Swimming round the clock

This blog comes to you from the Guildford Lido, a beautiful facility with a clean 50-metre outdoor pool, large grassy area and cobbled deck. I’m here for 2swim4life, a swim challenge raising money for Place2Be, a charity that helps families of children with mental health problems. Three hundred and fifty swimmers are taking part with 67 solo swimmers and 47 teams. Each soloist/relay must swim 1 mile every hour for 24 hours.
I am part of a 2-person relay with Gary Hurr, a kind bloke I met at several swim events last season. We are the Deary Dynamic Duo (Deb + Gary = Deary). My mate George Dowson has come down from Sheffield to be our land support. Gary came from Glasgow; I came from Canada (our travel times were similar but mine was much more expensive).
Gary and I are alternating so I will swim every second hour starting at 9am. My primary goal is to complete my designated 12 miles by any means necessary. If possible, I have three extra goals: complete the swim without a wetsuit; finish all my miles in under 45 minutes; and swim an extra half mile in the morning to make a full 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) in 24 hours. I’ll update you every mile.

Mile 1 (9am) – 38mins 25secs

I’m cold! We were told that the water would be 22 degrees celsius. That’s half true. The water coming out of the jets is indeed 22 degrees but the cloudy 9 degree weather is cooling the pool to 20 degrees. I have my wetsuit and a neoprene hat but I want to save those until the wee hours of the morning if necessary.
There are a lot of people in the pool. We were organised into lanes according to our team’s average estimated mile time. I predicted 35 min/mile; Gary predicted 25 min/mile (slightly optimistic for both of us). Lane 1 is the fastest and lane 10 is the slowest – we are in lane 9. I am average speed for our lane so I have passed and been passed. Some swimmers are easy to deal with but others don’t know the etiquette. There was one head on collision (not involving me) and a couple of times when I had to pass a line of four breaststrokers.
I’m struggling. Even though I’ve been out of the water for almost an hour and am wearing two jumpers, two pairs of sweatpants, thick socks and my warmest toque (that’s what Canadians call wool hats), I’m still cold. And it’s only 10am. It’s going to be a long 24 hours!

Mile 2 (11am) – 38mins 10secs

I’m feeling better. I remembered something half way through my second mile – I’m Canadian! I survived a -20 degrees winter where my eyelashes literally froze together some days. If I can do that, I can do this.
The weather deities seem to have rewarded my optimism because the sun came out! I love the sun. Plus, there were fewer swimmers in my lane now – four instead of six. Some people didn’t show up and one person dropped out after 100 metres so the remaining swimmers have redistributed.
I got smarter with my clothing. I changed immediately after this swim instead of standing around in a bathrobe chatting for 20 minutes. George has been waiting for me at the end of each mile with a towel and robe. Thank goodness for amazing friends!
I’ve also added a scarf and my lucky jumper to my ensemble. Technically, I suppose the jumper isn’t lucky. I have dropped out of events with it but I call it lucky because I’ve brought it to every swim since I bought it in 2013 (during a training trip in Spain) and I still love swimming. It’s extra-large with a Looney Toons pattern. Very stylish!

Mile 3 (1pm) – 39 mins 06secs

I’m trying to stay upbeat but my body is starting to betray me. My arms are tired and I’m noticing my weak left shoulder.
The outside temperature is 13 degrees and it’s cloudy again. I’m nervous for night. I underestimated how daunting this event would be. With every mile I swim, I’m pleased but I know that the worst is coming as darkness brings exhaustion, fatigue, colder weather and diminished spirits.
I’ve slowed down a bit. I hope to stabilise here. I should – consistency has always been my strong point as a swimmer. Time will tell.

Mile 4 (3pm) – 39mins 56secs

I’m taking a nap.
* * *
I had the best dream. I dreamt that I wasn’t here!
This event is torture. I’ve done long, hard swims before but never like this. It just keeps going. Every mile is cold; you warm up after a swim but then you need to get back in two hours later. Every time I enter the water, it’s a shock to the system and each time I know that there are many more to come.
If I had one wish right now, I’d ask for dry hair.

Mile 5 (5pm) – 36mins 16secs

As you can tell, I wasn’t in great spirits going into mile 5. I was completely miserable for the first 450 metres. There was no way I would make it through the night.
So I called on advice from Charlotte Brynn and Joshua Reid, ultra-marathon (25+ km) swimmers I know from North America. They once told me that our minds tire faster than our bodies so we slow down when we don’t need to and become cold. The only way to fight it is to swim faster.
So I did. After 50-metre split times that gradually decreased from 1:03 to 1:16 for the first nine lengths, I kicked myself into gear. I did 1:04 for the tenth length and then held my split times below 1:10 for the remainder of the mile. Basically, I killed it!
The only problem was my lane. Many swimmers have put on wetsuits and cold and fatigue are setting in. So swimmers are smoother but crankier. Everyone is swimming at similar speeds but intent on passing each other. There were several pile ups, collisions and angry scowls. Many directed at me. But all I cared about was swimming hard. I even did a remarkable 45 second final length because I was intent on passing the woman who passed me the previous length.
For the first time today, I was breathing hard as I exited the water. I won’t be able to maintain this speed for the rest of the event (it’s too mentally and physically exhausting) but I’m determined to hold my remaining miles to sub-39 minutes. I know I can do this now. Bring it on!

