An Unexpected Incentive

Incentive to swim can come from the most unexpected source.

I’m sorry to say that I had lost all enthusiasm for swimming in any shape or form after a couple of big swims in August 2016 when I was simultaneously dealing with some rather difficult family concerns. It’ll come back I assumed, but time went on, the passion didn’t reignite, my winter cough returned and I pretty much excused myself from all open water swimming (and pool swimming) claiming illness.

I organised the successful Loch Ness Vampire Swim and watched the fun from the shore. More time passed and I found myself increasingly happy to look on, joining the winter swimmers for their post swim coffees and in no way missing the cold water swim endorphin rush or post-swim shivers. I began to seriously consider myself as retired. I cancelled my spring slot for Gibraltar, avoided entering any winter swim events (although I did complete a long-standing entry at Chillswim in December), and made no fixed plans for another big swim. I was devoid of desire to swim anywhere or anytime, content to be a bystander and towel holder.

And so it was on the morning of Saturday 25 February 2017. Another blustery cold winter saturday morning on the shores of Loch Ness watching swimmers squeal and grimace as they entered the cold wavy waters only to exit with wide grins and excited chatter. I was there to watch and greet them as they exited, reminding them to get changed quickly and not stand about, joining them in the pub around the warming log fire for post-swim hot drinks and cake. I witnessed their recoveries, listened to the stories about the morning’s experience, their fun in the waves, the complaints about lack of feeling in hands and feet, their plans for the week and year ahead; and I felt a little distant from this group of Wild Highlander swimmers that has been a huge part of my life for the past 5 years or so. I looked inside me and just couldn’t feel any desire to restart swimming. Some of the group voiced their concerns about my lack of immersion for so long, some understood that maybe I wasn’t in the right place, others just wondered if I was still unwell. I had no answers.

But then came the incentive. An unexpected phone call, five years after the previous communication from NBC (see

That one phone call saw me hit the water the very next day to see if I really could still swim and to test my cold tolerance following the fairly substantial lay-off (thanks for the company Pat). And then I swam again later in the week in front of the NBC cameras for a lighthearted piece on Nessie.

The incentive? An opportunity to earn a few quid donation to a small support charity that has been helping my family since last summer. I am grateful for the opportunity to earn a few pounds for the charity but also for the push I needed to swim again in cold water. The swims brought a smile to my face and a bounce in my step I thought had gone. The simple joy derived from open water swimming is still there. And, amazingly, I remain cold tolerant.

To view the short, cheesy clip you’ll find me about 1:50 into the 4 minute piece after the 15 second advert.

I’m still not sure how much swimming I will do this year…but perhaps I have not retired completely.

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Discovering the joys of a 50m pool

Anyone else struggle with pool swimming?  I love the open water, the wide variety of choice of lochs, rivers and sea we have here in the North of Scotland and I love the Wild Highlanders social and adventure swims.  I also love training for (and completing) the long distance swims I have begun to focus on.

To date my really big swims have been towards the end of the main UK swim season (some call it summer) and I have had the luxury of swimming in various events to build up experience, distance and endurance.  My training has been 100% open water from April to October.  Usually I spend the winters dipping and playing in open water with a little pool training just to keep ticking over.  This year its different as I’m training for a long swim in June, with a charity 24-miles-in-24-hours swim in May as part of the preparations.  It does mean that this year the pool has become an essential place for some serious distance training.

However, as I have moved more and more to open water swimming I have grown to resent some aspects of pool swimming.  I find my local public swimming pool overly hot, overly crowded, with poorly regulated lanes and largely unavailable for continuous lane swimming of more than one hour of an evening.  Saying that, it does provide a facility of sorts for winter training.

Unfortunately I have been ill since the start of the year with a chest infection that has kept me out of the water for weeks and left me tired and lethargic.  Swim totals for the first three months of this year are: January 8 km, February 3km, March 6.8km – all of which were a bit of a struggle.  My last open water swim was the 1km event at Chillswim Windermere on 1 Feb.  Then, just as I’m feeling ready to return to full on training, the only public training pool in Inverness closes due to poor maintenance leading to rotten beams and a high risk of a window falling in on the users.

