This last weekend was, what is traditionally regarded as the start of the Season in the United Kingdom. Possibly one of the hardest challenges out there but a right of passage in the Open water swimming world. 2S4L (also known as To swim for Life) is an event put on by https://www.zwimevents.com/ Lesley and her team have done a truly fantastic job putting on this event year on year in a number of differnt formats. This year was the 24 hour format – which is held every second year. Next year will be the 12 hour format, again held every alternate year. Then at the end of the year, there is sometimes an 8 mile in 6 hour format. I guess the Zimhippo will be back in the pool for one or both of those.
It involves swimming 24 miles in the following format. 1 mile per hour, on the hour, every hour for 24 hours. After each mile the swimmers are required to get out until the start of the next mile. For most endurance swimmers, swimming 24 miles, whilst being a very long swim, is perfectly achievable in the controlled environment of a heated pool. Throw in the 1 mile per hour then get out into the equation and a 24 mile swim now becomes a VERY different beast. Not only challenging your physical capabilities but seriously and uniquely challenging your mental fortitude. It is not for the faint hearted or ill prepared. Often a cahllenge like this attracts teams of between 3 – 6 people but for the really foolhardy, there is always the solo challenge, which requires you to take on the whole thing on your own. The event takes place at the Guildford Lido, a 50m outdoor heated pool with very pleasant surrondings for people to pitch their tents for a place to crash in between miles, should you have the time to do so. Bearing in mind that this challenge was taking place on the Easter weekend, starting at 0800hrs on Saturday morning and finishing at 0800hrs on Sunday morning. Astonishingly it attracted 244 foolhardy endurance swimmers , made up of 79 soloists and 53 teams. With each, a support crew Numbering a further 300 people. Then throw in the spectators and you have near on 7- 800 people that make up this event.As is the rules of the event, Each swimmer has to have someone on poolside to count their laps – counting 32 lengths of a pool can be challenging for a swimmer so they have to have land crew. For the soloists, they often have 2 or three people to support them. The event attracts people from all over Europe and is often frequented by some of the heavy hitters in the Ultra endurance swimming fraternity with multiple record holders around on the day.
This year, The Hippos are taking a bit of a backseat from swimming to focus on Book writing, coaching and fixing up our new Hippo Hacienda so we were in a unique position to give back to the sport that we love. I opted to be support crew for a wonderful team of swimmers callling themselves “Feeling the Heat” made up of Donna Nicholas, Candy, Katy Bradfield and Sam Beresford. A mixed group of swimmers all with amazing tenacity to keep on going
It was also an interesting perspective to see how it is all done from outside the water. Supporting in itself comes with its own challenges. I only had to help out for 6 hours but sitiing on the side watching swimmers and counting their laps and offering moral support is not as easy as you might think. For the rest of the day I was able to watch how people tackle this event. It is very interesting. watching the swimmers strokes and routines both in and out of the water. You might think that this challenge is only for the very experienced swimmers but as a challenge it attracts a full spectrum of swimmers from the super speedsters – who hammer out their mile in between 21 and 25 minutes, to swimmers who are more happy chugging through their mile in 45 – 50 minutes. In my opinion, the latter being the tougher challenge, with the slower speeds, there is very little, if any, time for refueling, changing costumes, resting before you do it all again. At least the speedsters get about 30 -35 minutes to recouperate after each swim,and, at a stretch, have a bit of a catnap. With that amount of teams and soloists, the starts for each Mile are staggered, with some starting their Mile swim on the top of the hour, whilst the rest start on the half hour. This does not create too many issues in the first 2 lanes as they generally finish their mile before the next group get in. For the rest, there is generally an overlap of swimmers with some swimmers still finishing their Mile whilst the others are starting. This often results in a very busy lane for about 10 minutes while the swimmers overlap. With all those swimmers in the water, there is that many supporters standing around at the ends of the lanes.
Luckily for swimmers and supporters alike, the weather was stunning with glorious sunshine on both Saturday and Sunday, with temperatures reaching the heady heights normally reserved for midsummer days. With the clear days, the evenings are crisp and cold. So spirits during the day are generally pretty high and it is an excellent way to get some good miles in for the swimmers and have a good catch up with fellow supporters and swimmers but when the Sun disppears and night time envolopes us, the mood changes, with fatigue and weariness starting to set in, especially for the stalwart soloists. By this time , they have already covered 12 miles of swimming, which in itself is a phenomenal achievement. With an event of this nature, there will always be some who, for various reasons -injury being the most prevalent – that drop out. Due to the swimmers being so well prepared, there were very few that did not get to the end. In a swimming endurance challenge covering those distances, (English Channel, Cook Strait, North Channel, Catalina channel and many others) the attrition rate is generally quite high for different reasons but here, in the controlled environment of the pool there were very few. no matter what the outcome is, all swimmers deserve my utmost respect. This is one of the hardest challenges out there.
The camraderie at an event like this is extraordinary and not to be found in any other event that I have had the luxury to take part in. With supporters not only looking after their team but also singing, dancing and offering lots of encouragement to the swimmers. This year the organisers had recruited Gregan Clarkson as the MC on the day and he did a fantastic job keeping the supporters spirits up. In the wee hours of the morning, this is a massive challenge. Due to the loveley weather and the crisp cold night and a truly unique bunch of individuals, the trending fashions made london and Paris fashion week look like childs play with everything from cow print onesies and dryrobes to bikinis, ugg boots and crocs being the order of the day. No crochet shorts this year but they will be back.
If you are looking for an event to get focusing on, this is definitely one for the diary. Done as a solo it is up there with the toughest swimming challenges out there but for a great weekends entertainment, get a team together and take it on with a group, you will not regret it and you will meet some amazing people along the way.
I must admit, that without a challenge, to look forward to, I have been out of the water for a while now haveing just moved into the new Hippo Hacienda and doing various bits of DIY. I also have been working on a few things in the pipeline and am now a qualified swimming coach so will be looking to share my passion with others who want to follow a dream. If you would like to get into the water and start your own journey, then please get in touch and I will be happy to guide you on your way to what could be a lifechanging journey. I am now 10 years into my journey and it really is a life changer. I cannot tell you how much it has transformed my life and I am certain that it will keep doing just that. Taking me to amazing places, meeting amazing people and generally have a great time whilst doing it. Yes, the longer swims are what I call “Type 2 Fun” which basically means they are fun after the event – when you get out and get to interact with such amazing people.
Whilst looking forward to coaching, I will be doing a few small swims this year with my focus being on the River Waveney and also Jubilee River. Mark Sheridan has also invited me back to Loch Lomond to take part in a relay this year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the very first Loch Lomond swim. I must say I am looking forward to taking on that loch in a more sedate fashion of a relay and during the day rather than 12 hours overnight. One thing I did learn over the weekend, which could be a problem later on in my life is that I am currently the 3rd fastest male to have swum in the Loch Lomond 21 mile challenge. This got me thinking…………………. BAD PLAN. The Slimhippo was not helping matters much either! I was much happier knowing that I had just done the swim! I will still be taking on the 3 adn 5km series that they have at my local lake to see if I came maintain my unbeaten performance in the bioprene section of the races. But i will definitely be focusing on haveing more fun this year with my swimming rather than doing too many big challenges.
I look forward to seeing many of you in a lake or a river or the ocean for a catch up and should you need any advice or coaching then please get in touch.
Till the next blog happy swimmming and enjoy.