swimming

Product Review: Mugiro Neck Protector

Posted on September 24, 2017. Filed under: mugiro neck protector, product review, swim, swimming, wetsuit, wetsuit rash |

This is only the second product review I have ever done.

I have a philosophy that if something does what it is supposed to it is basically functional. Then it is just a question of whether it’s inexpensive or expensive and I make a judgement on whether it is good value for money. Good times. But dull times.

If it doesn’t work for me, which is rare because things should just do what they are supposed to, then I’ll take a view on a product. For example, like the only other review that I have done. Which went down like a cup of cold sick. But it was honest, for me it didn’t do what it promised. Bad times.

And then, like in this case, a product arrives from nowhere and solves a problem that I thought was unsolvable. Good times.

For years I have suffered from wetsuit rash. Not only is it uncomfortable, it is also embarrassing. Having a long garrotte scar on your neck for the whole summer basically leaves you looking like you have, ahem, unusual private hobbies that you share with politicians and rockstars.

Anyway. The script goes pretty much like this – up to 2k I am fine, at 3k I am uncomfortable in the water and have a weeping sore for a couple of days, at 5k I have an open wound and at 10k it feels like someone is trying to saw through my spinal cord with a rusty hacksaw blade. As you can imagine it has an impact on performance, and leaves a stain on the pillow. Neither of which are ideal.

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For the same amount of years I have sought a solution. Bodyglide, vaseline, baby oil, baby oil gel, lard, the saliva of a vietnamese pot-bellied pig. At least one of those might not be true. But better than the worse advice that I got.

One of those wannabe triathlon coaches, who incidentally led his advertising with swimming without any pedigree or demonstrable competence, suggested quite forcibly over social media having never seen me swim that the solution was to fundamentally change my stroke. I was 44. And had been a swimmer for 40 years. And a swimming coach. But never mind.

I expect he suggested that runners with blisters should change their run technique and cyclists with saddle sores should change their pedalling style. But there we were in the wild-west of triathlon coaching where confidence was no guarantee of quality.

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Having ruled out going back to swimming lessons to re-learn the bubble moustache, my workable solution was pretty thick taping on my neck for swims over 5k and a liberal application of baby oil gel for shorter swims. Neither were ideal. The lubing left me slippier than a bar of imperial leather in a hot bath and the removal of the tape took as much skin off as a swim down the Thames.

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And so I had given up on a good solution, I would just work around it and remain the person that was always thought of as a summer season auto-erotic asphyxiator.

That all changed in the minutes before the start of Breca Buttermere.  I was chatting to a chap and he had what the Americans would call a fanny pack. I was intrigued how it felt in the water, as I prefer to swim without any attachments, and what he was carrying. I asked and he pulled out some chocolate, ear plugs and a rubbery thing. The rubbery thing was something that he hadn’t used yet, and I had never seen before, but was a neck protector. I was all in for a new solution.

When I got back from the Lakes I searched Amazon for “a rubbery neck protector”, read a couple of overwhelmingly positive reviews, and awaited it’s arrival.

It came in a tub with instructions not to let it dry out. And it felt weird. Weird. Lets not be delicate about this, it felt like a sex thing. Vaguely reminiscent of the time that Ted, in his quest to eat everything in the world, found a fleshlight in a country lane and I had to prise it out of his mouth very much against his will. And very much against my better judgement. If you are curious, I recommend that you don’t google fleshlight unless you wish the adverts on your phone’s browser to be a perpetual shop-front for self-lovin.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s not a good look. It’s bright orange and makes me look like some kind of reverend from the church of ginger. However, it bloody well works. And it has been very well tested.

The first outing was a standard night at Lochore. About an hour and 3k, but I was slightly disappointed. While my wetsuit collar had not gnawed through my neck as usual, there was still a raw mark afterwards. No weeping, not too sore but I hadn’t got away scot-free.

I read the instructions again (yes a bright orange rubber sex something comes with brief instructions) and noticed that the neck protector was “manufactured with elastic material and vaseline” and was suitable for use with vaseline. So I lubed up.

It’s second outing was another Lochore 3k but with added lube. Perfect – not. a. single. mark.

