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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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!

Once again, I sort-of forgot that I had this blog…

Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am so arís, and let’s hope that it’s not an am so arís before I write anything on here again…

So ended my previous blog post… Reading it again carefully, I’m satisfied that I’ve broken no promises in not posting again until we have arrived safely at an am so arísagus písín eile leis! There are two main reasons why nothing new has appeared on the blog in the last year and a bit:

  1. I’ve been busy/lazy – At the time of my last post, I was nearing the end of my ecology degree at University College Cork. I was studying, that is to say stressing, about exams and struggling to finish my final year project on the crayfish of the River Awbeg. After that, I was busy finding a job. I got one and have been busy doing it ever since. In truth, I had time to write, but everything else that I’d been doing involved a lot of writing so I couldn’t be bothered writing any more “and that’s the holy all of it”, as went one of my favourite lines from 2015’s “national conversation” on marriage equality…
  2. I’ve been doing almost no swimming – Plenty has been going on so there’s been no shortage of writing material, but it hasn’t involved much swimming at all so I’ve been reluctant to post on what’s supposed to be a swimming blog…

Anyway, as I say, plenty did actually happen and, in the absence of anything else to write about, I will do my best to put up a few short posts in the next few weeks about how everything has changed [again!] in the last year…

I have a blog, I haven’t forgotten!

***I originally wrote this post on Christmas Eve last but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had to delay making it public until now. I’m glad that it’s finally up here and open to everyone!***

I know, I know, it’s been an age since I last posted anything on this blog. Why have I not been writing? The honest answer is that I haven’t really had much to write about, and that I couldn’t really be bothered to write, quite frankly. So, what have I been up to? Plenty, but not a whole lot of swimming, to tell the truth…

Photograph – Adrian Healy

Racing the 1,500 m in UL back in March. I haven’t seen the inside of the building since – oops! (Image: Adrian Healy)

A few weeks after my last post way back in March, I found myself in a somewhat awkward situation and having to finally confront some personal issues that I had been choosing to ignore for far too long. The first of these was the pretty poor state of my mental health throughout most of my first two years at university, the causes of which were many and varied, but which need not be discussed here. Just what it was that brought that awful period to a close was what forced me to talk about it… To cut a long story short, I took comfort in the company of a friend, another boy, and gradually began to think of him as more than just a friend. After a year, I couldn’t bear to keep the secret anymore, and so I told him how I felt. This was a huge step for me as I had never told anyone – and I mean absolutely anyone – either about my mental health or that I was gay. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, this step didn’t go all that well. Knowing that this [as well as other complicating factors that revealed themselves in the following days and weeks] might trigger another, possibly worse bout of whatever it was that I had suffered before, I started talking. I was and am very lucky to have the most incredibly supportive friends and family, who helped me to process a good decade’s worth of emotional sh*t, for want of a better phrase, that I had built up in my head. I am beyond grateful for everything that they have done for me. So, thank you to everyone who has supported me!

But I did do *some* swimming!!!

As you might have seen in posts from earlier this year, I had gone back to training properly in the pool with my old club, Fermoy SC. That actually went quite well! Thanks to starting some light running and regular pool training, I lost a decent amount of weight and made a lot of gains in the pool, finally going under the minute in the 100 m freestyle and making good PBs in the 400 m and 1,500 m events too. I even managed to compete in the 400 m event at the Irish Age Group Championships & Summer Open in July, something which I’d given up on five years ago. I had an okay-ish season in the open water too, though I didn’t swim any major distance. I did go back to the Costa Brava though for my favourite event ever, the 6.5 km Marnaton “eDreams”  Cadaqués, where I had an “interesting” race that I might discuss in a later post… I’m sorry to say that there was little other news on the open water front – it would appear that weight loss and cold water tolerance don’t agree very well with one another!

