And finally, Pip. Our only SLSC soloist, still determinedly ploughing his lonely furrow on and on through the night and into the dawn. He was swimming on the half-hour, which meant that he was going in for his twenty-fourth and final mile at 8.30 am, after some of the faster swimmers who were going at the top of the hour had finished, which must have been tough. But he was still there and still plugging away, which amazed me, particularly as he was by that point clocking up pretty much forty-five minute miles.
One of the things about marathons which is hard on the participants is that the slower people tend to get fewer cheers and plaudits that the faster people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly hard to, say, run a marathon in two hours twenty minutes and change, or even to run one in three hours forty minutes. But it seems to me that it’s even harder to run one in six, seven, eight hours, keeping on keeping on as the speedier people are basking in their success before changing, having a cup of tea and heading home for a hot shower and a nice sit down. On and on, as other competitors and their supporters gradually finish, pack up and start heading home and the organisers begin to take things down until finally you’re overtaken even by the bin lorry collecting the last bits of rubbish from the route.
It takes a certain sort of mental toughness not just to not care that you’re so much slower than everyone else and to keep going in the face of all doubt as to whether or not you’ll finish at all, but to face a challenge that you know in advance will last three or four times as long as other people’s with precious few cheering crowds at the end. It’s a mental toughness I hugely admire and Pip has it in spades.
So it was that, as other competitors started to drift home and one by one the last swimmers came in to the end and stood up with huge smiles of relief, a small crowd formed at the shallow end composed of SLSC members, organisers, and other swimmers who know a true hero when they see one. The only other remaining swimmer completed their last length and got out, leaving the pool, for the first time in nearly twenty-four hours, empty, save for one lone swimmer turning wearily for his final two lengths. Down to the other end, turning, and, at long last, back to the applause which started as he approached us, twenty-three and three-quarter hours after starting, having been swimming for more or less eighteen hours of those. You could do a Channel solo in less than that, and many have. Mr Pip Barry, 2Swim4Life 2017 soloist, legend.