That test swim was completed with perfect timing guarantee it’s use for the first 10k of the year at the Great Scottish Swim.  Again, absolutely no damage to the neck, no impact on my stroke, and no discomfort.

Then a more modest distance challenge with the Forth Crossing but with the new variable of salt water. I had slight chafing after the race which may have been the salt water adding in a bit of discomfort but I think more likely when I was pulling the collar over my head that most of the lube ended up in my hair. The greasy hair was not a good look although the accompanying strangle marks were modest.

The final swim of the year was another long distance epic. The Loch Earn 10k. This time, more careful, as I pulled it over my head. This time absolutely no wetsuit rash.

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The Mugiro Neck Protector has been a revelation. It does exactly what it promised to do. It’s not cool, it’s not cheap at a bawhair under £25, it feels weird but it just works. And that was all I needed it to do.

Would I recommend it? Hell yeah.

 

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The Loch Earn 10k Swim

Posted on September 19, 2017. Filed under: loch earn 10k, loch earn end to end, marathon swimming, swimming, vigour events |

For seven days in July, each year, for five years of my childhood, the morning routine was always the same.

I would be awoken by the crump of a sheep tearing grass from the earth right by my head and I would start the slow process of quietly coming around, warmed by the first rays of the sun diffused by the blue polyester of the tent. A moment of stillness as the systems re-boot to the early morning.

Then. Hyper-alertness.

In simpler times of the rubiks cube and three tv channels, in the days before weather apps, waking up under canvas was the best indication whether John Kettley had got it right the night before.

Senses on high alert.

I would listen. No rain. But who cares about rain? No wind. Yaaaasssss, once again we would dodge the curse of long summer days spent on and around the water in the heart of Scotland. Today will be a good day.

I would reach for the zip with genuine anticipation. My first glimpse through the thick, crumpled plastic window of our tent, sitting halfway up the hill, high enough to get a heart-stopping view but still half an hour’s hike from the summit. I would step outside, abandoning my shoes in my eagerness, my feet enveloped by the long, wet, dewy grass and stand to my full height. Taking in a view that was almost too big to comprehend – looking down over the village to Loch Earn below, the hills and the blue sky reflected in it’s glassy surface as it cuts a shiny path down the glen to my left. Like a mirror. Today will be a great day.

My best friend, my constant companion at swimming club, summer waterskiing, raft races and general mischief, and I would look at each other. We were fit to burst with the genuine explosive childhood excitement that made the cycling and mud and wandering expeditions of the long summer holidays so magical.

But before we could burst into the cabin and wake everyone else and drag them down to the loch in soggy, cold wetsuits that we had only vacated a few hours before we had one more job to do.  We were responsible for the hike to the village shop and picking up the rolls and milk, an important task that we were allocated and the only detail that we would ever remember was “and you can keep the change”.  The change invested, always, in the crumpled, white, paper bag ubiquitous of the quarter shop stuffed with cola cubes or flumps or, if we were feeling extraordinarily brave before breakfast, the Highland Toffee.


 

As we drove up the north loch road, the night before the Loch Earn 10k swim on our way up to Killin, those long summer days were very much on my mind. I had already explained to Rory as we approached the loch that when I was wee the fish and chip shop in Comrie, the place we stopped on our way home from holiday, was the best fish and chip shop in the world. But the best fish and chips were always hungrily guzzled with a tinge of sadness that summer was over. Over thirty years later, St Fillians at the east of the loch is still a foreign country. A place I never visited as a child and have only rarely visited as an adult because why would anyone go to St Fillans when Lochearnhead was so perfect?

Reaching Lochearnhead I spot my favourite jetties, older and rotting and not the fresh blonde wood that I remember. The Clachan Cottage where we would go for tea on the rare occasion that we would go out for tea and where I had my first stolen sips of warm, flat Tennents Lager. The huge loch side Boat House that wasn’t there when I was a kid and the gap where the watersports centre had been the jewel on the west side of the loch when I was a kid. And then the junction and the village shop, Rory’s imagination momentarily captured by “keep the change” amongst the fog of dad’s droning nostalgia. And then onwards to Killin.

