Sarah: Hello, and welcome to the Tough Girl podcast.
Today, I've got a very exciting interview with Lisa Williams, no relation to me, your host, Sarah Williams. I'm going to be speaking to Lisa about her swimming the English Channel, which she did this August.
Hi Lisa, how are you?
Lisa: I'm really good, thank you.
Sarah: Swimming the English Channel, has this always been a dream of yours?
Lisa: Not really, no. I swam a lot as a child, and then gave up for about 15 years, and got back into swimming 5 years ago in a Masters Club, doing sprinters, so long way away from that.
Sarah: Going back to the beginning, so for those who haven't heard of you, or heard about this fantastic challenge you did over Summer, how would you describe yourself?
Lisa: I just see myself as quite an ordinary person. I've always tried to find a good work-life balance, and about 5 years ago I realized that I was going out too much, and drinking too much, and that perhaps I should try and concentrate a bit more on my health. Just joined a local swimming club, and it all went from there. It's been a bit of a crazy journey.
Sarah: You're in your 30s, aren't you?
Lisa: Yep, 38 on Saturday. It was my original slot for the Channel was actually opening on Saturday, so the 5th, 11th of September, so for the last 2 and a half years, the 5th, 11th of September has been in my head as the week that I was going to swim the Channel when ... I went early, so I'll be able to celebrate my birthday without having to stay in and not drink.
Sarah: I was going to say, it's actually quite interesting you brought that up, because I think a lot of women, especially ... I mean, I know in my 20s, when I was living in London, it was very much work hard, play hard, you're going out all the time, you're doing lots of socializing, and I think sometimes health did take a backseat, just because it was difficult trying to fit it all in. I eventually took up running, because I wanted to get healthier and fitter, and you picked swimming. What is it about swimming that you really enjoyed?
Lisa: Well, it was something I did a lot as a kid. I grew up in the Middle East, so I grew up in Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, and I learnt to swim very young. My primary school had a club. I really enjoyed being outdoors, and although swimming is quite an individual sport, people are generally quite sociable, and really nice, and maybe to try and do some longer swims. It was just as open water swimming was getting big in London, and Human Race and other people starting putting on 1.5 and 3k swims. I bought a wetsuit and started doing that. Just found the people really nice.
Now, half my friends are swimmers, and we do lots of things together. This Winter, we did a Winter challenge, which was we had a list of all the pools in London, indoor and outdoor, and tried to swim in as many as possible. We had a little league going, to see who could swim in the most. We have a little dip-and-dine club, so we go for a swim, and then for lunch or dinner afterwards. It's turned something that's quite an individual sport into something very sociable.
Sarah: For those who are listening who are thinking, "open water swimming. I think I know what that is. It's swimming outside." Is it in the sea, is it in lakes, is it in the Thames? What is open water swimming?
Lisa: I think it's a mixture, and to different people it means different things. For me, I don't think it matters whether you wear a wetsuit, or you don't wear a wetsuit. It's just important that people get outside and enjoy being in the water. Swims range from 400 meters long to big marathon swims, such as the Channel. Most organizations now put on 750 meters, 1.5, 3k, 5k, and 10k swims, which is great, because it's a real good range for people. A lot of organizations let people wear wetsuits, or not wear wetsuits. A mixture of lake swimming, so you can swim in Dorney Lake, which is where the Olympic rowing was. For example, the Dart 10k, which is a lovely swim down the River Dart. Swim up in Coniston, in the lake up there, or Windermere. Lots of swims run by places like the RNLI in the sea.
There's a real mixture for different people, and whatever distance you fancy. It's good to give them all a go, because swimming in the sea is very different to swimming in a lake, because you've got the tides and currents, and the waves. It's a bit more of a challenge, whereas the lake is normally much nicer to swim in, but you haven't got the salt giving you buoyancy. For people who aren't great swimmers, wearing wetsuits really helps with that. I think open water swimming, for me, is anything that's in water that's outside, even lidos, I guess. Outdoor lidos, of which there's plenty in the UK to go and enjoy.
Sarah: It's obviously a very ... It is in an individual sport, in terms of it's you, you're out there, you're swimming along. I loved what you were saying earlier about how you do these different dine clubs. You've got this league challenge to make it more sociable, because I think that's a huge part of getting more women, especially, involved in sports, and getting active, and getting outside. I think that's a really good thing to be doing. You mentioned something earlier on called the Masters Club. What is that, specifically?
