GEAR,  Product Reviews

Are you tough enough? By Helen Summer

Well, this book is pretty much about what it says on the cover. We picked it up because it has a section on open water swims but the bulk of the book covers foot challenges of various kinds, several of which seem to offer little more than the prospect of prolonged misery and permanent bodily damage. Still, people are queuing up to take them on. Some are in the frozen arctic, where contestants drag sledges with everything they need to survive and the temperature plummets to -40 degrees, while others pass through jungles and deserts.

But on to the swimming challenges, some of which seem pretty tame in comparison. However, swimming the English Channel is certainly tough and can be bloody so gets a deserved chapter but it was remiss of the author to only mention the CS&PF and not the CSA. Marcus Wadsworth, who has set up an English Channel training group in Bournemouth, gets a couple of pages to describe his own crossing, which demonstrates the effort and commitment needed to complete the swim. The Zurich Marathon (otherwise known as the International Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim) has a chapter too. It’s certainly a long swim but the temperature is usually mild and conditions relatively stable compared with a lot of other swims out there that are not included, so we wondered if this was the best choice.

While the other swims mentioned are wonderful events (Brownsea Island and Dublin’s Vibes & Scribes) they don’t, in our opinion, meet the toughness criteria established by the non-swimming challenges. The chapter on cold water events also seems out of place – they’re just too much fun. The inclusion of the ‘Ice Mile’ would have been a worthy addition, although the author admits it’s an impossible job to keep up with all the new crazy challenges people dream up.

The remainder of the book covers cycle events, triathlons and an eclectic assortment of other challenges ranging from tough but understandable (e.g. run, bike and kayak across Scotland, in a day) to the bizarre (wife carrying and shovel racing).

The author finally has a go at trying to explain why, when we could spend our days in comfort, are we drawn to push our physical and mental limits? She suggests that it is precisely because the world (for many of us) is too soft and comforting, and people (certain people at least) have a need to test their survival instincts are intact. She also suggests that seeking out these challenges is part of human nature, as innate as breathing or eating.

Nevertheless, I suspect the majority of these challenges are best enjoyed vicariously from your armchair. The book might also be useful to show friends and partners that your addiction to swimming is maybe not so extreme after all. 


Published by John Blake Books

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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.