I have a blog, I haven’t forgotten!

***I originally wrote this post on Christmas Eve last but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had to delay making it public until now. I’m glad that it’s finally up here and open to everyone!***

I know, I know, it’s been an age since I last posted anything on this blog. Why have I not been writing? The honest answer is that I haven’t really had much to write about, and that I couldn’t really be bothered to write, quite frankly. So, what have I been up to? Plenty, but not a whole lot of swimming, to tell the truth…

Photograph – Adrian Healy

Racing the 1,500 m in UL back in March. I haven’t seen the inside of the building since – oops! (Image: Adrian Healy)

A few weeks after my last post way back in March, I found myself in a somewhat awkward situation and having to finally confront some personal issues that I had been choosing to ignore for far too long. The first of these was the pretty poor state of my mental health throughout most of my first two years at university, the causes of which were many and varied, but which need not be discussed here. Just what it was that brought that awful period to a close was what forced me to talk about it… To cut a long story short, I took comfort in the company of a friend, another boy, and gradually began to think of him as more than just a friend. After a year, I couldn’t bear to keep the secret anymore, and so I told him how I felt. This was a huge step for me as I had never told anyone – and I mean absolutely anyone – either about my mental health or that I was gay. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, this step didn’t go all that well. Knowing that this [as well as other complicating factors that revealed themselves in the following days and weeks] might trigger another, possibly worse bout of whatever it was that I had suffered before, I started talking. I was and am very lucky to have the most incredibly supportive friends and family, who helped me to process a good decade’s worth of emotional sh*t, for want of a better phrase, that I had built up in my head. I am beyond grateful for everything that they have done for me. So, thank you to everyone who has supported me!

But I did do *some* swimming!!!

As you might have seen in posts from earlier this year, I had gone back to training properly in the pool with my old club, Fermoy SC. That actually went quite well! Thanks to starting some light running and regular pool training, I lost a decent amount of weight and made a lot of gains in the pool, finally going under the minute in the 100 m freestyle and making good PBs in the 400 m and 1,500 m events too. I even managed to compete in the 400 m event at the Irish Age Group Championships & Summer Open in July, something which I’d given up on five years ago. I had an okay-ish season in the open water too, though I didn’t swim any major distance. I did go back to the Costa Brava though for my favourite event ever, the 6.5 km Marnaton “eDreams”  Cadaqués, where I had an “interesting” race that I might discuss in a later post… I’m sorry to say that there was little other news on the open water front – it would appear that weight loss and cold water tolerance don’t agree very well with one another!

Photograph – Edna English

On the podium again in Cadaqués. Not exactly in the position that I’d have liked but good to share it with meu amic, Albert Cortés Rovira. (Image: Edna English)

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The beautiful village of Cadaqués just after the swim – a truly stunning location! (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Much to the disappointment of many, I did dip my toe into the world of triathlon this summer. Many dyed-in-the-wool open water swimmers would have me hanged, drawn and quartered for such a transgression! I must say that I’ve really enjoyed having a variety of sports in which to train. I always have and always will love swimming, so no need for an explanation there. I think that running is a very accessible sport (it’s inexpensive and there are so many opportunities for participation) and one which is very social too. Cycling I have found very enjoyable in a solitary way. Plus, I live in great cycling territory, something that my friend, Eoin McCarthy, will vouch for…

Side note: Many congratulations to Eoin on recently signing for the An Post-Chain Reaction Seán Kelly cycling team! Continued success to this incredible athlete…

As regards the sport of triathlon itself, I joined my local club, Blackwater Triathlon Club, this year and really enjoyed being part of the club, especially cycling the Ring of Beara, which was a fantastic experience. Once trained up a bit, I took part in two sprint distance triathlons: one in Carrick-on-Suir and one at home in Fermoy. The local event, which is now part of the Triathlon Ireland National Series, was amazing and I enjoyed it immensely. I wasn’t displeased with my performance either, I must admit. So, yeah, triathlon: it gets the thumbs up from me!

Photograph – Finbar O'Hanlon

Look, there I go………triathlon-ing! (Image: Finbar O’Hanlon)

Anyway, forgetting for *two seconds* about university, that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to since I last posted. While there are a lot of things that I’d rather forget about, 2014 has not in fact been the worst year ever and I can write now a happier and healthier person than ever before. Finally, a very happy Christmas [or whatever mid-winter festival you’re celebrating] and see you in the new year!

Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am so arís, and let’s hope that it’s not an am so arís before I write anything on here again…

Race Review: VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués (Part 2)

(Cont’d from Part 1) Starting at the front of the crowd and off to the right, I had pretty clear water all round me – until a handful of us swam straight into a kayak, that was! It was a surreal experience seeing Damián Blaum next to me in the water for a short while. How often do we get to compete with the top athletes in any sport? As we rounded the first bend, I managed to draft off Esther Núñez for a few short minutes – I was very proud of myself, as you can imagine! At this point, I also realised that there was no more than half a dozen swimmers ahead of me so decided that I’d better swim properly…

Photograph – Martnaton

Rounding the first corner of the swim. The calm conditions allowed us to cut close to the rocks as we would do in Sandycove… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Now, this writing business is becoming a bit tiresome (especially as it’s 1:30 am and I’m switching between tabs keeping an eye on Sylvain Estadieu swimming butterfly across the Channel) so I’m going to continue this post as substantially captioned pictures.

Photograph – Marnaton

After the first long straight (of about 1,500 m) and passing over shallow rocks between a small islet and the mainland, we came to the first feed boat. Here, the helpers handed out cups of water. There were three of these stops, located at the 2 km, 4 km and 5 km marks. At the first stop, I noticed a handful of swimmers pass me so I decided not to stop at again! The change in position was good to release some of the heat trapped in my suit, though… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

After the first feed stop, we crossed a wide bay. Navigation was made very easy by lots of support boats and kayaks on the left hand side and a large yellow marker (with a red balloon 20 m up in the air directly above it) at the next turn. I saw a few jellies on this stretch but didn’t pay much attention as I was more focussed on not falling behind the swimmers in front. Around the next headland, we stayed in shallower water and went between and island and the mainland. A kayaker led me between lane ropes marking the deep channels and, here, there was even a rope on the bottom marking the best line! This was a great feature of the swim as a swimmer could badly damage their suit of they didn’t have these guides… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

The last feed boat at the 5 km mark flies the Marnaton logo and the flag of Catalonia. You could pretty much see the finish from here – time to change up a gear! (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

There was no excuse for missing the finish at this race: big yellow inflatable arch with crowds either side! (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

As I exited the water, I was faced with new challenge for me: running up the beach to the finish! I am not a runner by any definition, and even the 15 m run up from the water to the timing mats would present a challenge to me. In any case, I made it up the beach without falling or embarrassing myself… (Photograph: Marnaton)

I finished the swim in a time of 1:20:45, which was much faster than expected. My average pace throughout the race was 1:15 per 100 m. I struggle to hit that time in the pool, let alone turn around on it 65 times in a row, so I think that the current may have been taking about 0:10 off every 100 m. I was delighted to see that I actually finished in sixth place, and was only 7:11 behind Damián (who placed first) and 4:18 behind Esther (who placed fourth). Imagine that: only two places behind Esther Núñez! I was feeling very smug indeed entering the finishers’ area. Just after me was Miquel Suñer, who swam without a wetsuit. Only the week before, he swam 30+ km around the entire Cap de Creus peninsula!

Photograph – Donal O'Lochlainn

Damián and I with the Fermoy flag in the finishers’ area. (Photograph: Donal O’Lochlainn)

Before I got a chance to take off my wetsuit, Esther alerted me to the fact that there was a couple calling me from the beach. The couple was Donal and Edna O’Lochlainn from Fermoy who were in Cadaqués on their holidays… Fermoy people: you just can’t escape them! They even had the Fermoy flag with them for the occasion so Damián and I had our picture taken with it. It was great to meet Donal and Edna at the event and very nice to have some local support. Mauricio and I met them again later that evening for a drink. Damián, Esther and I hung around in the finishers’ area for another while, meeting all of the swimmers that we had met at dinner the night before. The area was very well set up: the swimmers had a nice patch of beach to mill around in, there were chairs, showers and stands with lot’s of soft drinks, water and fruit. On your way out of the finishers’ area, you passed “baggage reclaim” where you picked up your things which had been transported from the start for you. In the plaza, there was also free recovery massages and even an inflatable medical centre! The whole setup was very impressive and great credit is due to the organisers for the effort that they put in. By the time we’d seen the results it was nearly midday and getting very hot, so it was time to cool off in the hotel pool before heading back for the presentation of the prizes at 1:00 pm.

Photograph – Mauricio Prieto

My category was Male 18-29 and, as the fastest in the category was in the overall prizes, he was excluded from the category prizes so I found myself winning the category outright. I was not expecting that at all! I was particularly pleased when I saw the age range of the category and that there was actually over 50 swimmers in it… (Photograph: Mauricio Prieto)

Photograph – Marnaton

Fastest three swimmers in both the male and female all-ages categories on the podium with some of the Marnaton team. (Photograph: Marnaton)

Right after the prizes we had a really nice lunch by the hotel pool. I was advised to try a local dish – a Catalan noodle paella – which I must say was really nice and hit the spot very nicely after the race! After, all that swimming, talking and eating, we were all exhausted so it was time for a siesta by the pool (there’s that pool again).

