It is hard to describe the cold shock of open water swimming. Imagine an air temperature of 12-15 degrees. Not that cold, is it? You probably need a hoodie but not a coat…
12-15 degrees (Celsius. Not farenheight, Americans) feels*quite* different in water.
Growing up in an old house, I’m familiar with how cold the shower goes when someone turns on a hot tap somewhere in the house. This felt like 4-5 degrees at the time. Actually it was probably closer to 12-15.
For those of you lucky enough never to have experienced Showerus Interruptus, I can only liken the shock of the cold against your skin to accidentally planting a bare arse cheek against cold shower glass at 6am on a Tuesday. The “FUCKSAKESTHATSCOLD” dance. Except you can’t escape. Because you’re getting into a Loch to swim for a mile.
So! Fresh from my dismay and subsequent relief of a shortened swim at Aberfeldy Middle Distance two weeks previously, I was very excited to give my wetsuit what will probably be its farewell for 2015. And what better place to celebrate a year of athletic adventure than Loch Lomond.
I’ve always been a fish. I swam competitively from the age of “small” and I have a large box of gold medals, ribbons and certificates somewhere. I guess I was just a natural. Like a wind up toy that starts kicking and pulling as soon as you let it go. I LOVED swimming and then did it so much that the love dwindled and the flame flickered out for 10 years.
A whole 1/3 of my life later, I’ve rekindled the flame. And it’s wonderful.
I have a buddy who’s done the Great Scottish Swim for YEARS (he’s really old) and he’d waxed lyrical about it so much that I promised myself, as a post Feldy present to me from me, I’d enter and swim the mile if I was uninjured. I AM uninjured. Happy days!
You can swim 1/2mile, 1 mile, 2 miles or 5k. I *could* have done 2 miles. But cold. And I’m not insane enough for 5km. 1 mile it was. And I loved every chilly second.
My other half realised at Feldy that if you’re not particularly in to the type of sport you’re watching, waiting 4 hours for your girlfriend to finish is BORING. So I knew he’d probably sooner drink loch water than watch people swim in it for ages. I came up with an idea that he and his dad could take their cyclocrosses up the West Loch Lomond cycle route while I swam and faffed about. This worked out well. They had fun. And although the beastly headwind held them up on the way back (not that I was worried at all…) the scenery was gorgeous. Good plan, Bean.
As I changed in the tent, a girl came in with her friend who hadn’t coped with the cold at all. It took about 4 layers of coats and towels and 3 of us rubbing her feet and back under a hot air blower to make her start to feel human. She was lovely. I hope she’s ok now. That’s what the cold does to some.
Changed and ready, I ditched my bags and headed to the start.
I was in the 11.30 Orange wave. We were called to check-in, numbers written on our hands, chips beeped and let into the starting pen. Cameras filmed us, all rubber clad in our silly hats, the presenter was chatting away to us all. It was calm! Then they announced that Acclimatisation was open. You’re allowed in a bit to get a feel for the cold. Did anyone step forward? Did they fuck. Except Bean.
“Excuse me. Step aside. Thank you”
Ever the pro. I jumped in and it was fine. IT WAS FINE. (It was fucking FREEZING) It’s always a shock. I splash my face and neck first. But the bit where it goes down your back is the WORST. Ok. In. Quick splash. Quick float. Out.
Then 10 minutes of trying not to get cold back in the start pen.
Ross Murdoch and Robbie Renwick started our wave. That was ace. I watched the swimming at the commonwealth games and the Olympics religiously. They were interviewed, wished us luck and fired the air horns to start our wave.
There were some clearly very experienced and speedy looking swimmers in my wave. So I kept wide and to the middle.
This turned out to be shite planning because a lot of the “speedsters” we’re, in fact, total pansies that got to the water and did a weird mini breaststroke thing. I had to pick my way through two dozen or so of them before I found some clear water and got on with the business of swimming.
It was so busy in the start chute that at one point a man stood up and shouted “NO” at someone who’d swum over him.
I didn’t notice the cold after 100m or so. I got into my rhythm pretty quick. Pull pull pull breathe right, pull pull pull breathe left. Minimal kicking. Save the legs. I was overtaking. Lots of overtaking. I was approaching a neon wetsuit who, when I was to his left about 4 ft behind must have switched to Breastroke as I suddenly received a kick to the chest so violent that I got a lung full of water and had to take a minute to calm the fuck down.
Once over the shock, I battled on. Sighting every 12th breath or so. I spotted what I thought was the turn buoy. I’d been swimming for what felt like eternity. It’s a funny almost rectangular shaped course. 1 lap is all. Easy. But that turn buoy turned out to be just a course marker and I still had the same distance to swim again. Bollocks.
By the time I reached the turn buoy, the waves were making me feel a bit pukey. Id never swum so far out in such a deep loch before. The course at Loch Tay was short and pretty shallow so there wasn’t a swell. The waves weren’t high but you could feel them building. As I turned to swim across the loch to the half way buoy, the waves were hitting my left side. I switched to right side breathing every fourth stroke and that kept me calm and balanced. Breathing every two strokes is too frequent for me. I’m a calm swimmer. Despite my splashy sprints, over long distance I like to slow my stroke down.
The half way buoy appeared and I knew I could finally start to push speed a bit. I kicked a bit more and concentrated on pulling myself through the water with some strength. I had to dodge swimmers who were from two waves previous to mine. And then two kayaks helping someone who’d come into difficulty. When I spotted the finish buoys and timing pontoon I knew it was time to hit the accelerator. I engaged my actually pretty strong kick and overtook 4-5 people before stumbling out of the loch, rather unglamorously to to beep my chip, confirm my name (which I almost forgot through water confusion) and find my finishers pack.
I asked, and was told my time. Which I immediately forgot. And then staggered deliriously to the changing tent in a torrential downpour to get warm and dry.
Once dressed, I checked my phone and discovered that Ironman was about somewhere. @ironpugsley was swimming the 5k (certifiably insane) so I wandered off to find him. Yet again it was the Oakleys I spotted first. Big hug. Lovely catch up. Brilliant. I showed off my bling and let slip that id turned up to an event in my Aberfeldy finishers tshirt WHICH I STILL HATE THAT I CANNOT WEAR TO WORK. After a good laugh and some encouragement for my mental friend, I began the 10 mile hike to the car.
The boys had had a fun adventure and were both pretty shattered which meant I volunteered to drive Mike’s BMW home. Fun!
Everyone got a nap except me, I think. And it’s 6am the following day and I’m STILL buzzing.
Because I wasn’t shit. I checked my time when I got back. 34:42. That’s ok! 115th. Oh. There were only a couple of hundred in my wave.
Wait. It’s out of 1000??? Oh!!! And 20th in my gender age? Out of how many? 187?
What if I hadn’t been kicked? Or placed myself further up the pack??!! Or stopped to take in the view?
Best day out. Loved every second. Next year I’ll consider two miles. Maybe.