I had been contemplating this swim, mostly in an embarrassed silence, for a long time before I broached the topic with anyone. Then the cancer came back, so it seemed out of the question. But once I was back in remission and starting to get fit again, it felt like a good time to set myself a challenge and a target. Of course there could have been easier ones but it’s good to have adventures. I approached Saartje, a friend at the East Lothian Triathlon Club, who likes open water swimming and is completely nuts. She agreed instantly. My good friends Caroline and Ian agreed without hesitation to be our support team, along with Saartje’s partner Pete, my wonderful husband Iain and son Tim.
Other responses have been mixed. Friends who know us, without exception, think it’s a fantastic idea. After all, there are people doing crazy challenges all over the place at the moment – it seems to be the thing to do this decade. Some people just think we’re nuts. Fair enough – we probably are. But there’s another group who in the first instance don’t take us seriously and then see only the problems. Things I’ve been told: it’ll be very cold. Yeah, really? It’s a long way. I’d figured that and I felt like a midget standing next to Loch Shin in June. It gets very windy on Loch Shin; you might not be able to swim. You want to watch for toxic algal blooms. The fishermen won’t like it. The fishfarm might be a problem. And so on.
It took me a while but I’ve realised that the problems can be divided into two groups: ones we can deal with and plan for and ones we can’t. We’ll wear wetsuits. We’ll make sure we have decent boat cover, have radio contact with the shore and wear bright coloured caps. We’ll let the Estate know. And there’s really no point worrying in advance about whether there’ll be toxic algal blooms because there is absolutely nothing we can do about it until it happens. As to the fishermen, well we don’t want to fall out with them but we’ll be very quiet and won’t be there long and we’ll save the River Shin for a Sunday when there’s no fishing.
The other thing I figured early on is that if you divide things into small enough steps, most things are possible. And so we’re not going to try to swim all day non stop. We will probably swim in 2 hour blocks with breaks to warm up and refuel. We’re going to do this over two long weekends rather than six to eight days straight; we should come into the second weekend with a good understanding of what we need to do to finish.
Problems or not, it all kicks off next week. I fully admit I’m terrified but I’m sure that, once we get going, it’ll be wonderful. It might be – sorry, will be – very boring for our support team but it’ll be exciting for us swimmers. We start in Loch Laxford on Thursday 8th August at 7am, to get the last of the incoming tide to help us into the River Laxford. I’m hoping that by Sunday 11th we will be most of the way down Loch Shin, if not at the southern end. We come back for the 13th to 16th September, aiming to swim the river on Sunday 15th and finishing at Bonar Bridge on Monday 16th. Wish us luck!
We’d like to thank The Tri Centre in Edinburgh for doing us a deal on wetsuits and East Lothian Triahtlon Club for helping with some of the costs. Our sponsorship page is http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/ShinSwim if you would like to support us. Anything we raise is being split between Maggies and WaterAid.