Example of a Flag Alpha
A Flag Alpha used as a code signal of the International maritime signal flags indicates the presence of a swimmer (or diver) in the water. This flag must be securely attached to any accompanying boat (kayak, canoe, rowing boat etc) during escorted swims and must be clearly visible. The flag must not be attached to the person in the boat. In the event of a retirement, the flag must be removed.
Advice on preparation and training for Long Distance Swimming Events
In long distance swimming, there are four essential requirements:
- Ability to swim the required distance.
- Ability to withstand the cold for the requisite time.
- Appreciation of general conditions.
- Ability to maintain a good pace throughout the swim.
1. Ability to swim the required distance
Swimmers in pools have guide lines on the bottom, or lane ropes on the top, to keep them on straight courses, they also tumble or push off every 25 or 50 metres. Because these aids are naturally non-existent in sea, lake and river swims, some extra distance is inevitable. In addition, almost any wind from any direction produces waves, escalating from ripple and chop to very rough. This all decreases swimming speed and because of the increasing difficulty in steering a straight course even more distance and duration is added to the event. In addition to all these influential factors few people swim as fast in the cold outdoor water as they do in the warm waters of the indoor pool, as a result of energy expenditure being inversely proportional to the temperature of the water, to cover a given distance in a given time. Because of these factors, the duration of any outdoor swim will be greater than one might expect from one’s indoor times. As a result of these slowing down factors, it is essential to train for a distance greater than that which you are going to attempt to swim.
In river and sea swims, currents and tides can affect these timings in a much greater way, both for the good and the bad. In such swims it is important to seek the advice of a local boatman/woman and consult tide tables. We have all heard of Channel Swims that have been unsuccessful because the swimmer as got caught between the change in tides. One of the advantages of swimming in salt water is that it makes you more buoyant.
2. Ability to withstand the cold for the requisite time.
The normal British championship season starts in mid May and continues until late September. During this time water temperatures can range from 10°C (50°F) to 20°C (68°F). Scottish and Irish temperatures tend to be somewhat lower. For newcomers a reasonable target to aim for is to be comfortable at a water temperature of 14°C (57°F). This may mean starting training over short periods at colder temperatures than this outdoors, then you will become more acclimatised to the cold water. A word of advice – when training outdoors always have either a safety boat complete with two crew plus a set of clothes (see ‘Advice to Boat Crews’), if going out into the middle of open water, or stay within a few metres of the side with one person walking along, carrying your clothes etc. and watching you.
3. Appreciation of general conditions.
This is the one item for which there is no training and without which only the smallest lakes could be completed. One needs luck that one does not fall ill either on the day of the swim or just before. Added to that, the weather, in particular the wind, plays an increasing role in one’s ability to complete a swim that may have involved one or even two years training.
The Channel is not usually attempted in any wind above force 3, or maybe force 4 and dropping. It has been known for swimmers to travel to Dover on two or more years and not even start to swim during any of the five day tidal windows. Similarly, a swim on Windermere with heavy wave action in both the north and south basins becomes infinitely more arduous than if the water is calm. If the wind is a cross wind then the zigzag effect is enhanced as well, thus adding time and distance to the swim. The temperature of the water can also be influenced by local conditions, cold up-swellings or a local stream entering the lake, but this is not usually as noticeable as those mentioned earlier.
4. Ability to maintain a good pace throughout the swim.
Many swimmers are happy just to complete a distance open water swim without challenging for places. But, for aspiring champions and record holders stamina building must be fitted in with the other preliminary work. Water Polo and Squash are very good stamina building sports. Circuit and/or weight training will improve both strength and stamina, however, caution must be taken not to over do the weights and restrict your flexibility! (see Weight and Circuit training for more information on this).
Completing large sets of short duration speed work with short rest intervals in the swimming pool can help you build up stamina and keep you alert to your present fitness level. Sets such as 20 x 100m off 1:50 (or off 1:40, 1:30, 1:20 etc. depending on your speed, aim to have 10-15 seconds rest and hold pace) – this time should be gradually reduced as you get fitter. Swimming against the clock is preferable for swimmers to develop speed and pace.
During a long distance swim pace can be monitored by the accompanying boat crew through stroke counts and timing between landmarks (where distances are known). This information can then be relayed to the swimmer when they feed or by some kind of signal when they breathe towards their crew.