8 weeks to go

This is the part of the training montage where it fast-forwards through the now-established routine. Alarm clock at 5.45am – sitting on the tube to King’s Cross next to swaying drunk people – on the train eating breakfast – dumping bags on the beach – looking at everyone else wearing super hero fancy dress and realising that I’d forgotten the theme, again – stripping off – having Vaseline rubbed under my costume straps – sliding down the pebbly beach to the shore – getting into the water – still getting into the water – taking a really long time to get into the water – pushing off and starting to swim.

Today we are up to 3 hours, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss the hourly feeds this time. It makes me really sad now, just thinking about what could have been last week. It’s a beautiful sunny day but the sea is rough – the sort of waves that when you look forward to sight for the next buoy all you can see is a massive wave coming towards your face at speed. You’re not so much lifting your arms up and over the water like normal swimming but instead punching your way through those salty slappers.

The first feed is the most delicious blackcurrant potion I have ever drank in my life. Warm and sugary, it’s basically rocket fuel. I’m so keen for the second feed that I come in to the beach too early. We’re told to circle round and come back. So there we are, twenty or so swimmers circling the beach closer and closer, like little colourful sharks. I wonder how many miles away a swimmer can smell a single drop of blackcurrant potion in the ocean?

The end of the swim is tough – a few FBCs to contend with from the ferries – but the hard part is mostly chop from the wind. When I eventually get out, I unamusedly notice white caps on the waves. I also notice a swimmer, Amy, getting changed. Nothing unusual there, except that I’d seen Amy at the second feed saying she was too cold and she seemed to be struggling. But here she is, a whole nother hour of miserable swimming later! Not all heroes wear capes.

I treated myself to a little room in a BnB this week and I while away the afternoon writing an article about 3D printing in biomedicine because I know how to have a good time, apparently.

The forecast for Sunday was for thunderstorms and I walk down to the beach in a t-shirt – it’s the sort of hot and sticky weather that makes a good storm. I’m expecting us to be given 4 hours but it’s ‘just’ 3.5. Like yesterday, we are promised a feed every hour.

This is a Happy Swim ™. The heavy air sits still on the water, making it warm and calm and I’m able to really put my foot on the gas. Feeling strong, after 3.5 hours I come in, as told.

“Hang on”, says swimmer Nick, just as I am putting my shoes on to get out “Anna looks like she could do another half an hour.”

“I do? Yeah, okay,” I reply, throwing my shoes back onto the beach “but I’ll need another of those choccy brownie bites first”. Ever since I was little, I could be convinced to do pretty much anything if there were snack incentives involved. Climb this massive mountain in exchange for Fruit Pastilles? Sure thing. Traipse around this shopping centre all day for a drink and a biscuit? I’m there. Just 30 more minutes for a choccie brownie bite? Sign me up.

Looking back to Windermeregate, I’ll admit that one element of the breakdown was dehydration and mild hypothermia, but I’m certain the rest was purely psychological, given the distinct lack of choccie brownie bites on offer.

I come back in after 4 hours, alongside another swimmer. “He’s doing another hour”, says Mandi, passing me two choccie brownie bites “do you want to do another hour too?” Ever since I was little, I could be convinced to do pretty much anything if there were other people to be matched and/or beaten, particularly if those people happened to be male. Pursue a career in engineering? Sure thing. Take up the trumpet and lead the brass section in the orchestra? I’m there. One more hour of swimming? I guess this is happening then isn’t it.

As I’m going around, I think I bet they’re going to make me do 6. Six hours in water below 16 degrees is the required qualifying swim everyone has to do before they’re allowed to swim a solo channel crossing, so it’s a popular benchmark swim for people to do. It feels inevitable.

Eventually I float back to the beach, running aground on the pebbles. Well done! They all say, out you get.

Today was a good lesson learnt. Even though I’ve done longer and colder swims this year, I still would have felt intimidated by the idea of 5 hours if it was presented as such beforehand. But, given the right incentives, you can always do just one more hour. I’ll remember that in 8 weeks’ time.

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