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The night before wasn’t a polyester tent with crumpled and cracked plastic windows. We got a late room at the wonderful Courie Inn where all four of us piled into a huge room and Ted paced until the bar below us closed. As usual the night before a swim, I went out like a light, early and aided by a few pints of Schiehallion and spaghetti carbonara.

My alarm woke everyone with a start and I went into race mode. Kettle on, porridge made, bag double checked, clothes on, shepherd everyone to the car. Roar and Pam would come back for a fine cooked breakfast after they dropped me off.

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At the event site, near where the watersports centre used to sit, we got a glimpse of the loch. I was transported back 35 years. As the sodden grass seeped through my salomons I could see, through the gap in the trees, mirrored water down the glen as far as the eye can see. Pure unadulterated joy.


 

The registration gazebo was right at the gate. Kirsten and Phia were issuing our kit and allocating our numbers. As expected, following my idiocy at the Forth Crossing Swim the week before, I was repeatedly and deservedly reminded not to forget my cap.

Andy and John arrived and we had a quick chat as they joined the queue to register; then Pam and Roar shot off because eggs benedict and fine coffee were calling them.

I got to fanboy a bit, meeting some of the Vigour legends whose endeavours this summer have shamed me into actually going for a swim – Darrell, who swam a length of Loch Lomond, and Phia who swam a length of Loch Ness. Unfathomable achievements for a ageing sprinter like me.

Robert took centre stage and gave us his usual excellent briefing. Buoys on the left, then swimmers, then kayakers and powerboats on the right. That instruction seemed simple on dry land. And also a cautionary briefing on the dangers of hypothermia and the symptoms. The water was about 15ish C and we were going to be in for a while, so safety was paramount.

The first wave set off down to the waterfront and I staked my claim for my changing room. A perfect spot with facilities for hanging up my wetsuit – which could also be described as the pavement outside the village hall with my wetsuit hanging over the chevron sign. I got a couple of toots from passing drivers as I dropped my shorts and some looks of sheer horror as I dragged on my rubber suit.

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As I walked down the sodden field I checked four times that I had my cap. I did each time. Just before the barbed wire fence I bumped into Andy and John and we did some wetsuit zipping. We loitered for a moment on the beach and then without fuss we wandered into the water. I had a quick general splash of the face and neck but didn’t swim.

Robert talked us down from a minute to go. Then we counted down from ten. And then we were on. With 10k to swim I was going to take the start very easy indeed.

The start of a loch swim is always the same. The slightly metallic tang on the nose, the hint of peat on the tongue, the harsh chill of the dark water as it seizes you into it’s unknown depths. The icy nip on the face, the rising ice cream brain under a thin layer of latex, the constant battle to relax and manage my breathing.

I started right at the back and then started to set a steady pace. For a couple of hundred metres all I could see were swim buoys. Then I could see nothing. No other swimmers, no sighting buoys, just sky and the silhouette of the hills with Ben Vorlich looming over my breathing side where the Forth Bridge had sat the week before.

My catering plan was to follow the approach for the Great Scottish Swim by taking a gel, stashed under my goggle strap, at 3.2k and 6.4k.  The plan had some flexibility since we weren’t swimming loops so I was thinking I would stop at the 4k buoy and the 7k buoy.

When swimming in glass-flat, fresh water I normally feel like I am slashing through the water. Cutting a fine line with a swish or maybe a zing, and focussing on perfect hand placement with every stroke so as not to disturb the perfection. But this was different. It wasn’t like that.  The water was still like a mirror but my arms were clattering down on it like the hooves of a clydesdale on a wet cobbled lane. No matter how much I concentrated, my stroke was hard work.

Sighting was confusing. I had worn dark goggles imagining swimming towards the east in the early morning but the glare was already blocked by the high hills on the south side. With a kilometre between markers it was tricky to find a line and other random buoys loomed large and confused me without Father Ted drumming ‘small versus far away’ into me.

