Counting down the days!

A long year of training is finally over and I’m now just a week out from heading off to Rio for my 35 km swim from Leme to Pontal. It’s been a struggle at times, but at last I’m feeling both physically and mentally ready. Last Sunday morning, I had my last sea swim in Ireland for this year: a leisurely lap of Sandycove Island with friends and training buddies, followed by the customary confectionery…

IMG_0116

A total of 47 swimmers swam at Sandycove last Sunday and, despite the water temperature being between 10ºC and 11ºC, about half swam a full lap of the island without wetsuits!

This week is my last week of training and it will be an easy one to ensure that I stay injury-free before arriving in Rio, so my real challenge for this week will be to try to stay motivated at work while I can do little other than visualise the swim!

Over the next week and a bit, I will be posting details of how you can follow the swim in real time. So keep an eye out for those…

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Getting there…

Once again, I’ve been very slow to update the blog – no surprises there! I could try using our recent house move as an excuse, but really it’s just one of those things that can always be done “tomorrow”. Anyway, here’s a quick update on progress towards my Leme to Pontal swim since my last post

The first major block of pool training has come to an end and I finally feel like I have successfully relearned how to swim. It felt great being back to early-morning pool swims in Meadowbrook before work, getting some metres in the shoulders and knocking off some of those excess seconds that built up during my year off – though it’s never going to be the same as those hard yards with great teammates in Fermoy Swimming Club. I’m down to just ticking over in the pool now while I’m doing most of the work in the open water, but there will be some big sessions to come once the open water “season” (I have to be careful using that word in front of the hard-core winter swimmers) winds down and before leaving for Brazil.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata

One of the main reasons why I don’t swim in the sea in Dublin a whole lot…

Since May, I’ve been working on endurance in the open water. Although I live in Dublin and have done a few longer swims there, my aversion to lion’s-mane jellies and love for swimming on the south coast have meant that most of my training has been done at home. I built up the distance at first in the River Blackwater and Knockananig Reservoir in Fermoy, swimming with Dave Mulcahy and also on my own. Once the sea warmed up a bit, I shed the wetsuit and started doing slightly longer swims with Carol Cashell in Myrtleville and Cork Harbour and with Donal Buckley, a.k.a. “Lone Swimmer”, on the Copper Coast in County Waterford, as well as doing a few other swims along the coast of County Cork, including at Sandycove Island and Ballycotton.

6h swim

Steady 3.6 km/h for 6 h!

The highlight of my training so far though has to be the Cork Distance Week organised by Ned Denison. The camp was based around Sandycove Island but included swims in Loch Allua in the Lee Valley, Myrtleville, the River Blackwater in Fermoy, Lough Hyne between Skibbereen and Baltimore, Inniscarra Reservoir, and Boatstrand on the Copper Coast, as well as some purely social events. There was also a 6-hour swim at Sandycove on the last day of the camp (which I successfully completed in order to qualify for my Leme to Pontal swim attempt). The camp was a tough but fantastic week of swimming in great company and beautiful places, and worthy of its own post – at some point, I might even get around to writing that up and posting a few pictures!

Lee Swim 2017

A selection of photos from the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim 2017 taken by George O’Keefe.

I’ve also finally done my first race of the summer, my tenth “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim, which starts near the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (where I spent a lot of my time whilst I was studying at University College Cork) and carries on down the North Channel of the River Lee, around Custom House Quay, and finishes at Clontarf Bridge. It was a bit of a shock to the system being back in a proper race, but it was good fun battling with Lizzie Lee for the best draft off Ned Denison, and even being pushed off course by Ned for making the mistake of trying to sneak past him on his blind side just before the finish… Enjoy that victory, Ned, I don’t intend to leave you have any more like that for a while!

