Thursday, 2 May 2013

Another 24 hour swim

I woke on the morning of the 24 hour swim to the sound of rain pounding against the window, I opened the curtains hoping my ears were playing tricks on me and that the sun would come blasting in.  Alas, the rain was hammering down.  The good news though, my ears were in perfect working order. 

Down at the Lido there was a lot of hustle and bustle as swimmers and support teams got themselves ready for the start of the event.  There was a sense of anticipation and a little trepidation at what lay ahead of us.  The challenge was simple, swim 1 mile every hour for 24 hours.   This would give me between 30-35mins rest between each mile.  Sounds easy enough, but add to the fact that the lido is only heated to around 18 Celsius (standard swimming pool is 28-30 Celsius), the air temp was only just creeping into double figures and the wind was out to play, made it all the more difficult.

 At last it was time to stand at the edge of the pool and get this crazy challenge underway.  Looking around, some people had decided to start with wetsuits because it was such a miserable day.  As I stood there waiting to begin, I questioned whether I had done enough of the right training to be able to complete the 24 hour swim.  I knew that I was leaps and bounds ahead of where I was when I stood in this exact spot 2 years earlier. Plus I had put on some weight in preparation for the Channel, which I had not done last time, so thought this would give me extra fuel and insulation from the cold.  I decided that I was in a good place and just needed to focus on the mile in front of me, one at a time and not think too far ahead.

Jumping into the water I was not prepared for quite how cold it was and got a bit of a shock, I yelled at the guy in front of me to get going so we could get swimming and get the blood pumping.  After a bit of a sprint on the first lap I slowed down to a comfortable pace.  It passed pretty quickly, I felt happy with the pace and the water temperature wasn’t a problem.  Getting out of the water afterwards was the tough bit.  I quickly sorted out my routine of getting dried and into warm clothes as quickly as possible and try to take in a little food. 

I had brought far too much food; a mix of sandwiches, cereal bars, sweets, chocolates, even some pasta.  The plan was to eat little and often to ensure that I didn’t run out of fuel, but didn’t over do it and make myself sick.  Along with the food I was drinking carbohydrate drinks and had some carbo gels to add to the mix. 

The day passed pretty smoothly with the miles ticking off nicely, no problems with my pace or niggles in my arms or shoulders.  Throughout the day I was lucky to have a number of people pop in to wish me well.  Mel had brought me down in the morning and ensured I got off to a good start before zooming home to sort the kids out for the day.  I hadn’t expected to see her again until the evening once the kids were in bed.  However, at around mile 4 as I was getting to the end I heard a voice shouting ‘daddy, daddy, daddy’ and thought that’s nice that someone has their children there to cheer them on, only to look up to see Jack, Ellasofia, Mel and her mum there with big cheesy grins.  It was a fantastic surprise to see them; Jack threw himself at me as I got out, almost knocking us both into the water.  Once at the tent and dressed I could concentrate a little more on the kids, who thought the tent was amazing fun and also liked the look of my stash of chocolate and sweets!

Back in the water more wetsuits were coming out, but I was still feeling happy with the temperature.  The sun even made the odd appearance a few minutes at a time, which lifted our spirits.  At the 8 mile mark I had a little mental dance at making it a 3rd of the way without any issues.   Having said that, getting in and out of the water was getting harder each time and my swim times were starting to go up a little, which was a sign that the distance and cold were starting to have an impact.  Rich, my lane buddy and fellow finisher from the previous event, popped in to wish me well and give me a little motivation to keep going, which was great.

By the halfway point I had setup camp in the communal marquee which was a much better place to be than the tent, as it was more sociable and warmer.  Sue had popped in earlier in the day to see how I was getting on and as it got dark she sent some hot pasta over with Dave, which was a welcome distraction.  I struggled to eat much of it, but it was good to have and Dave was excellent company for the 3 or so hours that he stayed with me, keeping me focused and motivated at the crucial point.  Mel came back and took over from Dave at around the 14 hour mark, this was a really tough point, the start of the night, knowing that there were still plenty of hours to go before the sun came up and it was only going to get colder and more difficult.   Having friends around certainly helped and a little banter was always good.  Which picked up as Paul dropped in with a hot chocolate, which I tactlessly said, ‘thanks, but if I drink that I’ll throw up’.  By that point the filter between my brain and mouth had stopped working. 

At 3am Chris came down to help me, through the really tough period of the swim.  Chris is someone that I had never met before the morning of the swim and had volunteered to help me out.  This was a completely selfless act, there was no personal gain for him, he was there to help me out when he should have been at home in bed sleeping.   It was awesome to have him there to help me between each mile, making sure I was warm and kept me distracted and motivated with positive comments before getting in the water.   Truly awesome to be on the receiving end of such human kindness.

At some point during the night I started to have pains in my right shoulder and left elbow which I felt on every stroke, it was at this point that I seriously considered putting the wetsuit on, not to deal with the cold but to help me swim more easily and take some of the pressure off.  When I realised that the reason for wanting to put the wetsuit on was to help make swimming easier I knew that I could not put it on, otherwise I would be cheating myself.  I will not be able to use a wetsuit in the Channel so I cannot succumb to the wetsuit on a difficult swim, if this is a chance to push on through and make it to the end unaided.  It was a good moment of clarity  Also a chat with Marcus helped, he was doing 3 hours on 3 hours off with as a relay with a friend, we were at about mile 18 when he said, ‘you have completed two thirds of the swim, the next time you see me the sun will be coming up and there will only be 3 more miles to go’.  It really helped to break the event down into smaller chunks. Although my brain was struggling at some points through the night, I realised this when I got to the side of the pool still with jacket on and towel around my waste, about to strip off only to realise I had forgotten to put my trunks back on, could have been interesting!

And before I knew it I was walking out of the marquee into the early dawn, the night was receding and the new day was starting.  Alas, it wasn’t any warmer, but it was a sign that the end was close.  Interestingly though this was the hardest mile of the lot, after the usual 50m sprint to start the mile I settled into a comfortable pace, but then suddenly the wheels fell off, the tank was empty and I had nothing left.  I couldn’t put any power into my stroke and felt like I was barely moving forward.  The rest of the solo swimmers in my lane were by now in wetsuits and lapping me.  I didn’t let myself panic, just thought about each stroke, not even able to contemplate the length in front of me, I just told myself to keep going and get to the end of the mile and then I could eat something. 

I duly got to the end, but I could see the look of concern in the face of Chris and Marcus, they could see how much I was struggling.  I managed to put some clothes on and then stumbled to my tent for a sugar rush, I stuffed my face with chocolate mini rolls, jelly babies and nuts.  I had to stop myself from eating too much, I just needed the fuel.   I was a little worried when I got to the penultimate mile, I just didn’t know how it was going to go.  Thankfully the sugar rush had kicked in and I was able to sprint the first 50m and then get into a nice pace that took me to the end, the same on the final mile.  At this point Mel had come back and was able to see me safely into the water for the final mile.  I was able to push through at a better pace than the previous mile and finish comfortably.    

At last it was over and I had done it!!  24 miles in 24 hours without a wetsuit, get in there!