marathon swimming

Swimming The Big One

Posted on August 27, 2016. Filed under: great scottish swim, marathon swimming, open water swimming, swimming, Uncategorized |

From the second I saw it announced I knew this was the race that I really wanted to do in 2016.

I had stuff I wanted to do – run an ultra, run a barking mad hill race, swim the Bridge to Bridge, swim the Forth again, and run the Berlin Marathon – but the Great Scottish Swim 10k would take me back to where it all started. Me, in water. One of my favourite bits of water. A race that I have competed in every single time it has taken place.

I did it in 2009, before I started to blog. I did it in 2010, when it didn’t really happen. I did it in 2011, with my bessie about 10 minutes after I finished an Ironman. I didn’t do it in 2012, no one did because of flesh eating swan shit in Strathclyde Park or some other nonsense. I did it in 2013, when I was mauled by a wasp and ended up hanging out with the medical professionals. I did it in 2014, I must have done because I have a medal, but I inexplicably wrote nothing about it.

And then I did it in 2015, with a raging hangover, had my first ever good Great Scottish Swim and  laid some pretty ugly swim demons to bed.

I wanted to swim longer. Why not do a swim marathon? Anything is possible.

Sure, I did the Thames Marathon, of which I am immensely proud. But two things niggle me about that achievement that don’t allow me to put it on the top shelf of achievements – there was a current and the water was warm. Like running a 100k ultra on a gentle downhill in mild spring weather – it’s a feat, but it’s not super mental. It was a great fun day out but as a bone grinding endurance event, it wasn’t the toughest.

So, the Loch Lomond 10k was always going to be a special event for 2016.

Preparation, as ever, was imperfect. I am still being dry needled and pummelled by a physio twice a week as I seek to regain feeling in my left hand. But, no excuses, it might stop me picking up a coffee cup but it’s not affected my swimming.

Race Day. A 4pm start for a swim is a weird ass thing. So I spend a couple of hours moseying across the M8, stopping occasionally to purchase forgotten lube or pausing for caramel shortbread, or ice cream or other decadent treats.

Just after Dumbarton, at the drive through Costa, I get an Americano, a cup of hot water and a spoon. Each ordered infuriatingly separately for the increasingly infuriated drive through lady.  Yup, I am going to eat a porridge pot at three in the afternoon.

At Loch Lomond shores it is T-60 minutes. Time to shake and bake.

I make up the porridge while I tape up my neck. I look like a mummy yet, I can assure you, this attracts less attention than the alternative look – garrotted auto-erotic asphyxiation. I pop on a down jacket for later and head down to the race area.

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Wetsuit on to waist, lubed and baggage away. I wander for a while just letting my body temperature drop. And then it’s time to check in. There is the usual process of being zipped up and helping others zip up. Thankfully there was no repeat of zipgate.

I do three laps of the acclimatisation area and hang around, floating, in the deep end for a bit until we are told to get out. All I have is an awareness I am going to be in the water for a very long time. At 16.5c that is no mean feat.

The usual race briefing – don’t drown, don’t be shit, don’t shit yourself etc. I may have paraphrased that. And then Olympian Keri-anne gives us some last minute tips. Keri-anne started my first GSS in 2009 so it was lovely symmetry for her to start my longest one 7 years later.

And we’re off.

It’s always choppy and a bit kick-in-the-facey down the first channel until we are clear of the Maid of Loch. But unless you’re a diddy you just keep your face out of the feet and fist zone. It’s a long swim, there’s absolutely no point fighting for space in the first 50m.

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My race plan is Take it Easy. The miles are banked there is no need for daft swimming.

Lap one is straightforward. A bit congested but no drama. Towards the end I decide I will stick with the two feed strategy at 2 miles and 4 miles.

Lap two is equally straightforward. I find some feet going straight and at the same pace as me and I stick to them.

At the end of Lap two I take on 3 jelly babies and half a bottle of water. 50 minutes.

