forth crossing race

One Came Second in Third Forth Crossing

Posted on September 5, 2017. Filed under: Firth of Forth Crossing Swim, forth bridge, forth crossing race, open water swimming, swimming |

The title kinda gives the game away, but who am I to deny myself a puntastic headline?

It is fair to say that the Vigour Events’ Forth Crossing Race is my favourite race of the year. Like the Great Scottish Swim I have done it since it began (in it’s current form, previously it wasn’t open to your average wetsuit fetishist) and will keep coming back as long as I can.

This year was also special because of the other events going on across the Forth and the adventures that I set myself. You can read about those in Over, Over, Over, Over, Over, Under.

I am conscious that the Great Scottish Swim 10k race report was a bit light on detail, mainly because I disengaged my brain to cope with the distance, so I resolved to soak up the detail of the Forth Crossing.  As a consequence I am at risk of being accused of writing two thousand one hundred and thirty three words of swimgeekery.

Slack water was at 12.30pm this year and 25,000 people were expected in Fife for a daunder across the Queensferry Crossing so the morning preparation for the swim was very not standard. My aim was porridge at normal breakfast time and then two evenly spaced bananas to keep me topped up to start for the 2k crossing,

Andy picked me up at 09.15am and we headed down to the Albert Hotel for registration. At this stage my day was still all going smoothly.  It was not to last.

We took the, now customary, race selfies and then assumed our, now customary, spot on the pavement. Or our changing room as we like to call it. If it ever rains on Forth Crossing Day I have no idea what we will do.

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Just before the buses were due we pulled our wetsuits on to the waist, stuck on warm tops for the wait at the other side and shoved essential kit into the provided black bin bags that would be brought back as we swam.

Over at Queensferry, Andy and I found a quiet spot to sit in the sun on the slipway while everyone else loitered in the car park.

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That was when I started my usual methodological preparation of my kit. Almost exactly 2km away from my swimming bag and where being methodological would have been helpful. I am trying to build suspense here but I know that you have all concluded that I made a dick of preparation already. But bear with me to appreciate the size and scale.

I took off my down jacket and t-shirt and stuffed them into the black bag.  Then I laid out my goggles, ear plugs, and the dubious sex device that saves my neck from the wetsuit garrotte. Out came the baby oil gel and I lubed the rubber collar and set it aside with my ear plugs.

And then I pulled my swim buoy out.

Now, you see, I don’t often use a buoy.  I only use it when they are mandatory in races or if I swim in the sea. And I only swim in the sea if I am escorted by a flotilla of kayakers and at least two high speed ribs because, frankly, I have a not unreasonable fear of being swept into Stavanger harbour unable to speak a word of Norwegian. So, in effect, it hadn’t been used since the Forth Crossing last year. When the strap became detached and I lost it and couldn’t attach it to myself.

I wasn’t alarmed when the buoy came away from the strap, because now I knew that was a thing but I had both pieces in my hands. I just footered with the carabiner and reattached it. And then it fell off again. 30 minutes to go and my mandatory buoy was in two irreconcilable pieces. A bit of frantic running about and I found some mariners with cable ties. Problem solved.

I then started on my second banana and, with a thunking realisation, noted that my swim cap was just over 2000 metres away.

I saw Kirstin, from Vigour, walking by and approached her:

“Errrr Kirstin. You know we didn’t have to remember much?”

“Yes”

“Well, I’ve forgotten the only thing that I really had to remember”

Kirstin had a sharpie in her hand. She gestured with it. It was an innocent gesture but for  more than a few seconds I was pretty certain my face was going to be sharpied with my race number.

“We don’t have any spares over here, we  really never thought anyone would forget a cap…..”

I’d love to say that this was never mentioned again but, really, there was bugger all chance of this stupidity being overlooked. Och well. Bare napper it was going to be.

We were called up for the race briefing. Robert, the race director, took his spot and gave his briefing. And then drew everyone’s attention to the spanner who had forgotten his cap.

I’m not easily embarrassed so I focussed on the key thing to remember.  The key thing to remember from the briefing was to sight for the north of the road bridge and that a yellow kayak would lead the first place swimmer. That would be really useful as picking the right line is crucial to a stress free crossing.

We are cleared for a dip on the slipway.

I guddle the collar on, plug the ears, get Andy to zip me up, and start to wade in.  In all the dickery I have completely smeared my goggles in baby oil gel. Holy shit, can anything else go wrong?