That’s it for now. There won’t be such a long delay until the next post, hopefully…

Race Review: Sandycove Island Challenge 2013

Last Saturday, 7 September was the date of this year’s “The Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge, the second biggest event on the Munster open water swimming calendar. The swim has been running for, I think, 18 years and I’ve been taking part each year since 2006 – I admit missing the 2009 event as I was swimming across the English Channel at the time! It’s a fantastic event run by Cork Masters SC and is a great reason to make yourself visit the home of marathon swimming in Munster, Sandycove Island.

Entries were slightly down on last year for a number of reasons, with a total of just under 200 people completing the swim on the day. Dave Mulcahy, Dave Dowling, Ellen Brooks and myself all swam for Fermoy SC. Conditions were near-perfect: it was very overcast and occasionally wet but the water was glassy calm with very good visibility under water. The still flooding tide meant that swimmers would also get some assistance from the current on the one-mile circuit of the island. After registration in Kinsale around lunchtime, we headed to Sandycove to mill around and wait for the race briefing.

Ned gave the usual briefing at the slipway and all of the swimmers assembled into their start groups (of 30 swimmers each). I was seeded #2 so was in the first group. When we were lined up, it became clear to me that #4 or #5 would have been a more accurate seeding for me: in front of me was Dan Sweeney, a former Sunday’s Well SC and Plymouth Leander swimmer now swimming with the elite team at Loughborough, and behind me was Ethan O’Brien of Limerick SC who is making a name for himself as an elite triathlete. I was not competing with these guys, they are way out my league – I was much more focused on Carol Cashell, Ned Denison and maybe one or two others who are my usual competitors!

The start was very clean and non-violent: the 30 swimmers in the first group assembled on the slipway. Carol and I were stood next to each other in the middle while Ned was off to the right, picturing himself beating the real fast guys! The whistle went and we were off before we knew it. I got a nice clean dive and came back to the surface unobstructed by flailing arms. Carol and I were stroke-for-stroke and, as we approached the first corner, we caught Ned at the end of his initial sprint phase. Carol was on my left and Ned was on my right, I was sandwiched between the two of them as we headed for the rocks. I figured that the best thing to do would be to pull back and go around the outside of Ned – this would give me more water to swim in and also psychologically destroy Ned to see me pass him on the outside.

The calm conditions allowed for a tight line around the rocks at the first corner and the very good u/w visibility made it easier to find the deep cracks in the rocks. Carol, who was about 5 m outside me said afterwards that she thought that she was cutting it fine so was surprised to see me well inside her. She was scraping off subsurface rocks, confirming my theory that, at the first corner at Sandycove, it’s best to go as close as you can to the rocks that you can see, thus avoiding those that you can’t see! I started to pull ahead of Carol at this point and started reeling in a guy in a wetsuit who, it would appear, is probably a great 750 m triathlon swimmer but broke down a bit after 800 m. Having passed him on the back of the island, I was satisfied that it was only Dan and Ethan left at the front. I could see them approach the second corner but knew that a mere mortal like myself had no chance of catching them – I just focused on maintaining my current position, keeping a close eye on Carol just behind me…

I went incredibly close to the rock on the second/far corner, relying on the gentle swell to carry me over the shallowest parts – I lost no blood this time! The race after this was quite boring. The two lads were off in front, Carol was about 15 m behind and there was nobody on either side of me. The water was calm and there was no battle to be had. I have become used to ferocious battles at this event over the last few years! At the third corner, I picked my line to the marker buoys near the finish and went for it, readjusting my heading every few stroke cycles. As I reached the first of the large yellow buoys marking the approach to the finish, I saw Ethan and Dan getting onto the slipway. I tried to sprint in but the extra gear just wasn’t there; it didn’t matter though, I held my position and finished third person home in a time of 21:44.0 – a new PB, I’m pretty sure.

