“Everything is a more difficult than I imagined.”

Avram Iancu talks to Outdoor Swimmer about the trials of swimming the length of the Danube


Outdoor Swimmer: As you’re approaching the half-way point, how well are you keeping to your planned schedule?

Avram Iancu: The 60-day timeframe was mostly symbolic. It comes from a novel that was also my inspiration to embark on this journey, The Danube Pilot, by Jules Verne. The main character in the book travels down the river 50km a day in a boat, totalling 57 days. The aim of this journey is not to finish in 60 days but to set the record of swimming the Danube without any fins or wetsuit.

In 2000, Martin Strel swam the length of the Danube in 58 days, although he was using a wetsuit and fins. Mimi Hughes, who also swam the length of the river, took 89 days, although she did not use fins. Definitely, I will not be able to arrive at the destination before 57 days as I am not using a wetsuit or fins; I am expecting to complete the journey in around 70 - 75 days.

The first 400 km were extremely difficult due to obstacles such as shallow water, many dams, boulders, etc. I am expecting that once I pass Vienna and all the dams, I will be able to swim a lot more each day and get closer to my initial estimation of swimming 40 - 45 km a day.

OS: Is there a lot of variability in the water temperature? It seems that some days you are comfortable and others you get really cold: why is this?

AI: Swimming without a wetsuit I feel all the variations in water temperature. Sometimes the water temperature can change hour by hour. For example, mornings are always very cold whilst in the evening the water temperature is warmer if it was a sunny day.

Different rivers join the Danube. Often they come from the mountain tops and as a result the water temperature of the Danube drops. For example, when the Inn river joined the Danube (just after Passau, Germany) the temperature dropped from 21°C to 14°.

Added to this, my physical and mental strength also differs from day to day.

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OS: Are you managing to eat enough to maintain your weight? What do you eat and drink each day?

AI: I always have a huge appetite which I think is good. In the mornings I usually have muesli soaked in water, hulled hemp seeds, eggs, turkey and/or fish. Once I am in the water, I drink energy drinks every half an hour and each hour I have a bit of chocolate or a hemp seed bar. After around 3-4 hours of swimming, I meet the ground team and I have a warm lunch, such as soup. In the evenings I try to eat a lot of food rich in protein so it helps with my recovery. I also eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables throughout the day, I drink a lot of hemp protein shakes and supplement my meals with hulled hemp seeds, to reach 5-6000 calories daily.

Over the last 25 days I have lost around 6 to 7 kg, so I may need to boost my nutritional intake.  Even though I have lost some weight, I can definitely see muscle gain on my chest, shoulders and dorsal muscles.

OS: What has been harder than you expected?

AI: Everything is a lot more difficult than I imagined. It is a huge project from every point of view, including logistically. Aside from the effort of actually swimming each day, sorting out logistics is not easy either. Every day we face new challenges which we did not foresee. For example, it is very hard to plan a stop where the river and the road may meet so we can meet our ground team. Even though the map might show a road reaching the Danube, that may in fact not exist.

I also did not expect the high number of dams in Germany and Austria, and the fact they would make moving forward so difficult and slow.

OS: What has been easier than you expected?

 AI: Nothing has been easier than imagined.


OS: How is your body holding up? Where does it hurt? How are you managing to stay injury free?

AI: I have a strong body, with a good capacity to adapt and transform to the different conditions I put it through. It is not easy and my muscles are always sore. There is a lot of muscle and joint pain in my shoulders. Also, my chest and dorsal muscles hurt every day.

So far, I have managed to stay injury free with the exception of an incident that happened around 15 days ago. The water was only 1-1.5 m deep and we failed to notice a log with a sharp tip around 30 cm from the surface. I impaled myself on it, but luckily I hit it with my rib and not my stomach. I got a big scratch from my rib down my belly which is still hurting after all this time. The water is very deep now so I am not encountering any problems of this nature anymore.

OS: How is your mental state? How does it change from day to day? What helps you stay positive and optimistic? How do you keep going when you feel low?

AI: This is a very good question. Both for this journey and for crossing the English Channel, I think that 95% of the challenge takes place at a mental level, with only 5% physical. Obviously you need a strong enough body to be able to push itself to the limits, but it is mostly a mental challenge. For example, at the moment I feel horror each time I have to get back in the water because of its cold temperature. It is only through sheer determination that I can convince myself to push forward.

The weather also has a huge impact on my mood. I actually think this applies to everyone - when it’s sunny, people tend to be more positive, and when it’s raining, windy and cold we get quite depressed. I am also influenced by my team, who are, of course, going through their own challenges or feelings of disappointment in regards to the weather or the distance we manage to swim. But this is what it’s all about; pushing all physical and mental limits until we arrive at the Black Sea.

OS: What advice do you have for other people planning swimming adventures?

AI: For all open water swimmers, swimming in rivers such as the Danube is the best way to get closer to nature and to rediscover the beauty of God’s creation.

It is important that everyone tries to push past their limits, and then to discover that these limits are not what they expected and they can push much further. To discover our real limits, we need to leave our comfortable homes.

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Cover May18

Issue 14 May 2018

  • Spring into Action! – Your First Outdoor Swim
  • Gear Special – Tune Up Your Technique!
  • Boost Your Open Water Skills
  • Travel – Swimming in Patagonia and the Czech Republic
  • Sea Swimming Top Tips
  • Swimrun – Your Next Adventure?

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