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One of the highlights of the year, the swim down Loch Tay

The year 2016 in review. I used to do an annual review talking about the 20 or so open water swim events I had competed in. But 2016 was different, because even though I swam in nine events, the highlights were definitely what is called wild swimming in the UK. This involves just getting in the water and swimming: and we are blessed with so many choices here in Scotland.

But first some raw stats. I competed in nine events in 2016 to take my overall tally to 93 events competed in since November 2008 when I did my first event. I managed four top 10 places overall, and swam a total of 45.4 km in those races. I competed in my first and second 10km swims, did a 8.4 km swim, and two 5km swims. I even competed in my first race in Europe in Croatia where I swam a one km and a 5km swim. Of the nine swims, two were in Croatia, one in the Lakes District in England, and the other six were in Scotland.

So my racing highlights would include doing my first ever 10km event, which was down the River Spey in the Scottish Highlands with a water temperature of 12c. I also competed in the Great Scottish Swim 10km race in Loch Lomond in August and swam faster than I had downstream in the Spey. I used to be in awe of those swimmers who had swum those distances, but now I am one of them.

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Just after the start of the River Spey swim

The races in Croatia were fantastic for the atmosphere of tuna steaks on a bbq for the post-race snacks, and the fashion in which I escorted a 5k newbie around the course and the applause from fellow swimtreckers at the finish line. It was great to race without the wetsuit again for the first time in two years.

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The handshake at the end of the Croatia 5km

I also completed my first race in Scotland in what is called skins, which is without the wetsuit. I did the Pier to Pub swim in skins, and yes it was cold, but magic.

Now that I have done 93 swims, I am within site of that magic century. Will I get there in 2017, or will I do more wildswims?

Speaking of which, my recreational or wild swims were awesome in 2016. I started the year swimming in the freezing lochs in Scotland in my wetsuit, including one memorable swim in Loch Chon when we swam alongside the ice. As the water slowly warmed from 4c in February, the swim times increased from 15-20 minutes up to 45 minutes.  I can honestly say that you notice the temperature when it gets to 10c and want to celebrate the fact. In June we had a few weeks of relatively warm sunny weather, and the water in our playground in Loch Lomond jumped to 16c.

I did two Swimtrek trips over the year: one in Prvic Luka Croatia, and the other in Milos Greece. Both trips were amazing, and it was great to be go back home to Prvic Luka where the local people are amazing. It was great to make my first ever trip to Greece, and to meet people from around the world who share my love of swimming.

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The harbour in Prvic at sunset after another day of glorious sun and swimming

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Only one example of the amazing water in Milos

Back to Scotland for swimming, where I did three long swims over the summer. The first one was from Ardlui to Tarbet at the upper reaches of Loch Lomond, a distance of 12.6km in just under four hours of swimming. The second one was from Tarbet to Luss, the middle reaches of Loch Lomond, a distance of 13.7km in just over 4.5 hours. Both of these were with a social group of intrepid swimmers from Wild West Swimmers, and doing these long swims with friends is always fun.

There was also the group who swim most mornings at Balloch on Loch Lomond, another group of swimmers who were great to swim with, though I could not get to swim with them often enough.

And how could I forget Loch Tay, my longest swim to date of 16.7km in just over five hours. True I did not manage to make it from one end to the other (a total of around 23km), it was an incredible swim that was only possible due to the generosity of an amazing group of people (you know who you are). Each and every one of one helped make that weekend one of the highlights of the year for me. Special mention to Vince who swam the whole length, and George who paddled alongside me the whole way.

Lots of swimming, explored new places, swam in  yet more Scottish lochs (Loch Leven, Loch Tay), and added Greece to my list of countries I have swum in.

I am conscious that my outdoor adventures in the water have changed from racing events to recreational. In Australia, it was not common to swim long distances in the oceans outside of events, due to the inherent dangers from the natural inhabitants of the marine environment. Now I live in Scotland, I can swim in the lochs without fear of marine life, and only have to worry about the cold water. That does change your focus somewhat, but I still enjoy the thrill of competing and pushing myself against the clock and the field. I also enjoy the challenge of long swims with friends, supporting each other, and learning about your own limits.

The year finished with great swims in Loch Ard and Loch Lomond in December (but that is another story).

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In we go to start swimming down Loch Tay

 

Milos Greece

 

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Just some of the sea caves and arches in Milos

A week after our grand adventure up Loch Tay, it was time for some relaxing swimming in warm water. A Four of us ventured out to Greece to swim on a Swimtrek trip on the island of Milos. The island is located in the Aegean Sea between Athens and Crete. After making it through the delights of a Scottish summer we were looking forward to a week of sun and warm water. The island is famous for the Venus de Milo statue which stands in the Louvre in Paris.This statue was found on the island in the early 1800s and the locals call it Aphrodite which is the Greek name of the Roman god Venue.

