“Be naïve enough to start, but stubborn enough to finish. With the Great British Swim, I didn’t think I quite realised how big it actually was, but once started it was all about focusing on the process.”
On the 4th of November 2018 Ross Edgley became the first person to swim around Great Britain. Ross Edgley set off on his 1792-mile odyssee in Margate on the 1st of June 2018. 157 days, 649 bananas and many jelly fish attacks later the “Strongman” completed his record-breaking swimming journey.
In this interview, Ross Edgley shares what drove him to attempt this epic challenge, how he prepared for the swim and what got him through some of the dark moments at sea.
How did it make you feel when you were out in the sea swimming by yourself?
It was very lonely at times, especially during the night swims. Essentially I was staring down at the sea bed for the best part of five months, so I had to keep myself entertained. That could lead to me thinking about everything and everything – from what I was going to eat after the swim to even singing to myself! Most importantly though, and this was a massive lesson of the Great British Swim, I had to learn to swim with a smile. If you’re singing while swimming, it’s hard to be in a bad mood.
How did you come up with the idea for this epic challenge?
I’d say that after my Caribbean log swim earlier this year, there was a bit of unfinished business in the water. But more than that, I’ve always been fascinated by British explorers and it was Captain Matthew Webb (the first person to swim the English Channel) who really inspired me. Back in 1875 they said no one could swim the channel because it was just too treacherous but he proved them all wrong. It was the same with this swim, people said it was impossible and that it could never be done, so that’s what really made me want to do it.
The Great British Swim is not your first super-human challenge. What drives you to keep pushing your limits?
The human body is a powerful machine, and I’m inspired by pushing the boundaries of human potential and understanding the limits of human performance. Although, it’s also largely down to my complete aversion to boredom, childlike curiosity, and inability to say ‘no’.
I can imagine that there must be a huge amount of logistics involved in planning such a mega adventure. How much time did it take to plan the Great British Swim?
It all came about fairly quickly I think. After my Caribbean Swim earlier this year and also my 48-hour swim at the Royal Marines base, the idea of swimming around the UK started to gain more and more momentum. I started to do some research and the name that kept coming up was Matt Knight. Matt’s a hugely experienced sea captain, so it was all a bit of a long shot but I got in touch and we met up not long after. It was all decided pretty quickly and that was that, we were going to swim around the UK!
What were the main challenges in terms of logistics planning?
I’ve always said that the Great British Swim was never an individual challenge, but a team effort from start to finish. I was fortunate enough to have a great team around me, supporting with all of the planning and logistics, from Captain Matt Knight planning and understanding the route, to the crew on board looking after my nutrition, physio Jeff Ross helping me recover and prepare physically, and the team at Red Bull allowing me to document the full process from start to finish via the Great British Swim vlog series on YouTube. This way I was able to focus on the process and the small task of swimming 12 hours every day, day and night for 5 months.
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(Another) HERO of #GreatBritishSwim The HUGE media colossus that is @casholini Insanely modest he’s ALWAYS behind the camera BUT the truth is this WHOLE event only exists (as the EPIC sporting social media experiment) because of him! It’s brought SO many people and great causes together and without him it would have just been me (an oddly shaped swimmer) making my way around Britain on my lonesome, haha! So if you’ve ever watched, liked or shared a @redbulluk episode… it’s this man you have to thank #Hero
What did your training look like to get ready for the swim? In retrospect, would you do anything differently in terms of physical preparation?
I say this about the swim all the time and that’s that I was so naïve at the start. You can be at your peak physical fitness and do all the research in the word around stoke efficiency, but in the end, it’s Mother Nature who decides how far you swim in any given tide. I’d also say that I basically had to adapt my whole diet throughout the swim because I was probably a bit to lean at the start. Around Scotland and when it started to get a lot colder, I became a little heavier and a little chubbier, as I had to adapt to the conditions.
You consumed between 10,000 and 15,000 calories per day during your swim. That’s huge!! What sort of food did you eat to hit that calorie target each day?
