Today we interview Ross Edgley. Ross has taken on a number of incredible challenges; from completing the World's Strongest Marathon by running a total of 26.2 miles whilst pulling a 1.4 tonne MINI Countryman to his most recent endeavour - completing the World's Longest Sea Swim around Great Britain.
Having played water polo at international level for Great Britain, Ross then went on to achieve a 1st class honours for his dissertation on the different strength and power adaptations of various training protocols. This lead him onto becoming a strength and conditioning coach and performance nutritionist. He is now a Sunday Times Bestseller on this topic. We are honoured to tell some of his story below...
What was the path that lead you to today?
The short answer is: mild athleticism, an inability to say "no" to an adventure and this insatiable child-like curiosity I've never really grown out of. The (slightly) longer answer is: I love sport. But in 2008 I stopped competing internationally (hanging up the swimming trunks), graduated from the School of Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough University and decided to travel the world to study food and fitness outside of the realms of conventional sport.
Over 100 countries later and I had been lucky enough to study the art and science of ice-cold waterfall meditation with the Yamabushi Monks of Japan and run ultra-marathons barefoot across the African wilderness with the San Bushmen of Namibia. Documenting this all in my travel journal, it would later become my first published book (titled, "The World's Fittest Book") and I would become an adventure author almost by accident since in reality all I was doing was following the path that made me most happy. But the cherry on top of this accidental career was this year's adventure, when I became the first person to swim all the way around Great Britain. We called it "The Great British Swim" but it's also been credited as the world's longest sea swim too after taking 157 days to complete the 2,000 mile sea circumnavigation.
Who inspired you to do what you do?
I take inspiration from anything and everything. To give you three completely contrasting examples: Roger Bannister, Wolfgang Mozart and Bruce Lee.
Firstly, leading experts at the time said that we humans will never be able to run under a 4-minute mile (believing our lungs will explode). Yet despite being a medical student himself, Roger Bannister took to Oxford's Iffley Road track on the evening of May 6, 1954 and laced up his trained to run a 3 minute 59.4 second mile time.
Secondly, Mozart and Bruce Lee believed that learning should not be the study of one domain, but the combination of many. This is why Mozart never asserted any particular opinions about music. Instead, he absorbed the styles he heard around himself and incorporated them into his own voice. Few people know that late in his career, he encountered the music of Johann Sebastian Bach—a kind of music very different from his own. Most artists would grow defensive and dismissive of something that challenged their own principles. Instead, Mozart opened his mind up to new possibilities, studying Bach's use of counterpoint for nearly a year and absorbing it into his own vocabulary. This gave his music a new and surprising quality, which is essentially the same way in which Bruce Lee pioneered mixed martial arts as we know it today. Famously saying, "Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own."
What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?
Without doubt Mother Nature, but more specifically the sea. This is because last year I attempted to swim between the Caribbean islands of St Lucia and Martinique whilst towing a 100lbs tree (for charity). Although the distance between the 2 islands is 40km, because the tides and currents were not in my favor I swum for a total of 32 hours, swimming for over 100km but was unable to make the crossing and find the beach. Bruised and battered from my experience, I sat on the beach (still with the 100lbs tree) the day after and wrote in my travel diary:
"During an ocean swim the sea and Mother Nature can be your sparring partner or your dance partner. She can be beautiful or brutal, but unfortunately you don't get to choose. Just make sure you pack your boxing gloves and your dancing shoes."
I have a bit of an odd sporting résumé. Basically, I was lucky enough to swim and play water polo around the world from the age of 13 to 18, but after I hung up my trunks and goggles I spent a few years embarking on athletic adventures to raise money for charities close to my heart and to test and challenge theories of sports science and I'd class each as a "triumph" for different reasons. Whether it was the amount we raised for charity or the fact we challenged what many people thought the human body was capable of...
