And again, despite my gloomy expectations, it wasn’t bad at all. As most other people were either asleep or swimming or had headed off to do other things, I said I’d buddy Pip from midnight until 2am. As it got colder I layered up and joined the other buddies beside the pool, where a jolly kind of Dunkirk spirit prevailed. I was getting to know a few other people and saying howdy as we passed each other at the hot drink table or en route to the toilet; Caroline, whom I knew from previous swimming trips; a relay buddy of Pip’; the chap whose wife was doing a solo and hadn’t been able to train because of injury. She had decided that each mile over twelve would be a victory, so when I bumped into him as the night wore on we would exchange a few words and a thumbs up: “Still going?” “Still going!” “Excellent! Good stuff!!” They were little starbursts of positivity which made me smile.
To my delight, I wasn’t overtired either, or even particularly sleepy. On the advice of my chum Helen, a midwife with long experience of night shifts, I’d decided not to eat once I got past 11pm to avoid upsetting my stomach, and far from feeling hungry, sleepy or twitchy I felt relaxed and alert. Just the night to get though now, and two swims to go, and I was feeling fine. I was very pleased with myself.
And then there were the swimmers themselves, some people who like me were doing relays, but mainly the soloists, turning up hour after dogged hour, getting their clothes off and getting in again as the night got darker and colder. There was a bunch swimming on the hour in the same lane as Pip who would turn up, sort out their order with a grin and a couple of jokes “He’s first, then me, then you – no pushing in!”, settle their goggles and jump in. At our end the soloists were mainly doing thirty minute miles, extraordinary when you think they’d been swimming for eighteen hours or so and already had eighteen miles under their belts. At the far end there were quite a few swimmers cracking out twenty minute miles; as I was buddying Pip ploughing stoically up and down, I watched a couple of them flashing along under the floodlights, and it was beautiful to see.