Strongman Swimmer Ross Edgley Invented A New Sport With His 100km Swim Between Islands Towing A 45kg Log

After doing a triathlon in St Nevis carrying a 45kg (100lb) log to raise awareness for conservation charities, Ross Edgely decided the next step was to invent Strongman Swimming and swim 100km from Martinique to St Lucia, while towing a log, in 31 hours – he revealed to RISING what he learnt…

1. You Can Hear Dolphins In The Dark ‘There were times when I was swimming in the middle of the night in complete darkness, you can’t hear anything and the ocean was so deep and so black that you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face, for hours. It was complete sensory deprivation so you would have to keep your mind occupied with good thoughts, because you start thinking: “what was that noise?” or “what was that out of the corner of my eye, a dolphin or a shark?”’

‘On the first swim, for about 10km during the day, the dolphins were 2m below me blowing bubbles in my face. They were so inquisitive! As it went pitch black I could still hear them speaking to each other, which kept me entertained but their voices didn’t change, which led me to believe there wasn’t a shark nearby. If they had started speaking a bit louder, or stopped all together I’d have been: “Right, what’s happening?”’

2. You Can Break Your Own Trail In Sport ‘I went to get a body scan and was told that I had no physical attributes to be a swimmer. They said: “You’re 9kg too heavy, you’ve got low body fat, which makes you less buoyant, you’ve got dense bones.” They even said I had a big, dense skull which made me like a torpedo heading down. The only good news was that I have ‘shapely female hips’ so I carry my fat around my hips and I’m more streamlined!’

‘I left the scan thinking that they were comparing me to a [competitive] swimmer but I was going for was endurance at sea, so holding this much muscle mass could be a benefit because I am holding more muscle glycogen [energy]. In the first 19-hour swim a leaner athlete would have to re-feed an awful lot where I was essentially like a whale that could slowly make his way. I kind of stuck two fingers up at sports science and said: “There is no blueprint for this.”

3. If You’re Going Long Then Don’t Use Your Legs ‘You can take this stored muscle glycogen in the form of a bigger frame and as long as you can efficiently move in the water, with a refined technique, I thought I was a better Strongman Swimmer as a result. I barely used my legs, one because they would get tied up with the rope I was pulling, and two because there are studies that show your leg kick only accounts for 10% of your propulsion through the water. I slowed the technique down to the point where you think: “This is embarrassingly slow – it’s not a spectator sport!”

You’ve got glide over the waves rather than punch a hole – you can’t wrestle the ocean for 100km

4. Towing A Log Can Be Mindful ‘You have to enter into this moving meditation. There were moments where I would have my eyes kind of closed, kind of open and then I would look at my watch and 2km had passed. You’re not ever going to be able to fight Mother Nature, the ocean, but you can at best learn to dance with her. You have got to learn to glide over the waves rather than punch a hole through them. You can do that for a few kilometers but you can’t wrestle the ocean for 100km. Even with that, when the swell got up the waves hammered me so hard my face looked like I’d been in a fight – more like a boxer than a swimmer!’

5. A Jellyfish Swarm Looks Like Seaweed ‘It sounds contradictory because you’re trying to be relaxed, smooth, comfortable and almost meditative but at the same time not completely disassociated from what’s going on, because you might swim past a shark. I was told to look out for what seems to be seaweed but it could just be a collection of jellyfish, and if you’re just swimming along and don’t spot that then you’re just going to swim right into the middle of the swarm. At best it would have been a jellyfish, at worst a Portuguese Man Of War and you just don’t want to be stung by one of those!’

6. The Royal Marines Know The Secrets Of Endurance ‘I got to sit down with the coaching staff at the Royal Marines. A lot of people think it’s all just “Man Up! Crack On!” but I asked them how do you systematically break down that mental fortitude. How do you keep going? And what was amazing was that they were able to say, at any given point, what you should be telling your brain and how you should be running your body.’

‘They told me when you are completely fatigued, seeing stars and your arms are barely coming out of the water, you have the cognitive capacity of a five-year-old so if someone is shouting across from the boat saying: “Longer strokes Ross and tilt your head at this angle,” you’re going to be like: “Whaaat? Just give me one instruction!”’

‘The Royal Marines also told me about the ‘aggregation of efficiency’. How you swim in the first kilometre of what eventually turned into 100km, will have a profound effect on how you swim in the 70th kilometre, because it’s that aggregation of efficiency. If you have a poor technique then you will be able to get away with it for 5km or 10km, but there will come a point where it catches up with you and your body will just say no.’

7. You Need Massively Tactical Calories ‘Towing the log is such a different sensation – the only way I can describe is it’s like swimming but imagine a friend pulling you with a rope, going: “Pull me as well!” The energy requirements once you add a tree are tenfold – it was an eating competition with a little bit of swimming! On a really hard training day I was eating 15,000 calories. Your body can only absorb so many carbohydrates but when you look at the intricacies of fats like medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and not just coconut oil... With pure MCT powder it’s higher in capric and caprilic acid, which are MCTs that are more easily converted into ATP, the molecular energy in the muscles. It’s not 15,000 calories of pizza and fried chicken! There’s a real science to eating 15,000 calories.’

8. Success Is Process Not Outcome ‘A lot of people just focus on the outcome. For me the outcome was the beach, miles away. When you’re treading water, looking at where you need to go and 5ft waves are crashing over the top of you, you could just get completely disheartened if you’re looking miles away and asking how far you’ve got. More people need to focus on the process and putting one hand in front of the other as efficiently as possible. Do that ten times, then a hundred times and eventually you will achieve the outcome just by focussing on the process.’

In big swell I would have to fend the log off with my feet – I lost a few toenails to the Caribbean!

9. The Log Can Overtake You ‘When the swell was up and I was picking up speed on the downside of a wave the log would sometimes speed up and catch up with me. Sometimes it would actually overtake me but other times I had to fend it off with my feet. If that happened it would often rip a toenail off – I lost a few toenails in the Caribbean!’

10. Being A Pioneer Is Rewarding ‘It’s essentially a whole new sport – normally if you want to play any sport there’s a how-to guide and experienced coaches or former athletes. With this I was speaking to elite swimmers who were a great help but they swim 10km only, and I’m an odd body shape. We also had ‘Project Log Optimisation’: How do you tie the tree? How best to drag it? There were points on Windermere where it was going horizontal and it was killing me!’

‘By carrying more muscle mass than an ordinary swimmer I believe that I was almost turning into this ‘human whale’ because I had an advantage when it came to endurance – I wasn’t eating as often and I could store more muscle glycogen.’

‘No one had a blueprint and I got a real kick out of creating one. It’s about having an idea and then deconstructing it, and asking how we do it. That was the most rewarding thing about the whole experience. Because sport is so well studied I get a kick out of doing these things beyond sport.’

WHAT NEXT? Find about how Ross Edgley prepared for 24 Hours Of Sport.

Strongman Swimming launches on the 5th Feb

Follow the writer @Mattfitnessray