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…

“How’s the water?”

My apologies for not having posted in so long, the exams are over now though and I’m back in the land of the living at last! I’m pretty much a full-time swimmer for the next three months which is a nice change, though it’s not that easy at the moment with water temperatures well below average for the time of year…

Open water swimmers all around Ireland and the UK go to great lengths to avoid the tabooed use of “the ‘c’ word”, i.e. “cold”. The current unwillingness of the water to heat up reminded me of a great word that is possibly confined to use by a particular generation of swimmers on the River Blackwater in Fermoy.

When asked “How’s the water?” or “What’s it like?”, my grandfather, Leo Bartley and other such swimmers would often give the ambiguous answer “‘Tis holding”. This would leave the innocent enquirer none the wiser as to the actual conditions.

What exactly is meant by the word “holding” depends on what the water has been like over the last few weeks, so it’s completely meaningless to anyone who hasn’t been swimming in the area long-term, let alone those who don’t swim at all! I had planned to do a 3 hour training swim in the river this morning but had to get out after 1 hour 45 minutes. I think “holding” was appropriate in the negative sense here as it hasn’t warmed up for ages. “Holding” is a good thing in August and September though when it should really be getting colder. In summary, “holding” is a very welcome temperature in Autumn, but not so welcome in Spring!

Other words used locally to avoid saying “cold” include: fresh, refreshing, bracing, hot, boiling, gorgeous, beautiful, te, too warm, roasting and many, many others. This is possibly a reflection of a habit of doing a lot of talking about swimming and maybe not so much actual swimming!

Back to the Blackwater

I’ve done virtually no open water swimming so far this year. I did a quick dip in Sandycove a few weeks ago which I wrote about in My first sea swim of the year… but nothing else since. I’ve been trying to concentrate on my fitness, etc. in the pool and worry about the open water when it [eventually] warms up enough to be able to do proper swims. For the last few years, Dave Mulcahy and I have been aiming to be back in the Blackwater for about St. Patrick’s Day. Though it has been a cold March so far, Dave and I decided that we’d better get in before we put it off for another month!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

First river swim of the year in the Blackwater on St. Patrick’s Day.

So just before the parade on Sunday, we headed down to the Rowing Club where we got changed. It was to be my first time to use the new slipway, which is not quite finished but suitable for use. Dave had already had the privilege of using the new slipway, and was among the first to do so, during the Fermoy Christmas Day Swim last December. It was a dry, bright morning but a cool one at the same time. There was a slight westerly breeze, which was a nice change from the chilling north-easterly which we’d had for the last week or so. Another nice change was being able to walk all of the way into the water, a much easier entry than we previously had!

My first few strokes felt good, even if I found it a little hard to take a breath. I decided that it would be better to lift my head up for a few strokes and then go back to normal swimming again. After a minute or two, my hands and feet became quite sore, as did my face. I felt like getting out but then thought of my ice swimming friends and other, colder swims that I’d managed before and decided to keep calm and keep swimming. After about 200 m, which took about 6 minutes swimming against the current, I decided that I’d done enough and decided to head back to the slipway at my ease.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Dave on the new slipway at the Rowing Club on St. Patrick’s Day 2013.

Dave turned at the same time as me and we arrived back at the slipway having swum for about 10 minutes. Dave and I estimated the water temperature at about 6ºC so I was pleased enough to have done 10 minutes at that temperature. Hopefully, it will start warming up soon and we will be able to do longer swims!

As Nuala Moore often reminds me, the swim isn’t over until you are dry, dressed and regaining body heat. On this occasion, I managed to get dressed reasonably quickly (this was a great achievement for me) and my feet, which were very painful on exiting the water, starting to warm up pretty quickly. Things didn’t go so well for Dave, however, who discovered that his pants were locked into the Rowing Club! He then had to endure the walk of shame back to his car and drive home to ask Brigid, his wife, to collect them from the clubhouse after the parade. He won’t make that mistake again…

It was an enjoyable swim, all in all, and it feels good to have finally been in the river. It can only get warmer from here and, hopefully, I’ll start to see the results of my winter “quality rather than quantity” training in the pool.

