The next step in my regime of increasing distance for the Big Un was to do a 5km race at Loch Ard. There was some doubt as to whether the event would take place at all, as the water temperature was being very stubborn and not rising above 11c. However, a week of warmer weather (by Scottish standards, which meant there was more sun than rain), had the water temp sky-rocketing to 12c: enough for the swim.
Loch Ard is in the Trossachs just to the east of the town of Aberfoyle in the Scottish Highlands. It is considered to be the source of the River Forth that flows into the North Sea past Edinburgh. The loch is nestled just to the west of Ben Lomond, and as the crow flies is not far from Loch Lomond.
The Loch Ard swim was organised by Vigour Events, and they had a range of swims on offer on the day: there was a 1km race, a 2km, a 3km, a 5km, and the 10km. Like a lot of swims in the UK, the swims are timed so that each race will finish at around the same time, so it is not possible to do a couple of races on the same day.
Once again I had debated with myself on whether to push myself and do the 10km race, or just do the 5km race instead. In the end I decided that I had not done enough base training over the summer to acquit myself well in the longer race, so I entered the 5km.
I got a lift with Vince, a chap I had met this summer in my open water safety role, and had swum with on the 5 islands swim as well. He was going to Croatia on holiday with Swimtrek, so we had a lot to talk about on the one hour drive from Glasgow. Vince was also the Scottish National Champion in the wetsuit category for the 10km distance.
When we arrived at the village of Kinloch Ard on the shores Loch Ard just after dawn for the registration, the water was like a mirror, with no winds and plenty of blue sky. I had not been here before and I was amazed by the sheer beauty of the spot. Scotland really is spoilt for choice for stunning swimming locations.
I was tempted to change my entry to the 10k, but it was only the cold water temp that stopped me (or so I told myself). I happily encouraged the 10 or so swimmers in the race, and was very much in awe of a crazy South African historian who was doing the race without a wetsuit. Off they went to do 5 laps of the 2km course.
I had a few hours to kill before my race started, so I had some more food, chatted to the event staff, and warded off the midges. Now it is good news when the midges show up, as it means the wind is light, meaning great swimming conditions.
After putting on the numbered tattoos on the outside of the wetsuit, and putting it on, I listened to the briefing. I was hoping that our 5km race would be 2 laps of the 2km course, and one lap of the 1km course. However, we were told that we had to do five laps of the one km course, which was set up inside of the 2km course. I was disappointed, as the 2km course went to the other side of the loch, and also would I be able to count my laps.
I chatted to the other swimmers in the race, there was only 14 of us, and some of them looked quite nervous. As the water was so cold, and I was planning to be in for over 90 minutes I donned my boots and neoprene cap. As I entered the water, it was cold, but quite soon the warm sun helped to ward off the chill, as we waited for the start. We even formed a line as we waited at the start line, for one of the 10k swimmers as he finished the second of his five laps .
So our course was in water, start at the buoy just near the finish line, then swim along the shore to the next orange pyramid buoy. Turn hard right to the circular yellow buoy, then veer right to the orange pyramid buoy, then back to the start line. Do this five times and the race would be over: easy.
Off we went, and it did not take too much effort to slow down, as the water was cold. I was near the front of the field, and even managed to get a nice drag behind a fellow competitor for a couple of hundred metres. Around the first orange marker, and I was in 4th or 5th position. I looked up to find the yellow marker, and noted the nice hill (Corbet I assume) behind it to help with navigation. At this time I noticed some of the other swimmers were veering away from the marker, so I made the reluctant decision to get off their feet and swim a straighter and shorter line.
Around the yellow marker, and there was by a now a gentle breeze blowing slightly across us as I used ben Lomond to sight the next marker. Then around that one, and it was easy to see the start/finish line with the archway, and the inflatables in the activity centre.
Second lap, and I had moved up to fourth and was keeping a good 20m behind another swimmer. I was happy with my pace, and then started to think about my times. I knew the 3km was starting 45 minutes after our race started, so I hoped to be well past the start line on my third lap by then. I swam past the start/finish line to see the 3km swimmers waiting for their start signal. Halfway down to the next orange marker, I heard the hooter for their race, and wondered if any of them would catch me.
By now, my mind was starting to play tricks with me, and I had to concentrate to count the distance: two and a half laps gone, halfway. Back onto the 2k loop for the swim to the start/finish line, and I was swimming with and then past some of the 10k swimmers, but I had done only 3kms to their 6-8kms.
The swimmer coming third in my race was getting closer and closer to me, when suddenly he stopped as we rounded a buoy 5m apart. I hoped he was ok. I found out after the race that he had cramp in both legs. He was also going to take part in a team relay swim down Loch Lomond later in the day, then do the Firth of Forth swim the next day. Impressive.
Four laps done, and the last race had started just ahead of me, so I had some slow 1km swimmers to swim past. It was good to see other people I the water, because up until then all I had seen was the cameraman in the rib gliding up close to me to get some action shots.
Finally I came round the top orange marker for the last time, as the wind slowly increased in speed, creating a small amount of chop. One last look for the arch finish line, and swam towards it. Standing up, over the line finished, and in third place. I was very happy with that, though not with my time. I had hoped to do under 100 minutes, but had only managed 108. Based on the timings of the start of the other races, I suspected that perhaps the 1km loop was longer than 1km. It was either that, or I had swum badly in excellent condition, and it is always easier to blame someone else.
Vince by this time had eaten his lunch, got dressed and enjoying the sun after his 3rd place in the 10k. I hung around the finish line to congratulate other swimmers I knew in their 10k and 3k events.
So I had completed only my second 5km race, and in cold water, in another stunning location. I was also well on track for my plans for the Big Un in two weeks. My only previous 5km race was from Coogee to Bondi in Sydney, a totally different experience.
A huge thank you to the organisers and water-safety as I am only too aware of how much work goes into making these events run as smooth as they do.
Next year, I might have to do the 10k, or even the 12.5k if they run that.