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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Cork swimmers ready for MIMS 2013

With Lisa Cummins already stateside, it’s only Liam Maher and Carol Cashell left to send off to the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2013. Last Saturday, there was a send-off swim at Sandycove Island for the two seasoned marathoners before they leave…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Some of the swimmers get ready to start the send-off swim…

The weather was great so there was a good crowd present to join Liam and Carol for their last lap of the island before the big swim. Before we arrived however, there were already four swimmers in the water – Donal Buckley, Ciarán Byrne, Finbarr Hedderman and Rob “The Bull” Bohane – finishing their third lap that morning!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

And they’re off, maybe just fix the goggles first!

After getting out, the four dived back in for another two laps of the island! Why? There has been a recent escalation in competition between a few of the old guard at Sandycove to reach a thousand lifetime laps and so join the informal “M Club” of Sandycove – these five laps were the last  five before the thousand for “The Bull” so he has beaten Ned Denison to it! It’s amazing the motivation that many of us get to beat Ned…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Liam & Carol at the second corner.

The water was very calm and the air was mild – this is unusual for Sandycove this year! Temperatures in the water had risen also – it was about 11ºC on the day. This allowed us to stop for a chat and a few photographs at the far corner of the island.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Off again for the second half of the lap…

I was happy enough to finish after one lap but a few made it worth their while getting wet and went around a second time. The sea is warming up now so I will be doing multiple laps from now on. This was a social swim, though, so there was no need to push myself.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Carol finished, more ready to head off.

After the swim, there was a great BBQ and spread put on by Liam and Kaye and many others contributed also. There was a great atmosphere afterwards and it was a great way of sending off our swimmers. Best of luck, Liam and Carol!

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Product Review: FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS

Graphic – InternetMore and more gadgets are coming onto the open water swimming market. Most of these are a bit gimmicky and are things that you’ll probably never use. Last Christmas, I got a present of a FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS. I’ve heard good and bad things about them (and those produced by other brands, e.g. Garmin) so have been itching to try it out since then. With the bad weather that we’ve been having this year, I didn’t get to test it out until this week. Here’s how I got on…

Wearing and operating the device: As you can see from the photograph above, the device itself is quite small (4 cm × 5 cm × 1.5 cm) and is held in place (on the back of the head) by the goggle straps. It can be a bit fiddly getting it secured to the goggle straps but a handy video explaining how to do this is provided (see below). Once in place, the device is very comfortably worn, hardly noticeable in fact, and is very simple to operate. There are only two buttons, i.e. a [POWER] button and a [PAUSE/RECORD] button. The former is held down for 3 s to turn the device on or off and the latter is held down for 2 s to start or pause data recording. You can pause and restart data recording to keep it in the same workout or power off and back on to start a new workout.

Note: There are lights on the device to indicate whether power is on or off, whether or not a GPS signal is being received and whether data recording is running or paused. You should wait for a GPS signal to be received before starting your workout (this can take a few minutes – as with all GPS devices, I suppose).

Data analysis: I originally assumed that the device produced a data trail on a Google Earth map, a total swim time and maybe an average speed – I was wrong, it produces much more than that! It does, of course, give the trail of GPS data points overlaid on a Google Earth image. These are very accurate and can produce surprising results, e.g. my tracks for swims at Sandycove Island and Knockananig Reservoir (below) show my tendency to swim to the right and need to make constant left-hand corrections to stay on course. The Sandycove track also shows that I was much further off the back of the island than I had imagined during the swim.

Images – Google Earth & FINIS

GPS data trail for a single lap of Sandycove Island (left) and a 4-lap swim in Knockananig Reservoir (right) overlaid on Google Earth images.

In addition to a map of the swim, the device also gives you the total swim time, average speed (km/h), average pace (s/100 m), splits for each km and 100 m , speed (km/h) and accumulated time at any [spatial rather than temporal] point during the swim. Elevation is also provided but this is obviously of little consequence for swimmers!

