The Longest Day of My Life

At 21.40 on Sunday July 27th we eventually reached the end of the journey, 24 miles and 16.5 hours after we began our journey from Balloch to Ardlui, the full length of Loch Lomond.

Balloch seemed a lifetime ago when we arrived at the car park at 5am to be greated by our support crew Dave Stark and Fiona Ramsay as well as James Leitch and Stuart McPhail who had arrived early for their shorter swim to see us off, James the Merman who i have mentioned previously and Stuart who achieved this goal last year and ultimately planted the seed for Chris and I on setting this as our target.

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The daylight had only just arrived as we approached the slipway next to the Maid of the Loch and dipped our toes into the water that would turn us into prunes by the end of the day.

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As we set out we knew the size of the task and stayed nice and steady over to the first stop at the point of Inchmurrin, 2.8 miles and approx 90 minutes, at this stage we knew we weren’t going to be in for an easy day as forecast had predicted calm(isn) weather and the buffering we received from the west was just knocking our stroke enough to add a bit more thought to the stroke rather than be able to engage the autopilot.

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From Inchmurrin we head across towards Loch Lomond Golf course and the buffering continued until we hit the sheltered area between the islands at 6 mile towards Luss; this is always very sheltered and a route we had enjoyed many times on our training swims. After the westerly buffering it was nice to get the shelter for the 6-8 mile stage and ensure we were able to get some relaxed stroking.

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During the first half of the race I had planned to eat as much as possible to ensure i didn’t run out of energy in the second half, my food of choice was Chicken Cup-a-soup, Peanut butter sandwiches, doreen loaf with butter and energy drinks. I believe this strategy worked well for me and Big Chris followed suit downing the Soreen especially along with hot chocolates.

At Luss we were met by my better half Lynn , Lewis my oldest and Leni my youngest child. At 8 miles this was a great distraction and just to see their faces gave me a huge lift.

What we experienced next might well have broken us, Luss to Inverbeg mile 8 – 11.5 usually takes us just under 2 hours, however today the wind direction changed and the Lady of the Loch decided she was going to challenge our resolve. Constantly throughout this 3.5 mile section we would breath to the side and see the Alpha Flag (a flag to warn other Loch users something is happening around the boat) rigid flapping south which only meant one thing, we had a severe head wind. This section was the toughest we experienced, this leg took us 3 hours and we were feeling it badly. The next photo is one of my favourites as i believe it sums up how i felt at this halfway point, Cup-a-soup and peanut butter sarnie in hand with the next leg of the swim in the background, i’d title this picture “Lonely”

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Again i was expecting another visit from the 3 musketeers at Inverbeg to show their support for me and Chris but only the 2 big ones appeared, I was informed that Leni was stung by a wasp at Luss getting back in the car so had been rescued by Granny.

At 11.5 miles we were now heading into the unknown for me, the unknown in distance as i had never swan further than this in one day but also the top end of the Loch, Chris had been to the top and a few times however i prefer to bury my head and experience the new visuals as they appear. Not knowing how far something is works for me!

Inverbeg to Rob Roy’s Cave Approx 11.5 to 19 miles; We had experienced a westerly at the start a head wind to Inverbeg and now the Lady decided she would test us with a southerly wind with the addition of torrential rain; that was fine for us but the support crew scurried under the boat canopy. You may think a southerly wind would be of assistance, it was certainly better than a head wind however this once again challenges the stroke, often waves are passing us heading in the same direction, again this was disrupting the stroke, this was constant for the whole leg.

I have to admit i experienced 2 real dark places during the swim, to anyone that has ever been there you will know what i mean, mine appeared mile 9-11 and also the last 2 miles towards Rob Roys Cave at 17-19 miles. These dark places turn the mirror on myself and i find a clarity for the things that are important to me, this helps me remove the crap from my head and subsequently my life.

Some additional support and cheers which were very welcome from a passing tourist boat

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Reaching the 19 mile mark we were both in a horrible place and arguing with each other in our minds, my stroke had gone, my rhythm was shot and Chris was through his dark spell and feeling good and wanted to crack on. We took our next break and one that would actually change our mindset.

