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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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
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”
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.
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”;
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!)
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
Will i ever do this swim again? – not a chance!!!!
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!