August15/ 2013


written by Sarah Cotton

All the preparations were done. All the training had been logged ; the hours and hours slogging up and down Guildford Lido, the early morning 4kms with ‘Finchey’ in the pool, and the endless hours in the sea at Shoreham with Lawrence and I, all this hard work would now hopefully pay off. Last minute checks; gloopy rice pudding? check. carrot and potato soup? check. j-cloths? ( don’t ask! ) check. shot blocks? hydro tablets? vaseline? marigolds? glow-sticks? spare goggles? check, check, check…

It is 05.30 on Wednesday 7th August 2013 on the edge of Lake Windermere. There is barely a sole about, the lake is as flat as a mill pond and there’s a mist rising from it – very atmospheric, and Paul is standing in his trunks, smeared in zinc and castor oil cream and with his goggles on… Lawrence and I are Paul’s support crew and we climb aboard the small support boat to join Colin Hill of ‘ Chill Swim uk ‘, who is the boat pilot and official observer. Colin blows his whistle and Paul enters the water, when he reaches the boat jetty the stop watch starts, and we’re off.

Lawrence is in charge of feeds which will be every half hour, and I’m in charge of taking notes on stroke count, mileage, water temp. and anything else I can think of. The start of the swim could not have been better, and Paul makes good progress, immediately getting into his stroke pattern of breathing bilaterally and swimming 62 strokes per minute. The lake is 19 degrees. At about 07.30 the sun makes an appearance and rises above the peaks surrounding Windermere, Paul smiles and shouts ‘ sun!’ between strokes.

At 08.00 we are joined by a very friendly swan who we call ‘Steve’ who swims alongside the boat for about 10 minutes, obviously waiting for some rice pudding or other tasty morsel to be thrown from the boat, but we’re advised by Colin not to feed it as it may attack Paul when he’s feeding. Every half hour we stop the boat and Paul treads water and downs his food, taking only a few seconds before continuing, hour after hour, mile after mile. At 10.32 after only 4.57hrs of swimming we have reached the far end of the lake, 10.5 miles from where we started. Paul touches the white marker buoy, has a quick feed of soup, and then it’s back for the second length! At midday the sun comes out and we the support crew start stripping off layers of clothing, the lake is still flat as a pancake and Paul isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. By 2pm we start seeing other boats on the lake and as we pass a passenger ferry, people wave and clap and Paul just keeps on swimming…

After 9hours of swimming, and 17.5miles in, even Colin Hill is impressed and exclaims that he’s a ‘swimming machine!’ – at this point Paul is on track to beat Colin’s’ time of 10.30hours. But he now looks to be flagging a little, so I do a stroke count – 58 strokes per minute, he’s obviously feeling tired and you can’t really blame him! But within a mile, he’s back up to 62 spm and is looking strong again.

As we come around the last bend in the lake we can see Waterhead and the finish in the distance. Should we tell Paul that he only has 3.5 miles to go? Still with over an hours swimming still to do we decide to tell him at his next feed that there is less than 3 miles to go, this at least is a figure that he can comprehend at this point. Paul chooses not to eat at his next feed but just to have some honey and not to feed again but just to swim for home. We can see the finish now, but frustratingly, it never seems to get any nearer, until with about 500m to go we can see people on the beach. Colin blows his whistle as Paul passes the small jetty –
and that’s it. Paul has just swum 2 lengths of Lake Windermere, 21.5 miles in an astonishing 10.38hrs!!

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