Race Review: Irish 10 km Championships

Once again, I’m very late in getting this post up – I’d almost forgotten that I even had a blog! Anyway, last weekend I travelled to Northern Ireland for the Irish 10 km Open Water Championship which were being held at the Camlough Lake Water Festival. The venue for the event, Camlough Lake, is a long narrow lake in the hills of South Armagh. The lake is only a 5-minute drive from the city of Newry. Watersports are very popular on the lake and swimming has really taken off over the last few years, with a record-breaking relay which made it into the Guinness Book of World Records and Northern Ireland’s first Ice Swims all taking place in the lake. Great credit is due to local man, Pádraig Mallon who swam an International Ice Mile, the English Channel and the North Channel all in 2013, for driving forward open water swimming in Camlough Lake and bringing together all of the team involved in the Water Festival…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

There was an excellent set-up at Camlough Lake for these events. I particularly liked the finishing zone with the overhead touch-pads…

As the Irish 10 km Championships were also being held as part of this year’s Water Festival, I decided to make the effort to travel up. I left my home in Fermoy in the afternoon and settled in for a long drive. To my surprise, I was crossing the border less than 3 hours later and it was only another 15 minutes to the lake – the joys of traveling on Ireland’s new and largely empty motorways! It was 6:00 pm when I arrived and the last even of Day 2 of the Water Festival, the Try-a-Tri, was just about to start. The set-up at the lake was very impressive, with swimmers being funneled into the finish by two swimming pool lane ropes and finishing by slapping overhead touch-pads as is done at all of the major international events. The safety operation was also top-class!

Photograph – Jacqueline Galway

Me swimming not long after the start of the second lap. I was falling well behind at this stage. (Photograph: Jacqueline Galway)

After a good night’s sleep, I made my way to the lakeside for registration at 11:00 am. There, I met Jon and Jamie Glover and their dad, Michael, who had travelled to Fermoy for the Irish Long Distance Swimming Party last November. Jon would be doing the 10 km, his first swim of this distance, and Jamie would be doing the 5 km. I also met Stephen Kelly and Warren Roche from Waterford. Stephen did a 10 km in the Blackwater in Fermoy about a fortnight before and would be swimming in a wetsuit while Warren, whom I had narrowly beaten at GaddinAbtGarnish in June, would be racing the 10 km in skins. Once we were all changed and had handed in our feeds to be taken to the feeding station, Pádraig gave the swim briefing: the course would be very simple – two 5 km laps of the lake (with the feeding station being at the far end). Pádraig then made sure that everyone in the skins category met the suit and cap regulations so that the event had the integrity expected of a national championship. Once everyone was ready, the klaxon sounded and the race had begun!

As we entered the water, my initial impression was that the water was quite warm: it felt to me like it was 16ºC or 17ºC and pretty uniform. As in most lakes/reservoirs that I’ve swum in, the underwater visibility was quite poor, but I wasn’t hear to admire the subsurface scenery – I was here to race. From the start, Stephen Kelly and Alvaro San Miguel (both in wetsuits) took off and Warren Roche, Lisa Comerford and myself (all in skins) stayed together in a [very small] pack with Warren leading most of the time and me falling back every so often to clear my goggles. We diverged for a time after about a mile but all converged again at the bottom of the lake, where we passed Alvaro. I was hoping to have a liquid feed at this point but the pack kept going, the feed would have taken too long and I wouldn’t have caught up. As we went back up the lake, Warren sped off and Lisa did the same just before the turn at the 5 km mark – I decided to have one of the gels that I’d stuffed into my togs at this point…

Around the next buoy, Warren was out of sight, Lisa had about 50 m on me and Alvaro was passing me. However, I slowly began to gain on Lisa. There was no point in worrying about Alvaro; we were in a different race. I caught up with Lisa as we neared the bottom of the lake and I could see by the trees on the shore that we were moving along at a good pace. This time, we did stop at the feeding station and I had my liquid feed. Lisa got away a bit faster than I did so I had to do a bit of work to catch her back up again. We settled into a good pace going up the lake and I just paced myself off Lisa (and accepted that Warren had the race won). There was a big tree marking about 500 m from the finish so I stopped to have another gel (this time with caffeine) for a final sprint to the finish: it was well worth the few seconds to stop and have the gel! I steadily pulled away from Lisa and, as the finish came into view, I noticed Warren on my left. I started sprinting, passed him and went all out for the touch-pad. At the finish, I threw my right hand up to slap the pad as the timing chips were on our right wrists and walked out. As we finished we each got warm cordial, a finisher’s medal and a multi-purpose scarf/hat/wristband thing, as well as our finish times, which for me was 2:28:29 – a new PB for 10 km!

