Back in the pool

It’s Christmas 2012, I’m sat in the living room trying to figure out a plan for my first year of training in 2013.

The plan was to swim a lot in my local swimming pool in the beginning until the water temperature in the sea was warm enough to venture outside. A good plan I thought, get back into swimming, regain some of my speed and then work towards achieving a six-hour sea swim in the summer. I had never swum beyond 3 hours before and but as this was the qualifying distance for a Channel solo swim, it seemed like a logical goal.

I was training 4 or 5 times a week in the evenings after work and at the weekends.

2013 calendar

2013 Training Days

Initially I was covering no more than 2-3k in each session, and you can see below, although I was swimming frequently my monthly distance rarely exceed 60km by much.


I swam in the pool until May when I decided to enter the H2Open’s first National Open Water Ranking Series, this consisted of a number of swims in lakes around the country and I thought this would be a good way to add some intensity to my training and finally escape from the pool.

My first was a 5k at Box End in Bedfordshire on the 4th May and I was one of only a couple of skins swimmers in a crowd of rubber. I was afraid that it would be too cold for me and I even tried to sit in a cold bath at home to replicate the anticipated temperature. As it turns out my worries were unfounded, as although it was cold at about 14.5 degrees, I managed it well, even if there was a bit of shivering following my exit.

I thought I was swimming pretty fast at Box End but as it turns out I was well down the field at the finish. I only realised later that I had lost a lot of time due to the fact that I was struggling to swim in a straight line, the data from my Garmin confirmed this as the 5K swim had turned into nearly 6km for me.


Box End 5km H2Open swim statistics

Nevertheless, I took confidence from this swim and went in search of somewhere to train outside where I could practice sighting.

After a bit of online research I discovered Swimmers Beach in Dover. Freda Streeter and her team would observe and dish out regular beastings to Channel swim aspirants on a Saturday and Sunday morning. This sounded ideal as I could drive down to Dover on my own and the family did not need to worry about me swimming alone.


Swimmers Beach Dover

I swam at Dover on and off for several weekends in the summer that year, slightly in awe of those around me I went about my business and completed a number of 3-4 hour swims en route to my 6 hour swim. I also continued with the 2013 H2Open Ranking series and to my great surprise I finished third in the mens non wetsuit category.


I decided to attempt my 6 hour swim in the sea at Budleigh Beach under the watchful eye of Alan Franks aka Albie, an old friend who swam in the relay with me all those years ago and for whose Channel solo I crewed in 1994. Albie, had over the years trained and supported a number of Exmouth swimmers in their own solo swims across the Channel, and I thought it was highly likely that he would later accompany me on my attempt.

1st 6hr

My first 6hr swim at Budleigh Beach

1st 6hr stats

I remember it being a tough swim but I felt incredibly excited to have achieved my 2013 goal. Having swum over 375 km in the year, it felt like I had laid a good foundation for what was still to come.

I decided that my target for 2014 would not be the well trodden route that my friends had taken in preparation for their Channel swims, and instead of the recommended BLDSA two-way Windermere swim, I wanted to do something different. I decided I was going to swim the BLDSA Loch Lomond Championship!

Everyone except my wife Debbie thought I was mad to even consider it, the distance, the cold, the success rate and not to mention the logistics.

My mind was made up…







With the decision made to swim the English Channel, the next item on the agenda was when? Deciding on the best possible tide in August 2015 sounded reasonable and three years to prepare showed plenty of respect to the task ahead.

Within the week I had dropped £1,000 on a deposit and my slot was booked on the second neap tide in August 3 years hence, and with the same pilot as my earlier relay swim with the Viking Princess.

All that remained was to plan my training schedule and get back in the pool. oh and to buy loads of kit! New goggles, bag, trunks, hat and of course the obligatory Garmin 910xt swim watch.