Now I have swum in some amazing places around the world, including the golden beaches of Australia, coral reefs in Vanuatu, the pristine waters of Croatia, the stunning lochs of Scotland, and in and around New York City. However, I have never swum in a place like this. We swam over sunken cities, into sea caves, around sea stacks, through sea tunnels, down and through underwater arches, over sulphur vents and volcanic rock piles that heated the water.  Each day there were objects to explore and amazing things to see. I even set a new personal worst for the slowest 400m swim with fins of 25 minutes as I drifted in and around the incredible formations around the volcanic island. To swim with a warm sun on my back in warm water, having left the wetsuit behind was fantastic. Sure there were times we had some swell to deal with as the wind blew from the north, but I really loved the challenge of bouncing around in the sea once more, which is something I do not get to do often enough. However, we mostly were able to find places out of the wind due to the local knowledge of the crew.

Over the week I swam 25 km with the longest swim just under 3.5 km. But this trip was not about getting the distance up, but more about exploring and finishing the summer swim season with a bang. The guides were fantastic, the local boat crew were incredible, and all the swimmers were great company.

For regular readers of this blog you will know that I tend to write a description of the swim, and include a few photos. Well this time I will let the photos do the talking.

If you want a swimming holiday with lots to explore, on an island with so much history that you can reach out and touch, with great weather and good food, then I would suggest this one. But shhh do not tell anyone else….

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Swimmers going through an arch towards a sea-stack

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The water really was this clear

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Look at that blue sky and we swam around this cove too

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The sun forming a curtain around the swimmers

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Wow nice tunnel

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Just another cave to explore

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Caves used by pirates in days of old

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Ah the blue Aegean

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Around each corner there is something else to explore

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The first load of adventures out to the yacht at the start of the day

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The rippled sand on the seabed

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The scene at lunch one day

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That is the yacht we were on each day when we were not swimming

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The clear water gently lapping the shore

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One of the pinks easing through an arch

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The island of Polyaigos

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Swimming towards the light

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The Aphrodite our vessel for the week

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It says it all really

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The colourful fishing boats at Pollonia the village we stayed in

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Our final swim at dawn on the last morning

Loch Tay Scotland

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A perfect morning for swimming in Loch Tay with Ben Lawers behind the mist

The idea of a long swim had been on our minds for a few months, especially after our swim down Loch Rannoch in September 2015. We had examined maps of Scotland trying to find a loch that was longer than Loch Rannoch, but still not too far from Glasgow. In the end we decided on Loch Tay, which is a loch about 23 km long ( or 14.5 miles), and around 1 km wide at the widest point.  The loch is the sixth largest in the UK, and the 10th largest peak in the UK Ben Lawers overlooks the loch (height of 1200m). It is also known as a cold loch and is often hit by strong winds that blow down the loch between the hills on each side. It looked like a decent challenge, and was around 50% longer in distance than our big swim of 2015.

The plan was to swim from Killin at the head of the loch,  downstream to Kenmore at the outflow to the River Tay.There wasa lot of logistics to organise for a swim like this, with two kayakers, a boat, a stand up paddle board (who had a unique motivational technique), plus support crew on land.We stayed at a nice lodge on the banks of the loch on the Friday night, and the harvest moon that greeted us after dinner was a good omen. The plan was for Jess, Vince and myself to start the swim at 7am at Killin with George in his kayak. We would then swim the 4km to the lodge, be joined by the boat and the other kayaker, and have Victoria and Mark join us to Lawers. They would then get out and then meet us at Kenmore for the finish. At least that was the plan.

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The start of the swim at dawn

The weekend before the marathon, I had joined Vince Alastair, Big Mark on Loch Lubnaig with a plan to swim 10k. On that day, despite the presence of George in his kayak, I could only manage 6.5km with the last hour very tough, as my body screamed at me to stop due to fatigue. I realised that I had been training too much, and would have to rest up in the week ahead. So I did a couple of gentle swims during the week.

On arrival on the Friday night as we talked over our plans, I was convinced that I would only swim to Lawers a distance of around 12km. However, I told the others that if I felt better on the day of the swim, I would swim further.

 

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The three swimmers soon after starting

We were up before dawn with a good breakfast, and as much sleep as could be achieved with four grown men in a small room. We drove to our start point, with the knowledge that the weather forecast looked as good as good be expected for this time of year with lots of sun and only light wind. As we waded into the water we wished each other luck, deep in our thoughts. Vince soon pulled away from us,  but Jess and I kept fairly close. We had talked about trying to keep to the left hand shore as much as possible till we arrived at the lodge.

Once my body settled into its now familiar pattern, I was pleasantly surprised by how much energy I had. After an hour or so we arrived at the lodge, and Jess decided that she had no fuel left and wanted to exit. I was sad for Jess as we had shared so many adventures in the water, and we normally swam at the same pace. I had a good feed, and told George that I was going to keep going, and that I would go as long as I could. I felt really good with 4km behind me, and wanted to swim while the conditions were ideal, and I knew that I could easily make it to Lawers today. I told George to wait for Victoria and Mark and once they had entered the water, he could then catch up to me. By this time Vince was another km or so ahead, and had the other kayaker and boat with him.

 

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An unusually calm Loch Tay with clear skies

Now I was on my own, with no kayaker, and no swimmer near me. I took time to enjoy the stunning day, and look around me at the breath-taking Scottish countryside. My form was good, I was not tired, and I felt like I could swim for hours and hours. It is at times like this that your mind wanders and you fall into a trance like state, with only the sound of your breathing and the water falling behind you. These photos taken by George give you some idea of the vista.

