A new challenge for 2017

I know, I know, I managed to let another whole year [and a bit] slip past without so much as a peep on the blog. As many are already aware, I spent the last three years focusing on finishing my BSc in ecology and settling into working life – as an actual ecologist, would you believe – and, just maybe, being a bit lazy… However, 2017 has arrived and that affliction that all who are swimmers have, that visceral desire to be in the water is too much to bear: I need to swim!

After last year’s trip to Brazil in September and seeing her seemingly infinite and stunningly beautiful coastline with its long, sandy beaches, huge, rounded limestone boulders, verdant slopes of Atlantic forest and the deep blue South Atlantic, I knew that it would be hard to resist at least a few marathon swims along that coast. So, a few weeks ago, I found a pool near where I work in Dublin and started training, still not entirely sure for what…

Pousada Casa da Praia

Waking up to this view of Praia dos Anjos in Arraial do Cabo, where Amerigo Vespucci landed in 1503, it’s hard not to imagine swimming here… (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Aware of the potential difficulties in arranging a completely new swim, I decided that it was best to book an established swim, one for which “all” I would have to do would be to fill in the forms, pay the fees and train. One swim in particular jumped straight out at me: Leme to Pontal, a coastal swim of 35 km. This swim is the same distance as the English Channel, starting at Praia do Leme in Leme, Copacabana and passing all of the oceanic beaches and sites of the city of Rio de Janeiro before finishing at Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Barra da Tijuca (see the interactive map below).

I’ve already secured my window with the Leme to Pontal Swimming Association for the week of the 16th to 22nd December 2017. All I have to do now is to keep up the training and start re-acclimatising to the sea! I will try to keep the blog reasonably up to date with my progress and any other news, so keep an eye out here for intermittent updates and on Facebook, Instagram or maybe even Twitter for more frequent ones…

2 DSC_0040 Owen swim

Back in the Blackwater under Grandad‘s watchful eye last weekend…

More to come soon!

Race Review: Great Wicklow 10 km Swim

Photograph – Dymphna Morris

Some of the swimmers getting ready for the start in Greystones… (Photograph: Dymphna Morris)

This year has seen many new additions to the Irish open water swimming calendar. Among these new swims was the Great Wicklow 10 km Swim | Snámh Mhór Chill Mhantáin, which took place on Sunday, 22 September. This was a tide assisted swim between the towns of Bray and Greystones on Ireland’s east coast. Ger Kennedy and the rest of the team did a fantastic job with the organisation of this event and are continuing to think big about expanding the event for next year and also running other events in Dublin and the surrounding area. I look forward to taking part in one or more of these events myself!

Conditions on the day were best described as “mixed”. It was a warm, sunny, dry day on the east coast and we had a favourable tide assisting us in our point-to-point swim from Bray south to Greystones. However, there was a stiff southeasterly breeze which was about the worst direction that it could be coming from! Times were still faster than a 10 km in still water, though – I finished in 2 hours 18 minutes. I don’t think that I swam particularly well in this race but I did win the male non-wetsuit category so was happy enough. It was a fun day out, in any case, especially with four Cork swimmers – Carol Cashell, Eoin O’Riordan, Liz Buckley and myself – taking part. Carol did a very good write-up on the swim so I’ll just direct you to that (link below) instead of writing my own…

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Race Review: VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués (Part 2)

(Cont’d from Part 1) Starting at the front of the crowd and off to the right, I had pretty clear water all round me – until a handful of us swam straight into a kayak, that was! It was a surreal experience seeing Damián Blaum next to me in the water for a short while. How often do we get to compete with the top athletes in any sport? As we rounded the first bend, I managed to draft off Esther Núñez for a few short minutes – I was very proud of myself, as you can imagine! At this point, I also realised that there was no more than half a dozen swimmers ahead of me so decided that I’d better swim properly…

Photograph – Martnaton

Rounding the first corner of the swim. The calm conditions allowed us to cut close to the rocks as we would do in Sandycove… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Now, this writing business is becoming a bit tiresome (especially as it’s 1:30 am and I’m switching between tabs keeping an eye on Sylvain Estadieu swimming butterfly across the Channel) so I’m going to continue this post as substantially captioned pictures.

