Great Scottish Swim – 23rd August 2014

By Dave Clarke

After having done three swims I was finally starting to feel more comfortable with them and actually looked forward to this one up in Loch Lomond.

I was back at home in Leicestershire when this one came around and so it meant I was slightly closer to Scotland and the train journey was reduced to a measly 5hours instead of the 7hours from Reigate.

The journey was really easy and smooth though and so I arrived into Balloch around lunchtime as planned. Directly opposite the train station is an information centre which is ideally located when a complete novice to the area like me rocks up in the local town.  To my delight it turned out that it was very similar to the Great Manchester Swim in the way that everything was in the one place.  My hotel 100m down the road one way and the swim start 100m down the road in the other.  Lovely!

I was starving on arrival and saw a restaurant offering a two course meal for £7 so in I went and had the battered chicken satay with salad starter followed by a large serving of fish and chips – talk about loading up pre-race!

I then headed over the road to the hotel/pub that I was staying at.  I got chatting to the staff as I do and as usual told them why I was there, not at all in the hope that they give me any discount!  Their reaction when I told them was as if they were taken aback and so I felt quite chuffed that they thought the challenge was that impressive.  That was until they then spoke and said “You do realise the downstairs of the hotel turns into a nightclub every Friday and Saturday, going on until 3am”.  I was then the one that was taken aback!

I went to the room and everything was nice, the only thing I’d say is they could bring the bed up a bit as it was pretty much on the floor.  It reminded me of boy racer’s when they get their Citroen Saxo’s lowered and virtually scrape the floor as they roll.

After dropping my bags off I thought I’d go and do my routine evening walk before every event to go and check out the course and find where the start is.  It just helps to reduce the stress the next morning.  I headed in the direction of where I believed it was and joy behold I saw one of the bright blue signs guiding me “To the Start”.  I got closer to the sign that was positioned next to a hedge and when I got head-on with the sign I could see just tucked in the other side of the bush was a sign that said “Danger – No Swimming – Deep Water with Dangerous Currents”.  I laughed at first and then after a few seconds I didn’t laugh at all.

When I got to the start area there was still a good number of people there working to ensure that all final preparations and changes were made and everything was ready for morning.  This is when you realise how much effort goes into making these great, and they certainly are great, events happen.

Being properly stuck in a system on this event I then continued my usual pattern of seeking out the nearest supermarket to get supplies for the night and for breakfast.  Also as usual I bought a ridiculous amount of food!

On the walk back to the hotel I went past a proper traditional looking pub and was half tempted to go in for a pint, but being the ‘extreme athlete’ I am – I resisted.  I then looked at the chalkboard sandwich board outside of the pub which read “Soup of the Day – Tennent’s Lager”.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw it and I found it absolutely hilarious, so much so that I was then even more tempted to go in but luckily I did resist the urge.

I went back to the hotel, chilled out and got an early night. But I didn’t get an early night did I because I had David Guetta, Example, Calvin Harris and all the other standard dross music you get on a night out just below me downstairs and given my bed was so close to the ground I was riding every beat.

It was the morning of the 4th swim, so I had my breakfast and then headed down to the swim start where I found the setting much busier with people that it was just 14 hours before.  There was quite a good crowd out for this one, or at least it felt like it – and that always helps.

I got into the warm up area and met a chap that had been training months for this he said but had now just got a terrible cold in the days running up to it but was still going to do the swim regardless. I hadn’t really thought of it before but I’ve got to think myself lucky that the timings of the colds I have had have never been on an event weekend.  And given that there’s 17 of those weekends for me this year the chance is quite high!

We did the warm up and then we were off.  It was an absolutely stunning setting in which to be swimming as well.  Swimming straight out into the Loch you could see huge hills in the distance it really was beautiful.

I learnt something on this swim that I hadn’t before, one of the best things to do is to talk to yourself on the way around.  Not out loud or else you’ll take in gobfuls of water and be feeling terrible.  But if you just take to yourself in your head then the time flies by and you forget about what your arms and legs are doing.  On the runs you have everyone to talk to and high five but the swims are different so occupying your mind by doing this, I found a big help.  I love my football and my beloved Leicester City FC were playing Chelsea that day and so I just went through which teams I thought both managers would pick in my head.  Then before I knew it I was around most of the course.

The water on this one was quite choppy, the choppiest of the four Great Swims I did by far.  I don’t know if that is standard or down to the weather on that day but it certainly was choppy.  Thinking back to that sign snuck in behind the bush I would imagine it may be renowned for its wavy nature.

Just as I approached the finish, I saw a lady that was struggling a bit and from the previous wave and so had been in the water for some time and not being in a full length wetsuit must have been freezing.  I knew exactly how she was feeling given how I was on the Great North Swim so I stopped and tried treading water to offer some words of encouragement and cheer her on.  Being an average swimmer, this was a bad idea as I ended up nearly drowning myself.  But I then got going again and so did the lady - who made it to the end. I take my hat off to her.

The finish area was quite nice as you ended on a little sandy area so it was like finishing on a beach! Very nice.

I then got changed and made my way over to the Swim Village as I was starving again and was in no rush for the train back so I thought I’d check out what was on offer.  First thing I saw was the hog roast spinning and a sign saying you could hog roast rolls with haggis and apple sauce in it!  What better way to top off a weekend in Scotland than to have a bit of haggis.  Oh, a can of IRN-BRU to go wash it down that’s what!

All the swims have been brilliant but I’d say the Great Scottish Swim was possibly my favourite of them all and I would recommend it to anyone.  The only thing to bear in mind is the slight current that was there.  It was nothing major but if it’s your first ever open water swim I’d suggest the Manchester first due to the layout of the course, then one of the others, and then treat yourself to the Scottish after you’ve got a bit more accustomed to the open water swimming game.

My work in Scotland was done! On to the next event, and it’s the biggie – the Great North Run!!!

19th Learning – Always read the hotel small print to ensure it’s not going to transform into a nightclub on the night of your stay