This year’s Scilly Swim Challenge is almost upon us, and I for one can’t wait. I missed out on heading over last year- so close and yet so far- for deeply personal and unavoidable reasons. I missed the tribe- the crazy regulars who turn up year on year with more than a glint in their eye to take on whatever the end of the British summer can throw at them- navigating currents and cold water and far too much banter- and that’s the crew!
The fantastic aquatic adventurers this particular event draws each year are a law unto themselves. Largely non-competitive, they harbour no less elite ability, whether in speedy swimming or spinning a yarn at the after party. Hailing from all walks of life, there’s a certain joie de vivre, a gallant and slightly gutsy approach to activity- a childlike curiosity and wonder that leads them into the crystal waters with a smile and often a sigh- even the odd squeal at the acclimatisation swim as those using wetsuits for the event keep them dry and brave a skins swim!
The last couple of years have seen the weather be less than kind to the organisers. But they are the best at what they do- and are best placed to do it. Finding swims for the masses even facing 25mph gusts a couple of years ago. Safety is paramount and the sea is a harsh mistress. Channel swimming is a risk takers game- even one only 800m across. And to attempt 6 in a day (or over 2 days) has honed the minds of the Scilly swim crew to a diamond finish (often expressed as slightly crossed eyes by the end of the week) in order to get everyone to have as much water time as our dearly beloved temperate climes will allow.
And this year, we may be joined by a very special guest- frequent scilly swim challenge crew, swimmer and Cornish resident, Mark Richards is hoping the weather sorts itself out for him to attempt to emulate my crossing from mainland to the islands during our week of fun.... I hope we can shepherd him in, whatever the time of day he comes. I cannot stress enough how much I am hoping he gets a chance to paddle his way into view. The swim he is taking on is epic. And we can all experience in microcosm what he will face- the trials and tribulations and trepidation of stepping out of our comfort zone.
It is such a privilege to be heading back once again to the islands and I hope to see many of you familiar faces- and look forward to tales forged with new selkies very soon. There are unusually still spaces- so any last minute doubters, take heart- a more welcoming, inclusive and well run event you could not hope to find in more stunning surrounds.
See you all at registration!
Click to open the event information document.
The Scilly Swim Challenge is a hot ticket, has been since its inception. So it was only natural to expand. And with the 2 day event, it is even more inclusive and accessible. So, what next?
The waters around the Isles of Scilly look like the Caribbean but are fresher than that at any time of year. Its one of the challenges swimmers face in the September event. So, upping the anti- going in May..... only a degree or 2 cooler, but what a difference that can make! The hardy winter swimmer is on the rise and as yet there is pretty much only the Cork distance week to set your sights on and that is a gruelling matter of attrition. And a week.
The beauty of the isles and the challenge of tackling channels is a perfect antidote to those who aren't afraid to the cold, who want to test themselves and their resolve. The care and support from the crew of the challenge is second to none, which means that you are free to push yourself even more.
Not wanting to teach grandmothers to suck eggs, but I was thinking about how I would have approached swimming in May, given that I am a confirmed skins swimmer. It is doable- I did my 6hr qualifier last year in 11.4'c water, so here are my top tips.....
It seems obvious, but the excitement of an event, especially a challenging one, tends to raise the heart rate. I start to focus on slowing my breath, deepening my exhalation at least an hour before I am due to get wet. It takes the edge off the adrenaline, which will only serve to tighten muscles, restrict blood flow and so make you feel colder.
On entering the water, breathe out long and hard and start swimming. Lengthen your stroke, focus only on the out breath. The body will be doing the inhale bit - short sharp inhalations. Focus on the opposite to avoid hyperventilation. Long, slow out breaths. Also try and soften your lower abdomen. You store a lot of blood in your legs. Even if you're not using them much with a wetsuit, relaxing your pelvis allows better blood flow through your femoral artery, making you feel looser and helping avoid stiffening up when you get out to walk.
Smile. It's fun, if a little daft, what you are doing. And smiling has far reaching physiological and psychological benefits. Your body will adjust better to the different environment if you are happy and relaxed.
4) Drink warm drink before you start
I find it really helps me to relax if I am warm and fuzzy on the inside. If available have a warm drink; Ovaltine, hot chocolate, even hot water. Caffeine raises the adrenaline so doesn't help points 1-3 so personally I would avoid coffee. The water will wake you up plenty!!
5) Pack carefully
Getting warm and if skins swimming, dry (ish) will help you be ready for the next swim. I swear by Eskeez thermals as they are designed to cope with water and I found on my Scilly challenges that they dont feel wet on the 5th and 6th changeover.
6) Enjoy yourself
Its gonna be great, but one of the best things about the Scilly swim challenge is that it is a personal challenge. More of a group expedition that allows personal endeavour, but very much an expedition rather than a competition. And with the select group you have going this year, I can guarantee you will know everyone by the end of the day. Be open, be honest and have a ball.
More details of timetables and routes at www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk