I've always swum. I've always liked water. I've always liked being near, in, under or on water. There’s just something about it… Sea swimming gives you that sense of freedom that can’t be found anywhere else. Maybe mountaineering would get close but I don’t like heights. In fact a fear of heights and a fear of drowning means sea level it is for me!
As I boy I learnt to sail then as time went on the need for speed led me into windsurfing, spending many happy hours in Poole and Christchurch Harbours. Some time later I lost the sail and bought a surf board and spent my 20s wiping out in some stunning locations. In my 30s I found myself boatless and boardless which is never a happy place to be so, as my modes of water transport had got progressively smaller, it seemed only logical to go with what I had left in my 40s and just swim.
Swimming groups, clubs and buddies
After spending some time swimming up and down the Poole beaches on my own I decided to enter a few open water swimming competitions and events. This was great but I thought it’d be good to meet some more like-minded folk. So the following Easter I came across a Facebook Group called ‘Beyond The Blue’. I clicked to join, was accepted, and before you could say ‘budgie smugglers’ I found myself on the beach at Shore Rd near Sandbanks for the Good Friday swim. The water is pretty cold at that time of the year so this consisted of half an hour of swimming and chatting following by about two hours of shivering. As the summer progressed I joined East Dorset Open Water Swimming Club and Just Swim and soon had most of Poole Bay covered for swimming buddies, from Sandbanks to Southbourne.
The English Channel? Now there’s an idea!
After never having to my knowledge met anyone who’d swum the Channel I suddenly met quite a few. Some of my friends from ‘Beyond the Blue’ made up a team that completed a four person, two-way Channel relay in June 2014. Some other friends completed a two-person relay soon after and then I found out that another friend just happened to be a former world champion open water swimmer! I found my predicament both thought provoking and inspiring. All these people were friends, and appeared outwardly to be relatively normal! So I reasoned that if apparently normal people could achieve great things then it followed logically that I too could perhaps set my sights a bit higher. The friend who's a former world champion and veteran Channel swimmer seemed to empathise with my mental process and one day turned around to me and said that he thought I had a Channel Swim in me. My curiosity coupled with a bit of encouragement was beginning to turn into a cunning plan.
I spent some time training with ‘Durley Sea Swims’ towards the end of the summer of 2014. After a few long swims I notched up a 3 hour swim before the autumn drew in. It all seemed straight forward enough… Just swim a bit further every week, have some belief in yourself and go for it!
So that autumn I had a little chat with myself and managed to talk myself into a Channel solo. I didn't argue much to be fair and booked and paid a deposit to my pilot on New Year’s Day 2015. The ball was now rolling!
Training for the Channel
2014 was spent building confidence and endurance but 2015 was the start of training in earnest for the challenge that lay ahead. The 2015 season was also the year for learning how to swim properly and learning how to swim for a long time properly. I swam 4 or 5 times a week every week in pools as well as the sea. I swam all year round, never with a wetsuit. The idea was to train for speed, technique, endurance and cold water acclimatisation. I find endurance training in the pool pretty dull - it's about as interesting as a treadmill probably is for a runner but I did it because I had to.
Luckily my cold water training meant that I was able to start open water endurance training earlier than would have ordinarily been possible and my first hour-long sea swim of 2016 was at Easter with water temperatures of around 9ºC. I increased my distances steadily and completed my first 10km swim in the middle of May and my first 6 hour swim by the end of May.
A six-hour swim is a watershed in endurance swimming as this is the point that most people totally run out of stored energy. You can practically only absorb around 240 calories an hour so if you accept that your body has around 2000 calories of stored energy before you begin a swim and will expend around 600 calories an hour whilst swimming, then you can see that your body will be in deficit at around the 5-6 hour point. Nobody can swim the Channel before this occurs and certainly not me so I kept upping my distances and completed a 7 and a then 10 hour training swim.
I’m Raising Funds For Julia’s House
Now I’m a pretty lucky chap really. I’m married with two brilliant kids and good bunch of friends. I enjoy good all round health and, most importantly to me, so do my kids. I wanted to use my Channel swim to raise some money for charity and one which helped children in particular if I could. Choosing a charity is difficult as there are many good causes out there, and of course all good causes are good causes.
You just have to support where you can and as much as you can. My recent life experience of having a young family drew me towards a children’s charity and Julia’s House was brought to my attention by some friends. They pointed out that Wiltshire currently has no children’s hospice provision at all but that Julia’s House, who have already been providing respite care in South Wiltshire for some time, were planning on opening a second Hospice in the county in 2017.
I visited the Dorset Hospice in Corfe Mullen last year and was reminded how lucky I am, and how unfair life can be for others. The work that Julia’s House do with children and their families is transformational making a real difference to the quality of people’s lives. Unfortunately, government funding is very limited and Julia’s House receive just 5% of their total annual income this way. The remaining 95% of the money that is needed to run the service comes from public fundraising and donations.
I feel very privileged that I’m able to even attempt to swim the Channel. When I complete the swim I’ll no doubt feel great, having accomplished something that I never would have thought I was capable of just a few years ago. My training regime has been gruelling and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of my family and friends and fact that I've managed to raise some funds for Julia's House make it worthwhile.
Please sponsor me
Thanks to everyone who's already sponsored my swim - it's greatly appreciated.
It’s so easy to sponsor me - just follow the link to my Just Giving fundraising page or donate by text – there’s no extra network charges to you so a £10 text donation would be billed to you as £10, the charity can still collect gift aid too.
Just text JONT85 £10 to 70070 (replace the £10 with your amount £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10).