- Ran a marathon pulling a 1.4-tonne car
- Climbed 8,848 meters, the height of Everest, up a rope
- Ran 1000 miles barefoot in a month carrying a 50-kg backpack
- Completed an Olympic-distance triathlon carrying a 100-lb tree
- Ran 31 marathons in 31 days on a treadmill in his kitchen, trialing different recipe
- Swam over 100 km across the Caribbean Sea pulling a 100-lb tree
- Swam non-stop for 48 hours at the Commando Training Centre with the Royal Marines
- Completed the first 2,000 mile swim around the coast of Great Britain
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That the laws of nature, biology and the human body are rarely linear. We cannot strictly control them. At best, we can only learn to influence them. Which is why (when possible) you should always try to "dance" with Mother Nature, not "wrestle" her.
What scares you and how do you deal with fear?
Whatever scares me I study. This is because so much of our own fear is rooted in a lack of understanding (or misunderstanding) of a topic. The sharks of the Caribbean during my 100km swim were a great example. Because I had studied shark diving in the Bahamas I was aware of the temperament, behavior and natural tendencies of the reef sharks I might encounter during my swim between the 2 islands. Fortunately, I didn't see any (only a whale and group of curious dolphins who swum underneath me for 5km wondering why the strange human was towing a tree). But by understanding the risks and how to reduce them, I ensured I swum shark-free for 32 hours during 100km and no one mistook the 100lbs tree for a giant sausage-shaped snack.
Why is getting outdoors and keeping fit important in modern life?
We were designed to run, climb and crawl, but modern life has meant these natural movements have almost been forgotten. Our range of motion is declining directly proportionate to our range of mileage, but getting outdoors helps us return to our powerful primitive state.
What has been your most unforgettable challenge and why?
This has to be the Great British Swim, only because for me Britain has such a rich history and heritage of great explorers. From Shackleton to Mallory, to Bear to Middleton. However it was Captain Matthew Webb who really inspired this swim, since on Aug. 25, 1875, he became the first person to swim the English Channel. A feat many thought impossible since the strong currents and cold temperatures were thought to be too menacing for any swimmer. But Webb was determined to prove everyone wrong (and on a diet of beef broth and brandy) smeared in porpoise oil, Webb battled the waves for 22 hours over a torturous 39-mile course (zig zagging with the tides). Finally, he landed near Calais, exhausted but triumphant.
Worth noting is ever since Webb's feat has been duplicated more than 1,000 times and his time has been more than cut in half, but no swimmer captured the imagination of the world and redefined the impossible the way Matthew Webb did.
Which is exactly why I wanted to swim around Great Britain, since so many people said it was impossible. From the sailing community to the sport of ocean rowing, many believed the giant whirlpools of Scotland were too dangerous, the storms and artic winds across the top of Great Britain too cold and the world's busiest shipping lane in Dover, England to be too hazardous. But after swimming for 12 hours a day, for 157 days straight (day and night) I was able to complete the first swim all the way around the coast of Great Britain. But as much as it was a battle with the ocean, it was also a battle of inner mental warfare and it taught me that in complete exhaustion you find the most honest version of yourself.
Who has been an unsung hero in your life?
Without doubt my family. They've been behind every one of my athletic adventures, from my mum, dad, little brother and girlfriend braving sea sickness and 6-ft waves across the Caribbean Sea. To my older brother who came to support my marathon pulling a 1.4 tonne car around Silverstone race circuit. When he arrived, I was 12 miles in and really struggling since it was January, freezing cold and the rain was forming a thin layer of ice on the track which meant my feet kept slipping from underneath me. Without saying a word, he went to his car. Found the biggest umbrella he could. Then stood in front of me and walked for miles, shielding me from the wind and rain as I pulled the car. Not Leaving my side until the rain stopped.
What's next for you?
Right now I'm so excited to see what's next, since I've only been on land for 48 hours since finishing the Great British Swim, but now we've proved it's possible to swim 2,000 miles non-stop a lot of people are asking what else is possible. So I'm meeting with friends of mine at Loughborough University and the Royal Marines to talk about future adventures.
Do you have a motto you live by?
Yes, the main ethos of, The World's Fittest Book (and again inspired by Wolfgang Mozart and Bruce Lee) is: "There are many ways to get fitter, stronger and leaner. You shouldn't discriminate against any or strictly favor one. As soon as you do, you close your mind and limit your potential."