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Looking back towards Killin

I had been swimming for a while when I broke out of my trance to see my trusted kayaker George nearby. I stopped him and asked for food and water and had a chat about who was where. It was great to have him close as he understood how a swimmer feels on these long swims.

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A kayaker’s view of me: note the bubbles and wake

As we swam past Lawers I had noticed that it was so calm I could still see the track left by Vince as he speed off into the distance. Now I had past the 12km mark, the boat came back to me for a change, and George tied his kayak and jumped in with me. It was great to have another swimmer close to me in the water, as I did not feel so alone. He stayed in for around 20 minutes for which I was very grateful.

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Amazing swimming conditions

By now I had been swimming for several hours, and I could feel that I was starting to tire. I made sure I stopped every 45 minutes to an hour, and had more drink and food. While my form was still good, the water temperature was starting to get to me, and the wind was starting to rise, even though it was a tail wind. I was determined to get to the point where I had swum 17 km to make it a longer swim than last year. The last hour was getting harder and harder and I stopped more and more often. I told myself that once I  turned the final corner where I could see Kenmore I would get out. That last km or so seemed to take an eternity as I could feel my limbs getting heavier, and my body sinking further into the water as my form dropped to the bottom.

I sighted the bridge at Kenmore and stopped, looking at my watch which showed I had swum 17 km in a little over five hours swimming and six hours from when I entered the water. My speed had been good the whole way, but now it was time to stop. While there was about six km to go, it would take at least another two hours and I knew that was beyond me. I signaled to the support boat and clambered in. Sure I was disappointed, but also very pleased with how far I had swum. When I entered the water I thought that doing 12km would be a challenge, but I had managed 17km. As my exhaustion hit I focused on the distance I had swum, which was a new personal best.

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What a day

Now it all about Vince. Even though I was exhausted we motored up to Vince who was the only one still in the water. By this time the wind had risen and there was a decent chop in the water and more boats buzzing around. We cheered him on as we floated past and gave him a big thumbs up. We went into Kenmore to meet the rest of the support crew and to have some food. We waited on the beach for our champion to finish.

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Vince heading towards the end as the chop increases

We all waited on the beach for Vince. He had done it, an amazing swim from one end of Loch Tay to the other: a distance of 25 km in seven hours. He looked exhausted as he tried to stand in the shallows, but his smile was huge.

Out group had conquered Loch Tay. Vince had swum the whole length, Jess had swum 4km, Victoria had done 8 km to Lawers from the lodge, Mark had run and swum the same distance, and I had made it three-quarters of the distance. We could not have done it with the support of each other, and the other support crew in the boat (David), kayakers (Kenny and George), stand up (Sir Harry), and the land crew  (Kirsten). Congratulations to all,and a huge thanks for your contributions. Special mention to George for his tireless support in the kayak and his incredible photos. But biggest mention to Vince who beat Loch Tay.

 

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Old Man Coniston overlooking the finish the evening before the event

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.

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A tranquil view of the finish point

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….

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A view of the course with Peel Island just visible in the distance

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The start of the 10km race going past the Maid of the Loch

The Great Scottish Swim returned for their annual swim at Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond on the weekend after the Pier to Pub swim. This year they had introduced a 10km swim event on the Friday afternoon, and I entered during the winter based on the plans to make each lap 2.5km. However, as the event got closer, it became clear that the 10km event would use the standard course, meaning we would swim six laps. Not the best outcome, but hey this was only my second 10km race, and the first one without the support of a river current.

My training had gone well, with several long swims in the loch, and lots of shorter swims with the 545am morning crew, and the folks from Wild West Swimmers. The good thing about that was that I was very familiar with the course, as it was like swimming in my own backyard training pool.

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The crowded start point with me up the back adjusting my goggles

I arrived in plenty of time for the 4pm start, having made arrangements to meet the actor who was also competing. We took our time putting on the wetsuit making comments about our race on Tuesday without the suit. This event requires all swimmers to wear a wetsuit which is understandable as most competitors are not used to the cold water in Scotland. However, we had trained in this body of water, and would have liked the option of non-wetsuit. Though I still would have worn the wetsuit as I appreciate the extra buoyancy and the warmth.

My eating strategy was to use the food supplied by the swim (which was going to sweets and cold water), with some gels that I tucked inside the ankle of my suit. I would stop after the 2nd, 4th and 5th laps to keep up my energy supply.

We had the warm up which is rather desultory for this type of event, as all of these swimmers would have their own routine and would not need a talking head to try to motivate us. I just wanted to start and ignored most of the action, as I stood towards the back of the pack. Though I did listen closely to the words of the GB Olympic 10k swimmer who was interviewed in front of us.

My goal was to finish in under three hours, which meant each lap would need to be done in 30 minutes or less. I wished the actor luck and off we went into the water, down the slipway. There seemed to be less churn and melee at the start of this race, maybe because most people realised that 10km is a long swim, and there was no need to sprint.

Now I have not mentioned the weather conditions for the race. All I can say is that it was a typical Scottish late summer day with plenty of cloud, and for a change only a light breeze. During the race we managed to experience wind, rain, sun and cloud, so we had it all.

