It is mid June in Scotland and I had entered my very first race in the UK. The race was to be held at Milarrochy Bay on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, a place I had swam at in the winter. There were three races on the day with a choice of a 1km, a 2km, or a 3km over a 1 km loop. Unlike most of the Australian swims I had done it was not possible to enter more than one race due to the starting times for each race. The 3km was scheduled for 9am, the 2km to start at 9.15am, and the 1km was to start at 9.30 am.
Milarrochy Bay is situated along the West Highland Way Trail which snakes its way from the outskirts of Glasgow up through the highlands to finish at Fort William in the shadows of Ben Nevis. Today there were numerous walkers looking on incredulously at the crazy people having a swim in Loch Lomond. The reason? The water was still a chilling 11.5c despite three days of lovely sun. Summer takes a while to arrive in Scotland, and it does not hang around long when it does.
A map of the West Highland Trail
I had been for a few swims in Loch Lomond with the Wild West Swimmers a social group of people who enjoy the delights of swimming outdoors in Scotland year round, though sometimes I think it is an excuse just to having something to do before having a coffee and cake afterwards to warm up. One of the swims I had done recently was around 2km from Luss on the western shores, out and around Freoch Island and return, a distance of 2km. So I thought I could handle the distance of the 2km, and the cool water.
I had arrived early in the morning to assist with the event preparation to find the clouds had returned, and it was a pleasant 10c air temperature. The midges were out as well, which meant that the wind was light (if the midges go the wind has got up, making the water choppy). Sure enough as we placed the buoys around the course the wind was light and offshore, and the forecast was for it to stay that way most of the morning. It looked like a lovely day for a swim.
A view of the course
The course was a 1km rectangle swimming downwind on the way out, and back into the wind on the return leg. Though by the time the races started, the wind had dropped making the conditions even better for swimming. The entry into the water was via a beach of pebbles and rocks with an in-water start, with the finish line at the same place. So different from all those swims in Australia where we would run down the sand, go through the waves, out the back for a loop, and then finish through the waves zone for a sprint up the beach. Some other differences of this event included no risk of sunburn, no wee beasties in the water, no tides, and cold water. Sounds easy.
swimmers in the 3km event wait for the start
Before long it was time for the swimmers in the 2km event to enter the water. I entered gingerly in my wetsuit, gloves, boots and skullcap to ward off the effects of the 11.5c water. There was that no familiar trickle of cold water in the small of the back, and the shock of the face hitting the water. I had become familiar with this over the last six months, though I was still not used to it. I had learnt about the effect of this cold water shock on the body doing various courses recently to obtain qualifications to coach open water swimming, and manage water based activities.
The siren sounded, and I settled into my stroke and even managed to get some drag from some of the others around me. Before long though my body was yelling abuse at me for subjecting it to all this activity and asking why we were in the middle of a cold Scottish loch on a cool Saturday summer morning. In response my mind reacted by telling the body to shut up and focus on getting the rest of us out of there as soon as possible. Good idea, but the lack of training over the last 12 months soon became evident, as I could not keep up with the pack, so I concentrated on trying to improve my form, and watch the countryside drift by. I was very tempted to only do one of the two laps, but I did not want to have a did not finish next to my name and ruin a 100% record.
I did manage to finish, and even enjoyed looking at the fish on the bottom, and even caught several swimmers doing the 1km event. My lack of pool training was evident, so I will have to get back into doing the laps and getting that fitness back.
Hopefully this link works, as it is a YouTube of the event, with an aussie accent finding its way onto the video amongst all those Scottish ones.
It was great to see so many smiling faces of the swimmers as they finished, and I shared their views. It was a lovely swim, my first in the UK, my first in water so cold, and my first event for 15 months or so. It was good to be back doing what I enjoy so much, and it was good to be the first Australian finisher for a change.
Next challenge….what about the 12.5km event in September….mmm