I start Lap three. I can’t see the buoys. Must be a canoeist in the way. Sight. Nope, no buoys. Sight. Holy shit. All I can see is The Weather. The Weather obscures the hills, the buoys and The Weather is appearing in the form of raindrops the size of cannonballs. At that moment I really appreciate the volunteers. And I really hope they have great waterproofs.

I start lap four and I start to feel cramp in my foot. I stretch and my calf cramps violently. I try to stretch my calf and my quad goes.  Under the water there is a noise like a wounded animal. I roll onto my back. I realise I am cold and it’s got into my muscles. I try to use my left leg to stretch the right. It cramps. I am literally floating on my back with all the dexterity of a log. Two canoeists make their way towards me. I wave them off. Sod this – no one is retiring me. I roll over and drag my legs cramping like a wizened claw behind me. I have to roll onto my back a couple more times just to get enough oxygen in. I have a canoeist shadowing me. No way. No fucking way am I stopping until I decide I’m done.

I get a rhythm going again. I settle my breathing. The cramp eases. It’s still cramp it just doesn’t feel like Guantanamo torture any more. Every now and then I am gripped with panic as I feel the rising creep of tightness, just waiting for it to kick off.

At 4 miles I get to the feed station.

“What do you need?”

“I’ve got cramp real bad, give me everything!”

Three jelly babies, a glucose tablet and half a litre of water and I’m on my way.

About half way the pace line is in disarray. A buoy has lost it’s mooring. We are directed onwards.

I amuse myself with the Next Time game. Next time I pass here it will be the last time. Every. Single. Buoy. gets Next Timed.

I start the last lap. Now I can play Last Time.

This is the Last Time I’ll pass here. Last Time. Last Time.

I felt tired but fresh. I’d lost pace but I could swim it all again. Easily.

I pass the last turn buoy. Last Time. I get to enter the finish straight.

I walk out. I’m done. 10 actual kilometres of swimming with no tail wind. As big an achievement as anything I’ve done but I felt well within myself the whole way.

Unexpectedly my sister and Kelly shout on me. The 10k doesn’t attract the crowds of the Saturday at GSS, so my supporters were most of the crowd.

I change. I inhale McDonalds. I drive.

I stop at Harthill for McCoys and Coke. I have tape on my neck, I’m shivering, I have an exceptionally odd cramp influenced walk and I have a number sharpied on my hand. That, it seems, is what it takes for a Harthiller to look at you like you are an oddball.

I get home. Relax. I finished in 2:41, 36th overall and 6th in age group. I’ll take that.

Two weeks until I cross the Forth again. Maybe I’ll have a fully functional hand by then.

 

 

 

 

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The Thames Marathon

Posted on August 10, 2016. Filed under: 2016, henley bridge to bridge, henley swim, marathon swimming, open water swimming, race report, thames marathon, Uncategorized |

“Technically a crisp packet could do it.”

The unhealthily speedy amphibian Steve Mott certainly intended these as reassuring words but, as I drank more wine the evening before the Thames Marathon swim, I began to get pre-occupied that I would reach Marlow with a somewhat forlorn breast stroke, some distance behind a carelessly discarded prawn cocktail carcass.

This would be my first attempt at a marathon swim and I had no concept what to expect.

It started so innocently in September.

Jan: Fancy coming down to do the Bridge to Bridge swim?

Me: Sure.

You’ll notice I didn’t pause to think about it. If the same offer was a run or a bike I would at least have spluttered into my gin and tonic, just before a significant monologue of expletives, finally ending the conversation with at least one “NO”.

How hard could it be?

Somewhat contrary to my usual approach to swimming I tried the training thing.  That didn’t work out so well for me as I wrecked my shoulder (yet again) and got an ear infection.  However it was probably better preparation than drunkenly commandeering a taxi in Newcastle to drive thru Mcdonalds the night before a long distance swim.

But it’s all swings and roundabouts. Ying and yang and all that. As long as I could feel my fingers and had some Monster Munch as a pacer I would definitely make it from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge the long way.

