The International Ice Swimming Association were holding the 2017 Great British Ice Swimming Championships in the waters of Loch Lomond in early February 2017. Our group of swimmers decided to enter, but at the time of the close of entries I had not progressed my training enough, so limited my entry to the 50m sprint. Others were entered in the 1km, 500m and 200m events. The rules were simple, swim with one cap, one pair of goggles and one pair of swimmers.
The event was held at a function centre situated on the banks of Loch Lomond. Usually at this time of year this location is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. However, for the few days before the event, and on the actual day, a cold east wind blew in from Europe, meaning there would be a large chop in the water. For the efforts of the various swimmers to be recognised the water had to drop under 5c, and the temperature had stubbornly sat at just over 5c. Luckily for everyone, the effects of lots of snow, and cold temperatures resulted in the water dropping to 4c on the day.
I had volunteered to time keep on the day, meaning I had to stand out in the cold weather to record the times of the swimmers as they pushed themselves round the one km course in testing conditions. The air temperature was just above zero all day, with snow showers blowing through with Ben Lomond and Conic Hills taking turns to disappear from view as the day wore on. To keep warm I would think back to my days of timekeeping in Australia where I had a hot sun burning my back.
It was inspirational to watch swimmers from around the UK and the world swim in these testing conditions. It is hard enough to swim one km in water this cold at the best of times, but when there is a large chop on the water it became even more difficult. Fortunately for Scotland, a local swimmer of some renown won the one km and 500m events in very fast times (he also holds the record for the fastest skins swim of Loch Lomond).
I had entered the 50m event, and as my time approached I left the beach to get changed in the warmth of the function centre. It was cold as I walked down to registration where I learnt I was going to be in heat one of the event. We walked along the beach and entered the water. It was bracingly cold, but I knew that if I swam fast I would be finished in under a minute, hardly time to get cold. The gun went and we were off. I soon swam to the front, and kept my head down ignoring the screams of my body telling me it was cold. I crossed the finish line in first place, and obtained my time. I stood and watched the second heat, and watched as my winning time was surpassed by one other swimmer, but at least he was a fellow Australian (well done Nick). Yes the Australians had managed to come first and second on the podium in an event that we should not do well in.
I walked back up to the function centre and got changed into warm gear. A bunch of our group from the Wild West Swimmers (all of whom had done extremely well in swimming on the day, with some winning medals) went down to Balloch for a nice pub feed. The event finished with a traditional ceilidh (pronounced keilie), which is a dance with fiddles and pipes. It is very much like a bush dance in Australia, and it was a lot of fun.
Maybe next time I will enter the longer events such as the one km race, as by next winter I would have had more training behind me.