But I am determined to catch up my training and get to the start line in sufficient shape to be in the swim.  This week I found a pool which left me singing with happiness (What? Yes, Really!) and looking forward to a return visit.  Unfortunately it involves a 7 hour round trip.

Suva flag visits the Commie

Suva flag visits the Commie

While working in Edinburgh for a few days in late March I discovered the Royal Commonwealth pool.  OK, so its marked on a map and has been around for about 40 years, I mean I just swam there for the first time.  It’s a recently renovated clean and airy 50m pool which has public lanes open for 50m lane swimming most days all day from 0530 to 2130.  Unbelievably it is also fairly quiet.  Six people in a wide and deep 50m lane is an entirely different crowding to 6 people in a shallow and narrow 25m lane.  Swimming could be continuous and not constantly interrupted.  On the first evening, after work, I swam 2 x 1km.  It was an effort, mental and physical.  The following night I returned and went for 2 x 1 mile with just a few minutes break to acknowledge the mile complete and the mile yet to be.  The first mile felt good and I was pretty tired after the second, but I felt alive again, I had been able to reach that happy mental state where I can enjoy the feel of the water and the catch of each stroke and just swim and swim and swim.  Time to head home, but I had finally found a pool I can train in, properly train in. I’m in love with the Commie!

So, Easter weekend, just a week after the work trip, I waved the family off to my in-laws and again set out for Edinburgh.  I had set myself a challenge, 5 x 1 mile the first evening followed by a 2 x 1 mile swim the following morning.  I needed to do this.  It would set a marker for me to work from (no, I don’t have a coach, I just make it up as I go along).  Checking into the hotel was a pretty awful customer experience (I definitely do not recommend the Northumberland Hotel near the Cameron Toll centre) so I was glad enough to leave and head to the pool.  First few lengths, as always, were a head game but I settled into it.  I took a few minutes rest after each mile and an extra 20 minute rest after mile 3 to go eat a banana and change costume – replicating the swim break I am likely to have between each mile during the 24 hour event.  It took a bit of the old head games to get back in and commence mile 4, but once swimming and over the first few lengths refocusing mind and body I was again fine.  During mile 5 I toyed with the idea of a sixth mile as I had pool time available (wow, just wow! there is no time EVER that I could swim for 3 or 4 straight hours in the Inverness pool). However, my lack of training in the year to date was showing and as my shoulders and upper arms were beginning to creak a bit I decided that sense should prevail.  Banking 5 miles in an evening was a huge step forward.  If I made it back in the morning I would be in a good place.

Sat on the bed at 0530 my head and upper body were screaming at me to lie down again and go back to sleep.  I didn’t listen though and set off to the pool where I soon loosened up again.  I not only swam the planned two miles, but began a third without much conscious effort.  My stroke felt strong and consistent and I was loving every minute.  The miles were very consistent, a few minutes slower than where I have been, but every one of the 8 miles came home within a minute of the others.  #ThisGirlCanStillSwim

I am so looking forward to warmer open waters at a temperature I can swim for hours and hours.  Although I love the cold water and ice water swims, at around 5C the local lochs are currently too cold to use for any meaningful distance training .  So, for now, it seems I will be making regular trips to the pool in Edinburgh, a mere 7 hour return trip from home.  I am hugely grateful to my very tolerant husband and children.


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BLDSA Torbay July 2014

What a fab event! I’m talking about the BLDSA Torbay swim, an 8-mile sea swim across Tor Bay, from Torquay to Brixham and back. It’s a long way from Inverness to Torquay but this swim turned out to be well worth the effort of making the journey.

A late window of opportunity allowed me to travel from Inverness to enter the event held on 6 July 2014. Through the winter and spring my training had not been progressing particularly well and my motivation was low despite having some long swims planned for late summer and autumn. I needed a good strong swim challenge to test my shoulders, challenge my commitment and to focus my head. The Torbay swim is a good distance and known to offer challenging conditions, which are great preparation for any big swim. It is also an attractive event as kayakers are resourced by the organiser which removes the headache of finding your own kayak support.

Entering just before the deadline I was warned that kayakers are allocated to swimmers in order of entry form receipt and the later entries would be the ones missing out should kayaker numbers be down. This did worry me a little since I had already paid for my flights and car hire just to get there, but I was philosophical about the risk and put my faith in the organiser to ensure sufficient kayakers would be provided.