My first lap was a doddle, as I soon settled into my stroke, and used the time to focus on exactly where the buoys where, as I was going to pass them six times. The second lap went well, and I did keep a good line going up towards Cameron House, and on the return. I stopped after this lap at the feeding station, which was a chap in a small dinghy handing out sweets and cold water. I also had one of my gels.

The third lap also went well, and at the halfway mark, my time was just over 80 minutes, well within the three-hour schedule. By now the sun had come out after a short squally shower, and I did enjoy the views of Ben Lomond and the Luss Hills to distract me from swimming round the same course six times.

Lap four and I stopped for more sustenance, and I was still feeling good. My stroke was good, there were no niggles from my shoulders, and even my normal leg cramps were quickly shifted with some kicking.

Lap five was completed with the race leaders sprinting past me in their quest for glory: they are amazing to watch with their windmilling arms There was also the contestants doing the swim run event entering our course as they undertook the 800m swim leg which was to be followed by a 5 km run. They had started two hours after us, and as I swam past them I admired their efforts in the water as it was obvious they were struggling. Of course if I had done that event I would have struggled on the run, as I cannot run out of sight on a dark night.

I stopped for my last feed and saw that based on my pace till now I might even get close to 2 hours 30 minutes. Half way up the last lap, I hit the wall. My arms grew heavy, my hips dropped in the water, and every stroke was a huge effort. I even resorted to some kicking to try to get my body position back. Each stroke was harder as my pace slowed as my energy levels leached out of me.

Finally I emerged from the water and almost fell over the finish line, having used all my experience to make it to the finish. I was surprised by this as in my training swims I had swum for longer times, but I had stopped for longer rests to have a feed and shoot the breeze. Race conditions are different with only short breaks to refuel before ploughing on once more.

My finish time of 2 hours 45 minutes was well within the three-hour goal I had set, so that was pleasing. However, I suspected the course may not have been 10 kms which in this day of gps devices must be a problem for organisers (my device said I had swum 9 kms only).  I was also happy with a top ten finish in my age group, and an overall placing in the low 40s. I also suspected that some who had a faster official time may not have completed the six laps as there was no way the organisers could know whether a swimmer had completed all six laps.

I bumped into some friends on my way back tot he change area, and they expressed concern over my condition. Apparently I looked exhausted, a look they had rarely seen during our social swims. I managed to assuage their concern with a promise to consume the food and fluids I had waiting for me in the change area.

As I took my time changing I reflected on the achievement of completing the event, which was my very first non-current assisted 10 km race. I can remember that it was not that long ago that I used to admire those athletes who could swim that far. I used to glance at those swimmers in my squad in Sydney who did the annual 9km South Head Roughwater from Bondi to Watsons Bay and think there was no way I could ever swim that far. Well I had now done it. Maybe it is time to call myself a distance swimmer.

A big thanks to the various photographers whose shots I have used: you know who you are.

 

 

 

The view from the pub on Inchmurrin over Loch Lomond

The view from the pub on Inchmurrin over Loch Lomond

I had swum in the Pier to Pub swim in 2015 and I was lucky enough to get a spot in this invitation event. The race is 2.3km event held on a mid-week evening from the western shore of Loch Lomond at Arden, to the hotel on Inchmurrin, the largest island in the loch. After you swim over, the three generations who own and operate the hotel provide dinner, and then the ferry takes you home as darkness falls. All the funds raised from the swim go to one of the local charities.

This year the weather gods were not so kind, with heavy rain falling as we drove up the motorway from Glasgow. I was going to swim without the wetsuit for this race, my first “skins” event in Scotland. I had been doing several swim sin the loch over the previous month in skins in preparation, including a delightful one hour swim from Aldochlay one evening the previous week. Now when I say delightful I mean it was a beautiful clear calm evening as the sun set and that wonderful Scottish light descended over the hills. Of course the water was quite refreshing, and each time you took a stroke the bottom of your arm and hand would enter a colder layer of water.

Aldochlay at dusk

Aldochlay at dusk

As we arrived at the starting point for the race, the rain stopped and the wind dropped. There were three males swimming in skins, and I knew both of them, having swum regularly with them over the last year or so. My aim was just to make it across, and as I entered the water I was definitely having second thoughts as I looked enviously at the rest of the field shivering in their wetsuits.

The start of the race with the destination the island in the background

The start of the race with the destination the island in the background behind the moored boats

Our briefing was perfunctory: swim to the right of the moored vessels, then aim for the right hand edge of the island, swim around the point and finish on the beach between the second and third jetties. As I had done it last year, this was no issue, but Vince the van man (who was hoping to finish in the top 3) had to have the course explained to him. I stood near swim run Mark, and director Gary the other skin swimmers, trying to get warm. We started, and I went slightly faster than normal in an attempt to warm up.

We swam around the moored boats and I was behind Gary but not so close as to be accused of drafting. I settled into a nice pace and soon found that I was passing some other wetsuit swimmers, which surprised me. I looked to the right and saw the spectator fleet and safety vessels and hoped that I would not need their assistance tonight.

