“They wouldn’t be so mean as to give us 6 hours today would they?” asks Fiona, at 3:15am, as she kindly drives us to Dover harbour from our hotel in Folkestone.
Today we start at 4am, because of a regatta going on in the harbour during the day. This excuse would later prove to be not a compelling enough reason to do what we are about to do. We arrive on the beach and it is pitch black (below). We put sun cream on just to make the whole situation even weirder. As we gather for the start, one by one, little green flashing lights illuminate the scene – they are clipped to the back of our goggles for safety.
We had been mistaken in the car – a 6 hour swim is indeed the order of the day/night. As I wade into the black water, the line of green lights bobbing away look cheerful in a Christmassy kind of way, and gives me some comfort. Although the distant buoys marking the route can’t be spotted easily, the line of green lights light the way like a landing strip. It seems quiet, which is weird since it’s all the same sounds that there are when it’s bright sunshine – just the hypnotic rhythm of bubbles, arms and feet.
The sky becomes light about half an hour into the swim and the water follows its lead, both grey and pale.
As is now customary, we come in after 2 hours for our first feed. I relish in the ridiculousness of chowing down on a chocolate Mini Roll at 6am, and sit and savour the moment. A forlorn chocolate Mini Roll floats past me, and I consider this a good omen – or at least good practice for the separation zone.
A couple of hours later – I honestly couldn’t tell you how many – I see a flash of purple on the surface of the water and feel a scratch down my nose. It’s not a scratch though because it stings for ages. That was a jellyfish. But to be honest it provides something to think about other than annoying songs and how sluggish I feel going round and round and round.
I plod round and FINALLY the swim comes to an end. It is the time that normal people are waking up on a Saturday morning and already I have swum for 6 hours! I feel amazing. Also amazingly tired, but happy.
The Folkestone hotel was probably quite swanky 40 years ago but the 80s were far from kind to it. I head back there for a shower and a snooze. The hotel is producing a symphony of weird and wonderful sound effects to my nap, one of which is a group of baby sea gulls and their menacing parent outside my window! An early night follows.
Sunday’s 7.30am start feels like a luxury lie-in. Today my friends from this year’s SwimTrek training camp David and Scott are here (below)! This hugely boosts my morale, a bubble which is promptly burst with the words “Seven hours?” from Mandi.
This swim can be described as an emotional rollercoaster, if that’s a rollercoaster for snails where something only happens about every 45 minutes. To illustrate the emotions, I have drawn this graph.
I hope I’m not tempting fate when I say that the 6 hour + 7 hour back-to-back weekend training swims are the longest I’ll have to do before the channel swim itself. Who knows how long the actual swim will take, but as I sit here admiring my hat tan line (below), Sudocreming the chafing on the back of my neck and attempting intravenous protein consumption, I feel encouraged to have managed this training milestone. Bring it on!