It was a nervous group of would-be swimmers who began to gather at the Meadfoot Beach Cafe and look out across the unsettled sea. Those of us further down the list would have to wait and see if the kayakers turned out as promised. The sea conditions were borderline after high winds the day before and none of us wanted to be told we would be swimming a reduced distance circuit rather than crossing the bay.

As registration progressed it became clear that the local kayakers had turned out in force to support the swim. And what a fantastic group of folk they were. Registration proceeded like clockwork and by 9.30am all 18 swimmers and kayakers had registered and were getting to know each other. There were even a few extra kayakers who would act as additional support. My assigned kayaker was Tim and he immediately put me at ease. The early discussion about experience and support needs quickly turned into an easy banter. The sun shone, the sea calmed a little, it was confirmed we would be crossing the bay and I actually started to relax a little and look forward to the swim. The swimmers really appreciate the kayaker support that allows us to complete the end-to-end swims while it seems that the kayakers are in awe of what we swimmers do. Safety is taken seriously and a number of RIBs are also on the water. All swimmers and kayakers are logged in and out. The swimmer is marked with a number corresponding to a bib worn by the kayaker.

The in-water start allowed for the use of footwear to enter over the sharp stones. Once removed footwear was handed to kayakers or thrown back to beach supporters, we lined up and then we were off. The early part of my swim progressed easily. I felt strong and was enjoying the feel of the water, working out the wave patterns and trying to make the most of my stroke. I had worn my watch, a mistake possibly, but there was mention of a half-way cut-off time and I wanted to make sure I was not unceremoniously hauled from the water before completing what I came to do.

Ninety minutes into the swim and I stopped for a feed. I had loaded my kayaker with bottles and a few solids and meds – just in case. Overkill of course, but it helped me to know it was there if required. Tim told me he thought I was about two thirds of the way across. My mind calculated and recalculated my likely time at the turn buoy. Based on Tim’s information I should be comfortably inside the time but I didn’t want to relax too much.

Setting off again I found myself working harder, Tim was disappearing behind the waves at times and the Brixham coastline didn’t appear to be getting any closer. Time was ticking on. Gradually, very gradually, we finally seemed to be hauling it in. I checked my watch…another 45 mins had passed. This was going to be a close one. On schedule Tim offered my next feed. I declined, aware of the time constraint and not feeling a great need to feed I indicated I would wait until after the turn buoy.

It felt like a long slog to get there, but once I was sure I would get in before time I relaxed a bit. Watching and time checking swimmers as they reached the turn was a friendly smiley volunteer who waved an acknowledgement. While at the buoy I was able to look back and note a couple of swimmers still on their way so I said to Tim I would take a feed once clear of the buoy and off we set on the return journey. Now I started to feel hungry, really hungry and I started to will Tim to stop paddling and offer me a bottle. Come on Tim, please stop, I’m ready for a stop now!  Eventually I just stopped swimming and shouted to Tim that I was ready to take a feed. In reality it probably wasn’t long after the turn, but it sure felt like it.

The wind had definitely picked up and Tim was watching the other swimmers and kayakers taking a wide return route, blown off the straight line course. I listened to him telling me this and hoped he would be able to compensate. I was swimming fine, but had no wish for a longer swim than required. After almost four hours of swimming I started to feel my shoulders tightening. I still had a long way to go. Time to dig deep and put my mind into the place where I become unaware of the minutes and the swimming just happens.

Time passed, I was still swimming. I tried not to look forward, it was tough enough keeping track of the kayak next to me as it disappeared behind the waves from time to time. The safety boats began to visit with more frequency which tells me fewer swimmers are in the water, most will have completed and be dressed by now. More time passes and I am still swimming, but finally the hotel and beach markers of the finish line begin to take on some definition. I am aware we are approaching from the south more than the west. I guess even Tim found himself taking the banana route back to Torquay.

