24 Hour Swim 2017

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Each Year 100% Swimming provide Endurance Swimming opportunities for individuals, pairs and teams over distances of 12 and 24 miles. The time allowed for each distance is 12 and 24 hours respectively. On the face of it these two separate events would seem quite straightforward as that’s a very generous dollop of time to provide for those distances.

The problem comes when you realise that it is broken into bite sized chunks, 1 mile every 1 hour nothing more and nothing less. You get out wait and then press the restart button on the hour every hour. In the meantime you wait, you try to get a little warmer, you certainly get a little more tired and some folk a little more grumpy. But hey you always have me on hand to cheer you up, you know for when you have hit a real low! Failing that Caroline and Vicki do Cheery pretty well!

Anyway, here is an account by one of our 24 hour solo swimmers, Paul Smith, if you fancy having a go at this event in 2018 – have a read of this first and just check with yourself before signing up. If you are thinking about the event already then it probably is for you but there are a few passages to make you stop and think in this account. So just in case you are unsure if you really want to do the event have a read. Cup of tea at the ready, feet up……


Paul Smith – 24 hour swimmer

I have written this because someone who I respect very much both as a swimmer and as a person asked me to write up our 24-hour endurance swim on 22-23 June. It’s a long read, so either fix yourself a cup of Joe and a biscuit and pull up a chair, or scroll down.

The swim was Paul Fowler‘s100% Swimming 24-Hour Endurance Swim – a mile every hour on the hour with whatever is left over for recovery. It takes place over or close to the Solstice to take advantage of the shortest night and it happens at Activities Away at Lincoln. This year it involved a number of DYSTers, including the estimable Sparky Whittle, the fiercely determined Hazel Killingbeck, Snakey Hips Mark Johansen, Judith Shoulders Charman and a bunch of others, swimming it either as a solo, in pairs, threes or fours. Sparky, Hazel and I were among the 11 soloists, all but four of whom finished.

It’s a tight little event. Paul only allows 20 ‘swmmers’, whether that’s the soloists or the relay teams and the lucky applicants are drawn by lots months in advance. No excuses for not getting the training in then…

24-hour swims are like fairground rides. They seem like a good idea, but once you start, there’s no stepping off. The rhythm is relentless. The choice is yours. If you sign up for 24 hours in hell, don’t be surprised when that’s what you get.

I’m going to switch to the historic present tense now, not a tense I recommend to my students, but an acceptable literary device when trying to deliver intimacy and immediacy, I think.

By the time Lou and I arrive at the venue, it’s nearly four o’clock in the afternoon, three hours to kick-off, and most of the other swimmers are already there and setting up camp. Louise Barber is my top swimmie mate and with Roger Taylor forms the dream team of buddies that Paul requires us all to have. Roger is already there with his camper van, whose fan heater is going to be the secret weapon of this swim. Dry togs at 6 in the morning are the way to go, I shall tell you.

I know some though not all of the people here. Sparky and his family are already well ensconced. He asks about the training I’ve been doing for this… Er… well, just swimming really… He and his swimmies have been doing some serious prep at the Blue Lagoon… Ooh blimey, I think, this could be tricky.

Down to the water’s edge and I look at the lake. I have swum here a few times and know it pretty well. A regular 800-metre rectangle with a giant Minion ™ at every corner. It’s a pleasant evening and the forecast is for maybe some showers, a bit of wind but nothing too hot. In fact, the conditions are pretty much perfect throughout the swim, though a headwind on the back leg come Friday means the compulsory butt buoy gives a tug every now and again. And who doesn’t love an occasional tug down the back straight?

I register, install my deckchair and kit in the soloists marquee (which in fact only about five of us use, the others preferring to go back to their tents), and then Roger, Lou and I discuss the rotation. Lou is my kayaker and will be on the water with me from the hour at 9 pm, while Roger will work the dry side till midnight, then go and get some kip till Lou comes off the kayak at 4.30-ish… if we can unglue her by then.

Sparky and the Whittlettes join me in the marquee, along with Debbie Murphy and before long we’ve requisitioned a corner for the three of us and buddies. Food and drink is to be shared and a feast is laid on the table. In fact, one of the biggest challenges of the day is deciding what you think you’re going to need after the next mile. Half the time you guess, sometimes you get it wrong…

Paul briefs at six. Lou posts up a photo of the three of us on FB. I haven’t really told many people about the swim, but now it’s out there. You’ll be surprised to learn, Dear Reader, given that I’m a mouthy get, that I don’t like to announce these things in advance. I know it’s in the Channel Swimmer’s Rule Book because it makes you stick to it, but I’m not one them and I prefer to talk about what I did, not what I might or might not do. Anyway, the ‘good luck’ messages pour in. Someone says I’ll ‘smash it’. How I hate that expression. Do people know its origin? Oh well…

The nerves-factor means that, in the end, I yield to the Imodium, which keeps me on the straight and narrow throughout. Then at seven, it begins… Four of us emerge out front and go off way too fast. Sparky has been working to a 26-minute plan, which seems reasonable to me, but we negative split the first mile at under 24… The same happens on the second.

Sparky talks to the other two, Mark and Nat. Mark is prepping the Channel and doesn’t need this pace. In fact he soon drops back anyway. Nat is only doing 12 hours. Sparky suggests we swim a diamond, each taking one ‘length’ . This works for the miles 3 and 4, but Mark soon finds this too fierce and eases off, so we run a three way train for the next few hours, Nat, Sparky and I.

The kayaks are on the water from 9, an hour earlier than really necessary but good practice for them. In fact, we can see the minions, decked out in green glow sticks, pretty well from the water. And Lou knows where I am… She just has to follow the slap. When it stops, she gets concerned. And she does get concerned.No-one knows my swimming better than Lou.