We had 5 miles to go, the Loch had thinned and the water was calmer and flatter, not only that but the sun broke through the clouds and shone down upon us. I know i speak of the Lady of the Loch as though she is real, but i genuinely believe she was thinking, “OK guys, i’ve tried to break you, I don’t let many swimmers achieve the full length, but you have got this far and now i’m going to remove all the obstacles, if you still have 5 miles left in you i won’t stand in your way”

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The last 5 miles were stunning and also broken up by another well wisher, Cammie who is also looking to complete the swim in the next month was stood on a sandbank at the side of the loch with 3 km to go, we obliged with a 2-3 minute chat before heading on our merry way.

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We found our rhythm again and switched to autopilot then Dave stopped us again, I was about to give him some verbal abuse but his words were music to our ears, with 1 Km to go he stated “there’s Ardlui boys, nearly there”;

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The smile across our faces must have been ear to ear as our stroke became stronger and between strokes as we breathed we started shouting celebrations between each other, screaming at the top of our voice mid breathe with euphoria.

21.40 we touched down on the Beach at Ardlui to be greeted by friends and family and billions of midges. The feeling was very similar to the finish at my Ironman, a mix of relief that months of planing had paid off and physical exhaustion. We were handed a couple of bottles of bubbly and Big Chris did the F1 champaign spray all over me, there was nothing i could do but accept the drenching in good spirit.

All challenges deserve a medal!! Leni presenting me with my medal (which was her medal from her 1KM run but i will cherish it!)

 

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How do i feel now 4 days after the event? Still exhausted and only just recovered from the midge bites, i think i will potentially get back in the water this weekend but only for a mile or 2 to relax and see the people that supported us so well

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Will i ever do this swim again? – not a chance!!!!

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My phone was actually in the boat and they weren’t as direct as us, we still believe the Loch is 24 miles not 27.19, that was due to Fiona’s driving!

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Mission Accomplished

Nearly 24 hours ago my alarm went off, and i find myself back at the computer typing a brief report. I will write a further report in more detail over the coming days, but tout i would post that at 21.40 on the 27th July 2014, Chris McGrenary and myself pulled ourself out of the loch in front of friends and family after swimming approx 24 miles, the full length of Loch Lomond.

Why am i awake at 3.30 am writing this?

a- my body thermostat is all over the place i can’t find the norm again after this length of time in the water

b- i needed a middle of the night feast!!

I’ll be posting images and a full report soon, but thanks for taking the interest in my journey

Here we go!!!!

At 10.16 this morning i received the text i have been waiting for. The Captain of the boat and fountain of knowledge on the loch Dave Stark stated via text “Just checked and as discussed with James (Merman and world record holder) tomorrow is on starting from Balloch at 5am”

The weather isn’t perfect but its good enough to make an attempt, knowing if the moody Lady of the Loch doesn’t want us to finish tomorrow we still have a number of weeks to look her in the eye and take her on again.

The car is now packed as you can see from the images, everything bar my peanut butter sandwiches, my buttered Soreen, my High 5 protein drinks and the kitchen sink are ready to roll

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So the alarm is now set for 3.50am tomorrow for an epic adventure – How do i feel? its a totally different feeling to what i experienced with the Ironman, that was the unknown, i feel i know what this will take, the physical element is going to be a challenge and psychological i feel i went into the worst place ever during my Ironman and came through stronger, if i need to deal with these demons again i know what they will be saying and feel i am stronger now to cope with them even more.

My next post will hopefully be a 24 mile report!

The Big Day is close

It looks as though the big day is about to arrive 8 days early. For months we had planned that the swim would take place on Sunday August 3rd, however the advice we took from the Merman (James Leitch) was – if  the opportunity arrises don’t let it pass –

Our opportunity is here and we are lining up our big day take place this Saturday, with a period of warm weather over the country the Loch temperature which is already pretty high will continue to rise or at worst stay the same at around the 16-18 degree mark. The forecast for Saturday looks reasonably calm and if anything there will be a slight wind assistance from the North (and less helpful the West), which will give us some assistance.

So how do i feel? I have just been asked this by my son, I honestly don’t know. On one hand i’m so excited that the day is upon us and i can accept my challenge fully, but on the other hand its a huge step into the unknown. I need to reiterate the fact i’m not a swimmer, this is so far out of my comfort zone and i have never swam more than 12 miles in one day. There aren’t any other swimmers of my standard who have done  this challenge so i can’t buy them a coffee to get advice.

I think  i’m excited, confident but very aware that i need to treat the lady with total respect or she will chew me up and spit me out.

