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Swimming Britain – An Interview With Sean Conway

When you hear the phrase “Lands End to John O’Groats” you usually associate that with cycling or possibly even running. But I bet you’d never think of anyone swimming the entire 900 miles from bottom to top. Well, that’s exactly what Sean Conway has just achieved.

When you take a look at some of his past achievements, the journey doesn’t seem quite so crazy. He’s cycled from London to the Alps, cycled the Three Peaks Challenge and competed in a StrongmanRun event.

Oh, and he’s also cycled 16,000 miles around the world and climbed Kilimanjaro dressed as a penguin.

Never the less, this epic swim had never been done before and probably for good reason. Along the way he’s had sea-sickness, swallowed a lot of sea-water and has encountered a vast number of jelly fish. Everyone knows how to help a jelly fish sting but Sean devised a better plan than that – to grow a huge beard.

Not too far to go by mid-October. Credit: Owain Wyn-Jones @OWynJones

Not too far to go by mid-October. Credit: Owain Wyn-Jones @OWynJones

Sean set off on the 30th June, beginning Swimming Britain from Land’s End and headed up past Cornwall, through the British Channel to Wales and across the Irish sea to Ireland. Following the east coast of Ireland, Sean worked his way to the Mull of Kintyre, the hebrides and then around to John O’Groats.

The whole journey was supported by just three people (plus a nutrition specialist and swim coach back at home) and is raising money for War Child – a charity supporting children affected by war. Money raised currently sits at nearly £8,000 and if you’d like to help out, you can do so by clicking here.

We’ve been lucky enough to speak to Sean to ask a few questions. You can see his responses below.

I was told it couldn’t be done and I’d die trying.


Ste Rumbelow – You’ve climbed Kilimanjaro and cycled around the world but this seems like a different beast altogether. What possessed you to take on such an extra-ordinary challenge?

Sean Conway – The idea of getting up at the same time each day to do the same thing purely to make money to exist on this planet actually gives me panic attacks. I’ve done it and was miserable. I like to push myself physically and mentally. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.

SR – How long did you spend planning for Swimming Britain and what was the most difficult aspect?

SC – I thought the of the idea about 12 months before but only started prep about four months before. Hardest things were logistics around having a support crew. What crew? How many? What boat? How much to feed them? The route, tides and currents etc – that all took up my time. Unfortunately, training suffered and I struggled in the first few weeks.

Accompanied alongside by Em. Credit: Owain Wyn-Jones @OWynJones

Accompanied alongside by Em. Credit: Owain Wyn-Jones @OWynJones

The epic route Sean took up the west coast.

The epic route Sean took up the west coast.

SR – How do you go about training for such an event? 

SC – I didn’t train nearly enough. I did three one-hour sessions in the pool each week and then some arm strength work in the gym. I really didn’t have the time. I wish I had worked on my style. I suffered. Also, I live in Cheltenham so there’s no sea close and the only open water swimming I did was three hours in Portsmouth harbour.

SR – You must’ve been expending a lot of calories every day, which means your calorific intake was also high. What kind of foods were you eating?

SC – I ate blended packet stowaway meals such as venison casserole and chilli con carne. I had a great selection from my sponsors and then added butter, olive oil, sweet potato, pasta and rice. Anything to add volume!

SR – What did you do to stay motivated for such a long period of time?

SC – I was told it couldn’t be done and I’d die trying. I feared getting the ‘I told you so’ emails from all the people who said I couldn’t do it. That kept me going. Also my support crew – without them I couldn’t have done any of it.

SR – What was the hardest aspect to overcome? 

SC – The cold. I am very slight and don’t have much body fat. The water was 11 degrees at times and I struggled a lot.

SR – How much are you looking forward to shaving your beard off?

SC – I grew it for 365 days in 2012 and vowed never to grow it again. This one is coming off soon though. I need to find a girlfriend (says my mum!).

SR – After such a big journey, will you be taking some time off or is it all go from here? Any plans for more challenges?

SC – It’s all go, go, go. I’m not very good at sitting down. I need to do a big run now to tick the global triathlon box. Any ideas? Cairo to Cape Town or the length of the Pan-Am Highway?

SR – If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting to take on something of this scale, what would it be?

SC – Just get on and do it. We can get too overwhelmed by the big picture and sometimes it’s better to just jump in at the deep end. You’ll surprise yourself of how capable you are both mentally and physically. The human body is an incredible machine and none of us use its full potential.

One comments on “Swimming Britain – An Interview With Sean Conway
  1. Tim. on said:

    Wow. Makes you feel kind of lame just going to work every day. That swim must have taken some mental toughness. Good luck on your next challenge.

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