I would like to clarify that the following story has not been exaggerated one iota. My attempt at the 2019 Swimathon could easily be turned into a Hollywood movie. It's got drama, comedy, tears, overcoming adversity and an unfortunate encounter with a bearded man. That sounds like a Tarantino epic to me. Last time out I explained why I was doing this and who I was swimming in memory of. Now it was time to get on with it.
Final week preparations didn't go well in that I developed a heavy cold and then had trouble breathing. Not just when chasing Honey the dog round the garden but all the time. Even sitting down I was gasping for air like a stranded goldfish. I wasn't overly concerned but Rachel self diagnosed 11 possible causes including a clot on my lungs, potato famine and an alien leech eating me from within. A quick trip to the doctors showed I had no chest infection but was given an inhaler to help with the breathing. Rachel and the girls were adamant I shouldn't do it. The doctor had advised me to stop if I had difficulties. Things weren't looking good.
I was never going to drop out unless something dropped off me (most likely caused by the alien leech) so on Friday it was time for swim one at Northolt. I felt so nervous driving there but luckily Rach insisted on coming along for moral support. She said that was the reason but I know it was really in case I collapsed mid swim or wasn't capable of driving back afterwards. I do love her positive attitude. I saw an older, genteel looking woman looking a bit lost when I parked and assumed she was also there for the swimathon. When I asked her I got a reply I really wasn't expecting. "F**K that, I haven't exercised for years." She looked just like my Grandma, they must breed them tough in Northolt.
My apprehension was caused by a few things. Firstly the enormity of what I was doing. Three 5K swims in three days with a party in between. Throw the breathing difficulties and general feeling rubbish into the mix and I believe my nerves were fully justified. I went poolside for the briefing and I noticed a fellow swimmer with a body full of Star Wars and Marvel tattoos including a massive Avengers logo on his side. I said hi and asked him the burning question on everyone's minds: "What's going to happen as a result of the snap?" I was of course referring to the upcoming final Avengers film where the big bad Thanos had previously erased half the life on Earth by snapping his fingers whilst in possession of all the Infinity stones.
Unfortunately he misunderstood and started going on about Brexit and how crap the politicians are. "Not Brexit, that's not important, I meant Thanos' snap." "Ah, well I've got a few theories about that." Before he could actually tell me about them we were called to go through the rules of engagement by the swim team. I then needed yet another quick trip to the toilet due to my ever increasing nerves and my new friend was there on the way out.
"So, tell me about your theories then", I demanded exuberantly." "Sorry, what are you talking about," came the confused reply. "Your theories about the snap, I want to know what you think." A complete blank expression flowed across his face and it was only then I realised I wasn't talking to the same person. In my slight defence they both had a beard but that was basically it. It was like comparing Noel Edmonds to Geoff Capes / the Mountain (pre- Zombie) from Game of Thrones.
I started the swim and after two lengths was struggling to catch my breath. I'd got myself so worked up over it all I think I was hyperventilating as well. I took a minute to compose myself and went off again nice and slowly. I've got a waterproof mp3 player so happily swam along to some 80's pop classics, 90's old school tunes and the odd bit of Kate Bush thrown in for good measure. I had to stop a few times to take puffs on the inhaler but within what seemed like no time at all I was there. I'd swam 200 lengths and felt ecstatic. When I looked at the time I felt even better, 1:57:40. This was more than two minutes off my previous best time. I wanted to swim all three in under two hours so a great start.
I didn't collapse on the way home thankfully and actually felt full of adrenaline and ready to go clubbing. I had a massage booked and a date with a salt bath full later on, both of which helped get me ready for the next challenge. Sadly, the clubbing would have to wait. My party Saturday morning was tough as my breathing was getting more difficult and then at 6pm it was time for swim number two at Westminster Lodge, St Albans. Katie was joining me to swim 2.5k and she was in the next lane which was great. Even better was the fact that no one else booked for my lane turned up so I was on my own.
I realised pretty quickly that a sub two hour swim was looking unlikely. The selfish side of me wanted to pretend not to see Katie each time she stopped at one end of the pool to talk to me. The good side of me (thankfully more powerful than selfish Paul) wanted to support and encourage her so there were quite a few little chats going on. By the time Katie finished I worked out the only way I was going to get close to two hours was to go all out for the last fifty lengths. If you've ever seen me dance to Jump Around by House of Pain, that's how I needed to swim. Basically like a confused baboon who's discovered and consumed a crate full of slightly off Easter Eggs.
Like the most exciting of films, it was touch and go the whole time as I started clawing back the time I had lost. The end result would have been at home in any film that included a bomb being defused. It didn't get any more clichéd than this: 1:59:59! I was beyond happy but also beyond exhausted. I waited for a friend to finish, took some photos and then it was time for massage and salt bath number two. Off to sleep and then it was the final part of the trilogy. I was hoping it was going to be more Return of The Jedi minus the Ewoks (uplifting and emotional) and less Jaws 3 (a depressing mess).
The final swim was in Harpenden and by the time I arrived with my supportive family in tow I could hardly lift my arms. Worse still was my lane which had six of us in. As hard as it was I acknowledged this would probably be a fair bit over two hours. I was just about at peace with this, I wanted to finish, the time wasn't important. Of course it's important, what are you saying? Where's your fighting spirit man? No really, I just wanted to finish.
As you can see there is and was a bit of a Gollum / Smeagol struggle going on. I started off and what followed I can't really explain. When I checked my progress after twenty five mins I was clearly swimming faster than the previous two times. My arms hurt every time they were raised and I couldn't get into a proper rhythm. This was mainly due to half of Harpenden being in my lane and the regular stops for the inhaler and water. It made no sense but I carried on. At the half way point I was three minutes up which felt insane.
I kept going and the lane began to empty. Some of the others were swimming less than me and one was just ridiculously fast. With thirty lengths to go I was miles ahead and going to be well under two hours. This swim was in memory of my Grandpa Harry and I thought about him a lot whilst I swam. I went full on House of Pain til the end and ended up with a time of 1:49:30. Ten minutes quicker than the last swim and eight minutes quicker than my previous best. I could only put it down to Harry pushing me along and the knowledge that this was the last swim so leave nothing behind.
It was over, I'd done it. I felt amazing and exhausted in one confusing mess. We were out for dinner two hours later for Mother's Day and I ate more proudly than I'd done in years. Unfortunately I struggle to accept and celebrate my achievements so in typical style I underplayed it to everyone the following few days. Now I've had a few weeks to reflect on it all I'll accept and acknowledge that it was a great achievement and I am very proud. Not just of myself but Katie too.
To date we've raised £800 for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie and I'm already planning ahead for next year. The goal is to complete the swims in a total of under five hours. That means doing each one in 1:40:00 or less. Having completed this, especially with the additional hurdle of breathing difficulties I know I can do it. In the words of the great George McFly, "If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything." Incidentally it turned out I did have a chest infection when I actually swam and ended up with antibiotics and steroids afterwards.
See you next time and keep swimming!
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