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3 Things I Learned Swimming 100km with a 100lbs Tree
The islands of St Lucia and Martinique are 35km apart if you attempt to swim between them at their shortest and simplest points. But on Thursday November 16 (after 2 attempts, over 100km and 32 hours of swimming) it became apparent to me and my sailing support team from The BodyHoliday that this attempt was neither short nor simple.
Here's the three main lessons I learned from my attempt.
Lesson 1: Ultra-endurance events are eating competitions
In June 2019 I detailed my Diet in a Day, breaking down how I consumed 8,000 calories a day to fuel my training. But my caloric intake during the swim itself made this look like an appetiser. Consuming 25 bananas, 20 oatmeal cookies, 10 packs of high fat vegan snacks, 8 coconuts and more shakes, liquids and carb-rich energy drinks than I could honestly count. Why? Simply to keep muscle glycogen (the body’s stored form of carbohydrates) topped up.
Lesson 2: Reduce perception of fatigue
After 40km of swimming I wasn’t sure what hurt more, my arms or the jellyfish stings on my face. One thing I did know: I wasn’t stopping to ask the crew for any help since we had previously joked the most effective remedy was “urine therapy” and that’s something I wouldn’t do for all the oatmeal cookies in the world.
Instead I shouted to the boat for an emergency can of Red Bull. This is based on research from theScandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sportsthat found caffeine reduces our perception of fatigue and pain during exercise. This may partly explain the performance enhancing benefits of caffeine. It does this by positively impacting the chemical signals (known as neurotransmitters) in your brain, but void of science and studies, I was just glad this was a cleaner solution.
Lesson 3: You cannot outswim the sea
You can be the greatest swimmer in the world, but you will not outswim the sea. How do I know? Because at the 50km mark I spent three hours swimming as hard as I could, only for the captain of the support boat to tell me I had not moved a single metre. This is all because an elite swimmer can travel at a sprint speed of 4 knots (dolphins are capable of cruising at 6-7 knots). In contrast, the fastest current in the sea is at the Saltstraumen near Bodø, in Norway, which can reach an estimated 20 knots and even places in the UK such as Pentland Firth between the northern coast of Scotland and Orkney clocks an impressive 10 knots.
Now, I am not a world-class swimmer, I am not a dolphin and I am definitely not sprinting after 50km. Which is why, although I wasn’t battling the currents of Norway, I never stood a chance when the sea decided to turn on me. Painfully aware the coastline of Martinique was getting further away as I was pushed back to St Lucia, this was the end of swim one, but the start of swim attempt two. Back the other way.
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