Most people will never swim a mile (64 lengths), so the thought of swimming 100 consecutive miles is incomprehensible, but that’s exactly what endurance swimmer, Sarah Thomas did in August last year. She swam further than anyone had ever swum before without the aid of currents.
What kind of dedication and training does it take to accomplish an incredible feat like this? Most days, Sarah Thomas gets up at 5am to train and swims 5-6000m before going to work. I’m not a competitive swimmer, but I swim quite a lot and I’ve only ever swum 5000m three times. However, even a strong swimmer will take over an hour to complete 5000m swimming at race pace. It took Thomas three days and nights to cover 104 miles, nonstop. She had to stay awake for 67 hours. “Not sleeping was the hardest part,” she admits.
Another part of the challenge that cannot be overlooked is the need to stay fuelled and hydrated. The crew used a long pole to pass her caffeinated energy drinks at the twice-hourly feed stops — Marathon Swimming Federation rules forbid swimmers from touching the support boat. When Thomas had had enough of sports drinks they substituted her favourite food, risotto.
Thomas is a surprisingly modest swimmer. She doesn’t seek out publicity and many of her amazing feats of endurance swim (such as 2016’s 82-mile swim) have received little press coverage. She doesn’t even have a sponsor.
The longest-ever open water swim was 139.8 miles in the Adriatic by Veljko Rogosic, but his swim was current-assisted. There are currently only three swimmers who have completed “current-neutral” swims of 63 miles or more. Interestingly they are all female – possibly because women have a higher percentage of body fat which helps with buoyancy and insulation. (Official open-water swims do not allow wetsuits). An alternative theory is that women have increased confidence and mental strength when it comes to open-water swimming and have learnt that they are able to beat men.
Thomas did so well in her challenge that she caused herself a problem – she ended up so far ahead of schedule that she finished at night instead of in daylight. This meant that strip lights had to be set up to guide her into the slipway!
When asked about her future goals, Thomas responded, “I don’t think I’ll try to swim further… there are a lot of fun and challenging swims to do between one and 104 miles.”