Hell Week for English Channel swim team

They call it Hell Week, and for good reason – swimming 10km a day for four days at the Regional Aquatic Centre has been the pastime for four of the six English Channel relay team this last week as they ready themselves for the 34km stretch of chilly Channel water next month between the UK and France.

Four-time solo channel swimmer, coach extraordinaire, Mike Gregory, whose motto is ‘train hard, swim easy’ flew in from the US the day before the start of Hell Week and rode a motorbike from Melbourne to Broken Hill (over 800kms) in a day, just to kick-off the week with the team on time.

The team, includes local long-distance swimmers 45-year-old Ben Clavel and 50-year-old solo channel swimmer, Brendan Cullen, and they were joined by 57-year-old Adelaide grandmother, Amanda McKenna, and Armadale’s 27-year-old queen of open water ice swimming, Peta Bradley.

Mike, who swam for 22 hours and 35 minutes for 60kms in Victoria from Geelong to Brighton to raise money for a young quadriplegic lad in 2016, explained the Hell Week program while the team “cooled down”, swimming their final laps of day one in the 50metre pool – a cool water temp of 13.8 degrees – about three degrees colder than it will be in the Channel during their window to complete the swim between September 13 to 21.

“We call this Hell Week!” Mike laughed as we strolled alongside the swimmers. “They don’t know it yet, but they’re doing four consecutive days of swimming, with a 10km daily minimum and today is their “choice” – so I’ve got them to do a 4km swim to develop their confidence to get into their Channel swim speed, and once that’s achieved, they’ll get into their 3km effort followed by their 2km effort at that cruise pace. The surprise for them today was to get out of the heated 25metre pool and do their cool down in here.”

“The Y are fantastically generous in giving us permission to operate in the 50metre pool while it’s officially closed to the public,” said Mike. “We have four of the six relay team here this week – Greg Rolton from Adelaide couldn’t make it and we’ll meet up with Claire Atkins in the UK.”

As Brendan climbed the ladder out of the pool with a slight purple tinge to his skin, he was told it was colder than the English Channel.

“This is different. What’s happening over the next few days here is nightmare stuff,” said Brendan. “Half the time in there, my calves are cramping…”

“It’s only 10km, mate!” joked Mike.

Final day of Hell Week

We headed back to the pool for the final day of Hell Week to see the team beaming as they climbed the ladder out of the 13.3 degree Celsius 50metre pool for the final time before the Channel challenge.

The team all agreed that the day four swim set of 100 x 100metres made the last 10km easier.

“It was a great experience but there were moments of ‘can I do this? I’m a grandma!” said Amanda. “I’ve got the monkey-mind of the group – I think – so you have to keep your mind in each moment.”

Ice Mile swimmer, Peta, grew up swimming in dams so her cold water tolerance is well established.

“It’s been awesome to train together with Mike and the team here. This is my first time in Broken Hill and I’m looking forward to coming back one day just to see more of the region.”

Ben said Hell Week was the toughest thing he’s ever done in his life.

“The constant 10kms after 10kms after 10kms, took a fair bit of mental preparation but surprisingly my body held up really well. I think the cold-water immersion helps muscles to recover quicker,” said Ben. “Swimming with a team keeps you moving through discomfort because you feel inspired to stay in the moment and just put one arm in front of the other. Hell Week has given me more confidence in swimming the Channel so I’m looking forward to the challenge more now.”

Brendan sat for a final chat about Hell Week before they head off.

“Tough. It was tough, but we all encouraged each other but Hell Week just had to be done,” he said.

“You’re always racing each other in the pool, so you just naturally push each other along. It’s been a great week and I’m looking forward to swimming the Channel with the team and raising money for How’s Ya Mate – a fantastic program I’m proud to advocate for.”

How’s Ya Mate? (HYM), created by Lifeline Broken Hill Country to Coast, is a program that aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of sporting club communities by providing free training and counselling, starting conversations, and breaking down stigmas associated with mental health.

Ben and Brendan have both experienced mental health issues in their lives. This has led them down the path of exercise for wellbeing purposes and becoming active mental health advocates. Brendan raised $25,800 for HYM last year, and with a goal of $10,000 this year, they’ve already raised $1772.

With all money going to HYM, if you’d like to support the team’s fundraising efforts, go to Channel Attack fundraiser,

To learn more about HYM, visit: How’s Ya Mate – Lifeline Broken Hill (

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