RACE REPORT: The Great Blackwater Swim

I’ve done two races this year (the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim in Cork City and the GaddinAbtGarnish in Glengarriff, West Cork), but didn’t really “race” either of those particularly well. Anyway, I did another race the weekend before last and managed to swim a bit better. So, here’s my first “race report” for quite some time…

On Sunday, 27th August, I took part in the inaugural and hopefully annual Great Blackwater Swim from Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, which was organised by Blackwater Triathlon Club as part of the Fermoy Festival. See my last few posts for a background to how this swim came about and a description of the course

Swimmers registered at the rowing club in the morning and were taken by minibus to the gates of the Castlehyde estate, from where we enjoyed the nice walk down the wooded avenue towards the riverbank. There was a great atmosphere at the start as all of the swimmers gathered, admired the grand surroundings of the estate grounds, had photos taken with the mansion and chatted – there was a look of nervous excitement on a lot of swimmers’ faces as, for many, this would be a considerable step up distance-wise from the previous swims.

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Eagerly awaiting the call to hit the water outside Castlehyde House. (Image: Ber Hunter)

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Some of the kayakers assembling before the start, Simon Mulcahy on the left and Wagner Hernandes second from the left. (Image: Ber Hunter)

After a big group photo, it was time to get everyone into the water, with a piper from a local pipe band for an added bit of atmosphere. Thankfully, us non-wetsuited swimmers, small in numbers though we were, were allowed to wait until all of the wetsuited swimmers were in the water before getting ourselves (so that we wouldn’t get cold waiting for the start)… It was an impressive sight to see all 105 bodies assembled in the river ready to take on the 3+ km swim back to town!

My bit of local knowledge paid off at the start so that I managed to position myself in the strongest flow and get out of the crowd quickly. It was clear after about 100 m that I had no hope of keeping anywhere near my Crosóige Mara teammate Maeve Ryan and whoever else was in the lead pack (pair, as it later transpired), so I decided not to go all out and blow up, like I did in Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués a few years back, and just swim my own swim. That strategy paid off: I kept ahead of the main bunch and, for the first 2 km, anytime I looked back, there was just one swimmer on my toes, and he fell off once I started to put the boot down…

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Coming into the finish, trying to look like a proper swimmer! (Image: Ber Hunter)

Maeve [unsurprisingly] blitzed the course and was first home! She had a battle on her hands, though, and was followed shortly by Brian Foley (first in the male wetsuit category). After a bit of a gap, I was third home and first in the male non-wetsuit category. First in the female wetsuit category was Maeve Linehan from Mallow (so a fellow Blackwater native).

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Receiving my prize for first male non-wetsuit from Dave Mulcahy. (Image: Ber Hunter)

All the feedback from participants was glowing: everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the event and it looks like there’ll be an even bigger turnout for next year! Thanks to everyone at Blackwater Triathlon Club for organising the race, to Michael Flatley and all the staff in Castlehyde for allowing us access to the river through the property, to Fermoy Lions Club for promoting the event and making sure that it could go ahead, and to Ber Hunter for her fabulous photographs!

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Last chance to enter the Great Blackwater Swim

In my last post, I talked about a trial swim from Castlehyde to Fermoy by Blackwater Triathlon Club. If you liked the sound of the swim and can make it to Fermoy this Sunday, 27th August, you can try it for yourself! The club has decided to run the swim as “The Great Blackwater Swim” and in aid of Fermoy Lions Club. Entry costs €16.55 (including transaction fee) and is available at this link. Here’s an overview of the course:

The Blackwater is catching!

I’ve always been passionate about “the Irish Rhine”, Munster’s Great River, the Blackwater. I’m proud to know it so intimately, having swum every inch of it between Ballyhooly and the sea (the bottom 70 km of its 170 km course). The Blackwater Valley is truly stunning: with breathtaking scenery around every corner, and peace. Exploring it at a swimmer’s pace is a great way of appreciating, and from a unique angle. It’s a shame that, until recently, I was one of very few people to have experienced this, so I’m delighted that members of Blackwater Triathlon Club have started pushing out their distances in the water and are making good use of the beautiful river on our doorstep! Over the last two weekends, they started catching the bug…

Cregg/Castlehyde to Fermoy Rowing Club

The first swim, from just upstream of Castlehyde House to Fermoy Rowing Club, a distance of about 4 km, was last Monday morning. Dave Mulcahy, Declan O’Keeffe and I had been doing this swim once a year for the last few years, but this was the first time that a decent-sized group took on the challenge…

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Setting off in dribs and drabs from the riverbank just upstream from Castlehyde.

The swim was a great opportunity for many to challenge themselves with their longest swim to date, which it was for most of the 15 swimmers who completed it. It was also a good opportunity for my boyfriend, Wagner, to get to grips with kayaking for a bigger group of swimmers, which it turns out mightn’t be as tough as listening to them talking about swimming!

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Wagner getting used to the kayak…and listening to swimmers talking about swimming!

The swim was thoroughly enjoyed by all who took part, so much so that the possibility of an organised event is on the cards for next year, though maybe starting just below the fast water…

Blackwater Sub-aqua Club to Clondullane

The second swim took place last Sunday. It was a little longer, at 5 km, but seven dedicated swimmers took up the challenge (that number would likely have been higher had Cork not been playing Waterford in hurling at the same time). We had plenty of safety back-up for this swim, with Wagner kayaking again, as well as Declan’s daughter Anna and one other also kayaking, and Iain MacCallum accompanying us in a boat. Again, all completed the swim and are looking forward to doing it again!