Lisa: Masters Clubs are ... They're all over the UK. They're swimming clubs for people who are generally in their 20s upwards, and you can go and join ... The Masters Club I joined, we had people ranging from early 20s to in their 70s, and we swam 3 times a week, so it was a normal swimming club, and a variety of different abilities. People who could swim, but never swam in clubs as kids, to people who had swam in clubs as kids, and were very competent swimmers, and again, to people that wanted to go to competitions, and those that didn't and just did it to keep fit. It was a great way of getting to know more about swimming, to be able to join a club with people who were interested in a similar thing as you. If you wanted the competitive bit, then it was there for you, but it was generally not forced upon you.
There's some fantastic clubs around the UK that people can join, and it's where I started my swimming again, and had such a lovely group of people around me. On a Friday night, after training, we might pop down to the pub for a quick drink afterwards before going home, which again, just brought in that social element on it, which was really nice.
Sarah: The Channel. I've heard amongst swimmers that the English Channel is known as the Everest of swimming.
Lisa: It is, it is. I'm sure you will have heard that more people have climbed Everest than swam the Channel. It's really a tough challenge. It's not always about your swimming ability, which is the hardship about it. It's more to do with luck on the day, and the weather, and the tides, and what Mother Nature decides to throw at you on the day that you go.
Sarah: What else can you tell us about the Channel? It's 21 miles. Can you swim it in a straight line? How does it really work?
Lisa: Yep, it's 21 miles from the shortest distance across, which is from Dover over to Cap Gris Nez which is the point, which, if you look across just down from Calais. That's the shortest distance across, which is 21 miles, but you don't swim in a straight line unless you are the fastest person whose ever swam the channel, which I believe was in 6 hours 55, which is absolutely crazy. That was a straight line. The reason that we don't swim a straight line is that there's a lot of tides. There are tides within the English Channel, and they turn every 6 hours. You'll get pushed one way for 6 hours, and then pushed another way for 6 hours, and then pushed the next way, so you're sort of going ... The way that I went was, I went left, and then I got pushed right, and then pushed left, and then right again.
Most people hope to get over to the French side to the other side of the cap, so that when the tide turns, they can go in and land on Cap Gris Nez. It looks like an S-shape, or a bell shape as you go across, so people always ask, "Why don't you swim in a straight line?" It's pretty much impossible, unless you can swim the Channel in about 6 or 7 hours which, for most people, isn't possible. The average time is about 14 hours. You normally leave at high tide from Dover. Most swimmers go on a neat tide, which is when the currents aren't as strong, or quite a few swimmers this year have gone on spring tides, which is when the tide is at its lowest, at the lowest point of the day, and then its highest, at the highest point, so the water moves a lot quicker than during the neat tides.
Sarah: There's a lot of things that you need to consider and to think about when you're doing the swim. It's not just getting in there and swimming. You started preparing for this, was it 2 years ago?
Lisa: Yep, just over 2 and a half years ago. Yeah, it's a long time ago, and a huge commitment that you have to make to something.
Sarah: What was involved in your training? How did you prepare yourself for this challenge?
Lisa: Different people do this different ways. For me, I always have some sort of issues with confidence, and wanted to make sure that at no point that I would be able to doubt my ability in doing the Channel. I started off with a one-way relay, so me and 5 friends swam to France, one way. Then, last year, me and 3 friends swam to France and back again as a relay, just so I could get some Channel experience, get to understand what it was like for people to be on the boat, what it was like to swim in the Channel. Understand what happens with the tides, and know where I might be at certain points, and also to gain confidence in night swimming, which is something that I really don't like. As a solo swimmer, you're pretty much guaranteed to have to swim at night, at some point.
I did all that, and then this year, I put in 2 big swims, as well as lots of training. I started down in Dover, in May, when the water was about 8 to 10 degrees, to start getting acclimatized to the cold water. We would swim from 20 minutes, up to an hour, then get out for an hour, and then get back in again for another 20 minutes to an hour. Then, over the Summer, you build up to doing 7 hours on a Saturday, and 6 hours on a Sunday. That was my normal weekend training, and then I also decided to do a 21 mile swim, which is the distance of the Channel, but in a lake. I went up to Lake Windermere, which is 10 and a half miles long. I hired a boat, and I got a friend to drive it. My crew were on board, who were going to be my crew for the Channel, so they could learn how to feed me. Also, for me to get used to taking on the carb powder that I'd have to take throughout my Channel swim. Just to do a dummy run, but in different conditions. I did the 21 mile swim, which took me just under 12 and a half hours.
