Guildford 12 – it’s a wrap.

Guildford 12 – it’s a wrap.
Guildford 12 – it’s a wrap.

The start to the season went well.


It is not often that I am galvinised into writing blogs so close together but after a great day, yes, it was Type 2 Fun (Fun after the event). As it was such a good day and as this is the first time that this format has been run, I thought it only fitting that others get to read about it and add it to their bucket list for the future.

It started on Friday evening for me. I was a bit apprehensive and slightly resentful of a swim that was to take up all of my Saturday, but not for the reasons you would expect. To be frank, the much anticipated British Spring/summer has been pretty bloody awful; what with the preceeding weeks of the Beast from the East and incessant rain, I really was not looking forward to 12 miles of swimming in more of the same. For those that do not know it, Saturday’s swim was 1 mile an hour, on the hour, every hour, for 12 Miles. While swimming 12 miles consecutively is a fairly standard thing, when you throw in the added challenge of getting in and out 12 times with, for some, only 15 – 20 minutes to get warm, fed, watered, rested and then do it all again, it gets interesting. But I digress. After preparation on Friday night, I went outside before bed and looked up at the sky; Mine Eyes beheld an astonishing event. Stars!  And plenty of them – not a cloud in the sky. My spirits were slightly uplifted, but with a nagging thought in the back of my mind. If you don’t like the weather in Britain, wait 5 minutes!! I then went off to bed hoping for the best but as always, expecting the worst. It was time to put a final touch on my mental preparation for this event.

UFO Alert!!!


Awoken as usual by the cat at 5am, I went downstairs and opened the door and could not beleive the scene that I beheld. BLUE SKY!!! Granted, it was through thin fog cloud, but I nearly passed out from the shock. Thoughts: If you don’t like the weather in Britain, wait 5 minutes!! I went about my morning chores and once watered and fed, we packed the car and headed to the pool. A lovely crisp morning greeted us, with mist rising above the water, but, BLUE SKY beyond. In it, there was an Unidentified Floating Object (a.k.a the sun), rising over the trees. People had set up their tents, and the scene was idyllic – a lovely pool surrounded by plenty of marginally sado-masochistic people of varying degrees (marginally I hear you say! More on that later). We found a position that was in direct sun for us to set up camp, while the 8am group got going. I was on the 8.30 start (swimming a mile every hour at 30 minutes past) so I could take my time. I went around to meet up with my lane mates and also chat to friends that I had not seen for a while. Although I was in Lane 1, the speedster lane, within each lane we were of differing abilities. Then each of the 10 lanes had slightly slower swimmers grouped in them. With lane mates met and supporters introduced, it was soon time to get ready to start. We had sort of agreed that we were going to stick at 1.30s per 100m- well most of the lane but we also had Flying Ryan, who could comfortably swim a lot faster so he was sort of left on his own for the entirety. For the rest, we were happy on about 25 minutes a mile, and I was asked to lead. Getting in was a bit brisk but after a few lengths the water temperature was awesome, not quite heated to the extent of a leisure pool but not as frigid as many of the lakes and Rivers.

Our Amazing support crews


As the day progressed, the general atmosphere was electric with all the swimmers and their support crews rallying together to keep the day moving forward without a hitch. General plan of attack: swim, eat, sleep, repeat, on an hourly basis. As we got out, the aim was to get dry, changed into dry costumes, wrapped up warm, and to eat something. Keep dry? Oh hang on, that’s the usual challenge (for which a heated marquee is essential!) But, we had SUNSHINE – YAY!!! So here is a mental picture for you. Get dry, get changed then collapse on my new lovely inflatable bed like a beached whale and get some vitamin D, and some rest. Every now and again, if I was not tired, I would go catch up with friends. The first couple of miles were absolutely fine then after about the fourth mile of the day, I came out and just collapsed for half an hour – not out of tiredness but more in preparation for what was to come and to conserve energy.

Bed all sorted

Slimhippo R&R

Pre swim Siesta

At about 7 miles I relinquished the lead spot to the Pocket Rocket Hayley, a phenomenal swimmer whose stroke looks like poetry in motion. She kept the lead right through to the end! We all had a great time and the support crew were in very festive spirits. One thing you know, if there is an Australian from Norwich around, there is going to be a lot of laughs and general tom foolery. And Saturday was no exception. Mind you the whole bunch from Norfolk are pretty awesome.

