An attempted mugging, swimming through whale poo, taking fish antibiotics and being chased by a tornado, are all in the tales of endurance athlete, for the Sydney-based London lad, Tim Garrett.
In this feature, Suzie Ryan talks to Mr Garrett about how he got into marathon swimming, his marathon swimming tales and the world-first ultra-endurance triathlon projects he has completed.
The pull to pursue marathon swimming as the next endurance challenge
Mr Garrett isn’t your usual marathon swimmer, he had been travelling the world participating in endurance running and cycling events long before he got hooked on marathon swimming.
“I became an endurance athlete as far back as 2010 when I started doing ultrarunning,” said Mr Garrett.
“I was running 100, 200 and even 500 miles. I have run and cycled all over the world in; Greenland, Iceland, South Africa, Leadville and Grand Canyon in the United States of America, the Himalayas in India, Canada and above base camp in Everest.
“I have also done a polar expedition in the South Pole and I trained for that in Canada, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
“So you could say I have done my fair share of endurance adventures around the world.”
In 2014, after completing his Polar expedition, Mr Garrett started thinking about marathon swimming whilst completing a coast to coast style bike ride in Canada.
“After the South Pole, I came back and met a friend of mine who was running across America and said ‘hey, do you want to run back to Los Angeles with me?” said Mr Garrett.
“He said no, but he said he would cycle up to Canada with me, so that’s what we did.
“We left from Milwaukee and started cycling, after a while, it became evident to me that he wasn’t a cyclist so I left him behind and cycled 7777 kilometres in 46 days.
“I went from the most easterly point of Canada (Cape Spear, St Johns) across the Trans Canadian all the way to Vancouver.
“I was averaging 170 kilometres a day and slept on the side of the road in a tent with my bike.
“I went from east to west even though most people go the other direction because the wind is behind you but it was a really enjoyable experience and I went through all types of weather conditions including a tornado behind me, a major storm above me and snow in front of me.
“It was a crazy adventure but I loved it and after I came back, I just kept thinking what am I going to do next, so that is when I started swimming to conquer the English Channel.”
Tackling his first marathon swim in the Arch to Arch
In 2016, Mr Garrett set off to conquer the English Channel as part of the Arch to Arc Enduroman event which is an 87 mile run from London to Dover, 21 mile swim across the English Channel and a 181-mile bike ride from Calais to Arc de Triomphe, Paris.
However, his first attempt didn’t go as planned.
“I always knew that the run and cycle part were going to be the easier part for me and the swim was going to be the hardest part, even though I had been training for it,” said Mr Garrett.
“I had been swimming with Vlad Mravec since 2015 preparing for the channel swim but before I started with him the furthest I had swum was two kilometres.
“I started to swim the channel at 7 am and I spent ten hours in the 11-degree water before I froze up and had to be pulled out.
“When I got out of the water I looked over to France and I was really pissed off, so I asked the skipper to organise another boat date for me to try and tackle it again.
“My next swim date was set for September. I had to wait a few weeks because the weather was awful with storms all the time and when I got the go-ahead I was ready to complete unfinished business.”
After the cold of the channel got the best of him the first time around and a run-in with some unsavoury types, Mr Garrett eventually went on to conquer the Arch to Arc.
“The swim the second time around was a tough one, it was bloody choppy but I made it in 16 hours 38 minutes,” said Mr Garrett.
“I had a few misadventures on the journey to finish such as an attempted mugging by five lads on my run leg in Deptford/Lewisham but being a born and bred Londoner I was used to situations like that and fought back!
“Also, on my ride out of Calais, I lost phone signal and data which I was reliant on for my navigation, so I got a bit lost and had to go back to Calais to get some maps from the tourist information to be my new form of direction.
“After that, I just cycled my way to the Arc de Triomphe to successfully finish the Arch to Arc. All these events made it tough but it made it more fun and had me wondering if I could do a double Arch to Arc.”
Stories from the Catalina Channel and Uberman
Following the completion of Arch to Arc, Mr Garrett was on the hunt for his next challenge and came across the world’s most challenging endurance race – the Uberman, and in 2017 became only the second solo person to complete it.
