After months of preparation, the big day had arrived. Paul picked me up at 6.45am and after collecting Bev and his provisions, we headed north to Guildford Lido. The previous day had been one of glorious sunshine and we had erected a rather superior gazebo and left some reclining chairs and other provisions in the park area adjacent to the pool, to lessen the amount that we needed to bring on the day.
But Sods law, the day had dawned cold and grey and on the drive up it had rained, but once there, food laid out and sports drinks prepared, we brewed a pot of coffee and I poured out a large bowl of mueseli. It was 8am. We both felt happy and confident ( apart from Pauls’ dikkie tum ) and a little smug as we watched others arrive with small one man tents, desperately trying to get their kit sorted before the 10am start. Sitting in our comfey chairs with a view of all the proceedings, we spotted a queue forming and decided we ought to check it out as it may be important. It was, it was registration, and after being marked with our numbers on our hands, we were told to assemble for a debriefing at 8.45am, which we duely did.
Lesley, the organiser, welcomed us all and said she would keep the debrief short as she was keen to start the event promptly on the O’ clock. I thought, ” but surely we’re starting at 10 O’clock, plenty of time ? ” Looking around the crowd I noticed people already in their swim gear and I suddenly realised we had 10 mins before the start, not an hour and 10 mins – and I hadn’t yet had my nervous tummy toilet trip! A quick dash to the loo, then back up to the gazebo and into swim cozzi, hat and goggles.
We made to the poolside with about 2mins to go, met the others in our lane and wished all good luck. My buddy Jon Brook hadn’t yet arrived as I’d asked him to come up for 10 O’clock, so Bev had to stop watch and time us both.
Our plan was to go out nice and easy and draft off each other, changing th e lead every 400m as we had practiced in training. After one length we were quickly over taken by the other swimmers who were all swimming in teams, but we maintained our focus, and did the first mile in 26:30, bang on schedule. Out of the pool, back up to the gazebo, quickly dry off with one of the 24 tea towels we both had, and into dry clothes. Something to eat and drink and try to relax. Paul had organised himself so well that all his sports drinks were pre made and numbered so that his buddy only had to ask him what he fancied to eat ( Lawrence would have been proud of him! ) I, on the other hand was slightly less organised, but I was so cold after the first mile that all I wanted was a hot cup of tea. Jon had now arrived and before we knew it, we were back in the pool for 2nd mile, 27:02 – still on target but I felt that I was working too hard too early on, and Paul was feeling much stronger, so we decided not to change the lead every 400m, Paul would lead and I’d draft off him. 3rd mile, 26;25 4th mile, 26;34 5th mile 26;41, nice and consistent. By now I was begining to struggle, as I didn’t feel that I was able to eat enough, and was quickly running out of energy. Being so cold, I was very tense, but group hugs ( thanks Bev ) helped me to warm up and relax and before long, miles 6, 7 and 8 all passed with times of 27 mins or under. By now I had got through several buddies and Joan Lennon was helping me. Mile 9, I was cold and exhausted, we had swum 9 miles and were not even half way. ( this was quite a low point for me ).
I then decided to put on my wetsuit, which gave me a big pyschological boost. By now the muscles in my arms and back had started to stiffen up, and even in a wetsuit, having to get out of the water each time for half an hour, I was getting cold again. Paul was cold too, of course, but wrapped up warm each break time, he continued to stick to his feeding regime with trips to the loo for his bad tum.
Once in my wetsuit mile 9 felt easy, 25;58. Now Paul was drafting off me and we continued in this fashion mile after mile into the evening. Once the sun had gone, it got colder and colder and huddled in the freezing gazebo it was pretty miserable. I think I swore several times that I was never giong to swim in any event ever again ever ever, and if I so much as suggested it I was to be slapped!!
Midnight arrived and with it Brian and Lawrence who had come up earlier than their alloted time with space blankets,quilts, more cuppa soups for me and little sweet treats to try and give us a lift.
The pool area was dimly lit and with the steam rising off the water the whole scene took on a mystical quality, the under water lights adding to the effect. The coldest darkest hours were tough indeed, and it all became a bit ‘ground hog day’. By mile 17 our times had slowed down to 28mins, but oddly enough, it wasn’t the swimming that was the toughest part, but the half hour getting cold and stiff in between. How Paul managed to stay in his trunks and not resort to his wetsuit I will never know. He’s made of strong stuff that’s for sure. Several times during the night I managed a 5 mins cat nap before the call to get back in the water was given.
At 5am our 21st mile was coming up, and so was the sun. It was at this point that I knew we could make it. Paul was suffering now, extremely cold and feeling dredful, and unknown to us at the time had very painful forearms, he had slowed down considerably. I was swimming as slowly as I could to give him a tow and we clocked 31;07mins.
But going at this speed, I wasn’t able to get warm myself and so reluctantly at mile 22 I swam to get warm and left Paul to dig deep and just keep his arms turning. I clocked 28;33. With two miles to go Anne and Bev arrived to help pack up the gazebo. I ached all over, but nearly there, I couldn’t believe it. 23miles 27;54. I now felt strong and bouyed up by the fact that it was nearly over, i didn’t want to get out, but out we got, and back to the gazebo one last time. 8am, this was it, our last mile, mile 24 in 26;57mins.
The sense of achievment was overwhelming – I had just sum 24 miles! I started to cry with the sheer relief and emotion of it, but Paul was still swimming – 4 mins later, he finished too ( what incredible guts and determination he has ). We hugged and congratulated ourselves. We had done it : 24miles in 24 hours.
Of course we couldn’t have done it without the massive support of friends and family. Thanks to my Mum for looking after all my animals yet again. The phone call asking were the bird sand for the quail was, when i was at my lowest point was a little surreal! Thanks to Jon Brooke who cycled to and from the event! Thanks to my friend Maisie who managed to go to Aldershot lido instead but got there in the end. Thanks to Sylvia for her endless enthusiasm. Thanks to Joan Lennon who’s calmness, good sense and optimism kept me focused on the end goal, her telling me at mile 9 that we were nearly half way. Aah!!. Thanks to my friend Brian Wilson, who is endlessly dependable, thank you, Brian. Thanks to Lydia and Dave who came up when it was cold and dark just to support us, thanks guys. Thanks to Brian Mason who along with Lawrence arrived at midnight and got us through to the end. Brian also managed to sneak in a couple of runs to keep warm and take some great night time pics managing to capture my amazement at finishing. Thank you Anne for the massage and for driving me back to Steyning. And lastly, but mostly, thank you to Lawrence, coach, sports nutrionalist,swim buddy and friend. His participation in this event in 2011 gave both Paul and I a huge insight into what kit and food we would need, and without all his help and his list of essentials we would have been ill equiped. Thank you.