I need to get wet. Firstly the Forth is 15c and secondly I’m going to be swimming bare headed. I spend as long as I can in the water, keeping my chest and head under as long as I am allowed. And then we are called out for the start.

With a couple of minutes to go I am standing with the water lapping my toes, frantically de-smearing my goggles with a wetsuit sleeve. I’m not going to rush in but I’m going to take my spot on the front row. Just before Robert starts the countdown from 10 he  wittily checks that everyone has remembered their caps. Little does he realise that my goggles are now my main concern.

And then we are off.

My basic race start principle remains the same – dead slow. If I get my heart rate up too soon I’ll end up treading water, with the cold water crushing my chest, gasping for air 200m into the race.

Everyone runs past me as I stroll in. There are probably 40 or 50 people swimming in front of me as I wade. Then I find a spot and dive in.

I cut around a couple of people and take a slightly aggressive line along the harbour wall. Bad choice. I am pinned between a rough harbour wall and a skins swimmer. It’s Sophie’s choice – a lycra banana hammock in my face or grind the skin off my cheek against the wall. Several more strokes and the wall subsides below the water.

In the sunshine the water in the Forth takes on a milky opalescence. Clear but cloudy. Impenetrable but bright. I watch the line of the wall under the water. It’s time to piss or get off the pot, I break left away from the budgie smugglers and expect my nose and teeth to rattle over the wall. Nothing. I was clear but taking a wide line to the left of the beacon at the end of the slipway. Brain freeze grips my baldy heid.

I’m feeling good so I accelerate from stall speed to my usual race pace. As I sight I see a handful of buoys bobbing ahead of me. I pick them off quickly, too quickly even to take a tow from the feet as I pass.

I sight and I think I can see a yellow canoe ahead.

The thing about a sea swim is that scale is deceptive. With your eyes two inches above the water and a playing field about a kilometre wide it is impossible to get a handle on distance or speed without stopping and treading water. I think the canoe is probably a couple of hundred metres ahead. I don’t want to lose sight of the only flash of colour on the horizon.

For the middle kilometre of the race I set a punishing pace trying to chase down whoever is with the canoe. My normal stroke rate is 32 strokes per minute but for the middle kilometre I am over 37 strokes per minute, not giving an inch to the flow of the Firth. But eventually I lose sight of the kayak and the buoy.

I see no-one. And then from nowhere a swimmer pulls alongside me on my left. We swim together for a couple of hundred metres and then he pulls in front of me. I love to swim in clean water so I took his draft for about 10 seconds and then swam to his right. I never saw him again. I assume he is off towards the finish line.

I become conscious of two things. An occasional tap on my toes which I assume is my buoy and a kayaker about 5 metres to my right.

Still keeping up the same pace, hoping that I can salvage a third place position I see a yacht ahead of me.  Too close and not doing enough to avoid me. With a bright orange buoy and a kayaker I am certain that I am visible and I resolve to ignore it and power on.

With hindsight I think I am fighting against the flow of the river at this point.  My 100m pace for each 500m of the race went 1:18, 1:23, 1:46, 1:49. Given that my splits for the Great Scottish Swim were 1:35 for 9.5k and 1:45 for 0.5k I think it is safe to say the flow of the river changed half way across.

It dawns on me that the kayak to my right is yellow. I was sure I saw a kayak in the distance. What if it wasn’t a kayak? Maybe second place has a yellow kayak escort too? Am I in the lead? Surely not.

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Me. In the lead. With someone on my feet that I didn’t know was there.

With the finish line in sight, maybe 200m away, a skins swimmer appears to my right. We slug it out shoulder to shoulder and then he pulls ahead and to my left. I stay directly on towards the finish.

We come inside the harbour wall and the seaweed appears from blow, tangling in my fingers. He is probably two metres ahead of me.  I put my feet down and try to run. Too deep I dive under and swim again. He is knee deep he puts another metre into me before I can find my feet. I go to run but we are out of the water. The swim race is done.

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The winner, then me, THEN ANDY

I look over my shoulder and see someone else. Apparently I have led a group of three across the Forth without even realising it.

I cross the line and congratulate the chap in front of me.  Tara screams that I was second and Andy is third. What? Wait? Second? And Andy? I am not totally alert yet.

Andy has his swim of the year and finishes with a huge PB and a podium place. He was on my toes from about half way across.  God knows we’ve practised it enough and made amends for our day out in the lakes.

