Tips for long distance relays by guest blogger Dee Newell
Posted on Thursday, January 09 2020 06:22:00 PM in News by Karen Lee
Last year Dee swam the English Channel, she swam from Robben Island to Cape town and was a member of a 6 person relay to swim across the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin.
This year, in February, she will attempt to be the first Irish woman to swim an ice km in Antarctica. Her main goal with all this, is to encourage women in sport and be a role model for young girls. Dee also likes to encourage people to get outside and find a sport that makes them respect their environment and in turn be more aware of their choices.
Here are some of Dee's tips and considerations for swimming as part of a long distance relay, gathered whilst crossing the Irish Sea.
Our Team at the official finish/welcome party at the Forty Foot in Dublin
A relay swim is a swim completed as a team. It can vary from a group of friends deciding to change over as much as they want, to a relay following a specific set of rules.
If you are completing a relay with specific rules then the handover is essential to practice as it is likely the rules include a 5 minute handover window. This means there can be two swimmers in the water in order to complete the handover for up to five minutes, however with practice most relay teams will be much quicker than this.
Typically people think a relay swim should be easier than a solo of the full distance; It Is not easier, it is different and has its own additional challenges, such as seasickness, motivation to get back in, changing on a boat and team cohesion.
If you are preparing to do a relay swim, you do need to do a bit more preparation than just swimming. I've put together some of my top tips gathered after doing a 6 people relay across the Irish Sea that took just under 38 hours.
This is something you either suffer from a bit or a lot or you don’t. The first and obvious point is medication: there are many different brands and methods. The most popular are tablets or patches that you stick behind your ear. The tablets can make you drowsy and the patches can make you extremely thirsty. Both are things you need to consider before the big day and so as with all things in sport, try them before. Ginger is a natural anti-nausea which I took in crystallised form and in teabags.
Take your wet gear off as soon as you get back on board. A change towel is great for changing in a small spaces surrounded by people.
You should have a good idea of how many rotations to expect at the start of the swim, so pack dry togs for each rotation and then some more for good measure : there is nothing more difficult than putting on wet togs. Towards the end of a relay swim motivation could be low and the wet togs could be the straw that broke the camel's back!
Pack spare goggles hats and earplugs, these are the kind of things that can break or vanish in the darkness of night and even in the full daylight when you're tired!
Always work in buddy pairs. Your buddy should wave you into the water and meet you when you exit. They should know your exit-routine, if you want the kettle on for a warm drink, and they should make sure your goggles, hat and earplugs are put away safely if your mind isn’t quite there when you take them off. Your buddy should have your towel ready and a space for you to change in with your clothes laid out. They also just need to be there to have the chats: an hour swimming solo not speaking to anybody can feel long.
In our six-person relay we paired swimmers 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. This ensures you get a solid two hours of rest each rotation. There can be other helpers too.
Depending on the size of your team you can have anything from one to five hours off: six is the usual limit on relay size.
You never know how conditions may affect the team so always be prepared to look after yourself and take any assistance as a bonus.
Have a tried and tested routine. Change into loose warm clothing, eat, rest: these are the only things you must do. Getting warm and fuelling is the priority, anything else you fit in is a bonus!
Have a ten minute warning before your next rotation. this is when you should get into your next dry togs if not on already.
Unless you have tried your food at sea, it is hard to know what you will want or be able to eat. It’s good to have a selection of wet and dry food and options for hot or cold.
Mouth wash can be used to clean out a salty mouth if it's a sea swim. The salt water can change how you taste and it can cause the inside of your mouth to go tender, so soft foods are always good to have as an option.
This is the most important part of a relay team. Some relay teams are lucky and train together for years or months in the lead up to the swim, others like our Irish Sea Swim Relay don't know each other well. Anna and I were last minute substitutes, and this was my first ever relay and it was honestly something I really struggled with.
Speak your mind in the lead up; everybody will be having their own struggles ahead of a big event, so honesty is needed from all.
Swim practice together is important to understand each other's ability, practicing changeovers and managing your kit on the boat.
The slower people may feel like they matter less but the point is ALL team members hold equal importance. A relay only succeeds if all swimmers complete all their swims in the right sequence. There is no space for diva behavior on a relay team, in the confined space of a boat where people may be wet, cold, tired and maybe a little bit sick.
Team mate Anna and I with the Lord Mayor of Dublin with the chart showing our relay track which was presented to us by our pilot from Infinitiy Channel Swimming