That was really good practice, just for both my crew and for myself, and also to give me confidence that I knew that I could swim for at least 12 and a half hours. Then, just did some fun stuff. I went off to Zürich with a friend, and we did the Lake Zürich relay. Me and one other person did the 26.4 kilometers. We did it as a relay, so it meant that I could do some sprinting for an hour, whereas the rest of the Summer has been a lot of plodding up and down for 6, 7 hours. It was nice to just do something different, and make it fun. That was the majority of my training, was Dover, but also to put in a long swim, just for confidence for me, that I knew that I had the ability to do it.
Sarah: Really interesting when you talk about confidence, and what I've learnt from what you've said is you obviously had a clear plan, you knew what you were going to be doing, you took action, you practiced things, and you built up your confidence along the way.
Some of the things that you've done: a one-way relay, another relay with friends, swimming across Lake Zürich, is absolutely fantastic preparation for your swim across the Channel.
The other thing, which I think is really important, is the mental preparation. Getting yourself into that state where you know you've got confidence in your ability, you know what you're going to be facing. How did you prepare mentally?
Lisa: For me, I think that was always going to be the biggest problem. Even when I did Windermere at 10 hours, I turned around in my head and said, "Well, you know, you've done 10 hours. That's pretty good. Most people would be really happy with swimming 10 hours. You can get out now", but then something in my head said, "Well, you won't have completed what you went in to do. You went in to swim 21 miles, and therefore, though it'd be great that you did 10 hours, you still didn't complete what you went to do."
For me, and it doesn't work for everybody, and some people think that you shouldn't do it, but for me I had to be very public about what I was doing. If I said that tomorrow I was going to go and swim 7 hours, I would put it on social media that tomorrow I was going to swim 7 hours. There was no way that I couldn't do it then. I couldn't go back and tell people that I didn't do it.
Likewise, with the Channel, I wanted to raise a lot of money. I was doing a travelling memory of a friend, which obviously makes it a huge thing, and emotionally can be quite upsetting. I decided that, for me, to be able to complete everything that I said that I would do that I would publicly put it out there that these are the challenges that I'm going to do, and this is when I'm going to do it. Therefore, in my head, I had to do it, because I didn't want to ... Not that I would let anyone down, but in my head, I didn't want to let anyone down. To me, I don't like to fail at things, so it would be less likely that I was going to fail if I told everyone I was going to do it. Whereas, if I kept it a secret, it would be much easier to turn around and say, "Well, I did okay. It doesn't matter."
I was very public about everything I did. I set up a blog. I talked about everything that I've done over the last few years on my blog. I set up a group on Facebook, to talk about my swimming.
Also, I had my friend, who died of breast cancer a few years ago in my head a lot, and especially during my Channel swim, that came up a lot, because things didn't go to plan, and I had to dig really deep. A lot of that was having to dig emotionally deep, because of the pain that I was in when I got injured. I think if you have a real reason to do something, that really helps you to drive yourself forward.
A friend was messaging me today, he's looking at doing the Channel next year. He said, "I'll aim to do it solo, but it's okay. I can always change it to a relay", and I said, "No, don't have that attitude, because then it makes it much easier to not do it." I said, "Say you're going to do a solo, and you'll your solo, but if you say you're going to do a solo, and you might do a relay, then there's always a get-out-of-jail card in your head, to have a reason not to do it." You can't have that with a big challenge, because you have a lot of time when you're swimming to think about things.
Sarah: I think what you've mentioned there is the accountability factor. By putting it out on social media, it's not just you having to do it for yourself, you're becoming accountable to other people out there who are supporting you. You obviously had a fantastic reason, raising money for your friend who died of breast cancer which is, like you said, it's a huge emotional thing that you're doing, and raising money for her. I will be putting the links to your blog, to your Facebook page, and to your Just Giving site on the show notes, so people will be able to find that at toughgirlchallenges.com, on the Tough Girl blog. I'll put all of those links in there so people can go and donate.
Let's just carry on that process. You've got the mental preparation. You've built up your confidence. You've done all of the physical preparation. You're ready to get out there. You've got your support team in place. Talk me through what happened next.
