And once we were off, weirdly, it wasn’t that bad. There was a buzzy atmosphere and the buddies for the soloists were all chummy and chatty as we stood at the end of our lanes and watched the swimmers clocking off their lengths, 34 lengths to a mile. Pip, our only soloist, hadn’t got a buddy, so for a fair bit of the morning I buddied him, sitting in the sunshine at the end of his lane and getting to know the other buddies as we counted lengths.
Ah, counting lengths! It’s an important job for all the swimmers, but for soloists it’s critical, as they can easily become too tired, too cold and too bored to keep count, and none of them wanted to swim either too many or, Heaven forfend, too few lengths of their challenge. There were all sorts of ways of counting in evidence. Our team had a plastic folder with laminated numbers which could be flipped over both to count and to show the swimmer the distance swum. Charlotte had an excellent spreadsheet, with a line for each mile and a column to tick off each length. The buddy standing next to me was doing it old school, with a small pad and pen to mark off the lengths. However, he did also have a stopwatch which he was using to time his swimmer’s miles so that he could see if she was slowing, an excellent way of keeping an eye on how the swimmer is doing.
In fact she was doing brilliantly, clocking off 29 minute miles with the regularity of a metronome. And our teams weren’t doing badly either. My first two miles, swum at a leisurely marathon pace, came in at 35 and 36 minutes, which delighted me, since two years ago I could barely manage a 35 minute mile swimming as hard as I could over the distance and drafting a faster swimmer. And Ruth was doing even better, blithely knocking out personal bests of 35 minutes a mile with no problems at all.
The exception was our sole soloist, Pip, who had by far the biggest task. He started slowly for him, which was not a concern in itself; what was concerning was the fact that he was slowing and, as the afternoon advanced, heading towards 40 minute miles. Slowness is a sign that the swimmer is tiring; and it’s a particular problem for soloists as every minute in the water cuts into their rest time. Every extra minute spent swimming meant less time to rest, get warm, eat and drink, and even go to the toilet before the next mile inexorably started.