Just checking in!

Yes, I know it’s been about six months since I lasted posted anything! I think I’ll use college as an excuse this time, but really I’ve had very little to write about. One thing that I neglected to do at the end of 2013 was to sum up how the year went, so I might as well do that now… The highlights of the open water season for me were:

  • Winning the 5 km at GaddinAbtGarnish with a new PB of 1:08:24 (my report here).
  • Swimming in the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim for the first time (my report here).
  • Setting a new Irish record for an English Channel 2-way relay with my friends on team Crosóige Mara in July (my report here).
  • Setting a new male record for Round Jersey also in July (my report here).
  • Swimming around the Old Head of Kinsale and through the tunnel connecting Holeopen Bays East and West with Ned Denison.
  • Completing the first ever non-stop swim from Fermoy to Youghal (60 km down my own River Blackwater) in just over 12 hours in August (my report here).
  • Winning the Irish 10 km Championships in Camlough Lake, Co. Armagh just a week later (my report here).
  • Of course, swimming in VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués in Catalonia with some amazing company (my report here).

I will have another post coming very soon (within a few days, hopefully) about how this winter has been going in the pool. It has been very different from previous winters I’ve gone through, especially in recent years…

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Kingdom Masters Gala 2013

Last Saturday, I had my first swim meet for 2013, the Kingdom Masters Gala. This was a short course meet and was held in Tralee, Co. Kerry. This is a very nice pool and one that I hadn’t competed in for a few years so I was looking forward to the gala. Also, I’d recently restarted training with Fermoy SC so I was looking forward to seeing how I performed after some club sessions…

I arrived at the pool early, having driven across Sliabh Luachra, and armed with a day’s supply of wine gums (a gala essential). Once the gang from Dolphin SC, with whom I would be hanging out for the day as I was the sole representative from Fermoy SC, we started the warm up. I never manage much of a warm up at galas and this wasn’t an exception. I finished up after about 850 m, but wasn’t the first so didn’t feel too guilty!

Photograph – Kingdom Masters SC (Facebook)

My first event was the 400 m freestyle – my personal best (PB) for this event is 4:39.90 but that’s a very old time which I aspire to break at some juncture. I was placed in Lane 3 of my heat with two 52-year-olds on either side of me and Carol Cashell in Lane 1. It was a great race, I felt much better than my last 400 m at Mallow Masters late last year. I finished up with a 4:55.25 which, while not great, I was reasonably happy with as it was ~5 s faster than my swim at Mallow. Carol finished with a 5:07 which was faster than her seed time but she felt she could have been faster as she was suffering from a head cold.

I then swam in the 50 m butterfly which was just for fun. I didn’t think that I swam very well but finished up with a 31.50 swim which is a PB for me – I don;t get many PB’s these days! My next event was the 100 m freestyle which was a disaster. My PB for this event is 1:00.10, just shy of the magical minute mark, but I was well behind in my heat and finished with a 1:03.91 so wasn’t too pleased. I really need to work on turning my arms over faster for that one…

There was a huge spread put on for the break, which may have been the downfall of a lot of the swimmers for the afternoon session! I only had two events left: the 200 m freestyle and the 100 m backstroke. My 200 m freestyle performance was not great, as usual. I swam a 2:22.25 which is a good 10 s off my PB. I’ve never liked the 200 m anyway as it’s not an all-out sprint like the 100 m but not a distance event like the 400 m either so I’m never sure of how to approach it. My 100 m backstroke time was a bit off as well at 1:16.48, my PB is 1:13.50, but I still enjoyed it as I always enjoy swimming backstroke even if it’s not that fast for me.

In total I came away with four gold medals and one silver (no, the 19-24 age group os not the most competitive in Irish masters swimming). The silver was in the 100 m backstroke and I lost out to Arif Yilmaz of Mallow Masters SC who posted a 1:03.62 (yes, faster than my 100 m freestyle time that day) so I wasn’t too put out! It was a great gala, good fun and very well organised, well done to Kingdom Masters SC.