Some of the field soon after the start

Some of the field soon after the start: I am on the extreme left with bare arms and a yellow float

Out past the boats e went, and Gary and I had a good speed going. But I noticed that he was not going in the direction I wanted to so I pulled up next to him, and then slowly edged in front. We were near a group of three other swimmers, and I increased my speed to get on their feet, as I thought I needed every advantage I could use.

Swimmers nearing the end of the swim and their reward of dinner

Swimmers nearing the end of the swim and their reward of dinner

By the time we hit the island I was in front of him, and still swimming strong, though starting to feel the effect of the cold water as my fingers started to have a life of their own. I was glad I had done several swims in skins so I knew what to expect.

With 200m to go, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Gary increasing his stroke rate. I was not going to let him beat me, so I started to kick and increased my speed in response. We edged closer to the finish line, and he was not getting any closer. I swam into the shallows, stood up, and saw him 10m behind me. We gave each other a hug as we exited the water. There in front of us Vince who was third male overall.  Mark the swim run man was third skins, so a very successful event for all us.

So I had finished my first skins race of 2.3km in just over 41 minutes. Sure this was a few minutes slower than last year when I wore a wetsuit, but I was still very happy with my time. Now what will be my next skins event?

Once again a huge thank you to the hotel owners who put on an amazing event with lots of prizes for the swimmers, good food and a beautiful location. I hope to be back in 2017 to do this for the third time. I am lucky to live in this part of Scotland so close to so many incredibly beautiful places to swim.

A view towards Conic Hill from Inchmurrin

A view towards Conic Hill from Inchmurrin

Glencoe 5km

Part of the Glencoe course in Loch Leven

Part of the Glencoe course in Loch Leven

Several of my friends from Wild West Swimmers had swam at Glencoe in the summer of 2015 and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when the summer schedule was up, and the swim had avoided a clash with the Great Scottish Swim I thought I would have to do the event. For those of you with knowledge of Scottish history, you will be aware that Glencoe is infamous for a massacre by Clan Campbell in the later 18th century. That was high up in the hills through which the A82 road from Glasgow to Fort William runs, and whenever I drive that road I feel the brooding atmosphere of those hills pressing down.

The event was being held in a sea loch called Loch Leven at a place called Ballachulish. Despite having lived here for a couple of years I still struggle with some of the place names, but I have learned you just make a sound like you are clearing your throat and that is close enough.

A group of four of us drove for two hours north from Glasgow on a typical Scottish summer day with rain and wind forecast, and low clouds. The A82 took us up the side of Loch Lomond and I was able to look at the loch from the road, and compare it to the view from the water when I had swum it over the two previous weekends. It really was a long way to swim.

Competitors at the start of one of the earlier races

Competitors at the start of one of the earlier races

I had entered the 5km event in the afternoon, and we arrived early enough to register and watch the morning 5km event. The course was out to the left hand side of the island, turn right, then turn right again to return to the cove, and do that for three laps, with the last lap requiring a short swim out to the head of the cove and back to the start line. We watched the swimmers as they headed for the island, and I had already noticed that there was a strong current out near the island going from left to right. A number of the swimmers mis-judged this current and had to swim against it to get to the first turning mark. I made a note of this for my event.

The turn point inside the cove

The turn point inside the cove

I managed to catch up with lots of friends doing some of the other distances and took advice from them on the conditions. They had told me that swimming along the island with the current was fun, but that the current was pushing you towards the island and away from the second marker. Good to know.

We were marshalled for our event and as we entered the water for the in-water start I took note of the conditions. I planned to swim along the left of the course to wards the island, aiming for the left of the first marker, as it would push  in the right direction. It was good to do an event again when you had to think about some tactics as the straight line route would not be the quickest.

The hooter sounded and off we went in the normal splash of arms and legs. I was up towards the front of the pack and could see the van man and the not so slow one just ahead of me. My tactics were working well, and I went around the first marker on an excellent line and did not have to swim against the current. There were a group of four swimmers just ahead of me, and I swam behind them as we headed for the second marker, getting a big push from the current and wind. I had picked out the marker by using the peaks of the hills behind, and soon noticed that this small pack were not heading for the marker. That decision time, use the drag and swim further, or swim shorter by myself. I chose the latter, and when I turned at the second marker this group were 10 behind me.

Now this third leg was back into the wind and chop, and while it was easy to sight by the hotel behind the starting line, it was not an easy leg. But I was enjoying the challenge, and by the time I hit the third marker at the end of my first lap I was 50m in front of the group. Though I had seen the van man and the not so slow one ahead of me.

Lap two was a repeat of lap one, except the cloud had descended over the hill I had used for sighting. Luckily one of the rescue craft had positioned themselves in line with the marker to assist with navigation as the rain started to fall.

Third lap was the best as I was loving the challenge of swimming in the chop and current, and getting further ahead of the group behind me, though not any closer to those in front either.

I felt nice and strong throughout the race and even started to think that 5km was rather short after my swims of the previous couple of weekends. I crossed the line in a  good time of 1 hour 21 minutes, which was about 15 minutes quicker than the 5km race I had swum in Croatia at the end of June. not all of that was down to the wetsuit I am sure.

