Love of the Lakes (featuring Great North Swim)

Posted on July 14, 2016. Filed under: 5k, great north swim, great scottish swim, swimming |

I am a Highlander at heart.

I may have been born on the Clyde but I am as much a Weegie as I am a Chinaman.

Growing up on the edge of the Highlands, every time I watch Rory on a never-ending, silver, windswept, arctic beach wearing nothing but a streak of sand encrusted snot I am reminded of photos of me as a child. My happiest days as I grew up were battling the increasing corporate indolence by retreating to a tent at the weekends and bagging Munros.

But the Highlands are spikey.

They are bare and barren and dangerous to the foolhardy, and fools. Their majesty is their devastating desolation. Every journey is a life changing adventure, an eternal trek somewhere over the horizon. A trek in which you’ll likely see no humans, no things built by humans and have no contact with humans on the other side of reality.

I Highland whenever I can. But every June, without fail, we have packed the tent in the car and gone North. Out with wifi and comfy beds and your own shower and in with massive sand dunes and mountain passes and big sky. So much sky.

And that was the plan this year again. But for the Keswick Mountain Festival trip.

Three nights in the Lakes was not enough. We had to go back, for more adventuring.

All wild places are wild. And dangerous. But. But the Lakes feel different. If Disney did wild country it would be like the Lakes.

Where the deep Highlands can feel like a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the Lakes are pretty bloody jolly. Folks in active wear, with walking poles EVERYWHERE. Folks in active wear, with walking poles drinking warm beer and eating ploughmans in sunny beer gardens. It’s warm and jolly and smiley.

When you meet a stranger on the hills in the Highlands they have the thousand yard stare. You look into their eyes and you see the horrors that they have seen on their latest traverse. In the lakes you smile at their rosy cheeks and beer burps and their warm welcome as you meet them on the trail.

In the Highlands every drive leaves you corralled between jaggy, grey, dry-stane dykes or precipitous drops to peaty bogs. In the Lakes the roads are padded with hedgerows of ferns and nettles and soft foliage, like those helmets for toddlers to stop them bumping their head on a table edge.

As you dip your toes in a Highland loch for a swim you take a deep breath ready for the blackness, and the chill and whatever weather the swim gods will rain down upon you with great vengeance and furious anger. In the Lakes a swim is warm, and clear and the winds bring benign waves that are fun rather than life threatening.


The Highlands are a special kind of grey, a crazy, mad darkness that Dulux could not replicate on it’s colour chart while The Lakes are the most vibrant green. A glowing verdant countryside that would provide the perfect green belt to The Emerald City.


We had so much fun. Marching up to the top of a hill to a cave or a quarry or a waterfall. Schlepping along to the lake for a swim or some pebble throwing or just getting wet. Rory and Ted both finding their favourite sticks and then arguing over them. BBQing under Wansfel and then jogging up Loughrigg before breakfast the next morning. Getting gingerbread in Grasmere and fish and chips in Bowness and ice cream in Ambleside. Visiting Brockhole and Wray Castle during the day and reading Beatrix Potter at bedtime.

And thank you to Ambleside legend, Norseman, Celtman and practically every other kind of man, Chris Stirling for being so generous with his time and knowledge and even selling me the one OS map that I didn’t already own.


The Lakes are almost perfect. Almost. But we need to talk about the beer. The beer spoils it. Bloody awful stuff. The Highlands are brewing the most amazing craft beers at Black Isle and Cromarty and Skye and Cairngorm – modern, hoppy, fizzy, chilled. The Lakes have loads of modern, craft breweries but they are brewing the same old stuff – warm, flat and just a bit blah. It’s not often I choose Generic Lager over anything else but the Lakes kinda makes me do that.

Anyway. I digress.

The Great North Swim.

Once the cottage was booked I had a dawning realisation the GNS was on when I was there. But it would probably be miles away and it’s always full booked any way.  Except it wasn’t. It was on our doorstep and there was space in the 5k.

I hadn’t planned to swim a 5k. I wasn’t ready for a 5k. But I desperately needed open water time before the Thames Marathon and the Great Scottish 10k.

What the hell? I was in.

First thing to say about the Great North Swim is that it is like all the other Great Swims on steroids. It is huge. It starts on Friday and finishes on Sunday and thousands of swimmers drift through the waters over the weekend. The location is great but also not so great. The scenery is stunning and it allows for close up spectating from the shore but there is a LOT of walking.