Apparently I was second and first wetsuit. In 2015 I was 27th and thought I could do better, last year I was 4th and hoped for more. This time I was second. SECOND.

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Tara, Pam, Rory and Charlotte are all hoarse. They sat on the harbour wall and had a bird’s eye view of the last few hundred metres of the race developing.

My ear was bleeding quite heavily. I still have no idea why. I am assuming a shark or a crocodile took a piece of me but I never even felt it. Maybe it hung on a bit and thats what slowed my pace in the latter part of the race.

Like all Vigour Events there is a lovely family feel to the event and we stayed and cheered all the swimmers into the finish and cheered the amazing water support team that kept us safe in a vast stretch of shipping lane!

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I always enjoy the prize giving in the shadow of the Forth Bridge, but it was extra special this year winning a prize for first wetsuit swimmer. And, of course, Robert managed to mention the missing cap during the presentation. This year I made my mark in more ways than one!

Afterwards, sometime after beer and before hangover, I plotted the three years of GPS trace. This year was the longest swim by far but last year’s straight swim felt much more brutal, especially in the latter stages. Because we think of the Forth as the sea, it’s easy to forget it is still a river so there is a lot going on even in slack water.

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Orange – 2017, Blue – 2016, Pink – 2015.

And that concludes another fantastic Forth Crossing Race. Top marks again to Robert and Kirstin for organising an amazing event for the ever expanding and inclusive Vigour family. And all the thanks to the water safety team without whom we would be spending Sunday afternoon in the carvery at the Hawes Inn.

For some additional reading Andy’s blog is here

The video of the event:

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Mission Accomplished

Posted on September 13, 2016. Filed under: Firth of Forth Crossing Swim, forth bridge, forth crossing race, swimming, vigour events |

My 45th birthday was sandwiched between two swim races. Almost perfect metaphors for my reluctant transition from early 40s to mid 40s.

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This picture of me finishing the Loch Ard swim is exactly how I felt approaching my birthday. And approaching the swim the week after my birthday.  Let me explain.

 

I don’t often set targets for races. For a whole variety of reasons – mainly because since I’ve started doing endurance events just finishing is winning for me; but also because I hate that moment when you realise despite all the planning and effort a target is slipping away. It devalues the real achievement for me which is doing something I previously would have considered impossible.

But last year a switch flipped in me. I had recovered my love for swim racing. This happened in two stages – when I realised that I had the mental strength to swim long distance and when I had a decent result.

The second happened fortuitously at the race that is probably the closest race that I have done to my front door! At last year’s Forth Crossing Race, I was surprised when the results came in that I had finished in 27th place in just under 35mins.

I was pleased with that at first. And then it niggled me. If I was a minute faster, I would be Top 10. And that would feel like a proper result. I wanted a proper result.

I decided there and then that I would train for the first time in forever and I would convert my 1:38 5k Great Scottish Swim into an ambitious sub 3 hour 10k and that I would place in the Top 10 at the Forth Crossing.

This wasn’t just ambition or hubris. I understand swimming. And swimmers. I can watch a swimmer and see the talent, or the potential or whether they are in form. And similarly, I can feel it. Through two long Ironman campaigns I never felt any kind of swim form but this time last year I could feel myself being caught in a swell of form and enthusiasm and I would use that.

And that is where I found myself approaching my 45th birthday:

I had opportunistically entered the Great North Swim at the last moment and blew away my 5k PB by 17 minutes. I swam the Thames Marathon and blew away my expected finish time by 33 minutes. I swam my A race on a chilly Friday night at Loch Lomond and blew away my 3 hour Great Scottish Swim by 19 minutes.

Good Times.

But then, Bad Times. The form shuddered to a halt.

I entered the Loch Ard Swim Festival at the 11th hour and what should have been a beautiful swim in a beautiful loch turned into a tortuous grind. I started badly and finished 4 minutes down on the 5k time I had set at Windermere and the half way split I had at Loch Lomond.

I was filled with doubt. I was tired. It had been a long swim season with most of it carrying a shoulder injury and numb fingers. I was about to turn 45. I’d overcooked it and there was no way I’d make top 10. Bugger.

My mood was as black as the Forth as I approached my birthday.

But the show must go on.

We had a squad this year – the two Bolton Ironmen. Andy and Andrew. Or Fergie and Traff to avoid confusion.

Fergie and I did the Forth Crossing Race last year so we knew the drill. Jammers on, avoid the toilets, park early.