Photograph – Marnaton

After the first long straight (of about 1,500 m) and passing over shallow rocks between a small islet and the mainland, we came to the first feed boat. Here, the helpers handed out cups of water. There were three of these stops, located at the 2 km, 4 km and 5 km marks. At the first stop, I noticed a handful of swimmers pass me so I decided not to stop at again! The change in position was good to release some of the heat trapped in my suit, though… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

After the first feed stop, we crossed a wide bay. Navigation was made very easy by lots of support boats and kayaks on the left hand side and a large yellow marker (with a red balloon 20 m up in the air directly above it) at the next turn. I saw a few jellies on this stretch but didn’t pay much attention as I was more focussed on not falling behind the swimmers in front. Around the next headland, we stayed in shallower water and went between and island and the mainland. A kayaker led me between lane ropes marking the deep channels and, here, there was even a rope on the bottom marking the best line! This was a great feature of the swim as a swimmer could badly damage their suit of they didn’t have these guides… (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

The last feed boat at the 5 km mark flies the Marnaton logo and the flag of Catalonia. You could pretty much see the finish from here – time to change up a gear! (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

There was no excuse for missing the finish at this race: big yellow inflatable arch with crowds either side! (Photograph: Marnaton)

Photograph – Marnaton

As I exited the water, I was faced with new challenge for me: running up the beach to the finish! I am not a runner by any definition, and even the 15 m run up from the water to the timing mats would present a challenge to me. In any case, I made it up the beach without falling or embarrassing myself… (Photograph: Marnaton)

I finished the swim in a time of 1:20:45, which was much faster than expected. My average pace throughout the race was 1:15 per 100 m. I struggle to hit that time in the pool, let alone turn around on it 65 times in a row, so I think that the current may have been taking about 0:10 off every 100 m. I was delighted to see that I actually finished in sixth place, and was only 7:11 behind Damián (who placed first) and 4:18 behind Esther (who placed fourth). Imagine that: only two places behind Esther Núñez! I was feeling very smug indeed entering the finishers’ area. Just after me was Miquel Suñer, who swam without a wetsuit. Only the week before, he swam 30+ km around the entire Cap de Creus peninsula!

Photograph – Donal O'Lochlainn

Damián and I with the Fermoy flag in the finishers’ area. (Photograph: Donal O’Lochlainn)

Before I got a chance to take off my wetsuit, Esther alerted me to the fact that there was a couple calling me from the beach. The couple was Donal and Edna O’Lochlainn from Fermoy who were in Cadaqués on their holidays… Fermoy people: you just can’t escape them! They even had the Fermoy flag with them for the occasion so Damián and I had our picture taken with it. It was great to meet Donal and Edna at the event and very nice to have some local support. Mauricio and I met them again later that evening for a drink. Damián, Esther and I hung around in the finishers’ area for another while, meeting all of the swimmers that we had met at dinner the night before. The area was very well set up: the swimmers had a nice patch of beach to mill around in, there were chairs, showers and stands with lot’s of soft drinks, water and fruit. On your way out of the finishers’ area, you passed “baggage reclaim” where you picked up your things which had been transported from the start for you. In the plaza, there was also free recovery massages and even an inflatable medical centre! The whole setup was very impressive and great credit is due to the organisers for the effort that they put in. By the time we’d seen the results it was nearly midday and getting very hot, so it was time to cool off in the hotel pool before heading back for the presentation of the prizes at 1:00 pm.

Photograph – Mauricio Prieto

My category was Male 18-29 and, as the fastest in the category was in the overall prizes, he was excluded from the category prizes so I found myself winning the category outright. I was not expecting that at all! I was particularly pleased when I saw the age range of the category and that there was actually over 50 swimmers in it… (Photograph: Mauricio Prieto)

Photograph – Marnaton

Fastest three swimmers in both the male and female all-ages categories on the podium with some of the Marnaton team. (Photograph: Marnaton)

Right after the prizes we had a really nice lunch by the hotel pool. I was advised to try a local dish – a Catalan noodle paella – which I must say was really nice and hit the spot very nicely after the race! After, all that swimming, talking and eating, we were all exhausted so it was time for a siesta by the pool (there’s that pool again).

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Cadaqués Sunset… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

Before we ate yet again, there was some important business to attend to for the soccer fans and Catalans in the group: Barcelona were playing a match and it was imperative that we watched it. I wouldn’t normally watch soccer but I was getting the full Catalan experience so was looking forward to seeing how the locals followed their biggest sporting institution. To my surprise, everyone gathered in pubs and restaurants, sat and watched quietly. I was sure that there was probably more excitement about the very same match at home! The crowed did get a bit more lively during the next match though, where they relished in seeing Real Madrid fair poorly – I suppose it’s a bit like a Cork supporter sometimes appearing more anti-Kilkenny than pro-Cork in hurling. Anyway, enough about dry-land sports! At 10:00 pm, it was time to eat some more… There was another big crowd for dinner, this time including the race organiser, Miquel Rahola, and his wife, Irene, as well as David Campa and others. The dinner was tapas style and, yet again, the food was top class – as was the company, of course. By now, I was picking up some of the more basic Spanish and Catalan phrases – I promise to be able to speak some for next year! After dinner, it was time for the party…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From midnight to 3:00 am there was a great party in the plaza. It was great to meet Domingo and Macarena here, who were very keen to practise their English on me! We did have to shelter from rain in the beach bar for a while, which was unexpected… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)

That wasn’t the end of it, though! After the band stopped, the party continued into the streets of Cadaqués. The group eventually found our way into a tiny nightclub in the village where we stayed until 5:00 am when I was disgusted to have to leave to catch my bus back to Barcelona and fly home! Still, I’d had an absolutely amazing day and a half with brilliant people – a simply surreal experience.