I was pretty sure I had passed the 1km buoy at a distance, 2km close by after being shepherded back on course by a kayaker and 3km again at a distance. It definitely felt like 3k swimming had passed – I would feed at the next buoy. Time dragged, I began to doubt myself, I meandered off course again and got another nudge in the right direction. Finally, the 4k buoy.

Goggles up, gel top ripped, swallowed, a gulp of loch water, gel stuffed in neck of wetsuit, quick watch check.

WTAF?

3.1k. Hell. This is odd.

Open water swimming is an odd thing anyway. Swimming the length of a loch is odder still.

Riding a bike you have a bike computer for feedback – cadence, power, heart rate, speed – all building up a picture of what is going on. If you are going slower than expected you are probably riding into a headwind, like it or not if you are going fast you have probably got a tailwind. When you run you have a watch giving constant feedback and lamp posts and pavements and your skin validate that feedback and help colour the picture. But in water you just have hands and arms. Unless a wave is washing over you it is impossible to get a feel for the environmental conditions.

Several years of long distance open water swimming have provided me with the experience to know that even still water has a life of it’s own below the surface. You can barely feel it but there are complex patterns that go on in the depths, fuelled by the weather and temperature and probably by the wakes of ancient loch monsters.

Something was going on in the water.

Sometime after I fed, I bumped into a female swimmer. I am guessing that because she had a pink stripe on her wetsuit. I sat on her toes for a bit and then tried to pass on her right. I couldn’t get past her waist. I dropped back on to her toes. I tried again and went up her left this time so I could sight her, as I breathed right. Again I couldn’t pass. We carried on like this for about a kilometre until a kayaker pointed us back towards the north shore. I could see the 5k buoy so I set a straight line for it.

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Me swimming past Roar. Roar more interested in getting his feet soaked.

As I neared the shore I could see people on the shore then I spotted Ted. I sat up and gave a big wave. Re-starting with a couple of big strokes and settling into a rhythm once I got moving. And then weird water patterns kicked in again – I shot past the pink striped wetsuit that I hadn’t been able to pass like she was standing still.

Somewhere about 6 or 7k I reach for my gel. This was definitely going to take  longer than I had planned for and I needed to keep topped up. It had fallen out. OK. I *REALLY* need to find that feed boat.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Go the hooves on the cobbles. Finally, I see the 8k buoy and it has a kayaker at it. It was Grahame, who I had met at North Queensferry the week before. We had a brief chat and he fed me a handful of jelly babies and pointed me in the right direction.

2k to go. Home straight. Although I knew it wasn’t. Doing some due diligence before the race I knew Loch Earn was 10.5k long, so 2.5k to go.

All I can say about the last 2.5k is that it was 2.8k and it was bloody hard work. I have never felt such slow progress in the water. It got choppy, wild choppy, then subsided. But mainly it was flat, and it was slow.

Finally, I could see high viz vests ahead. I knew the river left the loch there so I expected a pull but it never came. The finish was confusing, as we were advised in the briefing. Jetties a plenty obscuring the view and our slipway was slow in coming. So, so slow.

And then finally, really finally, I could stand up. Four swim marathons done and this was the hardest by miles. I am pretty sure that was exactly what I said to Robert and Kirsten as they met me on the slipway.  Three hours and 16 minutes after they saw me off from the other end.

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I don’t know how to analyse this one because it was so different.

The Great Scottish Swim was short for a 10k and this was long. Adjusting them both to 10k GSS was 2:41 and Loch Earn was 3:01. At GSS I went through 5k at 1:17 and in Loch Earn at 1:26. My 100m averages for my last three swims were GSS 1:37/100, Forth Crossing 1:36/100, Loch Earn 1:49/100.

Boy, that was one badass swim. Pop that one up on the iconic swim list, I say. A challenging, thoroughly enjoyable, bucket list swim.

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I grabbed my bag and got changed and as I stood at the back of the car I saw Andy and John swim in together. Pam ran down and instructed the paramedic to commit Andy to the med tent because “he feels the cold”. Whether he liked it or not Andy was getting a warm up cuddle.

We watched a few more swimmers come in and then headed off for a burger. A very credible burger, as it turned out, at the Four Seasons Hotel. The Four Seasons was the only thing in St Fillans that we could see from the other end. St Fillans wasn’t a foreign country after all.