Incredibly as we arrived in North Queensferry to register the weather was as good as last year. It’s like there is good weather on the Forth once a year and it coincides with race morning!

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We find a sunny spot in the street and get our wetsuits tattooed and pulled on to the waist. Take a quick bridge selfie and jump on to one of the three coaches ready for us. As has been my experience at all their events Robert, Kirstin and the Vigour team made the event unrushed, unfussed but as smooth as clockwork.

There are plenty of nervous first timers on the bus. A few with wetsuits already zipped up. Knowing the water temperature I would be zipping up at the very last moment and getting as long in the water to acclimatise as was possible.

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We arrive at South Queensferry and those in the know wander down to the smelly public toilets. Not the most glamorous location but it was still far to early to, ahem, warm the wetsuit.

By 9am the Forth was uncharacteristically millpond’ish. The kayakers were taking to the water and we were ready to be briefed. While we definitely paid attention, Fergie and I were definitely also considering our idea for a two (or three) Bridge race. Using the flood tide to go inland, the slack water to cross and the ebb to take us out to North Queensferry kinda speedily. Sounds crazy but it will definitely be A Thing one day and I will definitely do it avoiding aircraft carriers and sharks and things.

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By 915 we were allowed in the water. At 12c it was the nippiest I have swum in for a while. I had a chat with a kayaker and confirmed sighting to the end of the road bridge was the best tactic, then I peed, then I got out ready for the start.

Special guest, Howard James, world record holder for the earliest Channel swim strode past us in his speedos (arousing Fergie’s attention) and dived into the Forth like it was a steaming hot tub. That was pretty much the last we saw of him until the prize giving.

We counted down from 10. A cheer and we were off.

It’s a long slipway and a long walk in. Fergie was first to swim on my left when the water was mid thigh. A few steps later and Traff swims on my right. I wade until my belly button.

Traff and I are about evenly paced and we swim a few strokes side by side then he disappears. Everyone disappears. That was the last I saw of anyone until about 200m from the end.

I feel the cold rising in me and my chest crushing. I slow to sinking speed but I feel the panic rising again. Please not again.

I breathe every stroke. I exhale fully. The panic is held at bay but it is not receding.

And then, as soon as it arrived, I feel it rush away from my chest down my body and out my toes. Now I can just swim.

I have a sensation I am doing well. I can’t see anyone at all. I batter out a rhythm:

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Breath. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Sight. Stroke. Breathe.

And repeat.

As I build momentum the most amazing thing happened. I feel the force of the water underneath me hit me hard. I see nothing but assume a seal has just swum under me.

At some point I smash into the wake of a late passing vessel. It is brutal and I feel myself out of the water and then falling back into it. Two smacks in the face and then back to the grind.

Last year I had a clear approach to the finish arch. This year I think the tide is ebbing earlier. I am approaching the arch from the east despite sighting to be on it’s west.

I see a swim buoy come in from my right hand side but I can’t quite get on the swimmer’s feet and let them go.

With about 200m to go I see another buoy on my left and manage to get on the feet this time. But I’ve got nothing left for the pass. I just take the tow for the last few minutes of another amazing swim.

I climb onto the slipway just behind the swimmer. I can tell there aren’t many finishers yet.

In a lovely touch Robert welcomes every swimmer in with a handshake and we are presented a medal at the arch.

I see the sherpas but all I want to do is return the Forth from my mouth and my nose to where it belongs.  Having cleared the tubes I wander over

“YOU WERE FOURTH AND THIRD MAN”

Sometimes it’s great to be chicked, even if you have no idea in a black rubber suit and red hat that you were.

My work is done. Top 10 blown away.

I look round and I see Traff coming up the slipway in 8th. And a few minutes later Fergie in 18th with a 4 minute PB.

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I couldn’t have hoped for better. I was 8 seconds down on 3rd, 57 seconds down on second and 1:39 down on Howard from the Guinness Book of Records. Finishing in 30:10 it was pretty much a 5 minute PB.

Chuffed? Just a little bit.

The Forth Crossing Race was yet another amazing event by Vigour. Water safety and organisation were impeccable and the race retains an incredibly personal touch. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again though, this event needs a serious bit of medal in the shape of the Forth Bridge to accompany such an iconic race.

I’ll be back next year to pick one of those bad boys up.

That’s the last swim race of the year done and my body is sighing with relief at having the opportunity to recover before I start to think about next year’s events.

