024 – Trent Grimsey – English Channel Record Holder
Marathon Swimming Immortal
Trent Grimsey is the fastest person to ever swim across the English Channel. When he retired from swimming in 2012 was the number 1 ranked marathon swimmer in the world.
In this episode of the Team Guru Podcast you’ll hear Trent talk about what it took to achieve such incredible feats. You’ll learn about his development as a young athlete. The hard times he faced and the things that inspired him.
You’ll learn about the lessons he learned during his incredible swimming career that he’s able to apply in life. And you’ll find out why he now dedicates so much of his time helping people from all walks of life realise their dream of making it from Dover to Calais.
Here’s what I took from the episode:
Basic Facts – The English Channel
- 34k straight across from Dover to Calais – but because of the tides most end up swimming around 40k
- Water temperature is somewhere between 14-18 degrees Celsius
- Approximately 10% of swimmers who attempt to cross the channel make it to the other side
- 3 times more people have climbed Mt Everest than have swum across the English Channel
Which is harder – climbing to the summit of Mt Everest or swimming the English Channel? It’s a hotly contested debate. Here’s a link to just one of many great articles on the topic.
Trent’s (lack of) Public Profile
Trent was the number 1 marathon swimmer in the world. He is the fasted person to ever swim across the English Channel – the world’s most famous swim. He lives in a country that adores swimming as a sport and the swimmers who do well. Yet, he’s barely known. Why? In his own words…
‘I guess marathon swimming is not much of a spectator sport’
2012 – An Incredible Year
- Trent was swimming on the world marathon grand prix circuit
- He won the majority of races on the circuit that year
- He was the number 1 ranked marathon swimmer in the world
‘2012 was just a magical year’
- A marathon swim is classed as anything that is 15km or higher (equivalent of 300 laps of an Olympic pool)
- Many swims on the circuit are much longer than that. 30km is about the average. There are some in the 50km range
Taking on the Record
- Trent started dreaming about breaking the Channel record in 2009 – he hatched the plan on the flight home from world champs. He’d placed 2nd in the world in the 25km event – in his first ever swim over 10km
- At the core of Trent’s plan was replicating the conditions in which Peter Stoychev – had set the current record. Same pilot (boat and driver) same time of year
- Peter Stoychev – the former record holder – known for his aggressive approach on the marathon circuit and his use of mind games – attempted to intimidate Trent before his record attempt
- Peter’s attempts to force Trent to question himself and his ability had the opposite effect. It spurred him on, providing him with even more motivation to break the record, helping to dig him out of ‘the hole’ in the really difficult patches through the swim
‘It lit a fire inside me. Honestly, if Peter had not said that to me I don’t think I would have broken the record’
- Apart from the obvious distance of the swim, taking on the Channel is a huge challenge because of the water temperature. 14-18 degrees Celsius. It’s difficult to find anywhere in Australia, especially Brisbane where Trent lives, to find a place to train for that. But Trent believes that made him smarter and more diligent in his preparation.
- In the 8 weeks leading up to his Channel attempt Trent did a marathon per week in cold water – such as Canada – to get his body used to being in cold water for long periods of time
- Trent says that his crew was one of the most important elements to his record breaking swim. He had his coach from Australia, good mate (and number 2 marathon swimmer in the world) Damien Bloom and of course a very experienced pilot as his crew
- Their job was to ensure he got the right type of food and hydration at the right time and to provide support and encouragement
- The used a whiteboard to hold up messages of support from friends and family via Twitter and Facebook, inspirational quotes, song lyrics, times, progress against the record etc
Breaking the Record
- The moment Trent woke up on the morning of his swim he had a strong feeling he’d break the record.
‘I was just one of those mornings. I knew I’d break the record that day’
- Getting messages of support from friends and family, via the whiteboard, was really important for Trent during the swim
- After the first hour he was 3 minutes under the world record – and at that point he felt very comfortable. So he picked up the pace
- After the second hour he was 5 mins under the world record
- After the third hour he was 7 minutes under the record – ‘I just thought this is a dream come true – and I still feel like I can pick up the pace.’
