Ross Edgley prepares to enter the English Channel on his Great British Swim
© Harvey Gibson/Red Bull Content Pool

Everything you need to know about Ross Edgley's Great British Swim

It's official: Ross Edgley is now the first person to swim around mainland Great Britain after completing his odyssey in 157 days. Before setting off, Ross told us the method behind his madness...
Written by Joe Ellison
9 min readPublished on
On November 4, 2018, Ross Edgley — he of such previous feats as rope climbing the height of Everest — did something nobody expected. Or at least something nobody expected him to finish. He became the first person to swim around mainland Britain, powering around the entire shoreline in 157 days.
Sleeping on his support boat, Ross had to overcome swarms of jellyfish, shivering temperatures, busy shipping lanes and even parts of his tongue falling on his pillow (salt water will do that). Swimming an average of 12 hours a day and consuming 10-15,000 calories, Ross inspired so many people that he even had 300 swimmers join him on his final mile in Margate. It's enough to bring a lump to the throat (though in Ross' case that might be another chunk of tongue).
"It's the equivalent of swimming the English Channel every day,” he said days before his trip, his eyebrows narrowing as if he still had to register the sheer insanity of what was come. "But I know my body can take it; I know I can be the first person in history to achieve it."
He wasn't wrong. Others may have doubted him, but not so the man himself. So, to mark Ross making history, let's go back to the very start and revisit that pre-Great British Swim chat....

“I’ve got unfinished business in the water"

Fortunately, Ross won't need both types of trunks this time around

Fortunately, Ross won't need both types of trunks this time around

© Red Bull Content Pool

"In early 2017 I attempted to swim from Martinique to St Lucia while tied to a tree. I’d aimed to swim 40km point to point, but the current was totally against me and kept dragging me back. Even though I didn't reach the shore, I actually swam over 100km in the end. While the athlete in me was happy with that, the adventurer in me had unfinished business. So I phoned up the Royal Marines when I returned to the UK and asked if I could swim for 48 hours straight, just to see what I’ve got in the locker. The swim went really well and I hit 126km. One of the Marines mentioned the idea of swimming around the entirety of Britain – something that’s never been done before – and I thought, 'why not?'" I also can’t write a book and call it The World's Fittest Book without being able to back it up in a big way!"

“I want to complete the swim in 100 days”

"By looking at my swim metrics and comparing them to people who’d rowed around the entirety of Great Britain, I was able to estimate 100 days as a target. Oddly enough, in very bad conditions, my open water swimming times are the same as those of the rowers. A friend of mine named Sean Conway once swam the length of Great Britain in 135 days. I’m looking to do more than double that distance in less time."
It’s going to be a game of chess with Mother Nature - you can swim hard, but you need to swim smart.
Ross Edgley

"I can't touch the shore once"

"I can't touch the shore, not even once; it needs to be done in the spirit of a true adventure. For the best output. I’ll need minimal waves, predictable currents, feeding stations along the way – we’re working with RNLI and the coastguards for those – and mundane weather, enough sun exposure to warm up the sea but not enough to get frazzled. The weather and the tides have to play ball."

“I’ll need to swim at least 6 hours every day”

Ross in training

Ross in training

© Ross-E

"In theory, the tide changes every six hours, and in one day you have two six-hour periods to swim when the tide is with you. The true test is asking yourself if you’re prepared to swim every time the tide changes, whether that’s midday when the sun is beating down on your back, or the middle of the night when it’s pouring down with six foot waves. Are you going to get in and swim and keep clocking those miles? We can predict the tides but not the weather, which could make conditions non-swimmable. But there will be periods around the coastline where I may get the tide with me, or at least current neutral, for about 30 hours."
I'm doing this challenge to encourage people to do what they love and not worry about body aesthetics. It's about getting fit for purpose.
Ross Edgley

“My body will break down at sea”

"A lot of experienced open water swimmers have told me that my skin will eventually reject being in salt water for such a long time. I got a taste of this during my 48-hour swim with the Marines, where my hands and feet pruned - essentially I got trench foot. What’s more, being in a wetsuit for months on end will probably mean I develop sores. Hopefully these turn to calluses, otherwise the pain could be unbearable under my armpits and parts where the wetsuit rubs. My body’s going to break down at sea, I know that but I must be mentally ready."

