2016 Loch Gu Loch 8k Swim 30mi Run, by Tara Lawfull

start-loch-gu-loch-2016Since returning back from the Scottish Highlands I’m getting many people asking me about my Swimrun Challenge, well for those that are not on Facebook here is an insight to the challenge………..not for the faint hearted!

Arriving at HQ The Highland Club Fort Augustus on Friday afternoon 30th Sept after about a 10hr journey North, a quick whistle stop around the breathtaking grounds situated on the Southern shores of Loch Ness then it was straight into the briefing for the serious stuff!! Briefed for an hour, I must admit I came away slightly dreamlike, [is this really going to happen]……….we soon found a pub to fuel up! The following day a rude awaking at 4am after an on/off sleep, already feeling dry in the mouth, nerves! We left The Highland Club at 5am to feel the cold instantly hit us in the face you could see your breath in the air with a low level of fog hugging the grounds. We walked in the pitch-black with the odd word spoken down to board the Jacobite Warrior at 5:15am it took 1.5hrs to reach destination arriving at the remote start, Urquhart Castle to the sound of Scottish Great Highland bagpipes.


Weather was looking okay for us, with a slight wind and pretty dry, we made a quick kit bag drop followed by a photo call, really thinking I want to get going now……..soon we were making our way down to waterside for the first swim Loch Ness 2k, big gulp! !…………I stood on the grassy banks looking across to the other side, it looked a massive amount of water to swim………thinking why the hell did I sign up for this!! I blinked hard and could see sighting was going to be difficult, could hardly see the exit the other side. Knowing my girlie thing entering the water I had to go in and start acclimatising……Oh MY f**k came to mind this was not the temperatures I had been use to training in!!! Bite the bullet & get under girl, slowly dropping the shoulders under, then the head………I heard the sound of the foghorn then we were off a few hundred participants embarked!! I had instant brain freeze and breathing erratic not the best start. The Loch was dark, deep and eerie with arctic temps easily below 10°c, a sting to the system. I battled with leg cramps so to keep calm I would occasionally find myself looking up at the sky making shapes from the clouds to keep my mind occupied………some poor folk never made that first swim I saw the rescue boat go pass me with shivering shoulders wrapped in foils, this sight scared me though I pushed on! The other side of Loch Ness never seemed to get any closer…….. I worked on keeping myself calm and composed, finally reaching the other side. I tried to stand up and fell right over backwards……..I had lost my feet somewhere back on the swim!!! I heard a marshal shouting at me “crawl in!! Number 35 CRAWL IN!” and that’s exactly what I did, feeling like I was on a Bear Grylls Wilderness adventure. How many people can say they have swum across Loch Ness……….check, first hurdle completed!!


Loch Ness to Loch Duntelchaig first run 5.6mi was painful and most of this section was forest trails uphill, running with frozen feet, trying to shove a gel down and retching not a brilliant combination for uphill running. The steeper parts we found the need to trek as sometimes the running felt like running in treacle…….you know that feeling, we’ve all experienced porridge legs at some point!! Second swim 1250m Loch Duntelchaig just over half a mile with baltic conditions, this followed by a short run across rough tracks of moorland heather, quickly coming into view Loch Ceo Glais, our third swim, 200m. A tricky rocky entrance and a bit of a swim/wade, the shallow parts allowed you to grab the rocks at the bottom to pull yourself along. It was a welcome break to see the floor, we had flickers of sunlight on the water, a fleeting moment I was back at Queenford Lake my comfort blanket! Smile 🙂

Onto the third run Loch Ceo Glais to Loch Mhor another 5.6mi, hoping for the feed station, but it wasn’t there… a slight route change had meant it would, but now to be after run four, a rubbish organisational blip but the only one, can’t moan got to push on. This section was quite technical rough cut line through moorland heather with gorse, rocks, and trackless routes followed by more hilly forest trails with quiet country roads……the challenge kicking in now, never felt cold like this before!! Just as the going got tough we had a blissful downhill section couldn’t of arrived at a better time with great satisfaction, I recall a smile developing spirits raised as we picked up arriving at swim four Loch Mhor 400m and making check point, chuffed we can continue, YES!!…….more gels went in, this task was becoming tricky to get our zipped pouches open with numb fingers. I would also drink the cleaner Lochs to stay hydrated, needs must! The Lochs weren’t getting any warmer in fact they felt colder, fact as I later found out at the Boathouse for a hot feast!! Some of the Lochs get artificially raised by hydroelectric projects by the construction of dams this was the blame to arctic ice cream head whatever your definition of COLD is, this was it!! My legs were screaming at me, still battling with the cramps the magnesium with zinc tablets were NOT doing what the small print promised me……….enough waffling we have reached run four 2.5mi Loch Mhor Shore. The marshal here was an angel she let us have her own drink and some food from her rucksack, she also mentioned it was looking tight for the next check point, Christ! After hearing that I was off, call it an adrenaline injection!! We turned a corner and reached a feed station, chucked everything we could in our mouths both sharing half a cup of coke, that would teach us staying at the back, all the coke had been consumed, bastards came to mind at that low point! The marshal here gave Phill a cocktail of drugs, pain was kicking in from a previous injury…….no time to faff straight back running, arriving at swim five about half a mile.  We could wade this one though really tricky as the floor would drop away. I kept my eyes on the team in front and would see their chosen path and I would try and avoid the drop out zones. The floor was silt/bog so tiring to wade through, it kind of turned into a swim/wade, anything goes as long as your breathing and moving………..finally reaching a sandy exit, a clap and a smile from a marshal and onto run five, Loch Mhor [Migovie] to Loch Mhor [Garthbeg] just short of 2mi though pretty brutal in places across thick rocky moorland heather, gravel tracks finally coming into view on the horizon swim six another half of mile. Another check point and it was game over, the friendly marshal told us we had missed the cut off time by just a few minutes I would like to add, I thought I would be gutted but actually I wasn’t. I did look across at swim six 800m and yes I had the energy to continue though my time was up……….handshakes and hugs all round as we finished this epic journey with another team, two great blokes we hitched up with somewhere way back over The Highlands, we had stopped racing with them and became one strong team, helping each other along. I came off the course feeling accomplished and not broken even went on to do a recovery run how mad is that!!

It was an arduous journey I will never ever forget. I would definitely give another one a shot though I would plan wisely on the distances as this was a tremendous amount of water/land covered for a first Swimrun event. I am totally gob smacked and chuffed on how far we covered, I have no shame in not finishing, I have pride in the effort and the guts to rock up and give it a go! It was a relentless challenge with buckets of experience gained!! To be fair it took a while to defrost, though fully recovered and planning the next one for 2017. We are proud to have put Eynsham Road Runners on the world map as the Loch Gu Loch is part of the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series and it attracts the big boys from all round the world, we stand proud. Amen.