In a scene from the comedy film Zoolander the eponymous male supermodel hero, Derek Zoolander, dresses as a merman and swims towards the camera to utter the line:
” Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.”
But in real life Merman are anything but beautiful. In contrast to mermaids, mermen are traditionally described as unattractive extremely ugly creatures with green hair, teeth and skin, narrow eyes and a red nose.
Which is also a valid description of what I look like when I’m hungover.
I learnt this “fact” after spotting two swimmers at Loch Venachar. It was a hot day. The water was perfect for swimming without a wet-suit but they were wearing multiple layers of neoprene . One of them was so covered up he looked like the gimp from Pulp Fiction.
But they were not swimmers or gimps. They were free-divers practicing their skills. They hold their breath diving 20m to the bottom of the Loch.
North third reservoir is strangely named as I can find no record of a North First or North Second reservoir. Maybe this one was third time lucky after the other two failed.
The reservoir is a great spot for swimming. It is surrounded on one side by cliffs and Forrest. It’s a nature lovers paradise but it’s also a paradise for lovers of a different kind. The Daily Record reported the story of a man put on trial after he was discovered naked in the Forrest.
My favorite bit of the story is his very British excuse – “I can’t possibly be having sex with men. My wife made me sandwiches!”
Ease of Access: There’s a small car park beside a gate next to the path that leads down to the reservoir. If the spaces there are taken then there’s spots nearby to park.
Water quality: A bit murky and a little bit shallow in places. There was much less water in the reservoir than when I was last here in March. The water temperature was 18.5C.
Swim Quality: Excellent – There’s a nice loop around the islands. The water was calm.
Other People: There’s usually folk fishing at the side of the loch and I’ve occasionally bumped into other folk either heading in or leaving after swimming themselves.
Would I go back: Yes. Its one of my favorite places to swim.
For 140 years, treasure hunters scoured the coast of Georgia in the United States for the SS Republic, a paddlewheel steamship that sank in 1865 in a hurricane with a reported $400,000 in gold and silver coins on board. In 2003 the ship was located and more than 50,000 precious coins, worth an estimated $75 million was discovered.
While the Challenge Roth canal may not contain millions of pounds of lost confederate gold, if there are any treasure hunters looking for a fortune then they need look no further than 50 metres from the start line – as that’s where my £500 Garmin 945 now lies.
It was a stupid mistake. One I’d even predicted. I’d bought the Garmin a few weeks ago so that I could play music at the end of the run. I’d changed the wrist bands to quick release straps and, during a race simulation at a training swim, Iain had pulled the watch accidentally as he tried to swim in front of me and it had fallen off.
I’ll be clever I thought. I’ll put the wetsuit over it and that way it’ll be safe.
I was wrong.
Just after the start, just as everyone was jostling for position, someone accidentally caught my arm with their stroke and ran their hand along my arm catching the watch.
Which was more than I could do. As I felt it slip, tried to catch it, but only managed to grab hold of the straps. The watch was gone! And with it my only way to know the time, my speed and how far I’d gone as I was relying on the watch to last all day. I had no back up.
And now no choice. I had to complete Challenge Roth entirely on feel.
Saturday was nearly 30 degrees with clear blue skies but the weather forecast for the race was for the heatwave to end and for rain to clear the air. We woke at 430 a.m. with the intention of collecting another athlete (a former member of Glasgow Tri Club) at 5 a.m. That left 30 minutes to dress, eat something and try not to think about the fact it was actually 3:30 am in UK time.
The drive to the start involved a missed junction, which wasn’t a problem for me but for Iain it meant we’d have to take the next junction and a car park which would be shut until 11am while the bike course was closed.
Getting round was okay though. Iain dropped us off at transition and then went to park while we checked the bikes and dropped off the swim and race bags. The swim bags needed to be dropped off by 6:15 but other than that we were free to enter and leave transition, even after the race had started.
A cannon signals the start of each wave with the rain stopping just as the professionals started. There were thousands of people around the canal, more than I’d seen at any other race.
Every five minutes another wave would set off and another blast of the cannon would sound.
I was swimming at 8am, the second last wave, and it was easy to get lined up. Swimmers could wait near the start and when your wave was called you were directed into a pen as volunteers checked your swim cap to make sure the time printed on the side of it matched your start time.
Once everyone was in the pen, the previous wave would start and you were allowed to enter the canal and line up.