We will be watching the weather again for the rest of the week however the provisional plan is to leave Ardlui (North) at 5am this Saturday 26th July to swim south and finish at Balloch at a predicted time of approx 7-9pm with a swim time of approx 14-16 hours

Bring it on!!!

My Office wall - constant motivation

My Office wall – constant motivation

The Taper

I’m just out of another weekend Loch Lomond training swim with Big Chris and a cameo visit from Fiona. Due to a few uncontrollable reasons we decided that a shorter swim was in order today; we looked at the weather for the weekend and there was an easterly wind across the loch so decided to start our swim from Luss and use the shelter of the islands to ensure we achieved a smoother swim than fight the chop from our usual entry point at Balloch. The following “MapmyRun” visual doesn’t show the islands in the Loch so if you visualise islands to the right of our swim route you will see the shelter we sort after and achieved.

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One of the other reasons we decided to cut short the swim today was the fact for the second week running i was swimming with a world record holder, no James wasn’t with us again but my partner in crime Big Chris “Shoulders” McGrenary was drafted in on Thursday to be part of a Loch Lomond relay team who were trying to break the record for 24 miles, each of the 4 members of the team had to swim an hour leg at a time in only their Budgie smugglers and goggles, needless to say they smashed the record in a time of 9 hours and 20 mins. I was delighted for the big man, but he was feeling his shoulders today so needed to ease back into the distances.

I have to admit i am starting to get worried looking at the longer term forecast over the next 10 days, its a period of temperamental weather which probably means that we wont be taking on the big challenge until into August. I’m no weatherman but we could do with a few days of high pressure over a weekend ideally starting on a Thursday to enable us to confirm the day the journey will take place. Maybe i am worrying too much, we set our projected date as August 3rd so hopefully anytime in the next month will be perfect!

 

Weather watching

Weather watching

We always stated that we would try to swim the first Sunday in August, and in our heads the date was set. However now we are approaching that date all I find myself doing is watching the various weather sites to check the winds and try and find the perfect day.
It’s not about the rain, that’s easy to cope with, it’s the winds that need to be favourable.
We discovered after several discussions with our own Merman – James that Loch Lomond flows North to south slightly therefore the ideal conditions are a slight wind in the same direction.
That would be perfect world scenario however northerly winds are rare in the summer therefore the choice seems to be;
A) pick a calm day and use the drift North to south or
B) choose a wind (usually) southerly and take the ride but fight the drift
So here we are weather watching hoping to find that day over the next 5 weeks to take the plunge!!
Off to bed for a 5.05am rise for a dip Before my working day starts

An Encounter with a Merman

Another training swim was completed on Saturday 12th July, 8 miles from Balloch up to Luss. another 8 miles under the belt and i believe both Chris and I are confident that we will complete the longest day of our lives at some stage over the next 6 weeks.
I have to say that i was honoured and demoralised yesterday during our swim as we were accompanied by James Leitch AKA merman, we are targeting the time of 14-16 hours for our 24 mile swim, he holds the World Record in just over 9 hours.

The next text was written the main man Captain and Chef (Dave) Stark who steers us through our swims, it is important to read the following story of the day first before clicking on the link at the end, Mike, Dave’s son accompanied us with his broadcast ready camera and edited some exceptional footage.

Enjoy the story and then enjoy the clip and the music (this can’t be players on Smart phones only Laptop’s and PC’s, so get the sound turned up!!

Over to Dave Stark to talk you through this awesome day on the Loch………

I have just returned from a truly amazing time at the loch today and know I will struggle to find the descriptive words to do it justice.
Last night I was in bed by 8pm with the alarm set for 2.50am.
At 3.30am Mike Stark and I left for Balloch to fetch Jame’s boat from the Marina. We were to meet Warren, Big Chris and Fee.at our normal slip for 5am. We were there at 4.30am – I always like to be early !!
All but Fee made it, unfortunately Fee had a rotten night and decided to sleep on. Hope your feeling better Fee.
The boys didn’t waist any time and were in the water for 5.10am, heading out towards the point off Inchmurrin island.
It was a very overcast morning but warm. Fog was heavy particularly in the distance hiding all the normally visible transit points.
A reading from one of the boats instruments told us the water temperature was 18.4 degrees. Probably our warmest this year.
Our journey in the boat was to be a wet one for Mike and me. There was a slight drizzle descending on and off for most of the way to Luss.
However we decided to keep the boats canopy off for a clearer all round visibility.

