What made you take up this extreme swimming challenge on 13th of August 2019?
I’ve been swimming for several years now, never competitively, and I wanted to push myself to the limits in this discipline. I got the idea to do this a few years ago, but have never had the time to devote myself to it. A few months ago, I decided the time was right to go for it. I chose the 13th of August as this date was symbolic, being Women’s Day in Tunisia. I dedicated my challenge to all women from my native country.
What were the different preparation stages?
In terms of physical preparation, I’ve trained for the challenge for seven months. I swam after work three times a week on average, in a 25m pool during the first few months, and later in a 50m pool. I started open water training around six weeks beforehand, swimming in Swiss lakes to familiarise myself with being in the water without being able to see the bottom. During the last five weeks I’ve trained around four or five times a week, in pools as well as in open water. I put a lot of work into improving my cardio and endurance level, as well as holding my breath. I started to swim long distances (between 8 and 20 km) around two and a half months before the challenge. I also altered my diet to get the most out of my training sessions.
The mental preparation was much harder: I found out as much as I could about open water swimming, and read lots of articles and testimonials to familiarise myself with the challenge because we’re always more afraid of the unknown! I also got used to the idea that I was going to have to keep going without being able to see the finish line, even right up to the last minute. It was important to prepare myself because there are no way markers when you swim in the sea, which is not easy.
Finally, to help make the start seem less daunting, I conditioned myself to think in terms of time rather than distance: I knew that I was setting off on a 7-hour swim and that I was capable of achieving it as I had done it in training. I found it more reassuring to think of it like that.
How did the swim go?
The local authorities were made aware, as well as maritime security officers and the National Guard. The Ministry of Sport was also informed and gave me its approval. I swam 30 km in total, whilst the theoretical distance is around 22-23 km. This is because there were strong marine currents and it was impossible for me to swim in a straight line. As a result, it took me 10 hours and 15 minutes to complete the swim, of which almost 2 hours were in the dark.
The days leading up to the challenge were really stressful, but once I got the green light I was fully focussed on my goal and the stress disappeared. I stayed positive and confident throughout the challenge. I swam without equipment; I was accompanied by three boats but I wasn’t allowed to touch them. The only thing I ate was fruit. The hardest thing were the poor weather conditions: the sea was rough and bathing was prohibited across virtually the entire area. Despite this, I was still allowed to set off as I had a safety team with me.
What were the best and worst parts of your adventure?
The best part was setting off, when I could feel the excitement and adrenaline cursing through my veins! But the final hour was the most difficult as it was dark and I couldn’t see a thing, it felt like it would never end.
How do you feel now after achieving your goal? Do you have another challenge in the pipeline?
I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction having completed this challenge, and I’ll never forget it. I got a really warm welcome from the island inhabitants. I don’t have any other plans at the moment, maybe I’ll swim the Channel one day!
How did you juggle your work commitments with your training? What advice would you give someone who would like to do the same thing?
My days were really busy, as I trained after work during the week. I could rest on the weekend during the first few months, but this was no longer the case in the final few weeks when I was swimming long distances. I had to block out periods of between 3 and 7 hours, depending on the various goals I had set myself. As the only time I could do this was at the weekend, I had to make sacrifices.
I would encourage anyone who’s thinking of taking on such an initiative! The difficulties need to be considered, of course, but anyone who feels capable should go for it and try not to listen to other people’s opinions which may be discouraging.