From ‘never again’ to ‘sounds fun’ in 24hours…

It’s only taken me until I’m on my next swim adventure to find time to write about my last swim adventure………but that is still an improvement on my usual report turnaround! Unusually I didn’t think about what I’d write about 2swim4life while I was swimming it – coming up with a post or two often kills a few miles, mind occupied elsewhere I guess – the event remains clear in my mind however so I will attempt to log it.

So 2swim4life #2; 24 miles. One per hour. In a 50m lido. Guilford. Start each one on the hour > swim > get out > use rest of the hour to rest/recover/refuel. Sounds easy I know, and during the day it really is. But, even though this was my second time at this bi-annual event, I forgot how god damn tough it is through the cold, dark night. I’d be fibbing if I said I enjoyed those hours but even during them I knew I would enjoy the event retrospectively. Not sure what that says about my mentality but there it is.

The first time I completed this event I was a few months away from attempting my English Channel solo, I’d suggested it to a friend as a ‘this sounds like good training’ joke which he eagerly agreed to. That time I had never attempted anything of this scale before, planning and packing took weeks. I knew only the two guys I trained with and our support crews. Not another soul there was familiar to me. What a difference 24months makes – I was struck many times during the event how funny it was that this time I considered a large proportion of the participants to be good swim buddies, I’d swam with some of them in crazy places, shared post-swim cake with many, completed enormous distances and evil training camps with others. Some of them are now my dear friends with (what I hope are) lifelong bonds.

Among the latter three are Dave (Dawson), Hazel (Killingbeck) and Jeremy (Irvine). I met Dave in the sea. Literally. We were training and we neigh on bumped into each other and stopped for a chat – as you do. Dave told me his email address at the end of our natter and swam off after I promised to get in touch – we became firm friends and I crewed for him on his epic solo length of Loch Lomond in ’14 (probably the least attractive swim I have ever witnessed – I salute him for his victory). Hazel and I met at Ned Dennison’s legendary ‘Distance Week’ which is exactly as it suggests except it’s 10 days of torture rather than just the seven! We bonded and I was so touched when Hazel asked me to be her support swimmer for her 2014 English Channel solo crossing at the age of just 16, swimming a few hours with her on her fantastic adventure was an honour. And Jeremy and I became facebook friends after my EC and then he roped me into some really cold winter swimming. I was flattered when Jeremy asked me to crew his successful EC solo (also ’14), another brilliant swim and awesome adventure to crew on. The places we reach during these type of events create a deep protective love and respect between those that shared the moments/ The reason for their intros is that these are the people I asked to help me with this challenge (which is incomparable to any of their a fore mentioned swims I hasten to add).

I am eternally optimistic and love company…until I want only my own – I know my faults 😉 And I like my own company and head space during these challenges so choosing the right people, for me, is as critical as putting in the miles of training. Jeremy was also swimming so I asked him to share my tent space (this event happens outside, of course it does!) so we could have a slightly larger tent that we could stand in between us and share support crew/company. Hazel and Dave were the unlucky ones I asked to essentially skivvy for me for the 24hours. I think most of you will realise this already but any challenge of this nature becomes one of trust and teamwork as well as mental and physical endurance – you simply cannot do it alone.

As I mentioned earlier this event is easy during the day, I wanted to turn around my miles on approx 26mins so a steady/repeatable pace that left enough time to rest before the next mile. That’s 34 minutes to shower and dress (same cossi – waste of time and energy getting a not quite dry body into a dry one!), eat something that either Dave or Hazel gave me and drink the warm energy drink they’d kindly made in advance so it was ready to drink as soon as I was dressed. 34 minutes to sit in the very small amount of sun we were(n’t) blessed with that day. 34 minutes to chat to all the lovely, happy, enthusiastic swimming pals I’d made. If you like swimming long distances in cooler water 2swim4life has become a definite event on the ‘catch-up-with’ calendar. It’s a testament to the friendly, open world of open water swimming.

As the sand timer runs low on the hour someone calls ‘5minutes!!’ to signal the end of the rest and to encourage swimmers to return to the poolside for the next mile. The water was cool, I’d heard rumours of it being 23º but my skin said nearer 19º if I’m honest – warmer at the two shallower ends maybe. Roger Taylors watch was reading this lower sort of figure also. But the lengths were still there whatever the temperature so in you get for another 32lengths, another mile ticked off. This remains a vaguely fun way to spend an hour for the first eight/nine for me. We started at 9am so my first ‘jeeeeeeeez this is boring’ came around mid/late afternoon.  I know from previous training/events that I get this blip around a third to a half of the way through whatever it is that I am doing. You’ve been swimming a long time and you still have sooooooo much more to do. I weirdly took this mini-low as something of a triumph – I only made it to mile five during the first 2swim4life before properly throwing my toys out of the pram so a mini ‘boring…!!!’ around mile eight was positively progress!