The Uberman comprises of a 34km night swim from Catalina Island to the shores of Palos Verdes, a 644km bike ride from Los Angeles to the Badwater Basin of Death Valley and finally a 217km run through Death Valley before ascending to the Mount Whitney trailhead.
“I didn’t exactly get the start I wanted for the Uberman. On the way over to Catalina (to start the race) we had to do a rescue,” said Mr Garrett.
“A man had fallen overboard from his yacht and everyone was looking for him including us.
“We actually found him and it’s a bit of an insane thing, but the guy was actually in front of his boat.
“It turned out that he had been drinking and went to pee and fell overboard, the whole event was bizarre and a real weird way to start the Uberman.”
After Mr Garrett and his support team rescued the man they continued their journey over to Catalina Island where Mr Garrett set off to complete his swim at midnight but not without a few curveballs in the mix.
“The start was incredible because it was pitch black, you could see all the bioluminescence in the water under you,” said Mr Garrett.
“The water was quite warm, about 21-22 degrees, which was nice but I had a wetsuit on so there was a point I had to unzip and let cold water flush through to help cool me down.
“I was surrounded by dolphins, seals and whales for most of the swim.
“Unfortunately, the whales were pooping so I was swimming through their poop which was not enjoyable.”
While swimming through whale poo is something not many people can say they have done, this posed some problems for Mr Garrett once he had completed his crossing.
“Once I had finished the swim and gone to have a sleep before cycling, I woke up quite sick, which wasn’t ideal for starting a 644km bike ride through one of the hottest deserts,” said Mr Garrett.
“As the bike ride went on I progressively got sicker and had to stop at a pet shop and get fish antibiotics because I just had all this brown crap coming out of my sinuses from swimming through whale poop.
“I was lucky I did because it worked a treat in fixing the infection up and I really didn’t have an option of going to a doctor because I was in the middle of the desert.
“My infection started to clear up but the bike and run were a hard slog on the body because the bike was hilly and extremely windy and the sand was so hard it was like running on tarmac which was exhausting.
“But I managed to get to the top and finish it and I became the second person ever to do both the Uberman and Arch to Arc.”
Taking on Gibraltar with Dean Summers
After completing the toughest endurance race of his career, and just as he was getting set to jet off, Mr Garrett said his mate, and fellow ultra-swimmer, Dean Summers asked him to swim the Gibraltar Strait and he “jumped at the chance”.
“Honestly I couldn’t say no even if he did ask me two weeks before the scheduled start date,” said Mr Garrett.
“When we got over there we waited over a week to do the swim because there were poor conditions and terrible storms.
“When we finally got started it was a great swim. It was hard because the current wanted to take you away from your line of sight and off course but it was a great swim, especially to do it with a good mate like Dean.
“It was also my first channel swim where I didn’t wear a wetsuit because my swimming had improved a lot.”
No swim of Mr Garrett’s would be complete without a hiccup from mother nature but this one would hang around for a while even once the swim had finished.
“In the end, Dean beat me by about five or six minutes and I always say it was because of two things,” said Mr Garrett.
“One is that there had been a big storm before our start and there were floating trees and logs everywhere in the water so that affected us both.
“The second was I got stung by a Portuguese man o’ war and I always jokingly blame him and say he was trying to slow me down so he flicked it on me.
“That was a nasty sting and it burned for quite a while and it took my skin almost a year to fully recover and the scarring to go away.”
“Some people might ask how did I race with two weeks’ notice but I like to stay race ready all year round so if the opportunity arises I can just jump in and do it.”
Tackling the Cook Strait
In 2019, Mr Garrett decided to take on his fourth swim out of the Oceans Seven challenge – the Cook Strait, and there was a familiar rocky start to the swim.
“Unfortunately, my boat driver pulled out at the last minute so I had to organise another boat at the last minute which once again was quite the start to the swim,” said Mr Garrett.
“Once there I had to wait about a week before I had conditions good enough to be able to do the swim and even then it was a tough swim.
“I was a bit worried because a swimmer who is a far better swimmer than me did it the week before and they didn’t finish it so I was questioning if I would.”
Mr Garrett labels the Cook Strait as the hardest and most challenging swim he has done so far but he made it and would do it again in a heartbeat.
“It was a tough swim, it was gnarly and the wind and water were against me,” said Mr Garrett.
“I also made the mistake of not taking my last feed or what I saw was my last feed.