- At the four hour mark, after picking up the pace at each hour, his crew held up a sign that said he was still 7 minutes under the record. That worried him – ‘hang on, I’ve just picked up the pace, why aren’t I further under the record…’
- Despite that concern he convinced himself to stay positive, focussing on the fact that he was still well under world record pace
- At the fifth hour mark – still 7 minutes under the pace – Trent started to think about Peter Stoychev and the way he swims. He tends to finish very strongly in races. Trent had obviously gone out faster than Peter had, so Trent grew concerned about the last part of the race and whether he’d be able to keep pace with the record
After picking up his pace hour on hour, but not gaining any more time on the record, Trent fell into ‘the hole’ between the 5th and 6th hour mark. But it was the comments Peter Stoychev had made to him three weeks earlier that helped to pull him through and re-gain his focus.
- Trent lost a lot of time to the record in the last hour – but hung on enough to break Peter’s record by 2mins and 50 seconds in the end
Put it in Perspective – a Team Guru Challenge
Trent’s time of 6 hours and 55 mins means that he swam at 1.12 pace. That’s 1 minute and 12 seconds per hundred metres.
If you’re up for a challenge, head down to your local pool and time yourself swimming 100 metres. A tiny percentage of you will go anywhere near 1.12. Then, try and do it again and watch your speed plummet and your times blow out, then again and again.
Then imagine that Trent did the equivalent of that 400 times. At 1.12 pace. To put it mildly…it’s super-human.
Early Career – Tenacity v Talent
- Trent doesn’t see himself as a particularly gifted swimmer – he says he didn’t have the talent that a lot of his competitors had, but he knew he could train harder. He knew he was willing to do things that other people weren’t
- At the age of 12 he got very excited about qualifying for State Titles – but he came dead last in his race – he was really embarrassed and never wanted that to happen again
- So he upped his training – other swimmers trained 10 times a week, so he trained 11 times.
- The next year at State Titles he won a medal. Encouraged by the effect of the extra work, he upped the ante again –he started going to training an hour earlier than everyone else and swam 2 or 3 kilometres before the squad started…
- The next year he won a medal at the National Age Championships
‘Even if I didn’t have the speed or the talent of other guys my age I knew I could train harder than them. I knew I was prepared to do stuff they weren’t prepared to do.’
Everything Happens for a Reason
- 2012 – the year Trent broke the Channel record – was an Olympic year. But in 2011, during the Australian titles, Trent was sick and finished 3rd. That meant he didn’t win the right to go to the next stage of Olympic qualification
- So the number 1 marathon swimmer in the world didn’t represent Australia at the Olympics
- BUT – Trent says that if he had gone to the Olympics earlier in 2012, his year would have been totally different. He’d have been concentrating on the 10k Olympic distance and may never have had the opportunity to break the Channel record
- Trent says he’d rather have that record than to have gone to the Olympics
‘I’d definitely take the Channel over the Olympics’
- At the age of 24, as the world’s top marathon swimmer, Trent decided to retire
- He says he was inspired by Johns Eales (former Wallaby captain) who retired at the very peak of his career
- It became a chore to wake up and go to training – it wasn’t fun anymore
- Straight after he stopped swimming Trent became a coach – initially it was an obvious gap-filler until he found what he really wanted to do. But his passion for coaching grew and he now loves his role as a mentor to all types of swimmers
- Just like in his swimming career, Trent has shown tremendous tenacity and resilience as a coach – after setting up his original squad he lost access to his base pool and the only lane time/space he could get was at another pool between 4.15 and 5.15am. For most coaches this would be the death of their squad – but Trent has turned it into a positive. Using those (really!) early morning sessions to open up an opportunity to people who can’t otherwise find the ti
me to swim – tradies who start work early, parents (who can now be home before their kids wake up)
- The super early squad time also means the swimmers he is preparing for an English Channel crossing can do their normal squad session, plus the extra distance they need, and still be finished by 7am
- The 4.15am swim squad started 3 years ago. He has around 30 swimmers each session and continues to grow. And contrary to what many of us would assume, the energy, enthusiasm and sense of community in a squad that starts at such an ungodly hour is fabulous
Helping Others Across the Channel
- Most people who swim harbour a desire, on some level, to take on the English Channel
- Trent has turned his early morning swim session (and the extra time it provides for distance swimmers to ‘do the Ks’) into an opportunity to help prepare more and more people to swim the Channel
- Plus, of course, he has his unique experience to share with them – to help the with the physical, mental and logistical challenges that come with swimming the English Channel
Click here to find out how Trent can help you realise your dream of swimming the English Channel