The End of this Chapter

Posted on September 9, 2010. Filed under: anaphylaxis campaign, Blue-green algae, great scottish swim, Half ironman, ness, Pentlands, run, shakey, swim, Threipmuir, triathlon, wetsuit |

I have now thoroughly enjoyed a prolonged sabattical reacquainting myself with burgers and beer and thought I had better close this chapter and tie up some loose ends.

As mentioned in the last update we had to turn to Plan B to finish off the challenge.  The original plan, which had been a year in the making, was that I would finish my three event challenge and Shakey would have her first long distance open water swim at the Great Scottish Swim.  However, the Great Scottish Swim and the Great North Swim in Windemere were both cancelled due to outbreaks of blue-green algae which is, apparently, more dangerous than the things that already linger in the depths of Strathclyde Park and that I normally happily ignore.

Blue skies and sandy beaches make the Pentlands
a popular spot for a late August dook
So, we planned a 10am pick-up along with an extended support squad of Pam and Mam and Dad Shakey to take the long trek into the Pentlands and swim in an ice cold reservoir.  It turns out that my spartan existence couldn’t withstand the Edinburgh Fringe and, with only one evening to hold out on my abstinence, I spectacularly fell off the wagon in a 3 pint frenzy leaving me dribbling and proving that exercise and Guinness simply don’t mix.  However, with the hangover thoroughly sated with a large bowl of porridge, we gathered aside the reservoir and procrastinated at length.  Shakey was looking particularly uncertain as the waves battered up the beach and it turns out her confidence levels in my one-armed Baywatch lifesaving technique were low to non-existent.  But there was no need to worry……the canoeing leg of the Edinburgh Rat Race was in the same loch so we had a large flotilla of canoes as rescue craft.  The tables were almost turned, however, every time one of the canoeists spotted two mentallists in canary yellow rubber hats popping up from below the waves and just about capsized with shock!! 
Like The Stig, The Shakester is finally unmasked
With much trepidation we edged towards the water and “enjoyed” the moment as the frigid waters breached the wetsuit seams.  After a few exploratory strokes, and seeing the distressed look on Shakey’s face, I stepped up to the plate as a mentor and gave her some advice that will probably stay with her forever.  The advice will have to remain private but needless to say everyone was warmer afterwards. 
Unsurprisingly, with a strong headwind the going was tough.  It was actually really miserable – trying to get a breath in as the wind and breaking waves were hitting us pretty much square in the face.  A couple of times we were blown so far off course we were shocked (much to Shakey’s delight) to hit the shallows and have to wade to deeper water.  The wind carried our conversation to the shore and the transcripts from the land based support crew reflect the following conversation….
Shakey celebrates receiving and implementing
the best piece of advice ever
STUMPY:  Are you OK?
STUMPY:  Are you lying?
STUMPY:  Do you want me to stop talking?
SHAKEY:  No, but blllubbble…….(unintelligible muffled underwater response)
At the turn, things were getting a bit tense.  I was in charge of distance and Shakey was not believing my measurements.  To make matters worse the canoeists were now just about all finished and from a distance it looked like Pam, Ma and Da Shakey were all suffering from hypothermia and were using all of their spare energy dodging swan attacks.

Let’s see if I have covered everything – freezing cold, dirty water, windy as hell, peeing in wetsuit……..  Yup, that’s it!  There really is never much more to say about a swim in the open water.  And just to pad out the final blog here it was from the Shakester’s perspective.

As I’ve said before I have a completely rational fear of drowning, so the idea of swimming (albeit I use the term fairly loosely) in a freezing cold loch on a Saturday morning didn’t exactly fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Now take that scenario and remove the promised rescue speedboats, lifeguards, ambulances, paramedics, resuscitation tents, man with a loudspeaker, post race catering spread (although I needn’t have worried about that as the ma was looking out for us and had that covered), a fully fit, two-armed swimming partner and a certain scantily clad male Olympic medallist that I’d been promised an introduction to and you’ll get a sense of how I was feeling when my alarm went off on the 21st August – in a nutshell pure, blind, unadulterated panic. On paper a trip to some random reservoir in some random hills in Edinburgh (my geography of the capital doesn’t really extend beyond Leith and Princes Street) didn’t seem like such a big deal, but in reality I was once again teetering on the brink of insanity.

Now given my poor geography skills and refusal to buy a satnav, it was agreed that Stumpy and Pam would have to collect me and the ma and da and drive us to this reservoir that I was assured was blue/green algae free (Stumpy has amazingly qualified as microbiologist, meteorologist and mapping expert since the beginning of the challenge). Thankfully this was a shorter car journey than the one to Ayr so we didn’t have to listen to Stumpy bang on about his “legendary” HALF ironman status and broken shoulder/arm/leg/toe for too long!

When we set off from the car park in the Pentlands to the site of my potential demise it became clear that this was actually an aquathlon (like a triathlon but without the cycling) that Stumpy had planned – he’d neglected to mention that it would be a 10 mile (possibly a slight exaggeration there) hike to the water. When we finally arrived (in the early evening!) it was with great delight that we realised that we weren’t going solo on this and that the Edinburgh Rat Race kayak leg was taking place in our loch so we’d have company (and potential rescuers!!) for some of the swim.