As I leave the water, Roger, whose gentle, patient manner is the perfect foil to Lou’s more direct style, unbuckles the pink My Little Pony Butt Buoy (see photo), hands me dry togs and a towel and I head for the changing rooms while he hangs the float on the bar to show that I am out of the water. And so it goes.

All is reasonably okay until the midnight swim, after a refuel of spag bol. Suddenly, my arms feel heavy and my shoulders are screaming. Lou notices interruptions in the slap. This is the sign. I’m struggling. Six hours, one-quarter of the way, and my head is asking if I can really take this pain multiplied by four. The swims at 1 and 2am are excrutiating and I have to shorten my stroke just to get through it, but Nat and I are still working the chain. Sparky is off. You have to swim at your pace. That’s fine. During the midnight swim, some flash git with a blinking green light shoots past me at a rate of knots. Turns out it’s Gunner Johansen on his relay leg… And yet I’m still turning in 28s.

This is the moment where you realise that you have three buddies: the two your brought with you and your fellow swimmers. Sparky tells me to reassess the swim and Nat suggests getting a hot shower after each mile to loosen the shoulders. Paul Fowler, part Regimental Sergeant Major, part Mother Hen, comes to see me. It’s what he does with all the swimmers and he does it bloody well. The crew on the entrance and exit alert him to who’s looking a bit worn. Believe me, at the end of the first lap of the 2am swim I was within a fag paper of turning left and getting out. You’re a 5 and 10k swimmer Paul. Stick to what you know. ‘You’ll be fine’ says Lou. She’s right, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Waiting for the 3am mile my head is down, literally, and the hood comes over. I’m really not sure I want any of this. And the sensation of slipping between crisp white cotton sheets is almost palpable. Five minute call and I wrench myself to my feet. Kerrist…

And then the 3am is the best yet (or so Lou says) and the sun rises…

Sparky is now in a league of his own and Nat and I are sharing it out between us, though she begins to drop as the halfway point approaches… and she’s leaving at 12 hours anyway due to other commitments. I thank her for the tows and the toes. During the hard hours, it’s good to be able to get your head down, look at feet and breathe bilaterally to take the strain off the shoulders.

Lou’s off to get some well-earned kip after 8 miles kayaking and SuperRoger is back on it. I can’t help thinking what a terrific batman he’d make. In any case, his unstinting kindness soothes my uneasiness and the morning flies by. The routine is this. Swim for 28 minutes, unbuckle, grab togs, get to shower, dry and change, back at the marquee by five-and-twenty to, eat, drink, breathe. Also, I have discovered that I don’t like the ‘out’ leg, so to break the monotony of it, I start each mile at the back of the field and work my way through. This distracts me well enough for half the 350-metre length. It leaves me well off the pace, but that’s not the point.

And this is where I take my hat off to the slower swimmers who, having started at 33-35 have drifted to 38. So little time. But they hold on.

Team Whittle are doing a terrific job. Mrs Sparky and their two smashing daughters are there for, well everyone really. But we’re concerned about Debbie, who seems with every hour to be sinking into a hole. That she carries on and finishes is a testament to her spirit. She’s out for the count, but she never gives up. Nor does Hazel, who even manages to cat-nap while swimming.

It was all going so well. And then, as we are about to hit the water for mile 18 at midday, Paul reminds us that after this one we’ve done three-quarters of the swim… Is that all? Suddenly it feels like we still have an immense distance to go. And we do. A full Dart 10k… and without the tide or current to push us. My heart is back in my boots and it takes a jolly good jam sandwich and a visit from RSM Fowler to lift me.Lou offers to kayak me through it… I’m okay, I think.

By now, though, the sports massage team are back on site and I’m in like Flynn. Possibly the deep tissue approach wasn’t quite what I needed, but two or three visits and some spontaneous rubs later and I’m better. Lou is in stitches as I fight the massage therapist off…

Still, I look right mardy. As I exit mile 20, Caroline Swims, who is now managing the entrance and exit to the lake, mutters ‘Not even making eye contact’… Yes Paul, you could at least be gracious. You signed up for this and Caroline and the estimable Vicki Vickster Watson didn’t ask for your bad mood. I make a point of smiling. My friends will know this is not easy for me. Only four to go…

We’re three miles out, Sparky is way ahead and I’m doing this alone at a nice pace. Or at least I think I’m alone, until about 200 yards out a couple of relayers emerge from my wake and sprint to the end. Thanks for that.

Two out and Sparky says he’ll swim last two with me. ‘Are you sure? I’ll hold you up’. ‘We do this together’, he replies. So we do, from the back, through the field and out to the front. He leads and at each minion he looks back at me. I think he’s checking I’m there, but it emerges that on the penultimate lap we’re being stalked and as we touch the slipway a third swimmer glides in between us.

On the final mile that’s not happening. Again, Sparky leads us out, then, about three hundred from home I pull alongside, not because I want to beat him, but to make sure that I kill off anyone drafting. I know. Not very grown up, but I’ve had enough of people saying thank you for the tow. 50 out, he floors it and I have nothing left to match that. And I had no intention of doing so anyway. For 24 hours he has owned the lake.

We watch the others come in. We’re the Stay Till the End Club. Handshakes, smiles, photos, hugs. I’ve done it, they’ve done it, we’ve done it.

I’ll speak for no-one else, but I’m never doing that again.


Well folks there we are a nice little read indeed. Thank you Mr Smith. So for our part the 2017 endurance season is drawing to a close but we are already undertaking preparations for 2018. The dates for our 2018 12 and 24 hour swim will be released soon, if you will be applying for a slot I suggest you head to the pool and / or lake this week and start training.

Enjoy your swimming