Guildford 24, 2swim4life, one mile on the hour, every hour for 24; time to take on the monster that’s been quietly filling a lot of my thoughts for quite a long time…
Firstly; how much stuff?! For the last few days I’d been laying out things to take. The pile was growing, and growing and growing…until it was a ridiculously huge amount; its only a swim for goodness sake! It seemed to be a common trend on the WhatsApp so I didn’t worry too much and crammed it all in the car and set off…with a quick pit stop in Hereford to pick up my dad (and helper for the weekend). The pit stop involved cramming in yet more carbs – now a portly (but insulated) 80kg, Id aimed for 800grams of carbs Thursday and Friday. Ticked the box Thursday, think I was a little bit down Friday but feeling quite heavy…;)
When we got to the pool it looked absolutely amazing. Sun was out, water looked superb and as we were early, we almost had free choice of where to set up camp. Game plan was for the five swimtastics to share our big 1970’s tent and have a few other tents for other stuff! The afternoon was spent building camp, moving all the stuff from the cars and saying hi to the many many swim friends these events seem to bring back together!
Final job was to finish the carbing up with dinner in the pub and mix up the drinks for the next day. Previously Ive been using maltodextrin and ribena but in a bid to spice up whats in the bottle, I’d talked through with a nutritionalist who said you can only absorb so much maltodextrin; mixing 2:1 with Fructose opens up another channel to get the carbs in. The only slight problem with this is it is insanely sweet. Mixed up 24, 250ml feeds with 40grams of maltodextrin and 20 of fructose plus ribena. I hadn’t proven it over distance so bit of a risk going for this but I had enough maltodextrin to change the plan half way if needs be. Each bottle should be plenty to swim a mile so food should just be topping this up.
As 9am approached, we all made our final preparations, wandered down to poolside and fought our way through the crowds of swimmers and supporters to the water. Our lane was supposed to have seven swimmers but rather pleasingly, we found out there was only four of us, me, Jo, another solo and outdoor swimmer mag’s relay. The first mile is a bit of an unknown; what pace are we all going for, what pace can everyone do, what can we hold, who wants to try and smash it?! Outdoor swimmer wanted 25 mins, Lydia the soloist wanted a bit slower, me and Jo had both put 28mins so I was quite happy to take the last spot and sit in their draft! First mile felt relaly slow and controlled…cos it was. We swam a 27;56. Perfect! Everyone climbed out and wandered off for their break.
My plan was to shower, drink my bottle, wander back to the tent and get changed and eat. The chlorine for the 12 the year before was horrible so I wanted to try and wash off as much as I could and drink my bottle as early as possible. With the sweetness, I just downed it. Done. Back up to the tent, dry, change, eat, sit in the sun. Ideal.
Five minutes before you need to be in the pool, a hooter goes off to call the swimmers back to poolside. We all wandered back in high spirits for mile two. Jo and I had decided before hand to alternate the lead between the two of us so this was my lead. I swam a 28;40 which I should have been comfortable but felt quite fast, looking at it now I think I had set my pace based on 12 miles in a short course pool; this is long course…which is quite a difference! Outdoor swimmer now had a tall lady swimming who worked really well with Lydia, they lapped us a few times but we stuck to our pace; the relatively empty lane made it quite easy for our differing paces.
The day was glorious which made everything a lot easier, all of our kit was drying in the sun, it was warm to sit around, perfect. The miles ticked by, and we seem to have settled just outside our target pace, routine of washing off, downing a bottle in the shower and wandering back up to try and force food down my throat was working well. The water felt really cold but that was just in comparison to the warm air! Sian was lane 2 and finishing her miles first, me and Jo were three finishing second and Lewis and Ros were a bit slower again, wandering back up the hill with about twenty minutes to go. Everyone was going great guns!!
As day turned to dusk, the air temperature started dropping, the mileage was starting to build and the fatigue was starting to set in. I was mildly concerned from about 8 miles onwards how much I was feeling it in my arms, way more than if I’d swum 8 straight…and there was a huge distance to go. I can only put this down to the format, swim, rest, swim, rest, swim, rest. Its relentless, and just enough time for the fatigue to start sinking in before you need to go again. That however is the game, no modifications, one mile on the hour!
Super swimmer Sian had a little wobble around here, she was in lane two next to me and consistently lapping me and Jo. Her training had been interrupted by damaging the muscles between her ribs and not being able to swim for two weeks. She is super tough so I wasn’t too worried for her but she wasn’t happy for an hour or two!
At 9pm it was pretty much dark, the floodlights were lighting up the pool, googles had been swapped for non tinted ones and by the time this mile was done, we were half way! Sian had swum through her pains but Lewis was starting to struggle a bit with pain in his shoulder from about mile 9 apparantly. Realistically this was further than he had swum before so although quite down, he was doing fantastically and still in the game.