It is a long walk to the site. The site is vast. And it’s a long walk home. Apparently there were hot tubs. Never saw them. Apparently there were segways.  Never saw them. Sooooo big compared to our nice compact Loch Lomond venue.

Anyway. I haven’t swum a 5k since I finally got over myself and my fear of long distance by Slaying Demons last August. I was in better swim shape back then but also hungover and full of McDonalds so I reckoned if I could get a similar time I’d be happy.

We hiked up to the venue. Had a look around and then I got suited up ready to go at 0930.

Warm up was a perfunctory walk through an area not unlike a human sheep dip. I got my suit wet, my head under and managed to steal a few strokes amongst the human soup. Bizarrely one fella, presumably warming up for the 5k was having a panic attack in waist deep water and holding up our conga. No idea how he’d have coped in deep water.

Things then proceeded as all Great Events do. A dry land warm up. Race brief.  General motivational merriment. Self seeding by speed that has all the human bricks seeding themselves as great whites. A countdown. The horn.

My approach to a mass start swim is very particular. It has been honed over the years from too many unexplained bad swims. What I know now is that if I start off too fast, even marginally, by about 200m in I am gasping for air and certain that a boa constrictor is squeezing the life out of me. In my first open water swim start I became irrationally convinced that the TV helicopter was sucking the air from my lungs.

So now I start as slow as I can. Literally at the stall point where I can’t maintain forward momentum. And then, as I am reassured that I am settled into my stroke, and as the human stramash eases, I start to pick the pace up to a more comfortable race pace.

I must have picked up the pace too early. I felt the rising panic as I approached the first buoy. But I know what it is now so I took the pace right down until I recovered and carried on.

There really isn’t much to write about the actual proceedings of an open water swim. Bubble, bubble, breathe. The odd boot in the face. A low flying swan. A squint, but VERY ENTHUSIASTIC swimmer.  Bubble, bubble, breathe. Repeat. Repeatedly.

I had no expectations of time. It was just about relaxed, open water time. As I neared the ramp I couldn’t focus on the big clock but I imagined it would be somewhere near the 1:37 at Loch Lomond last year.

On to my feet. Goggs and cap off. Cross the timing mat. 1:21.


Probably a mistake. Must be the time for another race. I scan the crowd for Pam, Roar and Ted. No sign. I wander the length of the site. Noooope.

I had told them just over 1:30. Maybe the 1:21 was legit.

It is.  I do my shocked face and I’m not even faking it. Keswick had been a wake up that I could do a decent pace in open water but I knew I faded there. Perhaps it was the 10k run that caused the fade rather than general swim sloth.


We all meet up and I take Roar off to the change tent to get a wetsuit on to get into the Lido. Talk about a duck to water! Aquasphere loaned him some goggles and a cap and he spent his time in the water trying to dive to the bottom to get stones. A natural!


The countdown is now on for the Henley Bridge to Bridge, and almost immediately after the Great Scottish Swim 10k and then a reprisal of the Forth Crossing.


I am doing plenty of swimming and looking forward to the challenges ahead. If only my wetsuit would stop garroting me……..



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Setbacks And Leaps Forward

Posted on January 20, 2014. Filed under: 5k, edinburgh parkrun, ironman, Ironman Austria, Ironmanflu, man flu, recovery, rest, run, swim |

December proved to be tricky.  Almost as soon as the thirty week training plan started, I was struck down by a particularly virulent strain of manflu – we call it ironmanflu.


What followed was a classic case of me not following my own advice, then remembering what I should remember, and then finally getting to the point that I should have been at several weeks earlier.  I remember reading somewhere years ago that pro cyclists take a day off a week, a week off per month and a month off per year. I don’t know if that’s true but it sticks in my mind.  And after a steady run of training from July, I should have taken advantage of a break.

Instead, a chest infection plagued me through December and everytime I had a day clear of snot I tried to run or cycle and pretty much went back to square one. Eventually, mainly out of frustration, I chucked in the towel and took the time from Boxing Day to the 3rd of January completely off training.  And, miraculously, I was cured.


Alongside ironmanflu I developed another issue in December.  This paragraph is best skipped if you are of a sensitive disposition about matters below the lycra line.

