The weekend after the Great Scottish Swim, it was a trip to the Lakes District in England for the annual Coniston End to End event. This race is one of the more popular events held on Coniston Water over a distance of 5.25 miles (8.5km), from one end of the lake to the other. The lake is famous for the world water speed record attempts (successful and otherwise) held in the 1960s. It was also featured in a recent movie Amazons and Swallows.
Coniston is a three-hour drive (around 250km) south of where I stay in Glasgow, and the trip on the day before the swim was quite uneventful. I picked up my entry pack the night before the swim, and took the opportunity to upgrade the offered tow float to a doughnut one. I have found this to be extremely useful on long training swims as it is easy to access food and drink when compared to the other bag type (which is better for holding clothing).
A number of my swimming buddies from Wild West Swimmers had also entered this swim, due to its excellent organisation, and for us the relatively warm water. There is also the chance to do the swim in skins (non-wetsuit). I was placed in Wave 5 based on my entry time, the second fastest wave.
The swim cost included bus transport to the start tent at the southern end of the lake. While the day had started cloudy but dry, by the time we had boarded the bus, the skies had opened. we were going to be getting wet anyway once we hit the water, and I would much prefer rain to a day of sun and wind.
We lined up to get our safety briefing to be told the water temperature had dropped to a cold 16c. You could hear the groans from the English, and the cheers from the Scottish swimmers. Our course was to swim up the eastern side of Coniston Water passing inside of Peel Island. There would be marker buoys every mile, and feed stations at 1.5 miles, 2.5 miles, 3.5 miles and 4.5 miles. My plan was to stop and feed at each of these, and I was happy to hear that each station would have fruit, drinks and gels.
The actor was in skins and in my wave, as were Big Mark, and Swim Buddy (SB) who had followed me down Loch Rannoch last season, and who I swam with regularly. My plan was to go steady until the first feed station, then increase my pace, and keep enough in reserve to avoid another fatigue situation. We entered the water in dribs and drabs as our time would not start until we walked over the timing mat. I wished everyone well, and followed SB into the warm water. It felt good in my wetsuit not to have that cold water sensation down the back for a change.
I started my swim, concentrating on getting my normal pattern going, and dodging other swimmers. I noticed SB was just ahead of me, but was not concerned, as I knew she normally started quicker than me. At times I feel like a diesel engine on a cold morning, and it can take up to a km before I settle into my stroke, and today was one of those days.
The first mile past quickly, and Peel Island swept into view. I was keeping up with a group of other swimmers, one of who was SB. How did I know this? Well even though she was wearing exactly the same coloured cap as everyone else, she has a very distinctive style. At the first feed station we chatted about how we felt, and we both felt great. Those gels soon worked their way into my system, and I could feel the power boost.
Past the second feed station, with a drink, some food, and another chat. We were neck and neck at this stage, and had managed to be swimming mostly by ourselves, despite the 500 people doing the swim. The rain had eased, and the wind had picked up a little creating a small chop that I knew would be to my advantage. The pleasure steam gondola passed us in the distance as we started catching swimmers from the earlier wave.
Another feed stop, this time at the 3.5 mile mark, and we were still within 10 meters of each other. We had swum behind a chap with a big kick for a while, and looking at his technique I doubted he would have been able to continue that for very long. Sure enough he tired, and we swept past. Not sure what he would have made of my complete lack of kick.
I was still feeling strong as we passed many swimmers from the early waves. I like to look at different swim techniques in these long events to see what advice I would give them to improve their efficiency (maybe I will take waterproof business cards for my coaching next time and slip them into their goggle strap). Though I must admit their tenacity and determination to complete the event.
The last feed station required me to sprint to get to the boat before a group of 50 or so slower swimmers. I could have given the feed a miss but I was wary of tiring without energy. By this time I had lost SB as we dodged slower swimmers to grab our food. I pushed off from the boat feeling smug that I just might beat her. After 5 minutes of swimming I looked ahead to see SB swimming. How did she get there? Oh no. My tactic was to go on her blind side with a few swimmers between us to try to get in front. But no matter how hard I swam, I just could not do it. By this time of the swim the dreaded weeds were everywhere, making it more difficult to get a good pace going.
Into the finish line, and as I walked over the finish mat, there she was just in front of me. I tapped her on the shoulder and congratulated her. She was surprised as she thought I was ahead too. Officially she beat by three seconds in a swim of 2 hours 34 minutes. Though if we add in a handicap based on age and water displacement I would have beat her by several minutes.So once again SB has bragging rights from an event.
We got a warm drink and stood in the water as the rest of our friends finished, cheering them on. A huge effort by the Van Man who was in the fast wave and finished 15 minutes or so ahead of me.
I was very happy with my swim this week. I had managed my feeds well, and felt strong the whole way, finishing in the top 15% of the field. My GPS watch told me I had swum 300m less than last week, but eleven minutes quicker. I had been told this was a great swim, and now I believed it.
My congratulations to Big Mark, the Actor, and all the other WWS swimmers who all swam so well.
If you ever want to test yourself over a swim of 5 miles, this is the one to try. Maybe next year I might do it in skins….