The recent exploits of 56-year-old Jackie Cobell have sped around the marathon swimming world with lightening speed. But, doggedness and grit--not speed--are what made Jackie's solo crossing of the English Channel so special.
After training for five years for her swim across the 21-mile channel, waves and currents presented relentless obstacles in her 28-hour, 44-minute journey. "Time and tide wait for no man--and they certainly didn't wait for me," said Cobell in one of her many media interviews to the British press. Corbell's steely perseverance helped her break the record set in 1923 for the slowest successful crossing in history. "I was fully expecting it to get dark before I got to France, but I never imagined I'd also see dawn again. But I wasn't going to give up."
Upon emerging from over a day in the salty, cold water of the English Channel, she experienced a sore throat and third spacing, two physiological effects commonly experienced by marathon swimmers.
What can triathletes and open water swimmers learn from her experience?
Rinsing with mouthwash before and after your swims in salt water can help relieve the salt-water sensations felt in your mouth. Chewing gun while swimming, on the other hand, can lead to an increased amount of water being swallowed.
Slight modifications in your arm stroke, leg position and head rotation can help reduce the possibility of inadvertently swallowing water in turbulent seas. The easiest modification is to breathe away from the oncoming waves and surface chop. If the waves are coming at you on your left side, breathe right. If the waves are coming at you on your right side, breathe left. This ability to bilateral breathe at will, depending on the conditions, is a learned skill used by experienced swimmers when the elements are not in their favor.
If the course presents a venue of nasty, relentless whitecaps experienced swimmers utilize their sense of timing. They breathe naturally, but always in rhythm with the dynamic elements, taking in air at the trough or peak of each wave. Even though a rogue wave may occasionally catch you off-guard, practicing in turbulent, blustery courses in the afternoon can help refine your sense of timing in the open water.
If you look further back in your breath where both eyes are above the surface of the water, your head will rotate deeper in your stroke and enable you to breathe under your armpit. This change in your natural head position will act as an effective barrier for many waves.