Photograph – Stephen Kelly

The podium for the Irish 10 km Championship race. Left to right: Pádraig Mallon, Patricia McParland, Warren Roche, me, Bill Donnelly, Aoiffe McCourt-Lynch and Myles McCourt.

Lisa and Warren finished about 45 seconds after me and the other swimmers came in in dribs and drabs over the next hour and a half. Once the last swimmer was in, the presentations were made. I was delighted to not just be on the podium, but to be the Irish Champion for 10 km for 2013. I never expected that, especially just a week after my longest swim ever! I came home that evening with two trophies, two medals, a wooden plate, the finisher’s prize and an Amphibia X-Bag. I had a fantastic weekend at the Camlough Lake Water Festival and would highly recommend it to anyone. The bar has been set very high for other event organisers with this one!

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Irish Results from the Russian Winter Swimming Championships

Our four competitors (Nuala Moore, Anne Marie Ward, Pádraig Mallon and Noel Brennan) at the Russian Winter Swimming Championships have all returned home safely from Tyumen, Siberia following a very successful weekend. This morning, I spoke to Pádraig Mallon (Armagh) about how the hardened swimmers got on at the event…

Photograph – Facebook

“Team Irlandia” (l-r: Nuala Moore, Pádraig Mallon, Anne Marie Ward, Noel Brennan) with Jackie Cobell, the World Record holder for the slowest even English Channel swim!

Owen: First of all, Pádraig, can you tell us what the conditions were like when you first arrived in Tyumen?

Pádraig: When we arrived on the Friday, it was around –19ºC or –20ºC and there was no wind-chill factor, but there was a lot of snow and ice on the ground. This was what we had been told to expect so it didn’t come as too much of a shock.

Owen: Obviously, swimming in such extreme conditions is not without some major risks. What sorts of measures were in place to make sure that swimmers were safe?

Pádraig: The events were very well organised and were run by professionals who knew what they were doing. Everyone had to have an ECG and a blood pressure test before each swim, and if the doctors weren’t happy you would not be allowed to swim. This gave both the organisers and the swimmers peace of mind that everyone was fit to swim in 0.3ºC water. The recovery process after swimming was also carefully managed.

Owen: The 25 m and 50 m individual events and the 4 × 25 m relay event were on the Saturday. How did the Irish team do in these events?

Pádraig: It was a bit cooler on the Saturday, about –21ºC, but still not too bad. The first event was the 25 m breaststroke, Anne Marie came 4th and Nuala came 5th. In the freestyle, Nuala came 5th and Anne Marie came 6th. The women’s 50 m events were cancelled but Noel Brennan (Donegal) and I got to swim in the men’s event. The four of us also got to swim in the relay, which was a bit of fun, but we didn’t place.

Photograph – Facebook

Noel Brennan entertains with some unusual headgear!

Owen: Great stuff! How did the endurance events go on the Sunday?

Pádraig: It was a lot colder on the Sunday, between –30ºC and –33ºC during the competition. There was also a breeze, which made it feel even colder. Nuala and Anne Marie both did the 150 m and Nuala placed 3rd in her age group. I did the 300 m and placed 3rd also. The last event was a swim-off between two Russians, both going for the same ice swimming record. The winner broke the record by swimming just over 2,250 m in just over 1 hour 6 minutes…

Photograph – Facebook

Pádraig waits in anticipation for the start of the 300 m endurance swim…

Owen: Fantastic results, two medals for Ireland isn’t so bad at all! What was the highlight of the whole experience for you?

Pádraig: Definitely winning the bronze medal in the 300 m! I was only taking 50 m at a time. It was a great experience to swim against such a high calibre of swimmers and come out with a medal.

Owen: You must be delighted to be home at this stage?

Pádraig: Yes, we had an amazing time but I’m very relieved to be back in home to damp, semi-cold conditions!

Owen: Pádraig, thanks a million for taking the call. Enjoy the thawing-out process and have a great Christmas!

Pádraig is the organiser of the Camlough Lake Water Festival, which is held in August each year and includes a myriad of open water swimming events of various distances. He is waiting on confirmation that Camlough can also host winter swimming events in 2013 for anyone looking to experience the “euphoria” of cold water swimming for themselves, so watch this space…