Lisa: Yeah, everything was ready. I think I mentioned earlier, my week was 5th, the 11th of September, so I actually went out for dinner with my crew, a few weeks ago actually, just to talk through the learnings from Windermere. There was things that I needed to pick up from. My feet were very slow at Windermere. We just went through some of those things. One of my friends, Brian, so one of my crew, was actually flying off to Tanzania for 2 weeks, and then he was getting back the beginning of September. Then, my slot opened, as it's supposed to open on Saturday, and I'd spoken to Eddy, who was my pilot last year, and just said, "Look, I'm a big worried, because sometimes the weather in September isn't great. What I don't want to happen is that I keep getting deferred each week, and then my swim rolls over to next year, because I can't do this amount of training again next year." He said, "Look, if a good weather window comes up, and I've got through the swims that I need to that week, I'll give you a call, and you can go early." He'd contacted me earlier, but I was in Zurich that week, and then he contacted me again to go.
The minute that he called, I was actually in the middle of moving house, as you do when you're about to do a big swim. He said, "Okay, well we'll just leave it. 5th, 11th of September, that's fine." I said, "Okay." Then, I just got home from work on one Friday, and sat down, and made my dinner, and I got a text from Eddy that said, "Are you ready to swim next week?" I thought, "I am, but when?" I just sent a message back saying, "When?", he said, "Sunday night, Monday morning." I said, "Okay, that's fine", but when I took the call, I knew that one of my crew, at that very minute, was sitting on a plane, and just about to take off to Tanzania. The other one works on Monday.
First of all, I called Brian. Brian's been a great friend of mine for about 5 years now, and has been with me every part of the way since I signed up to do the Channel. I wanted to talk to him first to check that he was happy that I'd go without him, because that meant a lot to me, that I didn't just text him when he was on the plane, and him get off the other side and say, "Oh, by the way, I'm going. Thanks for your help, but you're not here." We had a chat and he said to me, obviously, that he'd be devastated, but he understood when the weather's right, you've got to go.
Abby had turned around and said, "Yep, that's fine. Don't worry. I'll re-arrange my work for Monday." I knew I had at least one crew. Abby is not from a swimming background. She's never done anything with a Channel before, or long distance swims, so I really wanted to find some other crew that could be there to support her. There was a girl who I'm still friends with who had crewed for our one-way relay back 2 years ago. I said, "Oh, how do you fancy crewing for a solo swim on Sunday night?", and she just came back saying, "If it's you, then yes", and I was like, "Brilliant. That's great." Quite often spend a long time trying to find people that can take the time off work at short notice to be able to support.
I was just chatting to my friend Amanda, and said, "Oh, it's a real shame. Going on Sunday, which is great, but Brian can't be there", and she said, "Well, I'll come if you like", so I've.....again with Manda. She set up our dip-and-dines, and our Winter challenge, so she knows me as a swimmer, although not helped and crewed on other swims. Done some swims together over the last few years, so that was great. My crew came together really quickly which, when you don't go when you're supposed to, you normally just pick up random people to jump on the boat, which is far from ideal.
Had to go shopping on Saturday, and pick up all the food and things that the crew would need, and things that I might need. Then, Sunday, just tried to rest, but it's pretty hard to sleep during the day when you know you've got a big swim to do that evening. I didn't get any sleep on the Sunday, and then about 9 o'clock drove down to Dover with my crew. We met my observer, who was going to be Loretta Cox, and the observer has been the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, so she's on the boat making sure that you're adhering to all the rules and regulations. They're also a great support if your crew need it. They've been on lots and lots of swims over the years, and know when to step in, and how.
Then, Eddy the pilot turned up with his crew. You just get everything on board the boat that you might need for the duration of the swim. Then, a lot of the swims go from Shakespeare's Beach, but because I was going on spring tide, they took us off to Samphire Hoe, which is a bit further along, over closer to Folkestone. You just sit on the boat, start getting changed, put lots of Vaseline on around the back of my neck, under my arms.
Sarah: What's the Vaseline for?
Lisa: To stop chafing. When you're rotating your arms, and rotating your head thousands of times over the course of the swim, you can quite often get rubbing. As you do when they wear wetsuits on the back of their necks, and we still get it without a wetsuit. I have suffered from it this year and actually, through my whole Channel swim, I didn't get any chafing at all, which was fantastic.
