Getting there…

Once again, I’ve been very slow to update the blog – no surprises there! I could try using our recent house move as an excuse, but really it’s just one of those things that can always be done “tomorrow”. Anyway, here’s a quick update on progress towards my Leme to Pontal swim since my last post

The first major block of pool training has come to an end and I finally feel like I have successfully relearned how to swim. It felt great being back to early-morning pool swims in Meadowbrook before work, getting some metres in the shoulders and knocking off some of those excess seconds that built up during my year off – though it’s never going to be the same as those hard yards with great teammates in Fermoy Swimming Club. I’m down to just ticking over in the pool now while I’m doing most of the work in the open water, but there will be some big sessions to come once the open water “season” (I have to be careful using that word in front of the hard-core winter swimmers) winds down and before leaving for Brazil.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata

One of the main reasons why I don’t swim in the sea in Dublin a whole lot…

Since May, I’ve been working on endurance in the open water. Although I live in Dublin and have done a few longer swims there, my aversion to lion’s-mane jellies and love for swimming on the south coast have meant that most of my training has been done at home. I built up the distance at first in the River Blackwater and Knockananig Reservoir in Fermoy, swimming with Dave Mulcahy and also on my own. Once the sea warmed up a bit, I shed the wetsuit and started doing slightly longer swims with Carol Cashell in Myrtleville and Cork Harbour and with Donal Buckley, a.k.a. “Lone Swimmer”, on the Copper Coast in County Waterford, as well as doing a few other swims along the coast of County Cork, including at Sandycove Island and Ballycotton.

6h swim

Steady 3.6 km/h for 6 h!

The highlight of my training so far though has to be the Cork Distance Week organised by Ned Denison. The camp was based around Sandycove Island but included swims in Loch Allua in the Lee Valley, Myrtleville, the River Blackwater in Fermoy, Lough Hyne between Skibbereen and Baltimore, Inniscarra Reservoir, and Boatstrand on the Copper Coast, as well as some purely social events. There was also a 6-hour swim at Sandycove on the last day of the camp (which I successfully completed in order to qualify for my Leme to Pontal swim attempt). The camp was a tough but fantastic week of swimming in great company and beautiful places, and worthy of its own post – at some point, I might even get around to writing that up and posting a few pictures!

Lee Swim 2017

A selection of photos from the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim 2017 taken by George O’Keefe.

I’ve also finally done my first race of the summer, my tenth “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim, which starts near the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (where I spent a lot of my time whilst I was studying at University College Cork) and carries on down the North Channel of the River Lee, around Custom House Quay, and finishes at Clontarf Bridge. It was a bit of a shock to the system being back in a proper race, but it was good fun battling with Lizzie Lee for the best draft off Ned Denison, and even being pushed off course by Ned for making the mistake of trying to sneak past him on his blind side just before the finish… Enjoy that victory, Ned, I don’t intend to leave you have any more like that for a while!

That’s it for now. There won’t be such a long delay until the next post, hopefully…

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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!

Related Documents:

Round Jersey Solo completed…

Another very quick post just to confirm that I did complete my Round Jersey solo swim on Wednesday, 24 July in a time of 9 hours 35 minutes. I beat the Nick Adam’s record for the fastest swim by a male by 15 minutes and was only 3 minutes behind the overall record held by Julie Farrell. I am now the fastest man and second fastest person to have swum around Jersey so I am delighted with this result.

It was the perfect day for the swim: a great spring tide, no wind, warm sunshine and water temperatures between 16ºC and 17ºC. I also had a fantastic crew headed up by pilot Mick Le Guilcher and first mate John Asplet with local Round Jersey swimmers Alice Harvey and Chantelle Le Guilcher observing, feeding and giving great support. Martin Powell also kayaked with me for the first 2 hours. All of the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club were very welcoming and hospitable. I received cards, chocolates, Jersey fudge and a heap of other niceties at the end of the swim.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I will do a proper write-up with photographs and so on once I get home. For now, i’m going to relax and enjoy the rest of my holidays here in Cornwall…

Another quick update…

Last Saturday, I took part in my favourite open water event, the Lee Swim in Cork City centre. This year, great organisation and some amazing weather combined to make it the best Lee Swim yet! I started in the second group with Crosóige Mara teammate Carol Cashell and Fermoy-via-Florida swimmer Canice Condon. I caught most of the people in the first group and finished the 2 km in a time of 24 minutes 47 seconds. I placed joint sixth/seventh, ahead of some top-class swimmers like Tom Healy, Maeve Ryan, Rachel Lee and Penny Palfrey! It was a great day made even better by meeting some old and new friends starting the Cork Distance Week. I will have a proper write up on the event when I get a chance to do some writing next week…

Photograph – Carol Cashell

The Crosóige Mara team and Lisa Cummins swimming off Shakespeare Beach, Dover. (Photograph: Carol Cashell)

For now, I’m in a mobile home in St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe near Dover waiting for the wind to die down before I and the rest of the Crosóige Mara team can attempt our English Channel 2-way relay. As it was just before my solo in September 2009, there is scorching weather at home but the weather isn’t so good in the Channel. However, Saturday isn’t looking too bad at the moment so it’s a possible swim day. I’ll do one more update on this whenever we get the go-ahead to swim…

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!