Guest Post: Patrick Corkery’s Ice Mile

Today’s guest post is a report from Patrick Corkery of NAC Masters SC (Dublin) on his successful Ice Mile attempt at Lough Dan in the Wicklow Mountains on Sunday, 24 February. Though he generally keeps a low profile, Patrick has completed many notable swims, including the 16 km Cork to Cobh swim, an 11 km Dublin Bay crossing and all eight “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swims. He is also a regular on the Irish masters swimming circuit. He very kindly let me post his reflection on the Lough Dan swim here:

I have taken the opportunity, if you don’t mind, to put a bit to paper, while it’s still fresh. I don’t have a blog, so here it is instead…

Had a good swim. The mountain setting of the glacier-formed Lough Dan (Co. Wicklow, Ireland) was spectacular, like a scene from “Lord of the Rings”, and the snow on the ground and the shoreline ice film really made it a true “Ice Swim”. Needing 5.0ºC or less for our mile swim, water temperature varied from freezing in the shallows to 3ºC in a foot of water: it was what we both wanted and didn’t want at the same time.  There wasn’t much room for smiles when you know what’s ahead. Breakfast of muesli, toast, tea and juice was augmented by 7:30 am lunch of soup stew and roll, followed by some pre-swim sandwiches and chocolate bar and by now not-warm-enough energy drink. Anything to help fill the stomach for energy and to ward off the cold.

Photograph – Patrick Corkery

Pre-race advice from my fellow swimmers, John Daly, Colm Breathnach, Donal BuckleyCarmel Collins and Fergal Somerville – the organiser of the Eastern Bay Swim Team Invitational Ice Swim – was that the swim would still be there again and not to take on more than you “wanted” to; while my well-meaning brother John Paul’s voice of reason was to not feel pressured into it either.

The nervous energy before the race was immense. Within 3 seconds of hearing from Fergal on Thursday that the race was scheduled for the weekend, my heart rate jumped 30 or 40 beats, the adrenaline kicked in and my whole physical and mental demeanour changed from what it had been just a minute before. Thankfully, this had settled by race day – Sunday, 24 February 2013 – and the fact it was our second attempt at an International Ice Swimming Association swim seemed to make it easier to face. Since the Association was started by South African, Ram Barkai, in 2009 and there are less than 70 Ice Swimmers worldwide. Having a mandatory ECG completed with fellow High Rock swimmer and medic for the swim, Dr. Nichola Gilliland and paramedic and champion English Channel Swimmer Tom Healy on hand, I was as ready as I was going to be.

Photograph – Patrick Corkery

Someone asked if I was going to do half of the distance or all of it – I said “all of it” – because you have to start knowing that that’s what’s involved and not let the doubt in. If we were in trouble or slowed up too much, such as changing to breaststroke, the safety boat would take us out, no questions asked, so you had to put a bit of trust there and hope it didn’t come to that.

Photograph – Patrick Corkery

Cold initially and gasping for breath, you just get in and get on with it. Didn’t have the right line to the buoy on the first length, heading for the wrong snow covered treeline, but Fergal nudged me to indicate we should aim more left and after that had no trouble sighting. The high-vis vest that I’d asked the safety kayaker to tie to the buoy helped make it stand out. Three of us arrived at the first buoy together and I thought there’s no need for the usual open water race “argy-bargy”! I did all the laps anti-clockwise and I was glad to be meeting the others going back and forth on our eight 200 m lengths. Once the breathing settled down after the first length, my body felt wrapped in a blanket – like the line in the Pink Floyd song “I have become comfortably numb”. The body’s self-protection mechanism of holding all the blood close to the heart and vital organs was working. Hands had pins and needles and feet cold and my mouth full of cold water too.

