Advice to new Channel swimmers

Summary of several articles by Michael Oram on Google chat site Channel_swimmers and on


Think what you are doing and keep a diary / log of all your training.
Your keenness might be good but your approach might need a little thought.
Firstly if you are willing to put in the training ( a lot of it) you should be able to physically do the swim. -------
Unfortunately 80% + of the swim is mental attitude. That part you need to get into perspective yourself.
It needs to be positive, positive & positive.
Remember the English Channel is one of - if not - the worlds top open water swim. It has waves, tides, wind, unpredictable weather patterns, lots of shipping and the water is cold (16°-18°C).

1. You need to enjoy what you are doing to maintain a positive attitude.
2. You need to plan your next venture (the goal after you have swum the Channel) before your attempt.
(A lot of successful swimmers go into depression after they walk up the beach in France).
3. Choose your training method carefully to fit into what you enjoy, the time you can spare and what pushes you to your limits and beyond.
4. Sort out your stroke - your speed - your distance - your mental state
5. Train to what suits you not to what is imposed on you, you are all different.

"Know your limitations before you exceed them".

"Never lie to yourself - you can lie to everyone else, if you must, but never to yourself".

5. Give yourself a regular talking to and assess yourself on a day to day training basis.

Personally I believe in TBC training - That's "Total Body Confusion" training. (There are a lot of new names for it as a lot of experts re-invent the wheel).
If the body is pushed hard and on a regular planned program it becomes accustomed to that program. Don't let that happen.
TBC training requires you to do a lot of different things at random and work hard at all of it. Push yourself to your limits and beyond. Sprint - medium distance - sets - a little plodding - weight lifting (light weights) - gym work. Mix it all up like a good curry and add a little more to the recipe to "hot it up" until it all becomes natural.

6. Train on an empty stomach so that you can reach the body energy conversion period quicker and you get to know what to expect when the body starts to use it's fat and muscle for energy.
7. Get your feeding sorted out early; get used to the feed you are going to use; make sure it works over a long period (15 to 20 hours).

Read the labels and understand what you are consuming - personal I think you should go for a pure carbohydrate feed - like Maxim - and a separate electrolyte feed.
Multi-feeds with electrolyte mixed in can cause a big problem when you add up what you are putting into your body over a long period. If each feed contains 25% of your daily intake of an electrolyte and you have 20 to 30 feeds on your Channel swim you are possibly taking to high a level of things like potassium and sodium. This will cause you problems like sickness, indigestion, palpitations and a lot of other systems.
Read up on electrolytes - you need to understand them.
Use the feed on a regular basis to up your intake ability.
Remember to take the right amount of liquid with the feed - it needs water to work properly and you need water so that you do not dehydrate.
You will need all the help your feed can give on the swim.

7. Set yourself targets - For instance give yourself a time interval to build yourself up to a training target.

As a starter aim for developing yourself - over say 4 weeks - to a point where you are able to complete a hard working 3 hour pool training swim session. By that I do not mean 3 hours plodding about in 25/27°C in a pool. That will give you a false sense of achievement.
Give yourself a work load and make sure it is hard, you stick to it and it makes you feel you are pushing the limits.

8. Log you progress - be honest with yourself - give yourself a success rating (1 to 10)

Set targets and break them - "Know your limitations before you exceed them".
Set targets you know you can break if you put in the effort, but make sure they need the effort - be realistic, little and often is better than big increases.

9. Pat yourself on the back and 'reward' yourself if you do well.

9. Give yourself a set programme that you can use regularly to measure your progress.

Your Channel swim will be around the 38,000 yard (35,000 metre mark) for the 19 nautical miles it is across.
That's 1400 lengths of a 25 metre pool.
700 lengths if you are lucky enough to have access to a 50 metre pool

