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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Half Way There – 3 weeks to go

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What a Sunday 11.5 mile swim in 7 hours, I decided to watch the Netherlands v Costa Rica game to the bitter end, not one of my best decisions i realised as i reached over to switch off my alarm at 4.05am.
With my car packed the night before, i dashed down stairs, made my porridge (What else when you are about to swim beneath the “Bonnie Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond”) and headed out the door to meet Big Chris my usual sole accomplice, however today we were accompanied by Cammie in the water (he is also looking to complete the feat in August as well) Dave and Stevie who had so kindly volunteered to give us boat cover for this important training swim.
We parked one of the cars at Luss and headed back to the starting point at Balloch, chosen due to the southerly wind direction that morning. What a stunning morning greeted us.

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Setting off with a planned route and stops, i have to say that we kept to this plan practically to the letter. Balloch to Inchmurren (2.8 miles) food stop, Inchmurren passed Loch Lomond Golf Course, another stop at the start of the Channel to Luss (3 miles) through to Luss (2.2 miles) then onwards and upwards to Inverbeg.
7 hours in the water and your mind goes to several places, i have to admit i was expecting to head to the dungeon that i encountered 15 miles into the Ironman run 3 years ago, this place can never be explained, if you’ve been there you will understand.
To anyone who has read my blurb previously i like to detail all elements of the day, good or bad. When you get up so early on the morning, lets just say that your body and your “Morning constitutional” may not realise you are up yet.
Everyone has heard of the saying “Does a bear shit in the woods” well you can now expand that saying to “Does a bear, Chris and Cammie shit in the woods” as we have photographic evidence to prove this. I just hope not many people actually set foot on Inchtavannach island.

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I have to say that we were advised by James (one of the swimmers that holds the world record) that the Luss to Inverbeg was the longest stretch visually in the Loch and he wasn’t wrong, i felt like the treadmill nightmare where you can see where you want to be but it never gets any closer.

But we made it in the end, the route can be seen by my much ridiculed “Mapmyrun” device on my iPhone

MapMyRun Swim 11.52 miles

 

 

I am pleased to say we have decided not to go any longer than this until the big day, hopefully this experience will put us in good stead to now look at tapering down over the coming weeks, an 8 miler is planned for tomorrow – alarm is set!!

On the big day in August hopefully we will have the same look of satisfaction with completing the full Loch

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Midge and Pike!!

Another weekend and another long swim, yesterday saw us leaving Luss at 5.20am and setting off on the Balloch route as featured in the next image. It was a stunning morning that gave us another glimpse of the beauty of this part of the world.

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I thought today i would speak about the more negative side of OW swimming as everyone who reads my blogs must think that all i every do is promote my wonderful relationship with the Lady of the Loch. Don’t get me wrong i still believe that the positives totally out weight the negatives but i also prefer to give the other side of the coin with a few of the dangers and annoyances.

Fecking Midges!!! – You arrive at the Loch at 5am on the morning and the second you exhale one breathe as you head to the boot of the car for your wetsuit the midges are attacking you, i even think they have the ability to bite while we are swimming as i only ever get bites on my feet, hands, neck and face. Here’s a picture of my foot from last week, apologies that my pedicure was booked in prior to the photo

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“Surely you must be scared of the fish” – I’m not a specialist on fish, i love to eat them and i have to say in my 4 years of OW swimming i have only ever seen one and i swam into it, it was dead, and yes i needed to empty out the rear of my wetsuit! The only times i have ever heard about these Pikes biting anyone are the fishermen, and i believe i would do the same ALA Saurez if someone had just lanced my cheek with a one way spike. When you see what these Pikes look like they are an ugly creature with huge teeth, the fishermen are always asking us if we want to see the photo of the “one they caught in there last week” i decline graciously – ignorance is bliss

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The Cold – The temperature in the Loch’s varies depending on a few factors, predominantly (and all you geography experts out there please this isn’t a lesson!) depth of the Loch, recent rainfall, winds, currents and the time of the year. We went for a dip on Boxing day and the water temp was in the region of 3-4 degrees, during this weekend the temp was approx 17 degrees which i am hoping will be the temperature for the big swim, anything below 15, for the length of time we will be in the water may be an issue. 

Other water users – For many years us OW swimmers i believe have been quite ignorant about our use in the water and ultimately our own safety. Just because we wear brightly coloured hats doesn’t mean we are instantly visible. Lately we have all been buying these brightly coloured Buoy’s which you pull along behind you and are the size of a beach ball, many Loch users have been complimenting us on these inventions as they state they see us from further away. The only real danger now is the rowers, which i have mentioned previously who haven’t got the foggiest whats behind them.

Please don’t let the above put you off, the slight issues are far outweighed by the stunning scenery, here’s a short video (1 min 36 secs)  taken last weekend of the over riding positive of OW swimming in Loch Lomond