It was a Tuesday night and I was ready for my first visit to the pool for a number of years. I strolled onto poolside just as the aqua aerobics class was coming to an end and slowly lowered myself into the chilly waters (29 degrees I think) of the fast lane. Setting off like I was 17 again, I imagined the lifeguards watching and thinking what a rarity it was to have a competent swimmer in the pool for a change.

That was extremely short-lived as I lasted exactly 10 lengths before running out of steam, feeling physically sick I sat on the poolside pretending to have cramp in my foot and calf and only after about ten minutes did I hobble dramatically back to the changing rooms.

I knew then that this was going to be far more difficult than I had previously imagined.

When did the madness start?

I think I learnt to swim when I was about four or five, I couldn’t tell you for sure. I do remember waiting for a bus to pick a bunch of us nippers up at the end of St Johns road, not far from my childhood home. I’m not sure where the bus took us exactly and I’ve never managed to find that pool again, despite looking in the years since. It turns out that my now sister-in-law also learnt to swim with me but she can’t remember either.

All I know is that I stopped swimming and left the swimming club at some point during primary school and did not return to swimming in a big way until I was about fifteen. I joined Exmouth Swimming and Life Saving Society (ES&LSS) and found within about six months that I had taken all of the club records for the open age group, except the backstroke (I still hate backstroke now). Given the amount of time I was spending in the pool at the time it made sense to me that I become a lifeguard at the sports center. I was earning and swimming every day and life was good.

It was not until competing in the ASA Devon County championships that I went under a minute for 100m freestyle, you never forget that day as a young swimmer. Progress beyond that though was really hard work and very slow going, it was not long before younger, faster swimmers were beating me and I was looking for something more rewarding on which to expend my energy.

I found what I was looking for in the game of Water polo, I love this sport and will return to it, maybe next year. I learnt my trade playing for Exmouth, determined to break into the senior team, and rarely winning a game but enjoying the experience non the less. It took a year or so before I started training at Newton Abbot, they had a National League team and my progress was rapid. It was not long before I was playing in the Bristol and District and National Leagues with Newton Abbot and whilst at University for Reading in Division One of the National League and for the Berkshire County side. A short spell playing for Bedford in the National League followed and I was selected for the Bedfordshire County team but when I moved to south London I found myself playing more socially in the local and London leagues for Penguins and latterly for Crawley at the amazing K2 Leisure Centre, although not with the same vigor as in my younger years.

It was at some point during my transition from swimming to Waterpolo that I dipped my toe in the open water swimming scene. A fellow swimmer, Waterloo player and now dear friend suggested doing an English Channel Relay to celebrate the centenary year of our swimming club. I was keen to take part and started training for the challenge.We spent many happy hours swimming at Budleigh beach and regularly took part in the Starcross Swim, a swim organised by the ES&LSS for its members as an introduction to open water swimming, only 1.75 miles in length down the Exe estuary, but finishing opposite the clock tower on Exmouth sea front. I also had my first experience of the BLDSA (British Long Distance Swimming Association) when I took part in an affiliated swim in Exmouth called the Fairway Buoy swim. The swim was about 4.5 miles and was tidal in nature, I even won a Trophy for first Exmouth swimmer home one year. I remember swimming against some amazing open water swimmers back then, the King of the Channel amongst them. This Fairway Buoy swim has morphed in recent times due to the changing shape of the beach and sandbar and last year the swim was renamed the Exe to Exe swim and has a completely new course.

We successfully completed our channel relay in 1993 in a time of 10hrs 23mins and following that several members of the team worked hard to complete their own solo channel swims with the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), I crewed for the first of them on the Viking Princess back in 1994 and I always believed I would join them in that feat, but life and work took over. I met my beautiful wife and my three lively daughters followed in subsequent years.

Three years ago my life changed…

One evening and a phone call to my wife from an old friend of mine ended in a snap decision to finally get off my arse and swim the English Channel….

I don’t believe my wife really understood what that would mean in terms of sacrifice and I realised very quickly that I was not the swimmer I once was…