A typical training set and benchmark that could be used to log your progress in a 25 metre pool is --
start the clock
Warm up swim freestyle of 250 metres - 10 lengths -
(bi-laterally breath if you can; if not learn how to quickly)
followed by
4 x 100 metre sprints watching the clock (16 lengths)
short rest - until you are fit (4/5 mins max decreasing as you improve) - followed by
A timed swim of 1875 metres, (roughly a nautical mile) - that's 75 lengths
short rest (4/5 mins max) - then
200 metre sprint (8 lengths)
short rest (2/3 mins max) - then
25 metres backstroke (changes the muscle usage)
110 lengths x 25 = 2750 metres or 1.48 nautical miles
stop the clock - (should be around the hour mark or less for most)
wind down swim of a couple of lengths
See how close to the hour you can do it in. (this is about an hours exercise when you can drop the rest periods)
Add ---- 250 metres x fast freestyle (10 lengths) after the backstroke - if you want to up the pressure
120 lengths x 25 = 3000 metres or 1.62 nautical miles.
Log your time. (should be around the hour mark)

To put this into perspective
2200 metres in an hour - without pool stops - is approx 1.2 nautical miles - that's about a 17 / 18 hour Channel swim with feed stops

2750 metres in an hour - without pool stops - is approx 1.49 nautical miles - that's about a 15 / 16 hour Channel swim with feed stops.

3000 metres in an hour - without pool stops - is approx 1.61 nautical miles - that's about a 12 / 13 hour Channel swim with feed stops.

3333 metres in an hour - without pool stops - is approx 1.80 nautical miles - that's about a 11 hour Channel swim with feed stops.

4800 metres in an hour - without pool stops - is approx 2.6 nautical miles - that's a 7 hour Record Channel swim with feed stops.

If you have time to continue swimming after the above benchmark training session then swim hard for an hour and note the distance you have covered. (try and include some 25 metre 'sprints')
It will be a reasonable indication as to your hourly Channel swim rate as you get tired and you can use the distance to get an idea of how long your swim will take. (see below for the calculation), all you need to know is some simple maths and some facts and figures.

1 nautical mile is 2000 yards or 1852 metres.
The Channel is about 19 nautical miles across from England to France.
(Shortest distance between Shakespeare and Cap Gris Nez - 18.1mn.)
19 nm is 38,000 yards or 35,188 metres.
Just divide your hourly distance into the figures above to get your approximate swim time -
then add an hour or 2 for feeding, sea conditions, slowing down and thinking aloud.
If your feed stops are 2 minutes and you are feeding every half hour 10 hours is 40 mins feed time.
Measure you feed/ stop time in yards/metres not seconds -
You are loosing around 50 metre for every 60 second at 3000 metres (1.6 nautical miles) an hour.

Some of you are going to be swimming in 16 to 18°C (60 to 65°F) for anything up to 20 hours or more. During your swim you will need to push yourself at regular intervals, do the occasional sprint and to last the distance.

Enjoy the pressure you put yourself under - enjoy the success when you improve your performance - then have a pint and a good meal or an evening in front of the tele.
It's important to have time off from training and indulge yourself - give yourself a reward for your efforts.

1. When you can put together your own training programme without being given a list by someone else you will be over the first hurdle.
Having help is one thing - being lead by the nose another.

2. Set yourself up to do your best every time - log it - make sure the next time you do that exercise you do it at least in the same time but hopefully faster.

3. This swim is not rocket science just hard work, mental attitude and self discipline, a bit of open water swimming experience does help.

4. Joining a club will benefit you. You will get some hands on advise for training and company on club nights.

5. Tunnel vision is a strange thing that tends to end up in disaster if you apply it to something like the Channel that requires multi tasking.

6. Think TBC training. (or multi sport cross training or whatever you want to call it). Confuse the body and the mind so that it does not rebel when you ask it to do the impossible.

7. Do not worry about the cold water training bit until the season is right for it; more than 10 °C at least.
Take cold showers - wear a t-shirt instead of a jumper - sleep without the central heating on and under a light quilt or sheet. There are lots of way to get the body acclimatised.
8. Do not worry about putting on weight - worry if you are putting on weight.
The amount of training you should be doing will use up all the extra calories you are adding. The extra weight can be added in the final couple of months.

9. Don't overdo it - give yourself at least one day a week off to indulge in your luxuries of life. Enjoy what you do and stay happy.

10. Take little steps and build towards your target. The distance sounds a lot less if you say "I've only got to do 20 x my 1 mile training sprints to get to France".

