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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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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Catching up on myself…

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post lamenting the relatively small amount of training that I’d done in 2013 versus what I’d done in 2012. Over the last 3 or 4 weeks, though, things have started to pick up a bit and I’m starting to get a bit more training done. This is probably down to two three main factors:

  1. It’s springtime! The days are much longer and the weather is getting better, this makes it  a lot easier to have a good attitude about getting up in the morning and makes the odd open water session a possibility.
  2. I recently rejoined Fermoy SC. Now, someone else has to decide where, when, and for how long I swim! Someone will also be cross if I don’t turn up for training. It’s hard to imagine the difference that this makes – I now find it a hundred times easier to train just because I don’t have to think or plan, I just do what I’m told! I have great admiration for everyone that can motivate and organise themselves to train.
  3. It’s “study month” at UCC – that month (April) that UCC students are given off to study for the end-of-year written exams in May (only three weeks for my course as we have an extra field module in April). This means that I don’t have to waste upwards of 2 hours and some energy sitting on a bus doing nothing. More time/energy for swimming!

We’re almost at the end of April now and, as you can see from Fig. 1 (below), this month has seen me swim almost twice as much as I did in either January, February or March. I put this down to a combination of 1., 2. and 3. above…

Figure – Owen O'Keefe

Fig. 1 – Monthly metres for 2013 as at 28 April.

One of my major issues last year was that I took off like mad right at the beginning of the year, I built up very quickly from a <5 km week (with not a lot of base training from 2011) to a >50 km week in just one month and then very quickly crashed and burned. I got quite sick and demotivated and could hardly swim for a few weeks, and even when I did start back it was a slow start and never really went anywhere for the rest of the year. This year has been very different: I started off slowly (from a good base of swimming in late 2012) and had two strange up-down cycles but have now started to maintain modest but more consistent mileage which, I might add, consists of much better quality training than anything that I did last year. You can see the comparison between my weekly training distances from 2012 and 2013 in Fig. 2 (below).

Figure – Owen O'Keefe

Fig. 2 – Comparison of Weeks 1 to 17 from 2012 and 2013.

Now, with the water warming up and the long days, open water can start to contribute much more to my training. I have easy access to open water with the River Blackwater and Knockananig Reservoir right on my doorstep – both of these are “open all hours” venues and are free of charge so I intend to make great use of them! Also, my open water training should be of much better quality than ever before with my new FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS which I’ve been testing over the last week or so.

In Fig. 3 (below), you can see my early burst of training in January 2012 and the subsequent plateau where I became unwell contrasted with this year’s steadier climb. I’d hope to catch up with myself at some point in June (when I will be attempting my 6 hour qualifying swim for my Round Jersey Solo in July) and continue with both pool and open water training for the rest of the summer.

Figure – Owen O'Keefe

Fig. 3 – Accumulation of metres for 2012 and 2013.

All going well, I should finish the year with 1,000 km or thereabouts. But, as we all know, it’s not really the mileage that counts but the quality of the training and I think that whatever mileage I eventually finish up with for 2013 will be of much better quality than that of my 800 km of struggling about last year…

Tip: Never underestimate the power of Microsoft Excel as an analytical training aid!

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.