open water swimming

Over, Over, Over, Over, Over, Under

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

Scotland is beautiful. It’s official. An internet survey said so. And not just a wee bit beautiful but THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.

Aye, ya bass.

Everyone knows Scotland is beautiful. Or bonny, as we call it. Whether you learnt it from the picture on a shortbread tin or Brigadoon or watching the skag boys alight the train at Corrour as Rent Boy declared “It’s shite being Scottish”.

It’s not a one dimensional beauty though. Whether you long for the road through Rannoch Moor to the Buachaille moodily guarding Glencoe or wish your days away for the long trip up to climb the grande dammes of Suilven or Liathach of the most remote North West.

Or if water is your thing there are the vast lochs Ness, Lomond and Awe or the small but perfectly formed Venachar or Lubnaig.

Then there are the cities: the sparkling granite of Aberdeen always caught in the gloomy half light of the 57th parallel or the Athens of the North, my long since adopted home town, Edinburgh.

Then there are Glasgow and Dundee. We don’t talk about them.

But the beauty extends to our architecture. We love our Kelpies, for sure, but if you want to see a Scotsman get truly misty eyed you show him a bridge. Particularly a ginger bridge.

Not 5km from my house is the Forth Bridge, now a World Heritage site. And from the front of my house we can see the gleaming towers of the Queensferry Crossing.

This weekend was a big weekend for Scotland’s bridges. Before the Queen came to open it and before the Red Arrows flew over it, they gave the hoi polloi “the opportunity of a lifetime” to walk over the new Queensferry Crossing. Two hundred and fifty thousand people entered a ballot for one of 50,000 tickets to walk across the bridge before it becomes a motorway. AND WE GOT TICKETS.

And so the idea of a weekend of adventuring was born. How many times could I cross the Forth in a weekend by different means?

OVER (1)

Getting out of the car at North Queensferry station the sun came out to add a little sizzle to the first crossing. A gentle jog up past Gordy Broon’s house before a descent down past the scrappys and into the perpetual roadworks of the bridge construction.

If you have never run across the Forth Road Bridge the thing that you need to know is that it is quite a steep ascent and it shoogles. Quickly you are high above the Forth but as every lorry rumbles over the expansion joints (also known as the gi-doofs) your fillings get a rattle in your head.

20170901_105554

The good news is that what goes up must do down so I always look ahead to the cables to see the inflection point where the descent begins. And, after passing two charity groups doing a crossing in the opposite direction, the run over the bridge is done and I am jinking through the streets to the station in South Queensferry. Or more correctly Queensferry. Or even more correctly Dalmeny. Or, as it is labelled in gaelic, Dail Mheinidh. A station so good they named it four times. How anyone actually manages to get on a train there is beyond me.

OVER (2)

I just miss a train so stand enjoying the sun with a great view of the Forth Bridge. This is the Forth Bridge by the way, the original, not the Forth Rail Bridge as some try to label it.

20170901_112554

£2.50 for a 3 minute journey to retrace my 45 minute run. I wait for the train twenty minutes later but it is delayed by eight minutes. It occurs to me that I can swim across in about that time.

20170901_113808

The conductor turns out to be a bit of a wag. He has a double take at my ticket.

“Saves walking across, I suppose”

“I’ve just run across”

“At least you didn’t have to swim it”

“Doing that on Sunday, actually”

He didn’t look like he believed me. Not even a “really?”.  As he sauntered off down the carriage I am convinced he thought I was the village idiot.

And then I had the chance to look down on the start line and, a few moments later, the finish line of Sunday’s swim glistening in the glorious sunshine.

20170901_114208

20170901_114345(0)

OVER (3)

The opportunity of a lifetime.

First of all I should say that I had a sense of trepidation about the Queensferry Crossing Experience. The organisers were GSI events who “organise” the Edinburgh Marathon and I’ve just never had a very good experience with them. But let me be the first to say that they absolutely nailed the security, logistics and experience. They should do more bridge openings and other things that don’t require baggage or results or water or finisher’s t-shirts or any other run related stuff.

They started digging into the seabed of the Forth in September 2011 just after wee Roar was born and one of our regular trips has been going to see “how the bridge is getting on”. It has grown up with him for the last 6 years so it was great to take him for a walk over it.

20170904_222539

Look at that wee abseil guy!

After much ID and security checking we were dropped off on the northern approach and let loose for an hour. In theory we had an hour to walk to the southern approach but once we were on the bridge it was really relaxed. And so the opportunity of a lifetime began.