Mile 6 (7pm) – 38mins 07secs

I’m halfway done and made my goal of a sub-39 minute mile! Things are looking good but don’t get too excited. The hardest is yet to come – darkness is falling.
By the way, I swim in lane 8 now.

Mile 7 (9pm) – 39-something

Swimming in the dark is actually quite cool. Or at least it would be if it were a warm summer’s eve. They set up large spotlights around the pool so swimmers can see each other and the lifeguards can see us. We can’t see anything outside the pool but I know that George is waiting with a towel. Again, thank the heavens for great friends!
I don’t see Gary very often. We swim at opposite times and do our own thing between miles (I blog, he reads). But I can tell he’s getting tired. He’s slowed down and his spirits are dropping.
I’m feeling good but I don’t think I can help slowing down at this point.
It started drizzling during my swim. It wasn’t a problem in the water but now all my stuff is damp. It’s raining harder now so I’m hiding in the tent with George. It’s actually quite cozy but I need to head down to the pool in 15 minutes.
The temperature dropped to 10 degrees. I again considered putting on my wetsuit but I think that the discomfort of having to take on and off a wet wetsuit will be worse than the added chill of swimming without it. Plus, I prefer swimming without.
My phone says that sunrise is at 5:33am so I need to get through three more swims in the pitch black. There’s potential for rain for the rest of night. Fingers crossed that the forecast is wrong.

Mile 8 (11pm) – 39mins 06secs

Two thirds done. I’m fine without my wetsuit. The water temperature hasn’t changed but the air is much colder. There are huge billows of steam coming off the pool now.
I have a sore throat and I got a little light headed after my swim. I think I might be low on sugar so I’m doubling up on my Clif Shot Bloks energy chews. They’re surprisingly tasty.
I’ve started changing in the heated tent. It’s less private but heated so that wins. Besides, North Americans aren’t known for our modesty.
Someone got pulled for hypothermia last mile so everyone is a bit nervous.
Gary is in his wetsuit. I think it’s mostly for psychological comfort and it’s doing the trick. He’s a new man!
I’m still happy but George is very sleepy. I think I’m still on Eastern Standard Time, having only come over from Toronto, Canada on Thursday. That would explain why I had so much trouble with the first mile – my body thought it was 4am. But now my body thinks that it is 7pm (instead of midnight), which is awesome.

Mile 9 (1am) – 40mins 10secs

Made it through another mile! Especially impressive considering that I started the swim by watching a man throw up violently into a bin. I’m still swimming in skins. I felt good for the first 1000 metres but then my arms got heavy, feeling like lead by the finish. I was dizzy again after this swim. A fellow participant told me that the cold water is getting into my ears and throwing off my orientation. I can deal with that. Time for a 20 minute nap then my final dark swim.

Mile 10 (3am) – 40mins 08secs

This mile was hard. I’m cold again and there’s nothing I can do about it – I can’t push any more. My arms are tired, my left shoulder is sore, it’s still raining and water is starting to seep into the tent. George is completely knackered. For the last couple of miles, it’s been me encouraging him. For the first time, he didn’t meet me at the poolside with a towel.
Gary is doing great in his wetsuit. He’s even adding a few extra lengths to each swim to make 20 kilometres.
Time for another 20 minute nap. Weather deities, when I wake up, please let there be a lovely warm sunrise. I’ve been looking forward to it for hours.

Mile 11 (5am) – 42mins 14secs

Another cold mile. I don’t know whether the water got colder or I’m out of energy to keep warm but my swims are cold now. I could, of course, put on my wetsuit but I’ve come so far without it.
The swims are getting depressing. Until about 11pm, the event had a great atmosphere –keen swimmers and supporters, music, camaraderie.
But now the spectators are gone, many swimmers have dropped out and everyone left is cold and tired. George is knackered all the time and I feel bad for dragging him here. I hardly see Gary because both of us just swim, eat, sleep, and repeat in reverse order to each other. I’m also not getting supportive messages from my family back home anymore because it’s past their bedtime. I always knew that the night swims would be the hardest, I just hadn’t realised why – the stressed atmosphere is a lot more difficult than the dark.
My shoulder is very tired and my throat is still sore. Gary said he has a sore throat too so it’s probably caused by the chlorine we all accidentally ingest.
One mile to go.

Mile 12 (7am) – 44mins 39secs

I made it!
I was completely drained for this mile but I pushed through with sheer force of will. The spectators came back and the sun rose. It’s a new day!
Gary finished as well so we did it! The Deary Dynamic Duo swam 24 miles in 24 hours. And I accomplished two of my three minor goals. I was too cold and fatigued to do the extra half mile but I completed the event without my wetsuit and finished every mile in under 45 minutes (just).
Now I get a hot shower, dry clothes, a comfy bed and a long nap.
Dry hair, I’ve been dreaming about you for 24 hours.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.