You may be sitting at home, on the train or bus reading this contemplating your first Dover beach training weekend session. You are probably a bit worried and even perhaps a little apprehensive. But I am here to tell you not to worry. You are in the safe hands. I know this because I have been where you are right now and, believe me, I do know how you feel.
It was May 2016 and after many weeks of training by myself I got in my car and drove down to my first Saturday training session on Dover’s Swimmers Beach. I was nervous about what to expect, how it would work and whether everyone would already know each other. But I was also excited to get going. Before I even reached the beach I ran into a couple of swimmers along the front and we walked down to the beach together. Suddenly it already felt like a supportive friendly environment to be in and I hadn’t even put my goggles on! That feeling has never changed. From the moment you sign in with the wonderful beach crew, check in with Emma to find out your allocated swimming time for the day, to the friendly application of much needed Vaseline, you are made to feel welcome and part of the English Channel swimming family.
Living many miles away from Dover the weekends of travelling down after a long week at work can sometimes feel tough. Early starts and long days training can take their toll. But what Dover training sessions gives you is so important. Yes it’s an opportunity to get in cold water, put some serious hours into training and perhaps complete necessary qualification swims but it’s much, much more than this. Dover training is about talking with other swimmers who (believe me) all have the same questions fears and worries you are probably having right now. It’s the opportunity to talk to people about something that even friends and family may find hard to get their heads around. Swimming the English Channel is an epic endeavour and the Dover training family understand this. For me I found it particularly inspiring to train alongside people that have been there. These weekends are an opportunity to ask questions, find answers, learn from and more importantly be inspired by grand brave stories of swimmers that have made it to France and some that have unfortunately not made it. Learning from others, the amazing support for the beach crew, along with getting some great hours in the sea are just some of the reasons I kept, and keep, getting in my car at 5am on a Saturday and driving to Dover!
In terms of training the swims you do in Dover can be hard and tough. Getting stuck at the harbour wall and having to get back to swimmer beach can be scary. But these tough swims help you learn more about your stroke, and yourself on each and every swim. These experience can really help to prepare you for the big swim day in a way that swimming up and down a pool, or across a lake, simply cannot do.
Now to be clear the Dover training team is not there to hold your hand or tell you everything is going to always be fine. For example you may try and get out of the harbour before your allocated time is up you will probably be challenged questioned and coached back into the water. You may get told off for too much bobbing, chatting and not swimming. Believe me it can sometimes feel slightly brutal when you have already been in the water swimming for a few hours. But this is because everyone on that beach that are supporting you, feeding you and looking out for you wants you to achieve your dreams. We are all here to help you complete your swim and become part of the English Channel swimming family and history. And perhaps maybe, one day, you will be writing an article to help others that are looking to take their first steps in the English Channel.
I know the class of 2019 is going to be an excellent year and if you are reading this and commingled down to Dover very soon you are already part of that! We already believe in you and that you can do this! Now all you need to do is get yourself to Dover and show us what you can do. I look forward to seeing you there and please do come and say hi!
Channel Solo Swimmer, Class of 2016