I stayed near the centre, as it was quieter, and hung back so as not to be swum over by the faster swimmers. I thought I had it sussed. I would avoid a melee and be able to find my own pace. But we all know how well that went…
The race started. There was the usual flurry of legs and limbs but no fighting for position, just the accidental crossing over of a few hundred swimmers in a few short metres.
And the less said about the next five minutes the better…
The water was warm. Almost 25 degrees, and just shy of banning wetsuits all together, but it was calm and swimming was as easy as swimming in a swimming pool.
Sighting was easy too. There was very little need to look forward as you could always judge if you were swimming in a straight line by looking at the side of the canal. Provided you could see the bank, the people and the trees, you always knew if you were getting closer or further away.
Because of that, I swam most of the way in the centre of the canal. The side is reportedly easier but it was quieter in the centre and it gave me free reign to carry on at my own pace and just count out the strokes. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe.
You swim around 1500 metres to the next bridge, then around 1700 back to the bridge overlooking the start before swimming under it and doing a u-turn back to transition.
I felt strong throughout, and the fact you’re always swimming to something – bridge, then bridge, then under bridge, meant the swim was broken up and didn’t feel like one long slog.
There are also metre signs on the bank but I didn’t look out for them. I prefer not to know how far I’ve swum when swimming. And, thanks to my accident at the start, I would also find out what it was like to cycle and run without knowing how far I’ve gone either. Damn!
This was the bit I was looking forward too. I’d read that the volunteers in transition will help you get out of your wetsuit – something I always struggle with as I can never get the wetsuit off my legs. Prisoners in shackles have more chance of getting free than I do with rubber wrapped around my ankles.
And it was true. As soon as you grab your bag from the ground as you go into the tent – each bag is laid out in numerical order – a volunteer starts to help you strip, empties your bag and hands you everything you need.
Except a watch.
Sadly, they didn’t have a spare Garmin.
I changed into full cycle gear and eight minutes later (a new record for me) l was on my bike and away.
With a heatwave of 40 degree plus across central Europe I think I may need to revise the following list to include a portable fan, a bucket of ice cubes and lifetime of living in the Sahara desert.
As it may be too late for a pasty Scotsman to suddenly develop a tolerance for hot weather (which, as any Scotsman knows, is any time it’s not raining), I’ve prepared the following list of Roth essentials and will now spend the next week trying to work out the one item I need but have forgotten to include – because there’s always one thing I forget!
I was standing half-naked in a car park next to Balgray Reservoir when a man approached and asked me this. I don’t normally frequent car parks in the buff but I was getting changed to go swimming and there was no facilities nearby.
I was not part of a group and did not know what he was
asking about so I replied “Sorry I’m not part of a group”
He looked confused by my answer. I realised he was probably
confused as to why I would be half naked, trying to get one leg in a wet suit, if
I wasn’t part of swimming group.
So to put his confused
mind at rest I added. “I‘m swimming too but just not with a group.”
He didn’t go away. He waited a minute and then said, “is it
a 800m loop?”
“Is what a 800m loop?” I asked.
“The swim?” He replied.
“I don’t know. I’m not with the group!” I was starting to get annoyed.
He waited a minute and then said “Are you in charge of the group?”
“NO!!! I’m not in the group! I’m just trying to go for a swim!”
He looked like he finally realized I was not able to help him but it did not stop him from asking one final question.
“How much is it to join?”
Ease of Access: There’s a car park next to the reservoir. No toilet or changing facilities. I had to walk through mud to enter the water.
Water quality: A bit murky and grim but reasonably warm. it was 14.5C when I went (June)
Swim Quality: It was quite easy to do a reasonable loop by aiming for some of the local features e.g. a tall power tower, a big house on the hill etc. The water was calm.
Would I go back: Probably not. There’s nicer places to swim.
The best thing you can do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water. The last thing you want to do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water because… it’s BLOODY FREEZING!!!
Or at least it is in May in Scotland. The water has only started to reach 10 degrees aka Highland Tropical. Below 10 degrees, if you’re going for a dip, you need balls of steel – and toes of steel and feet of steel and basically an entire body made from a metal that doesn’t know how to gasp. Above 10 degrees and you can start to consider a paddle, just as long as you don’t dip your head below the surface as otherwise it’s instant brainfreeze, faster than sticking an ice lolly up your nostrils.
But the thing is, you adjust to it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s an ice lolly this week, next week it’s a three bar heater. The more you swim outside. the more your body adjusts to the tempteture until eventually your skinny dipping in Ben & Jerry’s and wondering why it’s so warm.
