Even the most remarkable journeys begin with the smallest of steps. In an ongoing series Avaunt looks at the preparation, training and planning involved in some of the greatest challenges.
Ben Lecomte is no stranger to unique ocean challenges. In 1998, Lecomte became the first person to swim across the Atlantic without a kickboard. He completed the 3,716 mile staged swim in 73 days, swimming up to eight hours a day and only returning to the support boat for breaks and to sleep.
For the last four years, Lecomte has been planning to repeat this feat in the Pacific, this time with the aim of highlighting the issue of marine pollution, while also conducting oceanic and medical research. If he is to succeed he’ll have to spend six months in the water, swimming from Tokyo to San Francisco, again for eight hours a day.
Lecomte will be supported by the 67-foot steel-hulled sailing yacht Discoverer and its six-man crew, led by her skipper James ‘Scotty’ Scott. Ahead of the the French-born Texan’s departure this Spring, Avaunt spoke to Lecomte about his training, nutrition and mental preparation.
Swimming in open water is something that brings me a lot of pleasure, and doing something that’s never been done before really appeals because there’s a part of me that wants to find out exactly what the limits are.
I’ve been swimming for a long time and even if I don’t have an expedition planned I’m still very active. To prepare specifically for this swim however, I’ve been training for about three hours a day, five days a week with a combination of running, cycling, using gym equipment and of course swimming itself – anything that’s aerobic.
When I’m in the water I’ll take liquids every 20 or 30 minutes, but nothing solid because they’re too hard to digest, and I won’t be able to take in that many calories. I’ll have to eat a lot on the boat, though one big meal in the morning and one big meal in the evening won’t be enough for eight hours in the water. To get all the calories I need I’ll have to eat through the night. I’ll wake up hungry and I won’t try to fight it.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to eat fresh food, only the canned or dried food that we can store on the boat. I try not to eat sugar, because it gives you a sugar rush and then you crash. Instead I want my body to be efficient and use fat as a source of energy – each time you eat sugar, your insulin shoots up and your body won’t use the fat.
The most challenging part of the swim isn’t physical, it’s mental – it really is mind over matter. Every time I train and exercise I put myself in the same situation I’ll be in when I’m swimming in the ocean – I focus my mind on being in that environment, isolated for hours on end.
Back on the boat we’ll have crew members with different skillsets but each person isn’t going to do the same thing over and over, they’re going to share the work. Sometimes I’ll even have them come in the water and swim with me, so we can understand each other’s worlds. It’s going to be tough to have eight people in a very small space for a long time, isolated in the middle of the ocean, so we’ll have to adapt and be very friendly to each other.
I’m prepared for things not to go to plan – that’s why it’s called an adventure. If you knew exactly what was going to happen it wouldn’t be that interesting. An adventure is different because it is unexpected. You’re out there with the elements and you have to adapt and make decisions as they change.
Ben Lecomte is currently on the Discoverer making his way to Tokyo. You can follow his progress on the Longest Swim Live Tracker.
Read about James ‘Scotty’ Scott’s preparation for sailing the Pacific alongside Ben Lecomte in support of his expedition.