In July 2017, adult swim coach Lucy Lloyd-Roach and a team of 5 other swimmers broke the relay record for a triple-crossing of the English Channel. The all-female team completed the swim in a remarkable 31 hours 20 minutes, smashing the men’s record despite unfavourable weather, heavy traffic, and a swarm of jellyfish.
Open water swimming is a different beast to pool based swimming and triathlons, although the latter often take place in open water. Usually covering exceptionally long distances, pure open water tests like Lucy’s triple-crossing, demand an altogether different type of training and nutrition plan.
“It’s something I’m continually experimenting with,” says Lucy. “Ultimately, it’s about finding out what works for you.” The thing that turned out to work for Lucy was … porridge!
“On previous attempts I’d had energy gels, but through experimenting in training I found I could swim on porridge,” she laughs. “It has plenty of carbohydrates and protein, you can add things like fruit and nuts to it, plus it kept me warm!”
In the week leading up to the race, Lucy engaged in the tried-and-tested method of carb loading. “As my training tapered off, my diet didn’t,” she explains. “For endurance races, it’s important to build up your glycogen stores prior to getting in the water – this is crucial for maintaining the energy levels necessary for open water swimming.”
The Strait of Dover is approximately 33.3 km at its shortest crossing distance. In order to complete the feat, Lucy and her team had to swim a minimum of 99.9 km. Because of the tides, the total distance they swam turned out to be 125 km! Each team member spent an hour in the water, followed by five hours’ resting and refuelling. With such a long swim, feeding stops are necessary for the body to continue performing at the required level and to help with post-race recovery.
For any attempt at open water long distance races, an accompanying support team is recommended to oversee feeding and any medical requirements. Swimmers are encouraged to work with nutrition experts to develop effective and efficient strategies that enhance performance through appropriate in-competition nutrition.
Despite swimming in the sea for hours on end, training for such endurance events as a Channel crossing is rarely undertaken exclusively in open water.
Like most amateur swimmers, Lucy had to juggle her training with a busy work schedule. “In a good training week during open water season, I’d do 3-4 pool-based sessions and 1-2 longer open water based sessions,” she says. “I would always factor in a technique and recovery session, even in off season, because maintaining your mobility is important, especially for older swimmers.”
This training regimen is typical for open water swimmers. A controlled pool environment enables the swimmer to concentrate on perfecting technique and monitoring physical exertion. Supplementing this with open water sessions allows for acclimatisation to race conditions.
“It was important to incorporate ‘test’ sessions,” Lucy points out. “You have to know you’re at the right level to race in open water, both physically and mentally.”
Tips for the pool
“Consistency is key,” says Lucy. “For the average person looking to get healthier and improve their swimming, 3 sessions a week seems to be the magic number, but even if you consistently do one session a week you will get more from your swimming than doing one session per week inconsistently; it’s about using your time in the water effectively.”
Lucy also makes sure she does lots of stretching and foam rolling. “When you get in the pool and you’re stiff, it affects you. A lot of people spend all day at a desk, so doing the work on land to remedy poor posture can help immensely when it comes to getting in the pool.”
Lucy Lloyd-Roach is a Swim Smooth Certified Coach. She holds the ASA Level 2 Swimming Teachers qualification, ASA Level 2 Swimming coach’s qualification, Level 2 coaching Open Water Certificate, Level 2 Fitness Instructor (water based exercise), National Pool Lifeguard Qualification and is a member the Institute of Swimming. She was part of the 6 FINA Masters World Record-breaking relay teams, and has broken individual Masters British Records for the 100m butterfly (long course), 200m Butterfly (long and short courses). Lucy was part of the fastest ever female double English Channel relay (2013) and part of the fastest ever triple English Channel relay (2017).
She offers adult swimming lessons in Manchester and can be contacted online (www.swimmingmatters.co.uk)
Sophie uses the Swans SRX range, available with smoked, mirrored and prescription lens options