Swimmers gather for the briefing before their race

Swimmers gather for the briefing before their race

The event is very well organised and the setting is quite stunning. They have been unlucky with the weather the last two years, and maybe next year we will be able to swim around the back of the island.

It was a great place to have my 90th race, and we had fun sampling some fine food and whisky in one of the pubs in Glencoe on the return trip home. It was worth it just for that stunning drive.

Looking back towards Tarbet at the start of Leg Two

Looking back towards Tarbet at the start of Leg Two

After the first leg of our swim down Loch Lomond from Ardlui to Tarbet, we returned the following weekend for leg two. This leg would start at Tarbet Pier (where we finished leg one), and finish at Luss,  a distance of around 13km. We arranged to meet at Luss with one kayaker and five swimmers being the van man, the rose, the actor, the slow one and myself. The weather forecast was not great so the actor and the rose left their cars at Inverbeg which was at around the half-way mark, just in case. They were both carrying injuries, so this was a sensible decision.

As we left Luss, I was feeling a lot stronger than I had before the first leg. I had tweaked my swimming schedule and had not done as many dawn swims during the week, which I had hoped would have left me with more energy. The dawn swims at Balloch are magic, but with crawling out of bed at 430 in the morning, hitting the water at 545, swimming for an hour, and going straight to the office, the energy levels by mid afternoon are very low. So I reluctantly left them off the schedule.

Smiling faces all eager to hit the water

Smiling faces all eager to hit the water

However, I did do a fantastic swim around Inchtavannach one of the islands in Loch Lomond one evening with my swimming buddies from Wild West Swimmers. It was an evening swim with light rain falling and no wind. At the back of the island there is a narrow channel to the wallaby island that is quite surreal as it is quite easy to forget you are in Scotland.

As we set off from Tarbet there was hardly a breath of wind, and the low clouds were hugging the hills and Munro from view. We shortly passed Firkin Point which is the deepest part of the loch at over 220 metres, which I am told is even deeper than the North Sea. I did look down at that point and trusted that none of us would drop anything.

Feed stop at Inverbeg he halfway point

Feed stop at Inverbeg, the halfway point

As we swam south down the loch the five of us kept close together guided by our trusted kayaker. I felt much better I had last week, and was enjoying every part of the swim, and once again the scenery was stunning. Up in this northern part of Loch Lomond, the loch narrows with the hills  squeezing the water between them. It is so different to the flatter southern portion.

The view from the kayak of our swimming group

The view from the kayak of our swimming group

Before long I could feel the forecast southerly wind starting to increase in strength. We kept to the western shore to try to protect us as much as we could, but we had to swim around a point to cross a wide bay before Inverbeg. It was here that we faced our first obstacles: the twin menaces of jet-skis and head wind. As the wind picked up, so did the chop, and while I do not mind this too much, some of the rest of the group were starting to struggle. So we took a slightly longer route in a diagonal direction towards shore to try to find some protection from the chop. This worked, and it also took us away from the buzzing skis and let us swim in smoother water.

At our feed stop the actor advised that he would go to us car as he did not fancy the idea of swimming the next 7km into bigger chop. He had been battling an injury, and we all agreed with his decision to focus on his goal swims later in the season. The rose was also thinking about aborting as the call of her car was quite strong as well. I must admit it was tempting to join her, as I knew this next section would not be easy. It was agreed that we would poke our heads around the point and that she would make a decision when the waves and wind hit.

A shot of me smiling for the camera before conditions deterioated

A shot of me smiling for the camera before conditions deteriorated

Around the point we went, and instantly we were going straight into the wind and waves. The rose yelled good-bye to the three of us, and swam to her car. Up until now the van man and the slow one had been much faster than me. But now that we hit the chop I found that they were no longer pulling away from me. All me years of swimming in the ocean around Sydney paid off as the chop grew higher with the increasing wind. It was a case of putting your wind down and just focusing on each and every stroke as the waves hit you in the head. I tried not to look at the shore too much as it felt like I was making hardly any progress.

I knew that the finishing point was at the base of a hill line we were following. So I looked at the trees, and the sky, and over my shoulder Ben Lomond as it smiled at my futile attempt to swim into this wind. On an on I went as my mind just concentrated on my technique: catch, pull recover, repeat each arm, and kick for a change. Yes I was forced to kick to help with my balance in the chop. Normally when I swim these types of swim, I do not kick much, and only do it to relieve cramp, to circulate blood in my lower leg, or to assist with balance if there is chop.

My last feed stop, looking towards Ben Lomond for inspiration

My last feed stop, looking towards Ben Lomond for inspiration

This stretch of the swim which was around 5km was quite open as it is here that the loch broadens and the hills fall away. I did enjoy the challenge of keeping momentum, but I was tiring. I signaled to George our trusty kayaker that I needed a break on the shore to get one last feed. I swam past some open-mouthed campers who must have wondered what was going on. The other two had pulled away from by now, but I managed to have some gels and sugar sweets and a drink, and sat in the sun for a short while. I knew from the landmarks that I did not have far to go, as we often swim at Luss and is the location for our swim on New Year’s Day.

