May Blog – Sophie Etheridge

By Sophie Etheridge, the Founder of Adaptive and Disabled Open Water Swimmers (ADOWS), and with STA’s support aims to become the first person with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome to swim the English Channel solo this year. In this month’s blog, Sophie provides an update on her personal progress in May, and what happened when she joined the Dover Channel Training team.

Taking the Final Steps in Dover

May didn’t get off to a great start – I started the month by going on ‘holiday’ to near Great Yarmouth with the intention of getting several sea swims done. On the day we arrived we headed to the beach so I could get a swim in but I quickly realised it wouldn’t be that simple. The walk across the sandy beach to get to the sea was too far for me; I tried desperately but I just couldn’t walk far enough and was left sitting on the steps to the lifeguard hut defeated and frustrated that I was so close to the sea but couldn’t get in it.

Through the rest of the holiday, we hunted for accessible swim spots. I had spoken to a lady online who is also training to swim the English Channel and we arranged to meet for a swim at Beccles Lido, so that we knew it would be accessible for me. On Tuesday evening we headed to the lido and my parents dropped me off for a 2 hour swim. It was a bit of a weird lido for me and I couldn’t quite get my head around it because it was normal swimming pool temperature and only 25m, rather than the 50m lido I am used to. Nevertheless, I got a decent 4.5km swim in and it gave me the opportunity to talk to Emma about other beaches locally where I may be able to access the sea.

Emma and I arranged to meet on the seafront at Gorleston the following day to see if it would be a suitable entry point for me; thankfully it was but there were some pretty big waves, and I was concerned I may struggle to get out with the larger waves so we had to cut the swim short. We arranged to meet again the following day but when we arrived you could hardly stand up as the wind was so strong, as a result we headed to the leisure centre for a pool swim instead. Sadly, I only managed to get one other sea swim in whilst on holiday and again, it was very short but it was with a lovely lady named Pam.

Great Yarmouth was not the training week that I was hoping for.

I put it behind me and started focusing on my next sea training, which was in Dover. They then announced train strikes resulting in me being unable to get to Dover. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and also concerned that I had 4 months to go till my swim and I hadn’t swum for more than an hour in the sea this year!

Over the next week I was back in the pool, lake and river and did a decent 21km over the week, which I was pleased with. It included 2 days when I did both a decent distance in the pool and a strong open water swim too, plus I ended the week with a 5km lake swim which felt great. I knew I was ready for, and needed a recovery week with lower intensity swims and my monthly sports massage. Especially as the following week I was finally heading to Dover for some training with The Dover Channel Training guys. It would be an intense week with massive distances and possibly even an attempt at my channel qualifier swim – 6 hours sub 16 degrees.

Recovered and ready to go, I did a couple of easy swims leading up to travelling to Dover on Friday 26th May. I was excited and nervous as I was hoping to make the week the biggest distance, I had swum in a week so far – 30km, or around 18.5 miles! On Friday midday I left for Dover and had a pretty good journey arriving at my hotel by 3.30pm. I had a night swim planned so had a nap before eating and heading to the beach. I ended up swimming for about 40min in the dark, which was enough time for me to get used to swimming in the sea in the dark but a short enough time that I wouldn’t be shattered and unable to swim the following day.

Saturday morning came earlier than I had hoped and my plan for the day was 5km swim in the morning, lunch, 5km swim in the afternoon. In the end I did my morning 5km swim and felt incredible after it and decided not to get back in for the second 5km and to just spend the afternoon resting so that I had a decent shot at my 6-hour qualifier swim on Sunday! It also gave me the chance to chat with other experienced channel swimmers and have a catch up with my pilot for my channel swim. I also saw Camilla Golledge from the STA who is doing a Channel Relay this year – all important and fun things to do whilst surrounded by other swimmers!

On Saturday evening I got everything ready for my big swim the following day. We arrived at the beach early so that I could get my feeds for the swim planned and then it was down to business. After about 10 minutes I settled into a nice steady pace and rhythm that I continued pretty much throughout the swim. Towards the end though, the wind did pick up making the waves bigger and a little more unpredictable, but I kept pushing through and at 4pm I exited the water having completed my 6 hour qualifying swim! The final step I needed to complete before my swim was done, meaning I can now attempt to swim The English Channel raising funds for the STA in August as planned.

If you want to read more about my training swims in Dover then you can find them on my on my website.

The final few days of the month were basically spent recovering from my epic swims in Dover which actually meant I had swum over 34km in one week – the most I think I have ever swum in a week outside a marathon swim event! I was chuffed, proud, grinning from ear to ear but very, very tired. I did however manage to get a gentle swim session in on 30th May and bringing the month of May to a close was a lovely social open water swim on the 31st.

May was busy, intense and hard work but I have found myself in exactly the place I need to be in terms of my training, all documents and qualifiers done. A night swim in the sea completed with no panicking, my 6-hour qualifier swim ticked off. Looking forwards, feeling strong and confident in my swimming; my final thing to crack is my feeding and working out what I want to eat and how much I need to eat during my swim – that’s one of my main focuses through June – sort out feeding!

My Monthly Stats:
  • Distance – Approx 78km
  • Hours in the water – Approx 30.5 hours
Don’t forget, you can help spread the word and improve access to swimming for those with disabilities by donating here.

Association News, Open Water Swimming

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