To cut a long story short the point where my saddle meets my left sit bone (to be clear that is part of my arse) chafed, rubbed and eventually exposed an open sore about the size of a 50 pence piece (if you are reading from outside the UK and don’t know the size of a 50p, then imagine a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon, at least that is how it felt).  Sitting on the saddle was like being vigorously prodded with a red hot poker conducting a massive current.  There was no dignity involved in this injury or it’s resolution but suffice to say I can once more sit on my saddle without suffering.

The sensitive can start reading again now.  Do not even think about scrolling back up for a wee look.  Arse butchery is not a spectator sport.


At the start of November I had video analysis done on my swimming stroke.  It was eye opening.  I have swum for 37 years, I swam competitively for nearly 15 years, and I was a swimming coach – yet I have been recently swimming like an octopus in a Mexican wave.  One complete shoulder rebuild, one shoulder needing rebuilt, a smashed wrist and a torn bicep left me swimming however I could manage as opposed to how I knew I should.

During November I dabbled with drills in the pool and then stopped swimming altogether, in the huff.  My plan of swimming Ironman Austria in under an hour hanging in the balance.  The problem I had continually was the neuromuscular link – I knew what I should be doing, I knew what it should look like, but I had no idea what it should FEEL like.   A pint with an old friend and Ironman in December led me to Alan Cardwell, an accredited Swimsmooth coach.  Swimsmooth has always appealed to me, as a former swimming teacher I really like their technique and the cut of their jib and discovering that I had a local coach re-lit my swimming rainbow.

I spent an hour with Alan in the pool this morning and in just an hour I got the feel for the water back.  Alan broke down the stroke flaws and then built the stroke back again how it should be.  Not only did I feel how it should feel, but I also felt the benefits.  On arriving at the pool I was cruising 100m at roughly 1:40, by the time I left I could hold 1:35 without swimming harder.  It was awkward, it was clunky, but it was the start of a reinvigorated swimming approach.

Unusually for me, I am actually looking forward to my next swim.  Project sub 1 hour Ironman swim is very much back on.


12015326906_3eb4411470_zBack in November before ironmanflu I was happy with running after a long summer of injury. The day before I was struck down I had recorded my longest run in months at 7 miles.  After only a handful of runs during December I was really worried that I was back to square one.  But no!  Luckily after 10 days of building back I managed a 7 mile run last week and knocked 12 seconds of my parkrun time taking it to a supersonic 26:59.  It may not be fast but it was absolutely everything I had – I averaged 93% of maximum heart rate for the 26 minutes and was ready to fill a bucket by the end!

I even starred in the parkrun photos this week!  OK, when I say starred, I mean a bit of my arm was almost in the picture. I couldn’t understand why the girl in black didn’t look more alarmed until I realised that her headphones protected her from the rasping breaths, grunting, spitting and snotting noises that were approaching her from behind.  If you could see my face you would see proper hurt.

On a more somber note, before Parkrun there was an impeccably respected moment of silence for poor little local boy, Mikaeel Kular, whose body had been discovered only hours before.  It makes me proud to be a runner that every single head bowed and we were left with our thoughts as the birds sang disturbed only by the hum of news helicopters hanging over his house.  Runners really do feel part of the community they run in regardless of where they live.


I read a lot, probably more than is healthy, and I love reading blogs of people preparing for endurance events.  Often they inspire but often they just jolt me and give me pause for thought.  Two that complemented each other perfectly had that effect at the weekend.

Firstly Michael Barnett wrote a blog about his cracking 5k personal best.  His inspiration was a Runner’s World article that said breaking 25 minutes for 5k marked you out as a committed runner.  BOOM, that comment hit my brain like a hammer.  The cogs started turning……

My current best 5k is 26:59

My best ever 5k was 25:43 in 2010, so……

Despite running 3 marathons, completing one Ironman and 3 half Ironman and more 10ks than I care to remember …..

I AM NOT A COMMITTED RUNNER.  Bollocks to you Runners World!

However, I then read another blog by Miss Running Bean that reset my running compass.  “If you run, you are a runner”.  Hell yeah!

As people start new experiences with a new year – if you run you are a runner.  If you swim/bike/run you are a triathlete.  If you swim/bike/run 140.6 miles under your own steam without outside assistance you are an ironman.

It really is that simple.

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