Bárbara Hernández
FEATURES,  NEWS,  Training and Technique

How do you train for the Ocean’s Seven challenge?

Chilean marathon swimmer Bárbara Hernández Huerta shares a typical training day for the Ocean’s Seven challenge

Bárbara Hernández Huerta has completed the North Channel Swim as part of the Ocean’s Seven challenge. The marathon swimming challenge consists of seven open water channel swims, including the Cook Strait, the Molokaʻi Channel, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, the Tsugaru Strait and the Strait of Gibraltar.

Her fifth ocean in the challenge, Bárbara finished the gruelling North Channel swim in 12 hours and 18 minutes. The crossing between Northern Ireland and Scotland is considered by many to be the toughest of the Ocean Seven swims, due to its cold temperatures, competing tides and currents and notorious lion’s mane jellyfish.

Leading up to her North Channel swim, Bárbara admits she felt nervous, but excited. “I was feeling confident about all the training I’d done and the years of preparation prior to this swim. I thought (I knew) it would be cold. I was also aware of the jellyfish and the distance in the context of very low temperatures, leading to prolonged hypothermia.”

Compared with her other Ocean’s Seven challenges, Bárbara said the North Channel was one of the toughest, due to the exposure to low temperatures. She suffered cold cramps as a result of hypothermia, which lasted for 12 hours after the swim.

We caught up with Bárbara after the North Channel to ask her about her typical training day, how she plans her nutrition for marathon swimming and how she recovers between swims.

What time do you wake up on a typical training day?

I wake up every day from Monday to Saturday at 5am. From 6am I swim, with the volume and intensity of the training depending on my coach. He plans and thinks about our upcoming challenges and the training I should do – whether that’s aquatic marathons like the Ocean’s Seven, or ice swims like the Glaciers. I tend to swim about 10 kilometres each day, as well as partaking in other physical activity.

What do you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

I have been fortunate to work with a nutritionist for years who advises me on what I should eat and at what times. Everyone is different, but I’m the kind of swimmer who eats their breakfast before swimming. As soon as I wake up, I’m often having oatmeal granola with fruit, vegan yogurt and honey. To drink, I’ll just have a big glass of water.

After my training, I will have a protein shake, followed by either fruit or bread with some avocado. When it comes to lunch, I’ll prioritise vegan proteins. Later, I’ll have a mid-afternoon snack. In the late afternoon/early evening, I’ll eat something light with plenty of proteins and carbohydrates. The key for me is hydration! I’ll make sure I drink at least three litres of water each day.

How do you plan your Ocean’s Seven challenge training each day?

My coach organises all my training and planning for each day. It is often around three hours a day of swimming, which involves different types of work. There is always a warm-up, an intense swim and then I’ll have an easier warm down to finish. A key to swimming training for long hours is making sure you warm up and warm down appropriately. My dryrobe® is perfect for that both before and after my swim. Afterwards, we’ll go to the gym for some body work.

How do you recover between swims?

I started doing physiotherapy. It’s been game-changing; I haven’t had an injury since. I tend to go either once a week or every two weeks. It depends on a few factors; whether it’s the intensity of the training sessions, or my physio might have their own recommendations.

What do you do in your spare time?

Aside from swimming, I’m a psychologist and so I am often giving motivational talks. I love trying to inspire others. So along with my team, I like visiting swimming clubs back home in Chile and sharing my experiences of the open waters. I want to inspire and motivate others to take on their own adventures and understand the thrills of it, while I also want to raise awareness around looking after our planet. Away from swimming and motivational talks, I love having time to myself where I’ll read, or go to the cinema or spend time with my dogs.

Are you strict when it comes to your diet?

When it comes to food, I’m not actually that strict. I’m a firm believer in creating healthy habits, forming a good relationship with my own body and having that control to eat and drink what I want to.

Bárbara Hernández Huerta is an ambassador for dryrobe®, the world’s most advanced change robe. Read about Bárbara’s swim across the Moloka’i Channel.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.