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After lunch we headed back to race HQ to cheer the last few swimmers home.

Three years ago, when I did my first Vigour event, my first Forth Crossing, I wrote that I was impressed with their organisation and water safety. Now I am impressed by more than that.

As I’ve got to know Kirsten and Robert, and their crowd of like-minded, slightly daft weekend swim companions, it has felt more and more like a big swim family. Each event I do I chat to more people and find more in common with them and enjoy their company and their support.

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David, last swimmer in. Tough as nails,

And that is how the Loch Earn End to End ended for me. Chatting on the jetty with Grahame and Laura, cheering in David, a man I had never met, the last swimmer home. A man who spent six and a half hours in 15c water IN SKINS and looked pretty damn fresh when he got out. Rory splashing about with Ethan. Chatting to Julie about her Mersey crossing and her outrageously flamboyant swimwear.

So much swimming experience, so willingly shared amongst like minded people.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll unapologetically say it again, Vigour run the best swim events that I have done bar none. Many thanks to Robert, Kirsten, and all the volunteers who have kept us safe and kept throwing amazing events at us in 2017.

And that, sadly, is the end of the swim season. I have enjoyed it this year more than any other and I am as excited as the laddy looking down on a glassy loch to see what 2018 brings.

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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.

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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.

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£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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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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At The Risk of Boring You……

Posted on August 29, 2017. Filed under: 10k, great scottish swim, marathon swimming, swimming |

This could be repetitive.  For two reasons.

Firstly, this is the only race that I have done consistently since it launched. The Great Scottish Swim has taken place seven times and I have done it eight of those times.

“Eh?”, you might say. Rightly. Back in it’s old hell swamp of a location it was cancelled twice because of blue-green algae. One of those times, though, I refused to take no for an answer and headed to the hills and did it anyway (gosh, don’t we look so young?) and still got a medal.

So, it is safe to say I am a big fan. And I have blogged about the Great Scottish Swim many, many times and, in a moment of swim tourism, I’ve even blogged about it’s English cousin the Great North Swim.

And secondly, open water swimming doesn’t make for riveting bloggage. If there isn’t a wetsuit malfunction or a federal penitentiary involved there usually isn’t that much to banter about. Even more dully I had entered the 10k, so that is a whole lot of swimming to not have many stories!

Fresh from his bionic upgrade my Thames Marathon swim buddy, Jan, entered the GSS and Team Rasmussen duly arrived on Friday evening. Sharon, who takes physical endeavours considerably more seriously than me as evidenced by her outrageously speedy marathon time, looked as visibly shocked by my acceptance of a first beer as she did by my acceptance of my nth beer several hours later. What can I say? I like a beer the night before I swim. Or wine. Or gin.

Swim time was kinda awkward. 8am at Loch Lomond, an hour and a half away. So we went for a two course breakfast. Porridge on waking up. Coffee for the road. Porridge on arrival. In addition I took a banana to the start.

As we walked down to the Loch to check out the course we bumped into another swim buddy, Bean, who was steadying herself for her first 10k. Some brief nervous chatting and then the three of us went to get changed.

Which turned out to be very disorientating. They only went and moved the change tent this year which confused the bejesus out of me.

When we had finally discovered the errant marquee we chose a spot in the pretty much empty tent. Within seconds I was sweating. Then I noticed my swim cap on the floor was shrivelling up and then I thought my feet had actually melted off. Apparently I had chosen the space where the solar flare of the sun was being pumped in and I was about to spontaneously combust.

We wandered down to the registration area picking Bean back up on the way and then bumping into Andy, my swim run partner. We were like rubber clad pied pipers.

Andy feels the cold and in an effort to combat this he had come dressed as Daffyd in a very tight rubber tank top. If the neoprene didn’t work he’d surely get himself a big ole man cuddle out there.

Robert Hamilton, the race director of the Forth Crossing, came over for a chat and told us the temperature was 15.7c, and tried to encourage the last stragglers to sign up to swim the Forth.

