Wednesday, 4 May 2011

2 Swim 4 Life

It seemed like a great idea however many months ago it was when I entered the event 2S4L11, I am sure you are aware but just in case, it was a charity swim for Help the Heroes, held at Guildford Lido, the challenge being, to swim 1 mile, on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours......easy?? swimming at 1mph...surely that would be doable.

The day after celebrating KGBs birthday on the 28th at the fantastic Whinestone View (and in doing so breaking all my promises regarding alcohol, late nights, warm water) I departed from home, alone, to drive the 280 or so my miles to Guildford where I had reserved a room. The journey was uneventful except maybe for the activation of a speed camera! Damn.

Prior to arrival at the Travelodge I attended the beautiful setting of Guildford Lido where several swimmers were already in attendance erecting tents, it was every bit as nice as it looked on photographs.
I met the organisor Lesley for the first time and was kindly offered some space in Kate and Lisa's tent providing I helped with the setting up. This was ideal as I would now have space to store my kit and food in the event of rain, a bit of a weight off my mind.
Back to the accommodation for my customary two main courses before heading to a seperate location for intros to lots of entrants, I had barely entered the building when I was greeted by the motivator aka Sarah Tunnicliffe, hugs and smiles all round as I said hello to some faces old and new, it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere with the prospect of the event already starting to form bonds as we confirmed starting lanes and times. I allowed myself one pint of Guinness before heading back for an early night.

In the final weeks of build up to the swim for life I had announced my intention to swim each mile dedicated to someone or something, the reason being to keep me mentally intact and motivated, all but one or two miles were taken with some very personal, emotional, reasons associated with their selection. I will refrain from listing them all suffice to say loved and lost family and friends featured highly.

And so to Saturday morning, regular readers will know I don't do breakfast willingly, however, I managed to gulp down some muller rice, coffee and sports drinks prior to packing up and heading for registration, more hellos to Sally Goble, Colin Hill etal and final briefings. Before I knew it the swimmers for the first mile lined up, a little discussion regarding which racing snakes would lead the lane and we were off. I had every intention of recording the times for each mile as well as my thoughts as the day progressed. As per my entry form, I anticipated/hoped to be swimming each mile in around 28 minutes at least at the start of the day.

The first four miles seemed to fly by with the following times: 26:35, 26:46, 26:50, and then a crazy for me 25:45 swimming on the heels of swimmer extraordinaire Mark Bayliss, a routine was starting to develop of swim, shower, dry, dress, eat, drink, stretch, toilet and rest before the verbal "5 minutes" warning was called and we headed off back to poolside. We were informed the water was around 21c though it felt way colder on the parts of the body exposed to the wind. Out of the water the sun was shining to the extent that everyone was applying sun was going well, I felt good, with the weather helping for sure.

As the hours passed the bond between swimmers in each lane began to grow, there was some seriously talented swimmers leading lanes with Lucinda Pollington (Marks better half) Mark Bayliss and Kieron Taylor taking turns to drag the rest of us up and down the 50m pool.

By mile 7, timing each 1600m was binned, I was still showering at this point but that too was soon to be forgotten. I needed every minute possible to rest and attend to other matters, I managed to call home and tweet once or twice, I was aware the Donal Buckley and Lisa Cummins were swimming the same sort of thing in Ireland we therefore passed an occasional update with our status.

The sun dropped in the sky taking with it the warmth of the day, fastskins and wetsuits were beginning to appear as well as abandonment's, several swimmers called it a day after 12 miles by which time it was cold and I was spending each rest period shivering. It was going to be a long night. I was trying to maintain a routine of drying, feeding and resting doing my best to keep warm, all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep. Despite being half way through the end felt no closer and I was starting to suffer mentally.
Swim and rest periods become a bit of a blur, I forget how many miles we have swam and need to ask others for confirmation, Simon the editor of H2open came to see me and lifted my spirits, I remember him ask how I was coping, which reminded me of all the individuals to which I had dedicated my efforts. A short time later I noticed Colin Hill taking down his tent, we spoke briefly, he had called it a day, this shocked me into reality, bloody hell.... if Colin was going home to see his kids this must be tough.
By this point we were down to just three in the lane, Lucinda, Kieron and was silent but for the splash of arms in the cool water,  a flood light lit most of the area but did nothing to lift the air temperature, it was definitely warmer under water than at poolside or indeed in my sleeping bag. Brief panic set in as spots of rain began to fall about 17 miles in, I dashed around, soaking wet in the dark, doing my best to gather some dry kit into the marquette, hot sweet tea became the drink of choice accompanied by all manner of treats, I had been eating jelly babies, rice, gels, maxim bars, maxim, wine gums, galaxy chocolate...I was desperate for something savoury, but even more in need of sleep.
Curled up in a ball with the sleeping bag I would hear the dreaded 5 minute warning, I recall seriously considering..I could easily pretend I didn't hear it and get myself off to sleep and out of this misery. Other swimmers together with their helpers (Lucinda and Mark) would rustle out of their warm cocoon's and limp off to extra minute and I was off running to join them, jumping in to the frigid water and sprinting the first 100m to get warm.
A couple of times during the wee small hours I spent 15 minutes of so in the OSS hot tub as Lesley fetched me more hot sweet tea, it was heavenly..that said it was a killer getting back into the pool after being almost cooked in that tub!