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Assembling on the Blackwater Sub-aqua Club slipway, just downstream of the town.

What’s next?

Now that appetites have been wet for longer swims in the river, we may be able to get a group to try out the 7 km from Cappoquin to Villierstown, in the tidal reach of the Blackwater. From there, who knows, let’s hope that it’s just the start of great long-distance swimming culture on our great river!

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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Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2013

Last Friday evening, I took part in what was my first Martin Duggan Memorial Swim in the beautiful River Blackwater. I’ve been organising this event since it before it changed its name from the “Blackwater Swim” in 2009 so have been present at every swim but never actually taken part. This year, however, I was able to place the running of the event in the very capable hands of Brigid Noonan and Jim Sheehan while I took a half-hour beak from the organisation to see how the swim looks from the swimmers’ point of view!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Our referee, Jim Sheehan, gets the proceedings underway. We split swimmers into two starting groups for safety.

Having run the swim on Sunday afternoons for the last few years, we took Finbarr Hedderman‘s advice and decided to try running the event on a Friday evening and see if it made any difference to the attendance (which had fallen in the last two years). It seemed to work as we had a total of 51 entries and only 4 no-shows on the day. This was a notable improvement on the last two years, when we had far fewer entries and, generally, a  higher number of no-shows on the day. Also, all of the 47 swimmers that started the swim finished and all did so within the time limit (1 hour). This was very impressive as, for a few of the swimmers, this was their first ever open water swim and they were anxious about finishing in a respectable time…

Photograph – Twitter

Bryan Keane (left) and Gavin Noble (right) are first swimmers home at MDMS 2013.

The first swimmer home was Ireland’s top triathlete Gavin Noble (Sandycove Island SC) who completed the 2 km in a new course record of 23 minutes 32.7 seconds! Not far behind him was fellow elite triathlete Bryan Keane (Templeogue SC). I was very pleased to be the next swimmer home, finishing in 26 minutes 50.1 seconds. This is my best time over this course, which I swim practically every day during the fine weather! It was good to be the first non-wetsuit and, more importantly, non-elite swimmer home! I really enjoyed the race, though, especially having abstained from participating for the first four years of its existence. I was very pleased also that everyone else seemed to enjoy their swim and that the event can attract some top-class athletes. You can find full results of the swim on Results 2013 and more photographs on our Facebook page.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Me finishing the swim in third place overall and first non-wetsuit, but none of that really matters once I beat Ned, which I did!

There was a great turnout of Fermoy SC swimmers also – total of 18 swimmers from both the Masters and Torpedoes squads. The next Fermoy SC swimmer after me was Paul Noonan who swam 29 minutes 2.1 seconds for the 2 km – sub-30 isn’t too bad for someone “not racing” but this is the same guy that “accidentally” swam the 5 km instead of the 3 km at GaddinAbtGarnish last weekend… There was some great swimming also by Grace Corbett, who swam 31 minutes 11.1 seconds (non-wetsuit) for this, her first ever open water at only 12 years of age, beating a handful of older and more-experienced club swimmers! This was also a first open water race for Mary Brooks and Anna Sheehan, both of whom swam very well. Mary won the Martin Duggan Memorial Shield for the Youngest Swimmer as she was just 12 years 170 days old on the day of the swim. There were some impressive swims also by a couple of the Masters squad swimmers for whom this was their first proper event in the open water.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Some swimmers at the finish pontoon, including Fermoy SC members Anna Sheehan, Declan O’Keeffe, Kurt Malmstrom and Mona Sexton, as well as Conor Power (Carrick Dippers SC) and Una McIntosh (Cork Masters SC).

There are lots of people to whom great thanks is owed as regards running this event but I’m not going to thank them here – they’ve been thanked on the event’s own websites (first two articles linked below). I would, however, like to personally thank both Brigid Noonan and Dave Mulcahy who do a lot of the background work on this swim. I wouldn’t have a hope of keeping this event going without their help. Thanks, Brigid & Dave!

Last chance to enter Martin Duggan Memorial Swim…

Today is the last day for entries for the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2013. Entries will close at midnight tonight and the starting list will be published tomorrow morning on the event website (click on event logo below).

Logo – Owen O'Keefe

Official MDMS logo (click to go to the event website).

This is a friendly 2 km race in the River Blackwater in Fermoy and is open to all members of Swim Ireland-affiliated clubs and swimmers from overseas who are affiliated to their national governing body for swimming. The entry fee is €25 for those who will be 18 years of age or older and €15 for those who will be aged 12 to 17 years (inclusive). There are four vouchers worth €25 each for The Edge Sports in Cork to be won on the day and a perpetual shield for the youngest swimmer.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

I took this photograph about two weeks while swimming the course of the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim. What a great venue for a race!

It promises to be a great swim so if you want to be a prat of it get moving and enter as soon as possible! If you will be around but don’t feel like swimming we always have plenty space for volunteers – contact the event through the website if you feel like doing a bit of spotting, timekeeping or anything else…

“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!