On lap 3 noticed that my hand (was only looking at the right one as my breaths were coming thick and fast) was glowing red underwater, like the colour of salmon. This worried me, but above water it looked ok, so ploughed on regardless and thought it’s a trick of the light or the bog water. I have been clenching my fists on each “catch” part of the stroke and sometimes on the recovery too which would not be the most efficient. The thought of my hands that colour and the pins and needles feeling convinces me that I am as well to keep clenching, even though overall it will mean more time in the water.

On lap 6, at about 1,150 m, the blanket that was keeping my body numb just evaporated and the cold hit me from the shoulders down, like Mr. Freeze. This wasn’t good, as last month on our first (warmer) Ice Swim attempt at the Bull Wall the comfortably numb feeling started to partly wear off towards the end, whereas this time it just vanished in a split second. Again, the body telling you something, just no time to wonder; what? A few strokes later I met Fergal coming towards me and he put the head up and shouted some encouragement.

Photograph – Patrick Corkery

Laps 7 and 8 were a bit more hazy, my mind was more blank (no room in the head for songs or thoughts – I had been saying Hail Marys up to this) and kind of had the feeling that I was drifting off to sleep. The brain was obviously in shut down mode, although I knew to spot for the buoy and the pontoon. Saw the RIB with Skipper Barry, the Scout Leader, at various times on the odd-numbered lengths, standing off. I could feel the strength in my arms, I was on automatic and it was the strength of swimming kept me going, because I didn’t have to think about that. Temperature on my watch on my wrist (which adds about a degree) during the swim was 4.4ºC , as against the 6.7ºC the last day.

After touching the pontoon to finish, the shallow water was a bit of a struggle as I couldn’t swim or stand up, so tried to push forward into shallow water as best I could get. Some of the guys, including Tom, were standing in a few inches of water, but I didn’t think they’d come all the way in after me! Unsteady on my feet and not able to do anything for myself, the three guys (Colm Dunne, fellow lifeguard, Cian Connaughton, sea swimmer and fellow NAC Master, and John Paul) I had helping were great and got me wrapped up in my first change of clothes and 100 yards up the snowy track to the car. I remember a lot of that, giving directions and giving out, but seemingly I said a few times that I couldn’t see clearly.  I think this was more to do with my brain being in retreat rather than any pain with the eyes.

They got me in the car and the body heat of Colm and John Paul hugging me helped calm the fierce shivering and intense cold as I couldn’t even feel the heat off the car heater which they said was blasting out. After a few minutes, we went into the Scouts’ canteen barn and did a quick change into my dry second change of clothes and back in the car with some hot water coke bottles and advice from John Kenny, safety officer (and my lifesaving instructor when I was 11 years old).

When I had surfaced after this, everyone had left, but I was in no state to see anyone anyway. I had seen Fergal through the car windscreen and he looked a funny shade of purple, but otherwise okay. I was back to normal by the time we were on the M50 heading for home.

Last night (30 hours later) and today, my skin is feeling a cold burn. It’s a bit red and feels like sunburn and the skin and muscles are a bit sore too. I had this before from a snow swim 2 years ago, but this time it doesn’t seem as bad … yet. All told, it was a pretty extreme experience.

Photograph – Patrick Corkery

At 31 minutes 25 seconds, it took approximately 33% longer than an equivalent pool swim. It was a bloody tough swim, an achievement that took all my mental and physical reserves … and then some!

A special note of thanks reserved for my wife, Alice, and baby, Matthew, for their constant support of my swimming adventures and again to all the support teams, the medics, the organisers, the Lough Dan scouts and especially to Fergal Somerville for making it all happen and for the invitation to take part.

Patrick Corkery
NAC Masters SC

Well done to Patrick on a great swim and a big thanks from me for letting me post this on the blog. I would usually direct readers to the guest’s blog but Patrick doesn’t have his own one … yet! In any case, we’re all looking forward to hearing more from him.

