I aimed to do my longest training swim around five weeks before my Channel window opened. Not all prospective Channel swimmers do an 8 or 10-hour swim but if you can pull one off it’s a great confidence booster. The only downside to an extreme training swim is that it’s a tremendous strain on your body and there’s a significant recovery period afterwards. During this time your body’s immune system is weakened making you vulnerable to colds and infections.
Not to my surprise, but to my annoyance, I managed to pick up a cold shortly after my 8-hour swim. Although it seemed so at the time, it wasn’t really a training disaster and indeed it was the main reason that I did my long swim so far ahead. I just about had time to recover from the cold and start training again before I started my “taper” period. Nevertheless, being laid up with a temperature whilst watching others train definitely messes with your head! Self-doubt creeps in and you find yourself asking whether you’ve done enough training, or whether you’ll start to lose your fitness ahead of the big day. But what you mustn’t do is train! Frustrating as it is, you must sit tight and fully recover first or else risking prolonging the illness.
I’d planned to gradually reduce my training down from a maximum swim duration of 8 hours with five weeks to go, down to 1 hour with one week to go. So having a cold won’t allow me to do this quite as smoothly as I would have liked but I’m just going to have to suck it up and wait it out. I’ll miss a couple of long swims but in the grand scheme of things, this shouldn’t make too much difference. It’s important that I must make sure I’m not tempted to catch up later though; I’m likely to be out of training for a week or so so I’ll just pick things up again from there.
The idea of the taper is that you maintain the frequency and intensity of training but gradually decrease the volume. The aim is that your body is totally recovered by the time you are due to swim and that you are so deprived of your “fix” of training that you are bouncing off the walls and can’t wait to start!