2021. With 3 months to go until my swim window. Still in lockdown, all pools and gyms closed, earliest likely opening of pools was March 31st. My volume for January had been 5 entire kilometres. February, I didn’t even hit 2km. It was time to get to work.

I couldn’t swim still, the UK was in full- only allowed out for 1 hour a day- lockdown. I wasn’t sure what the other swimmers in the Guernsey to France race were doing, or even where they were coming from. What if they were in a Southern Hemisphere country and could still train in the sea? What if they were in a country that had gone into full lockdown as soon as they had 10 cases, and were now fully open and able to train? I couldn’t risk not training, and I couldn’t risk moving my swim. I had to get inventive.

Step 1. Rowing machine. It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t completely representative of swimming, but you know what? It was close enough.

Primary and Secondary muscles used in stationary rowing (left) vs front crawl swimming (right). Created using musclecharts.net.

Step 2. Dryland swim cords. These were amazing. Invaluable. Painful and lactic-acid inducing and horrible. But brilliant. I created swim sets, and then ‘translated’ them into swim cord sets.

E.g 50m sprints in a normal pool set became 40 secs of cords at speed, followed by 20 seconds rest. 100m or 200m repeats became 2 or 3 min sets on the cords, but using one arm at a time to slow down the exercise. 25m butterfly became 20 secs of ‘shoulder press’ to make sure that my shoulders built up muscle evenly around my rotator cuffs.

I couldn’t use the cords for as long as I could the rowing machine- a cords session would tend to be 20-30 mins while a rowing machine session could be 45-60mins, but it was nice to be able to switch things up.

Step 3. A tether pool. Which turned out to be (unsurprisingly) exceptionally cold in the English winter.

Step 3a. A heater for my tether pool.

I then spent a lot of time trying to figure out interesting and useful sets to do. These ended up falling into a couple of categories that I kept coming back to;

–          Song sets, where I listened to a playlist and swam easy during the verses, hard during the chorus

–          Timed sets, e.g. swimming hard for 20s, easy for 40s with a timer that beeped in my ear every 20 seconds

–          Faux-distance interval sets, where a 50m swim became 50 strokes, and a 100m swim became 100 strokes

–          Aerobic sessions- these were my favourite. Headset in, a couple of podcasts lined up, head down and swim for 2-3 hours.

I spent weeks and weeks flitting between the sea, my local river and my little paddling pool. Slowly, my fitness increased and the UK was looking like it was turning a corner in COVID cases. There were rumours that in a March 31st government announcement, that pools would be reopened. I thought that there was absolutely no way they wouldn’t be, after all- chlorine kills the virus! I psyched myself up and was completely convinced that I was days away from getting back in a real pool.

Which made it even worse when the announcement said that pools would be reopening on April 12th at the earliest.

So I went back to the sea, back to the river, back to my pool. Another 2 weeks of waiting.

By the time pools reopened on April 12th, I was 2 months and 2 days away from my window.

As soon as I could get back in the pool, I spent every second I could there. I was doing 4 or 5 double days a week with a morning and an evening swim, and 2 sessions a week where I would book as many back to back sessions as possible. Sometimes these “back to backs” were only half an hour apart at the same pool, and I could just sit in my car in a towelling dressing gown. Sometimes they were at different pools, and I would throw on a onesie and drive from one pool to the next in a desperate road-trip to get more pool time.

Distances by month, where each day is a bar.

By the time it was time to taper, the longest swim I had completed was 3 hours, which had a 30 min and an hour 30 min interval in between each hour. Not exactly ideal training for a 45km swim.

But nevertheless; the race to be the first was still going, the swim window was still looming, and it was time to put my training to the test.

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