I am increasingly aware of the work my shoulders are doing, but now I can see my target I up the turnover and focus on making that finish line. It feels like a rip tide is trying to pull me away from the beach. Where is that green finish buoy. Where is it? Come on, where is the darned thing?! I begin to see figures on the beach, not yet recognising who they are, but it means I am making progress. I check my watch. I am going to finish in the time limit. Relief. Finally I spy the small green finish buoy. It had been hiding behind the big orange sighting buoy. Stroking out I focused on getting there, now ignoring my kayaker, people on the beach and anything else around me, giving all my attention to the flash of green and finishing the swim.

There were people clapping my finish and waiting to assist me over the stones and onto the beach. The BLDSA are great at recognising every individuals achievement, from the fastest to the slowest. Speed is not the most important aspect here. At 5hrs 30 mins I was within the 6hrs30 time limit. It was good to see that all swimmers were allowed to complete their swims, even those who did not make cut-off times.

I felt the swim well and truly tested my determination and ability. Mission accomplished. While I had felt the lack of training in the latter stages of the swim, it gave me real confidence to continue with my plans. Thanks BLDSA. Great organisation, great support, great swim.

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Solstice weekend

Sixteen Wild Highlanders and a couple of young wannabes took to the water in a calm Loch Morlich for an evening swim on solstice day, Saturday 21 June, followed up by a very social BBQ with only a minor disturbance caused by the few midges who gatecrashed the event.  Finally, with full tummies and sleepy eyes we all retired to our tents/camper vans.

After a short while in sleeping bags, initially being serenaded until 1.30am by the very loud music from a beach party, then by the patter of rain on the tent, the clock said 3.45am and it was time to rise for our Solstice+24hrs dawn swim.  The sun was about, but hidden above the clouds which shrouded the Cairngorms that morning.  Three hardy souls (Pat, Roy and Helen) appeared and took to the water at 4am for a rather shorter swim than the previous evening.  The water temperature had definitely dropped overnight.  Brrr.  Back into the sleeping bag.  Night all. 🙂

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Winter Swimming with Harris Tweed

Douglas Tweedos 1 Douglas Tweedos 2 Douglas Tweedos 3

The Wild Highlanders are still out and about swimming in the rapidly cooling waters of the Highlands.  Loch Ness is around 6C now, but about 14 swimmers braved the waters on Saturday morning, several of us without wetsuits, and all enjoyed the waves although perhaps not the biting wind which took the air temperature down well below zero.

It was a bit of a special swim due to the appearance of the Harris Tweed man.  Douglas is part of the team seeking to swim from Harris to St Kilda for charity in the summer of 2014 ( ).  A fundraising calendar is being developed and hence the Harris Tweed shots.  A cap and jacket are all fairly normal items of Harris Tweed attire, but worn with Harris Tweed speedos?

What an experience it was watching Douglas stride purposefully into the frigid waters wearing nothing more than these very special Tweedos and then pose for photos.  Bear in mind that Douglas is normally a man of neoprene, at least two layers of the stuff.

We know how to have fun in the Highlands 🙂

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English Channel success

image                  Mid Channel competition

Delighted to confirm that, on 6/7 October 2013, this Wild Highlander successfully swam the English Channel in 19hrs 27mins.  An amazing experience as part of an amazing team.  Huge thanks to my pilot Neil Streeter, co-pilot Sam Jones, swim support team Kate Robarts and Ruth Beaver, and CS&PF observer John Thorpe.  Never to be forgotton.

It already seems like a rather lovely dream although definitely one that will be with me forever.  I hope to update this blog sometime before the end of 2013 with a full report on my swim and on my adventures as a ‘Hippy Chick’ while waiting for a weather window.

I am still raising money for Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland.  Please consider donating to the charity in support of my efforts.  Thank you to everyone who has already donated, you are amazing people.

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Ready to ride the EC rollercoaster

Swimmers Beach, Dover Harbour

Swimmers Beach, Dover Harbour

Sometime in the coming week or two I am due to attempt a solo swim across the English Channel.  Already I am fielding lots of questions such as “When will you swim?” and “Why can’t you be specific about the date?”.  Experience helps me cope.  I am used to it now.  I am ready to ride the rollercoaster that is English Channel swim waiting.

Last year I found it difficult to get my head around the waiting system in place for EC swims.  One day you are the next to swim, the following day you may have dropped to number 6 in the queue.

