Always at the back


I was never great at any sport, there was a few runners up medals.The only time I crossed the finishing line first was munching sweeties. Maybe, it was this wham bar induced chaos that hindered concentration, removing my competitive edge. I was happy at the back laughing and joking, meandering away. I lost interest in sports as soon as it became serious, junior 7 aside rugby in primary school was great fun and I achieved the nickname kamikaze. When it stepped up to 15 aside the fun kind of waned. I realised one, cold, wet evening, was my last training session, lying on the muddy pitch, close to the river forth getting upclose and personal with studs on the bottom of my team mates boots. It was not until years later describing the end of my rugger career to a work colleague that he told me, they were teaching me a valuable lesson, to cover up, protect myself, it leads to a stronger player and therefore a stronger team.

image[North Third ]

Ten years later, to lose weight I started boxing training, this lead to 4 amateur fights. Our old trainer was a Scottish boxing legend, when sparing he took off his top to revealed a heart surgery scar, it was difficult to concentrate on anything else until he landed a punch to your jaw, you learned from his actions, because of his lisp you only understood every fifth word. Boxing is a science, its not barbaric, its about increasing technique, skill and stamina to overcome an opponent. I lost my first fight to a big lad, through poor technique and lack of 2 stone, I out boxed my next two opponents, managing to stop the third opponent in the second round with a powerful punch, my last fight, my opponent out boxed me as I chased him round the ring with my newly discovered knock out punch. Traveling home from Rosyth that evening, I realised I was not enjoying myself any longer.

image[Castlehill Reservoir]

Three years later, I started Kick boxing, like boxing but with more variables (legs, knees and elbows). My boxing training helped and other stuff just kind of fell into place, I had been training for 18 months when one evening, our instructor lead us through a serious of moves, the last one was the quick snap of our opponent’s neck. I was furious, we were learning to act instinctively, without thought and he introduced a murder charge into the ring or pub if it was to kick off, I never went back.
I lost interest in golf before I had a handicap, and mountain biking was finding new trails or discovering my own safety conscious limits not anybody else’s

image[Loch Venachar]

My interest in swimming was not to be the winner, but you can’t lose many swims when most of them were solo adventures.


At the start of the year, I made the decision to give up swimming in lochs. I thought it would be easy as removing rugby and boxing from my life. Close 20 years ago I got my first taste of real coffee. The wonderful aroma and liquid caffeine nitros oxide boost lasted 3 months before my stane brain was reduced to rubble and my wife enforced the first prohibition in my diet, lack of sleep removed black and green tea years down the line. My sugar prohibition was next, it had the biggest difference to my life, next was a full on restiction on carbs, nay tatties, rice, bread, pasta. (does the odd chip, steak pie and half a dozen packets of crisps count). Giving up is easy. That’s what thought until I had leave my wet suit in the cupboard and concentrate on running. I became crabbit, miserable and royal pain in the backside.

image[Loch Voil]

Last month I invested in a 5mm Zoot wetsuit to help with the cold temperatures. Jumping in the water and getting the cold excilareting burning sensation was part of the fun, the mild hyperthermia shakes were enjoyable but things have changed and I need to stay warm. I stopped the cold showers and baths, I miss them both greatly. I have not read any medical research, but I truly advocate cold showers. I personally feel the world would use less prozac if we all had more time under a freezing shower head. Jumping about the shower cubicle not knowing which body part to grab and rub heat into, between hyperventilating and giggling like a mad loon. It sounds torture, but I was never morose or tired after a baltic rinsing, kind of a like a fast mini cold water swim.

image[Carron Valley Reservoir ]

The first week with my new wetsuit, we were inseparable, it was the start of something beautiful. We tried to swim in a different location every day, sometimes twice. After the winter storms had laid the flag flat in the middle of Loch Lubnaig, our first short swim consisted standing up the saltire and building a wee support, next was out to the wee island in North third reservoir, our first mile in Castlehill reservoir in Glendevon followed, then I introduced my new best neoprene friend to a group of swimmers at Loch Venachar, then to the wild west swimmers at Luss, when we swam out to bird poo island in Loch Lomond, I navigated poorly and came up shallow on the lochside, actually beached twice. Next we had a traquil swim in Loch Voil in Balquhidder ending the week with our first swim in Carron Reservoir in the campsies, the warmth and protection provided by my new 5mm companion allowed for run afterwards up Meikle Binn, a 500m high hill close to the reservoir.

