Adventure Swim Racing: The UltraSwim 33.3

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Am interested in all of the possibilities. This may just be what I need to get back in the water!

Charles Heyer 04 Mai, 2023

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Swimming is all about tradition but the tide is turning. The era of adventure swim racing is about to begin. If you haven’t heard of adventure swim racing, that’s because it’s a new format of swim event. It’s the spirit of a multi-day off-road race but in the open water to create that intoxicating mix of adventure, excitement, and challenge we all can’t (and don’t want to) resist.

The Spark 

Open water swimming has become more popular, especially after the pandemic. A positive side to all the closed pools during lockdown was how many people discovered wild swimming. Whether it was a swimmer looking to get their workout or someone wanting to connect with nature and find space to take care of their mental health, out of necessity, more and more people ventured into the open water. Thankfully, even though the pools are back open, open water swimming is still growing and more and more people are still choosing the wild over walls. It’s a trend Mark Turner noticed and it sparked the idea of the UltraSwim 33.3.

Turner, who built his career in sporting event operations most notably with the Volvo Ocean Race and the ever-popular Haute Route cycling race, is a swimmer himself. Although he had planned to step back from event operations, he felt compelled to bring his vision of adventure swim racing to life. What Turner and his team created was the UltraSwim33.3: a four day, 33.3 km point-to-point swimming stage race in the varied and beautiful waters of Montenegro.

“It’s an adventurous competition. It's an event that will perhaps make you feel uncomfortable and slightly nervous, but very rewarded when you nail it. But most importantly, you'll come away with new friends from all over the world and new bonds that the unique multi-day format creates.”

The Race

The race consists of 5 to 7 swims over a 4 day period (a long weekend) and includes a 10km marathon swim. Since weather can be a factor, the total distance of each day and each swim isn’t set in stone. Having it set up as a point-to-point event, wherever you stop one swim, that’s where the boat will drop you off for the next so you will always complete the 33.3 km by the end of the weekend. And if you’re wondering about the 33.3 km total, it’s the iconic distance of the English Channel and something any swimmer can be proud of accomplishing.

At the test event last year, the first day consisted of a 4 km swim to start and then a 5 km as the second swim. Day two started with 5.5 km and then, due to weather conditions, a short 2km. Day three, always the marathon day, was a big 10.5 km with two in-water aid stations on route. The final swim (a bit longer than the originally planned 5 km to make up for the bad weather day) was a total of 6.3 km.

The Challenge

If that sounds like a lot of swimming, you would be right. Turner says that is exactly the point but, he stresses, the format makes it achievable.

A lifelong pool swimmer, the distances in open water swimming were initially a shock for Turner. “When I first started open water swimming, I had never done more than a 400 meter swim in my life and I was 47 years old. So, at the beginning, it was daunting. How the hell would I keep going? Then I did Rottnest Island swim (19.7 km) in 2019 in six and a quarter hours. I mean, mentally, when you haven't done it, you think: how the hell am I gonna just keep on going? But in fact, you just break it down. You do bit by bit, kilometer by kilometer, chunk by chunk. People have a fear of ‘how am I going to last that distance?’ but that’s the same with all endurance sport. Once you get into it, you find your own ways of dealing with it and then the accomplishment feels even greater at the end.”

Taking the “chunk by chunk” approach, Turner took the meaningful distance of the English Channel—33.3 km— and set out to make it approachable, accessible, and doable for more people. In the test event, with various levels of swimmers, everyone except one swimmer (who got seasick) was able to complete the challenge thanks to the format and support Turner and his team are able to provide each swimmer.

Shared Experience 

That’s not to say the event is easy. Besides the distance, it is still a race. “The combination of it being a competition and a multi-day even makes it special,” Turner says.“When it's a competition, people push themselves a bit harder. Swimmers get up the next morning and they're a bit sore and they're a bit nervous and thinking: ‘how am I gonna do this again?’ But they're surrounded by people. They're all feeling pretty similar and then together they do it, and they do it again, and they nail it. And people that have never swam more than perhaps 3 or 4 km in one go in their life managed to swim 33.3 km over four days.”

The unique camaraderie during a multi-day endurance event is something Turner experienced when he was running the Haute Route cycling event and it was something he was intent on bringing to UltraSwim 33.3. “The biggest thing the multi-day format brings is bonding. You get to know people properly and you get to know them when they’re ‘naked’— when they're tired and they're just finished a long swim. Everyone's together, they get to know each other, really sharing some of the highs and lows.”

With that spirit in mind, the race can be completed in three ways: by an individual; in a duo relay where the distance over the first three days is shared between two swimmers; and in a team of four where the cumulative time of each stage is counted but swimmers still get an individual ranking. Furthermore, swimmers can race in either the wetsuit or skins category.

Locations, Not Laps

While the distance is a key part of the UltraSwim33.3, so is the adventure. Montenegro offered everything Turner was looking for, especially a unique swimming experience. “We’re trying to avoid laps,” Turner says. “Most swimming events and obviously almost all triathlons, you’re going around buoys on a lap course. Of course, that’s fine, but you don’t actually discover anything other than the lap. The point-to-point is a core part of the concept so you’re actually doing a journey from A to B and that brings different and varied conditions: rougher, smoother, colder, warmer, big cliffs, beaches—a whole combination of things.”

Discovering the waters of Montenegro was crucial for the experience Turner wanted to create. “We go around the peninsula. We start in the calm, flat, dark fjord waters and we go around the peninsula into the sea and then finish back off in the fjords. The turquoise waters of the Adriatic sea are beautiful but can get rough pretty quickly, especially if you're swimming along cliffs,” he explains. “It is not four loops around in a reservoir—that is not the concept. The concept is in an adventure swim race so you will be feeling a bit of adventure.”

Enjoy the Swim

“We tried to create something more premium than was out there before,” Turner says. “We’re trying to support the swimmers as if they’re pros, as if they’re an elite athlete with all the kind of things elite athletes have.” From post-swim massages, fully coordinated logistics, premium accommodation, nutrition at the finish line, coaching, and a program for non-swimming companions, the event aims to give everyone a premium, luxury experience. From the safety goal of having a swimmer never being more than 50 m away from a kayak to offering video analysis from a top performance coach, Turner and his team have thought of even the smallest details. Of course, the big things have been meticulously chosen as well. The schedule is formatted to fit over a long weekend. “On the day you finish, you can stay and do the party or you can get a flight at three o’clock and get back for work on time.”

“The iconic solo challenges are very hard to organize and train for. We’re trying to give people a taste of that but with everything organized for them. So you can just get on a flight, come swim, and it's all gonna be managed for you,” Turner says. “We’re gonna look after you.”


If you’re ready for a new type of swimming race, if you’re hungry for adventure in the water, or you’ve always wanted a taste of doing an ultra distance, the UltraSwim33.3 is both bridging the gap to the world of ultra swimming and offering a new type of racing adventure.

The event in Montenegro is the first of what is planned to grow to 8 annual events by 2026 in different parts of the globe. So there is lots of opportunity to dive into the open water experience.

The event in Montenegro takes place 29 September - 2 October 2023. Entries are open now. No race qualification necessary. For more information and to enter, visit

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Am interested in all of the possibilities. This may just be what I need to get back in the water!

Charles Heyer

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