In September 2016, British Endurance Swimmer Beth French will commence her world record setting challenge to swim the Oceans Seven in one year. She will be swimming to highlight the relationship humans have with our fragile but vital oceans, looking at environmental issues in the marine ecology as she goes.
French is no stranger to overcoming incredible challenges. In 1993 ME had caused her to be wheelchair bound, but she recovered after almost a decade since contracting this debilitating syndrome. As such, she has, “different parameters for coping.”
Her previous swims include, the English Channel, the Molokai Channel – a British female first and the 26 mile Scilly Island Channel from Cornwall to St Mary’s – a world first. A Lotus Rises spoke to French about this incredible challenge and the power of mind over matter both in and out of the water.
This is EPIC! What inspired you to undertake this challenge?
I concocted the mad notion that I could swim all oceans seven channels in a year when I was up a gum tree, about 5miles from completing my solo crossing of the Molokai channel in Hawaii.
A couple of miles earlier, I had hit a wall… Recent heart-break meant I fell off the wagon psychologically, and I’d been beating my pain into the water for about 7hrs before that. My left elbow had twinged previously and all of a sudden, I couldn’t move it at all. My left shoulder froze- I could no longer get it out of the water to swim front crawl, nor could I put any resistance through it via breaststroke.
But this channel swimming lark is not for the faint hearted (or sane) so I one arm doggy paddled the last 7 miles, which with the Pacific swells, took me a further 12 hrs.
I’m not ashamed of holding the longest crossing of the Molokai channel to date- I swam for 24hrs 10mins, non stop. I realised that I loved channel swimming, but wanted more than an expensive day trip- I wanted to see if I knew how to drive my body well enough to recover quickly for the next one…. And the next one…
Having recovered from ME, which is relentless, I have different parameters for coping, I guess.
What order will you complete the swims? What are the logistical challenges?
The order I am attempting the channels is to begin with the north channel from Ireland to Scotland. I want that one in the bag – It’ll be the coldest and I don’t want to have to attempt that without a full tank of gas. Then the Catalina channel in California, then the Molokai channel, the Cook Straits of New Zealand, the Straits of Gibraltar, Tsugaru channel in Japan and finishing with the English Channel in time for my 40th birthday.
How do you prepare physically? What does your training schedule look like and how will you avoid injury and ensure you have time to recover between swims?
Preparing for something like this is a pretty individual thing – I train a lot less than people expect, due to my ex ME health and hyper mobility.
I can’t train twice a day, or even every day like some competitive pool swimmers. I’m a single mum, which actually helps with the mental training and dealing with sleep deprivation, so they are not new experiences. I have a very physical job, 9hrs of deep tissue massage back to back 3 days a week and I’ll go train after at least one of them to really get the endurance going.
I sporadically torture myself with random sets of say, an hour and a half legs only, or towing my son in a dinghy in the sea.
You use what you have, so I get my son to sit on my hips and do lengths of front crawl with a 7yr old on me- great resistance training and efficient use of time.
Avoiding injury would be nice- because of my job I am pretty clued up with body mechanics so I go to the gym a couple of times a week to work on specific areas that need strengthening.
I also avoid over training. In this kind of event, one channel becomes training for the next, so it’s a perpetual taper once you are in it.
You were ordained as a Buddhist nun. Please can you describe the relationship between your meditation practice and swimming. In particular, the importance of mindset for endurance swims.
In my 20’s when I was wandering the world learning different indigenous answers to ME, I ordained as a Buddhist nun in Thailand in order to intensively study vipasanna meditation, which has been popularised as mindfulness.
The mind is such an incredible weapon, but without training it easily works against us. The monastery was such an amazing experience and taught me so much about inner strength.
Swimming is a dichotomy of sensory deprivation and overload at the same time. You are forced to come face to face with your internal workings both physically and mentally and it is invariably your emotions that end a swim. You are immersed in your experiences moment to moment so you have to have a really strong grip on how you handle highs and lows to ride them out regardless in order to keep going.
Euphoria may feel great, but allow it to bubble up too much and you’ll be exhausted the next minute or hit a depression and slump. Learning to shepherd your emotional state means you can channel anything back into your swim.
After 6hrs, you rely on your mind about 50%, I reckon. After 12 hrs it goes up to 65% mind, then when you are talking 20+ hrs, I’d say 80% is mental. Think it and your body will follow.
As you know, at A Lotus Rises we are working in partnership with the International Institute of Swim Cake Studies (IISCS), on a global research project to answer the question: What is the best cake for optimum swim performance? Please can you help us with this critical research – What is your cake of choice for your Oceans 7 Challenge?
I am happy to help with this important research. My cake of choice is a malt chocolate coconut fudge brownie. You can read a blog post I wrote about that on my website here.
What’s your favourite swim spot and swimming cossy?
My favourite swim spot in the world is kealakekua bay on the big island of Hawaii. The water is so stunningly clear, spinner dolphins come in to play and it’s utter heaven.
In England, I think you’d have a hard job beating the Isles of Scilly. Gin clear water, stunning scenery.
My fave cozzie is a metallic fish scale print little number by the finals. I’ve seen an awesome one that has your internal organs printed on it- would love to get my hands on that! I enjoy a collection of novelty hats too, including a minion one that says have a nice day of the back of it and a good old candy skull one.
Thank you Beth and thank you for letting us be part of your wonderful adventure!
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