Thursday night I chuck the wetsuit and goggs in the case. Friday morning we pack up the entourage and head south. Friday lunchtime the Google Maps lady kidnaps Sharon and holds her hostage in a dark part of the T5 car park until we offer Roar as a ransom. Or she just got lost. But I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

As ever, Londonshire gently poaches me. And grills me. I get sweaty and turn red. I turn my mind to the Thames. I will probably need to cut my wetsuit arms and legs off. In fact I will probably have to transform it into neoprene speedos just to get to the end without expiring. But if I do that I’ll end up on some register. Decisions, decisions.

Weekend events progress. Beer. Wine. Blackwoods Gin in the campest glass EVER. A foregone fancy burger. Pokemon Go. Taking a picnic up a hill. Arriving back at car sans car keys. Children talking. And talking. More effing Pokemon. Waiting. Rediscovered car keys. SUNBURN. Children talking at 5am. About Pokemon.

We get to Saturday evening. Shits getting serious. Jan and I do goggle and rubber suit stuff. While drinking beer. We carb load on Sharon’s amazing risotto. Asparagus risotto. (Hold that thought) Wine? Don’t mind if I do. A few last minute texts along the theme of “don’t be shit”, “don’t die”, “beat the crisp packet”, “don’t drink the shit flavoured water”. Awe inspiring stuff.

I lay down the law. “Be in the car at 6:30 or we’re leaving without you”. Which was quite bold given that I wasn’t even the driver.

Asleep.

Awake. Jammers on under my shorts. Porridge. Tape my neck up like a fetishist.

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The bold statement works; the 6:30 headcount confirms no children have been left behind yet Pokemon playing adults are borderline. We’re off.

We arrive at Leander Club in Henley. Not a bad spot for a race. I find my own square of grass amongst the rubber suited fetishists and organise my neoprene and lubes and tapes. Wetsuit to the waist I wander over to watch the first (mainly fast) wave start.

Hooter. W.T.A.F. THEY ARE ALL GOING THE WRONG WAY.

Oh. Wait. Maybe it’s me that is disorientated. Yup, that’s what it is.

Race briefing: basically along the lines of try not to die. I paraphrase a very thorough briefing but that’s kinda all I heard.

Set my Glympse app to transmit. Zip up. Inflate tow buoy. Into the Thames we go.

According to Leander club the river flow was normal, however, the difficulty that we had holding a start line suggested there was a decent current. Which was lucky because I followed my usual swim race routine. Remember the asparagus? Yup, already on it’s way to Marlow.

Jan and I have a final moment of bon mots and the horn goes.

As has become the norm I have assumed everyone has seeded themselves with some degree of self awareness. As has become the norm I swim straight into frog’s leg soup and head up breastroke.

I know to keep my cool so I just go with the flow. Find a space. Fill it. Move on to the next space.

I will emerge from the stramash without concussion.

After a couple of hundred metres I look up and I am in a small group, maybe a dozen. A few minutes later I look up and I AM WINNING THE FRIGGING RACE. Admittedly it was a bit early to call it victory.

A group of three of us start working together and a breath under the arm suggests that we are making some distance on the pack. Something bizarre must happen with the flow in the Thames. Groups would suddenly fracture and disconnect with no change in pace and then come back together, which must have been to do with currents within the flow.

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Me. Ahead of People. My new favourite thing.

I lost all sense of time on this section. I knew I had 4k to swim but I had no idea how far out we were. And then I breathed and noticed the exit sign behind me. My group of three had swum past. Anyway, I backtrack and get out. I’m handed a wipe and use some antibacterial gel. I slop some vaseline on my neck. Grab half a banana and a square of soreen and make my way through the transition. I instantly realise the error in the order of the aid station table as I try to eat soreen preserved in petroleum jelly.

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Just as I reach the entry point back into the river I see the sherpas. “I WAS IN THE LEAD. Briefly”.  KEEP GOING.

The next 6k section is going to make or break the day. I get back in but I’ve lost the group. They are about 50m ahead. I decide not to burn any matches but to make my way back up to them very gently.

It’s a lonely business. I check out follies and giant estates on either bank. Something catches my eye in the sky. I take three exaggerated breaths to properly look. It’s a plane. But now I’m waaaay off line. BANG. Canoe. Soz.