You just put it around the back of your neck, and under your arms, and it stops with the salt, and the chafing. Lots of sun cream, which seems really strange, because it was 12:30, so half after midnight, and having to put on factor 50 sun cream in the middle of the night seemed a bit strange. Funnily, my crew started putting it on the front of my legs, and the observer turned around and was like, "Um, is she planning on doing it backstroke?"
Sarah: You were swimming without a wetsuit?
Sarah: Why is that?
Lisa: It's just the rules and regulations. They try to adhere to the way that Captain Matthew Webb, who was the first person to swim the Channel, they tried to adhere to the rules and things that he did. He swam just a pair of trunks, and therefore the rules and regulations state that we swim in just swimming costumes, or trunks. One hat. One pair of goggles, and that's it.
Not allowed to touch the boat throughout, and we're not allowed to touch anybody else. Although the boats now, obviously, have a lot more navigation stuff than Matthew Webb did, back in the day, in terms of the swimmers, they keep the regulations pretty much exactly the same as they were when he did it.
Sarah: The water must be absolutely freezing.
Lisa: When I did it, it was about 17 degrees. Normal swimming pool, it's about 28 degrees, so it's pretty cool, and that's why we start swimming in the sea in May, to start getting acclimatized when it's really cold, so by the time it gets to your swim, it's feeling quite tropical, although it's not. Anyway, at night, I felt a lot colder than I did during the day. I was really lucky that it was a really sunny day, the day that I swam. There was clouds, but the sun was out, which makes a huge difference.
Sarah: You mentioned night swimming before, and you said that you were quite scared of night swimming. Why is that?
Lisa: Yep. I still am.
Sarah: Can you try and explain, in a bit more detail, what it's like to swim at night?
Lisa: The boats have a light which they shine down from the side of the boat into the water, and you try to swim in that. My crew were absolutely amazing. They knew how much I really disliked it, and I had 5 hours of swimming at night. The first 5 hours of my swim were at night.
Sarah: At least you got them out of the way.
Lisa: Yeah, that's right. I was at least swimming when I've got some strength, and I'm got adrenaline running through ... At least it's then, rather than swimming into the night, which some people do. I bought loads of glowsticks, and I got the crew to line them all up along the side of the boat, and the side that I was swimming on. I got them to wear glowsticks around their necks, different colors, so I knew who was who. I could see them walking about, and when they came to feed me, I could see who was who. Made me actually think about how lucky I was having them there, rather than just swimming, and being petrified.
It actually went a lot quicker than I thought it would. I actually made my feeds every hour, instead of every half hour for the first few hours, just to get through it. I spent a lot of time just looking at the boat, and what people were doing, and watching these glowsticks running around the boat. Looked like a little rave happening.
Sarah: Are you swimming front crawl all the way?
Lisa: Yes, mine was front crawl the whole way, until I got injured.
Sarah: How did you get injured?
Lisa: It was about an hour ten, between hour ten and eleven, I started feeling a niggle under my shoulder blade, by my ribs. I'd had it a few weeks before, but on the other side, and got to the point where I couldn't swim, so a slight panic started setting in my head, because I knew the pain that I'd been in last time. Over the hours, it just got worse and worse.
The last few hours, I could hardly swim at all. I swam quite a lot of backstroke, and one-arm front crawl, and then would grit my teeth and bear with the pain for a bit, and then go back to backstroke, and one-arm front crawl, which was difficult. I'm sure lots of people would've went out at that point, and said, "That's it." I decided after 2 years, there was no way I was not going to get to France, and give up after all those hours of swimming, and all those hours of training.
Sarah: Do you know what it is, or what happened?
Lisa: Yeah. I've seen an Osteo, and basically, I've torn my rhombus muscle. It's basically just from over-training, and it getting so stretched. It will repair, and it's fine, and I've got my exercises to do. I'm quite happy to have a bit of rest for now, and concentrate on catching up with friends, and my family, and stuff, that I haven't seen for about 6 months.
Sarah: It must have been incredibly difficult for ... I'm imagining myself in the boat, watching you, and picturing you swimming, and having to revert to back crawl, or one-arm front crawl, and obviously in pain and discomfort. It must have been incredibly difficult for them to watch you push yourself so hard, physically, to keep on going.
Also, incredibly challenging for you, to carry on going. Where there any other problems? I always think of jellyfish. I think that would be the one thing that would scare me.
