Olivia’s race: River Spey 10k Swim

Swim start
Swim start

Freezing cold water, disorientation, exhaustion, sickness and anxiety were all overcome by GTC member Olivia Robinson when she completed the inaugural River Spey 10k swim this month.  The event also included a 5k and a one mile swim.

Other club members Stephen MacIntyre, Duggie Mac, Terry Addison and Megan Davey swam in the 10k event. Emma Kay took part in the 5k. The race is organised by GTC member Alan Anderson.

Olivia told me about her race.


Olivia swims her first 10k

Olivia confesses that she was persuaded to enter the River Spey 10k Swim. Despite her own doubts, GTC friends reckoned she would be able to do it if she trained – and they encouraged her to sign up.

Olivia was also keen to do something epic for herself – and for the charity, Tearfun, that she raises money for.

Since signing up in January, Olivia’s dedication to her swim training has been evident. She has been a regular participant at club swimming sessions; she has built up her distance swimming in local pools; and she has managed as much open water swimming as possible this spring and summer. 

Her endurance and speed has improved significantly and although her longest swim in training was only (!) 6km, many people in the club were confident in her ability to complete the full 10km.


Still, Olivia was worried on race day. Lining up at the start of the event  at Kincraig, near Aviemore in the Highlands, she felt very anxious.

She says: “There were lots of amazing things about the swim event but to start with it felt so cold. I don’t normally get cold when swimming but I was very cold.

“Even as early as the first feed station at 2.5km I wasn’t sure if I would make it all the way because I was shivering so much. But I was determined to keep going and to try to finish.”

After feed station one, Olivia enjoyed the chance to float down a series of rapids on the River Spey. She says: “It was good fun; like a natural water slide.” As the swim continued the Spey widened and deepened and this made it easier to get into a swimming  rhythm.

Olivia decided she would stop only at the feed stations and try to continue swimming in between. She says: “I was worried that if I stopped for a breather or a rest anywhere other than the feed stations that I wouldn’t get going again.

“The people at the feed stations were very encouraging and this made it easier to get back on with the swim.”

IMG_1546Gels were handed out at feed stations, as well as hot drinks. Olivia recalls her second feed station stop. She says: “It was brilliant being given the gels already opened. I would not have been able to manage this myself.  My hands were too cold!

“There was also hot juice. I think it was hot orange squash but to be honest all I could tell was that it was hot.”

Swim from feed station 2 to 3

Olivia found herself swimming on her own during the stage between feed stations two and three. She says: “By this point I had dropped off the back of the front swimmers but had managed to stay ahead of the back group.

“It was actually quite nice swimming along by myself until my cold and tired brain had an anxious thought that maybe I’d gone the wrong way. Fortunately, I then turned a corner in the river and could see a few other swimmers, so I thought that even if I was lost, I wasn’t the only one.”

Then came the last feed station at the 8km mark. Olivia was worried she wouldn’t be allowed to continue because there was a cut-off time but she discovered she had an hour to swim 2km, which she thought would be entirely possible.

She remembers thinking: “The end is in sight.”

She adds: “I think this was the first point that I really thought I might complete the event. The furthest I had swam in training was 6km in one session so just getting to the 8km feed station was an achievement.

“The guys at the feed station where really sweet and asked if I was ok, and whether I wanted to stop because I looked very cold. I said I was cold but I wasn’t stopping and so I carried on.”


Tough times on the final swim stage

Half a kilometre later and Olivia was suddenly sick. She says: “I felt awful for a while and then I was sick. I think it was because I ate too many gels. After that I felt much better, though, and I swam on.

“I then rounded a corner and realised I was in Loch Inch and I thought I was so very close to the end. Unfortunately, I hadn’t factored in that I would have to sight properly across the loch.

“All the way down the river I had just been following the bank and occasionally sighted forwards to see if there was a bend coming up. When I got to the loch, I was so tired and cold and so I really didn’t want to add any more distant than I needed to by not sighting so I focused on that.

“For some reason I had it in my mind that the swim in Loch Inch would be quite short, and compared to the rest of the swim it was, but it felt like it went on forever.

“I could see the watersports centre where the finish would be but it seemed to not come any closer for a long time.”


Finally, Olivia found she had arrived at the line of buoys in the finish area. She says: “I realised I would have to stand up to get across the finish line. By that point my legs and hips where really feeling it after swimming so far.

“But I didn’t want to have my finisher photo with me falling over and face-planting on the way out of the water, so I came out really slowly.

“I was welcomed across the line by my mum, family friend Meg Forrest and the many amazing race volunteers.” 

Olivia finished in 3:52:10 and was thrilled to go below the four hour mark. She says: “Even with the current in the River Spey, this was a much faster time than I ever thought possible. I am delighted.”


Olivia’s swim thanks

GTC member Christine Catterson was able to help Olivia after she came out of the water. She frog-marched Olivia to the changing rooms where she helped her off with her wetsuit and sent her into the shower.

Olivia says: “I am so thankful to everyone who made my race possible. I feel like I’ve come so far in the last few years.

“I want to thank the Glasgow Triathlon Club for the amazing coaching, encouragement, banter, friendship and for talking me into doing this crazy swim. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.

“Thank you also to my mum and Meg for cheering me on. Thank you for the company in the swim and well done for completing your own races Duggie and Terry.

“And a big thank you to Christine for her help with training and at the finish. I couldn’t have got out of my wetsuit without her help.

“Thank you to those who sent messages of support and made banners. 

“Finally, and by no means least, thank you for everyone who sponsored me. I’ve raised more than £500 for Tearfund. All the money raised will go to Tearfund in their tireless fight for social justice.” You can donate here.

GTC extends congratulations to the three GTC athletes who finished the River Spey 10k Swim. Stephen finished in 2:52, while Terry crossed the finish line in 3:25 and Duggie came home in 3:21.

Megan finished in 2:52 and was second in her female vet category. Emma swam her 5k in 2:03.