As Carol finished about 20 s after me, she informed everyone that the water temperature was 14.6ºC. Cooler than previous years, despite being about a fortnight earlier, but it made no difference as I didn’t think about the temperature for a second from start to finish. I enjoyed watching all of the others come in, especially the Fermoy SC swimmers. Dave (Mulcahy) did a very impressive swim: he got a new PB of 29:06 – his first sub-30-minute lap of the island! I spotted one swimmer just after the finish though and thought: “he looks fast, and familiar too…” It turns out that the swimmer, seeded #221, was Aaron O’Brien of Limerick SC who is today competing for Ireland in the Junior World Championships in triathlon!

There was great post-race banter back in Kinsale afterwards while we waited for the prizes. The best local result had to be Carol’s win in the female non-wetsuit category, she was flying only a week after her pioneering swim around Bere Island. Despite being third home, I had to settle for fourth place as, as was to be expected, Aaron had a faster swim than me by 7.7 seconds – I’m pretty pleased with 7.7 seconds behind a national squad triathlete over 1.6 km! It was a great event and credit is due to all involved in organising it. Sorry for the lack of photographs, I haven’t seen any myself…

I’m back in the pool now (sort of) but have a few more open water events left before returning to the real world of college and training. Tomorrow, I’m off to Catalonia to bask in the sun and reflected glory of swimming with FINA Grand Prix Champion 2013 and therefore World #1, Damián Blaum (ARG) and his wife, Esther Núñez Morera, who also just happens to be World #2! The event in which I’ll be swimming is the 6.5 km race from Cap de Creus to the village of Cadaqués in the picturesque North of the country. It is part of the Copa Marnaton “eDreams” and I’ll be there thanks to my friends Mauricio Prieto and Susan Moody who swam the Strait of Gibraltar this summer and keep a great open water blog, OWSwimming.com. I can’t wait for the race!

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Quick Update!

I haven’t posted in a while but I have a good excuse in that I was actually busy getting some swimming done! With the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim put behind me for another year, I took a day (alright, two days) off swimming and had a rest for myself. I then managed another 40+ km week, including a 5-hour swim in Myrtleville which you can read about in this article on the Myrtleville Swimmers website: Owen O’Keefe’s Swim

Map – FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS

There was some more good news this week in that entries have finally opened for the first ever Munster Open Water Swimming Championships at the National Rowing Centre, Cork on Saturday, 17 August 2013. These promise to be great regional championship events and will also include the Irish Junior 5 km Championships and a relay event. You can find more information on the event website…

Logo – Owen O'Keefe

Chun deireadh ceart do chur lem’ sheachtain snámha, do bhuaileas bóthar siar go Corca Dhuibhne agus an snámh bliantúil de chuid Nuala Moore ó Ché Cuain go Cé Cheann Trá agus thar n-ais arís (más mian). Lá grianmhar tirim a bhí ann ach bhí sé ana-ghaothmhar, do bhí cuilithíní ag teacht ón dtaobh clé an fhaid is a bhíomair ag snámh ó Ché Cuain go Ceann Trá. Do bhíos i n-ann teach ard buí do dhéanamh amach agus mé ag dul sa treo ó thuaidh – ní rabhas ábalta an Cé d’fheiceáil ar aon chor. Do chríochnaíos an chéad slí (b’fhéidir 1,800 m) i n-am píosa beag ní b’fhaide ná 30 neomataí. Nuair a chasas timpeall is do thosnaigh ag dul ins an treo eile, níor thig liom rud ar bith d’fheiscint thar na dtonnta is do chasas ar ais go Cé Cheann Trá airís. Do bhí tae is ceapairí i dTigh Pháidí Uí Shé ar Ard an Bhóthair againn i ndiaigh an tsnámha.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Im’ sheasamh ar Ché Cuain ag féachaint trasna go dtí Cé Cheann Trá…

That’s pretty much all I have to say for now. There is the possibility of meeting Diarmuid Dennehy and Carol Cashell for a new swim, Bridgetown Priory to Fermoy, on Saturday but other than that, the next big one is the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim on Saturday, 6 June…

