By 2am, the person who was really struggling was Pip. He was down to forty minute miles, which only left him 20 minutes per hour for everything else, and although he was fine with the cold he was having problems with feeding. “Feeding” sounds like a bit of a joke to the uninitiated, but to marathon swimmers it’s deadly serious; there are whole seminars dedicated to it and people who are experts on the subject. If you’re going to do a marathon swim, you need to have your feeding regime sorted well in advance. People who train for Channel swims at Dover and Durley get advice and training on feeding as well as swimming as it can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful swim.
When you’re doing a really long-distance swim you have a number of feeding issues to contend with. Firstly, how do you feed? You’re never allowed to touch the boat, so you can’t hang onto the ladder. Most people have a bottle thrown to them on a string or a cup lowered down in a bucket; one successful swimmer was fed sandwiches via a child’s shrimping net. Whatever method you choose, you have to be able to feed quickly. On an eighteen hour swim, you might feed over thirty times, so if you take a minute a feed, that’s an extra half hour on your time, which might make the difference between making it across before the tide turns or having to swim for an extra six hours.
And then there’s what you eat. You need carbs to fuel you, so most people use Maxim or something similar, made with hot water to help with the cold. You might want some treats to keep your morale up; a lot of channel swimmers like things with bags of umami such as jelly babies or chocolate mini-rolls, as you can taste these despite the salt water and they’re soothing on sore mouths. If you’re sick, this will also affect not only what you can eat and keep down, but also what you want to eat. A successful marathon swimmer will have practised all this and will not only know it all themselves but will have a support team who also knows it and is familiar with the swimmer so that they can supply what’s needed promptly and appropriately for both the swimmer’s physical state and their state of mind.