Redcaps HQ, 2S4L 2015 (the posh division, we were slumming it over the back.......)
Many endurance athletes know a happy pace where they feel they can 'keep on going forever'. But we all know that is a figure of speech. Nobody has ever run around the world without stopping, or swum the Atlantic. So 'forever' must end somewhere, at a time and place limited perhaps by exhaustion or a breakdown in mental resolve. I've never been afraid of failure, in fact I've pushed myself further and further to try and find that tipping point where I just can't go on anymore. And in a twisted kind of way I've looked forward to the day that I have to raise that white flag and declare 'enough'. Success demonstrates that we are capable of more whereas surrender delineates the very edge of our capabilities. In the pre-dawn hours of 3rd May 2015, after swimming 19 of the 24 mile 2Swim4Life event at Guildford Lido, I admitted defeat for the very first time. And in doing so learned many things about my ‘theory of forever', about myself and about the qualities to look for in a support crew.
Myself and John Willis about to start sporting our Mellett Smileys exactly one year on from Tony's passing.
Back in 2013 myself and Lesley Cook successfully completed the 24 miles of this event as a 2-man relay. It was bloody hard work, freezing cold overnight and I’d gone into it in a shit and sleep-deprived state. But we made it through. On Saturday 2nd May 2015, the 'Runaway Train' departed once more, this time for a solo attempt. Although it was forecast to be wet, the overnight air temperature was significantly warmer than before and, while I had the tail-end of a cold, it hadn’t gone to my chest and I was well rested. I was back in lane 6, sharing with another five soloists. We had each other sussed fairly quickly and knew our order and procedures for overtakes. It was all very friendly and from 09:30 was essentially free-fall, cracking out one mile every hour until 24 rotations were completed or we de-railed. Simples. Having ‘been there before’ we nailed down-time fairly early on too, with a seamless drying, dressing, resting, feeding, preparing routine executed by our buddies. It wasn’t necessarily dignified but what happened in the tent stays in the tent OK?
That'd be Mrs. Tyrant on the left. Taking things dead seriously......
My first wobble came very early on. During just the second mile my legs locked up with cramp, the same as had happened early on in both Champion of Champions and Windermere. Bloody hell woman what’s all that about?? I had hydrated well in the run-up and ensured a good mineral intake. But I’m getting the gist that early cramping is just how it is for me and something that I’ve got to work through. Lorraine Rate (AKA Mrs Tyrant), offered me electrolyte. The jury is still out for me over electrolyte but action was needed and it seemed to do the trick. No more crampy crampy after that, crisis #1 diverted….. My buggered left wrist began to smart at around 7 miles and the old nerve pain began to flare up. Swapping my watch to my right hand went some way to resolve that and I paid more attention to my hand positioning to avoid aggravating it any more, crisis #2 held in check.
After mile 10. Smiling on the outside, screaming on the inside......
The hardest miles were, without doubt, miles 9 to 14 when I felt thoroughly depressed! By then I was averaging 35 minute miles so had 25 minutes of down-time. Just enough to do what needed doing and nothing else. We all felt like shooting the guy who shouted out ‘Five minutes’ and ran things to the wire, leaving the tent with just two minutes to go. Although it wasn’t as cold as last time it was still toe-curling to let go of my dry robe and cringeworthy to get back in the water and kick straight off for another mile. But again once I got going it was fine. The whole experience was positively schizoid. When I was swimming I couldn’t wait for each mile to be over so I could get out. When I was out I wanted to be back in getting on with it, but without having to do the whole getting in thing. If that makes any sense? Sort your head out and make your blooming mind up girl!!!!!
After 12 miles my swimming and tent bud John Willis threw in the towel. He had slowed down to such a point that he just wasn’t getting enough rest. Having swum further than ever before he was satisfied and called ‘time’ with no regrets. Also he would be on-hand to help out as a buddy. I spoke with him and made a resolve that 16 miles would mark a tipping point. 16 was well clear of halfway and, with ‘two sets of four’ to go until the end, I could handle that no problem.
Sometime during mile 14...... The beginning of the end......
During mile 14, however, crisis #3 struck. I was quite sleepy during that mile, my eyes rolling like they do when you doze off in front of the telly. I’d not long kicked off the far wall and was heading back for length 12 when my left shoulder slipped from its socket, a recurrent problem in several of my joints due to having a generalised hypermobility disorder. There was no pain and it reduced spontaneously as I pulled through, but I knew immediately that it would hurt sooner or later and could be a show-stopper. That brought me briefly back from the land of nod and I clearly remember thinking ‘Oh shit’ before drifting off again into my world of hallucination and daydream……
Sure as eggs is eggs two things happened after that: my mood flipped for the better on hitting the allocated magic mile 16 and my damned shoulder started to hurt. A massive lift countered with a huge slap in the face. But I was totally focused on finishing. It was now down hill and completely do-able. Excellent buddy work had me with a dry cozzie and towel for every remaining swim. We were in it to win it and nothing was going to get in our way. I’d been dosing on Ibuprofen since the morning, mostly to help with the symptoms of my cold. The drugs now had a new purpose and for a while, (well maybe half an hour ha ha) seemed to be doing the trick. Mile 17 came and every single stroke hurt, 2 Paracetamol before mile 18 and things were a bit better. Two more miles and we would would replace the 1 with a 2 as we moved towards 20 miles. Cripes we were so close now and the sun would be coming up soon too. Happy days, slam dunk, thank you very much, 24 miles in 24 hours. OH YEAH!!!!! Then came the fateful mile 19………
Sometimes not even these bad boys work.....
Like #17 every single stroke I took yanked on my shoulder. Halfway through that mile the pain changed from a relatively diffuse ache to a pin-point crush. And that to me meant only one thing. Imminent significant damage. I flipped onto my back but that was just as bad. Breaststroke, yikes, no good either. A length or two of single arm then another go at front crawl. Nope. I managed to get through the rest of the mile on a mix of single arm and some spazzy technique that I made up where my left arm dragged through the water without catching it and I hurled it round for recovery with an exaggerated body roll. 'Yeah I can do it like this', I thought to myself. But 5 miles like that? Really? How long is that going to take? 45mins? 50? Do you really want to limp home like that? You'll wreck yourself for sure..... It was all pretty desperate. At the end of the mile I stood up, lifted my goggles and gazed back down the length before turning to my folks on poolside. With tears streaming down my cheeks I uttered the words ‘I’m finished’.
Climbing out the fighter within me kicked back in. ‘No way am I giving up, I’m getting back in for 20’. Buddies Sarah Mellett and Penny Allard gave me the space that I needed to thrash out my decision as I stood there blubbing and clutching my arm. But it was Lesley Cook’s bluntness that brought things home. ‘Jane, look at you. You’re fucked. I’m sorry but you are.’ And she was right. I dragged my sorry ass back to the tent, crying the whole way. There was one last flail at the whole ‘No, I’m in this until the end’ thing, that even saw me get changed into a dry cozzie ready for round 20. Then John Willis, who had kept relatively quiet, spoke up ‘Jane, you don’t have to do this. Save yourself.’ And with those words it was over.
Tony Marshall & Danny Bunn - very well done guys :)
The rest of the Redcaps crew went on to complete the distances they set out to do. Rory, Justin & Tongie touching in to claim 12 miles each, Danny & Tony claiming the full 24. Our buddies were second to none. Mandy Byrnes, Clare Calder, Sarah Mellett, Penny Allard, Helli Tong, Lorraine Rate, Matthew Skidmore, what a team we were!! Lesley wasn’t even meant to be there, just turned up to surprise us all and stayed all night long, waiting on us hand and foot, and even jumping in to swim a few lengths for Tongie as his team mate had to pull out. Ben Jaques, Helen Wildin & Gail Alexander dropped by for moral support which was really kind and appreciated enormously. None of us could have done even half of what we did without any of them so thank you guys, another whole list of people who are owed big time xx
As disappointing as it was, pulling out was absolutely the right call. That swim wasn’t my main goal for this season. A certain lake is calling. We have a date in August and there are ‘warm-up’s’ in the diary along the way. I could so easily have lost it all by chasing the full house at Guildford. And my buddies for that certain swim, John Willis & Lesley Cook, demonstrated that they are without doubt the right crew for me. As much as they will support and encourage me, they both have it within them to look me in the eye and call it a day if things go irretrievably wrong.
As for my ‘theory of forever’ I no longer think of it as a fixed entity. If success demonstrates that we are capable of more, then surrender must highlight areas where we ‘could do better’. If we learn the lessons and implement the remedial measures then perhaps forever can never actually be found.
For me, I can safely say that I’m not so wreckless as I thought. I applied reason, listened to my buddies when their words contradicted what I felt in my heart, and walked away from something that I wanted 100%. It was a massively tough call. But I was right at the point of sacrificing a whole season of swimming, if not more. Go for broke or live to fight another day? I take the latter.
Will I go back and try again? Dunno. But once I’m all fixed again I’m going to keep on looking for forever………..