First, you have to go in. And the first dip is always the hardest. The water runs down your back. You’re slapped in the face with an ice cube and you lose all feeling in your feet and toes.
If you’re really unlucky, the shock of the cold, causes you body to contract and it feels like Aquaman is hugging you, and not in a good way. In a “I’m going to crush your chest coz I’m a strong superhero type” way.
However, next time, it get’s easier. And the time after that you’re Aqua-man’s equal. You’re Kettleman! The only man who can make Aqua-man disappear!
But first you’ve got to get in. So, this weekend, I went for my first open water swim of 2019. 10 minutes in a loch near Applecross. It was freezing. And it was fantastic. And by next week, not only will I have adjusted, I might also have the feelings in my feet back.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching Sky News when they cut to a report of a man, Ross Edgely, who had just swum round the whole of the UK.
“Wow,” said the reporter, as he reached the shore.
“Wow,” said the crowd, as he raised his arms in triumph.
“What a dick,” I thought, as I watched him explain how swimming in salt water for months and months had gradually destroyed his tongue. Or, as he said it: “Swumming ‘n sawt wather ‘as detroyth ma tong!”.
While I admire all athletes who take on and achieve an epic challenge. I couldn’t help think this time that there’s a danger in automatically admiring them. They’re creating a dangerous trend. They’re creating the idea that longer is better, when it’s not. Long races are boring. Long races are hard. Instead give me a medium length race. A half-marathon. A half-ironman. Just the thought of entering a race with the word half in it, gives me a boost. “It can’t be that bad,” I think, “it’s only a half!”.
The word “ultra” on the other hand makes me we want to avoid it like a colleague from work on a train station when you know you’ve got an hour’s journey ahead of you and don’t want to sit beside them because you know you’ll run out things to say in five minutes.
Yet, despite the difficulty, there are longer and longer races all the time. Board of IronMan? Why not run a double, triple or even ten times IronMan? Want to go for a swim, why not avoid the pool and head towards Norway instead? It’ll only take three weeks, a yacht and a willingness to lose your tongue within sight of Bergin.
I blame guys. Guys are daft and macho. We want to take on harder and harder challenges. Which is okay, but I think we should call them what they are. IronIdiots. And, when they complete a race. When they swim 3 miles, cycle 112 miles and run a marathon they should be greeted at the finish line with a cry of “YOU ARE AN IRONIDIOT!”
Which is better than IronMan because it’s not sexist, woman can be idiots too.
Except they’re not. The number of woman who take part in longer events is significantly smaller than the number who take part in short events like 10k or half-marathons.
But it’s starting to grow. I’m seeing more woman take part in longer races. And I have this to say to them: “STOP! DON’T DO IT! DON’T BE AN IRONIDIOT!”
Instead, women, invent your own races. Races that are fun and people actually want to do. Don’t copy the guys. They don’t know what they’re doing. Why would anyone want to run a marathon after cycling 112 miles? It’s stupid and arbitrary and random and proves nothing except guys will follow any instructions provided they get a medal at the end.
If there was a medal for swimming 3 miles then cycling 112 miles then punching yourself in the face until you make your nose bleed then sign me up!
Women, don’t repeat the mistake of men. Men are idiots. Who invented the marathon? A man? And what happened to him? He died running it. Yet other men thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea – let’s do it too!”
Invent your own races. Don’t follow the guys into extreme triathlons. Invent benign triathlons. Races where the water is warm, the courses are downhill and, if you get a puncture, everyone has to stop until you’ve fixed it. That sounds like a nice race.
Just don’t follow the guys, they’re only leading you on an adventure that should be banned on health & safety grounds!
Can you smell chlorine? Any one who has ever been to a public swimming pool will say ‘yes’ – that strong smell that hits you as soon as you walk in the pool is the smell of chlorine. Except it’s not. Chlorine doesn’t smell. What you’re smelling is the sweat and dirt and who knows what else that’s come into contact with the chlorine in the pool. A strong smell just means that the odourless chlorine has done it’s job and kept the water clean by reacting to everything in it.
Chlorine is counter intuitive. The truth is the opposite of what you think it should be. The smellier the pool, the cleaner it will be.
The same thought applies to swimming. Why do we shower before we swim? We’re just about to cover ourselves in water so why do we… cover ourselves in water before we go in. Or why do we shower afterwards? Surely, the whole point of swimming is to avoid the need for a shower?
Which reminds me, I was getting my hair cut last year when the hair dresser said, with no prompt or link to our previous conversation: “Are you a swimmer?”.
