At 9:30am on Saturday 2nd May I pushed off from the wall at Guildford Lido with the prospect of 24 miles of swimming ahead of me.
At a little bit past 9am on Sunday 3rd May I touched the same wall to complete the 24th mile.
I arrived in Guildford on Friday afternoon and met up with one of my two buddies, Vikki. When I say met up with – I mean met for the first time ever. The kindness and support of strangers always amazes and overwhelms me. Vikki and I knew each other online (through Team Bear) but had never met, yet, along with Jacky, she volunteered her weekend to support me. They were both immense.
We put our tent up near some of the other BLDSA swimmers that I knew and then it was time for dinner and an early night.
I hadn’t realised quite how nervous I was about the whole event, but I didn’t sleep very well the week before the swim and that pattern continued on the Friday night – not a great start when sleep deprivation is one of the biggest challenges you face. But Saturday morning came round and we set up our area.
The things I was worried about were all the non-swimming bits. Did I have enough clothes / towels? Did I have the right food / and enough of it? Would I be sleepy or sunburnt or bitten? So to prepare for this and quieten my brain down I slightly over prepared and over packed – all the towels and sweatshirts I owned and enough food to last for a week not a weekend. Plus a detailed plan of what I was going to eat drink and wear for each hour.
It took a while to unpack it and sort it out, but that helped as it took my mind of the actual swimming. We watched the event start with the 9am wave and then it was my turn (along with the other 80+ swimmers setting off at 9:30am).
The swimming itself was fine. The water was nice, if a little chillier than the advertised 23 degrees, and we soon developed a routine: swim, robe and shoes on, pee, back to the tent, trunks off, get dry, get dressed, eat and drink (according to the strict plan!), relax (for about 3 minutes), trunks back on, pee (and meet a couple of the faster hour start swimmers – and meet them repeatedly), swim, repeat.
I was swimming at about a 33 – 34 minute mile pace, so by the time we got back to the tent we had about 20m minutes to do everything else. But it became a routine. Vikki and Jacky took shifts, but everything stayed the same. Swim a mile, then swim another, then another… The hours merged into one and the day soon passed by.
The first break in the routine came at 10 miles. Normally as I finished the swim I would touch the wall and then just leap out of the pool. I didn’t want to waste my own time messing around, nor did I want to get in the way of the other swimmers.
However as I completed mile 10 and leapt onto the side, my left thigh cramped up forcing me to almost fall back into the pool. The routine now involved a short swim to the side of the pool to find the steps to climb out of.
And so it continued. Day became night and we kept on swimming.
The weather had been grey and unappealing during the day, apart from about a 30 minute spell of sunshine. However that cloud cover meant that the night air didn’t get too cold, which was good news. The bad news was that the clouds opened and for most of the night a steady rain fell – nothing too heavy, but a constant rainfall that added to the things to be managed and quickly took a layer of ‘fun’ off everything.
But still we swam, dried, ate, peed and swam again. Until mile 20.
I’d got cold between miles 19 and 20 and had reached my lowest point. Stood at the water’s edge, just about to remove my last layer before getting into the water I turned to Vikki and said I didn’t want to get in. And I really didn’t. I had nothing to prove and the chance to rest and get warm seemed sooooo appealing at that moment.
If we had been at the tent I wouldn’t have walked to the pool, but we were at the pool. So I removed the heaviest, warmest, stickiest sweatshirt ever and decided to do just “one more mile”. I would have done 20 then and you know what, that would have been one hell of an achievement. So one more mile and then I could stop, so I got in and swam.
And I loved the swim.
The sky turned from black to grey, the water soothed my sore muscles and cold skin and at the end of the mile I got out and told Vikki we needed to get a move on to get ready for mile 21! That was when I knew I was going to finish.
After about mile 16, just as I’m in the tent getting dressed I heard a voice I recognised. “I’m looking for Patrick Smith.”
It was my friend Mark who had turned up at about 1:30am to offer some support. And it was great to see a welcome face, to be able to slightly break the routine for a while and to see the awe and respect (for the whole event) on someone else’s face. During events like this the process becomes your normality, to witness it through someone else’s eyes was fascinating. But it was also great to see you Mark – thanks for the support.
Then a couple of miles later I got into the pool behind a couple of the other swimmers and set off on their feet. Maybe I *could* have overtaken, but I was happy to sit on their feet for a couple of lengths, and then a couple more, and then just a few more. Soon I’d swum the whole mile drafting another swimmer and it had made a huge difference.
It makes a *bit* of difference physically (it’s easier to swim through the water and bubbles they have created than through ‘fresh’ water), but for me the main advantage I got was mental. I could just switch off for a while and not have to think about it. I could just swim and follow this guy.
My unknown support was absent for the next mile as he was part of a two-man relay. But the next time he got in I took advantage again. However this time I decided to return the favour at half-way. I tapped his feet and swam as hard to the lane end as I could, hoping he’d know what I was up to. Fortunately he did and he let me overtake and then drafted me for half a mile. This became our routine for the last few miles (and he did the all the final three miles), except for the very last one as we swam the last length side by side!
Before last weekend the furthest I’d ever swum in a day before was the 10.5 miles of Windermere, so 2swim4life was a massive step up for me and has given me a lot more confidence for longer swims.
But before I think about any of that I still need to rest and complete all my laundry!