By Nancy Heslin
SLM: What is your background that lead to this 240-km journey?
SS: I have done a range of sports – mountaineering, apnea, triathlon, scuba diving as a federal instructor, multisport raids, trail running, crossing the alps by bike and kayak – and completed the GR20 hiking trail in Corsica, crossed the Mercantour mountain range, done the Rockman swimrun in Norway and two trails on Lake Titicaca and Salar Unyni. I was also the co-organiser of the Trail des Balcons d’Azur, the Costa Rica ultra-trail, and since 2001 have been president of the El Niño association, which works with health, education and leisure for children.
Julien swam at a young age, and played soccer from 4 to 15. He’s been running since the age of 20, trail and ultra running since 2011, and swimrunning since 2016.
Hervé did competitive swimming for 8 years, followed by many different sports such as trail, and road race triathlons. He also been co-organised numerous races: Bolivia, Trail des Balcons d’Azur and the Costa Rica ultra-trail.
SLM: How did you become involved in the practice of swimrun?
SS: I have been doing outdoor sports for over 40 years and swimrunning has developed quite naturally, as a way of travelling along rivers or in the sea to access unusual places, particularly after having kayaked along the coast from Cannes to Marseille several times.
I had the idea in 2015 with a friend, Philippe Cordero to set out on a 2 night, 3-day trip between St Tropez and the Londe des Maures along the coastal path (90 km of running/12km of swimming). Philippe had heard about this sport “swimrun” that was done in Sweden. After this crazy and very rewarding experience, we decided to get involved in organising swimruns from St Raphael and Cannes. We had been organising multisport and trail races since 2001 so we had a lot of experience.
So there we were in 2016, planning this challenge and preparing ourselves by doing some swimrun competitions, in the very wild nature of the Norwegian fjords with water at 10°C, the Rockman challenge gave us a great experience in the spirit of sport: working in pairs, the respect for nature, and the solidarity between competitors became a bonus.
At that time, we were the first to launch out into this adventure to organise swimruns and we shared all our experience on Facebook and created a good network, especially with Swimrun France who had had this experience the year before at ÖTILLÖ.
SLM: Why did the three guys decide to do a 240 km swimrun hike?
SS: In June, we took part in the Côte Vermeille swimrun, a beautiful event, but over the months, I realised that things had been going too quickly and I was looking for a new adventure. This is how the Raid Swimrun Adventure Discovered FB page was born, with a new spirit. I launched the Cannes to Marseille challenge project, and was quickly contacted by Julien. Our friendship was forged fairly quickly and after a 3-hour discussion together he was convinced, and there we were, six months before the start of the adventure, training together and anticipating the challenges we would face. We swam the 16 km between Théoules and Cannes did a number of swimruns like those in the Estérel and Verdon.
Hervé is a long-time friend and we have done many sports together, like the Bolivia trail. We worked together on the organisation of the Costa Rica ultra-trail for 10 years, so it made sense for him to come on board. He is an excellent swimmer and sportsman.
For the past two years, I have been an ambassador for HEAD, which has helped us in terms of materials, as have other brands, like Powerbar. The goal was to meet up with the community of swimrunners between the Var and the Bouche du Rhone and to promote our association Elnino, and also to check out the area for a long challenge of a few days.
SLM: What was your itinerary and did you set any rules?
SS: I already knew the 160km of the Londe des Maures very well. This represents about half of the total course distance. From my previous experience a couple of years ago, I knew that after each 40-45km in total, and after each 5 to 6 km of swimming, we would need to bivouac, and would need water points.
I enjoy the improvisation, which is part of the adventure. We changed many aspects in the second part of the course because of the wind and difficult swimming, and we wanted to get to Marseille on schedule as we planned to meet our friends.
SLM: What did you carry on your back?
SS: Another aspect that needed planning was the fact that we had to carry everything with us on our backs for the 9 days of the trail.
We took waterproof containers and waterproof bags, a sarcophagus tent, a duvet, a floor mat, a stove, food, change of clothes especially for the evening, phones and a camera. We were minimalist about our equipment as it was important not to exceed 11 kilos, not counting water. We carried 3 litres of water with us. We had everything we needed, but we did get a bit hungry towards the end.
SLM: Tell me about the experience?
SS: The experience of this adventure teaches you that you can always push your limits. I am generally never sick, but just before we left, I came down with bronchitis and a 40°C fever. I had doubts before and during the challenge, which I had to overcome to make sure the adventure would be a success, and this experience is what makes you grow.
I had expected to do this challenge alone, then Julien and after Hervé joined in the adventure. It was a great team.
The people we met during this adventure were very enriching and made us realise that there is a shared feeling among travellers. Travelling is a form of freedom that everyone loves but does not necessarily have the time, the physical means, or the courage to experience; our sedentary lives make us fearful.
The beauty of the landscape in all its diversity, it was all of life’s simplicity without cutting off all the news. We felt free and in complete osmosis with our environment.
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Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #4 (October 2017)