When Alan Mackie first heard about Swim Run events he thought they looked completely bonkers. Some months later he was somewhat surprised to find himself on the start line of the Loch Lomond Inch by Inch Swim Run.
He says: “I think I first spotted the swim run concept on Facebook. I watched a video of a race and I dismissed it as totally mad. But as so often happen with my group of friends, when I mentioned the idea to them a kind of collective madness grew and suddenly we had all agreed to enter the Loch Lomond Swim Run event.”
Alan signed up for the inaugural Short Course race on September 4 with friend and fellow GTC member Paul Gallagher.
Other GTC members who took part in the short course Loch Lomond Swim Run included Susan Gallagher and Lesley Mcluskey, Maureen Boyd and Charlotte McClelland.
Christine Catterson completed the long course, as did Pete Wightman and Conor McErlean.
Loch Lomond Inch by Inch Swim Run
There were two events for 2016: The original long course, comprising 24km of running and 8km of swimming. It was also the inaugural 2016 Swim Run UK Championship.
The Short Course was a total of 10k of running and 3k of swimming.
Alan says: “Although it is called a short course it still had a considerable amount of swimming. None of us had swum anything like 3km in a pool never mind open water.”
The day of the race
Despite a lot of rain preceding the event, the weather on the day of the race was superb with hardly any wind and warm temperatures. The loch was almost flat calm.
“It seemed perfect for a swim run event,” says Alan, “except none of us had factored in the hill run start. In fact, I am not sure anyone knew there would be a hill start to begin with! We certainly had not trained for any hill running so it came as a bit of a surprise.”
The race got underway with a 1.5km run and 250m of ascent. This meant that the competitors ended up spread out before they got into the loch.
Alan says: “The run section seemed to take forever. It felt quite mad running in a wetsuit and it was hard work going uphill. At the turn-round point Paul and I were in fifth place.
“Running downhill was also tough. I found my feet slipping around and I wished I had worn trail shoes. It took us about 19 minutes to climb up and another 10 minutes back down.
“We also lost some time at the bottom of the hill because we took a wrong turn. Although I had studied the map for the race and I was sure I knew all the swim entry and exit points and how to navigate the islands I hadn’t paid attention to the bottom of the hill. It was another lesson to learn.”
Into the first swim
It was a relief for the competitors to get into the loch because the air temperature was so warm. Many people were also very hot after the run.
Alan, who was still in fifth place with Paul, says: “It was so hot that I poured water over my head before getting into the loch. The spectators looked very bemused by my actions but I was seriously overheating.
“Getting into the water felt fantastic and we also enjoyed a change of rhythm. We passed a team with a very slow transition into the swim so we knew we were in fourth place.”
Alan reports that there appeared to be some confusion about the swim route. He thought the map showed a straight line swim from Aldochlay to the island of Inchtavannach but a marshall in a boat shouted to the pair to swim a different and longer course.
Run, swim, run and repeat
Exiting the loch on to Inchtavannach saw Alan and Paul running an undulating trail through the trees. Alan says: “It was great fun. I ran a few steps in front of Paul, managing to navigate from my mental map. The swim exit point wasn’t too obvious but again it was great to get into the water for swim two.”
This time is was easy to see the swim exit point and Alan and Paul were now joined by some of the competitors of the long course.
Run 3 was along a fabulous crescent sandy bay beach on Inchmoan before embarking on Swim 3, which was in the opposite direction back along the bay.
Alan says: “By this point we could see the short course pair that was in second place and just finishing the swim, as well as the team in third place, part the way up the swim. We felt like we were gaining on them and then the sun came through and the sandy bottomed swim was almost Caribbean.”
Coming out of the swim, Alan and Paul were on the heels of the third place competitors.
More running and swimming!
Run 4 was over rough terrain before Swim 4 headed to Inchconnachan, famous for its wallabies. By now, during run 5, Alan and Paul were in third place overall.
Swim 5 was very short, crossing The Narrows, which is said to be the most scenic part of Loch Lomond. However, with the chance to retain third overall Alan and Paul did not stop to take in the views.
As they reached the north-east point of Inchtavannach, they knew they would soon be on the home straight.
Alan says: “A group of marshalls were manning the aid and food station at this point and we saw many long course athletes taking a chance to sit and eat. But Paul just shouted, ‘No time for food’ as we ran past. I did manage to grab a couple of flapjacks and half a cup of coke.
“We had folks on our tail and next up was the trail run on Inchtavannach so we pushed on.”
At the top of the final descent, heading towards the final swim, Alan and Paul met their better halves, Lesley and Susan, who had just finished their first swim. Alan says: “I did wonder, at that point, if they would manage to complete the race.”
Into the home straight
The final swim was the longest of the short course and Alan and Paul agreed to swim it as hard as they could. They exited the water with around 100 metres of a lead on the pair behind.
Taking the time to unzip the back of their wetsuits for an easier run, Alan and Paul then set off for the final 2km run.
Alan says: “It doesn’t sound like a long way but it I was really sore. By this point the tops of my legs and all around my hips were not happy. With about 500m to go I looked behind. The other pair was gaining fast.
“With about 100m to go, Paul looked behind and said they were now 10m behind us and we should try to give it everything. I already was. I was close to tears trying to get my legs to move faster. I didn’t dare look back.
“I really wanted third place and I couldn’t believe that as a novice team and me close to 50 that we would be in this position.
“The finish line seemed to take forever to get to. I imagined footsteps and the breathing right behind getting closer. Paul and I crossed the finish line side by side, turned around and the chasers were 100m or so behind. After they finished they said they had given it everything to catch us on the run. So had we.
“I simply couldn’t believe we were the third team to finish. I still can’t and it’s all quite emotional for me.”
Alan and Paul finished in 2hrs 9mins. They were third overall and second in the men’s category.
Give swim run a try
Alan says: “This is a brilliant event and with so many differences to more ‘normal’ events. It is an adventure but still a race. It challenges much more than your fitness. The variety of swim, run, trail, hill and navigation is fabulous.
“The team element is also really important. I think Paul and I complemented each other well.
“Lesley couldn’t have done it without Susan and Maureen and Charlotte finished holding hands with the biggest smiles ever.
“In fact, Susan and Lesley received a massive round of applause from all the competitors. They were delighted to finish and to have managed to overtake another team.
“The only question left is what to enter next year? The long course or the goal of trying to win the short one.”
Pete and Conor finished 21st overall in the long course, while Christine and her race partner finished in 54th place.