75km Swim Challenge

75km Swim Challenge

23 October, 2014
Around Lantau Island
Bruce Pye & Olivier Baillet Swim For Plastic Free Seas

Discovery Bay residents Bruce Pye and Olivier Baillet are embarking on a monumental task. These experienced marathon and triathlon sportsmen have pledged to swim around the entire Lantau Island—a staggering 75km—in order to raise awareness of the environmental impact of plastic.
A grueling 75km swim that stretches out to five consecutive days will see Bruce Pye & Olivier Baillet from their starting point at Tai Pak beach (Discovery Bay) and back, around the entire Lantau Island. They will cover approximately 15km each day.
In addition to the completion of each leg, Bruce & Olivier will also participate in beach cleanups alongside local schools, clubs, corporates and interested members of the public. The goals of this adventure are to: raise awareness of the issue of plastics in the South China Sea, and raise money for Plastic Free Sea’s Education and Research Sea Classroom which will be launched later this year.
Ecozine gets an exclusive Q&A session with the two champs on what inspired them to take up the challenge, why they believe this challenge will ultimately make a difference, and even a message for the fans!
E: What inspired you to take up on the challenge?
Bruce: After doing endurance events for over 18 years competing against myself I thought it was time to give back to everything it  had offered me. I choose PLASTIC FREE SEAS as the ocean and its sustainability is close to my heart.
Olivier: I have always been doing Endurance sports and usually do well, or very well. I qualified for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship 3 times (3.8k swim, 180k bike, 42.2k run), placed high at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (100 miles, 10 mountain passes over 2000m), did a bit of team cycling stage races, and several long swims (in Argentina, NYC, Paris and here in HKG). I have also done a bit of mountaineering, climbing the highest peak in the Southern Hemisphere (Aconcagua, Argentina, close to 7000m). When you do endurance sport, you can either try to get faster, this is my attitude when I do triathlons, or longer and harder, as is the case with this swim. The first time Bruce Pye mentioned swimming around Lantau Island in June, I loved the idea, instantly. It just sounded like a huge challenge, 5 days of the longest distance (15km) I have ever swum in my life, in rough sea. So when I realized that Bruce was working on the organization with Plastic Free Seas, I offered my help. My idea was first to coach him, as I have a coaching business in endurance sports (beyond the line –endurance coaching and consulting; beyondthelinecoaching.com).  Swimming in open water for 5 days like this is very unusual, even within the endurance community, and I created a taylor-made training plan designed to succeed. But then, one day, as I was swimming along Bruce, I realized that I wanted to do the full challenge myself. Bruce was very happy with the idea, and I started to train hard too.
E: What are the challenges that you have encountered or feel you may encounter in completing the challenge?
Bruce: Of course the distance will take it’s toll everyday swimming 5 to 6 hours for a total of 15 km. Rough Seas, Wind and Ocean currents will be tough and dealing with pollution will be a daily aspect to deal with.
Olivier: There are organizational challenges: find the right route, making sure we know the tides and currents (a mistake can cost us to fail: we swim at 3.3k/hour on average, we can’t make any progress against current above this speed, which happens every day at certain times), get the right kayak support, organize our nutrition and resting routine every evening, etc. And I am not talking about the challenge of the whole event itself, like finding sponsors (we are still missing Corporate sponsorship), organize the beach cleaning event, the right media coverage, etc. But on the day itself, the sheer magnitude of the challenge is just scary, I must admit. The distance to be covered itself, but also the potential pollution areas, boat traffic, current and tide, waves… I know we will finish exhausted every day, in spite of all the structured training done.
E: What is it like preparing for the challenge?
Bruce: The short answer to this is it’s a life time of training. Specifically for the swimming. It’s been 3 months however I’ve come of a good base fitness.
Olivier: Bruce and I were swimming 10k and 6k a week, respectively, before starting the training. We had to ramp up our training to up to 35k a week, in a relatively short time. The issue with increasing the volume of training is that the body can only safely accommodate a certain level of increase, beyond which it gets injured. So I had to increase the frequency (number of swims per week), the length of each workout (to up to 12k in open water), the total weekly volume (up to 35k), and the difficulty of the training (like 30x100m swimming with paddles, paddles being small plastic platform that you put under your hands to strengthen your shoulders and arms), while closely monitoring Bruce’s response to the training. One of the most important things we did as a preparation was to do the actual tour of Lantau by boat and sighted all the dangerous spots, as well as swimming in some of these places. Finally, having been in risk management during my 16-year-long banking career, I have applied similar principles to the race preparation, listing all the potential caveats and designing the right training to minimize their impact (cf example below).

E: How does your tandem with Olivier Baillet contribute to making this challenge a success?
Bruce: Mentally having someone drives you along out things aren’t always working out according to plan. It’s great to have someone else out there knowing he is moving forward and you need to move through the bad patch and get on with the job out hand. Like anything in life we all go through bad patches. What determines our character is how we handle these situations and move through them to get to the top of our game again..
Olivier: Well, first of all, this is really Bruce’s original idea and without him we would not be here discussing. Bruce is one of the most positive and caring persons I have ever met. He always sees the good side of things and people. It feels good to spend time with people like him. Then, as an athlete, he is one of the most dedicated and driven people I have met. I am bringing him the structure in training, the feedback and the mental support that he needs. I also bring him the certainty that we are in the right track and are doing the right thing. Our tandem works extremely well and we will remember this common adventure all our life.
E: How do you hope to inspire the younger generation to implement plastic-free ways into their everyday lives?
Bruce: We hope they can come to the realization o how serious the problem is to our environment.  90 % on ocean rubbish is plastic. This all starts at home using reusable drinking bottles and reusable shopping bags when going out shopping.  Never leave a shop with a plastic bag.
Olivier: To save/protect/ improve your environment, you can do many things. Give money to the right causes. Do your share by doing the minimum things that all citizens should do, like being careful with waste, water usage, etc. Give your time and energy by helping out. I personally believe that raising awareness of the kids is one of the most efficient ways to improve the overall situation. When I was a kid, nobody was talking about saving the environment, but we were already destroying it as full speed! I hope the beach cleaning events will help the kids realize how much trash we produce and throw into the ocean. I hope the media buzz that we are creating will help raise Plastic Free Seas’ profile, as well as the profile of other associations with similar ambition. Finally, I think some kids will realize that one can do a lot of things to protect the environment, you just need to be creative. This association of crazy swim and beach cleaning events is just an example. Millions of other things, still unheard of, can be done.
E: A message for the fans?
Bruce: We are hoping to motivate you to find your passion in life and go out there and help us sort out our environment to strive for free plastic seas. We are all in this together and we are giving back to ourselves.
Olivier: When we will be in a pain after 12-13k trashing our arms in the waves, we will be thinking of all the support you have had during this journey, and this is what will keep us going. So, between Oct 29 and Nov 2, think about us, send us good energy, we will ‘feel’ and ‘hear’ you!

By: Kristine Basilio


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