Roar, as any 6 year old would do, found a white line and followed it. For 1.7 miles. Only looking up when instructed to.

20170902_105335

Statistically the Queensferry Crossing is the longest of it’s kind in the world and the tallest in the UK. It also continues the trend of building a bridge over the Forth every century. I could excel at being a bridge bore but I’ll let her pictures speak for themselves.

20170902_103711

20170902_105244

20170902_110439

OVER (4)

My fourth Forth crossing and still have never retraced my steps. An uneventful northbound council bus trip back to the car as a huge container ship crossed below the Forth Road Bridge and cruises out towards the Forth bridge.

OVER (5)

Another bus. This time southbound on the Forth Road Bridge. This time I wear a rubber suit and eat a banana.

I don’t mess around with making these trips unique.

UNDER

The weekend closer. A swim in the shadow of the Forth Bridge.

After a wait for slack water 122 swimmers enter the water in a spluttering, salty stramash and then disappear into the vast dark water of the crossing. Progress marked only by kayakers and ribs man-marking the swimmers spread across the Firth.

I can’t begin to explain the entirely unique perspective that you get of all the bridges when your eyes are two inches above the waves. The old ginger bridge rises majestically on our right and the 20th century and 21st century bridges slightly more distant to our left.

The sun is warm. The water is cold. The waves are light but untamed. I increase my cadence to keep steady power through the steady flow of the river ever present even in slack water.

I sight the arch on the slipway. I swim through the floating wrack seaweed. My feet touch down.

Of course there is a full race report. As a spoiler I do quite well. But you’ll have to read it to find out the whole story.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 09.00.09

Quietly pleased with my race result. Very pleased with 6 crossings of the Forth without doing the same crossing twice – one on the Forth Bridge, three on the Road Bridge (one north, one south on road, one south on foot), one on the Queensferry Crossing and one by shoulder power in the shadow of the Forth Bridge.

 

 

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

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.

20170903_095229

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.

20170903_113328

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 12.09.03

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 12.01.40

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.

IMG-20170903-WA0001

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!

20170903_135706

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 17.03.01

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:

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )

Learning Lessons at the Loch Ard Swim Festival

Posted on September 5, 2016. Filed under: loch ard swim festival, open water swimming, swimming, Uncategorized, vigour events |

It will be my 45th birthday this week.

Forty-fecking-five. Three hundred and sixty five days of “mid 40s”, a brief oasis between the loss of my early 40s and, ughh, my late 40s.  The slack water in the ebb and flow of a decade.

Why do I tell you this, because age is something I rarely think of?

No, it’s not a hint for presents (although gin is my favourite, I love gin), (and beer), (and if anyone wants to get me vouchers for the Cappadocia Kebab House…..) but rather it is a moment of pause where I realised I learnt two big lessons this year. One I learned as the year trundled on, growing on me gradually, and one quite suddenly when I was up to my neck in chilly Loch Ard.

Anyway, having finished the Great Scottish marathon swim 19 minutes ahead of expectation and with a fortnight to go until the Forth Crossing race, I didn’t feel I was done with distance swimming for the year. So based on a great experience at the Forth race last year I entered the Vigour Events Loch Ard 5k.

Vigour Events are Scottish and put on races in some amazing stretches of water. I’ve loved doing smaller races this year that are elegantly understated and Vigour do that just perfectly. Robert did the race briefing in a huddle in the rain under the start arch. We were assured of our safety and to watch out for the cold and each other. And most importantly the paramedics were paid for so feel free to use them. Twice if we wanted.

IMG_20160903_130227

The water temperature was 15c and air temperature just above 10c. I have been spoiled this year. The water in Windermere for the Great North Swim 5k was 20c, in the Thames for the  Thames Marathon was 20c, in Loch Lomond for the Great Scottish Swim 10k was 16.5c so this was going to be nippy by comparison. By the way, Keswick Mountain Festival was supposed to be 11c but was it monkeys, it was roasting.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Loch Ard and lesson number 1.

We were up early and ploughed through the rain and mist to be at Kinlochard for registration closing at 0915. Of course we weren’t, we were late.

IMG-20160903-WA0004

Registered got a cap and Tunnocks Teacake (which reminds me I have a crushed Tunnocks Teacake at the bottom of my rucksack) and got suited up ready to go. Applied my patented neck tape to prevent the garrotte, checked in under the arch and paddled. As soon as we got the all clear to go in the water I was first in. I have a desperate need to quickly get my body temperature down before a race. And I needed to pee. Mainly I needed to pee.