Before any of us had time to fully comprehend the madness of what we were about to undertake, Stumpy and I got suited up, said our (possibly final!) goodbyes to our loved ones and headed into the arctic waters. For a brief moment, I relaxed when I realised the water was a touch warmer than Ayr (I repeat TOUCH) but then the gale force winds picked up and forced my head to get wet (something I’d really hoped to avoid). Needless to say I/we employed some basic survival skills to warm up and we then set off. Once again the pool at Cowdenbeath seemed like swimming in a bathtub but we battled on. As we “swam” the first half into the wind we managed to befriend a couple of the kayakers (or canoeists – I’ll be honest I don’t really understand what the difference is between the two, apparently it’s something to do with the paddle but who knows…) and even gave them some directions as to where the flag was that they needed to collect as part of their challenge.

After approx 800metres the time came to turn around (woohoo!) and head back to the shore. Thankfully when we turned the wind was now at our back and made the return trip a little quicker. As the journey back was a little easier I braved (or more correctly made Stumpy brave) seeing how deep the water actually was and realised (with sheer unadulterated joy) that the wind had blown us into shallow, knee deep water. Unfortunately my relief was short lived as Stumpy was muttering something about swimming when you can put your feet down is cheating and when he did his HALF ironman blah blah blah etc……and he only went and dragged me back into deep waters. Spoilsport.

So it was with a great sense of achievement and relief (me for not drowning, Stumpy for not letting me drown) that we finally finished and came out of the water to rapturous applause from the crowds – although I may have been hallucinating at that stage.  Pam and the ma and da were delighted we had finished without the need for the feared 999 call, mainly because that would have interfered with the planned post race picnic the ma had very kindly provided! Needless to say most of the magic of the day has been captured on film by the da and Stumpy has thought it appropriate to let the world in on our rubber suit shame.
Thankfully for Stumpy, after the kilomathon on 3rd October he gets a wee sabbatical to fix the broken shoulder and crippled limbs, unfortunately though no rest for me and it’s on to the New York Marathon on 7th November. I’m fairly sure though there’ll be no swimming required for that so fingers crossed it won’t be too painful. I’m running in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care so in what can only be described as a shameless act of self promotion I have included the link to my JustGiving page ( which is another great cause and any support is greatly appreciated.
So, what does the future hold? Well as mentioned above the Shakester and I have one last joint outing of the year at the historic Edinburgh Kilomathon (26.2km or 16.3 miles) where she has very kindly decided to run at the back with the old boy as a reward for keeping her alive in the swim. After that she takes over and leads the way towards her New York Marathon run on the 7th November while I take her place as the training monkey.  I have joined her for company (and slow her down) for the last couple of weekends of long runs and the hours of bad chat, playing hunt the public loos/bushes, and abusing lycra clad tellytubbies carrying litres of Powerade on their backs definitely helps the time pass.  For me, it has now been confirmed that the broken shoulder is serious (believe it or not some people – actually mainly Pam and Shakey think I am faking the pain!!?) and I am heading in for surgery straight after the Kilomathon.  Shouldn’t be too sore though – I am half an ironman after all!  And then once humpty dumpty has been put together again, with this year’s challenge not being quite challenging enough, I start the long haul on to my first full Ironman in Regensburg in August 2011 where I will swim 2.4miles, bike 112miles and run a marathon through sunny Bavaria.  If you have any doubts how tough an Ironman is then fast forward this video to 2:00 mins to see what happens when 2000 rubber clad gimps squeeze down 100 metres of beach front to take in a paddle in the early morning sun.  The good news is that the water will be warm, the bad news is that this is only the start of what is likely to be a 14hour race.
And now for my emotionally charged Oscars’s moment………Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me – we raised £4,000 including gift aid for the Anaphylaxis Campaign. Thanks to Shakey for being a sport, good company (no seriously, she has!), and a great friend. Thanks for mam and dad Shakey for providing photographic evidence that we hang out in fetish gear in the hills on a Saturday morning and for providing a fine spread at the reservoir side – with china cups!!  Now you don’t get that at the Great Scottish Swim!  And finally, thanks to Pam for turning a blind eye (well, OK, not moaning as much as she was entitled to!) while I have spent hours training (she says she was at home worrying but somehow always ended up with more Markie’s bags!!), all her insight from her various doctorates in cardiovascular health, sports injuries, hydrodynamics, meteorological observations, cycling biomechanics, polar expeditions and duck photography and for following me around the country and picking up the body parts that I have left behind.

So, over and out from me until next year. Shakey is threatening to keep a blog for the next couple of months.  Who knows – she might even do it and give herself a world wide audience for whingeing about her sore leg!
Oh, and as a postscript you can’t trust anyone who doesn’t eat burgers.  Fact.

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Thank you Uncle Dus!! You did great! I love you and thank you for doing all this in the Name of AMOZ!


Good effort mate…


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