Chris Bryan at the FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup

Last Friday, 1 March, the third race of the FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup series was held in Eilat, Israel. A total of sixty-five swimmers from sixteen countries descended on the city, on the Gulf of Aqaba coast in the far South of Israel, for this 10 km race. Among them was Ireland’s Chris Bryan of Ennis Swimming & Lifesaving Club and the National High Performance Unit based at the University of Limerick.

Photograph – Gilad Kavalerchik

The start of the men’s race at the MSWC, Eilat (ISR) on Friday, 1 March 2013.

The winner of the men’s race was Christian Reichert of Germany, with an incredibly fast time of 1:53:29.50. He was followed by his compatriot Thomas Lurz, with a time of 1:53:34.05 and, in third place, by Alex Meyer of the USA, with a time of 1:53:38.00. Chris finished well up the field in ninth position with a time of 1:53:55.00, only 26 seconds behind the winner and just ahead of seasoned competitor Vladimir Dyatchin of Russia. You can find full results here: FINA 10 km MSWC, Eilat (ISR) 2013 – Official Results (Men’s)

Photograph – Gilad Kavalerchik

Chris Bryan (right) during the race…

Chris commented afterwards that it was a “very physical race”. He admitted that there was some “wrestling in the last 500 m” but seemed content that this was a “solid result” for him, especially given that this was his first race of the season. He also says that he has his confidence back now and that it’s “time to build from here”. It looks like 2013 is going to be great year for Chris and Irish open water swimming at all levels!

The Gift of Open Water

We often talk about the contribution that people have made to the life of open water swimming, but seldom about the contribution that open water swimming has made to the lives of people. Today, I think, is a good day for me to reflect on the contribution that open water swimming has made to my life.

Today is my 20th birthday. It’s also a dark, wet and windy day here in Cork – so in-keeping with the fallás truamhéalach that generally surrounds my birthdays (in reality, this has more to do with the time of year). How does this relate to swimming? Well, since I became a member of Fermoy Swimming Club, as a nine-year-old, I have made many great friends. Many of these were/are much better swimmers than myself. However, once we finished school, swimming ceased to be part of life for a lot of them. Why? That’s just how it worked: you swam with the Club until you finished school and if you didn’t have a swimming “career” by then you had no more business in swimming…

I was lucky, though. I was very fortunate to have a grandfather, Tom Baker, who was – and still is – very enthusiastic about swimming. Though never having swum very seriously himself, he is well known in Fermoy for his long-standing summer ritual of swimming in the River Blackwater twice a day, Monday to Saturday, and in the sea at Ballycotton on a Sunday. In 2006, his friend, Leo Bartley, another regular Blackwater swimmer, asked me if I would like to do the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in Cork City. After some cajoling, I eventually decided that I would give it a try.

A friend of mine from Fermoy SC, Bryan Dillon, agreed to join me for that first Lee Swim. Before we could register for the event, we had to go to Sandycove to prove that we could swim. There we met the great Ned Denison and had a great swim around Sandycove. After doing the Lee Swim, I was completely hooked on open water swimming and had a great time swimming through the best Irish summer in recent years. Swimming was the only sport that I was good at and open water was the only thing that I [relatively speaking] excelled at. My six and a half years open water swimming has been of incalculable benefit to me and I genuinely cannot imagine life without this sport and the people in it.

Because open water has given me so much, I have always tried to make other young swimmers aware of it’s existence. There are many talented young swimmers, who find that racing in the pool is not for them, whose lives could be greatly enhanced by finding their niche in the open water. I was one of those swimmers (okay, maybe not so much the talented bit) and it pains me to think that a few swimmers are being actively discouraged from exploring this avenue of swimming, but that is a whole other post! For today, I’m just thankful for having this sport in my life.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Ag machnamh seal liom féinig… | Reflecting for a while…

The above photograph (that’s me sitting on the big rock) was taken by my father, George O’Keefe, at Trá na Binne Báine (Beenbane Strand) near Dingle, Co. Kerry in June 2006, just one month before my first open water event. I think it encapsulates the theme of today’s post very well and it’s an image that I often come back to. On very good advice from Donal Buckley, it’s to the boy in that photograph that I write posts like this one.