Going the Extra Mile - Outward Bound

Wellingtonian Breanna Ward swam the Strait in 7hours 26mins on Saturday 1st December, 2018 to raise funds for the Outward Bound Champion programme. She is the 113th person to make the 29km swim. 

We caught up with Breanna to hear about her experience and how Outward Bound helped her realise her dream of swimming the Strait.

How long had you trained for it? And what prep work was required?
I started doing 3km and 4km ocean swims at the start of 2018 and it terrified me - I had a very bad fear of sharks. And also, it just seemed like such a long way to swim! I had to psych myself up every time and was then always surprised by how far I could actually go. Humans are capable of so much more than they think. The training consisted of a lot of swimming, as you would expect. Mostly in the pool over winter, although to acclimatise I had lots of cold showers and swam at least once a week in the ocean which was a real buzz when it was around 11 degrees.

I also made sure I kept some fat on me at the same time as gaining muscle, both of which keep your body warm. I did heaps of mental training and visualization. When the water warmed to 13 - 15degrees, I did a few four and five hour sea swims, including a swim from Worser Bay to Oriental Bay and back, which was mentally very difficult because once I got to Oriental bay I wasn't feeling great but I had no choice but to go all the way back!

What was the training schedule like? E.g. how many hours a week?

At my peak I was doing 65km a week, doing three hour swims every day. An average swim for me was 7-10km. I got told off by lots of people for not having any rest days - it was a bit reckless.

What kept you motivated to put in the necessary hours for training?

Outward Bound was a big motivation to keep training, mainly because I had committed to doing it as a fundraiser for them, and because the training and swim involved similar values to what I learnt and loved about Outward Bound.

People in the ocean swimming community were also very supportive, many of them having gone through the same or similar swims so understanding what it was like.

I had pinned up quotes on my wall and read them every night before I went to sleep, and I wrote down a few pages of reasons why I was doing it. I needed to know why I was suffering. Giving up or not training wasn't something I ever considered. Once I decide to do something, I do it.


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During the seven hour crossing what were you thinking about?

Well there was a lot on the line, I was very emotionally invested and not making it would've meant another year of training and saving up to cover the costs to swim it again.

I read a book that said your training is mean to be in "manual mode" focusing on technique and improvement, and the big day should be "automatic mode" - not thinking and letting your body do what it's done a thousand times. I definitely was in automatic mode. I focused only on getting to the next feeding, which was every half hour. I also thought about keeping my head down and only breathing to the sides, to keep my technique good and to not have the mental battle of seeing how far I still had to go/how little I had travelled. This gave me a weird feeling of being limited to a small space of awareness, only being able to see the IRB on my right and open water on my left. When I got bored/negative I challenged myself to count to 1000 strokes, got to 500 and got bored of that so started singing in my head.

For the whole rest of the way I had the chorus of Emile Sande's "Breathing Underwater" stuck in a loop. A highlight of the crossing mentally was sometime in the middle, when I started thinking about how many people were backing me. I felt like I could feel the energy of the people watching on the tracker. I thought about how much I love the mystery of the top of the South Island, and imagined a string around my torso with Outward Bound people pulling me towards them. And everyone on the North Island gently pushing me forward.

How did you feel when you landed?
As I got closer, I refused to let myself believe it was over or feel any victory or relief - even when I was 10m from the shore, or when I could see the pebbles in the crystal clear water beneath me. It was only when my feet touched the ground, and the bigger boat started honking, that I allowed myself I believe I had done it. I stood up and turned around, looking back for the first time. I'll never forget that beach.

Phil had scouted out an awesome landing space - a tiny square of beach amongst cliff faces, with a cave to the side, and smooth pebbles everywhere. The water was a magical colour, bright light blue and twinkly. I suddenly felt the accumulation of a year of training and most of my life dreaming about this, all piling down on me and got a bit teary. 

What bit did you find the scariest?

The start of the swim - I had a minor injury around my right shoulder/back/neck the week beforehand but I was overthinking it and was terrified that it would play up and that I wouldn't be able to finish the swim. I focused on making the fear of not completing drive me instead of debilitate me. 

What surprised you about the experience?

Throughout my whole year of training and the whole swim itself, surprising myself was a very important and special thing that I focused on! Amongst some other quotes that inspired me to keep training, I had a little note pinned by my bed that read "surprise yourself" and would read it before I went to sleep and as I struggled to get out of bed for all the early trainings. I was constantly trying to surprise myself by beating my times and improving my technique and doing more than I thought was possible of myself. I think surprising yourself is one of the best things you can do.  

For the swim itself, because of the weather and tides, I got a much faster time than what I was expecting - I was aiming to get 8.5 hours and I thought that that was an optimistic goal! So I was very surprised by how fast my time was.

What’s been positive about the experience?

The lessons it's taught me - that I am capable of anything. It's been a huge boost of confidence which has spilled over to other aspects of my life. I don't care as much about what my body looks like, I care far more about what it can do. It's helped me reframe obstacles and difficulty as challenges that will make me grow.

What was the most challenging part of your experience?

Training wise, all the time I spent at the pool. Having my job and training at the same place was a blessing but also a curse - I spent almost every day biking to the pool before the sun rose and biking home after it set. I found it challenging to say no to things - deciding to hold back and go home early from parties or not drink because I had training the next morning. And it was hard being so exhausted all the time, especially at the beginning when my body wasn't used to it.

How much you have raised so far?

$2330 – just $170 to reach my target of $2500. So get on there and donate! :) Here’s the link! https://obchampion.everydayhero.com/nz/breannaward 

What's next Breanna?
My friend Tess and I are going to cycle around New Zealand later in summer. Then there's the chopper swim in Auckland (20km) and next year I want to run a marathon and get back into surf lifesaving, as well as challenging my mind with learning a language and getting better at guitar. In the next few years I'm planning on studying outdoor instructing, and potentially Paramedicine. As for distance swimming, I don't think I'm quite done yet. Ideas are brewing :)


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