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Sunday Times STLive By SUBASHNI NAIDOO, 2012-02-12

Red wine fuels marathon swimming ace's stamina

DRINK TO IT: Martin Strel, who has swum the Amazon and Mississippi rivers, is going to swim the Midmar Mile today Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
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SLOVENIAN swimmer Martin Strel enjoyed two bottles of wine a day while training for KwaZulu-Natal's famous Midmar Mile.

SLOVENIAN swimmer Martin Strel enjoyed two bottles of wine a day while training for KwaZulu-Natal's famous Midmar Mile.

The marathon swimmer, who holds a world record, will compete with over 16000 swimmers in today's 39th annual race, north of Pietermaritzburg.

He began training in South Africa three weeks ago and, in that time, the 57-year-old has swum over 100km - while knocking back about 15 bottles of imported Slovenian red wine.

"The wine helps me stay healthy," insisted Strel, who holds four Guinness world records after swimming the entire length of South America's Amazon, China's Yangtze, America's Mississippi and Europe's Danube rivers.

Strel may not look like an athlete, but he is widely recognised as one of the greatest long-distance swimmers the world has known.

And today he hopes to add the Midmar Mile to his list of achievements.

His training regimen includes drinking copious amounts of wine and swimming for a few hours twice a day.

"The best breakfast for me is to jump into the water and swim for hours ... I just love the water," he said.

In 2007, hecompleted a record-setting, 66-day, 5268km swim along the Amazon River.

He braved crocodiles, piranhas, and the dreaded candiru, a vicious little fish that penetrates any orifice available and feeds off one's blood.

"I learnt not to pee in the water," he said, adding that his protection included putting Vaseline in his wetsuit to block them out.

He said the Amazon was the most challenging of his big-river swims, which included 4004km of the Yangtze in 2004, 3798km of the Mississippi in 2002 and 3004km of the Danube in 2000.

His "special wine" has a low-alcohol content and he mixes it with juice, tea or water.

"My secret has surprised medical experts."

He also tucks into three bowls of pasta and soup , and a plate of fish every day.

In an interview published in Time magazine in September 2009, he revealed that his wine intake helped him swim 10 to 12 hours every day. He discovered the wine, which he declined to name, in 2000 after tasting a variety of vintages.

"And we've been together ever since. I drink my wine every day. This is special wine made in Slovenia. You can't buy it outside the country. Even though I drink a little more than usual, it has less alcohol and sugar, so it's good for me."