Solo Channel Swim – Christine Bradley’s birthday present to herself!
Hello, I am thrilled to welcome Christine to HealthyHappy50 to share her amazing swimming story. We met last year when I was training for an outdoor swim and then wanted to learn butterfly. She is a truly lovely & incredibly modest woman and is very much a local hero now!
Hello Christine, please can you tell us about your special birthday year and ‘gift’ to yourself?
I reached a big birthday this year and wanted to celebrate in style. Surfing in Sri Lanka was a fail. There was a disaster with accommodation and a broken toe.
But in all fairness I had already had another gift for myself. I had a birthday present I had booked some 2 years ago, pretty much to the day.
The present was a swim, not just any swim. A “Swim across the English Channel swim”. My goal was to become a Solo Channel Swimmer.
Wow! That is some birthday present! When did the idea of swimming the Channel occur to you?
This had always been a dream of mine from being a little girl. I even told my dad one night when falling to sleep that I would do it. He had brought a tatty old book home from a library sale called “It’s Cold in the Channel” and had been reading me a bit of it, instead of the usual fairy tales you read to toddlers. I went on to swim as a child.
But then you were involved in an accident?
Yes, on my way home from school one day I was involved in a road accident. My injuries were pretty gruesome and almost caused me to lose my leg. Aged 12 and with massive scars behind my knee, I couldn’t face the embarrassment of going back to the pool. I couldn’t face wearing shorts or in fact anything above the knee. This psychological block stayed with me for a further 36 years!
Dad, used to jog, something that was big in the 80s, and took me along to jogging club. There were a few runners (possibly injured) who used to run round the pitch at Swinton Rugby League Club so I joined in with them. For me this was huge progress as it had been questionable if I would be able to walk again.
And so you stopped swimming but still enjoyed exercising?
Yes, life went on. I married and we moved about with my husband’s work. I always did some sort of exercise, but now was settled in Yorkshire with my 2 daughters and a myriad of pets on Silsden Moor. I entered 10kms, half marathons etc and I always enjoyed keeping fit. I went to aerobics, the gym and step classes. I was happy doing anything really so long as I could keep my legs covered! I frequently came last! I was pleased just to be getting on with things.
After the break up of my marriage I decided to move off the moor and into Silsden.
You became a triathlete. How did that happen?
I had already done an odd marathon and was looking for a new challenge. I discovered Triathlon. In 2012 I did my first sprint and more importantly I wore shorts! I was involved with a great set of people who were very motivating. I began enjoying my swimming again even though I was still slow.
I decided to change career from managing an IT Service Desk to teaching swimming, and coaching open water and triathletes.
One evening, after a couple of glasses of wine I began to wonder……How fantastic would it look if I had Solo Channel Swimmer on my CV too……. So my journey began….
So your childhood dream began to grow within you again!
Yes, I decided to get some friends together to do a Channel Relay. I had 6, and then financial and other commitments reduced this to 4. We trained hard and undertook our relay swim in 2015. I’ll be honest – it wasn’t a pleasant experience. We had a rough crossing. Everybody suffered with sickness. We all agreed we had never tried anything so difficult before! However, I had already booked my Solo Channel Swim. There was no backing out.
This is how I set up my training for the Channel Swim in 2016
As a coach I believe that training has to suit your lifestyle. You can’t just buy a book, write a plan and consistently stick to it . Well, I can’t anyway! There needs to be a degree of flexibility. No one plan suits all.
I teach 13 fitness classes each week, as well as coaching swimmers. This already had a taxing effect on my body.
My plan: I decided that I would try to improve my technique during the winter months.
As soon as I could get outside my distance would gradually increase to a maximum of 130km per month swimming (as a slow swimmer this is a lot of time to spend in water). I tried to vary my sessions, technique, endurance, and speed. This was always difficult because I trained alone and don’t like working on speed!
I swam outdoors whenever I could and went along to join a group on the beach in Dover for some long training swims.
I worked loosely within my plan, I had “off months” where I had no energy, or everything hurt. This was likely to be a result of overtraining. I then just took swim time off. I listened to my body. If I felt good and had the opportunity to swim I would do so. I worked hard! I tried to incorporate some strength work and a weekly Pilates class.
Can you tell us more about the Rules and Regulations surrounding a Channel Swim?
Yes, there are very specific rules that a swimmer needs to follow:
Channel Swimmer Rules:
- Swimwear is swimsuit (not wetsuit), swimcap and goggles
- Swimmer must clear the water before the start and at the end
- Swimmer must not touch the boat or have any physical contact with anybody on board or support swimmer – no assistance on clearing water etc
You are not allowed to wear a wetsuit! How cold is the Channel?
- Water temp ranges from 16 – 18 degrees. My local pool is about 23. You have to acclimatise for this in your training which I had done by swimming in cold water, without a wetsuit. I also trained frequently in Ilkley Lido which is always freezing!
How did you keep your energy up?
- I took great effort in trialling drinks. This is mega important as feeds can make or break a swim
- Each feed was prepared freshly in warm water. This is important to combat the cold
- I alternated a revolutionary nutrition UCAN generation drink with ginger or peppermint tea sweetened with honey. I am so impressed with UCAN I have applied to become an Ambassador and supplier
- Feeds were handed to me from a fishing line and I had to take this as quickly as possible. All the time you are treading water you are potentially being pushed further off course
- You can take solid foods, cut into small bite sized chunks but I soon discovered that once my face was back in the water I couldn’t chew or swallow without taking in sea water
Please can you go through the details of the swim and how you accomplished such an extraordinary feat?