image[I thought this would be the closest I would get to a swim during a trip to Andorra]

We parted company, when the family went to Andorra for the weekend. I thought all I would see of Andorra was the basketball courts, supporting my oldest son play with the under 12yrs Scottish national team. It took a early Saturday Morning run to find a snowy Pyrenees mountain lake and get a short skins dookin. The Andorran’s and Spanish made us feel welcome, all the teams shouted for Scotland, it was an unforgettable weekend. My son’s basketball team won the tournament and he earned a gold medal (He has a load of winners medals, more than me and he’s not even a teenager, it must be his mum’s influence.). The boys did us proud.

image[A wee lake above Andorra de ville]

Job lists and other tasks took priority on our return and the wet suit stayed dry for a wee while, only getting used the odd morning. After about two weeks I jumped at the chance for a evening swim. There were four of us, strangers, one regular confident swimmer and regular last year but first time this year nervous swimmer and a brand new straight out the box, cold water swimmer (they had a wee bit experience but not much) and myself ( this is no disrespect but for the remainder of this meandering description the swimmers will be called Confident, Nervous and
We changed into wetsuits in the car park, then meandered up to the water. With the route decided in the water, we headed off. After a few strokes I caught a glimpse of both of Nervous and Newbie both breastroking. I had been swimming recently with a bunch of swimmers, they are all like rockets in the water and shoot off, away passed me then pause, until I catch up, I am aware of the physical effects of being seditary, bobbing about not swimming in cold water and I realise the sacrifice they make for me, cheers. Anyway, this swim was looking like it would be a wee bit different, I took up position at the back of both of them as both grew accustomed to the temperatures, the more their faces went in the water the longer they were able to keep them in the water, swimming front crawl without having to stop to catch a breath. We swam up the water edge, then we crossed across the other side of the loch, my main concern was for newbie so I stayed a wee bit closer, by the time we reached the loch side and the second point on our watery triangle, it was noticeable that Nervous felt a wee bit uncomfortable. I enjoy being in the middle of a loch, the complete solitude, your chin and body submerged, eyes just above the water, gazing on the sky and hills. But this isolation or exposure can also induce incapacitating fear. I felt it the first time I tried to swim across loch lubnaig and nearly drowned, I am now aware how easily it can happen. On the way back, Confident showed the Newbie across the longest stretch of water, while Nervous and myself swam at the back following a wee bit closer to the edge than first decided. Nervous like myself only breathed on the right so I swung round so they could see me when they took a breath, we kept swimming at the same pace, keeping each other company. A few times we stopped for a breather and by the end, Nervous was more concerned about slowing me up than swimming in a massive, wide open, cold, loch, I was honest and hope Nervous believed me when I said – I had the time of my life.- It was a brilliant. watching, helping and repaying my dues to the fast swimmers who stop for me. Nervous will now be called Accomplished. Once Accomplished relaxed with company by their side, we matched stroke for stroke and they grew in confidence. The swim was great fun for me and judging by Accomplished’s smile, they enjoyed their self. Newbie will be known as Experienced. Experienced was buzzing after the swim, full of excitement after being submerged in a loch but, full on, for the future possibilities this opened up. Experienced described it perfectly four strangers went for a swim and came out the water as friends.


Being at the back has its benefits, its got big smiles and laughs, it’s always seemed to me, winning requires not just more focus but less fun.

5 thoughts on “Always at the back

  1. Man, that is a fantastic read. I figured you were hanging back and looking out for us so thank you very much for that. Last week I found myself quite alone in the middle of the Loch and lost sight of my companions tow floats who were quite far ahead of me. I will admit that I had a momentary panic but then I realized how lucky I was to be experiencing this and I remembered what you told me – “it’s pretty hard to sink in a wet suit, just roll on your back”. Made a huge difference having that thought in my head. This week I actually enjoyed being in the middle 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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