Photograph – Edna English

On the podium again in Cadaqués. Not exactly in the position that I’d have liked but good to share it with meu amic, Albert Cortés Rovira. (Image: Edna English)

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The beautiful village of Cadaqués just after the swim – a truly stunning location! (Image: Owen O’Keefe)

Much to the disappointment of many, I did dip my toe into the world of triathlon this summer. Many dyed-in-the-wool open water swimmers would have me hanged, drawn and quartered for such a transgression! I must say that I’ve really enjoyed having a variety of sports in which to train. I always have and always will love swimming, so no need for an explanation there. I think that running is a very accessible sport (it’s inexpensive and there are so many opportunities for participation) and one which is very social too. Cycling I have found very enjoyable in a solitary way. Plus, I live in great cycling territory, something that my friend, Eoin McCarthy, will vouch for…

Side note: Many congratulations to Eoin on recently signing for the An Post-Chain Reaction Seán Kelly cycling team! Continued success to this incredible athlete…

As regards the sport of triathlon itself, I joined my local club, Blackwater Triathlon Club, this year and really enjoyed being part of the club, especially cycling the Ring of Beara, which was a fantastic experience. Once trained up a bit, I took part in two sprint distance triathlons: one in Carrick-on-Suir and one at home in Fermoy. The local event, which is now part of the Triathlon Ireland National Series, was amazing and I enjoyed it immensely. I wasn’t displeased with my performance either, I must admit. So, yeah, triathlon: it gets the thumbs up from me!

Photograph – Finbar O'Hanlon

Look, there I go………triathlon-ing! (Image: Finbar O’Hanlon)

Anyway, forgetting for *two seconds* about university, that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to since I last posted. While there are a lot of things that I’d rather forget about, 2014 has not in fact been the worst year ever and I can write now a happier and healthier person than ever before. Finally, a very happy Christmas [or whatever mid-winter festival you’re celebrating] and see you in the new year!

Go mbeirimíd beo ag an am so arís, and let’s hope that it’s not an am so arís before I write anything on here again…

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…

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…

Related Articles:

Blackwater 60 km – Report

Photograph – Donal Buckley

A surprisingly clear day dawned about an hour before the start of the swim. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

The early-morning mist was just rising off the water when I arrived at Fermoy Rowing Club at 6:30 am last Friday. As Mona, Donal and Maura got the kayaks set up and I got into my swim gear, a string of family and friends gradually gathered around the slipway. It was a nice to have a few people to wave me off for a change. Almost all of my marathon swims so far have had very lonely starts, sometimes in the black of night, so it was nice to have company. It also makes it much harder to back out of the swim if people are watching! At 7:08 am, I hit the water accompanied by my three crew, each in their own kayak. The water felt great: it was dark and fresh and felt quite warm! Donal, who was acting as observer for the swim, estimated that the water temperature was somewhere in the range of 15ºC to 16ºC. For the first 250 m, I could see those who had been at the slipway moving along Ashe Quay towards Fermoy Bridge where they could get a perfect view of myself and the three kayakers traversing the weir (photographed above). Once safely below the weir, it was back to the horizontal and off under the bridge, past Blackwater Sub-Aqua Club and into deeper water once more.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Starting the swim from the slipway at Fermoy Rowing Club. (Photograph: George O’Keefe)

Having passed under the M8 motorway bridge and Carrigabrick Viaduct, I took my first feed as we passed Isleclash (30 minutes in). I knew at this stage that I wasn’t getting a lot of help from the current so the first half of the swim would be a bit harder than originally expected. The next half-hour took us past Halloran’s Rick, where the River Funcheon joins the Blackwater. Then we passed through Ballyderown, where fellow swimmer and crew member for the second part of this swim, Paul Noonan, was able to see us passing from his house! Shortly after passing the confluence with the Araglin River, bringing cool water from the mountains on the Waterford-Tipperary border, I had my second feed (1 hour in). We were still a good distance from Clondulane Weir so I knew that we were slightly behind time. Not long after this feed, I almost jumped out of my skin when the water clarity afforded me an excellent few of a beautiful Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) cruising upriver about 1.5 m below me. I estimated that he (at least I think it was a he) was about 15 lbs in weight – easily the largest fish that I’ve seen while swimming. Eventually, we did get to Clondulane Weir. I was nervous about everyone, including myself, getting over this weir safely but, thankfully, we did (even if some of us got wet)…

