It takes about 10 hours to fly from Tokyo to San Francisco. By skipping the jet engines and relying on muscle power, Ben Lecomte will be taking a much slower, more daring route.
The Austin, Texas-based athlete is preparing to swim across the Pacific Ocean, a venture he estimates will take up to six months.
Hoping to start the 5,500-mile journey in Tokyo at the end of September, he plans to swim eight hours a day, seven days a week with a support boat by his side to monitor his progress and ward off sharks. He estimates he’ll burn 8,000 calories a day before returning to the boat each night to rest.
“I’m not a swimmer; I think I’m more an adventurer who swims,” Lecomte, 48, told TODAY. “It’s a passion. It’s something that is inside me.”
Born in France, Lecomte has been around big waves and open water since he was 5, when his father taught him how to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. He swam across that huge body of water in 1998 in honor of his dad.
With this undertaking, he hopes to draw attention to water pollution. Lecomte recently talked about his upcoming adventure with TODAY. The following is an edited version of that interview.
Q. How do you train and prepare for something like this?
I’ve been swimming for many, many years. I never stopped doing it. For the past three years, I just added more hours of training.
It’s all about endurance, so I run, I bicycle, and I swim. I try not to swim too much because I don’t want to lose the pleasure of being in the water. I don’t want to be bored and to lose that passion.
I exercise about 3-5 hours a day, six days a week.
Q. How are you able to swim eight hours a day?
If you compare a runner and a walker, I am more a fast walker than a runner. My heart rate is around 120 beats per minute so it’s a much lower output.
You can be walking for eight hours, that’s not a big issue. The activity by itself is not too strenuous on the body.
Q. Do you get sore?
I use fins, a snorkel and wet suit. When you swim (without fins), most of the power comes from the upper body, the shoulders. With me, most of the power comes from the legs. I use my shoulders only to control and to balance my body so I have very little chance to get injured.
Swimming is not like running. There’s no impact so it’s very easy on the body.
Q. Doing this day after day, do you feel like you’re pushing your body to extremes?
You try to make it a routine: I go in the water, do my thing and then I can check my box at the end of the day.
But sometimes you have to swim in very rough conditions, or you don’t have energy because you had problems holding food down and you feel that you have to push yourself to the limit each day.
The key is never to think about, ‘I have another 100 days to go, I have another 5,000 miles to go.’ The key is just to focus on the day: ‘I can push it, I can do it another hour'. Just focus on that hour and little by little progress today.’
Q. What do you think about when you swim eight hours a day?
It’s mind over matter. The goal is to disassociate your mind from your body.
You need to know what you are going to do with your mind throughout the eight hours. I do that by having a schedule. It’s almost like going to school: The first hour, you’ll have a subject, the second hour it changes and so on. I do the same with the schedule for my mind: The first hour, I’m going to focus on an issue or subject. The following hours, I’m going to try to relive a moment that I had in the past.
Before you know it, your mind is somewhere 1,000 miles away from the middle of the ocean and then your body is just in a routine and just doing its thing.
Q. What do you eat when you burn 8,000 calories a day?
Anything goes, except sugar. I don’t eat any sugar; I don’t eat anything that has a high glycemic index.
When you take sugar and your insulin level shoots up, it’s going to suppress your body from using fat as a source of energy. You have much more energy in a gram of fat than a gram of carbs.
When I’m swimming, my diet is very limited because everything I take is liquid. Every 20-30 minutes, I get some fluid and soup while I swim. It’s when I’m on the boat that the feast starts. I don’t have any restrictions on what I eat as long as there is no sugar or very little sugar.
The problem is that to eat 8,000 calories, I cannot do it in two meals. So in the middle of the night, I will wake up because I’m hungry. I’ll go eat and then go back to bed.
Q. Why do you like open water swimming?
From an early age, I liked the open sea and not knowing what type of conditions you are going to find: wave size, wind direction, water temperature, current and so on. It’s totally new each time you go in the water.
Every time I went swimming in the pool, I always felt it was too controlled.
Q. Older athletes do well in ultra-endurance sports. Why do you think that is?
When you are young, it’s true that you are much more powerful, you are much quicker. But that’s not endurance. What’s most important here is the mental and how the mind allows you to push yourself.
When you are young, you are all about instant gratification. When you get older, you can wait, you’re not impatient, and you know yourself much better. You know your mind, you know what makes you tick, you know how to focus.
Maybe when you get older, you get a little crazier, too.