Race Review: GaddinAbtGarnish 2013

With my Round Jersey solo approaching, I’ve been trying to up my training mileage over the last few weeks. Over the last fortnight, this has been made a lot easier by a spell of great weather (by Irish standards). College exams out of the way, I managed 33.4 km for the last week of May, including a great 2-hour swim from Fermoy Rowing Club to Castlehyde House, Michael Flatley’s “Irish residence”, and back. Last week, I managed to increase this to 45.4 km, only 13.3 km of this was in the pool (with Fermoy SC) and the remaining 32.1 km was in the open water (mostly in the River Blackwater but also in Ballycroneen, Knockananig Reservoir and Glengarriff). The highlight of the week had to be the annual GaddinAbtGarnish swim in Glengarriff on Saturday…

Photograph – Ossi Schmidt

The crowd of 120 swimmers ready for the briefing at GaddinAbtGarnish 2013 (Photograph: Ossi Schmidt).

Garnish Island (Irish: Oileán an Chuilinn) is a small island in Glengarriff Harbour, a very sheltered inlet off Bantry Bay, West Cork. There were three options for the swim: 1 km (out and back), 3 km (out, once around and back) or 5 km (out, twice around and back). I did the 5 km swim, as I had done in 2011 and 2012. Conditions were ideal – it was hot and sunny and there was hardly a puff of wind. The water was also very clear. Despite the perfect conditions, I was unsure of how I’d perform as it had been a long week to this point and I remembered very well how I struggled around the course last year. The first 500 m of the swim would tell a lot!

There was hardly any fighting at the start, unlike previous years, and a group of three of us pulled away almost immediately. Alex Rathke of UCD Swimming & Water Polo, formerly of Dolphin SC, took the lead while I drafted off of Oran Kane, Killarney. The pace seemed fine out to the first buoy so I felt happy to leave Alex off and sit in behind Oran for the rest of the swim and try to pass him before the finish. Oran seemed to have major goggles issues (for once it wasn’t me with the goggle disorder) at about 800 m so I decided to head off in front of him. At the first corner of the island (about 1 km in) I noticed that Alex had taken a bad line and gone very wide – think my line was pretty good as I had to dolphin over a reef but didn’t get cut!

Over the next 1 km or so, Alex caught up to me but didn’t pass me at the third corner. At this point, we were heading in a straight line back to the buoy at the 500 m mark, but the sun was in our eyes and it was hard to navigate. Alex knew that I’d done the swim before so stuck with me as he figured I’d have some idea of where to go. Oran was behind getting a nice double draft all the while! I eventually spotted the buoy and rounded it as instructed in the pre-race briefing, as did Alex and Oran. However, on rounding the buoy (and politely asking a kayaker blocking the way to move), I spotted at least two white caps rounding the first corner of the island – this made no sense as all of the 3 km swimmers should be well on the other side of the island and, assuming that everyone followed the correct course, there should be no 5 km swimmers in front of us. It soon became clear that the two were 5 km swimmers, Ned Denison and possibly Warren Roche, who had decided to take a shortcut along the side of the island…

The pace picked up a bit for the second lap – Alex took a lead on me and I pulled away from Oran. Alex still didn’t venture too far away for nearly another 1 km, it seems he still needed some guidance on the course! At the 3.5 km mark, though, he started to pull away and I could see him catch Ned and some of the 3 km swimmers. It was long before I did the same myself, swimming over Ned’s legs a few times just to let him know that I was there and that he’d been caught cheating!

At the third corner, I was still able to see Alex and could also see Warren Roche just ahead of me. Having caught Warren, who also seemed unsure of the correct path, I kept a good eye on Alex’s position and could see him taking a bad line again – he went way off to the left and I managed to reach the buoy before him. With a lot of swimmers in the area, I lost sight of him and so sprinted the last 500 m back to the slipway. To my surprise, I was the first of the 5 km swimmers to finish and did so in 1 hour 8 minutes 24 seconds – definitely a new personal best 5 km time! Not long afterwards, Alex and Warren finished together (not quite at the slipway but close enough). Ned was next in wondering why the rest of us had taken “such a bad line” and he was followed very shortly by Oran.

Photograph – Ossi Schmidt

Me exiting the water at the end of GaddinAbtGarnish 2013 (Photograph: Ossi Schmidt).

It was a great race in amazing scenery. It was a treat to finish a 5 km sea swim warm and be in no rush to get changed. On getting out, I met Dave Mulcahy and Declan O’Keeffe, both Fermoy SC, who had finished their 3 km swim. I also met Mary McEvoy, Gina Lyons, Adam Blaiklock, Niamh Fleming and James Slowey, all from Fermoy, who had finished their swims. Iain and Ciara MacCallum, Fermoy also, both finished their 3 km just after me. Ciara had originally planned to do the 1 km but was feeling good after the Fastnet Triathlon in Schull that morning so decided to do the 3 km! I got a bit worried that there was still no sign of Paul Noonan, also Fermoy SC, who was also doing the 3 km and should have been out well before me. I hung around for a while and he eventually should up, having “accidentally” swum the 5 km instead, his previous longest open water swim being 2 km! Well done to everyone from Fermoy who took part, it was great to see both Fermoy SC and Blackwater Tri Club so well represented.