“I saw land so I thought I was pretty close to being done but as it turns out I still had another four hours to go.”
Mr Garrett and his mate, Mr Summers, both completed the Cook Strait separately but both swam close to the same distance despite going in different directions.
“I started from the south side and went to the north side and interestingly enough Dean did it the other way but we did pretty similar distances,” said Mr Garrett.
“It is meant to be a 26 kilometres swim, but with current, I swam 45 kilometres and Dean swam 47 kilometres.
“There is a four-knot and seven-knot current at either end, so if you miss your window you miss it.”
After completing the toughest swim he had completed to date, Mr Garrett then went on to cycle 860 kilometres across the mountains of the South Island to Wanaka and run 111 kilometres to Queenstown – something he labelled his ‘New Zealand Ultra-Marathon Project’.
All in a day’s work.
Swimming Around the Big Apple
Three months after finishing the Cook Strait and his ‘project’ across the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, Mr Garrett completed another world first which he called “The Manhattan Project” which included the iconic ‘20 Bridges Swim’ around New York.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how good the conditions were (around Manhattan), the water was 16 degrees and it was nice and flat at the beginning of the swim,” said Mr Garrett.
“It wasn’t until later in the swim that I ran into some challenging conditions but the sun was out and it wasn’t cloudy so it was a great day to swim around New York.
“I was also surprised that the water wasn’t too dirty, I didn’t see any dead bodies or dead rats and it was actually quite a clean river.
“It was beautiful swimming down the Hudson in those conditions because it’s extremely iconic and I got to breathe both sides when I was swimming so I got to see a great bit of Manhattan Island on both sides of the river.”
It wasn’t until well into the swim that Mr Garrett ran into some challenging conditions, including injuring his shoulder and a near-miss with a pier.
“Coming towards Battery Park was when the conditions started to change and I ran into a bit of chop and swell, I also ran into a few swirls and that was mixing up the water,” said Mr Garrett.
“On top of that, just before I got to Battery Park, I felt a tweak in my left shoulder and I knew I had injured it, so it was just a game of being cautious the rest of the swim to make sure I made it.
“Once I got to Battery Park, I’m not sure if we went too close to the edge of Manhattan Island or what but the chop was gnarly and I got sucked into one of the piers, I was literally within two metres of it and was fighting and sprinting to get out of it.
“Then a little further up, at one of the bridges, I was getting sucked into one of the piers under there and I had to swim hell for leather, so I didn’t hit it and that was quite interesting.”
After conquering his swim around New York, Mr Garrett wasn’t done yet, embarking on an 850-kilometre ride and 250-kilometre run all while encountering more challenges along the way.
“Day one of my cycle was off to a good start, I cycled through Manhattan and then through the Bronx and out past Manhattan Island,” said Mr Garrett.
“I was then cycling through Connecticut and through Mamaroneck when I had an accident with a hit and run driver who took me out.
“Pretty much I was going straight and the driver decided to cut in on me and turn right. I landed on my hip and arm and was lucky I came away with only bruising and some ruined gears on my bike.
“After getting over the accident I continued riding up to Albany and then ran back down the Hudson River to Times Square.”
What’s next for Mr Garrett?
Having conquered four out of the seven swims in the Oceans Seven marathon swimming challenge and two world-first ultra-endurance triathlon projects there’s no stopping Mr Garrett from ticking more marathon swims off his list.
“I was meant to do Molokai which is the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu, a 42-kilometre swim in 2020 and the double English Channel in 2021 but they both got cancelled which is a bummer, but it is what it is,” said Mr Garrett.
“So, I am gearing up to do Molokai this year and I’m excited for that, it is going to be a great swim.
“Then after the swim, I am going to run across the top of Oahu Island on the Koolau Mountain Range which is a Volcanic ridge.
“This is something that is going to be seriously hard and only three people have previously done it.
“It’s going to be hard because there is a lot of climbing and an element of survival because you have to carry your own food and water, cook up there and get more water from the plants and mud up there.
“It is also a 2,000-foot drop on one side and a 2,000-foot drop on the other side and the ridge is less than a metre wide, so you could say it is a bit hairy but it will be great.”
To read more about Mr Garrett’s stories and keep up with his new endurance adventure visit his website here.