I’m not a fast swimmer, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t swim long distance. I only learned to swim when I was 38 years old, 4 years ago and I’m training for my second attempt to swim the English Channel.

To say I’m slow is an understatement. When I started doing triathlons a couple of years ago I was nearly always the last one out of the water. For some races, by the time I got round to finishing the bike and the run, everybody had gone home, including the organisers.

But, I never give up. I have endurance. I’m able to use my mental strength, something that we all have within us, to keep going when it gets tough. I will try to finish what I started no matter how much it hurts.

When I train or when I’m taking on a long challenge, I constantly keep the vision alive; the vision of me crossing the finish line or breaking a record or in this case, the vision of me reaching the coast of France.

The swim across the channel is 32km in straight line, but invariably the distance swam will be more, due to the tides. At my current swim pace its estimated that I will be swimming somewhere between 15 and 24 hours, maybe more.

Its cold, most likely around 15 degrees Celsius, no wetsuits allowed, only a traditional swimming costume. No touching the boat or any people and the channel is full of ships, garbage and jellyfish.

So why am I doing it?

In 2016 I attempted to swim the channel only a year after learning to swim. It may have been a bit ambitious however it was the boat pilot who didn’t have the patience; I had been swimming for 7 hours and was prepared to swim forever, until I got to France, if it wasn’t for the grumpy pilot.

I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anybody; I was actually raising money to keep some poor slum children in school. I would have kept swimming all week if they had let me.

As I mentioned, I’m not somebody who gives up easily. Now I’m a better swimmer, I’ve booked my slot with a more patient boat pilot and I’m training hard, really hard.

I have 3 months of training left as I write this and I‘m currently swimming around 25km per week. I need to start increasing the distance. I’m also doing spinning classes and 3 tough, strength and conditioning sessions a week at Bespoke Ride. As per my coach Joao Arteche, you don’t have to be a fast swimmer to swim the channel, but you have to be strong, both mentally and physically.

My training so far has been in Dubai which has been perfect, great beaches, great sports facilities and coaches and sport medicine, but now its starting to get warm. Soon I need to move to colder climates to start to acclimatise.

I learnt to swim in Dubai in 2015. I had tried earlier in life, but swimming instructors who told me I’m not a natural swimmer always put me off. One swim teacher even told me that he would never be able to teach me to swim because my ankles are the wrong shape.

Then in Dubai I met Kevin Millerick, a super patient swim coach who teaches the Total Immersion technique, a super efficient technique good for distance swimming. Within a few weeks Kevin had me swimming, even I was amazed – guess what, none of us are natural swimmers! Kevin gave me a lot of confidence and it wasn’t long before I started entering triathlons, even if I was at the back of the pack and often going in the wrong direction.

Kevin was a bit surprised when I told him that I had registered to swim the English Channel the following year. For me it was a natural progression, I always believe in aiming as high as possible, you have to believe that you can do it, but if you don’t for some reason, you will still learn a lot. When I started Mountain climbing in 2012, I signed up to climb Mt Everest the following year. Fortunately it was a successful summit, but if it wasn’t then I would probably try again. Life is short so why procrastinate, you could spend 5 years preparing to climb a Mountain or swim a channel, for it to be aborted due to bad weather – think of all the opportunities you would have wasted in the previous years.

So now training is hard, I have knee injury from a previous mountain expedition, but I am very well looked after by UpandRunning Sports Medicine clinic and I have to adapt my swim to a minimal kick technique.

It is exhausting, training day after day, around 15 hours of training a week now, and increasing. It’s often hard to get out of bed, especially for the early morning swim sessions with Dubai Masters Swim Clubs. My body is always aching somewhere, but the occasional sports massage and compression sports wear helps me recover much quicker, I have used 2XU since 2014, for running, climbing, spinning, gym and recovery, I love their gear.

A good balanced healthy diet is important to keep the energy levels up ad for recovery, personally I use Kcal Extra; my daily food is delivered (no shopping or preparation) which gives me extra hours to train and work each day. GU energy gels get me through my long swims.

Now, I have to prepare for the cold water, I really hate the cold and it can reduce your performance by as much as 60%. The more acclimatised you are the better apparently.

By the time you read this, I may be close to swimming the channel or maybe already in France – so check out my Instagram on mariadaconceicao7 to see how I’m doing. ■

Written by: Maria Conceicao
Photos: Maria Conceicao

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this article was published in OutdoorUAE printed magazine issue #94 April – May 2019

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