Extreme Swims – including Land’s End to John O’Groats and The Amazon #SwimmingWeek

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Lewis Pugh high res
Most of us are happy to plod up and down our local swimming pool for a few laps. Or maybe if we are feeling really adventurous heading off for a quick dip in the sea. But what if you really want a swimming challenge to impress your mates?

Here we look at six of the most extreme swims ever attempted. And four more which are just a little more achievable for those of us who don’t want to risk getting eaten by sharks or losing our fingers from frost bite!

Martin Strel1) The Amazon (yes all of it from Peru to Brazil)
Distance: 5,269km
Time: 66 days
Dangers: Piranhas, alligators, sharks, snakes, whirlpools, tidal waves, armed bandits and Amazonian women!

If you think from end of Tooting Bec Lido to the other is a long way spare a thought for completely bonkers Slovenian Martin Strel who back in 2007 swam the entire length of the Amazon – that’s longer than the width of the Atlantic. Swimming over 50 miles a day and drinking up to two bottles of Slovenian wine to ‘keep him going’ he had to combat dizziness, nausea and diarrhoea along the way. Nicknamed The Big River Man, he has also swum The Danube, Mississippi and Yangtze rivers.

Diana Nyad2) Cuba to Florida (without a shark cage)
Distance: 180km
Time: 52hrs
Dangers: Sharks, jellyfish, sunburn

You have to be utterly nuts to swim this crossing from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, but that’s exactly what Diana Nyad did (finally) in 2013. What’s even more impressive is that Diana was 64 at the time and had previously attempted the swim on four previous occasions, starting way back in 1978. As well as the very real prospect of being eaten by sharks, Nyad also had to fend off vicious jellyfish which had curtailed her previous attempts. To do this, she wore a specially designed silicone mask, full bodysuit, gloves and booties. And she still got stung really badly!

Lynne Cox3) Bering Strait
Distance: 4.3Km
Time: 2hrs 5minutes
Danger: Hypothermia, poor visibility due to fog

Born in 1957, American Lynne Cox has a fine heritage in low temperature, long distance swimming. Aged just 15, she crossed the English Channel smashing both the women’s and men’s record. However, she’s probably best known for her 1987 swim of the Bering Strait from Alaska to the former Soviet Union – a swim that is credited with easing the Cold War tensions between Reagan and Gorbachev. Unfortunately she faced a cold war all of her own wearing just a swimsuit in temperatures as low as 3 degrees centigrade. Since then, she has also tackled the Antarctic, swimming just under 2Km across the South Pole.

Lewis Pugh 24) North Pole
Distance: 1km
Time: 19 minutes
Dangers: Hypothermia, frostbite, polar bears
Eco-campaigner Lewis Pugh – known as the Human Polar Bear – swam The North Pole back in 2007 to highlight the issue of the melting Arctic Ice Caps. To do this he battled temperatures as low as 1.8 degrees centigrade in only a pair of Speedos – not even a wetsuit. He described the pain from the cold as being like his back was on fire. Three years later he completed a similar swim across a glacial lake in Mount Everest and he’s also completed long distance swims in every Ocean across the world. Now that’s hard core.

david-cornthwaite-702x3365) Lower Missouri River
Distance: 1600Km
Time: 58 days
Dangers: Shopping trolleys, toxins, submerged logs, barges

Part of a series of 25 challenges of over 1000 miles without using motorised transport, this adventure saw Dave Cornthwaite swimming for up to 14 hours a day from Chamberlain, South Dakota to St Louis, Missouri. Towing his gear on a raft donated by British swimmer, Haydn Welch, it took one month for Cornthwaite to cover the first 180 miles of the journey and one more month to cover the next 820 miles. However, Cornthwaite was regularly sick throughout the expedition, sometimes up to once a minute during the last week of the epic swim! And in some parts he could see only three inches ahead of him, so a team of paddle boarders led the way. 

Sean Conway's luxurious red beard helped prevent jellyfish stings

6) Length of Britain
Distance: 1400Km
Time: 135 days
Dangers: Cold waters, jellyfish, 7m waves

When Sean Conway announced he was going to swim from Lands End to John O’Groats not many people gave him any chance. A small, skinny man, best known for cycling around world, he was by no means an expert swimmer. But he did it through sheer determination. Starting on 30th June 2013, he completed the swim on November 11. Out of the 135 days, he swam for 90, resting up for the remaining period due to bad weather. During the epic swim, he had to contend with terrible tides and temperatures as low as 14 degrees. On the plus side, at least he was able to grow a luxurious red beard which helped to prevent jellyfish stings!

And four swims that are a little more achievable….

1) English Channel – Since Captain Matthew Webb first crossed the English Channel in 1875 thousands of people have travelled in his footsteps from England to France (though interestingly less have crossed The Channel than climbed Everest). The swim requires a great deal of preparation both mentally and physically with swimmers having to cope with low temperatures (between 14 and 18 degrees centigrade even in summer) as well as difficult tides and lots of ships!

3) Alcatraz to San Francisco – Three prisoners escaped the ‘The Rock’ in 1962, never to be found.  Now you can recreate your own prison break, but hopefully without disappearing. It’s not a long way (around 1.5 miles),  but factor in strong currents, cold, choppy water and the risk of a shark attack (albeit very small) then it becomes a whole lot more challenging.

2) Hellespont –  This traditional swim race, which crosses the Hellespont in Turkey, takes place annually on the 30th August. This date commemorates the final victory for the Turks in the Turkish War of Independence in 1922 against the Greeks. In 1810, Lord Byron the English Poet became the first known person to swim across the Hellespont. He swam it in honour of Leander, who in Greek Mythology, would swim nightly across this stretch of water to his lover Hero.

4) Great Scottish Swim, Loch Lomond, Scotland – Those interested in dipping their toes into open water swimming should check out the British Gas sponsored Great Swims that take place all over the UK. The events attract thousands of participants but distances are relatively modest. Pick of the bunch is the Great Scottish Swim that takes place in Loch Lomond on August 23rd over 0.5miles, 1 mile and 2 mile distances. For more info go to http://www.greatswim.org/Events/Great-Scottish-Swim