Taking swim Fashion to the next level

Mad Mel with a Hippo

For me, it was at about mile 8 where I then had to start calling on my mental preparation to keep me in check. Times started to slide and my shoulders were now starting to burn a bit. I was now at the point where I dropped below 25 minutes a mile for the first time. This was now about 5 miles further than I had swum this year.  Getting out of my new inflatable bed became more and more of a challenge. While jumping in at the beginning of each mile was fine, it was at about the 1km mark where my mind was creating havoc. ‘You have nothing to Prove! This is just a training Swim! It is not going to help you in the greater scheme of things! Pull the plug now while you’re still on top! You have done amazingly well so far so why push it!’ That is just an inkling of the turmoil going on in my head – the rest is really not fit for public consumption. Some of you may relate to it, others may not. A few counter-arguments off a list of things that kept me going is the constant opposing thoughts I had to forcibly manifest. If you are still hitting 25 – 26 minute miles at this point, you are doing pretty damn well. The one that always gets me through: If you give up now, is it because you are physically incapable of continuing, or are you just bored? I was VERY FAR from physically capable to keep going so the only option was to continue. Believe me when I say, this is a huge mental game. In open water, to reallly focus I often close my eyes to block everything else out as I am fighting with my mind. This is great in Open water but not so great when Flying Ryan is overtaking someone at the exact same time I was overtaking someone in the opposing direction, now putting 4 people across a lane that was only really designed to take 3 across. I will let you do the maths, while I apply ice to my bruised head!!! Man, he can fly!!!

Soon it was mile 9; I managed a bit of kip before Mile 10, then the final lap but one followed by our warm down mile, where my times were diabolical.. but we had done it. Our lane had an attrition rate of zero with the last mile having a bit of shenanigans with Flying Ryan and the Pocket Rocket donning their best costumes for the event, and me finishing my 12 miles with in a flurry of butterfly in honour of Fly Girl and the king of flying. I had only dropped below 26 minutes a mile on the last mile, whereas I think the likes of the leaders in my lane had either swum faster or consistently fast, the whole time. That is where I need to get to, too!

Flying Ryan and Pocket Rocket Hayley

Sequins and avocados!!!

A breakdown of my event.

Fastest mile 24 minutes 10 seconds

Slowest mile 26 minutes 45 seconds

total distance : 12 miles

All in all, I am pleased with myself on a number of areas. This is my longest swim of the year by 9 miles. I overcame a mental barrier for me when I took on this swim. As mentioned, whilst I am happy to do the distance, this challenge format puts me way out of my comfort zone.  Unlike open water where throwing in the towel can be slightly harder due to the fact you may be a long way from land/in the middle of the ocean, this challenge gives you at least 12 times where it would be OH SO simple to just throw in the towel and not get back in. My mental preparation is working in that I can mentally fight my demons when they come up. (Note to self – these demons are better fought in OPEN WATER, rather than in a pool where collision is possible when your eyes are closed!). I know my endurance is not up to scratch but I can work on that over the summer and my aim is to maintain a speed for 10 – 15 hours without slowly letting my speed drop. Another area that I am happy with (and extremely grateful for) is that I am able to take on such swims with limited PHYSICAL training and I also continue to do them without any form of pain relief. For some, pain relief is required, but at the moment, I use other methods in my head to control the pain threshold. I am forever grateful to the slimhippo and all supporters  without which none of us swimmers would ever be able to achieve the swims we take part in you are ll invaluable to us.

 Guildford 12

I mentioned earlier that the group who do this are only marginal Sado masochists. I say  this because this is the baby sibling of the 24 hour event of the same format where, if you want to find the serious masochists, that’s where you head to. While nearly everyone at this event has done or regularly does open water swims of 12 miles or more, few have done the big brother event. This Event is far more challenging than any Ultra distance I have done. That added challenge of getting out then back in again is really brutal and is a must for anyone interested in long distance swimming. The event is superbly organised by Lesley of For those that find 12 miles daunting, you are able to do it as a relay which makes it far more attainable for anyone who is new to this sport.

