Endurance athlete Ross Edgley swims from Martinique to St Lucia… with a twist.
From climbing a rope the height of Mount Everest to running a marathon while pulling a MINI, Ross Edgley is no stranger to the extreme.
But the 32-year-old’s latest challenge is one he billed his toughest yet, swimming over 100 kilometres in jellyfish and shark-infested waters between the Caribbean Islands of Martinique and St Lucia while pulling a 45-kilogram log. Here he talks about that ultimate challenge.
The thinking behind the challenge
When you’ve run 30 marathons in 30 days and completed other aforementioned challenges, Edgley admits to having to raise the bar with the next adventure.
But this challenge was born in another Caribbean-based project.
“About a year ago I did a triathlon carrying a tree on the island of Nevis to raise awareness of its eco-friendly project to become the first carbon-neutral island by 2020,” he explains. “I called it the world’s first Tree-athlon! People seemed to like it.”
So, he set out on a similar venture across the English Channel only for red tape to get in his way. Told he needed to be registered as a vessel to carry a tree, his response was “how do I become one?” to which they put the phone down. The Caribbean red tape was easier to tackle, and the idea was born.
How suited to the challenge
Edgley likes to joke that he is the first Strongman swimmer but the reality was a sports scientist told him he could not be less well suited to the rigours of distance swimming.
“I had a body scan and was told I had none of the physical attributes to be a swimmer,” he says. “I’m built like a Hobbit with short arms, I’m carrying 13kg more muscle so I’m less buoyant and I even have a dense skull”.
He was advised to lose as much muscle as possible but, with his own background in sports science, avoided such advice in order to keep his strength to lug the tree trunk along with him.
As he puts it: “I wasn’t trying to be a shark or a dolphin but to swim slow and pull something heavy for a long time. I’m more like a whale!”
More than the Michael Phelps diet
Twenty-three-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps famously had a 12,000-calorie-a-day diet, Edgley comfortably trumping that with 15,000 calories on a given day of heavy training.
That meant eating heavily before and during his marathon swims to keep up his strength. He likened it to “Christmas dinner when you’ve eaten so much you’re on the sofa and can’t move. Now imagine that with a tree across you in the Caribbean Sea”.
For him, the eating day would begin with a bowl of porridge with nut butter and protein mixed in although he was buying 25kg bags of oats at a time.
And at his local pool he would line up food such as bananas, fruit, rice pudding, homemade energy bars, coconut water, fruit loaf and chocolate at the end of the pool to eat every kilometre during his endurance training.
“When people asked what was good to eat, I’d say high calorie, some carbs, a little fat and something that you can eat in seven seconds,” the time it takes between waves hitting you in the Caribbean. “That’s weird but the reality of it.”
So he would set up food-piping bags filled with anything from rice pudding to curry and bite off seven seconds worth of food at a time.
The challenge itself
In all, Edgley swam a total of 102 kilometres in the challenge in 31 hours and 24 minutes over two separate swims, one of 61km and a second of 41km.
At one point, he swam solidly for three hours without getting anywhere so strong was the current he was facing. When told about it, “my reply was some pretty colourful language”.
There were magical moments of being accompanied by one dolphin for 5km to flying fish soaring above the log he carried to a time when he feared he was being chased by a shark of being stung in the face by jellyfish.
And with such rigours to face on a marathon swim, it’s understandable he calls it his hardest undertaking.
“I think this was the toughest because when I finally broke the height of Everest I knew if I kept awake and the body kept moving I’d finish that,” he says. “The same with the marathons but with the best intentions in the world with this mother nature might have other ideas.”