Camp Eton

Camp Eton has been going for a couple of years now. It was set-up by Nick Adams, Chairman of The Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation and his wife Sakura as a way of imparting the knowledge they have gained from years of Channel and Long Distance swimming. As members of the Serpentine Swimming club it was also a way of getting a group of swimmers together to answer the common questions aspiring channel swimmers have through a series of seminars. Oh, and lots of swimming too, including 100x100’s

I had heard of Camp Eton through various swimmers I follow on Twitter. It is mainly set-up for Serpentine Swimmers(aka Serps) but I thought I’d email Nick and see if there was any spaces left, could I attend. After a couple of weeks, a positive response came back and I was signed up for Camp Eton 2016.

As a lifelong swimmer, swimming the Channel has always been a dream and attending Camp Eton would be a way for me to pick up the knowledge from those in the know. It was also a chance to swim more in two days since the University Days.

The Camp was held over Easter Weekend. Day 1 started by going straight to the pool for a swim. Nick is a Maths Teacher at Eton College so we were lucky enough to be hosted at the prestigious schools pool and classrooms. There were 21 nervous/excited swimmers getting into the pool for the first 5k session. Brief introductions to Simon and Alana who I would be sharing a lane with for the next two days and off we went. The session went by pretty quick, including a set of 30x100 off 1:30.

Quick change then off to the classroom for the first seminars on Feeding & Hydration(Maxim and more Maxim) and Hypothermia & Fatique. Sukura is a Pediatric Doctor but has also done numerous studies on cold water immersion and hypothermia. I won’t go into too much detail about Hypothermia in case my mum reads this, but the main thing is for everyone to be aware of the signs and don’t be a hero if symptoms set in. We also had brief introductions were each went through their swimming to date and other interests; a very inspiring and varied collection of stories and reasons as to why people swim

After lunch(Channel Swimmers like to eat, so I fit right in) We were back to the pool for another swim, 5.6k this time, including a set called Hectors 100’s(6x(5x100 descending by 5 secs each 100)). This came from a tradition that the Eton Boys have that each departing senior swimmer leaves behind a set that then gets used by subsequent swimming teams. Again the session went by pretty smoothly. One great bit about Eton is the endless supply of Maxim, Jelly Babies and Mini Milky Ways whilst swimming, with brilliant helpers filling up your water bottles as you swim.

The afternoons seminars were on Pilots,Tides and Course(rule of twelfths, Spring v Neap tides, Sandette etc), Mental Preparation(total personal commitment, honesty, small steps, small horizons) and Support Crew(a very, very important part of a Channel Swim). I picked up the most hints/tips and knowledge during these sessions. I especially liked the quote attributed to Freda Streeter in response to Jon Coningham Rolls during a Dover session “If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”

So that was Day 1, a pretty full on day with over 10k swam. A bigger, longer day ahead on Day 2.

Day 2 began at 6am sharp. Most of us were there by 5:45am(4:45am really as the clocks went forward during the night). This session was the big one; 100x100. As a lane we decided to do them off 1:40 and rotate the lead, which helped. 100x100x100 had a good ring to it too. We all settled into a nice rhythm, and with the help of an abacus at the end of the lane we were able to tick off the 100’s one by one. Again the super helpers kept us topped up with Maxim, Jelly Babies and Milky Ways. It was a case of switching off and getting through it. Thankfully I had a decent song stuck in my head(the new song from Squeeze) otherwise t could have been torture(Frozen anyone?). When we were done, the other lanes still had a way to go so Alana asked if we wanted to do another 2 sets of 10x100. Being gluttons for punishment, we agreed, and off we went. So 120x100 later I had officially done my longest single pool session ever(including Univesity Christmas Camp sessions).

After that it was a well deserved Breakfast. And as mentioned above, Channel swimmers like to eat and Nick and Sakura had put on another magnificent spread. The next seminar was on making a Training Plan(swim lots, in cold and back to back long days of 6 hours +). The next session was simply titled The 4 P’s, naively I thought they referred to what I know as the 6 P’s(Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). However, I was correct for only one of them, Piss, the others P’s of the 4 P’s being Puke, Poo and Periods. I won’t go into detail, but you can’t stop nature and when it calls, it calls and you have to do something about it.

At the end of the swim session on Day 1 we had our underwater stroke filmed. Nick then emailed these to Ray Gibbs(aka Uncle Ray) founder of Swim Canary Wharf and a bit of a guru on swim technique analysis and stroke correction. On the afternoon of Day 2 Ray went through the videos with each of us highlighting areas for improvement and suggesting drills for correcting(I didn’t realise that my hand goes up just before the catch, so something to work on).

The afternoon swim session was then a drills session with Ray demoing drills to work on body rotation and the catch and pull aspects of the stroke. I had never done some of the drills, but others on Camp had worked with Ray and found that the drills really improved their stroke. It was a great chance to slow things down and concentrate on efficient motion.

A great way to end the camp was with a Pilates session to stretch out and work on some core strength. I had never done Pilates before and consider myself pretty robust in core strength, oh how wrong I was. The instructor(aka The Lovely Simona) had us in all sorts of positions, balancing on balls, using stretch cords that used those little muscles I never knew existed. I know now.

So that was Camp Eton. A brilliant, inspiring, educational and tiring weekend. By the end of the two days, we had become quite a tight group with mutual respect and silent understanding for each other's swimming histories and aspirations.

I now feel more comfortable that I can take on the challenge of the Channel. I’ve had the discussion with my ever supportive wife, who has given the green light, so bring it on. Huge thanks to Nick and Sakura for putting on the Camp and to all the helpers who gave up their Easter weekend to make us feel so very welcome and kept us supplied with food and drink.

“It makes you a better person” :-)