I had noticed on the openwaterswimevents website that there was a swim at Loch Ken in southern Scotland on the weekend before the Big Un. They were offering a 1km swim, a 2km swim, and a 4km swim, but the timings of them meant that it was possible to do all three. The online entry system though seemed to have an implicit bias that meant you could only do one swim. Now for those who swim a lot around Sydney, you will know that most events have a few races (such as a 1k, and a 2k+), and the timings make it possible to do both. They even tend to give a discount to the entry fee to encourage people to do this, and I had done just that at many events.
I contacted the swim organisers, and they admitted to me that they had never been asked if a swimmer could do all three races on the same day. They were delighted to be asked, and there was no hesitation in saying that it was fine, and they would discount the entry fee.
So here I was committed to doing the 1km, the 2km, and the 4km in that order. That is 7km over several hours, more practice for my 16km swim.
Loch Ken is in Dumfries and Galloway in the south-west of Scotland. Like all the other lochs I had swum in so far, it is a fresh water loch. The race was to held at the Galloway Activity Centre.
The drive down from Glasgow was quite pretty, though the closer I got to Loch Ken, the heavier the rain got, and the stronger the wind blew. As I parked my car and made my way towards registration after the nearly 2 hour drive, I thought I would not be surprised if the event was cancelled, postponed or delayed. I looked at the Loch, and the course was set out, and there were the occasional white caps on the water, when you could see it through the mist and rain. Another early autumn day in Scotland. I had noticed the weather forecast did talk about strong winds and rain early in the day, easing as the day went on.
I registered for my first race, the 1km race. When I told them my name they told me I was the famous one doing all three races. They had a film crew and reporter from a local TV station at the event, as the game reporter was going to swim in the open water for the second time by doing the 1k. So of course, they interviewed me on camera, trying to hide their incredulity that this crazy Aussie was not only swimming in the cold Scottish waters, but that he was doing all three races, and he looked like he was actually loving it.
The briefing for the 1km was held in driving rain, and it was cold standing in the wind, waiting to hear the important safety messages. We were then given our timing chips, walked down the pontoon and eased into the water. It was actually a lot warmer in the water than standing out, as we lined up for the start. The course was straight-forward, one lap of the 1km loop in an anti-clockwise direction. Looking at the wind direction I knew that the leg out the back would be straight into the wind, with two of the other legs cross wind. This should sort out the men from the boys with the small one foot chop.
I had lined up next to the start buoy and as the hooter sounded started strongly. I did try to swim slightly faster than normal, because I had got slightly chilled waiting for the in-water start. Going around the first marker, I was in 4th position. Then it was head down aim for the two markers on this leg, and allow for the drift. I did notice that the swimmers ahead of me were being pushed to the right by the wind and chop, so I was confident that I might be able to catch one or two of them.
Around the far buoy and half way, and I was level with third, though on a closer line to the marker, which meant I had swum a shorter distance. Now for the hardest bit into the wind and chop, as the rain came down obscuring the far side of the loch. I soon left the other swimmer behind, and I was clearly in third place, and slowly catching up to second.
Around the top buoy to head for home, and this time the wind was from the right, meaning I had to breathe left. I was catching second place. Could I catch them….yes I could if I swam hard, and soon the distance dropped to 10m, then 5m, then as we approached the finish line I was on their feet. It would be easy to swim around them and beat them into second place.
But then my logical mind took over, saying hey this is the first race of the day and the shortest, take it easy you have another 6k to swim today. So I eased off, letting them beat me by half a length.
First race over, third place, and a time of just over 17 minutes. And what’s more I felt strong: a great start to the day.
My new friends swam well, and it was great to see the smiles on their faces as they finished.
After handing in my chip and getting my time, I then had to rush to registration for the next race, the 2km. Now the 2k race was two laps of the course, once again in an anti-clockwise direction. By the time we entered the water, the wind had dropped a little, and the rain had eased off. I decided this time to wait near the rear of the pack of 40 swimmers at the start line, but as the hooter went I realised my mistake. Several of the swimmers started doing breaststroke, and I had to swim wide to get around them. By the time we had swum to the first marker, I was in the top ten swimmers, and I was at the rear of a pack of three who were swimming quite well and straight. I decided to do my usual and get on the feet and have an easier start to this race.
Once again into the chop, and this time I enjoyed the challenge, even if it did seem to take a while to turn out of the wind. Over the line, up the ladder, timing chip inserted. The second race was over, and I had come 4th, in a time of just over 36 minutes. I was happy with both my pacing and my placing.
I spoke to the organiser and asked if we could swim clockwise in the 4k, as the long leg out the back would then be downwind. He was amenable to the idea, and we agreed we would make a decision closer to the start time of the 4k.
Now I had a few hours before my next race, so I had some food, drink and sat down. I actually felt tired after the first two races, but a rest and some food certainly helped. I met up with several swimmers from the wild west group who had come down just to do the 4k race.
The briefing took place, and I was asked my opinion on the direction of the race. I looked out over the loch, and while the wind had dropped, I still thought that a clockwise direction would be best. So it was agreed, change direction this time.
So we lined up in the water, and as there was only 20 or so swimmers, everyone was in the front row. Away we went, with the normal flurry of arms and legs, and once again it was not long before I tucked in behind some other swimmers (this is becoming a habit). The course felt so different going the opposite direction, and I felt I had lost my home-ground advantage.
First lap finished, then the second, and I had started to pull away from a group of three swimmers. Halfway round the third lap, I took a glance behind me as I turned a buoy and noticed I was 15m in front of the next swimmer. Third lap finished, and I was still swimming strong, which did actually surprise me. I had swum 6km and feeling fine, so it was time to push harder on the last lap. So I did, and even took the opportunity to observe and correct my stroke and look around me. By this time there was virtually no wind, and it grand to see that the sailing dinghies down the loch a wee way were going slower than me.
I swum up to the finish line to a round of applause. I had done it, and managed sixth place in 75 minutes. I was extremely happy with this as I drunk the hot coffee and waited for the others to finish. I had done 17 min for a km in the first race, 18 min a km in the second race, and just under 19 min a km in the third and longest race.
I stayed for the presentation, and happily put my third place medal around my neck and took the prize. Along with the event t-shirt and three caps, not a bad effort.
So now another summer of racing is over, and I have now completed 84 races. What is more, I had managed to pick up three 3rd places this summer, my best return ever over a season.
I was now very confident that I was up to doing to Big Un next week, even it took me six or seven hours to swim the 16km.