Around 5am one of the most welcome sights was the sky filling ever so slowly with natural light, it was  a massive boost, I was allowing myself to believe that this was looking like a possibility. In my tired sleep depraved, hungry state, calculating we had four miles to swim on the one hand sounded great, on the other...that was 6400m! that in itself would be a good session on it own for any normal day. However, this was no normal day by any stretch of the imagination.

As the sun rose higher, so did the activity on poolside, retired swimmers, helpers and families were all returning to the lido, with just two miles remaining things began to get emotional, mile 23 was for Brendan Kennedy RIP with mile 24 being dedicated to my late mum. My mind was drifting whilst swimming and I was having to talk to myself out loud under water to get a grip. Two extra visits to the blissful hot tub and this was it...the final mile.
Gathered at the start, with much clapping and cheering Kieron lead us out on the final effort, 8 lengths later and Lucinda took the lead, only to pull over after another 400m and tell me to take the lead, they had slowed down so that we could swim in a train, I was getting choked at both this and for thoughts of mum and how pleased she would be for me. Laps 25 to 31 was Kieron again leading the lane pausing briefly to wave and splash kids on the deck, with 50 metres remaining we all stopped, took the lane three abreast and swam in together in total synchronisation. I was totally flattered and very nearly an emotional wreck. Touching as one, to the receipt of much applause, we had done it, 24 miles in 24 hours, we hugged and congratulated each was, at long last, over.
It was brutally relentless, the most difficult event to date. Without further ado, I collected my certificate, packed the car said my goodbyes and headed off for a tiresome 280 mile drive home.
I have lots more to say regarding reflections, lessons learnt, people to thank etc...I will therefore post again soon

Thankyou one and all for your support


Pete Windridge-France said...

Absolutely fantastic effort Mark. It sounded even harder than I had imagined!

Must admit to a lump in the throat whilst I read your post and started to understand the emotional involvement it getting this done.

I'm sure your Mum would be bursting with pride right now.

Well done Mark - an incredible achievement!!

Jo C said...

Fantastic read, emotional and such an amazing challenge you to complete. Looking forward to the next installment

Ranie said...

Well done. You brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations. You've prove yet again that you can do so much more than your think you can.

bettsy180258 said...

Wow, Mark, I have just emotionally related to every single word you have just written. My tent was pitched next to Lucinda and I was introduced to herself and Mark at the very beginning. You were the first group so every time Lucinda passed me walking back to her tent, I was walking towards the pool for the second wave. The occasional well done and a smile at the beginning was soon replaced with just a nod, then nothing as we swam to the early hours, we just looked at one another, each knowing what the other was thinking as the challenge eventually got hold. I am emotional reading it again. This is what that challenge did to people. I did mile 24 for my late dad, listening on my Splashgear (my life saver) to Simple the Best by Tina Turner. As I walked over to start my mile, I watched, and again choked up, as you three came in together. You would not be aware of this. Words mumbled around me, what a lovely gesture to finish together. As if I wasn’t choking back the tears enough for what I was about to do, I watched you three finish and knew you had supported one another through it. It’s so difficult to explain to any ‘non-swimmer’ that comraderie, that feeling. The feeling I had at mile 19 which was so bad but I knew the feeling would be worse if I quitted. This is why we do it, for that feeling and only a handful of people will know where we are coming from. I know Mark, you did brill, so did all other challengers. Well written. X.

Pat Maycroft said...

Wow, what an interesting read. Congratulations on completing such a challenging event. You should be mighty proud of your achievement and I see you have done it for your Mum among others no wonder you didn't give up! Fantastic!

Amanda Bell said...

Mark, that is a fantastic read! Even though I thought it was a brilliant achievement anyway, I don't think I had fully understood how gruelling it must have been. You must be so delighted with your achievement (as I'm certain your mam would be too) Well done again!

Simon said...

Hi Mark, you didn't include the photo of you huddled in your sleeping bag with a hood pulled over your head. That somehow summed up for the me the progressive effect of repeated immersion in cold water. I had just stepped out of my warm car and was feeling quite comfortable while you and all the other swimmers were suffering. I didn't hear anyone complaining though. I just sensed an atmosphere of solidarity and determination to get the job done. Well done, again.

Andy Williams said...

Hi Mark, words like awesome and amazing cannot describe the achievement of all who took part, but huge congratulations to you and everyone involved.

An inspiration to us all.

Andy W

Binge Swimmer said...

Brilliant Mark I am in awe!

Ranie said...

Hi Mark,
I was looking at your blog and checking out some of the videos of other people's channel swims.
What a wealth of information.
Thank you for putting them on there.
On second thought, maybe not. I really freaked myself out watching some of them. The level of suffering...
Need I say, I am having some doubts.
But wow, what a resource.
Thank you.

Ranie Pearce

maggie kidd said...

Congratulations Mark!! :)

Sylvain said...

Fantastic effort Mark!!!

I wish I could have joined the fun either in Ireland or the UK! I'm hoping next year ... possibly in Sweden?

I'm praying for the injury you mentioned on the Channel Group to leave you alone!

Talk soon,


Bruce Stewart (ブルース・スチュワート) said...

Interesting read and well done. I was in fact in the UK the day of your swim, staying in Farnham, but I voted in the referendum on May 5 in Woking, so you were in familiar territory to me. Still, my time in the UK was a little rushed so it probably would not have been easy to get down there, but I could have biked from Woking fairly easily. I am still very busy with work, but will get into some form of training in the not-too-distant future.

Deborah Herridge said...

That brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written, your mum will be proud, and again afer next weekend when you complete it again.