“Nothing great is easy” – lessons in motivation from an English Channel swimmer | Macro

“Nothing great is easy” – lessons in motivation from an English Channel swimmer


By Nicholas Alford, Head of Corporate Health & Safety, Macro

On 2 July 2014 I swam the English Channel to raise money for two charities Harrison’s Fund and The Demelza Hospice.  Riding the wave (!) of euphoria that follows such an undertaking, I’ve had many hours to reflect on the motivation required to train for and attempt the challenge. 

In this blog, I share what motivated me through the months of training and the swim itself; lessons which I believe can be applied to our personal and professional lives. 

Know what success looks like

When trying to attain any goal, no matter its size, we should understand what good looks like.   Then set an achievable timeline for success that allows for ‘uncontrollable factors’. For my swim, my date for completion was largely set in stone, so I wrote my training plan in reverse, working from the event date backwards, considering what I would have to deal with and accepting that potential injuries and environmental challenges would be out of my control. 

Marathon, not a sprint

We must maintain vision of our objectives and be prepared to deal with setbacks. Work to a plan, maintain momentum, seize opportunity as it reveals itself and deal with adversity as if you were expecting it.  In my case, injury, finances and lack of time were always going to be set backs.  Allow for this in your plan.  When I missed something from the training plan, I told myself it was ok, but trained twice as hard the next day… 


Even on the darkest, coldest morning, when frost is on the ground and my bed felt its warmest, I still got up to train.  Knowing that you are the only one up and training and lowering yourself into six degree water when others less motivated have succumbed to the call of the duvet, reinforces and galvanises your total belief that you will succeed where others may fall by the wayside. 

On the boat, my team communicated with me using a ‘motivation board’, a dry wipe board to pass me messages and information. On this board were two quotes and a picture of one of the little boys I was raising money for. At about the nine hour mark (of my 14 hour swim) I started to suffer with extreme pain in my shoulder. My Dad wrote a message on the board: “Your pain is raising money for children that will NEVER be able do this”. This acted like an injection of heat, pride and adrenaline that meant I could have swum to Spain. 


Have a reason. This is very subjective. My swim started out as a personal desire, but as the size and scale of the challenge grew we used it to raise awareness and money for two small children’s charities working with serious and life limiting illness. At no point in my training or my swim was I going to be subjected to the feelings and issues faced by those brave children or their families… so I just got on with it. 

Support and the team around you

During the year of preparation, not once did my wife bat an eyelid at my often selfish need to train. Not when we didn’t spend a weekend together for four months, not when I was late for my daughter’s second birthday party, not when I came home at 10pm almost every day as the swim drew closer. She understood its importance, my focus and that I didn’t need to deal with any unnecessary negativity. 

A similar level of support was provided by colleagues and especially my managing director. Acceptance and understanding of everyone’s goals and allowing flexibility that balances work, life and personal challenges shows you are working with good people and for a good company.

On the day of the swim the decision to go is yours, not the boat pilot. I was prepared but the people I needed on the boat as my support were immediately available and this drove the decision to go more than the weather forecast.

It’s not impossible on your own, but it’s much, much harder. 

Dealing with negativity

Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. I had a number of naysaying conversations about how deep, how cold, how hard, how far, how many jellyfish, the odds etc. I remember every conversation where something pessimistic or negative was said. At no point was I going to give any of them the satisfaction of being right. 

Fear of failure

In the year of planning, preparation and training, thoughts of failure only entered my head about four days before the swim. At this point I’d received a huge amount of sponsorship money, was getting attention from colleagues, bosses, friends, family, local and regional media, my MP and my charities. What do you do with this pressure? Buckle and walk away, or turn it into an aggressive wave of positivity of such a magnitude that you can’t fail?

As Captain Matthew Webb (the first person to swim the English Channel - 25th August 1875) said, “nothing great is easy”. 

Once complete, find the next challenge…

If you would like to make a donation to support this challenge and help raise money for Harrison's Fund and The Demelza Hospice, click here.