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Sean Conway talks about rafts, unsupported swims and using tidal currents

On 1 April 2016 Sean Conway will set off on his around Britain triathlon. Starting at Lulworth Cove he will cycle clockwise around the British coast until he reaches Scarborough. From there he will run to Brighton where he will plunge into the sea and swim back to his starting location, hopefully sometime in June. Sean previously swam the length of Britain, has cycled around the world and ran from John O’Groats to Land’s End. This time, he’s put all three sports together for one continuous adventure challenge.

H2Open: What’s your overall vision for this challenge?

Sean: I’ve already done separate swim, bike and run challenges. I love all three activities and so wanted something where I could put them all together and take it up a level. The bike ride is longer than Race Across America, I’ll be running almost the length of England and I believe the swim will be the longest ever unsupported swim.

H2Open: How did you decide on the distance for each leg of the ‘triathlon’?

Sean: The total distance is around 4500 miles and I’ve divided it up in the same proportions as a regular Ironman. However, I’ve changed the order as I didn’t want to be in the sea in April. Even in June it will be cold but I want to finish on the swim.

H2Open: How will the swim work?

Sean: My intention is to start each day shortly after high tide and swim until low tide. When the tide is going out, the tidal current in the English Channel travels from East to West so will help me along the way. The downside is that I will probably have wind against tide (as the prevailing wind is West to East) and that may make it choppy. I expect to stop and come ashore every hour or so for something to eat and drink, to warm up and to stretch my legs. And, of course, I’ll be towing everything with me in my home-made raft. 

Sean Conway 254

H2Open: Tell us more about the raft.

Sean: I’ve built it using double-glazing roofing plastic from my neighbour’s boat (he was about to throw it away). It’s got a “V” shaped hull, like a rowing boat, and it’s fully enclosed with a deck hatch in the top that I got from ebay. I’d say it’s about 1.2m long, 40cm wide and 20cm deep.

H2Open: How will you get the boat to the Brighton?

Sean: Two weeks or so before I get there, I will phone my mum and ask her to post it to a local bike shop!

H2Open: What goes into the raft?

Sean: Tent, sleeping bag, travel stove, casual clothes, food, water, flip flops and spare goggles. One of the benefits of swimming from high to low tide is that it should be easier to land after each swim (as beaches will be exposed). I can then drag the boat above the high water mark, put up my tent and get some rest.

H2Open: Have you got pre-planned stopping places?

Sean: No. I will have to see how it goes. Google maps seems to show there will be plenty of places to stop. Hopefully people will let me put up the tent in their gardens or fields and sometimes I may just have to camp wherever I can. It’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

H2Open: How is your training going?

Sean: There wasn’t much point doing any swim training as I will lose all my swim specific fitness after two months on the road. Prior to the swim I’ll be running a marathon a day, so I won’t be in any position to do any training then, but I will try to do some upper body exercises such as chin-ups to get my lats in shape.

H2Open: How will you stay safe while swimming?

Sean: I plan to hug the coastline as much as possible, within 100m or so of the shore. I breathe to the right so I’ll always be looking at the land. I will let the coastguard know what I’m doing too. I’m carrying a GPS tracking device so that people can follow my progress and that has an SOS function in case I get into trouble, and I’ll have a phone with me. I also like to think I know my body quite well by now so I don’t really see the need to get regular medical check-ups – besides, I’d probably ignore the doctor’s advice anyway if they told me to stop.

A documentary about Sean’s round-Britain triathlon will air on the Discovery Channel later this summer and you can track Sean’s progress through the discoveryuk.com website, where there will be a hub with updates on the challenge on hashtag #GoSeanGo.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.