At the start of the year a doctor told a friend to stop running or risk serious trouble from his knees. He turned his outside activities towards the lochs instead of the hills. There is a quick mention of his first swim at the end of my last blog, Patrick’s big night. He was smitten. A couple of weeks later, wetsuit, gloves and a load of other winter swimming protection arrived in the post for him. We started swimming regularly. Actually regularly is not accurate, every opportunity would be a better description. Clare was happier, not at the more time spent in the water, but there was less solo missions.
We will call this rookie swimmer Neoprene for the rest of this watery saga. We both have a dislike of chlorinated square pools. So for nearly forty years the both of us had no inclination to get an efficient swim stroke.
I used to think splashing furiously would get you to the other side of the pool faster. I have since learnt it’s about minimum effort for maximum return. Knowing that statement and adjusting my swim stroke are two different things, there is less splashing these days, but I don’t go forward very fast.
Neoprene on the other hand is a strong swimmer. However, after 25m he would have to stop because he was out of breath. He was breathing out in the water, just going too hard and fast.
We swam up the shore side of Loch Venachar for the first few swims and every 20 odd meters we would stop for a breath. He looked relaxed in the water, out of breath, yes, but never out his comfort zone. We were increasing the distance we travelled every swim. I decided to try Loch Lubnaig. It has a deep drop off close to the shore. I normally swim up and down the Loch from one car park to another about 2.3km. But the other side is a few hundred meters away. I wanted Neoprene to get a sense of achievement reaching a fixed point.
We started off fully suited and booted with tow floats. We swam straight out, following our routine stopping every 20m for a breath. After a few stops, Neoprene inadvertently took a big gulp of freezing cold water on board. He looked panicked. This was not good. Had I overestimated his abilities? We grabbed the tow floats and bobbed about, calming down and then headed for the shore side. I hoped he was not freaked out. He got out with a big smile on is face which I hoped was not fake.
A couple days later, we headed for Loch Ard. It was a glorious sunny winter’s day and we met a Wild Swimming legend. He swam out with the wind and into the depths, across to a point and back.
We opted to swim in the opposite direction up the shore side making it easier to get back to the entry point swimming back with the wind. We stayed shallow and followed our 20m routine.
Snow arrived the following day and the three of us enjoyed a swim at Venachar. The legend appeared as excited us, and he told us ” This is real swimming boys, anybody can swim in the summer”
For the next few swims I didn’t push Neoprene. Sometimes I stayed with him up the shore side but sometimes I swam on further letting him return to the car park himself, hopefully building his confidence.
It was during one of these swims instead of staying shallow we stayed out a wee bit deeper and when he went to stand up I told him to not put his legs down but to grab his tow float. The realisation of “this is easy” showed on his face.
Folk that are at ease in the water, a swimming pool, Loch or in the middle of the sea, sometimes forget the paralysing fear that can easily grab hold. We can die easily, it’s confidence and stupidity sometimes makes us forget. I have been gripped with this fear a few times. The first time I swam across Lubnaig I nearly drowned and then once in a Norwegian Fojrd, when my hand touched what I hope was a jellyfish, I turned round immediately and swam to the shore. Also once in Loch Voil when my hand touched a stick, I filled my wetsuit and scrambled for the nearest land.
The next swim with Neoprene I decided to risk Lubnaig again. We shook hands on reaching the other side, similar to Scottish hill walkers reaching the top of a Munro (one of Scotland’s 283 hills over 1000m). He looked well chuffed. We reached the goal, but half way across in the middle of a Loch, there appeared to be no sense of panic in Neoprene. I love being in the middle of a Loch so much that I stupidly never hug the shore side. Suspended, floating with enough of your chin out the water to inhibit drowning, surrounded by rocky hills covered with snow, trees and nature, towering over you, makes you feel tiny for a moment but also you get sense of being at the center of the world.
It’s been great accompanying Neoprene on his journey and the learning has not all been one sided. I have learnt loads like slowing down to analyse and conduct even better risk assessments before swims. By trying to help him I have got more efficient and removed 20 seconds off my 100m time, which doesn’t sound much but over 5km it will add up.
As if being outside swimming in Scottish Lochs isn’t enough reward. It just get better and better.
Awe ya dancer