Other great points about the swim included seeing a few big moon jellies (a very welcome sign that the water is warming up), clean clear water in a beautiful setting, seeing lots of starfish on the seaweed (maybe a good sign for the Crosóige Mara relay in July) and top class kayak and RIB support. Well done again to Ossi and Imelda on organising a great event, I’m looking forward to next year already!

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 7

Finally, Ned has sent on a few photographs! Here is his report from Day 3 of the SCAR Swim Challenge, the Apache Lake 17 mile swim:

I woke in a hotel room with no phone, no web, no fridge, no cooking facilities and no open restaurant. It must not have been a pretty sight: sitting on the edge of the bed, covered in the first lot of zinc waiting to dry, eating three day old spaghetti and meatballs out of the largest zip lock bag in the world – with my right hand (the fingers alone just didn’t do it). It must have been pretty bad because I think the CNN weather girl changed the station from her side.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Headed up to the start of the Apache Lake swim (Day 3).

Down to the marina and Kent had arranged 50 breakfast burritos. It settled well on top of the spaghetti and I got to meet Darren Miller (completed six of the Oceans Seven swims) and a big hug for Jen Schumacher. Darren wasn’t really up on the cadence of the swims and deferred on the burrito thinking we were swimming in a matter of minutes. The wind was cold/howling and Kent decided to run the swim with the wind (thereby denying me my best chance of taking Gracie). The kayakers were transported first up river and I went to sleep (with jeans, wool socks/cap, three under-layers and a hoodie) in the back of an empty U-Haul trailer. I woke to 27 swimmers (in summer garb) who had figured out the wisdom of my trailer and we chatted a while longer.

Photograph – Ned Denison

The crew in the back of the U-Haul truck, Ned sleeping in the back…

It was then up the river by boat – another 40 minutes or so and onto the starting beach. Everybody brought a spare suit for Greg – just in case.  Again, it was up the river to yet another dam another set of buoys.

Kent billed this as 17 miles and I packed 8 litres of High5. I sprinted at the start out of fear. Something in the water was making a menacing growl and I was thinking 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY catfish. Gracie and Sarah again took off and Jen passed me as well. She didn’t give me even a small smile or a wave – so I gave her a little bump, just for old time sake. A fourth lady passed and at about 3 miles I had a big gap behind me. The next 30 minutes must have been crap because as we passed half-way my “lead” had reduced by 80%. It was time to decide what this swim was going to be. Was I just going to try and slog it out? Or was I going to pick it up a bit and not let them pass me (it is NOT a race)?  I just imagined it was Gábor Molnár behind me and picked it up a bit. I pulled away from all but one, who was like the terminator!

I then made a very big mistake. Kent had said that the marina was the second or third point and I calculated the remaining number of right arm strokes. The sun was hot, the jet skis scary and the damn terminator just kept coming. At one point, my kayaker wasn’t sure if we went to the right where the three killer jets skis emanated or to the left where we could see a gap. She studied the map while the terminator kept coming and coming. She declared less than 2 miles through the invisible gap and off we went: I reset my counter to 1,400 right arm strokes. She handed me the last bottle maybe 100 m in front of the terminator (now probably just a skeleton swimming) and when I saw the finish it was “sod the drink” and sprint (ok, it was thrash wildly and gasp) the 500 m or so. It was 6½ hours or so… On to the boat and cheering for the terminator, who suddenly morphed into Liz Fry. We were fifth and sixth and Liz was the first with a cold beer. The sound of the beer opening was barely audible to me with ear plugs standing next to Liz – but it brought Greg O’Connor flying around the corner at an Olympic pace to claim the second and third beer.

We headed back and passed cheering all the remaining swimmers. Mo gave the biggest wave and the buzzards had by now come to the same decision as the rest of us – Mo had 20+ years of world class swimming left! My arms were seriously hurting but I still managed to find a massage table … and go back for seconds.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Mo Siegel – there are now “awards” but he isn’t doing too badly!

Dinner was festive and it was the absolute reminder of the swimming marathon class I had been enjoying. At least two of the kayakers are world class swimmers! And perhaps as special, I was swimming with some of the swimmers who contribute the MOST back to the sport: Greg – Boston Light organiser, Liz – Swim the Sound and Dave – 8 Bridges, and there were others: Gracie, Becky, BarbCatalina organisers … and others.

Mo was clenching his fists ready to go back to battle the bed bugs when Liz, Bob and I confessed to 20+ river bites. Mo calmed and headed off before he found out that nobody else had a single one. The start mystery was also solved: Darren missed the breakfast burrito and his stomach was growling after the 2-ish hour start gap. I was close: 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY DARREN … a sound which will give me nightmares and probably affect the wildlife birth rate in the canyon for years to come.

A very pleasant evening was drawing to a close when Dave casually remarked: “I am taking you tomorrow, Denison”. Shit, the 10k night swim might not just be star gazing.