AN inspirational father braved shark-infested waters and hours in ice-cold pools to train for the most ‘brutal’ swim of his life – all to set a good example for his children.
Old Monmothian Miles Tollan poured his heart into a gruelling year of training to finally swim the English Channel in 15 hours and 20 minutes earlier this month.
The 44-year-old who now lives in Australia, was inspired by his autistic son Oscar, 10, to raise money for Giant Steps in Sydney, which provides education and support for children with autism.
Miles, who was a Monmouth School student between 1981 and 1988, is also dad to Hugo, 7, and Eva, 4.
He said: “I wanted to take on a big challenge to mark a point in my own life – I’ve done lots of things for my own benefit, and now I wanted to set an example that hopefully my kids will want to follow when the time is right.”
So far, Miles has raised AUD$7,000, or about £4,000, of his AUD$10,000 target.
In the last 12 months, Miles swam 35kms a week, training six days out of seven.
He added: “Longer swims each weekend of around four-eight hours were incredibly boring and really tested my commitment.
“I have a group of friends I swim with and we tend to use shark-repelling shields when we go more than 500m off the shore.
“The English Channel is obviously colder than the Pacific Ocean where I swim, and to acclimatise to the cold I needed to train in cold water including an ice-cold pool at home.
“After a six-hour cold water swim in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay I was pulled out with hypothermia and realised I needed to start an intense weight-gain diet to get a layer of fat for insulation.”
Starting at 75kgs at Christmas, Miles piled on 13kgs in six months by consuming double the amount of calories typically required by an adult.
“I struggled to do this with solid food as there just wasn’t enough room to put it, so my nutritionist put me on a liquid diet with super-enriched milk and cups of olive oil,” he said.
Miles flew back to the UK, and began his mammoth Channel challenge at 1.30am earlier this month.
“If the training was hard, the swim itself was brutal,” he added.
“I started in the dark, followed my support boat out of Dover.
“I had strong tides on the day which meant I was carried up towards the North Sea for the first six hours and nearly into the path of the ferries – beautiful sight at night with their lights on.”
Changing tides slowed Miles down and after 12 hours in the water, he was still 3kms from land.
He said: “I’d normally cover this distance in less than an hour but instead the turning tide was pushing me back out to sea.
“It’s as if you’re carrying every suitcase you’ve ever owned on an airport travelator going the wrong way.
“A lot of people panic in this situation because they can’t understand why they’re not getting closer, they get exhausted and give up.
“I’m used to being in the ocean and I understood what the tide was doing, and I could just about make out points on the beach getting bigger so I just ploughed on and tried to focus on my motivations.
“It took me over three hours to cover the final stretch, which is why the Channel is often described as ‘the longest swim of your life, followed by the hardest’.
“After the swim I couldn’t move my arms for a couple of days and it took a while for the reality of what I’d achieved to set in.”
To sponsor Miles, visit giantsteps.net.au/english-channel-solo-swim
|Channel Swimming in Stats|
|The shortest route across the Channel is from Dover, England, to Cap Gris Nez in France – more or less 21 miles as the crow flies|
|The first crossing: Captain Matthew Webb in 21 hours 45 minutes on 24 August 1875|
|The first female crossing: Gertrude Ederle of the USA on 6 August 1926|
|The most ever crossings: Alison Streeter MBE (‘Queen of the Channel’), UK, with 46 crossings|
|The youngest ever swimmer: Thomas Gregory, 11 years 11 months, in 11 hours 54 minutes (a minimum age limit of 16 is now enforced)|
|The oldest swimmer: Roger Allsopp of Guernsey, 70 years 147 days, in 17 hours 51 minutes.|
|Fastest ever one-way solo swim: Trent Grimsey of Australia in six hours 55 minutes|
|Longest ever one-way solo swim: Jackie Cobell of the UK in 28 hours 44 minutes|
|A total of 1429 swimmers have completed a total of 1810 solo swims|
|Average solo crossing time: 13 hours 24 minutes|
|Fatalities: There have been eight fatalities in the history of Channel swimming since 1845|
|For more information on how to become a Channel swimmer, visit the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation website.|