While the water was mildly chilly, and the weather was properly foul (but I was wet anyway), the water conditions were amazing. Flat, calm and barely a breath of wind to distract from just enjoying the swim.

We had a couple of minutes floating in the water while some 10 and 12.5k swimmers rounded the buoy. And then we were off.

I had a dream start. Two guys went VERY FAST, and I jumped onto the toes of the second guy. It was fast and furious.

As a trio we went well clear of the group easily making 50m in the first 200m.

And then I felt it.

I was struggling to get a breath. Breathe every stroke. I can hold this.

Sitting on the tipping point. Get enough oxygen in and the moment will pass, don’t and, well, it won’t.

My chest tightened. I sighted. Mouthful of water off the kick from the guy in front.

Bugger. It’s coming. Another breath, half hearted now, I know it’s coming.

I tread water to sight.  WTF is that all about?

Six more strokes I stop dead in my tracks. Gasping for air but finding none. The rising anxiety. The sheer terror of the constriction of the wetsuit. The main group passes me. The rescue boat is right with me.

I could just get out. Get in that boat.  Everything in my body is screaming GET OUT. Robert looks at me with concern. The back markers swim past me. I feebly thumbs up. I would shout “I’m OK”, if I was capable of making noise. Still a look of concern from the rescue boat. The panic is easing. The wetsuit loosens. My breathing calms. I am calm.

Another thumbs up from me. Returned this time, with a smile.

I am OK.

LESSON #1 With confidence comes hubris

I have swum well this year. Measured performances, each getting better. I thought I could race with the big boys at Loch Ard but my confidence completely disregarded my brain which knows I need a slow and deliberate start (See the Great North Swim blog). A useful lesson to be humble or be humbled.

Anyway, face in the water, I ease myself back into it. Looking back at the data I had set off at sub 1:20 pace, but now I was at a much more comfortable mid 1:30s.

I start picking my way through feet until eventually there aren’t many more feet to see.  I then swim with the same guy for the last 4k. I had no idea where we were in the race but it was a settled pace and we were both moving together.

The course was two 2k loops, that felt massive, and a 1k loop to finish. The end of each loop was really close to the finish arch but I never really paused to look. I wanted to make up the time from my premature breather.

IMG-20160903-WA0010

I finished in 1:25, just off the pace of my last three 5k’s of 1:21, received a medal, half a banana and a bottle of water before returning to a burger and civilisation.

My final placing was 6th. Having re-started after my false start in dead last I was pleased to have carried on and made progress. Third place was 1:21, by the way.

Which brings me to my second lesson that slowly dawned on me during 2016.

LESSON #2 With confidence comes new found love

Until this year I probably last enjoyed a swim race in the late 80s. I’ve dabbled a bit but I’ve not loved it. But after getting the swim monkey off my back last year I have been enjoying racing and training more and more. I love swimming on the feet or shoulder to shoulder, ready to race. And this year I have found myself work my way up the rankings against some serious swimmers. My second lesson – rediscovering my confidence in the water has made me want to race again. And train. And I love that.

There is only one swim of the season to go – the Forth Crossing Race next weekend. And then the Berlin Marathon a couple of weeks later. It feels a long season but, without a doubt, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.

 

There is even a video from the swim festival that, thankfully, failed to capture my spluttering indignity.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )

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.

IMG_20160826_215241

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.

IMG_20160826_193753-2

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.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

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.

20160807_063032

 

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.

IMG-20160808-WA0032

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.

IMG-20160808-WA0034

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!

IMG-20160808-WA0025

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Jogging and Swimming at the Keswick Mountain Festival

Posted on May 24, 2016. Filed under: 10k, 1500m OW Swim, 2016, Hill Running, Keswick Mountain Festival, open water swimming, race report, race review, running, swimming, Uncategorized |

In March, while visiting the US, I discovered a new phenomenon – Granny’s Apple Fries – deep fried Granny Smith apples. As an international junk food explorer it was my duty to try them:

“Granny’s Apple Fries, please”, I request politely.

“Regular or Large?”

Duh, thinks I. “Large”

“Alamo?”

“……”, I pause to process the question.

“Alamo?”, louder still.

My mind processes the request, the frustrated look and the lengthening queue. Alamo. Davy Crockett? Served in a raccoon fur hat? Are we hunkering down to see off the Mexicans in the queue as a Trumpian private army?

I go all British. “I’m terribly sorry, I don’t understand the question”

“ALAMO”, louder still, using the British technique for bridging international communication issues.

