What a week for marathon/channel swimming!
Sarah Thomas, already holder of the longest current-neutral swim in the world at 104.6 miles (67 hours 16 minutes), went and changed what we thought about human endurance by swimming the English Channel four times in a row without stopping. Yes, dear reader(s), that means she entered the water from England, swam to France, turned around and swam back to England, turned around and swam back to France (at that point becoming only the fifth person to swim a triple), then turned around and swam back to England, where she finally got to lay down and rest.
No one has ever done this. Only four people had ever done a triple, and none of them got back in the water and even started to swim a fourth leg. Sarah swam straight for 54 hours and 10 minutes, and her comment at the end was “I’m pretty tired right now.” No crap!
Sarah is a powerful swimmer and one can see from the plots that she had some serious fights with the water during those 2+ days. English Channel rules for multiple legs require the swimmer to clear the water and immediately re-enter, but if any part of the swimmer is still in the water, the swimmer then has 10 minutes before they have to start swimming again. All other rules are the same: no one can touch the swimmer, swimmer can’t touch anyone else. But the swimmer’s support can hand them food, lanolin, etc, as long as the swimmer does everything herself.
Currents were such for the first leg that Sarah “landed” at a rock in France where all she could do was hang on; no beach to rest on for 10 minutes. She held onto the rock while her support swimmer, another incredible marathon swimmer named Elaine Kornblau Howley, handed her lanolin and cooked rice. But, as Sarah reflects in her after-action report, those 10 minutes were up pretty quickly and she was off on lap 2.
Lap 2 took Sarah back to England and again, because of currents (and some other swimmers starting their swims on the beach), she got pushed to a seawall and had to tap the wall, signifying end of lap 2 and start of lap 3. She was so looking forward to a moment of zen on the beach there but had to go straight back to work. But as those of us who follow this amazing swimmer have grown used to seeing, she was all business and continued her powerful swim.
It wasn’t until the end of lap 3 that Sarah finally got to rest, on a rock that she could sit on. Still not a beach. And after more than 36 hours of swimming.
Her 10 minutes up, Sarah headed out for lap 4, making history. Lap 4 sounds horrible, and I don’t know how the hell she did it. To see the video of her landing, one wonders how she could even hold herself up long enough to clear the water. And how she was still awake.
Sarah is an international star, especially in Britain. She’ll be back in the states this weekend and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her on the news in this country next week. She has in every media event lauded her crew as the reason she made it through. She’s an incredible swimmer but even more so, she recognizes that this is not an individual sport. None of us can make any of our swims without the support of awesome people who volunteer their time for our insane pursuits.
Sarah, because of her professionalism, openness about her swims, and strength, has earned the respect of everyone in the marathon swim community and is an example for other swimmers to follow, especially those who claim to follow the “fair, just, ethical and agreed-upon rules of our sport.”
Observant readers may wonder why I’ve linked every instance of Sarah‘s name in this post. Well, every single linked “Sarah” is a different news outlet telling the world about this incredible feat. To include foreign press, so you might be surprised at some of the links.