Photograph – Donal Buckley

As you can see, getting over the weir wasn’t the easiest part of the swim, but it was fun! (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Safely on the other side of the weir, I could relax knowing that there were no other major obstacles in our way! The next 2 hours or so would be spent swimming from feed to feed, as normal, with some streamlined dolphining over rapids and a few giant steps here and there where it was simply too shallow to swim. Passing through Careysville fishery, we observed varying attitudes among the fisherman to our passing through, disrupting the fishing for literally 2 or 3 seconds and scaring the fish. Dad and some of his friends from Fermoy Camera Club would appear at odd places along the bank and there was even a crowd of locals gathered as I swam near the road in Ballyneroon! After being “whooshed” around a few more bends, the iron bridge of Ballyduff came into view. I was taken aback to see a dozen or so well-wishers standing on the bridge waiting for me and cheering and clapping as I passed beneath. This reminded me that I was in home territory and that this swim was a special one, much more so than any of my other marathon swims. The video below (taken by Dad) gives an idea of the local support for the swim…

Although it had taken about 4 hours to get to Lismore, I was pleased to be over halfway to Cappoquin, the point at which we’d be switching from kayak support to boat support. I regarded the Cappoquin as the true start of the swim, much as English Channel 2-way swimmers regard the first leg of the swim as “the swim to the start”. On the long stretch of river from Glencairn Abbey past Fort William and into Ballyin, my arms began to feel very heavy. Freshwater swimming is generally tougher on core muscle groups, especially postural muscles on the back. This is because of the lower body position caused by the lack of buoyancy relative to the sea. The promise if seeing yet more family, friends and supporters on Cavendish Bridge just around the corner in Lismore and the promise of saltier water later on drove me on!

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Swimming under Lismore Castle about 28 km into the swim. On the far left, you can see Cavendish Bridge and some people waiting to see the swim pass. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Passing Lismore and the Ballyrafter Flats, there were one or two very bad smells. Donal said that there was something dead on the bank so that is the most likely explanation. At Bullsod Island, we were propelled down the final set of rapids before finally reaching sea level. There was some unexpected slow and shallow water after this but only for a few hundred metres. Once in deep water, I was due another feed: this time a caffeinated gel. It wasn’t long before we were at a bend on the river which brushes right up against the main road. Again, there were plenty of people lined up to cheer on the swim. This time, they were treated to a perfect view of a feed of 300 ml High5 ZERO electrolyte drink and a handful of jelly babies! It was now only about 2 km to Cappoquin Rowing Club, where Mona and Maura would be leaving us and Donal would be transferring into the boat.

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Passing under Avonmore Bridge in Cappoquin shortly before transferring to boat support. (Photograph: George O’Keefe)

About 30 minutes later, we were almost at Avonmore Bridge and I could see the town of Cappoquin and the support boat “Maeve Óg” on the other side. This bridge, by the way, was formerly known as Victoria Bridge and was blown up in one of the more shameful acts of the War of Independence. It was rebuilt under the Irish Free State during the 1920s and was later renamed Avonmore Bridge. The word “Avonmore” is an anglicisation of the Irish name for the river and is commonly used in the names of houses, etc. near the river but is never used when referring to the river itself. Anyway, enough about the bridge! By the time that I got to the Rowing Club pontoon, Donal had already transferred to the boat (but not before being caught falling out of the kayak before he did so) and I could see that there was a lot of activity on the bank. I acknowledged Tony, Paul, Róisín, Ellen and Donal on the boat and swam on. Maura hopped out, followed shortly be Mona. I was very pleased to have made it to this point and took comfort in the fact that the swim was straightforward from here on in: I would just have to keep putting one arm in front of the other, take my feeds from the boat and keep my mouth shut. Once I did these things, I knew that I would make it to Youghal.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

All very serious on the boat! (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

The next hour or two was pretty uneventful. I crossed off way-points in my head: the slipway where Cappoquin Rowing Club have their regattas, the confluence with the River Finisk, Dromana Rock, Dromana House, Camphire House and so on. It felt to me like progress was slow, but that probably had more to do with the calm, deep water and the dull conditions than it actually being slow.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Sailing along the Blackwater near Affane. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

This part of the river is truly stunning and suitable for a range of aquatic activities which includes swimming, canoeing, waterskiing, windsurfing and even sailing! As we passed Villierstown Quay, we picked up a lonely figure in a Canadian canoe. He stayed with us as we passed the crowd waving from the quay-side and for a good bit beyond. At the next feed, we were very close to the reed-beds at the bank and I could see the strength of the current for myself. This gave me more confidence that I was making good progress towards my goal. My only concern was that the tide might turn before I got to the mouth of the river and I would be pushed backwards – there was only a very slim possibility of tht happening, though.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Approaching Villierstown Quay accompanied by a lone canoeist. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