A year ago I was waiting for a relay attempt which was due to go early in September, but we were told the weather was not good enough (despite that being the weekend Trent Grimsey succeeded in breaking the world record for being the quickest swimmer to swim from England to France). The relay finally happened on 28 June 2013 and the Aspire Turtles  successfully crossed the Channel in 13hrs 52mins.  Even then we had a few days waiting for the weather to allow us to swim.  It is hard to describe the frustration of waiting to swim, still fresh in my mind even after a year, but I have adjusted my thinking a little to accommodate this.  If the opportunity is lost due to weather then the swim will be next year.  I am so ready to swim right now though.

I have work organised and flexible accommodation ready.  My training is complete and I have sorted places to swim to keep my arms turning over while I am waiting.

The Mallorca long distance swim training week I attended in April this year was a revelation.  It seriously challenged my personal expectations.  My goal for 2013 was to swim one length of Windermere (10.5 miles) and I had hoped to discover if I had the potential to develop my swimming to serious channel contender status within five years.  Three weeks after completing the training week I was offered the chance to swim within five months – and I grabbed it.  In August I changed my 1-way Windermere to a 2-way Windermere and completed that in 14hrs 20mins.  Now here I am, at the end of my short summer of training and definitely ready to take on the Everest of marathon swimming.  It has been huge fun getting here.  I have met amazing people and swum in spectacular locations.

Only one problem. I dislike salt water swimming!

I am raising money for Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland.  Please consider donating to the charity in support of my efforts.

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American swimmer baits Nessie

Today the Wild Highlanders met Gary Walters and John Raboin from Brianerd, Minnesota USA who are in the area for a whacky challenge.  Gary is here to swim across Loch Ness while John tries to entice the Loch Ness monster, our Nessie, to come and taste the brave American – all in the name of charity of course.

Gary has a facebook page titled ‘Walters Wacky Adventures’ and snippets of film, photos and text tell the expedition story.  He is raising awareness and money for Kinship Partners ( who run a youth mentoring programme in his home area and he has undertaken a number of very impressive physical challenges over the past 10 years.

Sadly the weather has not been kind and high winds have created significant waves on the loch which are delaying Gary’s big swim.  However, Gary was courageous enough to swim with us this morning during our regular 10am Saturday morning swim from Dores beach.  We made up a group of at least 16 swimmers, a mix of ages and abilities, wetsuited and non-wetsuited: Karen, Pat, Di, Laura, Douglas, Frances, Sandra, Fiona, Jen, Helen, Martin, Jonathan, Ruth, Hilary, Helen B and Gary (apologies if I have forgotton anyone!) who all enjoyed the waves.  The Wild Highlanders can be found in Loch Ness all year round and enjoy the variable conditions we experience.  I’m hoping we will be able to further assist Gary and John to complete their quest before they have to return to the USA.

During our usual post-swim coffee and cakes at the Dores Inn we tossed around some ideas to get this swim done and hope to have some positive news soon.  In the meanwhile – many thanks to John and Gary for picking up the tab for the drinks and cakes. What an absolute treat.  You are a fantastic pair of gentlemen and the Wild Highlanders wish you evey success for the swim and fundraising.

Of course we all know that Nessie is a vegetarian so Gary will be safe enough even if she decides to delight him with an appearance.

Wild Highlanders with Gary Walters 31 August 2013 John Raboin and Gary Walters in Dores Inn with Wild Highlanders 31 August 2013


Gary completed his Walters Wacky Challenge for 2013 by successfully swimming the width of Loch Ness, twice!, on the first of September.  John accompanied Gary in a kayak with Ian and Martin providing the safety support. I was honoured to accompany Gary in the water. Conditions were wavy but Gary coped well, even surviving a brush with an unknown and unseen creature below the surface, and deserves his success.




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Just for the sheer pleasure of it

No photos to share, but the beauty, peace and pleasure of my swim in Loch Moy yesterday with Morag, another Wild Highlander, is etched in my mind.  We swam for the sheer pleasure of swimming and exploring outdoors.