So, the swim itself….
I set off at 3am. It was amazing, inky waters, lovely moonlight, very peaceful. Water was a little choppy but nothing I couldn’t deal with.
The sunrise was blocked by the boat, so I think my crew got the benefit of that, but not me.
Around hour 12 I felt like I was doing great and had been thinking about the big ships I had seen, the direction they were sailing in and thought I was already in the French shipping lane. I asked how far I was and was deflated when it soon became clear I wasn’t even halfway.
I had spotted France (they do say not to look!). Mentally this was hard and after another hour or so I began feeling very tired and very cold. We had travelled down the night before, which wasn’t good practice, so sleep had been minimal! If I say half an hour I am being generous.
I was concerned that I might fall asleep while swimming. I told my crew and they increased my feeds for an hour or so. After this I felt fine and battled on. At one point thinking I might even land in daylight.
I was told I was about 6 miles off & that was fine. Darkness arrived and the beach I was heading for turned into lights further down the coast.
Then, something else – it seemed my goalposts were constantly changing. I was actually fighting a tough tide just before the French coast, which was pushing me backwards. I just had to keep going.
My crew were working hard at keeping me motivated. I told them I wanted to get out just after 18 hours. My pilot took charge and said I had only half an hour to go and I could do it. My stroke count had been monitored on the hour and had not slowed throughout.
Eventually I got there……
I was a Solo Channel Swimmer!
You did it! How did you feel once you reached the shore?
How did I feel?
Exhausted, not really emotional. I just wanted to get back and warm up. I was seriously and, probably to the annoyance of my crew who were ecstatic, very underwhelmed.
I am pleased to say that has changed now!
My crew, my pilot, friends and family have been amazing. Their support is humbling to say the least.
I can look back and no one will ever take away the fact that I am a Solo Channel Swimmer. More people have climbed Everest than swum the Channel. It is quite an achievement. I am one of a very elite group of about 1650 swimmers in the whole world with records dating back to Captain Matthew Webb in 1875.
Here are some stats about the swim!
Time taken : 18 hrs 56 mins
Distance: Although the channel is 21 miles across, my swim was some 39.77 miles due to tides
Arm strokes: a whopping 66,120!!
How did you feel the day after your swim?
On Saturday I felt good, my shoulders ached a little but nothing like I expected. There was no achiness the next day (very frustrating), or the day after. The tiredness did hit me after teaching my spin and hydro classes a couple of days later!
And what’s next? Do you have any plans?
I am keen to continue with my swimming. There are many great swims and I’ve already began to look into costs and suitability of some. I already have two Ironman distance triathlons and a marathon already booked for 2017. I am hopeful I will swim from Malta to Gozo (and back), and maybe, just maybe swim around Jersey!
Do you have a life motto or mantra?
No life motto as such, but my favourite quote is “Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”
What would you tell a woman in her 50s who wants to or is just getting started with being active but is concerned about being judged/worried she’ll fit in?
I would say go for it! People lose out on so much by not plucking up the courage to try something new.
I was once told to always do the warm up, chances are you will love it and continue.
As for worrying about body image, there is only one way to improve, well maybe two – eat better, and exercise more. The 2nd one is much more fun! I’ve learnt through my exercising on and off that nobody really is interested in what you look like or how good you are.
What they are interested in is more that you can be motivational by just being there and enjoying yourself.
Believe me the toughest step is the first one!
What advice would you tell your 20 year old self about being/achieving health & happiness in life?
If you get an opportunity, grab it, live your life, be safe, be kind.
Most of all believe that you can do it, because that way you will live your dream, blossom with confidence and develop incredible lifeskills.
You also wanted to raise money for charity with your Channel Swim, please can you give us the details of the fundraising pages:
Yes, I have 2 Just Giving pages raising funds for very worthy charities:
https:www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Christine-Bradley3 – Pancreatic Cancer Research
www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Christine-Bradley4 – Yorkshire Air Ambulance
Between these pages I have already raised over £3000, which is amazing! I am sure they will both be very grateful for your contributions.
You said you had a lot of support from your family, friends and team.
Yes, I would like to thank…….
- Swim support crew Becky Hull, David Bradley, and Steve Marshall – you were bloody fantastic.
- Pilot, Paul Foreman and his support crew onboard the Optimist – your continued vigilance over my safety was paramount, this made me feel very safe
- CS&PF official, Geoff Cox who made sure everything was done in line with Channel Swimming rules
- Friends and family who have supported, encouraged, told me to rest, and generally cajoled me through two years of training, despite hardly ever seeing me due to training!
- And my mum and dad, for making me who I am today. Teaching me to believe in myself – that there is no such word as can’t or even cannot! So very pleased you were waiting for me back home dad, mum’s spirit was with me throughout.
You can read about my journey in my blog https://wordpress.com/posts/swimming6305.wordpress.com
Thank you so much for sharing your incredible Solo Channel Swim with us Christine. We look forward to following your adventures in future. You can find Christine on Twitter at @alpacalady376
All photos copyright/courtesy of Christine Bradley
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