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Swimming the length of the United Kingdom’s longest river

On Saturday, after 18 days and 360km, Ross O’Sullivan finished swimming the length of Great Britain’s longest river, the River Severn. His challenge started at the source of the Severn on 1 June, where he walked the river until it became swimmable. From 4 June to 16 June, he swam 240km, averaging 18.5km/day. We caught up with Ross after his epic adventure.

How do you feel now that your swim is over?

At the finish line, my body was moving like a wounded penguin. I was tired, wet and could not wait to go home. I had been through the wars both physically and mentally. I was extremely relieved to think that in a few hours, I would be having a nice warm bath followed by going to sleep with a soft springy mattress under my back. I had greatly missed the simple things in life.

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How did you celebrate?

We were too tired to celebrate. Motor Neurone Disease Association had given us a bottle of champagne at the finish line, which is still unopened. The celebration was simply getting back to my apartment, having a bath, and putting on a nice clean, dry pair of socks. That was all the celebrating I needed. I had worn the same clothes for the last 18 days. That feeling of putting on wet socks and wet shoes in the morning is something that will last with me for the rest of my life.

What was the toughest part of the challenge?

Believe it or not, the swimming part of the adventure certainly was not. I had trained myself physically for six months. I was thrashing out around five pool sessions every week, with a total training volume of 30km/week. I was fully prepared physically for this challenge. However, my state of mind and mental strength were tested every minute of every day. I noticed my team’s morale had dropped significantly on about Day 8. Part of my team wanted to pack it in. I had a very small team and each member was pivotal in making this adventure a successful one. If one of the team wanted to pack it in, that was it, the adventure would have been over. Convincing them to stay on, was very stressful for me to do and I felt guilty for doing it, but we had come so far. I could write a book on the difficulties I was faced, but in summary they were: jumping into the cold water every morning at 7am, spending up to nine hours on the river in one day, swimming 20km/day, wild camping, battling against treacherous sections of the river, avoiding large debris (both on the surface and submerged), traversing fast rapids, keeping team morale high, having to get out when thunder and lightning occurred, the list goes on….

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What was the highlight of the adventure?

It has to be witnessing the magic River Severn first hand from an otter’s point of view. The River Severn in Shropshire was one of the best places I’ve ever been. It was a tame, gentle bending river, with every corner more beautiful than the last. Also, looking back on the adventure, we had a lot of very shaky moments where the whole trip was in jeopardy and it was looking like we were going to have to pull the plug on it. So the fact that we pulled through together and got to the end, was the greatest sense of achievement of my life.

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Ross reflecting on his 360km journey

Read a full account of Ross’s adventure in the October/November issue of H2Open magazine.

Ross is fundraising for Motor Neurone Disease Association.

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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.