Srikaanth Viswanathan is 46, living in Bangalore for the last 20 years. Born and raised in Chennai. An engineer by training. Have been in R&D divisions of various organizations like Philips, Honeywell & GE for the last 24+yrs.
I nurtured the dream of swimming solo across the English Channel from 2008 when I heard about it first through a news article
Being unsure of my readiness, I decided to try relay swimming in the Channel to understand the challenges and conditions better.
I made a successful attempt of crossing the English Channel as 8 person relay in 2015, later as part of 4 person relay (2016) and 2 person relay (Jun 2018) before conquering the channel solo in Jul’18 in 14hrs 7mins.I started my training for the solo attempt in 2016 right after I completed the 4 person relay. Training for an adventure of this proportion called for an extraordinary planning. I approached the preparation from the following aspects;
Being a vegetarian, I realized that nutritional needs for this for an attempt of this proportion cannot be met by the usual diet. I had to take professional help to understand my blood parameters & accordingly tailor the nutritional requirements for swimming in cold water for long hours
At 46, I was nowhere close to even dreaming of flaunting a six pack abs. I had to work on building my core strength & build cardio performance. Here again, I took the help of professionals to get myself in to shape in the gym.
This is one big factor that plays a dominant role in any endurance sport. As they say, Channel swimming is 98% mental & only 2 % is physical. When every muscle & every joint is writhing in pain after 6 hours of swimming in cold water, it all boils down to how strong we are mentally to not give up. I had severe cramps in my hamstring during the 7th & 13th hour of my swim and I almost gave up during those testing moments. Thanks to my crew & the burning desire in me to not give up, I could eventually conquer the pain. But, one needs to tame the mind during those long practice hours & learn to conquer the pain.
This is a very crucial part in the run-up to the big day. As I trained for 2 years, there have been times when I had to pause my training due to a shoulder injury, sickness, injury from accidents etc. A key aspect here is to listen to your body and respond accordingly. Rest & recovery play a very important role in this aspect.
There are always distractions from work-related travel, family demands, injuries, sickness etc. During the course of 2 years, I had to set incremental goals & celebrate those small accomplishments to stay motivated. No major holidays, no weekends for the family for 2 years! It can be quite killing emotionally. More than anything, the biggest challenge that I faced was the disbelief expressed by some people in my attempt which constantly seeded the doubts in my mind. I had to dig in deep to stay focused & committed and use my intermediate goals to reassure myself that I am making progress towards my ultimate goal.
Since Jan’18, I had to reprioritize a few things & gave first priority to my training & nutrition. Everything else was only after that. I took a break from my work from March to devout more time for my training. I spent a good 3 weeks in Thailand on Apr’18 in a FINA training center to refine my technique and improve my speed. I was training there for 4-5hours a day. As summer approached, I was very worried about lack of adequate cold water exposure & decided to travel to Nainital for a few weeks to swim in the cold water lakes there. While it did help to some extent, but not in any way closer to the cold waters that awaited us in Dover. Hypothermia is the biggest threat in a solo swim & cold water adaptation is the only way to mitigate that threat.
I decided to go to Dover in Jun’18 much earlier than my solo slot in August to allow myself more time to get adapted to the cold conditions
I also had the most grueling 2 person relay scheduled in Jun’18 as a preparation for my solo, which I completed on 23-Jun’18. After that event, I switched my training schedule in all earnestness to prepare for my solo.. started doing 4hrs-6hrs-8hrs swimming in waters which were hovering around 14 deg C. Initial days were quite challenging as the body was unable to cope up with such cold waters .. numbing the extremities after just 30-45mins in the water. But as the days progressed, I was able to gradually increase my duration in the water. It's amazing to see how the mind & body work in tandem in adapting to the conditions. As destiny would have it, I got a call from my boat pilot on 18-Jul recommending me to make an attempt on 21-Jul.. clear 2 weeks ahead of the proposed swim week. My mind went blank after the call as I had requested my wife & a close friend to be with me from 1-Aug for my swim which was slotted on 3-Aug’18. This sudden change threw all plans out of gear. With reassurances from my pilot & some close friends, I decided to take a plunge on 21-Jul.
It was a chilly morning at 5 am as I stood on the shores of Samphire Hoe beach in Dover to begin my swim, only one thought crossed my mind….
A deep sense of gratitude towards the Almighty for having brought me that far in the journey after many years of hard work and training and the many sacrifices that my family & I had to make till then.
I knew that I had the best crew that I could ask for on the boat to look after me on that big day. All I had to do was to tame my mind and just “keep swimming”… sounds very simple!!!
It was an overcast day and took some time for the sun to pop out..when it did, it was a near perfect condition that any swimmer could dream of.
The clear waters were so enchanting with myriad sea life floating under me, left me with a mixed feeling. I was troubled by hamstring cramps during the 7th hour and 13th hour. Thanks to my wonderful crew, whose thoughtful intervention with the right medications & feeds helped me continue with my swim, albeit with reduced speed.
I eventually touched the French shores at Tardinghen near Wissant at 19:07hrs after 14hrs 7mins of continuous swimming on a wonderful day.