The Sting in the Tail of a Saturday Morning Swim

Posted on August 26, 2013. Filed under: great scottish swim, Ironman Austria, Loch Lomond, race report, race review, swim, wetsuit |

“You just swim until someone tells you to stop.”

So said prolific German marathon swimmer Alex Studzinski just before I set off for a two mile swim in Loch Lomond.  He knows a thing or two about open water swimming having won the German 25km championship a massive seven times.

And that about sums it up.  Open water swimming is not for the faint-hearted or for those that like to be distracted by scenery.  It is a tough mental grind but if you focus on your stroke and your breathing eventually someone will tell you to stop swimming.


I have been a supporter of the Great Scottish Swim since it started in 2009.  But I have not always been a fan of the organisers.  I swam it in 2009 with no cold water training or wetsuit experience and thought that my lungs were going to burst – I wanted out after 100m but I carried on anyway.  In 2010 it was cancelled due to blue green algae in the water at Strathclyde Park – but I went out and swam the distance anyway!  In 2011 it was shortened because the water was cold – cold water in Scotland in September?  No shit Sherlock!  And then last year it was cancelled because of blue green algae in Strathclyde Park – noticing a pattern here?  It is fair to say my confidence in the organisers was dented.

But this year?  WOW – these guys pulled off a magnificent event.  Changing the venue to Loch Lomond was inspired – the crowds were bigger, the location was stunning and there was a proper carnival atmosphere.  Finally, the Great Scottish Swim had the venue it deserved; I have never had a great swim at the Great Swim – would I have the swim that I didn’t really deserve?

20130824_120043 (1)2


Always one for a bit of planning; albeit always last minute planning, I had a quick look in my race pack the night before.  Yup, it was definitely at Loch Lomond.  Yup, timing chip was  there.  Yup, numbered cap was in the big envelope.  “Oh, what’s this?” I thought.  Tucked away in the envelope was an instruction book – how to get there, location of the changing and luggage marquees, a few last minute tips and………a course map.

20130823_194840Now normally, as a simple minded fella I like simple instructions.  Keep the buoys on your left, for example, works for me.  But for some reason, with time on my hands I decided to look at the course map and then thoroughly confused myself.  How would I remember where to turn, what colour of line was I following.  What colour are the turn buoys?  My head started to hurt.  How could I possibly sleep?  Quite easily it turned out.

With my swim at 0930 and check-in and acclimatisation at 0900 it was going to be an early start.  The alarm went off at 0630 and I had some cold porridge that I had made the night before.  Wee Roar was then rudely awakened for the second Saturday in a row and we were well on the way by 7am.  We paused only for a drive through Costa Coffee (how civilised is that?) and we were loch side to watch the 0830 wave start.

There is no time like the present when it comes to open water swimming so I got my ass into my rubber suit straight away, checked in and was ready to acclimatise.

Following Aberfeldy I have said out loud a couple of times that my 35min 1.9k should translate to about a 1 hour 2 mile swim.  I have no right whatsoever to make that extrapolation given that I have now had a total of 11 swims since training for Ironman Austria started and only one swim in a wetsuit in 13 months.  But, hey ho, we all need stretch targets!

The problem with having no open water experience this year is that my body isn’t toughened for icy Scottish lochs.  The great news, though, was that Loch Lomond was 16.2C compared to Loch Tay which was only 13.8C (but was still considered pretty toasty in Loch Tay terms!)  Anyway, I got into the small acclimatisation area early.  Early enough to have a “heart-warming” pee in relative privacy (I am pretty sure the 6 lifeguards knew what I was doing) and to swim lengths comfortably for 10 minutes before it got busy.


We were called out for an undignified warm up (like a hippo my grace is only evident when I am in water) and then  the horn went.  And then we swam, until someone told us to stop.

20x30-MEDB0099That really is about it – compared to Ironman, there was loads of space in the water and I never found myself in a stramash.  By the time we turned for the first time the sun had come up and was low in the sky meaning that we were swimming pretty blind in the water.  The whole thing was just an exercise in focus – left arm, right arm, exhale through nose, left arm, sight, breathe, right arm.  Over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.  Occasionally I had to stretch some cramp out of my toes but I never really had any sensation of discomfort.

I had set my vibrating alarm on my watch to go off every 15minutes so I was pretty sure that I was on 1 hour pace and as I stepped on to the beach I was delighted to see that I had finished in 59 minutes and 3 seconds.  Perfect pacing.  No effort wasted!  I’m not sure how much harder I could have pushed – but the 59 minutes was a really positive omen.  I felt I could have swum at that pace for longer which would have been a 1:10 Ironman swim – only 4 minutes slower than Regensburg in 2011.  With consistent and focussed training through to Klagenfurt it feels like “Project Sub 60 swim” is very much on.


The drama for the day, however, didn’t end there.  Oh no, I only went and booked myself into the medical tent next!

IMG_1433As the excitement was building and the ladies elite race was reaching it’s crescendo others were watching the race; kids were probably watching the TV helicopter.  I was watching both and the nasty little wasp that was persistently hovering about my can of Fanta.  Just as Keri-Anne Payne touched the finish as victor, the aforementioned nasty little fecker decided to sting me right on my lip.  Cue spitting, slapping my face and grabbing at the sting.

This was all clear to me and my fight for survival but everyone around me, who had been focussed on the race, became quite distressed at my punk like, Tourettes inspired behaviour.  Pam explained apologetically that I had been stung by a wasp and the whole crowd parted and evaporated in a cowardly act of self-preservation.  My lips meanwhile were blowing up like a particularly bad collagen enhancement.

I haven’t been bitten by anything since I started school and didn’t have a clue what to do with a wasp sting so I did the sensible thing and headed to the medical tent.  They put ice on it and that really was the end of the drama.

Bloody sore though!  I can’t recommend it.


It is unclear why the medal format has been changed from the popular "Jim'll Fix It" style for 2013 ;-)

It is unclear why the medal format has been changed from the popular “Jim’ll Fix It” style for 2013 😉

And the bling? Well, yes there was booty to be had and I proudly added the 2013 Great Scottish Swim to my other three.  Oh yes, I have the hugely rare 2010 version of which I think there is only one other in circulation.  This was the only bling for the year – the worst haul since 2009.

Well, that’s all the events for 2013.  Serious training for 2014 coming up next.


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