On Saturday the 16th of October 2021 Michael Coates and Nathan Jones set a new world record for swimming 26.2 miles on what has been called ‘The most brutal one-day swimming challenge on the planet’. In 10 degree water the pair set out from West of Boveney Lock and proceeded to swim the running marathon distance to Teddington Lock, some 17 hours later. Due to the lack of rain fall in October the river flow was almost zero resulting in this relentless swim challenge.
• What does swimming mean to you and what inspired you to do the challenge? MC – This is an answer of several parts. Firstly, i love to swim long distances as it clears and allows my brain to relax and almost meditate myself to a calmer state. Secondly, it toughens me up both psychologically and physically. Especially when the water is cold. Thirdly, the inspiration behind the challenge came from our good friend (who was also part of the support crew on the day) who ran a marathon in his hotel room (corner-to-corner, not on a treadmill). He raised a lot of money for charity that day. It was simple, local to his location, cheap to do, something no one has done before and extremely effective. This was out blueprint. NJ – Swimming for me is all about getting better and being the best version of myself. After breaking my back several years ago i needed to find a sport that supported my recovery physically. But without realising it i needed sport to help my recover psychologically . Low impact events have been great but swimming (different distances including in the Invictus games) has allowed me the time and space to develop my physical and mental fitness.
• What were the conditions like during the challenge and how did you cope with the lower temperatures after the swim was postponed from September to October? NJ – September water temperatures were around 16-18 degrees and outside temperatures 23-24 degrees with overnight temps about 15 degrees. This is what we were expecting on the original date of 11th Sept 2021, but Michael tested positive for a certain virus 3 days before the event so we had to postpone. Due to work and family commitments the next available date was the 16th of October. We now faced water temperatures of between 10-12, outside temp of 16 (max) and overnight temps as low as 8 degrees. This was now a different beast altogether. MC – The challenge had gone from a swim event to a test of survival. The plan was pretty basic. Keep the swim stroke and effort sustainable, increase it if and when we had to (to stay warm), eat and drink regularly and don’t stop for longer than we have to. We had to walk through 9 separate locks along the route, we gave ourselves 5 minutes on each lock. This was too hydrate, take on food and sort any admin out. You would think having this rest was a positive but when you’re out the water not swimming, your core body temperature start plummeting. Our cold management system was simple…. Get out, Dryrobe on, shoes on, 500ml of oat milk, noodles, soup and something high calorie get back in the water (usually i would then crack a ‘joke’ to the support crew about how this part of the river was warmer than the other part. Small things) and start swimming again.
• What kept you feeling motivated throughout the 26.2 miles? NJ – I was suffering quite a bit from the temperature (i had come down with a cough and cold 2 days prior) and it was a real psychological battle to keep going. I wanted to stop all the time. However, i had a job to do so keeping going was the only option. This was never going to be easy. We had raised a lot of money, had the best support team around us and i knew Michael was going through it as well, although he seemed quite chipper during our food breaks. Motivation is a funny one when you a ‘suffering’, the suffering almost becomes the motivation. MC – Motivation is a funny word. Before it was through fear of failure and letting myself down. Raising funds was always on my mind beforehand and certainly afterwards, But motivation throughout the 26.2 miles was a case of looking after each other and not thinking too much. Whats happening right now, when am i feeding next and pretty much nothing else. Like Nathan said, we had a job to do. • Did you have any concerns leading up to the challenge? MC – The temperature was our main concern. The fact it had dropped so much from the original date was playing on our minds but we couldn’t do anything about that so we worked on the things we could control – Making sure we had the right equipment, food and support crew. NJ – The water temperature was certainly at the forefront but then developing a cough and cold myself was then a real individual concern. Knowing that this was the last viable weekend we could do it meant i had to get on with it. Little infections and viruses have never been such a problem on smaller physical events but on something like this, well it wears you down quicker.
• How did it feel once the challenge was completed? MC & NJ – Relief. MC – With these kinds of challenges, you’re never happy to finish, you’re just relieved you’ve achieved it. Thats not to say you don’t become happy in the minutes after finishing but that moment is just a shared relief. NJ – It’s been with us for 3 months (planning/training etc) and the fundraising had increased a lot during the day so the pressure was on. Think we are both now very content with our 26.2 mile swim. We had some low points and we both agreed we were on a hypothermic knife edge all. This was certainly a serious case of type 2 fun. No enjoyment throughout the 26 miles but I know we will be laughing about it for years to come.
• What are the importance of the charities you are raising money for by completing the swim challenge and how can the money help them? MC – We decided to raise funds for 3 separate charities. 1. Unicef UK 2. ACT International 3. Canal & River Trust Two of the three charities support children who are and/or have experienced conflict. Myself and Nathan both come from the Military community and appreciate that children in conflict are the most vulnerable people on the planet. This money will pay for therapy, food, shelter and well as other humanitarian endeavours. NJ – Our third charity is the Canal & River Trust. I believe that our waterways can and do have such a positive impact on our physical, emotional, social and mental fitness. Not to mention the ecological power they bring. We wanted to support CRT to ensure we all get the best possible chance of enjoying and thriving in nature. CRT look after and bring back to life 2000 miles of waterways. From servicing locks and protecting heritage brides as well as cleaning, clearing and connecting wildlife habits.
STATS per swimmer:
26.2 miles of swimming
40,000 front crawl strokes
9 Locks negotiated
10,000+ calories burnt
Lots of calories consumed
No tummy bugs
At least £7500 raised for charity