Michael Coates & Nathan Jones on a break during the 26.2 mile challenge wearing a dryrobe

Blog - Swimming 26.2 Miles In One Day - Michael Coates & Nathan Jones

Swimming 26.2 Miles In One Day - Michael Coates & Nathan Jones

8 minute read

On Saturday the 16th of October 2021 Michael Coates and Nathan Rainbow Jones set a new world record for swimming 26.2 miles on what has been called ‘The most brutal one-day swimming challenge on the planet’. Helping to raise vital funds for three incredible charities.

The 26.2 mile journey from West of Boveney Lock to Teddington Lock took a staggering 17 hours due to the lack of rainfall in October, resulting in the river flow being almost zero. Water temperatures dropped to 10 degrees, making this challenge ever more difficult.

 Michael Coates & Nathan Jones stood by a river wearing a dryrobe Advance on a break

Michael, a former soldier and firefighter, is a Lululemon ambassador and host of the multi-award winning Declassified Podcast. An experienced endurance athlete competing in long distance endurance races and challenges around the world, he also balances his time running a small, successful business.

Nathan is a current RAF pilot who represented Wales in the commonwealth games and a multi-medal winning Invictus games athlete. A co-founder of the global mental fitness organisation Peak State, he has used swimming as a form of rehabilitation after a broken back sustained whilst serving in the Military.

We were keen to talk with these two incredible athletes to find out what the inspiration was behind the epic challenge and how 40,000 front crawl strokes in cold conditions went down on the day…

Nathan and Michael swimming in the river during the 26.2 mile swim challenge

What does swimming mean to you and what inspired you to do the challenge?

Micheal Coates (MC) - This is an answer of several parts. Firstly, I love to swim long distances as it both clears and allows my brain to relax - almost meditating myself to a calmer state.

Secondly, it toughens me up both psychologically and physically. Especially when the water is cold.

Thirdly, the inspiration behind the challenge came from our good friend (who was also part of the support crew on the day) who ran a marathon in his hotel room (corner-to-corner, not on a treadmill). He raised a lot of money for charity that day. It was simple, local to his location, cheap to do, something no one has done before and extremely effective. This was our blueprint.

Nathan Jones (NJ) - Swimming for me is all about getting better and being the best version of myself. After breaking my back several years ago I needed to find a sport that supported my recovery physically. But without realising it I needed sport to help me recover psychologically. Low impact events have been great, but swimming (different distances including in the Invictus games) has allowed me the time and space to develop my physical and mental fitness.

What were the conditions like during the challenge and how did you cope with the lower temperatures after the swim was postponed from September to October?

NJ - September water temperatures were around 16-18 degrees and outside temperatures 23-24 degrees with overnight temps about 15 degrees.

This is what we were expecting on the original date of 11th Sept 2021, but Michael tested positive for a certain virus three days before the event so we had to postpone. Due to work and family commitments the next available date was the 16th of October.

We now faced water temperatures of between 10-12, outside temp of 16 (max) and overnight temps as low as 8 degrees. This was now a different beast altogether.

MC - The challenge had gone from a swim event to a test of survival. The plan was pretty basic. Keep the swim stroke and effort sustainable, increase it if and when we have to (to stay warm), eat and drink regularly and don’t stop for longer than we have to.

We had to walk through nine separate locks along the route, we gave ourselves five minutes on each lock. This was to hydrate, take on food and sort any admin out. You would think having this rest would be positive but when you’re out the water not swimming, your core body temperature starts plummeting.

Our cold management system was simple.... Get out, dryrobe® on, shoes on, 500ml of oat milk, noodles, soup and something high calorie, get back in the water (usually I would then crack a ‘joke’ to the support crew about how this part of the river was warmer than the other part - small things), and start swimming again.

 Michael Coates on a break during the 26.2 mile challenge

What kept you feeling motivated throughout the 26.2 miles?

NJ - I was suffering quite a bit from the temperature (I had come down with a cough and cold two days prior) and it was a real psychological battle to keep going. I wanted to stop all the time. However, I had a job to do, so to keep going was the only option. It was never going to be easy.

We had raised a lot of money, had the best support team around us and I knew Michael was going through it as well, although he seemed quite chipper during our food breaks.

Motivation is a funny one when you’re ‘suffering’, the suffering almost becomes the motivation.

MC - Motivation is a funny word. Before it was through fear of failure and letting myself down. Raising funds was always on my mind beforehand and certainly afterwards. But motivation throughout the 26.2 miles was a case of looking after each other and not thinking too much. What's happening right now, when am I feeding next and pretty much nothing else. Like Nathan said, we had a job to do.

Did you have any concerns leading up to the challenge?

MC - The temperature was our main concern. The fact it had dropped so much from the original date was playing on our minds but we couldn’t do anything about that so we worked on the things we could control - Making sure we had the right equipment, food and support crew.

NJ - The water temperature was certainly at the forefront but then developing a cough and cold myself was then a real individual concern. Knowing that this was the last viable weekend we could do it meant I had to get on with it. Little infections and viruses have never been such a problem on smaller physical events but on something like this, well it wears you down quicker.

Nathan and Michael stood together wearing Black Camo dryrobe Advances

How did it feel once the challenge was completed?

MC & NJ - Relief.

MC - With these kinds of challenges, you’re never happy to finish, you’re just relieved you’ve achieved it.

That's not to say you don’t become happy in the minutes after finishing but, that moment is just a shared relief.

NJ - It’s been with us for three months (planning/training etc) and the fundraising had increased a lot during the day, so the pressure was on.

I think we are both now very content with our 26.2 mile swim. We had some low points and we both agreed we were on a hypothermic knife edge. This was certainly a serious case of type 2 fun. No enjoyment throughout the 26 miles but I know we will be laughing about it for years to come.

What are the importance of the charities you are raising money for by completing the swim challenge and how can the money help them?

MC - We decided to raise funds for 3 separate charities.

1. Unicef UK

2. ACT International

3. Canal & River Trust

Two of the three charities support children who are and/or have experienced conflict. Myself and Nathan both come from the Military community and appreciate that children in conflict are the most vulnerable people on the planet. This money will pay for therapy, food, shelter and well as other humanitarian endeavours.

NJ - Our third charity is the Canal & River Trust. I believe that our waterways can and do have such a positive impact on our physical, emotional, social and mental fitness. Not to mention the ecological power they bring. We wanted to support Canal & River Trust to ensure we all get the best possible chance of enjoying and thriving in nature.

Canal & River Trust looks after and brings back to life 2000 miles of waterways. From servicing locks and protecting heritage brides as well as cleaning, clearing and connecting wildlife habits.

So far, the pair have raised at least £7,500 for charity. If you would like to donate, check out their donation page.

Photos by Henry Paisey from Crows Nest Films