The loch is surrounded by woodland and we had a short walk through the trees to reach the shore. The sound of the nearby A9 trunk road was still audible but soon was lost to us as we entered the silky smooth water and stroked towards the islands and Moy Hall.  As with many of the Highland lochs, the waters are a deep peaty black and made our arms appear ghostly white despite being fairly tanned from the recent weeks of strong sun and outdoor swims.  The swim comprised some stretches of sustained front crawl interspersed with some chatty breaststroke and some freestyle twirls to take in the scenery and just delight in the feel of the warm water and the sun on our backs.

Loch Moy has an interesting history (information from the Gazetteer for Scotland) as the main island in the centre of the loch was once inhabited by the chiefs of clan Mackintosh and is said to have had a castle dating from around 1337 and inhabited until 1665.  The island is also reputed to have had a garrison of 400 men and been witness to several clan battles in the area (hard to believe such a small island, about 3-400m in length and less in width, could accommodate such a population).  The ruins of the castle are apparently still to be found although Morag and I saw no sign of any ruins, not roads nor buildings nor castle, that are supposed to be present during our sojourn onto the island to visit the obelisk.

The obelisk, a 70ft high needle-like construction of granite block in the centre of the island, was reputedly erected in 1824 in honour of Sir Aeneas Mackintosh, the 23rd clan chief who died in 1820. The two of us, having worn wetshoes to protect our feet from the stones when entering/exiting the loch, were able to navigate the vegetation of the island and walk around the obelisk.  A brass plaque is to be found high up on one side of the structure, but the script is too small to be read from the ground.  A tree sprouts from the highest point of the structure and another tree seems to have gained a root hold a few metres above ground level.  Both are visibly forcing the granite blocks apart and decay is inevitable.  We saw no signs of the deer resident on the island, but there was plenty of long vegetation and trees for them to hide within.  We largely avoided the nettles, but each caught a sting on the legs as we returned down the bank to the water.  I then yelped as my feet sank into some deep soft sediment and I was forced to flop forwards to escape.  It all added to sense of the adventure.

I mentioned islands, plural.  The second island, maybe 100m from the main island, is a clutch of boulders about 3m across and jutting barely a couple of feet clear of the water.  Apparently this island was used as a prison with the captive being chained to a stone in the centre. A gallows reportedly stood on the island until the end of the last century and the prisoners were either set free or executed within 24 hours.  Hard to believe those few rocks have such a macabre past.

As we swam back towards the shore whence we began our journey there was still time to appreciate the shafts of sunlight dancing on my skin through the water and keep a watch out for the resident ospreys.

As ever, the swim was at an end all too soon.

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2013 BLDSA Champion of Champions

Phew what a weekend and Saturday 15 June in particular. It was always going to be a challenging event, but I guess I didn’t appreciate the curve-balls and the changing conditions that could throw the best mental preparations into disarray.

It all started so well, after a late arrival in Dover on the Friday evening, I slept quite well and arrived at Dover beach with Amanda in good time to register, settle into a spot out of the wind and prepare for the swims ahead. I was a bit nervous, but excited too. My brother, Steve, arrived shortly afterwards with chair and food and blankets to support us and look after me. His key duties were to apply the vaseline, to make sure my crocs and robbie were waiting for me at the waters edge as I finished each swim, to help me get changed if required, to have a hot drink available and to take some pictures for posterity. It was his first time witnessing a mass gathering of long distance cold water swimmers and I think it made a lasting impression 😉 He’s always known I was a bit odd, but I’m not sure he realised there were so many others like me!

I think there were three briefings for the first 5-mile swim..I may have missed one when I walked down the beach after being told we were ready to go. The masses gathered at the top of the steep pebble bank, stood looking out to the course for a good few minutes…and then walked back to the sheltered area behind the watersports centre. Muggings here had surfed the pebbles all the way down to the waters edge and was keen to get started. I really didn’t want to walk up the beach again. I hate Dover beach – its one step up the slope and two-thirds slide back down. My legs start to get crampy and I run out of puff. Still, with all the swimmers putting a jacket on it didn’t look like the start was imminent any more and the wind was starting to chill me so I had no choice but to plough my way back up the beach. At least my big bro was there to help 🙂