And just as Robert left we had final bants. My shiny new neck protector which was much coveted by strangers was the subject of substantial mockery from my friends. In a tactical change of subject from my rubberised garrotte, I noted that I had gone for a very light tint on my goggles as it was quite dull. Jan and Andy had gone darker. Bean, well Bean was running towards the change marquee. Evidently she had forgotten one of the three things that were required. Bless her when she sees the packing list for Lakesman next year.

And then it was time to acclimatise. I got into the tiny swim area and swam one lap at super slow speed. Then a second pausing at the end to, ahem, heat up the Loch..

As is standard we had some aerobics before the start, trying to do squats and lunges in a wetsuit with all the dexterity of a wrecking ball.  The 10k wave were called forward – Bean and I gave Andy and Jan hugs and well wishes – Keri-Anne Payne gave us some wise words that I forget and honked the horn. WE WERE OFF.

I high 5’d Bean on the slipway and waded to my belly button and then started to swim. Ever so gently. Avoiding the crowd. Avoiding the coldshock.

I went so far to the right that I swam right alongside the Maid of the Loch.

I had a long way to go but a couple of hundred metres in everything felt uncharacteristically perfect. This wasn’t intended to be my “A” race, just a long training session in readiness for Loch Earn. I know my body responds well to high volume just before a long swim and this was perfectly timed to peak at Loch Earn.

Because I was so far right it took me a while to get back on the race line for the anti-clockwise course. At the end of the first straight the turn was congested. Someone on my left hand side kept swimming into me. I enjoy the rough and tumble of open water swimming but some courtesy is required. Twice I moved right and twice the swimmer started hitting into me again. On the third time they got a clear and unequivocal message to swim straight; I didn’t see them again.

Around the top buoy I couldn’t find anything to sight. Only when I was on top of it did I realise that there was an almost totally black Suunto buoy.  I could spot it on subsequent laps but new waves that were introduced had similar buoy blindness.

The remainder of the first lap and the second lap were without incident. At the end of the second lap I tucked behind the buoy, took the gel from under my goggles, swallowed it and shoved the empty wrapper in my wetsuit. A 20 second pitstop. Watch check: 51 minutes for 2 miles.

At this time the next wave was released into the wild. I was swamped by a swarm of 5k and 2 mile swimmers. The next half lap was hard work passing through a thick soup of slower swimmers and breastroke kicks to the face.

After lap 4 (I am saving you a lot of underwater dullness in this summary) I followed the same pit stop routine. Watch check: 1:41 for 4 miles. Holy shit – a faster split than the first one and on track for an outrageous PB.

At the half way buoy on lap 5 the 10k leaders came past me as if I was standing still.

I have a social crisis on lap 5. I haven’t spoken to anyone for 2 hours. I think about dropping into the aid station for a gel. But really just a chat. I immediately HTFU.

Lap 6 feels heavy. I feel heavy. The waves feel heavier. At the turn I start a gentle kick readying my legs for returning to land use.

I exit the course and into the bay with the sun in my eyes. I pause to work out where the hell I am supposed to go.

With so much experience of finish line cramp, I put my feet down as soon as I can and walk in. I feel relatively fresh but under the pressure of gravity I am done.

Jan gets my attention. Or what attention I can summon up. I stumble onwards down the chute.

An man with a camera around his neck and what looks like a pot noodle in his hand approaches me.

“Do you want your picture taken?”

“Eh naaww. I just need to eat”

“The noodles are braw”

A very chirpy lady thrusts steaming noodles into my hand. She was literally my heroine in that moment. A proper super hero.

The kabuto noodles were an amazing addition to the event this year. A burger would make it perfect.  Just sayin.

I lost time in the last two miles taking 55 minutes. Definitely an issue with long endurance.

My final time was 2:36, 5 minutes better than last year’s 2:41. I came 26th (36th last year) overall and 3rd (yaaaaay) in age group (6th last year).

Jan and I then horsed down a giant burger at the Champany Inn.  All in all a good day.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Love of the Lakes (featuring Great North Swim)

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

I am a Highlander at heart.

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

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

But the Highlands are spikey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. I digress.

The Great North Swim.

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

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

What the hell? I was in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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.

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***

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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