The biggest swimming event in Scotland was held on the last Saturday on August on Loch Lomond. The event known as the Great Scottish Swim is the last swim of the summer in the five race great swim series, with the over four swims held south of the border in England. Usually at this time of year, the loch is at its warmest and can get to 18c. But as this was a very cool and wet summer, the water temperature was only 15c, which may have been a problem for the 2600 swimmers.
The event has a range of distances to choose from, with a half mile, several waves of one mile, two waves of two miles, and a five km race to finish off the day. I had debated doing the 5km, but at the time of entry I had not completed enough training, so I entered the 2 mile race.
The event is held at Balloch on the southern shore of Loch Lomond, near the Maid of the Loch, a place I was very familiar with due to the number of times I had swum there with the Wild Westies, and the Lomond Loonies. I had swum near the course on the Wednesday night with a visiting friend who used to swim with me in Sydney. I had also swum again on the Friday evening, taking the opportunity to swim over part of the course.
The course was a one mile loop (about 1600m), so my two-mile race meant two laps of the course. Unlike a large number of other swims, this race does not start in the water. Instead, the swimmers get the opportunity to acclimatise to the water at the foot of the slipway that forms the start line, by getting in a line and having a short paddle of 10m or so, before getting out. All the swimmers then stand around behind the start line doing some group warm up exercises, as the wind blows over cold skin. My wave of 250 or so swimmers then waited for the starting siren, and then we edged forward over the timing mats. The slipway was wide enough to only take seven or eight swimmers at a time, meaning it took me at least a minute to actually get in the water after I had crossed the timing mat. But that was my fault, I should have stood closer to the front to get a better position. Maybe the organisers could consider a start in the water to give swimmers a chance to acclimatise to the water temperature, and allow the large numbers in each wave to spread out before the race started.
On the day of the race, there was a fresh breeze blowing diagonally across the course, which meant the first leg was quite fast, though for this part of the world it was a good day as the sun was shining between the showers. However, on turning at the furthermost part of the course, the small chop became a hindrance to fast swimming. By the day of the race, I had done quite a lot of swimming,so I felt quite strong, despite the conditions. Once I had started and worked my way into a clear patch of water, I quickly swam past a large number of swimmers. Once again, I concentrated on getting into stride, and not swimming too quickly, and I even managed to enjoy some of the scenery of Balloch Castle, a cloud covered Ben Lomond, and the Luss Hills.
Fairly soon, the first lap was over, and I had not been passed by any other swimmers, and I still felt quite good. As we headed up the downwind leg, I noticed a squall wash over us, increasing the chop still further. It was good to swim in these conditions, as it forced you to make sure every stroke was strong. I even tried to catch up with some of those swimmers ahead of me, which managed to do. I was even surprised to pass swimmers from a one mile wave which had started thirty minutes earlier. I had to admire their determination to finish the event.
Before long I got to the finish line, and heard my name read out by the announcer. My time was a lot slower than the time I had done at Coniston, but I put that down to the tougher conditions, and the delay getting into the water at the start. At least my plan for the summer swimming was on track. After crossing the finish line, it was time to hand in the timing chip, collect the t-shirt and medal, and go back to the over heated changing tent to get dressed. I kept running into people I knew, who had completed waves earlier in the day, or were getting ready for the 5km race. It was great to see so many happy smiling faces. Overall the event was extremely well organised and I enjoyed the day. I will try to do it again next summer.