But I need to say something really important.  I would like to say a big thank you to all the swim event organisers, lifeguards, boat crews, stand up paddle boarders, and kayakers that have kept me and the other swimmers safe through the year. We literally couldn’t do it without you and if I generally didn’t see you while wearing a rubber suit I would give every single one of you a big hug.

Now I just need to get through Berlin Marathon with shin splints and no running miles in my legs. Perhaps there is a Guinness Book of Records category for most bratwurst eaten during a marathon?

 

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A Very, Very Long Way

Posted on November 2, 2015. Filed under: forth crossing race, great scottish swim, henley bridge to bridge, marathon swimming, swimming, ultra running |

I’m not sure how it happened.  I’m not sure how an innocent couple of days thinking about things to do in 2016 could turn out like this.  Perhaps it just proves I am a dumbass.

The reason that I am definitely indefinitely retired from iron distance is because it’s so far and the training takes up so much time.  So obviously the conclusion of my deliberations would be no Ironman in 2016; because it’s a long way and it takes so much time to train.  And there is no Ironman planned in 2016.  And for that I am pleased, very pleased indeed.

However, and I shall type this very quickly for it is indeed very silly, I shall instead be doing an ultra and two marathon swims.  Like a TIT.

Yes, I decided not to “race” a very long way and spend hours training and instead “race” a very long way and spend hours training.  Duh.  The difference is so subtle it is practically invisible.  In fact it is, indeed, invisible.  See?  IDIOT.

How did I get here?  To be honest I’ve thought a lot about this and I don’t really know.  A bit like a child is often accused of being “over tired” I seem to be over inspired.  There are so many fun things to do and I want to do them ALL.  (Not really).

Anyway. Long swims.  Until August they terrified me and now they don’t.  And now I want to swim a very, very long way. And often so it seems.  I have two flavours of long swim for 2016.  First up is the Henley Bridge to Bridge – 14km in a stretch of the Thames between Henley and Marlow where all the poshes live.  It is apparently downstream but no-one will tell you what impact the flow has.  I guess it’s like an inside secret.  I’ll blab when I find out.  It’s probably bugger all.  The second very, very long swim is the 10k Great Scottish Swim.  A wholly different challenge presented by a serious stretch of open water that can boil up without a moment’s notice.  It will probably be my soberest Friday night at Loch Lomond ever.  Two very different swims – one in crystal clear loch water surrounded by the hills and one floating downstream fighting for water space with posh people’s jobbies. Bring. It. On.

IMG_20140130_124048Very different though they both are, even from a long history of swimming, the training is intimidating.  Peak week in July will be a minimum of 24k with 6 days of swimming and an 8k long swim.  The grumpy auld wifies will be loving me down the pool.  I will hopefully be tapping up proper long distance crazies like Donal Buckley, the Lone Swimmer for much needed help along the way.  These two swims definitely don’t feel like light undertakings right now.  In fact they feel as big as running a marathon but with even more anti-social training.  And hopefully all that swim fitness will carry me on for a late season PB in a repeat assault on the Forth Crossing Race.  These three events have all been booked and paid for to encourage me to start training NOW.  I’ve even planned it.

But before all that, proving that I have taken complete leave of my senses I am going to run further than a marathon.  What a walloper.

Having sherpa’d at Glencoe I rekindled my love of the hills.  Mainly looking at the hills as I am not built for going up hills.  Then I read blogs and got over inspired – Sarah’s Autumn 100 (miles yes 100 MILES), any of Susie’s ridiculously numerous very, very long runs, Glenn’s maiden ultra around Tiree and mostly, definitely mostly, Rhona’s epic West Highland Way race.  I was lost for hours in Rhona’s blogs of the amazing Scottish ultras and if you read the WHW race report do it on a day when you don’t have to work the next day.

D33 looked a perfect race for me but having only fannied about with my trainers without actually running for months it was going to come around too soon.  Everything else was either too long or too far away.  So I have my heart set on a race that is just a holding page just now.  But the Glen Lyon Ultra is in one of my favourite areas and it is calling.  I will be ready.

I’ve been running.  All off road and I’m enjoying it.  Maybe ultras aren’t such a stupid idea after all.

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A Sunday Morning Dook

Posted on September 7, 2015. Filed under: forth bridge, forth crossing race, open water swimming, swimming, vigour events |

For 25 years the Firth of Forth has been a constant in my life.