Note: All data can be converted to imperial units for our yet-to-be-converted cousins!

Graphic – FINIS

Some of the data output from my 4-lap swim in Knockananig Reservoir last night. Hovering the cursor over the bar for each split reveals the time (in mm:ss format) and the ten 100 m splits shown are for the selected km split (the 1 km split in this case).

Each workout is saved to your own personal account on the FINIS website from where you can export your workout to a number of various file formats or other training logging websites, share it on social media, e.g. Facebook or Twitter, or delete it. There are also a number of additional features on the FINIS training log such as total distance and average speed, etc., across multiple workouts.

Note on battery life: I haven’t tested exactly how long the battery lasts (though I know that it takes about 2 hours to charge). I have, however, noted that when you are not using the device you need to check carefully to make sure that it is powered off. I attempted to use the device in the River Blackwater on Monday morning but it would not turn on. I’ve since figured out that I hadn’t made sure that it was switched off properly after last using it and by such had accidentally run down the battery. I haven’t made the same mistake since! I’ll update when I figure out just how long the battery lasts.

How useful is it? Well, it depends on how much swimming you’re doing and where you’re doing it. I think that because I swim regularly at Sandycove and race there also, the data returned by the device will be very useful for me in practicing to swim a faster lap. I think that it’s also useful for measuring the exact distance and time for a new swim that is perhaps difficult to gauge from maps and charts. Of course, it’s not just for swimming that it’s useful: it comes with an armband so can be used for a multitude of activities including running, cycling, walking, skiing and many others (you can select the specific activity when analysing the workout). It retails at US$129.99 so it really depends on you as to how much value you can get out of it…

Conclusion: I always like to record my sessions. I record them, not just for the sake of it, but so that I can analyse them and see how I can improve and get more value out of the next session. This is easily done with pool sessions but much harder for open water. I think that this device makes proper workout analysis for open water possible and will help me to train better in the open water, so it gets the “thumbs up” from me!

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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.

My first sea swim of the year…

On Sunday, I went for first open water “swim” of 2013. I hadn’t swum in the open water for nearly a month so was a bit apprehensive about the temperature – it turned out that I had good cause for apprehension!

The plan was that a few of us would meet at 12:00 at Sandycove for one lap of the Island. I didn’t bring my wetsuit as I managed the 1,700 m lap without it the last time, but the last time was good while ago! It was surprisingly quiet at Sandycove, probably because a few people opted to swim at 10:00 while more decided to try swimming in Inniscarra at 11:30 to get in some extra cold water training for the Cold Water Swimming Championships in Tooting Bec Lido in South London this weekend. It’s been very cold in England as of late so the swimmers can expect water temperatures of 0ºC for their races!

Anyway, it was just Dave, Declan, Aidan and myself for the 12:00 swim at Sandycove. It wasn’t an ideal day for swimming: there was a stiff easterly wind (the worst wind direction for Sandycove swimming) and it was a generally miserable day. I got changed and got straight in without any delay – the only way to get in, in my view. It can’t have been more than 20 m before I realised that I wasn’t even going to make it as far as the Island; my hands and feet were on fire and I was fairly winded, so I decided to head back to the slipway satisfied that I at least got in and swam ~50 m.

As I was getting out, the three wetsuiters were just getting in and they headed off around the Island. I got dressed as quickly as possible and sat into the car to warm up. When the others got back, the thermometer on Dave’s wristwatch read 8.1ºC but I have no way of knowing how accurate that is (wristwatch thermometers are notoriously unreliable). The customary tea and biscuits followed, despite the disappointing turnout.

Having previously completed laps of Sandycove in as low as 7ºC and done a 400 m swim in the Blackwater at 3.5ºC, this experience reminded of one crucial fact when it comes to cold water swimming, i.e. that there is no substitute for regular immersions when trying to acclimatise to cold water.