We've seen athletes react to race cancellations by creating their own unique challenges during a period that is persistently being coined "the new normal".
One such athlete is Martin Bond who was due to swim the English Channel from Folkestone to Calais as part of a relay team earlier this summer but the pandemic meant the attempt was unfortunately cancelled.
With the relay attempt scuppered, Martin swam the equivalent 33km distance of the Channel solo in a swimming pool in Dubai for charity. We caught up with Martin to hear how he coped with hundreds of tumble turns, chlorine irritation and going from 0km a week of swimming to 33km in 12 hours...
Hi Martin, so what inspired your solo “Channel Swim” in a pool in Dubai!? It’s a bit different going from being part of a relay team!
I had a hidden agenda with regard to the relay crossing. I had it in mind that if I enjoyed the experience, I would commit to doing the full thing - a solo Channel crossing - off the back of it.
So, with the relay being postponed, I was gutted and at the same time determined to make something happen this year.
Separate to this, I’ve been a Director of a children’s charity in Dubai that was established in 2001 and runs adventure treks around the world in aid of underprivileged children. The charity - like most charities - has suffered from COVID restrictions, and I thought it would be great to do the Channel in Dubai whilst helping a charity.
So I managed to get a pool sponsor and I set myself the goal of swimming the 33km distance in the pool to raise money for the Lebanese Red Cross.
Fantastic, so what were your feelings when you stood on the pool edge for the start at 5.30am?
Excitement. And a desire to get it started. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and if it was logistically possible I would have dived in to the challenge in the middle of the night!
And what was the biggest challenge of swimming such a huge distance in a pool? PH's Head of Customer Support, James, said he definitely didn't envy the hundreds of tumble turns you were going to have to do!
Well, any swim of over 4 hours in training had caused extreme itching afterwards due to the chlorine, so I knew that would be a consequence of the nigh on 12 hours in the water on the day (and it was!).
But yes, the potential to cramp on push-offs from the tumble turns meant I turned gingerly in the latter part of the swim so as to mitigate the risk. The fingers also started to feel the effect of the continual pressure of the water.
But this is where nutrition and hydration are essential. You don’t feel like you’re working as hard in the pool as you might on the bike or on the run, but I burned 7,900 calories on the day, so nutrition and hydration management were as important as ever.
How did you prepare your nutrition and hydration for your 11 hours and 42 minutes in the pool?
I was fortunate to have a team poolside who helped me with nutrition on the day. I pre-loaded with a PH 1500 tablet the evening before and on the morning, and I also had a shot of Beet It Sport to ensure I had a nitrate shot to help offset fatigue.
During the swim I had to be careful to hydrate. Swimming in the pool at a relatively leisurely pace (I averaged 1.52 per 100m over the 33km) can seem comfortable, but the warm water means you need to be careful not to ignore proper hydration.
My PH tabs were essential - having pre-loaded, I then took on board a PH 1000 tablet every couple of hours. Also plenty of carb and protein drinks at regular intervals, with a caffeine boost later on.
Plus, plenty of bananas and hot cross buns (a personal favourite!) to replace those 7,900 calories that I burned over the 12 hours!
How much training did you put in as preparation for your "Channel Swim"? And what did a typical week of training look like for you in the build-up?
I’ve never been a distance swimmer, coming more from a running and triathlon background. Normally I would swim 4-8km per week in IRONMAN training.
For this challenge I ramped up from nil km (bruised ribs set me back 2 weeks) straight to 3 or 4 weeks of 35km swimming per week. This wasn’t ideal, but I had to work to a set date for the challenge in the pool. So it was a case of getting enough long swims in whilst also trying to let the body adjust.
I would do 6-8 swims per week, sometimes doubling up with 2 sessions on one day, and always a long swim on Friday morning (Friday being the weekend here in Dubai).
My long swims were 6km (which seemed long at the time!), 8km, 12km, 16km and 18km. I then had an extended taper, including 4 full days off before the event due to tendon issues in my left shoulder!
You mentioned about your triathlon and IRONMAN background, but how did this challenge compare to your previous endurance experiences?
I wasn’t racing, hence this wouldn’t rate as difficult as any event when you’re pushing yourself to the limits. And whilst I would never compare this in difficulty to a real English Channel Swim, it did pose its own challenges.
The itchiness of the skin from chemicals shouldn’t be understated! Any long swim over 4 hours tended to bring me out in rashes after the swim. There’s also the tediousness of just repeating length after length on your own.
And of course there’s not the benefit of buoyancy from salt water that sea swimming offers.
Having said that, I wasn’t having to swim at 16 degrees centigrade (60°F) either! Quite the opposite; the pool was 30 degrees (86°F), which is warm, and presented its own challenges.
I also had to get out of the pool for toilet breaks, which of course provided temporary relief to the shoulders.
How satisfying was it to finish your swim after 11 hours and 42 minutes and to know you've raised a fantastic amount of money for charity?
Very satisfying. Particularly given the charity element. The swim was in aid of the Lebanese Red Cross to provide support after the devastating explosion that hit Beirut in August caused massive devastation, and funds are desperately needed to help rebuild lives in the city.
Currently, I am at 91% of my fundraising target, and any donations are greatly received - you can donate at my Channel Swim Yallagive Page.
On a personal level, I was relieved that my shoulders held up on the day. It’s certainly given me the motivation to consider a ‘proper’ Channel Swim in the near future.
Given that I live in Dubai, the cold water training will be the biggest challenge!