When I moved to Edinburgh in the early nineties, the Forth was the boundary between my childhood in rural Aberdeenshire and the big city, “The AIDS capital of Europe”, Trainspotting at Leith Central Station.  As I partied through my years in Edinburgh a trip to the Forth was a day out from town – a booze cruise on the riverboat, a wine fuelled picnic on Inchcolm or a carry out on Porty Beach.  I’ve eaten and drunk in the pubs and restaurants on both the Fife side and in the Lothians and I’ve picnicked on pretty much every stretch of sand.  As we approached middle age the Forth marked the physical and psychological boundary between hazily hungover Sunday mornings in the city and grown up life with a garden and a BBQ in Fife.  When Rory was born he built sandcastles on the beaches of the Forth, then paddled in it’s waters and eventually chased Ted the Mongrel up and down the silver sands.  I would guess that I see the Forth, or the towers of one of her bridges, pretty much every day.

But I’ve never swum straight across it.

Obviously that raises the question – why on earth would I want to?  If horny sea mammals and giant jellyfish were not a big enough deterrent, the Vanguard Class nuclear submarines, huge chop, heavy swells and biting cold should have been.  But I wanted to, for many years.

Finally, on Sunday morning I stood on the slipway at the Hawes Inn with my toes in the water, the Forth Bridge on my right, the road bridges on my left, a hold on shipping and a dayglo inflatable arch 1.4 miles ahead of me as a target.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Approval to enter the Forth Crossing Race was granted several weeks ago.  Entry should have triggered a rush of training but as previously blogged that would have made the whole thing too easy.  Vigour Events took over the race this year and have transformed it from a niche event into a decent sized race with 63 swimmers.  Entry was £55 if you supplied a kayaker or £85 if you wanted a kayaker supplied.  As my most expensive race of the year I fully expected my own allocated kayaker who I could take home after the race and keep until next year.  However, joking aside, the race turned out to be pretty good value for money  – we were given a swim buoy, we had the best water rescue support that I have seen at any race, any where before (thank you so much to the rescue teams who were brilliant!) and we had the Forth to ourselves for 60 glorious minutes.

The forecast had looked good all week.  I had mixed feelings about this – a straightforward, calm water swim would be amazing but I genuinely didn’t want to be robbed of the “hard as nails” points to be added to the medal.  When I Escaped from Alcatraz I got the full chilly, choppy San Francisco Bay experience, this should be the same.  A Forth crossing is a tough swim for tough folks and should be tough, but the big jessie in me was quite happy to conclude “I can only race in the conditions that are out there”

Up at 6:20.  It was 4C.  In the face of frost on the grass I put on shorts.  Of course I did, it’s not November yet.  I porridged and coffeed while the dog looked at me like a dick for being up at that time on a Sunday morning. I heard Andy Fergy arrive in the driveway, less than 24 hours after we had drunk so much hipster wine (think farmyard funkiness as a positive description from a sommelier) that he had actually signed up for Ironman UK.  With our rubber suits in tow we headed to North Queensferry to race HQ.

Best view from a locker room ever.

Best view from a locker room ever.

North Queensferry is a pretty, tiny hamlet, usually dozy on a Sunday morning but was swarming with dozens of people in beanies and rubber suits trying, largely hilariously, to successfully stick race numbers to said rubber suits.  I had a marginal advantage having watched the youtube instructions, in a rare fit of race pre-preparation, but was by no means an expert.

We had to be on the bus at 8am and although there was quite a lot of time to spare I certainly wasn’t conscious of time dragging.  About 7:45 I got my wetsuit on to my waist, popped on a hoodie and walked barefoot (forgot my bloody flip flops) to the bus over freezing cobblestones.  The air temperature was up to a heady 8C but we had already been tipped off that the Forth was a balmy 15C, much warmer than I had expected.

During the bus journey I was pre-occupied by my bladder.  I didn’t want to waste this central heating but it was getting touch and go and we still had 40 minutes to go.

As we arrived at Hawes Pier the sun came properly up and it was warm.  I MEAN PROPER MIDDAY WARM.  The skins swimmers were already stripped down to their speedos.  Robert from Vigour Events started the safety briefing, I paraphrase….