So back into the water, hugging the shore. Along the camping ground, around into Luss, past the hotel, and onto the beach. I felt great, I had done it, and I even managed to finish the swim with 30 metres of tired butterfly. The other two were only a couple of minutes ahead of me, and we were all smiles as we congratulated each other. It was a tough swim, but we had done it: a distance of 13.7km in 4 hours and 35 minutes of swimming, and just over five hours since starting at Tarbet. Five of us had started, and three of us finished. Of the seven who started leg one from Ardlui to Tarbet, only two of us had made it to Luss. In two legs the van man and I had swum just over 26 km in just over seven hours, with our favourite kayaker George never far away.

None of us could have done this swim without George. He was there to give us food and drink, to advise us on a better route to avoid trouble, and to make us smile with his wonderful turn of phrase. He also provided the photos for this entry. It was a team effort, and congratulations to all who played a part.

For me I knew that I had swum the length of Loch Lomond in three long legs and a wee small one over two summers. My next challenge is to try to do the 35km in one swim….another swim on the bucket list that does not seem to get any shorter.

 

 

Our kayaker and two of the finishers

Our kayaker and two of the finishers

 

 

The start of our swim near Ardlui on a still cloudy morning

The start of our swim near Ardlui on a still cloudy morning

Being summer time in Scotland with so many incredible places to swim, we needed a goal. So a group of us came up with the idea of swimming the length of Loch Lomond over three legs. Due to our busy schedules, we had planned to do the first two legs on consecutive weekends in July, and the third leg in September. Of course I had already done the third leg last year, so in my mind, I only needed to do these two legs to swim the length of this huge body of fresh cold water.

Loch Lomond is the largest inland body of water in the UK, based on surface area. It stretches 39km (or 24 miles) from one end to the other, and covers an area of 70 square km (or 27 square miles). The British Long Distance Swimming Association has a race here every second year where swimmers swim the length without a wetsuit; and various other swimmers also attempt to swim the length on a regular basis.

Tarbet looking tranquil

Tarbet looking tranquil

I regularly swim in the loch, but more in the southern third around Luss, Balloch and Aldochlay, and the only time I had been up to the top of the loch was on a bus tour to the highlands. We had arranged to meet at the village of Tarbet at 7 am where we would leave some cars. A drive of 13 km miles up to Ardlui awaited us as we transported the seven swimmers and two kayakers. As I looked out the window I thought this is taking a long time to drive, how long will it take to swim back? The weather forecast was not bad, with some cloud, a chance of rain, a bit of a westerly breeze, and of course sun: in other words a typical summer day. As the loch goes north to south, a westerly breeze would not be too much problem, as we would be protected by the hills that overlooked this body of water.

At Ardlui we all ventured into the water to feel that familiar caress of the cool water as it tickled the lower back. I was feeling a bit concerned about my preparation, as I was still getting over my illness from earlier in the month, and I thought I would be slowest of the group. As we started the others seemed full of enthusiasm, unlike me, as I thought about the four or so hours of swimming ahead of me when I was not in the right head space. I could have quite easily got out at this point and said give me the car keys and I will see you at Tarbet. The water did look inviting with hardly a ripple on the water as we stroked out into the loch.

A view back up the loch towards Ardlui

A view back up the loch towards Ardlui

Before long a pattern was established, with the van man and Macbeth fan leading, followed by our latest recruit, then the newly wed, the actor, then the rose of the group, and last me. It was good to have a kayaker near me most of the time knowing that I could stop and get food or drink at any time. As they all took off, I told myself that this is not a sprint, you know you start slow, just put your head down and wait for the body to warm up after a km or so.

If I needed to distract myself all I had to do was look at the amazing scenery: you certainly knew you were swimming in the Scottish Highlands with the high hills bare of trees with that particular Scottish shade of green that is now so familiar. It was stunning, breathtaking, distracting, inspiring, and so much more.

A squall about to hit us on our swim south

A squall about to hit us on our swim south

Our first stop for a decent feed was at a wee beach that wound its way out into our path, where a fisherman had left a chair. After an hour or so of swimming it was good to stand up and look around, and understand why people would brave inclement weather to camp in such locations. By this time I was feeling better, and we all enjoyed a short chat about how we were feeling and how supurb it was.

We planned to stop at Inveruglas which was the halfway point, where there was a power station fed by pipes from Loch Sloy. By the time we arrived here, opposite Inversnaid we knew there would be ferry traffic from the tourist boats that plied their trade here. But our kayakers were excellent in keeping us safe. We enjoyed some cool drinks of water (yes we carried our own despite swimming in some of the cleanest freshwater around), gels and sugar snacks, and yet another chat. We were all having a great time, and we all felt strong, and keen to finish this swim.

Wind from behind pushing us on our way

Wind from behind pushing us on our way

As we swam on, I noticed that the early feeling of sluggishness had disappeared, and by now I was enjoying the swim. I knew that I had the strength to do this after my swims over the last month or so, and also knew that my unique slow style would get me through. I was also noticing that I was now keeping up with the newly wed and the rose, and it was good to look around and see some other tow floats for a change. Of course if I looked ahead I could make out the others not too far away.