Lisa: Yeah. Normally, in the separation zone, you normally see quite a lot of jellyfish. There's been a huge amount of jellyfish this year. I was really lucky that I saw lots, but I didn't get stung by any. I spent time dodging them. I could see quite a lot underneath me. They're compass jellyfish, so they're quite big, and they've got long tentacles. Quite mean looking. They're brown, horrible things. Then, I titled my headed up slightly so I could see those that were coming towards me, and would just swim around. It was like being in a maze, basically, to swim around them all for a bit. I was really lucky I didn't get stung. Although lots of other things went wrong for the last part of my swim, the one great thing was that I didn't get stung by any jellyfish at all.
The other things that we contend with are the weather, and the waves and the water. I had quite a lot of waves coming from behind me, which sometimes would dunk me under the water. Other times were great, because I could surf them. As I got towards France, the weather changed. I was on for about a 12 hour swim, at that point. Then, the weather changed, and the wind turned directions. It started pushing me back out to sea, and then I missed the tide, so the tide turned and pushed me the other way, so I ended up missing the cap. We'd been hoping that I would be able to go in and just the other side of the cap, where there's a little restaurant, but unfortunately, because of my injury and the tide being too strong, I couldn't get in.
I thought then that I was going to be landing at Wissant Beach, which is just up a bit further. It's interesting, because when you're swimming, the crew and the boat won't tell you anything, so they won't tell you what's happening with the tides, or the weather. They just tell you to swim. Every now and then, they'll tell you to put in a hard hour, which normally means that tides turning, or you need to get across the tide, et cetera.
Sarah: Is that because of the rules and the regulations?
Lisa: No, it's just something that they do, and I think they do it because they don't want to tell you that you've got an hour left of swimming when, actually, something might go wrong, and you end up with 6 or 7 hours. At one point, I did say to my crew, "Oh, I've missed the tide, haven't I? I've got hours of swimming left", and they said, "No, we promise you, you don't", and I ended up having another 5 hours after that. That's the reason they don't tell you things like that, because things happen, and actually, I was going in to go to Wissant Beach, and then I got caught in an eddy, which pushed me back to where I'd been 5 hours ago.
Even sometimes the pilots, and the observers and stuff, don't know what will happen with the tides, and the weather at that point. They could tell you, but actually, they might tell you something which is right at the time, but then end up being wrong and mentally, that might be hard of you to deal with, if you're told you've only got an hour, when actually, you end up swimming for 6. A lot of people fail within a mile or two to go, because of the tides, or something happens with the weather. They believe ... I think it's right, that they just don't tell you. You just swim. It could be an extra hour, and it could be an extra 5 or 6 hours, but you just swim until you get there. I guess that's the difference, compared to things like cycling, and marathons, and all those other sports. You know exactly when you're going to start, you know exactly what day it is, and what time. You have a good idea of how long it's going to take you.
My swim took me 17 hours, 19 minutes, and in my head, I was never, ever going to do longer than a 14 hour swim, because I'm a reasonably quick swimmer, and my swim was actually a lot slower than lots of people I'm a quicker swimmer than, and that's the thing with the Channel, is it doesn't always go to plan, and it's not always your swimming ability. You can be the most amazing swimmer, and still not make it. Not because you can't swim, but just because something prevents you from being able to do it. That's the tough thing. Lots of people get pulled out, because the weather changes, or because the tide turns and pushes them out, and there's no way they can land in France. That's the tough thing that people have to deal with, that they probably could've carried on swimming, but nature stopped them from being able to.
Sarah: One of the things I think always intrigues me is how you fuel yourself, so how you get food on board, how you get water on board, and how you keep yourself hydrated. How does that happen when you're going across?
Lisa: People feed differently, and it depends on how people have trained. I chose to feed on the hour, for the first 2 hours, and then every half hour after that. Originally, I started with basically CMP powder, which is a carb powder in a squash. The blackcurrant squash, or summer fruits, something like that, in hot water. Warm water. Then, with maybe a jelly baby, or a peach slice. After the first couple of hours, my feeds were getting too slow, and the problem is, if you are taking a minute, or a minute and a half to feed, you're losing time that means that you might miss the tide on the other side, because all those minutes add up. We stopped feeding ... I stopped feeding on the luxuries, which are jelly babies, and peach slices, and bananas, and just went to carb powder with summer fruit squash. I fed on that every half hour. My feeds took about 12 to 13 seconds, so the crew basically lower down a cup attached to a reel, it's a bit like they're fishing. You grab the cup. You drink it. You drop the cup. They wind it back up and you carry on swimming. That's basically what you do for the whole swim.