The Venue is superb; it is held at this time of the year as this is the time when they are just starting to heat the pool for the public during the summer months, so although it is not anywhere near the temperature of your local leisure pool, where doing this distance would render you par boiled by the end of it, the temperature of the pool is hovering just below 18-20 degrees Celsius, which makes it very suitable for doing longer distances. The facilities are good and there are warm showers should you need them. For this and the 24 hour event, it is more like a swim festival with most teams erecting tents for them to sleep in DURING the event so the landscaped lawns resemble a great festival atmosphere. The pool itself is stunning with shallow ends and deep middle. There are lifeguards on duty all the time. As this is right at the beginning of the season the food shop at the top is not open yet, but with Guildford town centre a few minutes away, a Premier Inn across the road and someone likely having the number of a pizza shop that will deliver, it’s manageable. Teas and coffees are laid on and there is a little tuck shop on the premises. The slides for the kids are also not open at this time as this is solely an event rather than a public affair. There is an age limit of 16 to this event. Zwimevents put up a marquee at the end of the pool that has heated air going to it. Not so useful on a glorious day like yesterday but it will be where you will find a lot of swimmmers in the event of a cold day or 3 am in the morning during the big 24 hour event.

As this event is taken over by zwimevents for the whole day, it is not open to the public and if you are new to open water, you are unlikely to find such a wealth of experience in one place at any one time elsewhere. There’s a big mixture of big distance swimmers, coaches, other Swim event organisers and facilitators from around the country, and newbie swimmers. Let’s not forget the professional support crews, who literally support swimmers around the globe. It is not a swim-fair by any means, and there are no industry shops pedalling their wears, so if you are looking to buy anything swim-related, you will not find it here. But the expereince you will get is well worth it. Many of us would only be too happy to regale you with our unique experiences and knowledge about swimming.

A mentioned, the lane orders are based on expected timings with the faster swimers being in lane one and the slower swimmers being in lane 10. If you feel that you would be too slow, you are wrong. This is an event that embraces open water swimming as a whole and welcomes swimmers of all abilities and ages (16 and over); bioprene or neoprene makes no difference. For some, they will have a 35 minute break between swims whilst others may only have 5 or 10 minutes between swims. Others in the relays may have a few hours. One thing is for certain, you will all experience the same convivial atmosphere of comraderie, sharing and support no matter what ability you are.

So keep an eye on later this year, as they will be adding another feather to their cap when they introduce the 8 in 6. This new format is 8 miles in 6 hours so instead of starting your mile on the hour, you will start a new mile every 45 minutes. Again this will be the first time they are doing this event.





About the author

Ameteur Endurance athlete and marathon swimmer Having taken up marathon swimmng in 2008 with the challenge of the English Channel, I then continued on to Cycle up Britain, Kayak across Scotland and run a few marathons. None of those held the draw that marathon swimming held so in 2014 I was back in the water to Swim one of Switzerlands iconic endurance swims, lake Zurich. In 2015 I opted to take on my biggest swim to date. SCAR challenge.- 4 lakes in 4 days with distances Ranging from 6 miles to 18 miles.

5 Comments on “Guildford 12 – it’s a wrap.

  1. Carly Bland Reply

    Really well done Graeme and very interesting read. I’m doing Windermere One Way in September so would be interested to know any other mental strategies That you use that I could practise when I do my long swims (other than closing my eyes!). Thank you and well done again.

  2. Becky Reply

    You are right Graeme, This event is for all levels of swimmers. I entered with my sister as a relay, we both swim at about 40 minutes a mile – so were in lane 10, the furthest from your lane – but I did come and check out you speedsters at one point. My sister ended up not getting there till just after 4pm due to a work commitment, so I managed to do the first 9 miles on my own, the furthest I have ever swam (10k being my previous record), and I wonder if she had come later if i could have continued. Worth everyone giving it a go.

    1. Graeme Schlachter Reply

      Hi Becky. thank for for taking the time to read my post. I can pretty much guarantee that you could have got to 12 miles if you had done 9. My take on why that is, our brains are very quick to impose limits on our what our bodies are actually capable and because this is a safety mechanism that we all have, those limits are well below what we could actually do. I have ben in a situation where i trained for a 5 mile swim in 11 degree water withoutany feeds.I was very happy that I could do it but the swim, due to bouys drifting turned into an 8.6 mile swim in that temperature. I did manage to do the swim but was pretty wiped out at the end of it. So yes, If you swam 9 miles on Saturday, I totally beleive you could have done the 12 miles.

      Look forward to meeting up at a swim in the future, Till then happy wallowing from the Zimhippo.

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