Hazel and Dave were fantastic, they were at the end of the lane at the end of every mile waiting for me, they were as enthusiastic with me on the 24th mile as they were on the 4th – positive and encouraging, caring and supportive. They insisted on helping me dress after each of my many showers, even though I could of course dress myself after one/five/seven miles they said they wanted to have the system off to a fine art before I got tired/they got tired (let’s not forget that crewing is exhausting!)/it got cold/rainy/dark. They turned my clothes around the right way as I stripped them off and threw them at the upon entering the water, they changed them and my towels as they got too wet for comfort. I wanted for nothing – thank you guys – you were perfect. The routine between the laps is critical, I’d even asked them to not allow me to chat to the masses of swimming lovelies during the later hours as I knew I would exhaust and overexcite myself – 34minutes rest soon passes and with all best intentions, becomes 33minutes rest and then 32minutes rest as those little monkeys on your back lean over and whisper in your ear that it is much more pleasant in the water than out and that you should swim slowly to reduce the less comfortable rest process. I fear that is also the sign of a swimming addict.

This 5minute call gets less funny each time you hear it as the evening pulls in. I can’t really begin to describe the reluctant feeling that flows through every cell in your body when you have just finally managed to get warm again in the middle of the night when you hear those words, it is so tough going from warm and cosy to freezing cold, in just a cossi on the poolside as you await the final signal to get back in the water. When you then get into the hours when you would usually be socialising and then sleeping it gets less amusing again. At no point did I have an entire sense of humour failure but it isn’t fun when so many swimmers suddenly don wetsuits as the night chills – not only does this make the swimmers 10/15% faster, more distractingly though it also makes you question how much colder it has gotten/should you be colder than you are/please don’t give me more things to obsess over while I am swimming………. 😉 Of course when you are tired, this is all magnified. I think my favourite swim moment was Dave convincingly telling me after mile 22 that he’d miscounted and I actually still had three miles to go not two. Sod. But then I did (with the aid of Paul Parrish) eat most of his swim treats during Loch Lomond and recorded each theft on his camera for his later ‘amusement’ so I guess I had that coming to me…!

I feel like I sound really down on this swim, I don’t mean to – I genuinely enjoyed it and found it a hugely interesting learning experience, it’s an awesome event organised by Leslie & Jim – thank you!! It was simply a very different swim to the same swim 2 years ago, to start with I was training at a different volume at that point as I was about to take on the EC (roughly 40k per week v’s roughly 25ish-k a week at present) so my body was differently prepared – it was interesting that at no point was the swimming an issue during this swim, I was happier in the water than out as a general rule – not because I wasn’t having a lovely time with my darling crew but because I would then have to undress from the warm and get back in. Again. I think I also found the swim different because last time I’d shared a lane with my two training buddies, Will Hall & Jeremy Storr – we’d taken it in turns to lead a lane so you lead one, were lead for two. This meant that you can forget counting/pacing for a whole two thirds of the event. This time I led the lane for around the first 14miles at a fairly steady and constant pace that I was happy with…then the neoprene arrived… 😉 Last time I packed for weeks, this time I packed the night before heading to Guilford and then drunk wine and gossiped about boys with Hazel the night before the swim. Last time I knew no one apart from the boys, this time I knew a million swimmers. Last time the air temperature dropped below freezing during the night, this time it poured with rain (sorry crew!). As with last time, my body held together well, I had/have a sore left elbow (it’s literally creaking!) and a tiny armpit chafe that had all but gone the following day (it’s a very sexy and glamorous sport as I’ve told you before). I felt totally fine the following day – arms still fully moved above my head etc., I was sleepy the subsequent day and have been a little dazed all week but really not much of note – thanks body, you rock.

I think my words upon exiting the pool were ‘that’s twice, never again!’. But I think endurance swimming is probably a whole lot like childbirth – less than 24hours after the 24mile swim ‘never again’ an email from a swimming friend arrived in my inbox regarding the same event in 2017 that made me think ‘sounds fun’! Rory Fitzgerald then further compacted this by telling me that he currently holds the record for 2swim4life stupidity with three repeat offenses, obviously I will see you there then Rory!! 😀

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