I also had fruit sugar in mine as well, just to give me an extra boost. Then, I did take one gel during my swim which, generally, Channel swimmers don't use a huge amount of, but it was just to have something different. Just to give my stomach a rest, really, from the carb powder, because it really bloats you. Quite uncomfortable taking on that amount of carb power over time. You're never taking on enough calories that you're expending through the swim, so when I got out, I'd lost quite a bit of weight. Unfortunately, it didn't stay off. It came back.
Sarah: You're swimming, prepared yourself, you've done your 10 hours, you thought it was going to be 14. 17 hours, 19 minutes. Could you even stand at the end?
Lisa: Yeah, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to. It was really difficult, because for the last 5 hours, I'd seen land the whole time, and I was so close the whole time. I just couldn't get closer. By the time I got to the rocks ...
What happens is, the last 500 meters, a little RIB boat, like a dinghy boat comes in with you, because there's a lot of rocks, and it's a bit shallow for your support boat to come in. A little dinghy boat comes in next to you, and guides you in. I landed right under the lighthouse on Cap Gris Nez. Lot of big rocks there, and it was really rough. I had to crawl up and touch the rocks, and then they had to pull me back into the boat, rather than swim back to the big boat, which I've done in the past. Because of the pain in my shoulder, well, under my shoulder blades and my ribs, it was quite difficult for them to pull me back into the RIB boat.
We got into the RIB, and then had to transfer onto the big boat, and walk up the steps, like a ladder. It's the first time you've been vertical for a long time, so you have no idea whether you're going to be able to walk up those ladders. I think, because of the pain in my ribs, that that just hurt more, but I had a good old cry on the RIB, on the way back to the boat. I think just glad that it was over, really. It was lovely to get on the boat. Didn't really want to talk about my swim, but I wanted to hear from the boat. All the funny things that had happened on the boat over that time.
It takes about 3 hours to get back to England, so we sat on the boat, and I listened to their stories. 2 of them had been feeling really unwell with sea sickness for hours and hours, but I'd never known. They'd never let it show to me that they were. One of my friends said that she was gorging on jelly babies, because she was finding it difficult to watch me swim in pain. She'd disappear and eat a whole bag of jelly babies, and then come back.
It'd been quite rough on the boat, so there'd been a few incidents of falling over, and my painkillers going over the side, and stuff. It was really nice to hear the funny stories that had been happening on the boat, and we had a little laugh at them. At one point, they'd gone to feed me, and I'd grabbed the cup, and then someone drops the reel, so there's a reel in the water, and I was trying to grab the reel and lift it back up to them, and they were trying to grab it. At the time, I just remember being really annoyed, because I was so tired. Actually, when I got back on the boat, we were laughing about it, because it was quite funny. That was really nice, just to hear it from a different perspective, and listen to them. They told me about how much money I'd raised, which is now at just over 7 and a half thousand pounds, which has been amazing.
They'd been holding up messages throughout, on a whiteboard for me, from some of my family, and from my friends and things, which had really helped me get me going. I remember one point when I was feeling really low, I just turned around to them and said, "Can you show me some more messages, please?", and that really helped. It spurs you on to know that lots of people are rooting behind you, and they're watching you on the tracker, and everyone's willing you to get across. That really helps you ... Well, it really helped me anyway, to make sure that I did it. It was nice to read all those messages, and hear from so many people that had basically not worked the full day, to sit and watch me cross the Channel.
Sarah: Congratulations. I mean, it is a phenomenal achievement. It's fascinating hearing how you swam across, what it was like. The turn, the jelly fish, trying to feed, dealing with injury, and also hearing it from the perspective of your friends and your supporters. It must be hugely emotional. Raising that amount of money for your friends charity, I think, is fantastic. I will make sure I put the Just Giving page in the show notes, because it will be awesome to donate, and to raise some more funds for the charity.
Lisa: Thank you.
Sarah: A massive congratulations, and well done.
Lisa: Thank you.
Sarah: I don't know about you, but I always find, after I've done a big challenge, I always get this massive high, and I'm buzzing, I'm buzzing, I'm buzzing. Then, I always end up getting quite low, because it's like, "Oh, what's next? What do I do next?" Have you got any future challenges planned?
