On the home stretch!

Artigo em português

Only 36 days to go?! Really?! How?!

All of a sudden, the swallows have disappeared, the summer is a distant memory and I’m in the final phase of my training for Leme to Pontal. My last open water training swim in Ireland was a 2 km dash in and out of the sea in Myrtleville on the October bank holiday and I’m now full-time in the full for the final push.

Myrtleville 20171030

Myrtleville on the morning of my last non-wetsuited open water swim in Ireland for the year.

With the goal that I’ve been working (and, at times, struggling) towards in sight, it’s become much easier to train. Getting up early to go for my pre-work pool session no longer requires discipline; it just happens, automatically; panic gets me up and out before I even get to think about taking a lazy morning. There’s nothing like a deadline!

This week and next week, I am doing big-ish metres in the pool, and then I will start tapering down for the big event…

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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…

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…

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.

Training 2012 versus 2013

I’m really struggling for writing material at the moment so I just thought that I’d do a quick comparison between how my training was going this time last year and how it’s going now. Here’s a quick bar chart (my liking for charts and graphs of all kinds will become apparent in future posts):

Graphic – Owen O'Keefe

Clustered bar chart of Weekly Totals (m) for Weeks 1 to 6 of 2012 and 2013.

2011 was a bit of an off year for me with my Leaving Certificate exams in June and my first semester at University College Cork from September to December. In January 2012, I found myself unexpectedly climbing up the mileage ladder on an almost daily basis. The fourth week of January was a 40 km week, which was a good week for me even when training for my English Channel swim in 2009. The next week, I managed over 50 km, including a 25 km pool swim on my birthday and a lap of Sandycove Island. This was my longest week ever!

However, this sudden increase in training volume took it’s toll and weakened my system enough to get a bad bout of tonsillitis. My training subsequently collapsed and weeks passed when I did not swim at all. I eventually got over it and had a great summer…

Since the middle of September 2012, my training has been lower in volume but I’ve been much more consistent and have been getting more value out of it. From the chart above, I’ve been doing very little until now (with college work, etc.) but I won’t be crashing and burning as I did last year. Hopefully, this will stand to me in the long run!

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.