Another briefing. The course was being adjusted. No longer a rectangle with five one-mile laps, we were going to swim 10 triangular laps, each to be 800m in distance. That’s disappointing but at least it really is time to go now. This time all the swimmers proceeded down the beach and prepared to enter the water. The water was around 12C and the wind was causing some movement on the surface..oh yes, waves, big ones! No one looked keen to be first in. I took the plunge with a very few others and swam out to the start boat. Others hesitated and gathered together at the waters edge. There seemed to be some discussion. The water was nippy and hanging about waiting for everyone to get in was starting to frustrate. After about 10 minutes where a few of us waited in the water, the rest finally surged forwards and arrived at the start point. This time I had definitely missed another briefing. Confusion reigned as the arriving swimmers insisted the laps had been amended but the start boat said they hadn’t. What was the course? Round the bouys or round the start boat? It seemed yet another age had passed before the instruction came back and it was as per the 3rd (or was it the 4th?) briefing where I had been present. Finally we were off and I could start to generate some warmth through movement. Mentally I was now confused..where was I heading, how many circuits did I need to do?..and also a bit cold.  It took me a few laps to start to loosen up and feel energised.  Boy was it a battle on the long side of each triangle.  Heading into wind and rising tide I was slapped in the face by the waves too many times to mention. I had earplugs in for the first time and was so glad I did.  There’s nothing worse than air being compressed into my eardrum by the waves as I turn my head to breathe.

Pretty rough swim conditions

Pretty rough swim conditions

After a few laps it became apparent that either I was swimming particularly slow (always possible) or that the course was a good bit longer than the 800m it was supposed to be. I probably shouldn’t have worn my watch, but I kindof like to keep a check on progress. So now my mind began calculating how long it was going to take me to complete the 10 laps and wondering what the true distance of the swim would work out to be.

About lap 6 I decided I was slowing down a bit and should take the gel I had stashed in my cossie for an energy boost. I rounded the buoy where we had to shout our numbers up to the recorders on the pier 20 feet above the water (no mean feat in the conditions), took a few strokes to be clear of anyone behind me/lapping me and paused to tread water while I ripped open the gel and forced the content into my mouth. Ughh. It doesn’t taste great in my salty mouth. I tuck the wrapper back into my cossie and then OUCH! as cramp sets in. Not just a little bit in my toes, but full on in my quads and calves. I start to swim again.  I’ve swum through cramp before and I came to complete all three swims in this event.  I don’t like to quit.  A 100m later and both legs are locked solid with cramp, the worst I have ever experienced.  Any movement to try and stretch out caused another muscle to tighten and more waves of pain.  My arms are barely turning over now as I try and cope with the pain in my rigid legs and keep focused on staying afloat. Where are the kayakers? Nowhere to be seen (not that I can see much with the waves about).  The beach is close and I could reach that if necessary.  Stubborn as ever, I keep pulling and eventually reach the next buoy.  Is the tightness easing off? A little I keep swimming, now moving away from the beach. Wave after wave of pain washes over me as every muscle in my legs tries to contract simultaneously, ankles locked and feet twisted with the pain I was grimacing big time, sobbing into my goggles.  Still no kayakers.  By this time if someone had been about I would have reached for them.

Is it worth carrying on?  It’s not a pleasant swim; the waves are slapping me about, the jellies are threatening me in growing numbers, the cramp is killing me, the laps are long, I’m barely moving forward, the cold is starting to bite and there are still four laps to complete.

Oh yes, I definitely considered bailing out, about as close as I have ever got to giving up. Instead, as I battled into the head on section of the course, I tried to find that place in my head where I can zone out, the place where I lose time and the swimming just happens. I guess I found it as the next few laps pass in a blur.  I remember overtaking a few swimmers, but for the most part I felt alone.  The pain in my legs receded over time and I found I could move them a bit and was not not dragging them about in the same way.  I queried the last lap – unsure whether I had another lap to go or not.  I was reassured by the recorders and a kayaker who relayed their message to me that I have completed 10 laps and can now head for the shore. Relief washes over me and I sight on the flags on the shore.

The swim into the beach seemed to take forever, but not as long as it took me to crawl on all fours over the pebbles to touch the finish buoy.  The cramp came back with avengence. My brother looked concerned and helped me along as I made my way painfully up the beach to shelter and food and hot drinks.

That was the five mile(!) swim complete. I was lucky to get through it and I found out later that a few did not.