Lisa: Yeah. It's been a bit strange, because for me, I still don't feel like I did my swim. I think because I'd never imagined that I'd ever have to swim for that long, it feels like someone else did it. I'm still letting it all slink in, which is great. I've had some lovely letters, actually, from the head of the breast unit at the Royal Marsden, who I raised the money for, which was really lovely. My friend Kerry, who I trained with through the Summer, and some of the Winter, we decided to apply to do a swim for next year, which is a shorter swim, but still a pretty challenging swim. We'll find out in November if we got a slot, but we're hoping to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, from Spain to Morocco, which has lots of other challenges, whether it's some cold, some sharks, some strong currents, but shorter swim, so it won't take over my life as much as this one did. We'll find out in November if we got a slot.
The nice thing about that swim is they allow you to swim next to each other. In the Channel, you just have one person, and one boat, unless you're doing a relay. With Straits of Gibraltar, you can swim next to a friend through the whole swim, and it still counts as solo, which is fantastic. It'd be really nice to do that with someone next to you, rather than being on your own. Yeah, fingers crossed. We'll find out in November. The first challenge is to lose all the weight that I had to put on to swim the Channel. That's the next step.
Sarah: How much weight did you have to put on, to swim the Channel?
Lisa: I've put on about 2 stone in the last year and a half which, obviously on the day, and through training, I've been really happy about, because it's kept me warm, but now it's time to shed it, and that's the hard bit. Probably going to be harder than swimming the Channel.
Sarah: I'll keep my fingers crossed for you and your friend for swimming the Straits of Gibraltar, that sounds absolutely fantastic.
Lisa: Thank you.
Sarah: For those women and girls out there who are listening, and are thinking, "Do you know what? I think I want to take up swimming." Maybe not to go and swim the Channel, but just to get fit, and to get a bit more active. What's some advice, and tips, would you give anybody thinking about getting involved in swimming?
Lisa: For me, I always think the best thing is to do ... Find someone to do it with. It really helps motivate you to go. Either find the local Masters Club, but if you're not comfortable with that, finding just a group of friends. Similar to me and my friends did, they swim too, and we usually do, we set ourselves a challenge. Out of the 70 odd pools in London, how many could we get through? Rules were that we had to swim a kilometer in each one. Quite often, we'd make sure that you had teamed with somebody. At some points, it wasn't always possible. The one I loved the best was the dip-and-dine idea, so you go swimming with a friend or two, give yourself a challenge, say, "Okay, well we're going to do 500 meters, or a kilometer", or whatever it is, and then go and have a nice lunch or dinner afterwards. It just makes it a bit more fun than going swimming on your own, and makes you enjoy it, and feel motivated to go, which is really difficult.
I found being motivated to go training quite difficult at times, and having friends around me who want to come and join me, and make it a social thing as well, has made it so much easier. Either find a Masters Club, and make some great friends, or run your own group.
Sarah: Fantastic. Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. It's absolutely fascinating hearing about your solo Channel swim. Many, many congratulations for completing that challenge, and raising so much money for charity.
It's been fantastic having you on the Tough Girl podcast. As I've said earlier, I'll be putting all the links to your blog, to your Just Giving page on the show notes. Please do send a tweet out. I'm at @_TOUGH_GIRL on Twitter. Lisa, are you also on Twitter?
Lisa: I am. @Lisa_J_Williams.
Sarah: Fantastic, so send us a tweet if you've enjoyed listening to this podcast, and are going to go for a swim, because you've been inspired by Lisa. Lisa, thank you once again for taking the time out to join us on the Tough Girl podcast.
Lisa: Great, thank you.
Sarah: Hi everyone.
I hope you enjoyed that awesome episode with Lisa Williams. What a woman. I was imagining myself, not in the water, as I don't like being cold or wet, but I could see myself on the boat. Watching as she swam and battling, not only the elements, but struggling through injury, and pain, and the desire to finish this Channel swim.
It will be great to hear from you, if you're in training for an event or challenge.
Do let me know, and send me a tweet: @_TOUGH_GIRL. I actually want to do a big shout-out to @runningjam on Twitter, who tweeted she was doing a 20 mile training run with the Tough Girl podcast for company, which is just awesome.
I have got some fantastic episodes coming up. Isobel Pooley, the 6ft 3 Great British high jumper, who is aiming for Rio in 2016, she's coming next week, and Tori James. At 5ft 1, she is the youngest Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Tori also has some exclusive information about the Duke of Edinburgh award, and you'll be hearing about it first on the