A supervisor approaches. They mumble in American to each other.

“A la mode!?”

I speak pidgin French, I can do this. Wait. That means “in fashion”.

Speechlessly I do my confused face.

“Do y’all want your fries with ice cream?” A question I thought I’d never be asked as a grown up.

“Oh yes please”. I gasp, exhausted and broken.

20160313_131825

***

This exchange brought me to two conclusions about America. Firstly, they invented deep frying apples – I don’t know what this means but when they write the history of the world I feel it will be significant. And secondly, as Oscar Wilde said, we are indeed two nations separated by a common language (and they can mangle French quite effectively as well).

Which, in a very indirect way takes me to my point.

The KMF Trail 10k brought my total of trail races to three and I can now safely conclude that trail runners and other runners are a common breed separated by a common language. Where a trail runner says hill, I see mountain. Where a trail runner says gently sloping, I see near vertical mountain face.

And so it was that I found myself contemplating the Keswick Trail 10k, described tantalisingly as “perfect for entry level runners who want to start trail running. It’s a mixture of wide open trails, some single track, a few easy hills with some road and fields to finish”.

I shall return to this but back to the beginning.

***

After her Glencoe half Pam signed up to do the Keswick 25k and while browsing the website I found a 1.5k swim and entered. After a little more browsing I discovered I could also squeeze in a 10k, although I knew it would be a big ask 2 weeks after the Glen Lyon ultra, but what the hell. Lets make a weekend of it, joined by Pam’s running partner and cousin Sandi and her family.

IMG_20160520_203558The Festival opens on Friday and has an amazing laid back atmosphere with kids and dogs and down jackets and trail shoes and marquees and bands clinging on to the sloped shoreline of Derwentwater. There are live bands and a million distractions but the real star of the show is the stunning view down the lake that changes with every change in the weather, of which there were many.

Pam and Sandi were duly dropped off on Saturday morning for the gentle hills of the 25k as the skies opened. All 450 runners and sherpas squeezed into the registration marquee for the race briefing as the rain upped it’s game from epic to biblical and then, without fuss, the race kinda started from inside the marquee. An hour in the beer tent later and the weather went saharan. Great for the sherpas but a steamy run for the runners on their undulating loop round Derwentwater.

All the trail events finished on the lake shore with a long (uphill) run through a knowledgeable and supportive crowd. Every runner was cheered in no matter how long they took. The finish area was probably the best supported that I have seen outside of Ironman or VLM which is incredible for an event in the depths of the lakes.

Anyway, Pam and Sandi finished without incident, loving the course and the volunteers, which means we can end the preamble and get on to the main events.

Sunday morning saw the ultra runners away at 6am and, when I arrived just before 9, I am pretty sure that I saw the last of the casualties from Toploader and Scouting for Girls crawling out of the fragrant portaloos.

KMF 10K Trail Run

20160522_091139

There are many things that are unique about the KMF but the boat trip across Derwentwater for the start of the 10k must be one of the most special. The sky was blue, the water was like a mirror and the sun shone down on Catbells.

20160522_092829

Yes, the sun on Catbells. Oh. What is that glinting in the sun? Oh. Runners. 10k runners. UP A FRIGGING MOUNTAIN. A few easy hills, MY ARSE.

I look at the lady next to me on the boat. I point and soundlessly mouth words. She nods. My heart sinks.

As we dock we head to a field. At which point a hundred or so people disappear into the woods, emerging a little later tightening drawstrings at their waists. We are given the one minute warning to move to the start line. As instructed I move to the start line. I look around, no-one else has moved to the start line. HOLY SHITE I AM AT THE FRONT.

GO!

On a track maybe three runners wide, gnarly with tree roots and rutted. A few racing snakes overtake. I am behind a girl dicking around with her iPod playlist as the path narrows to single file. Oh bugger, I AM the traffic jam.

After a kilometre or so we start climbing through wet mud and tree roots still pretty much single file. I am still running, thank god. And then we pop out on a downhill road. And then we climb.

Apparently the route is the Catbells Terrace. I don’t really know what I am talking about but I would describe it as technical as we slid and clambered on loose scree. After a kilometre the scenery opens up looking down the lake to Keswick and Derwent Isle that I will be swimming around in a couple of hours. The route changes to a steep downhill and I happily trot down actually taking advantage of ballast and gravity and overtaking some of the frailer racing snakes. Until we climb again, this time I insert some half hearted jogs – I exchange positions time and time again with the more steady runners that keep up a metronomic pace. I run like an attention deficient four year old, sprinting, walking, gasping.