I thought he must recognise my swimming from my broad shoulders, strong biceps and v- shaped back. (Also my deluded opinion of myself).
He said: “I can tell because your hair is so damaged!”.
He then went on to tell me that the best way to protect your hair is to add some conditioner to it before you start. The conditioner will protect he hair from the chemicals in the water.
Which made me think – why don’t they just fill the pool with soap?! Why don’t they just turn it into a giant bath?
In fact, people say when they are going swimming that they are “going to the baths”.
It’s a genius idea. And no fact or sensible claim that you can’t actually swim in soap because you’d die if you swallowed it will change my mind!
Anyways, I was thinking about all of this when I washing my wetsuit at the weekend. I thought: “Why am I washing a wetsuit? It was in water. I’ve now got it in more water. Isn’t this pointless?”
And even though I was thinking this while everything I brought back from the Carron Valley reservoir was washed through my wetsuit – from twigs and grass to at least two boats and a fisherman with rod – I thought it’s brilliant idea. From now on – no more washing my wet suit!
And even though I’m typing this covered in a red rash from head to toe why don’t you give it a go? Trust me, it’ll be as clean as a swimming pool!
Scotland is one of the few countries in the world where wearing a wetsuit is not just for swimming. Autumn. Most weekdays. All weekends. Wearing a wetsuit is almost compulsory in Scotland if you don’t want to get wet. Except yesterday and except for the last few weeks, Scotland has had an outbreak of what can only be described as “the apocalypse”.
Every day the sky is blue, the sun is yellow and there’s no clouds to be seen. It’s boiling! Every night, we huddle in homes desperately trying to sleep in our fridges. It’s horrible!
How are we meant to live like that! Bring back the rain! We live in Scotland, not the Sahara!
So, while six months of training has seen a typical Scottish training programme of trying to find the few dry days where you can go out on a bike, much indoor training, and a lot of wetsuit wearing, the one thing I’d not trained for was running in the sun. How can you train for that in Scotland, it just doesn’t happen. Until this month. Until I had to pack the one thing I thought I would never need – sun cream.
Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh 2018 itself promised a calm swim, some clouds for the bike course before burning off for the run around Arthur’s Seat. And it almost fulfilled that promise as the swim was calm, the run was sunny – but so was the bike course. Unrelenting from the moment it started.
1.9 kms around Prestonpans. With no breeze, the water was very calm and the temperature was a warm-ish 14.5 degrees Celsius.
Before starting it’s worth remembering two things. One, there’s very few toilets so make sure you start queuing on Saturday and, two, the queue for the swim will take almost twenty five minutes due to the rolling start. Either way, be prepared to queue.
The swim itself had an west to east current so the first half was into the current and the second was a rocket launched very easy turbo swim back to shore. In the calm conditions it was akin to swimming in busy swimming pool. No waves made a great turnaround from last year’s tsunami like conditions.
Same course as last year. A very pleasant 56 mile ride through East Lothian with some stunning views of Edinburgh, Fife and the Pentland Hills on the second half of the course.
The main thing to remember about this part of the course is that the final climb up Arthur’s Seat is not the biggest challenge at the end. Just before you enter the park there’s a short section of Paris-Roubaix like cobbles that rattle your bones and could give you a puncture if you’re not prepared for them.
A minor change to the 13 mile run route sees the climb up the commonwealth pool dropped and a slightly longer flatter run around Arthur’s Seat. A welcome change as it makes the route cleaner with less out and back sections.
It was noon by the time I started running so the sun was out and it was a challenge to run in the hot conditions. There’s plenty of water/aid stations and the volunteers were great at keeping the water/cola/energy juice/gels and bananas going.
My aim in the run was to run the first of three laps then run most of the second except for the long climb up from Dynamic Earth then see how I felt on lap 3. As it happened I felt okay throughout and was able to run (very slowly!) most of each laps with breaks at water stations only.
At this point I saw Iain was at least half a lap ahead so I decided to let him win today’s race – and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh is a great race. Well organised and most of the niggles of the first year were ironed out. Especially the biggest one – the crap t-shirt at the end. Last year’s effort was very much a ‘will this do?’ effort: ill fitting, poor lettering, just stick Edinburgh on an IronMan generic t-shirt effort. This year was much better. I even wore it through Edinburgh and then back to the start at Prestonpans to collect the car because, although it was hot, cool people wear their finisher’s t-shirts in public! 🙂