I always joked that the Great British Swim was just a giant eating competition with a bit of swimming in between! There was method to the madness though, so when I was eating two pizzas in the morning with a green shake, it was all properly thought through. It would vary day to day, but some constants were noodles, porridge, pasta and protein shakes. You may have seen this but the unsung hero of the Great British Swim was the banana. They are neutral in taste, soft, and most importantly, perfect for the salt mouth! I think the final tally was 649.
Would you say that the Great British Swim was more of a mental or physical challenge?
I spoke a lot about this in the weekly vlogs which were documented on the Red Bull YouTube channel. As you can imagine, swimming around the UK takes a huge toll on the body and the scars from the wetsuit chaffing and sea ulcers are there for all to see. However, it was just as much of a mental challenge as it was physical – maybe even more at times. Throughout the swim, I read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations on stoic philosophy, which was all about the psychology in the face of adversity and it really helped me. It’s difficult to say which one outweighed the other, but I’d like to think that it was an experiment in mental and physical fortitude that we were able to document and help people learn from.
Did you have a motivation mantra or any other strategy to help you get you through tough times during the swim?
I mentioned ‘swimming with a smile’ earlier, but another mantra that I felt resonated with people was ‘be naïve enough to start something and stubborn enough to finish it.’ Basically, no matter how tough things got I knew that I just had to be stubborn and stick it out. From a strategic point, it wasn’t always about looking at the bigger picture but rather looking at the map on board Matt’s boat and just ticking off each small bit of coastline as we went.
What was the scariest moment for you?
I think it was the night swims, as when I was being stung there was no real way of determining what it was or how big it was. The giant jellyfish off the coast of Scotland were probably the worst I’d say. I remember one night when the stinging had got so bad I was actually unable to sleep because of all the pain. I was sat in the cabin and had watched night turn to day when Matt poked his head and said ‘I’m so sorry mate, you’ve got to get back out there, the tides turned.” It definitely wasn’t the best moment, that’s for sure!
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Do I like night swims? I often reply with a quote from Martin Luther King "Only in the darkness can you see the stars" followed by a quote from William Shakespeare, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." Basically it's all perception #GreatBritishSwim 😊
What is your best memory from these 157 days spent at sea?
There’s so many, but if I were to pick two, it would be the final swim-in to Margate and then swimming with a Minke whale in the Bristol Channel. At the start of the swim it was just me and the Mayor of Margate. So to come back and to see how it had gathered so much momentum was amazing. The Bristol Channel where I was swam with a Minke whale for around five miles was also pretty incredible. When it first breached I was quite alarmed so I called to Matt to ask what I should do. But he said it was harmless and to keep swimming. Apparently it took me for an injured seal and was actually guiding to be the shallower waters of Wales.
Which top tips would you give to anyone who dreams about setting off on an ocean swimming adventure but who doesn’t know where to start in terms of planning and preparation?
Be naïve enough to start, but stubborn enough to finish. With the Great British Swim, I don’t think I quite realised how big it actually was, but once started it was all about focusing on the process. The Royal Marines gave me some great advice to focus on the process, and not the finish, putting on arm in front of the other for 12 hours a day every day and this was so important to help me continue along this incredible journey for 5 months. And finally, building the right team around you is so important, and I was lucky enough to have a great team around me supporting me every day for 157 days.
Now that you have gone all around Britain, is it true Scotland is the most beautiful part of the UK (my husband is Scottish)? 🙂
I’ll say yes as otherwise I might get in trouble with your husband!
And to finish off, a question you probably get asked all the time: what is your next challenge?
After being at sea for so long, the biggest challenge now is learning to walk again! My biggest fear when I was coming out of the water and back onto the beach was that I was going to fall over. As I’ve not stepped foot on land for over five months, the tendons and ligaments in my feet have been asleep, so I basically have to learn to walk again. But in terms of bigger thinking, and I know this will sound weird, but I’m still not bored of swimming. A few big swims have been mentioned and this is probably the most ‘swim-fit’ I’ll ever be, so we’ll just have to wait and see.