At about 6k we cross a road into some woods. I inhale deeply and a mouthful of midges hit my sick trigger at warp speed. The next couple of kilometres are characterised by me hoiking up and snot rocketing mangled midge carcass. I skip the water station for fear of swallowing dilute insect protein.

The last three kilometres are pretty flat. I get overtaken by ultra runners 49km into their race but I don’t care. I enter Crow Park and Rory meets me half way up the hill, runs with me to the finish and claims my medal.

It was a truly amazing course in wonderful weather. As a bonus we got an extra 0.7k too! Coool.

With the ultra still in my legs and knowing the ascent (to give Edinburger’s some context the middle 5k was like 3 times the ascent of Arthur’s Seat) I was hoping to come in under 1:15. With the extra 0.7k I managed 1:13 and my legs actually behaved themselves. And that is a result I am quite pleased with.

Without any further ado I went straight to the sports nutrition tents (just kidding) to ready myself for the swim. A chicken tikka kebab and a can of coke, as always, were the recovery choice of this champion.

KMF 1500m Derwent Isle Open Water Swim

A couple of hours later I found myself in a rubber suit for the second time in the same week. Indeed the second time this year. With a total of 38k swimming this year, it was really just a kickstart to the longer swims later in the year but it looked fun so what the hell.

The water temperature was announced as 11c but I would guess it was nearer 14c as I was one of the first swimmers in for a very protracted entry and I thought it was lovely. With 144 swimmers lined up for a deep water start we got a countdown, that I didn’t hear, and then an air horn, which I did, and we were off.

Then it got weird. No stramash. No banging of limbs. No ducking. I breathed right. No-one. I breathed left. No-one. False start?

I looked back. Nope. We were away. AND I WAS LEADING.

After 100m I was conscious of three swimmers on my left. I breathe right and no-one was there. I started catching arms with the swimmer immediately on my left. We keep clashing until we are off the shore of the Island when we have a bash that stops us dead. I look up and see one swimmer ahead and three in a row with me.

The whole swim is shallow and we were warned to stay out from the Island to avoid tree roots. I come very close to a boulder under the surface which stops the swimmer next to me dead. Around the back of the island it gets choppier and I lose sight of my line. I pick a canoeist to follow and assume that he knows where he is going.

At this point I have a dawning awareness that there isn’t going to be a surge that will leave me mid-field. I am at the pointy end with hardly any training.

As we the beach comes into view I have to dig deep to keep up the pace. I am swimming beyond the ability of my diesel engine. And then the morning 10k starts to make itself felt. First in my calves and then spreading to my hamstrings. That knife edge where crippling cramp is one ill-judged wiggle away. With 200m to go I am swimming with my feet perpendicular to my body position. I am shoulder to shoulder, stroke for stroke with a guy – we will definitely fight it out for a place.

We hit the pontoon together. We climb out for the run, both my hamstrings cramp. Bugger. I spend a moment on my knees trying to re-straighten my legs then I run up the beach to trigger the timing mat. As we get our Bio Security hose down by a National Trust volunteer I notice that I managed to stay up with the speedsters. I pick up my medal with a warm feeling inside (not pee in the wetsuit) that I can still pull off a swim performance if I concentrate.

I grab a zebra burger for recovery and sit on the one spot in Crow Park where there is a data  signal and my result comes through in a text. I am glad I am sitting down. [Warning: HUMBLEBRAG KLAXON] I was 9th overall, 4th male and 1st Veteran (that apparently means I am old and not a cow mender) [HUMBLEBRAG ENDS].

Later, at dinner, the sherpas get animated – “I can’t believe you didn’t swim harder to get on the podium. The kids would love to have seen that”. I humbly remind the sherpas that most of them were on a boat trip during my swim and the podium presentation.

And then we marched the kids up a hill for some amazing evening views.

20160522_195342

So, would I recommend the Keswick Mountain Festival? Absolutely, and I am sure that I will be back there next year. Amazing family atmosphere, great events that use the wonderful outdoors on their doorstep and great marshalls and volunteers.

Top work Keswick!

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )

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.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

Wild Woman

Adventures of one lady and her dog

unironedman

Doing your first Iron Man a few wrinkles short of fifty...

Teacups & Trainers

Running through life, drinking as much tea as possible

ultimatemindsettoday

A great WordPress.com site

LoneSwimmer

The World's Best Guide To Cold & Open Water Swimming

Running On Espresso

Creating Better Runners

%d bloggers like this: