Age: 30 | Location: Kent, UK
The difference between ultramarathons on land and ultramarathons on water is that in the water you can’t stop.
‘If anyone touches you or if you touch your support boat, you are immediately disqualified and your swim is over. If you ever watch a documentary about an ultra runner they might sit down, change socks, have a bite to eat. For swimming? You don't do that. I'll stop swimming, someone will throw me a water bottle and I'll just drink down the water bottle in one go treading water. And then you go again, because most of the time when you're battling against a tide or battling against current if you stop, you go backwards. It's just constant.’
I am shocked when The Swimmer explains to me quite how difficult it all is. That might sound silly, but I guess I hadn’t anticipated for quite how long she has to be in the water.
That's not all. Races are expensive to enter too.
‘The big swims that I do can be anywhere from £3000 to £5000 and that's just the swimming. That's not even flights or accommodation. You have to have a safety boat alongside you so that none of the tankers and none of the cruise liners will run you over. Essentially, you're paying for their time - and it's normally two pilots because you're gonna be swimming for like anywhere from fifteen to twenty hours - and then all the fuel.’
Her best swim? Guernsey to France. 30 miles.
‘No one had ever successfully swum it before. It was a World Record, course record, whatever you want to call it. But I trained and trained and I set my sights on that. And it was successful and it was such a gorgeous swim. It was beautiful. The weather was perfect.’
Not all swims go as smoothly. In 2021, she swum the English Channel. It was awful, but after three years waiting to get a slot and months of planning she pushed through the pain.
‘Something went wrong with my nutrition and I was vomiting and I had diarrhoea for seven hours and I was just absolutely miserable. It was horrible. It took everything I had not to get out and quit, not to just touch the boat and be like, I’m done, take me home.’
But did she complete it? Yes, she did. If The Swimmer is anything, she is a woman of no fear.
‘So much of what I try and do in my life is proving myself wrong. It's taking that inner monologue and being like, no I actually can do it.'
Even through the Covid lockdowns, The Swimmer refused to stop.
‘I couldn't go to a swimming pool. I couldn't train outside. I had a paddling pool in my back garden and I put a bungee cord around my waist and I attached it to a fence so that I could swim in place, like a swimming treadmill.’
I ask if she has a favourite swimming costume.
‘I've got some that I love the design, some that I love the colours, some really comfy ones, some, you know, really nice and supportive ones, some that I only wear for races and events. I've probably got like twenty. Twenty five? Way too many, way too many.
Then I ask whether she ever swims in a wetsuit. In winter, and in spring, the sea is a very cold place.
‘I used to swim in a wetsuit quite a lot, but as I've done longer distance and more cold water swimming, I've put on quite a bit of weight and there are no wet suits that fit me anymore. I'm six foot tall, so it scales up and then it kind of scales outwards.
'Yeah, swimming wetsuit companies just do not make wetsuits that are big enough for me.'
I tell The Swimmer that it sucks. If companies are going to make wetsuits to fit anyone, it should be record-breaking open water swimmers just like her.
I read somewhere once that you should pick clothes which you fit into, rather than changing yourself to fit into clothes, but this is hard if there aren't any wetsuits that fit at all. A woman shouldn’t have to shrink to fit just to squeeze into something.
‘It takes a long time to learn to be OK with that. Do you find the same thing? I was a very skinny teenager and early twenties, but because I was tall I was a size twelve while all of my friends were size six and eight and ten. So I was like, oh well I must be fat because I'm a bigger number than them.'
'It took decades to kind of learn to be okay with that.’
Now, The Swimmer is proud of how she looks. She sees strength when she looks in the mirror.
‘I used to be ashamed of how wide my shoulders are. Because your wingspan is supposed to be the same as your height, but I'm 6 foot tall and I've got a 6 foot 5 wingspan, got massive wide shoulders. But I love it now cause that's what makes me such a good swimmer. I love showing them off in vests or racer back tops. They're powerful and they're bulky and they're strong.'