It’s been a busy few weeks for 33-year-old Gloucestershire based adventurer Sean Conway. On March 21, less than a month after his book Hell and High Water went on sale – and climbed straight into the UK’s top 40 non-fiction books online – Sean will be setting out to run from Lands End to John O’Groats.
Running along the entire length of the British mainland will mean completing about a marathon a day for roughly six weeks. Sean’s determined to enjoy the challenge as much as possible though, so will be choosing trails and quiet roads wherever he can: “There are more direct, quicker ways between the two points but I want to be enriched by the journey too,” he says. “Running the route is not just a means of transport – I want to meet the people along the way and appreciate the changing landscape.”
Hell and High Water is Sean’s account of his epic 900-mile swim along the coast of Britain in 2013, a feat that earned him a place in the record books as the first person in history to do so. This latest challenge is not about records but the experience. “Put it this way – I’ve given myself six weeks to do it, so if it looks like I’m going quicker then I’ll run further, rather than finish early,” says Sean.
Styled as Forrest Gump, with iconic red running shorts, yellow T-shirt and Bubba Shrimp baseball cap, Sean will carry a 6kg back pack, including his 1.3kg camping setup. For sleeping arrangements, he’s planning to find his own places to camp along the way: “I might use the odd actual campsite but mostly I’ll just be making it up as I go along. As long as you’re respectful, and don’t light fires, I’ve never found this a problem. I’m not a big fan of tents, and I would have been happy to bivvy, but as I’m going to have decent long recovery breaks in the day, I thought a tent would serve better.”
We met the Zimbabwean born photographer-turned adventurer in Cirencester, near his home in Gloucestershire. With green eyes and bright red hair, Conway certainly stands out from the crowd, despite his five-foot-eight frame. This is thanks mainly to his now trademark spectacular red beard. Originally grown during his 900-mile swim along the coast of Britain as a defence from jellyfish stings this beard has since become very much Sean’s ‘thing’.
There’s not a lot of fat on the man either, despite the high-fat diet that he follows to fuel his ultra-endurance adventures – though running a half marathon a day for training might have something to do with that.
Although Sean’s imminent End-to-End is not a race, there is a strategy: “Most days I’ll be running three hours with a hour’s rest after the first two, followed by two hours rest after the third hour. Then I’ll repeat the whole cycle three times. So that’s nine hours of running a day, plus breaks.”
“In terms of food and drink, I’m totally unsupported, so I’ll fill up and filter water as I go with a Fresh2o water filter bottle, and buy the 6500 calories of ‘fuel’ I need from supermarkets on the way.” Fuel? “The high natural fat-low carb diet I’ve been adapting myself means I’ll be eating a lot of chorizos, cheese, turkey breast, butter and eggs and walnut oil.”
“I can’t eat porridge any more – or any other oat-based food like flapjacks. Eating oats every morning of my 135-day swim has given me ‘oat fatigue’. Now the stuff makes me sick!”
This will be the second time that Sean has attempted the End-to-End run, with the first go last August, when Sean started in Scotland, running south. After pushing himself too fast, too soon, Sean ran 90 miles in the first three days, before a sprained ankle turned into a knee injury and his run had to be abandoned.
Is he worried about not making it again? “You’re always worried about the impact running can have on your body. But this time I’m going to force myself to start slower, and do a lower daily mileage. Anyway: nothing can be harder than the swim.”
For more about Sean’s run and his past adventures, see his website seanconway.com
In case you were wondering…
Just on the off chance that you’re struggling to get your head around the idea of what it takes to swim the length of Britain, here are some stats from Sean’s riveting blog…
Miles Swum - 900
Number of strokes – 3,000,000
Equivalent lengths of a pool - 56,000
Longest day – 21 miles
Shortest day – 1 mile
Average water temp – 14 degrees till Scotland then 13 degrees in Scotland
Warmest water – 16 degrees
Coldest water - 11 degrees
Jellyfish seen - 754642356
Stung by jellyfish – 10 – Face 3 times, hands 7 times.
Calories burned – Over half a million (same as eating over 400 whole freerange chickens)
Fastest tide – 10mph
Longest session without seeing land – 4 days
Litres of salt water drunk – 20 litres
Wetsuits used - 6
Favourite wetsuit – Speedo Super Tri Elite
Goggles used - 10
Favourite goggles – Speedo Aquasphere
Average time in water each session – 5 hours
Average time between feeds – 90 mins
Calories eaten in each feed – 800kcal (need to up this)
Days off due to bad weather - 45
Biggest waves swam in – 20ft
Times swam with dolphins - 10
Times swam with seals - 25
Worst experience – Losing kayak, rib and anchor within 1 week of the end and nearly having to complete the swim next year due to bad weather!
Scariest moment – Seeing a large ‘thing’ below me and not knowing what it was. Turns out it was just a seal.
Best experience – Swimming with millions of phosphorescence.
Showers had in 4.5 month – 10
Times I’ve used soap – 4
Times I’ve thrown up – 7
Days I’ve breathed to my left – 1
Days I’ve breathed to my right – 89
Days I’ve felt ill – 30
Times I’ve wanted to quit – 1
You can buy Hell and High Water in all good book shops for £10.99