That should start you on the road to a Channel Swim -

Remember this is only my opinion - study other ways of approaching your training.
Then do YOUR way.
There will be very little if any help out there on the day.
It's your swim
Channel Swimming is an extreme sport that requires a lot of thought and planning.
Safety needs to come first - second and third.
You need a good support team that knows you, your abilities and what you want on the day help and encouragement wise.
You have a "duty of care" for your own well being and for the people you involve.
Know the Challenge before you "lift the gantlet" (that's quaint old English for "take it on")


Your Channel swim is a partnership between the swimmer and the pilot.
The shortest distance across the Channel is between Shakespeare Beach (South West end by the steps) -- to the rocks at the point just North of the lighthouse at Cap Gris Nes.
The course ground track is 143°T - if you could travel in a straight line - passing almost through the Varne lightship on the way.
It is a total distance of 18.1 nautical miles
1 nautical mile is 2000 yards or 1852 metres (give or take a couple of units)
18.1 nm = 36200 yards = 20.568 land miles -- or --
18.1 nm = 33521 metres = 33.521 kilometres

It can be broken down into transit units.
From Shakespeare beach to the South West Shipping lane is
5.2nm = 10400 yards = 5.909 land miles = 9630 metres 9.63 km
The Southwest Shipping lane is 3.85 nm across at this point
3.85 nm = 7700 yards = 4.375 land miles -- or --
3.85 nm = 7130 metres = 7.13 kilometres
It is 1.6 nm from the beginning of the SW lane to the varne lightship (= 3200 yards = 1.82 land miles = 2963 metres)
It is 2.25 nm from the Varne lightship to the separation zone
(= 4500 yards = 2.56 land miles = 2105 metres)
The separation zone between the South West and North East Shipping lanes is 1 nm wide = 2000 yards = 1852 metres
The North East Shipping lane is 5.3 nm across at this point
5.3 nm = 10600 yards = 6.02 land miles = 9815 metres
From the North East shipping lane across the French inshore traffic zone to Cap Gris Nez is 2.9 nm = 5800yards = 3.3 land mile = 53701 metres.
For a quick mental breakdown you can divide the Channel into 4 parts --
Shakespeare beach to the South west lane = 5.2 nm or 96300 metres
South West Lane across to the North East Lane= 5nm or 9260 mtrs
North East Lane across to the French inshore traffic Zone (ZC" buoy area) 5nm or 9260 metres.
French inshore traffic zone to Cap gris 3nm or 5555 metres
Unfortunately you do not swim in a straight line (unless your name is Petar, Christof or Yvette and you are setting a new record) as the tide moves you up and down the channel approximately every 6 hours.
It travels from the South West to the North East (Flood tide) from about 1.5 hours before high Water to 4.5 hours after high water.
You are moved up channel side ways approximately 12 nautical miles on a Spring tide (6.8 metres High water height) - and -
7 nautical miles on a neap tide (5.3 metres High water height).
The tide then turns through 180 degrees to flow from the North East back to the Southwest from 4.5 hours after high water to 1.5 hours before high water.
You are moved a little less in this direction 10.5 nautical miles on the spring tide (6.8 metres HW)
6 nautical miles on a neap tide (5.3 metres HW)
These distances change every day between Springs and Neaps (and with the wind and weather conditions)
The High Water times change every tide and are later by about 30 to 40 minutes.
Mean High Water Spring tides (HW 6.8 metres) are always around 0100 & 1330 hours British summer time at Dover
Mean High Water Neap tides (HW 5.3metres) are always around 0700 & 1930 hours British Summer time.
Spring tides are considered to be the tides that are above 6.1 metres at High Water.
Neap Tides are considered to be the tides that are below 6.1 metres at High Water.
(These times are very approximate as the turn depends on where you are in relationship to Dover Harbour - the weather conditions - the tidal height (Springs or Neaps)

High and low water times are calculated and predicted on the position of the sun and the moon in relation to the earth.
They are calculated for a steady air pressure of 1013 mili bars with no consideration for the weather conditions.
What happens on the day can vary considerably depending on the weather and the situation for the days prior to start.

You do not swim the distance your course covers on the chart . That distance includes tidal movement and is a combined course of tide travel and actual swim distance and direction.


You swim the distance you pilot guides you over. This is very seldom more than about 20 / 21 Nautical miles.




Mike O