Important Message on “Ice Mile” Swims

Over the last few weeks, we have seen many swimmers complete the very notable challenge of an “Ice Mile”. This is a 1.6 km swim in 5ºC or less. With so many swimmers having completed their Ice Miles this winter, others are becoming interested in trying it for themselves. While it’s great to see such enthusiasm for these swims, they do come with a warning label, as Ned Denison (who himself completed an Ice Mile last week) pointed out in an email to the Sandycove Swimmers mailing list yesterday evening…

Ned noted in his email that, over the last few weeks, many people have expressed an interest in having a go at one of these grueling swims. Ned is very enthusiastic about the growth of swimming and is always encouraging other to set big goals, so it’s fitting that he was the person to issue the following warning:

  1. These are not casual swims – every swimmer must have an ECG done in advance of the swim to ensure acceptable cardiac health, a doctor must be on site during the swim and there must be at least one extra assistant per swimmer.
  2. These swims must be regarded as “extreme” events and, as such, must be treated with respect. A lot of serious consideration must be given to your own safety and the safety of those around you before you even begin to plan an Ice Mile.

Ned also noted that, in the past few weeks, one swimmer had to be airlifted after one of these swims and that the three other swimmers alongside whom he complete his Ice Mile have no recollection of the back end of their swims! He also offered a few observations about recognising a swimmer who needs to be removed from the water and other important aspects of swimming in such cold water.

If you are planning an Ice Mile, please bear the above message in mind. Make sure that you have plenty of cold water experience, that you are in prime condition and that you are surrounded by qualified safety personnel experienced in hypothermia. The consequences of getting a swim like this wrong are just not worth thinking about.

Sandycove Island SC at the CWSC in Tooting Bec

Logo – SLSCThere was a pretty big contingent from Sandycove Island SC at the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships in Tooting Bec Lido, South London last weekend. All of the Sandycove swimmers did us proud and came home with a total of four gold medals and one bronze medals for the Club. This meant that the Club came in second place overall, according to the ranking system used, ahead of the well-known Serpentine SC from Central London, headed by CS&PF President, Nick Adams! The “Goats” were surpassed only by hosts South London SC. Water temperatures for the event were never more than 2ºC and our swimmers did very well under these conditions. Some members of the Irish contingent also faired well in the “silly hat” competition. Well done, everyone!

My first sea swim of the year…

On Sunday, I went for first open water “swim” of 2013. I hadn’t swum in the open water for nearly a month so was a bit apprehensive about the temperature – it turned out that I had good cause for apprehension!

The plan was that a few of us would meet at 12:00 at Sandycove for one lap of the Island. I didn’t bring my wetsuit as I managed the 1,700 m lap without it the last time, but the last time was good while ago! It was surprisingly quiet at Sandycove, probably because a few people opted to swim at 10:00 while more decided to try swimming in Inniscarra at 11:30 to get in some extra cold water training for the Cold Water Swimming Championships in Tooting Bec Lido in South London this weekend. It’s been very cold in England as of late so the swimmers can expect water temperatures of 0ºC for their races!

Anyway, it was just Dave, Declan, Aidan and myself for the 12:00 swim at Sandycove. It wasn’t an ideal day for swimming: there was a stiff easterly wind (the worst wind direction for Sandycove swimming) and it was a generally miserable day. I got changed and got straight in without any delay – the only way to get in, in my view. It can’t have been more than 20 m before I realised that I wasn’t even going to make it as far as the Island; my hands and feet were on fire and I was fairly winded, so I decided to head back to the slipway satisfied that I at least got in and swam ~50 m.

As I was getting out, the three wetsuiters were just getting in and they headed off around the Island. I got dressed as quickly as possible and sat into the car to warm up. When the others got back, the thermometer on Dave’s wristwatch read 8.1ºC but I have no way of knowing how accurate that is (wristwatch thermometers are notoriously unreliable). The customary tea and biscuits followed, despite the disappointing turnout.

Having previously completed laps of Sandycove in as low as 7ºC and done a 400 m swim in the Blackwater at 3.5ºC, this experience reminded of one crucial fact when it comes to cold water swimming, i.e. that there is no substitute for regular immersions when trying to acclimatise to cold water.