For the first couple of km I swim alone and then I see the lead group start to splinter. (The tow buoys and perfect for sighting groups). I think I’ll catch those that are dropped, take a brief draft then move on to the next one. But those that are shelled by the group are dropping back like stones. A lot of pink caps from the first wave starting to struggle.

About 4k into this section I catch the group just at a sharp left turn in the river. I feel surprisingly amazing.

I see a weir up ahead. It can’t be that time already. Nah. Everyone is definitely swimming past it on the right. I breathe. Haud on, that’s Sharon. I hear Rory cheering. Yaaaaaaas. 10k nailed.

Volunteer:  “How are you feeling?”

Me: “OH MY GOD I AM LOVING THIS I SO WANT TO DO IT AGAIN OH MY GOD IT’S SO MUCH FUN”; my inner 10 year old girl escapes in the excitement.

I clamber out. My neck feels raw. And my ear. MY EAR.

I am handed a wipe. I wipe my face. Pam asks where all the blood is coming from. Nowhere apparently. But MY EAR IS SORE.

I eat about an inch of a Boost bar and take a handful of crisps. Rory eats the crisps. All kids look at the aid station with the covetous eyes of confectionery predators. I chuck back two cups of energy drink (Jesus shit, that was buggering awful stuff) and two cups of water. Neck lubed. Ready to go.

I am held by a canoeist as a couple of boats pass.

We swim about 20m to a stepladder, up and onto an island. A short trot across the island and back into the river. It’s rocky. I watch people ahead of me mince in on the sharp rocks. I note where they get just above ankle depth. I get there and bellyflop into the water and drag myself, belly down, over the rocks.

The third section is only about 1.5k, narrow and we swim on the left hand side. This feels like the home straight.

At the third exit I fumble on the stepladder. The lowest step is just about at water level leaving me contorted on my back, in a rubber suit trying to get out.

Quite a long walk this time. Crisps. Water. Lube. I’ve mastered the order of the aid station.

I chat to all the marshalls thanking them for an incredible day. I chat so long in fact that a bloody great cruise ship gets between me and the main group. I get held back.

Then it’s time for the final section. “Once you turn the corner you’ll see the bridge. 2.2km”.

“Is this deep water?”

“Yes”

I bomb. Like a naughty 10 year old. I am loving this waaaay too much.

The last section is lonely. I swim alone, only ever seeing dropped pink caps.

I am mesmerised by the weeping willows that line the bank. Then the long balustrade that the pushes long shadows onto the Thames. Then the little cube hut. Then I see the buoy.

I am probably tired but I don’t feel it. This race should be shown the respect it deserves. I start to pick up a kick, turn my arms over faster. This is a proper event; I’m going to finish this like a proper swimmer.

The buoy gets closer. My mind searches for the memory of the finish procedure. Nah. It’s gone. I ask a canoeist.

“Over there”, he points at a densely populated bank with dayglo signs and marquees.

“Ah, yes. Now I see”

“You’ll need to wait for these boats to pass”.

“No worries”

“OK, on you go”

Head down. Elbows high. Long strokes. 6 beat kick. This is what it’s all about. This is why I love to swim. This makes all the hours in the pool worthwhile. I. AM. A. MARATHON. SWIMMER.

I get medalled. But, more importantly, I find out I finished in 3:27. Ridiculous. A bit ahead of my anticipated 4:30 and probably indicative of a decent current. I beat the crisp packet. But Loch Lomond will give me an idea of my real pace.

I get dry and change. Jan comes in at 3:59:58. Now that’s a proper sub 4!

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What can I say about the Thames Marathon? An amazing event – expensive, with very little fluff over and above the swim but an incredible venue, assuring water safety, the BEST volunteers and a buffet that would delight any 10 year old at every stop on the river.

Incredible thank yous to Jan for asking me, and to Sharon, Jan, Molly and Finn for being the best hosts. It was a proper whole weekend experience!

The show moves on to the Great Scottish Swim 10k in 3 weeks. I need a solution to a chafing ear and I need a bit more release by the physio of my shoulder and my thoracic spine.

But in all other respects:

I. AM. READY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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