An hour maybe until the 3 mile swim commences.  Who knows.  The schedule seems to be way off kilter already. Steve holds out a hot cuppa for me as I writhe around inside my DryRobe trying to discard the wet cossie and pull up a dry one – always pretty darned impossible with wet skin and chilled fingers. The talk on the beach was all about the distance we just swam.  As ever speculation was rife with some vivid imaginations suggesting we had just swum over 8 miles in one go.  Well, pardon me..but I must have turned into superswimmer if I can now manage 8+ miles in under four hours especially given those conditions and that cramp affected me for a good bit of the distance.  Long I can believe, but not that long.  I think the organisers agreed that the laps were 1000m rather than 800m.  So it was a 10k swim, a mile and a bit over the plan.  Normally I would be looking to have feeds every 30-45 minutes.  It was tough going the distance without feeds, but good for my body to know it can.

As we waited for the 3-mile briefing I introduced Amanda and Mark to Pip.  We would all be swimming together in a relay of Loch Ness in late July.  I am the common link for the team and hope it all goes to plan, unlike this CoC seems to be.

Good news. We will be doing just four laps of the course for the 3 mile swim. I reckon that is 4k instead of 4.8k. Then the one mile swim will be a 1000m sprint lap. It doesn’t really matter. I just need to complete what is asked of me. The cramp has largely gone now, just leaving me with a general ache in my legs. Bruises are starting to appear from crawling over the stones. I am good to go.

The four laps passed without much trouble. As ever it took me a while to feel settled, but after a couple of laps I caught up with a few swimmers and passed them, maintaining a pace until the finish.  I got zapped by one of the jelly fish, but it was minor. I’ve swum through much worse.  This time there was no cramp, no mental turmoil (OK, not much) and no thoughts of quitting.  Sorted.  Nice to see my bro waiting with robie and crocs.  I struggle again with the costume exchange and collapse into his chair while he offers me soup, sandwiches and loads of other food. I manage a couple of milky ways.  Not great nutrition, but it’ll do. Only one more lap to swim.

Kevin Murphy came over and said hello after completing his own four hour swim in the harbour.  At the Mallorca training week Kevin had been a big influence in my decision to take on the Channel this year.  Not too much time to chat. It was time to go again. The gap between swims had not, for me, been long enough to get properly warm.  I was still a little cold and, if I’m honest, a little bit tired too.

Just 1-lap, a sprint.  I know I will be last.  It takes me several laps to get going, but just one is OK.  I can do this.  They count us in while still clothed at the top of the beach to minimise the waiting at the shore and prevent us becoming more chilled that we already are.

I am cold still.  I do want to get in and swim, but I don’t want to get in at all.  I want to have a hot chocolate and sit in some shelter all wrapped up in my warm things.  No I want to complete what I came to do.  Mental battles.  It’s just one lap.  I’ve already swum fourteen laps.  Come on girl, lift your game.

We’re at the waters edge and start entering the water, but are called back.  They are going to count us in. What! So why waste our time at the top there then?  I think organisers of this event need to have a long look at it and work out some proper communications.  I was a high number so stood and shivered waiting for everyone else to respond.  Lots of gaps in the numbers sequence now.

As predicted I was last, actually next to last, for the one lap swim.  It was tougher than I thought it should have been, but I completed it.  My shoulder is sore again and I was worrying about all the swims I had planned for the summer being jeopardised.  In the end I just gritted my teeth and blanked my mind.  It’s over.  I doubt I’ll be back next year!

Desperately sighting for the finish!

Desperately sighting for the finish!

Of the 49 competitors entered for the CoC, the results show that only 25 completed all three swims. About a 50% drop out rate. That’s an indicator of how tough it was out there. My fellow Loch Ness relay swimmers, Amanda, Mark and Pip all succeeded.  After the presentations I say hello to some swimmers, John, Jeremy and Philip, who were only known to me on fb previously.  Well done everyone!

Amanda, Mark and I after sucessfully completing CoC 2013.

Amanda, Mark and I after sucessfully completing CoC 2013.

I walked away from the event pleased to have finished what I set out to do and with enhanced experience at dealing with the unexpected and challenging aspects of long distance cold water swims.  I was bruised and aching, but still positive about it being what I love to do.  Wierd or what?

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