Cork swimmers ready for MIMS 2013

With Lisa Cummins already stateside, it’s only Liam Maher and Carol Cashell left to send off to the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2013. Last Saturday, there was a send-off swim at Sandycove Island for the two seasoned marathoners before they leave…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Some of the swimmers get ready to start the send-off swim…

The weather was great so there was a good crowd present to join Liam and Carol for their last lap of the island before the big swim. Before we arrived however, there were already four swimmers in the water – Donal Buckley, Ciarán Byrne, Finbarr Hedderman and Rob “The Bull” Bohane – finishing their third lap that morning!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

And they’re off, maybe just fix the goggles first!

After getting out, the four dived back in for another two laps of the island! Why? There has been a recent escalation in competition between a few of the old guard at Sandycove to reach a thousand lifetime laps and so join the informal “M Club” of Sandycove – these five laps were the last  five before the thousand for “The Bull” so he has beaten Ned Denison to it! It’s amazing the motivation that many of us get to beat Ned…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Liam & Carol at the second corner.

The water was very calm and the air was mild – this is unusual for Sandycove this year! Temperatures in the water had risen also – it was about 11ºC on the day. This allowed us to stop for a chat and a few photographs at the far corner of the island.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Off again for the second half of the lap…

I was happy enough to finish after one lap but a few made it worth their while getting wet and went around a second time. The sea is warming up now so I will be doing multiple laps from now on. This was a social swim, though, so there was no need to push myself.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Carol finished, more ready to head off.

After the swim, there was a great BBQ and spread put on by Liam and Kaye and many others contributed also. There was a great atmosphere afterwards and it was a great way of sending off our swimmers. Best of luck, Liam and Carol!

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Global OWS Conference 2013

It was announced last week that the fourth Global Open Water Swimming Conference will be held in Cork, Ireland in October 2013. University College Cork, where I am a full-time student, will be the location for this conference. This is the first time that the conference has been held outside of the USA, with previous locations including the United Nations HQ in New York City and the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

Quadrangle at University College Cork

This year’s World Open Water Swimming Association Awards will be presented at the conference and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame will also induct its class of 2013 in Cork. The conference will also feature a series of lectures from world-wide authorities on the sport and other relevant experts, including Prof. Tom Doyle of the Coastal & Marine Research Centre (based at UCC) who will present a lecture on the various cnidarians found in Irish waters, as well as a reception at the Clarion Hotel and a dinner at the Rochestown Park Hotel.

This conference has previously been hosted by Steven Munatones and are now being brought to Cork by Ossi Schmidt and Paschal Horgan. It promises to be a great weekend so mark 11 to 13 October 2013 in your diary!

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Training 2012 versus 2013

I’m really struggling for writing material at the moment so I just thought that I’d do a quick comparison between how my training was going this time last year and how it’s going now. Here’s a quick bar chart (my liking for charts and graphs of all kinds will become apparent in future posts):

Graphic – Owen O'Keefe

Clustered bar chart of Weekly Totals (m) for Weeks 1 to 6 of 2012 and 2013.

2011 was a bit of an off year for me with my Leaving Certificate exams in June and my first semester at University College Cork from September to December. In January 2012, I found myself unexpectedly climbing up the mileage ladder on an almost daily basis. The fourth week of January was a 40 km week, which was a good week for me even when training for my English Channel swim in 2009. The next week, I managed over 50 km, including a 25 km pool swim on my birthday and a lap of Sandycove Island. This was my longest week ever!

However, this sudden increase in training volume took it’s toll and weakened my system enough to get a bad bout of tonsillitis. My training subsequently collapsed and weeks passed when I did not swim at all. I eventually got over it and had a great summer…

Since the middle of September 2012, my training has been lower in volume but I’ve been much more consistent and have been getting more value out of it. From the chart above, I’ve been doing very little until now (with college work, etc.) but I won’t be crashing and burning as I did last year. Hopefully, this will stand to me in the long run!