At ten PM my helper went back over the road to the premier inn to get some sleep. I hadn’t really needed help to this point and everything was well in hand. Plan was for him to come back at 3am. My swimming was fine although Id started to notice I was struggling to stay with Jo. Although she claimed not to have done much training, she is a better swimmer than me, next lane up at masters, I was starting to find it hard. By 13 or 14 we decided she should be in front and just go.
Lewis was properly chipper at the next turn around. A mixture of painkillers and the discovery that half breastroke half front crawl had perked his spirits up no end! The air was starting to get quite cold now, obviously nothing was drying anymore so each turnaround was spent huddling in the tent and dipping into the reserves of dry towels and swimmers. The five minute hooter signalled the march of the dry robe zombies back to the pool.
Ros was starting to struggle with her feeds and was now staying down by the pool. I was a bit concerned but the feedback was she was swimming ok, just struggling to eat/throw up. Sian and Jo were both still swimming strongly…but had disappeared at the turnarounds. I was starting to find it a bit tricky, running out of energy to do anything other than the essentials at the turnarounds. As I trudged back to the tent at about 2am, Lewis and Jade were both sat in darkness in the tent. He was done. Gutted for him…but he had completed 16 miles, ten further than every before so a huge achievement, regardless he was a bit dejected.
I text my dad asking if there were any more dry towels, Id pretty much run out and everything was cold and wet (air about 5c). Every turnaround I was struggling to get dry and warm, shivering away and having to get back in. My head was down a little bit, this was my little wobble. I knew this time of the morning was going to be tough, Id prepared for it and I pushed through. The turnarounds were tough but everytime I got back to the pool, I knew what had to be done and was still swimming reasonably well. That was the easy bit. Luckily, my dad was back for the next turnaround and just in the nick of time! From not really needing him, now I really did. We swapped the turnarounds from the cold tent on the hill to the heated marquee by the pool. I hadn’t done it before cos I dint have the energy to move all my stuff; seemed easier to stick with plan A. I think 4am I just sat in the warm tent and dad did everything and moved everything down. This was just what I needed; him to do everything and me to just swim! Should probably mention this was also the first time Id seen Ros for about four hours and was pleased to see she was in pretty good spirits and looked like she was swimming strongly. From what people had said I was a bit worried she was struggling but clearly not; super tough, should never have doubted!
The next mile or two were much better, pace had drifted out to mid 30 mins but I still felt I was swimming well, despite the second lot in our lane swimming off half hour now catching me fairly consistently every mile before I finished mine. Again this is part of the game, if you cant hold sub 30mins, you get eight fresh swimmers tearing down the lane after you. You either try and sprint…or accept it and let them past. I decided to stop getting annoyed and accept my fate and not fight them!
Finally, the pitch dark started to break, there was light on the edge of the horizon! 6 Miles left. One marathon. Only a marathon. I kept thinking that’s a huge swim still…but there was not any doubt I was going to finish it. All of a sudden I started thinking about Lomond and how that went wrong quite quickly. Although my shoulders had felt great, there and then I decided to just get to the finish, no fighting, no pushing, drop the pace til it felt comfortable and just go with it. My elbows were hurting a bit and my triceps were very very tired, but nothing was hurting hurting so just keep it going and it would be done. Should probably also note at this point that the drinks had been working extremely well. Id been forcing food down, surprisingly I was going for the savory stuff when I usually go for the sweet things but perhaps that was the extreme sweetness in the bottle! Although it was going well, I couldn’t face eating anymore at this point and decided there were enough calories in the bottle to finish on that alone.
Although there was still a long way to go, it never now seemed in doubt and every mile was a little brighter, a little warmer, and the swimming a little easier. Although my pace had dropped right off, out to 34/35 mins, I was in pretty good spirits cos it was virtually done! Then just like that, it was done. 24 miles in 24 hours, 12 hours 30mins swim time. Everyone was cheering and clapping everyone in, superb atmosphere!
Just enough energy left to tear down the camp and get in the car before I properly zonked out…for the next two days 😉
In Summary, I was expecting this to be super tough. It was the test of the changes Id made to my stroke after pulling out of Lomond at 16 miles, it was the test of my nutrition and it was the big test before my channel solo in a few months time. Everything went really well! Ever so slightly disappointed my pace dropped off as it did…but despite all of the swimming I had been doing, I hadn’t really gone over 20k; and this was nearly double that. It also wasn’t worth getting hurt or tweaking anything so I think the decision to back off every so slightly and accept the drop was a good one. The massive takeaway is my stroke didn’t give me any problems and bar some freaky tides, Ive got the distance of the channel under my belt. Time to recover, re-asses, and go again, shade under 100 days left…