All of a sudden the wind picked up from behind. The first hint was the two float hitting my shoulders as the wind tossed it forward. Then, the small ripples we had been blessed with till now, climbing and making the body rock as the waves pushed from behind. I found that I enjoyed this, even though it made swimming harder, it also gave me things to think about to counteract the moving water to maintain my forward momentum.

The peak of Ben Lomond looking over us

The peak of Ben Lomond looking over us

By this time of a long swim, and it was good to be able to distract yourself with the scenery. I wondered how those doing long swims at sea would manage without nothing to look at except their escort crew and the ocean. We had the hills, the weather, campers on the banks and the roads that pass close by to distract us from our task.

Part of the A82 road built over the banks of the loch

Part of the A82 road built over the banks of the loch

As we approached the finishing point I knew I was starting to tire, so I headed to the bank at a wee beach to grab some snacks. I knew that Tarbet Isle was just ahead and that this was the last km or so of the swim. I had glanced at my watch at each stop to see the distance swum climb over ten km, then eleven. The rose had stopped with me as she was concerned about me (one of the great things about swimming in a group is that we watch out for each other and check we are ok). I told her that I just needed some replenishment, and that we were on the last push home.

Tarbet Isle almost at the finish and we are still swimming close together

Tarbet Isle almost at the finish and we are still swimming close together

So the last bit to the finish, and as you can see from this photo, we are fairly close together after three hours or so of swimming. Around the corner, and some of us started to struggle over the last little bit. I stopped and asked the latest recruit if he was ok, as he was stopping quite often. The newly wed was also finding it tough at this stage, but the rose slowed down to escort him. As the houses of Tarbet came into view there was that feeling of elation flowing through the body as the finishing point approached. As I clambered up on the slipway, I said to everyone, ok that it halfway down Loch Tay, how are we all feeling???

We had finished, we had all done it, and all of us looked tired and elated. We had the support of two excellent kayakers to help us with snacks, advice and looking out for us. Well done to all of you, you are inspiring and a joy to swim with, even if I was the First Australian again. Wow a 12.5km swim in just under 4 hours, my second longest swim ever. And next week we could do the next leg. A big thanks to Vince, Tony,  Alastair, Colin, Jess, Gary, David (great photos), and George. Special mention to Mark for his creative input for the concept.

The gang at the finish at Tarbet

The gang at the finish at Tarbet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas spirit Manly Australia

My 100th blog post. When I started this blog it was to record my various ocean swims races or open water swims as they call them in the UK. I just looked at my very first blog, and it talked about places to swim around the world that I might get to. Well I have swum at all of them and more.

I started doing open water swim events in my former home town of Newcastle Australia in 2008. My first race was 1500m from Merewether to Bar Beach in what I then thought was cold water of 15c. I can clearly recall getting out through the surf and getting to the first buoy felling cold and tired. But I kept going and managed to finish my first race. Since then I have started and completed 89 races in Australia, Vanuatu, New York City, Croatia, England and Scotland. I even managed to win my age group a few times, and several top ten places overall.

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Ben Lomond reflected in Loch Ard in Scotland

But it is not just about the swim events, but also about the amazing people I have met, the places I have swum in and out of races, and where my love of swimming has taken me. It is an overused phrase these days, but my journey has been incredible, and it is still going.

I have learnt from each of my swims around the world, and they have helped me not only in the water, but also when I am dry. Even I could not have believed that I would be able to turn my hobby of swimming into working as a swim guide in Croatia for two summers.

Croatian islands from Kaprije towards Tijat

Some of the highlights are:-

Vanuatu swimming in 30c water over coral reefs and in blue holes formed by limestone with some of the clearest water I have ever been in;

New York City swimming across the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge twice, circumnavigating Liberty and Governors Island, and a cold dip on New Years Day;

Australia swimming near the Opera House on Australia Day, at Bondi beach, and three times across Lake Macquarie;

Croatia living and working on a car free island in the Sibenik archipelago for two summers, and returning on a holiday to a fantastic welcome home;

Swimming in lochs in Scotland in all its majestic beauty in summer with water of 14-16c, and in winter with water 4c and less;

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The castle or folly where we stopped for our first snack on our 10 mile swim down Loch Rannoch in Scotland

The incredible people I have met and swum with, trained with, and raced against. I have heard it said that swimming is a lonely sport, but the friends I have made from around the world who share my love of the water disprove that idea. For those of you who have swum with me in cold and warm water, driven with me to swims, listened to my advice on how to improve (and some of you even did take that on), followed me in my role as mother duck crossing a channel in Croatia, and everyone else who has inspired me, helped me, guided me and worked with me: I thank you.

When I started this post I was living and working in Newcastle Australia, and swimming a bit. Now I have completed 89 races, live in Glasgow in Scotland, and completed my first 10km race after doing a 16km social swim down Loch Rannoch in Scotland. I swim more, and while I may not be faster over 200m than I was 8 years ago, I know that I can keep going for 1km, 2km, 5km and 10km in cold water.

Now where will be my next adventure? Stay tuned, hang on, buckle up and catch the wave on my next 100 posts.

I usually like to put up some nice photos of each of my posts, but I have that many to choose from I have found it difficult to attach. So I have just picked out some that caught my eye as I looked over them all. I hope you like them.

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Fog over Town Beach in Newquay Cornwall England