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Cadaqués Sunset… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

Before we ate yet again, there was some important business to attend to for the soccer fans and Catalans in the group: Barcelona were playing a match and it was imperative that we watched it. I wouldn’t normally watch soccer but I was getting the full Catalan experience so was looking forward to seeing how the locals followed their biggest sporting institution. To my surprise, everyone gathered in pubs and restaurants, sat and watched quietly. I was sure that there was probably more excitement about the very same match at home! The crowed did get a bit more lively during the next match though, where they relished in seeing Real Madrid fair poorly – I suppose it’s a bit like a Cork supporter sometimes appearing more anti-Kilkenny than pro-Cork in hurling. Anyway, enough about dry-land sports! At 10:00 pm, it was time to eat some more… There was another big crowd for dinner, this time including the race organiser, Miquel Rahola, and his wife, Irene, as well as David Campa and others. The dinner was tapas style and, yet again, the food was top class – as was the company, of course. By now, I was picking up some of the more basic Spanish and Catalan phrases – I promise to be able to speak some for next year! After dinner, it was time for the party…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From midnight to 3:00 am there was a great party in the plaza. It was great to meet Domingo and Macarena here, who were very keen to practise their English on me! We did have to shelter from rain in the beach bar for a while, which was unexpected… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

That wasn’t the end of it, though! After the band stopped, the party continued into the streets of Cadaqués. The group eventually found our way into a tiny nightclub in the village where we stayed until 5:00 am when I was disgusted to have to leave to catch my bus back to Barcelona and fly home! Still, I’d had an absolutely amazing day and a half with brilliant people – a simply surreal experience.

Thanks a million to Mauricio for looking after me from start to finish. Thanks to Damián, Esther, Miquel and all my new swimming friends for their hospitality. Well done to Miquel, Pablo, Irene, David and the rest of the Marnaton team on organisation such a superb event. I can’t wait for next year!

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Race Review: VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués (Part 1)

It’s now one year since I started this blog and started reading OWSwimming.com, the blog of Mauricio, Susan and Emily who swam the Strait of Gibraltar this summer. I read with envy as they swam in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea until late in the autumn. I came to know the swimmers through blogging and before long I was signed up to take part in the third stage of Marnaton 2013. The race that entered was a 6.5 km swim on the Costa Brava called VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cap de Creus – Cadaqués and it took place last Saturday, 14 September. Here’s how I got on…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From the restaurant at the top of the cliff, Mauricio points out the best line to take during the swim…

Eager for one last summer race before heading back to college, I flew from Cork to Barcelona on Friday. On arrival there, I met Mauricio who kindly took my bag and showed me where to wander around in Barcelona for the afternoon. After a stroll around Las Ramblas, Mauricio and I met up again and headed for Cadaqués, which is about 2 hours north of Barcelona by car. When we got to Cadaqués, we took a drive to the start of the swim at Cala Jugadora in the Cap de Creus national park. The whole area is spectacularly beautiful with rocky mountains, lots of greenery and azure blue sea. Having checked out the swim course from the cliffs, we headed back to the village and checked into the hotel. There, we met the most successful couple in open water swimming: Damián Blaum and Esther Núñez. I first met Damián last year while we were both in Dover and crewing for Trent Grimsey on his English Channel world record swim. He is the current FINA Grand Prix Champion. Esther was the GP Champion in 2007 and 2012 and was second this year. They would both be taking part in the race the following day! That evening I had dinner with Mauricio, Damián, Esther, Miquel Suñer and many local swimmers. It was a great evening and I got plenty of exposure to the Spanish and Catalan languages!

Photograph – Unknown

After dinner at Casa Anita in Cadaqués. Back row (l-r): Pablo, Jordi, Lorena, me, Ester, Cristina, Cristina, Alberto, Marta. Front row (l-r): Esther, Damián, Mauricio, Miquel, Rafa.

The next morning, we had to be up early to travel to the start point. Breakfast at the hotel was at 7:30 am. Most swimmers tried to imitate what Damián and Esther were having for their breakfast but it was difficult to keep up! After breakfast, we travelled to the start by car – we could only go so far by road and had to walk the rest of the way. All of the swimmers got changed in the glen that leads from the road to the cove. All but two of the nearly 600 swimmers got our wetsuits and, like penguins, made our way to the water! I was relieved to jump into the sea as I was getting quite hot standing around in my wetsuit. The water was at least 18ºC, crystal clear and very saline: I’d never felt so warm and so buoyant in the sea! I followed Damián, Esther to the best start position. There, we met Miquel, who was swimming without a wetsuit. Once all of the swimmers were congregated in the start area, the horn blew and we were off!

Photograph – Marnaton

All of the 596 swimmers start simultaneously, accompanied by a flotilla of safety boats and kayakers! (Photograph: Marnaton)

That’s enough writing for me for today! I’ll put up another post tomorrow about the swim itself and the afters of the event… (Cont’d in Part 2)

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