“It’s a game of chess with Mother Nature”

"To do this sort of challenge I need the ability to swim 50km day and night, powering through 10ft waves. But if the currents are against me I have no chance. The GB rowing challenge, which follows the same route, is labelled as the world’s toughest rowing race on account of the tides, unpredictability and weather. It also follows roughly the same route I will be on. When I told its organisers I’d be swimming it they told me I was crazy. “If you get it wrong around The Highlands you’ve eight knots coming against you," they said. "So even if you are swimming two to three knots, an Olympic level, you’ll still be going back four knots.” It’s basically going to be a game of chess with Mother Nature – you can swim hard, but you need to swim smart."

“I have different-sized wetsuits to account for weight loss”

"We’re doing it in the spirit of open water swimming – no buoyancy aids, gloves only needed during cold periods. The only advantage I’ll have is a collection of swim suits tailored for estimated weight loss, ranging from full Ross, to emaciated Ross 60 or so days in, when I’ll have shifted a few stone. My legs will probably atrophy first. I won’t be using them, they’ll probably shrivel – kicking your legs account for only 10 per cent overall propulsion, even with Olympic swimmers. We’ll also be taking a picture of me each day, so people can see my body’s transformation as I go."

"My biggest test comes right after Land’s End"

"Early on, Weymouth gets a bit cheeky for tough waves, and we’ve already spoken about having some smaller support boats on standby for me in Land’s End, where the waters are so bad they may not be able to get out to me. But it's just after Land’s End when I’ll face possibly the biggest decision of the entire trip: do I hug the coastline and go around Wales, the shorter route, or do I make a beeline and go over to Ireland, where the waves might be more favourable and predictable? We'll have to assess the currents and weather when it comes to it."
If I misjudge the currents I'll swim around Great Britain, just in the opposite direction
"Scotland will be choppy, too. There are so many currents between the islands and the mainland that if I get it wrong I'm going backwards. If I get it right, it’s stunning, the coastline up there is amazing and it’ll be the best experience of your life, but if I get it wrong it could be the worst. One sailor told me that if I misjudge the currents I'll swim around Great Britain, just in the opposite direction."

“It’s a team effort”

"It’s not a solo mission at all, it’s a team event, and the captain of my boat is going to be my hero. He will plot everything – he has all the tidal maps, all the electronic versions, all over the boat. I’ll also be plotting where I am on a map every day to boost morale. When you’re out at sea and all you can see is the bottom of the sea bed, it’s very easy to lose track of where you are. So it’ll be nice to clamber back on the boat and see that I’ve made progress."
"Ultimately, when you’re fatigued you have the cognitive function of a 5-year-old, so I'll be like ‘point me in the right direction and let me know when I’ve got to change'."

“I’m going to need to eat smart”

2 min

The amazing 15,000-calorie Strongman Swimming Diet

How did Ross fuel his Strongman Swimming attempts? With food… a lot of food! Explore what a 15,000 calorie-per-day diet looks like.

"One lesson I learnt on my swim in St Lucia is that most conventional energy gels only deliver 30 grams of carbohydrates, which isn’t enough. The solution is to use piping bags you make a cake with, which we’ll fill with custard, curries and what have you as I bite the end off and pump the food into my face. I’m also hamstrung by the amount of space we have on the boat. We have to fit the most calorie and carb-dense foods we can store in the least space possible. You can’t take thousands of bags of chicken wings, so I’ll have whey protein, and for carbs, nut butters, coconut oil, foods void of texture and taste. It’s about eating smart."

“I’ll grow a beard to protect me from jellyfish”

"Wildlife is always a danger when you're isolated in the sea. Giant jellyfish are a particular worry. I won’t shave. Because you’re leading with the head and the face will be most exposed, any protection, like a big beard, will help. I'll try and grow it so by the time I get up to Scotland it's fairly rugged. I’ll also encounter sea otters, dolphins and killer whales along the way, which I’m actually looking forward to. It’ll help break things up for me and be an incredible privilege to see."

"I’ll sleep twice a day"

For the challenge to be a success Ross will need favourable weather

For the challenge to be a success Ross will need favourable weather

© Red Bull Content Pool

"Bi-phasic sleep, otherwise known as the practice of sleeping during two periods over 24 hours, will come in handy. It’ll be swimming for six hours, sleeping for six hours, and vice versa, so you never really get eight hours. I’ve been talking to ultra-runners and people who’ve rowed the Atlantic, and they all say, all of this, you just do on the day. It’s a baptism of fire. You just adapt. During the St Lucia swim Red Bull kept me going."

“My goal is to encourage people to get fit for purpose"

"All going well, my challenge encourages people to do what they love and let Mother Nature take care of your physiology. It’s about being fit for purpose. From an aesthetic perceptive, at the end of the race will my body get on the front of a fitness magazine? Probably not, but will it be a body that will help you swim around Great Britain? I hope so."