The water was flat calm with not a breath of wind. The boys were gliding nicely through the water at a steady pace, matching each other stroke for stroke. At 5.40am – 30 minutes in to our swim, I received a phone call from James (World Record holder) who was in his car and just passing Costa !
We carried on regardless knowing that at some point this machine will ultimately catch us.
The wind picked up with a welcomed Southerly breeze and the water started to move in our direction making the swim easier than the previous week. However it did confuse us by changing infrequently as seen from our A Flag dancing to its every command.
We reached our first stop off the point of Inchmurrin at 6.34am where the lads enjoyed a relaxing 8 minute break and wondered where James would be. Looking through his camera lens, Mike could make out the bare arms of James powering towards us, incredibly,some 600/700 meters away. It was just a matter of time.
I decided to let the swimmers go on and waited for James who it turned out had used his paddles all the way from Balloch giving him a time of roughly 55 minutes ! James refused any nourishment and casting off his paddles carried on.
By the time James drew up to our two swimmers, we were half way across this vast expanse of water which represents the widest part of Loch Lomond.

From the start, Mike had been steadily filming away capturing the day’s swim, which I am sure will bare witness to today’s extraordinary event. Warren and Chis continued at their distance pace whilst James scooted off ahead. He was frequently seen swimming back and forth and at times diving under the water for several long seconds before emerging with that cheeky grin we all know so well.
All swimmers met up again for a brief stop opposite the Golf Course. We couldn’t believe our eyes as James disappeared once more under the dark water. When he eventually surfaced, he produced golf balls from within his trunks and passed them over to Mike for safe keeping. Not one or two but 21 GOLF BALLS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Only James.
At one point Warren stated that on the one hand it was an honour to be in the same water as James but when he passed you at speed with such ease it was indeed a tad demoralising and ultimately caused the lads a bit of distraction.
Just after we set off, Warren stopped to shout at Mike to prepare a Pot Noodle which hopefully would cool down before the next break.

Off they went again. This time Chris was level with James and couldn’t resist the challenge. He and James went head to head. Stroke for stroke they powered alongside each other leaving Warren and the boat in their wake. 200 odd meters later Chris came to a sudden stop and was clearly seen grinning away. He admitted that he fell for the bait but quickly “blew up.” Of course when James looked back he couldn’t help but smile……He loved the challenge and later, after the swim, told us how much he had loved leaving Balloch knowing he had the task to catch up as quickly as he could.
Guiding our way around the green and red channel buoys, we saw the blue pier at Inchtavannach which shall remain for all eternity, synonymous with our Cammie ! lol
The time was 8.25am. We were there for 5 minutes with no toilet break this time.
Finding out that James swam from Balloch to Inchmurrin with his paddles, Warren; in that lovely Geordie accent of his, laughed and declared James a cheat !! 6 miles now under their belt with 2 miles to Luss.

James continued to swim back and forth along the channel doing his own thing. The water movement was still with us helping the boys gently swim their final leg. All was going well until…..
Half way into the channel James disappeared under the water for some time and came up on Chris, frightening the bejeezus out of him. A thankful Warren was grateful he wasn’t the chosen victim for fear of a heart attack or filling his wetsuit !
Never a dull moment with James around.but on a serious note – it is an absolute privilege to witness this half man half fish in the water.
Once out of the channel, I guided our 3 swimmers around a small island that seemed overcrowded with seagulls. I quickly assumed that this must be the island swimmers from Luss refer to as “Bird Shit Island “
Half a mile or so to go and Luss was in our sight. With a few hundred meters to go, Chris and James were at it again – head to head.
And once again Chris crashed out after blowing out of his A___ for a 100 meters. Meanwhile James carried on with a 50 meter fly !!
Time to Luss 9.40am. Another great and worthwhile training swim today.
We left Warren and Chris to drive back from Luss whilst James came back in the boat which only took 80 minutes to reach Balloch Marina.
All of this and home for noon – what a day…..

You can now enjoy the clip so professionally put together by Mike Stark, it’s 8 minutes long but tells the story perfectly on our morning swim

Copy the above link for the video, but please note that it will NOT work on mobile phones or tablets…this is due to the music used in the edit, but it can be viewed on laptops, pc and macs.
When in youtube – go to settings (wee cog) and ensure it is on 720p for max result.