The Forth swim on Sunday was a great success, but don't take our word for it, have a read below......
If you fancy entering entering for 2018 after you read then click HERE.
One Came Second In Third Forth Crossing by Dougie Cameron
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The proper Queensferry crossing
By Andrew Ferguson
I’ll be honest I was a wee bit disappointed to not get tickets to walk over the Queensferry crossing, I’ve spent a significant amount of time training in and around the bridges in the past few years enjoying the emergence of this pretty new bridge as I run and cycle my local area. I was able to console myself knowing that for the third year in a row I would be taking part in the Forth crossing swim from south queensferry to north organised Vigour Events.
It really is a magnificent place to swim and a true honour to have the unique water level view of the Rail bridge looming large above you as the thrash of dozens of swimmers is heard all around you.
This year my goal was top 10,a stretching tough goal with 122 entrants and I couldn’t be sure how well I’d fare. My swimming has been improving in the build to my “A” race of the year a 10k along the length of Loch Earn (again run by vigour, I promise I’m not being paid for this blog!).
I picked up Dougie and we drove down to the Albert Hotel, check in was the usual slick affair (name check, hat, tattoos, fancy bag), Less tattoos to mess about with was a good thing and we headed outside to sort our kit and watch the crowds arrive.
There was a lot more waiting time due to potential delays caused by the Queensferry crossing events but I felt that it was well managed, we headed across the bridge with the usual great camaraderie between swimmers. I wandered down to the slipway and chatted to some kayakers. Dougie joined me once his bus was across and we sat around in the sun enjoying the wait. With start time approaching experienced swimmer and forth crosser Dougie noted two amusing gaps…one that his see swim floatation and visibility device was broken, and two he had left his swim cap at the hotel. I sat around amused whilst he sorted the see swim and was threatened with a sharpie to the forehead to replace his cap.
Robert ran his usual briefing from the steps of the slipway, told us where the finish was and where we should aim initially to get the most from the tides. After that we were all checked in to the holding area at the end of the slipway. I made sure to get wet, the first of the bunch to do so and was pleasantly surprised at how mild the water felt. With 10 minutes to go I had to go back again as the sun was splitting the sky and I was scorching hot in my wetsuit! Cue the usual massive ship passing just before the channel closes to boats.
5 minutes, we line up I make sure and stand at the front, a quick fist bump with Dougie and “have a good race” exchanged. “give it loads Dougie” I said, I hoped he would have the race he is capable of with his swimming strength. Robert introduces a few notables from the crowd in his imitable way and the atmosphere is brilliant. The rail bridge looming large to our right. 30 seconds, then the count down… I take off, part competitive, part wanting to be able to say I was leading for a moment! A few folks have come with me on my right and I’m off swimming. Immediately calm and happy. It feels good and I hear the unique noise of a swim start, the churning mass of swimmers. I sight on the tower at the end of the pier and am already being pulled left, although I wanted to swim to the right of it I decide quickly that isn’t going to happen and I don’t want to get boxed against the concrete structure. I see the top of the harbour wall under me and swim on. For the next few minutes I power on, feeling good thinking about the current or wind that I’m feeling I decide to not drift as far left, but to maintain my line towards the sighting point on the hillside. I hope that the tide will bring me back later on having remembered that the river flow on the second half pulled so many people away last year.
1000m in I take a glance at my watch and am surprised to see sun 1:30/100 pace. I’m a decent swimmer but don’t normally pull that kind of speed…there is definitely water movement!
Around this point I take the time to enjoy the unique view of the rail bridge from water level, a historic structure and icon of Scotland. This is such a cool event! Not long after I can see over my left shoulder people way out to the left, probably folks being pulled away not knowing that there was more inward flow than expected.
I feel someone come past me on my right and recognise the suit, style and feet of my Swimrun partner, Dougie. We’ve spent a lot of time in close proximity in the water this year but it’s still funny to happen upon him like this in the middle of the forth. I have also spent a good chunk of time learning how to draft him so dig in and try my best to take a tow for a while.
I trust Dougie at sighting (despite an amusing incident in training a few months earlier where I followed him a full 500m off line! Though that may have been just about adding some much needed distance to my training!) so I stop sighting for a while and concentrate on getting my chin in, when I do next sight I’m slightly alarmed to note that a rogue yacht seems to be on collision course 100m or so in front of us. I watch it for the next minute or so and it passes to our right, that was a wee bit alarming!
My watch buzzes 1500m passed and I feel someone on my toes, it’s a pink hatted skins swimmer, he swings past me and way out to my left holding position with where I am. The land seems to take so long to appear at this point and as I sight to my right I’m aware of the lead kayak being nearby, for the folks way off to my left I assume as I work through the strokes and work hard to stay with Dougie.
With a 200 or so to go Dougie and the Pink hatted swimmer seem to converge and I start to lose Dougie, he’s upped his cadence and is racing the Skins swimmer. I stick close but have dropped off the back.
We get to the pier and there’s a huge crowd noise, a piper and as I glance behind me no one close…1.95k in 31:53…I can see Dougie ahead about to cross the line and I’m able to smile and walk it in, there doesn’t seem to be many folks in front either…strange…a hand shake from Robert (this is a brilliant touch to have the race director welcome you to the finish like that) and I see Dougie at the line…”Did you finish second?” I ask, what I’m really thinking is “did I just bloody well catch a podium?! 3rd. Actual 3rd bloody place.
Oh man that was a lot of fun and let’s be honest it’s the real Queensferry crossing! The Sherpa crew are going mental. Dougie came 2nd and I’m just in behind him, handshakes from him and the winner, this is not the end of the field I’m used to but it feels great to be here! It’s the look on Tara and Pam’s faces that sticks with me, pleased shocked looks, they dont expect me to be here.
What I love about this event is the atmosphere as people all mill around and cheer in the other swimmers, I do the same and I’m amazed to look back now to see so many swimmers way off course. Some are almost under the forth road bridge, I guess the current, the wind and the river flow is very different to last year then!
Vigour events do a lot of great looking swims but there’s something special about this one, to cross that channel that I spend so much time driving over is a pure adventure and I love it.
PS my progression over the past few years has been good but I wonder if I should be retiring on a high!: The route I took: