- English Channel
- Manhattan 20 Bridges (a 28.5 mile circumnavigation swim around Manhattan Island, New York City)
- Catalina Channel (20 miles between Santa Catalina Island and the California mainland)
Having previously completed the English Channel and Manhattan 20 Bridges, Mark Johansen has now completed the triple crown with a successful swim of the Catalina Channel.
Read on for Mark’s fascinating account of this amazing achievement…
I’d heard about the triple crown of open water swimming and decided to have a go at Manhattan in 2017. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to delay the swim a year and ended up doing it on September 8th 2018 in 7 hours 52 mins.
I suffered with a lot of shoulder pain on that swim, which meant any thoughts of any more long swims were the last thing on my mind, and I spent the next couple of years swimming for fun and trying to correct my stroke and reduce the shoulder problems. Finally, I felt ready to do something just as COVID struck and the world changed.
By 2022 and with COVID largely behind us I had forgotten about trying for the triple crown, but tragedy lent a hand when my friend Jody died from bowel cancer after a 5 year battle. Jody was a legend in the open water swimming community, having swum the English Channel in 2019 between bouts of chemotherapy. Jody also wanted to go on and complete the triple crown, but her cancer worsened, leaving her unable to train and in hospital for months on end.
After her death, I decided that I would try and swim the Catalina Channel for my triple crown in her memory and to raise funds for Bowel Cancer UK. I went to Lanzarote the day after her funeral and spent a few weeks doing a lot of swimming to see how my shoulder coped with some major mileage. It seemed OK, so I booked my spot and registered for the swim as soon as I got back to the UK.
I’m 58 years old now, and decided to train smart for this one. So rather than just churning out huge mileage, I worked on improving my technique and getting some pace back. Coached sessions in an endless pool did wonders for my technique and plenty of weekday interval sessions and Saturday mornings with RNSC got my pace up to where I needed it to be before I started the transition to open water through the spring and summer.
By the time I flew out to the US I felt like I was in a good place. My technique was better, my pace was good and everything had been planned down to the last detail.
Just after 10.30 pm on September 28th, I jumped off the back of my support vessel, swam 200yds or so to Catalina Island, to start the swim. My first thoughts were that the water was far colder than I expected. I had trained in similar temperatures all summer, but I had heard that the water was a bit warmer. Mentally I was not prepared for this. I knew that due to ocean currents, the water would get colder once we got closer to the US mainland, so I needed to get a handle on matters and decided to switch to warm feeds to get me through the night, knowing that daylight would give the air temperature, and my spirits a lift.
Swimming through the night was lovely. The lights from the boat were catching the bubbles from my hands creating something akin to phosphorescence as I swam, they also illuminated the hundreds of small, harmless jellyfish as they drifted below me, and combined with the bioluminescent creatures all around me, made for quite a surreal experience.
Shortly after daybreak I was joined by several pods of dolphins and felt hugely privileged to be peacefully sharing their environment as we each went about our business.
Through the final hours of the swim, I felt OK, not particularly tired or fatigued, but my hip flexors were becoming tight and uncomfortable, and I was experiencing some cramp in my right hamstring each time I stopped to feed. I could see land up ahead and knew that barring anything major going wrong, the swim was mine. The water had got a lot colder, but despite the lack of the normally reliable Californian sun, the air temperature had improved, so all I needed to do was keep up a decent stroke rate and I would be fine.
I got to the point where the kayaker told me it was my last feed and there was perhaps, 20 mins or so to go and Judith joined me for the final push in to the finish. I was probably 20 yards from shore when I could finally see the bottom and it was shallow enough to stand. I got to my feet, felt great and started to stride out, only to trip on a rock and go down hard, triggering a full-on cramp attack. Each time I tried to stand the cramp would worsen, then a set of waves would break over me, tossing me around helplessly in the surf. Eventually the waves died back and I decided to crawl out on my hands and knees, just to clear the water where I could try and stand. Luckily, I was able to do so without any cramp, and walked up to the cliffs to finish the swim in a time of 15 hours and (a rather annoying) 1 min, to become a triple crown swimmer.