Thanks a million to Mauricio for looking after me from start to finish. Thanks to Damián, Esther, Miquel and all my new swimming friends for their hospitality. Well done to Miquel, Pablo, Irene, David and the rest of the Marnaton team on organisation such a superb event. I can’t wait for next year!

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Race Review: VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cadaqués (Part 1)

It’s now one year since I started this blog and started reading OWSwimming.com, the blog of Mauricio, Susan and Emily who swam the Strait of Gibraltar this summer. I read with envy as they swam in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea until late in the autumn. I came to know the swimmers through blogging and before long I was signed up to take part in the third stage of Marnaton 2013. The race that entered was a 6.5 km swim on the Costa Brava called VI Marnaton “eDreams” Cap de Creus – Cadaqués and it took place last Saturday, 14 September. Here’s how I got on…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

From the restaurant at the top of the cliff, Mauricio points out the best line to take during the swim…

Eager for one last summer race before heading back to college, I flew from Cork to Barcelona on Friday. On arrival there, I met Mauricio who kindly took my bag and showed me where to wander around in Barcelona for the afternoon. After a stroll around Las Ramblas, Mauricio and I met up again and headed for Cadaqués, which is about 2 hours north of Barcelona by car. When we got to Cadaqués, we took a drive to the start of the swim at Cala Jugadora in the Cap de Creus national park. The whole area is spectacularly beautiful with rocky mountains, lots of greenery and azure blue sea. Having checked out the swim course from the cliffs, we headed back to the village and checked into the hotel. There, we met the most successful couple in open water swimming: Damián Blaum and Esther Núñez. I first met Damián last year while we were both in Dover and crewing for Trent Grimsey on his English Channel world record swim. He is the current FINA Grand Prix Champion. Esther was the GP Champion in 2007 and 2012 and was second this year. They would both be taking part in the race the following day! That evening I had dinner with Mauricio, Damián, Esther, Miquel Suñer and many local swimmers. It was a great evening and I got plenty of exposure to the Spanish and Catalan languages!

Photograph – Unknown

After dinner at Casa Anita in Cadaqués. Back row (l-r): Pablo, Jordi, Lorena, me, Ester, Cristina, Cristina, Alberto, Marta. Front row (l-r): Esther, Damián, Mauricio, Miquel, Rafa.

The next morning, we had to be up early to travel to the start point. Breakfast at the hotel was at 7:30 am. Most swimmers tried to imitate what Damián and Esther were having for their breakfast but it was difficult to keep up! After breakfast, we travelled to the start by car – we could only go so far by road and had to walk the rest of the way. All of the swimmers got changed in the glen that leads from the road to the cove. All but two of the nearly 600 swimmers got our wetsuits and, like penguins, made our way to the water! I was relieved to jump into the sea as I was getting quite hot standing around in my wetsuit. The water was at least 18ºC, crystal clear and very saline: I’d never felt so warm and so buoyant in the sea! I followed Damián, Esther to the best start position. There, we met Miquel, who was swimming without a wetsuit. Once all of the swimmers were congregated in the start area, the horn blew and we were off!

Photograph – Marnaton

All of the 596 swimmers start simultaneously, accompanied by a flotilla of safety boats and kayakers! (Photograph: Marnaton)

That’s enough writing for me for today! I’ll put up another post tomorrow about the swim itself and the afters of the event… (Cont’d in Part 2)

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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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The Wait is Over!

Good news! The pilot for our 2-way English Channel relay, Mike Oram, called this morning to confirm that we will be meeting him in Dover Marina at midnight tonight with a view to starting our swim for about 1:00 am tomorrow. We’re all packed now and ready to go!

Photograph – Lisa Cummins

The Team! (left-to-right: Caitlin Desmond, Maeve Ryan, Eoin O’Riordan, Owen O’Keefe, Lynne Donnelly, Carol Cashell)

You can follow our progress on Twitter @CrosoigeMara and on our Facebook page. You can also track the boat on bit.ly/Gallivant or on the CS&PF website. Don’t forget that we are doing the swim in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland and you can donate via our iDonate page. I’ll update when we’re done…

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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