“Slack tide begins at 9:03am, anyone who is not at the water will not start. Rain run-off means there will be a current, we should sight for the north side of the road bridge. The canoes will provide an escort on our left hand side, the ribs will be on our right.  There is a hold on shipping at 9:03 for 60 minutes.  We have 60 minutes to complete”

At that, a mahoosive container ship ploughed under the rail bridge leaving a 50 metre high wake in it’s trail.  (Some of that statement may be slightly exaggerated).  That was the last ship to pass before we had the Firth of Forth to ourselves.

Just before 9 the canoes took position.

We were given a three minute warning.  I stepped down the slipway and splashed water on my neck and face.

One minute warning.  Final goggle adjustments.  Wished Andy good luck.  Found a good spot.

Thirty seconds.  Clapping, cheering.

Go.

Wading, further than expected.

As the water rises above my knees my bladder can take no more.  Half the field is treated to an unexpectedly warm moment in the Forth.

As the water reaches my waist I dive in.  Three strokes and I am clear from the stramash.

My first thought is that the water is colder than I expected on the face. Certainly colder than 15C Loch Lomond was last week.  I then think about how you add salt to an ice bucket to make the water colder.  I then think about whether 15C feels different in salt water and freshwater.  My head then explodes.  It doesn’t really but I have one of those swims when my brain doesn’t take a rest.

I typically breathe right unless I have to breathe left, basically to avoid drowning. So every 4 strokes I see the silhouette of the superstructure of the Forth Bridge backlit by the rising sun.  The water is like a mill pond.  I am surprised to see the first caisson so quickly.  HALF WAY. That was bloody quick.  I AM A SWIM GOD.

Oh.

There are three towers on the bridge that I see pretty much every day.  Ah well, THIRD OF THE WAY.

Having read an article by Andy Potts during the week that most swimmers don’t breathe often enough I start breathing every second stroke.  I find myself getting a bit dizzy.  And then the absurdity strikes me – the middle of a major shipping channel is probably not the ideal spot for an impromptu swimming lesson!

IMG-20150907-WA0013I see a couple of jellyfish but none close.  I feel something on my feet but I kick like a huge bastard rocket ship to shake it off.  The swim buoys are great as we get a really clear line of sight to the finish and to nearby swimmers.  I am not even conscious of it being there.

Somewhere after the middle I put my hand on a jellyfish about the size of a dustbin lid, I catch and pull through like it is a massive paddle.  It doesn’t sting me and disappears in my wake.  Swimmer 1 Wildlife nil.

As I swim past the final caisson I fall under the shadow of the Bridge.  A completely unique view of such an iconic structure in a race that deserves to become iconic.

I suspect there was a current in the last section, the last couple of hundred metres felt a long, long way.

2015-09-07 21.50.17-2

There was no repeat of the Great Scottish Swim 5k, I got my feet down without regressing to a foetus with cramp.  I stood up and promptly felt the blood in my brain slam down to my feet.  I went from ‘sober as a judge’ to ’25 jaegerbombs on an empty stomach’ in 5 seconds.  I remember a volunteer telling me not to fall back in.  I felt vaguely sick. I was totally disorientated.  I remember a volunteer handing me a bottle of water and the first two mouthfuls sluiced my mouth and went straight back in the Forth.

Pam, Tara, Roar and Charlotte were just behind the finish line.  No one really wants to hug someone in a wetsuit who has just emerged from the Forth snotrocketing saline all over the shop.  Andy emerged soon after.

2015-09-07 22.04.22 2015-09-07 22.02.38

We wait for the last two swimmers to come in just after the hour.  They are clapped in and cheers all round.  It’s a small field and pretty much everyone is there for the finish. Probably the nicest atmosphere of any race that I have done.

We get changed pretty quickly and then help lift the finish arch, fully inflated from the finish line to the hotel over double parked cars.  My shoulders felt pretty damn spritely for having just swam across the Forth.

I didn’t know much about Vigour Events before this but I am so impressed by their organisation and water safety that I will probably find myself tootling around more of their races next year.  I might even train for them.

The awards ceremony was in the sun with loads of friends and family about.  Every swimmer had their name called out and were presented with a medal and certificate.  Rory came up for my medal on my shoulders and promptly concussed me with it. The medal was a nice, generic Vigour Events one but that race is screaming out for an iconic medal to match the setting.

It was on my bucket list.  I’ve ticked it off.  I finished in 34 minutes in 27th place and I will be back next year to beat that.

There is even a video:

And then, as a final treat, a steam train puffed it's way across the bridge.

And then, as a final treat, a steam train puffed it’s way across the bridge.

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