• Simon Birdsey

CHALLENGE: Swim the English Channel

Join celebrities in swimming 20 miles for Stand Up to Cancer


Last Tuesday 'Sink or Swim for Stand Up to Cancer' started on Channel 4. In it ten celebrities have twelve weeks to train for a relay swim across the English Channel.



Linford Christie, Tessa Sanderson, Greg Rutherford, Alex Brooker, Simon Webbe, Wes Nelson, James Argent, Sair Khan, Rachel Adedeji and Diane Louise Jordan are the stars in question and crucially none of them are confident swimmers.


Inspired by the programme, I have decided to fill one of my achievement boxes by swimming the equivalent distance in my local pool between now and the end of September, which is when my board ends. The stars are swimming 20 miles, which works out for me at 1352 lengths or 38 lengths per day.


I only learnt to swim properly a few years ago and my current standard is 8 lengths twice a week, stopping every couple of lengths for a rest. So it's quite a big step up for me. But it wouldn't be an achievement if it was too easy.


I'm pretty sure that I normally hold my breath and that's why I struggle to do more than a couple of lengths at once. Thankfully, the coaches demonstrated correct breathing technique in the first episode and, by practicing it this week, I've noticed a real difference.



The celebs were told that by this stage of the process they needed to be able to swim 500 metres, which works out as 20 lengths, and I was pleased to discover that I could do it myself with a little extra effort.


I'm finding it interesting coming up with ways to prevent myself from getting bored. On Saturday morning I went for an early morning swim to mix things up and I'm planning on going to a night session too, which is something that I normally wouldn't do.


I've noticed that my leisure centre run a Masters class, where coaches help swimmers to improve their technique. I'll probably give that a go as well. And, if I hadn't started this challenge, I wouldn't have discovered that they have sister centres where canoeing and triathlon training is on offer!


I read a while ago that Paul McKenna taught David Walliams some techniques to make it seem like time was passing more quickly when he swam the Channel and I'm planning on doing some more research into it to see if it's something that I can use myself.



My aim is to improve my speed and stamina until I can swim 38 lengths in 38 minutes. My current best is 42 minutes. I've found that it's free to become a Swim England member and they have a great online training plan to help me improve.


I've always fancied giving rowing and watersports a go but my lack of confidence in the water has been one of the main reasons holding me back. I'm hoping that learning to become a stronger swimmer will give me the encouragement to take on more water-based challenges in future.


The beauty of doing the challenge at the same time as the programme is that I feel much more engaged with it. I'm looking forward to the show coming on because I want to hear what advice the coaches have to give and I can empathise more with the hurdles that the celebrities are having to overcome. When they're given an extra challenge, I can measure myself against their progress.


You could count this as a Contribute box because Stand Up to Cancer have provided a fundraising pack, if you would like to raise sponsorship for your challenge.


You could also put it down as a Social if, like the celebrities, you plan to cover the distance as part of a relay team.


Maybe one day I will swim the Channel for real? I tend to presume that everyone else finds life easier than I do and that I'm not as capable as they are. But witnessing how people overcome challenges and being able to compare myself is really helping to demonstrate to me that I'm as good as anyone. And if they can swim the Channel, why can't I?



"I only learnt to swim properly a few years ago and my current standard is 8 lengths twice a week, stopping every couple of lengths for a rest. So it's quite a big step up for me."

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