I can’t say specifically at what point a decision to swim a 10k marathon became a reasonable thought but it has loomed large on the horizon of my event season since I signed up on the 31st December 2016.
Marathon swimming is a class of open water swimming, defined by long distances (at least 10 kilometers). Unlike marathon foot-races which have a specifically defined distance, marathon swims vary in distance. However, one commonly used minimum definition is 10 kilometers, the distance of the marathon swimming event at the Olympic Games As in all open water swimming, tides, surface currents and wind-chop are major determinants of finish-times. For a given course, these factors can vary dramatically from day to day, making any attempt to draw conclusions about athletic ability by comparing finish times from performances undertaken on different days meaningless.
Swimming has been my biggest development area in the past two years. I’ve come a long way since that first pool swim in 2015 when I realised I couldn’t swim one length front crawl without choking and spluttering.
Education and effort leads me where i am today, a confident and capable swimmer. Why though, would I take on such an event?
Well I figure that having covered a marathon at the end of Bolton in a surprisingly sprightly 4Hr 13 and having cycled many 112mile+ cycles that the gap in my résumé was the marathon swim. Simples, I thought on New years Eve of last year.
The build up has been good, plenty of steady miles in the pool and at the local outdoor session in Loch Ore(more than 200K in the past year in fact). This was culminating in a surprising result at last weekends Forth swim. So I entered this event feeling confident though I had never swum further than 6k in a single session and no more than 8k in a day.
I’d signed up to swim the event with my fellow endurance friend John and was happy to have my Lochore and Swimrun buddy Dougie also signed up for the event.
The day before was a good day to recce the event with a cycle round the loch we would plan to bisect the next day. Sobering to go around it but I was pleased to be able to see the far end from the start!
Up at a very decent 0630, John and I settled into our porridge and coffee in our chalet overlooking the loch, quietly set about our final kit prep and then drove the length of the loch to the start line for registration. Vigour run events really well, no hanging about and after some fun spraying the car around a boggy field we registered and caught up with many familiar faces.
The safety briefing was very comprehensive and put the fear into me a bit, Robert went through many of the warning signs of Hypothermia which was a real risk when you are going to spend many hours submerged in 14.9 degree temperatures.
I changed my kit plans at that moment and decided to swim with the gloves given how I usually feel the cold quite badly on a swim.
We watched wave 1 – the green hats – depart, John and I noted one swimmer starting out breast stroke, they must be settling in their breathing we thought and did our final checks in the 45 mins we had to wait until our wave started.
Standing at the beach on the west end of Loch Earn and the view was stunning. Still conditions bright and sunny…the weather was with us!
10 minutes to go, I put my second swim hat on and promptly ripped it…crap…that’s was all about keeping my head extra warm…ah well…Kirsten gives us some nice chat and I feel fine about it.
Get wet, “warm” the suit…control the breathing. 5 minutes. Fist bump with Dougie. Fist bump with JD. Watch on. 3,2,1…the familiar churn and splash of multiple swimmers.
The excellent footage from the start courtesy of Vigour:
And we are swimming, I’ll spare you the details as it’s a long way but the first 2.5k passed very quickly, John and I fell into a rhythm of staying close, taking turns at the front and making progress. I look at my watch and the first quarter has passed at 1:41/100 pace. We pass the green hatted breast stroke swimmer at this point and I feel bad, it could be a long day in the water for that person and I hope that they finish.
The only memory I have after this point before the feed stop is feeling a huge oscillation at around 4k and 85 mins into the race, it’s not a boat, it feels like I’m in an earthquake within the loch…a very strange sensation. Around 5k I start to look for the feed boat, nope. Nothing….oh well, keep moving watch the trees hills and scenery pass.
Finally at 6k+ I see the feedboat and we stop for a couple of jelly babies and a cup of warm electrolyte. I take in the view properly here. Wow stunning. Very good it is and a big thank you to the boat crew. A quick check with John and we head off. Only an Iron swim to go!
I was waiting for the next feed stop to arrive at 7.5k but couldn’t see it and at this stage a rib pulls up next to me and tells me to aim for the orange buoy (not the yellow one I was aiming at!), and a strange traverse across the loch starts. By the time I pass this buoy my watch tells me I’m at 8.2k, beyond my furthest ever swim! I am fully ready for this swim to be over at this point.
1.8k to go…or so I hoped
As my watch approached 10k I could see we were still a long way off the finish, and at this point cold was starting to set in. My right hand is cold and technique is slipping as fatigue kicks in. I feel like I’m being pulled left with my feet and right with my arms…Roberts words ring in my ears – “if you start swimming off in circles you might have hypothermia and you need to get out”…damn it, do I have hypothermia? I feel fine, I feel like I’m thinking straight…john is shouting at me now…I can’t hear him, maybe I am losing it, I’m having a wee panic…concentrate Andrew…”what are nine nines” is what John is saying…oh easy. “81”. I’m fine…
I swim on but still feel like the top and bottom halves of my body aren’t really coordinating…I stop again, now I realise my right foot is numb and my right arm is pulling hard to the right, that’s causing me to swim in a weird left right uncoordinated fashion…good, definitely not hypothermic, lets get this done.
A safety boat comes to check us out and tells us that its 400m to the finish, it looks further but I’m just following John in now, stroke by stroke as smooth as I can…it can’t look very good but it’s progress. Finally and gloriously I see high vis jackets and for the first time in many hours, the bottom of the loch. I bring my feet to the ground, struggle to balance and have done it…11.007km in 3hrs 28…brutal.
A handshake from Robert and a fairly direct “Get in that tent now”, I’m not entirely sure what he means and then a paramedic bundles a sleeping bag over my head and eyes telling me to walk…”I can’t see though” I say to him and he leads me into the paramedic tent before I know what’s hit me…again, I feel fine but the situation leads me to start to wonder if I’m not! He starts asking me questions about myself and I feel like I’m one wrong question from a heli evac! But I can’t hear. I get the earplugs out and all is good! By this point the excitable paramedic (who was brilliant) has bundled someone else into the tent who also seems fine to me and we share the space getting dressed. With my clothes on I feel more than fine, I feel elated, I just swam the length of Loch Earn.
I get out and Pam tells me that she had told the paramedic I often feel the cold after just 3k, that’s why I was immediately bundled into the tent.
Outside to see the others, handshakes and hugs in the sun, we debate distance and currents, the times seem to have been felt and affected others too but WE DID IT! (9th, 12th and 13th! Not that i was aiming to do anything other than complete this most serious of swim events!)
Thank you Robert, Kirsten and all the volunteers/safety crew. You put on an amazing show in a stunning location.
The film of the rest of my ‘relaxing’ weekend
Total Immersion Sessions
Our weekly Hamilton College sessions will start back Monday 23rd October at Hamilton College. Click here for more details.
We also have Total Immersion Workshops running in November. Click here for details.
Summer Swim Sessions
The last summer swim session will be on Thursday 28th September at Pilmuir Quarry.