Julian Crabtree, who started and finished every single heat of every 1-mile swim in the 4-part Great Swim series ended up swimming a total distance of 44 miles.
This was his first-hand account before the last eight miles of his solo challenge:
"I have no real game plan going into the Great East Swim. My only intention is to enjoy swimming all day and try to remember as much of it as I can. That may sound strange, but sometimes we are so busy worrying and stressing about what is ahead we forget to take the time to look around and enjoy what we are actually doing. Despite this mindset, I am still very nervous. I have 8 waves to do – just 8 more miles to finish the Great Nova Swim Challenge. With so many waves already under my belt, I should be an old hand at this, but the butterflies start to flutter deep inside as I prepare for the first wave of the day."
"Apart from making sure I enjoy every stroke I have also decided to give everything I can in every wave. I want that numb, exhausted feeling that only comes from pushing yourself hard. Perhaps I should be taking it easy, but I feel that is wrong and want to leave The Great East Swim with the knowledge that I gave it my all."
"I have the honour of starting the first wave which is great - the problem is I have to run down the steps and start from the very back. It's tough at the back. Usually I start at the front and go off at an angle to get away from any stray hands and feet. Then I settle into my own rhythm with relatively clear water around me. However from the back there is a lot more traffic and hazards to deal with. With the clock always ticking down in my head, I panic a little about whether I can swim through the wave and get back for the start of the second wave in time."
"I’m puffing by the time I get out, but that is okay – it is what I wanted and I am relieved to see I have a good five minutes before the next wave starts. The morning goes remarkably quickly and apart from one wobble when I feel a bit dizzy after running back to the start, I am really enjoying myself. Everywhere you look there are people to inspire you. From Keri-Anne Payne who at every Great Swim has made a point of asking me how I am and wishing me luck, to Duncan Goodhew who slaps me on the back when I run past. The other swimmers are fantastic too – there is a great feeling of camaraderie and bonhomie in all the waves."
"Five down and just three to go – but these three are going every hour opposed to the 30 minutes of the previous 29 waves. “Easy after Windermere” everyone says, but I still have a gnawing doubt. Finally I am on my last wave – I feel a bit of melancholy and I will miss the Nova crew who looked after me so well. I am deep in their debt. Without them, I would not be preparing to face the final mile."
"Steve Parry and Alan Bircher are swimming the final wave too – Steve is keen to swim with me, but I can also sense he is up for giving Alan a run for his money. The hooter goes for the final time and I push off after Alan and Steve with everything I have got. I hang on for as long as I can – which is about five strokes. I love it though and try to stop laughing at the ridiculousness of what I am trying to do – even if I hadn’t swam all the other waves there would be no way I could keep up with them, but it’s fun trying! With 500 metres to go, Steve stops and waits for me and we swim in together – it’s a nice moment and I appreciate the gesture. I feel elated and honoured and once again am overwhelmed by the reception."
"When I started in London I had no idea of the fuss that would be made of this. I expected to fly under the radar, sneak into each wave and just get on with it. But behind me I had the best support team anyone could ask for – the crew of Nova International went above and beyond what was expected of them and it was them who got me to the finish line. It has been a fantastic journey and one that I will always remember. However even with the aches and pains still in my shoulders I am already questioning whether I could have gone faster; whether I could have gone for longer. And the reassuring answer is always maybe next time, maybe next time…"