After passing between the newer Strancally Castle and Dromore Quay, it started to get a bit choppier. The southerly wind blowing upriver was acting against the ebbing tide causing short, steep-sided waves. I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting these conditions as they seem to prevail on this stretch of the river. A tweet from Trent Grimsey‘s coach, Harley Connolly, relayed by Donal spurred me on as we passed the ruins of Old Strancally Castle. This chop was at its worse as we travelled across the Clashmore Broads but a few things got me through it: firstly, the sun was coming out so I naturally felt positive; secondly, I could see friends and family at Cooneen on the far side of the river; thirdly, I felt great that I was handling these conditions nearly 10 hours into the swim and, finally, I knew that it would be calmer around the next bend…

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Trying to take some shelter from the chop near Old Strancally. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Tony and the crew did a great job of keeping me out of the worst of the chop. My natural tendency was to go for the middle of the river where I presumed that the current was strongest. Tony, however, knew that I would avoid the worst of the chop while only losing a minimal amount of current be staying nearer the shore. This was counterintuitive for me but this is why you employ local knowledge when undertaking a big swim!

As we rounded the next bend, we had the magnificent Ballynatray House in out sights. I felt great at this point as the sun was out again, the surface was much calmer and I knew that I was on the home stretch. When I say “on the home stretch”, what I really mean is “less than 2 hours to go”! The crew told me that we were changing from my repetitive 1-hour feeding cycle to the terminal 2-hour cycle given to me by Carol Cashell. This meant that I’d soon be getting caffeine – at last! As the New Bridge at Rincrew came into view, I could sense a change in the composition of the water: there was less sediment and definitely more salt in the water. The higher salinity meant more buoyancy for me, something I appreciated great at this stage, when I had now been swimming for longer than I had ever swum for before…

Photograph – Lee Fox

Ballynatray House on the left and us on the right. (Photograph: Lee Fox)

After Ballynatray House, the ancient ruins of Molana Abbey and the Knights Templar’s castle at Templemichael passed by on our right-hand-side. It wasn’t long before we got a very clear view of the bridge with a crowd gathered on it and a few more people on the shoreline beneath.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Support gathered on the New Bridge, Youghal as well as a few keen photographers with big lenses underneath. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

There was a slight increase in the swell and chop as we went under the bridge but nothing major and nothing as bad as it was the last time I swam out into the bay. Going under this bridge was a big moment in the swim for me. It was one of the places that had originally made me think of this swim and it meant that I was less than 2 km from the finish.

Photograph – Donal Buckley

Coming into the finish to lots of family, friends and strangers showing enormous good will in supporting the swim. (Photograph: Donal Buckley)

Crossing the bay was relatively easy. I was on a high as I knew that I was going to finish and that what was really quite a daft plan actually worked. I was able to up my pace a little with the adrenaline in my system, knowing that I would finish and that I wouldn’t let down everyone who had shown me such great support throughout the day. As we passed the first buildings in the town, the crew told me that we weren’t going to land at Front Strand, as planned, and would instead be landing at the slipway near Neal’s Quay in the middle of the town. At first, I was a bit annoyed as I had wanted to finish at the strand but when I asked why they told me that it was too dangerous to go to the strand. Well, you can’t argue with safety! Anyway, it would be a swim of 60 km from a slipway in Fermoy to a slipway in Youghal so I couldn’t complain too much. Once I could see the slipway myself, I headed in at a good pace and the boat stayed out in the deeper water.

Photograph – John Meade

Seconds before coming into the slipway. Lots of bow-wave but not too bad after over 12 hours in the water. (Photograph: John Meade)

After 12 hours 8 minutes in the water, I stood up on the slipway and turned around to signal to Donal that I was above the waterline. I was delighted when I looked up and saw so many friends and family on the quay, as well as plenty of strangers! My sister, Amy, was first down the slipway to me with my towels. She was soon followed by the rest of my family and a few local media people.

Photograph – John Meade

My swimmer’s tan lines clearly visible as I walk out of the water at the slipway! (Photograph: John Meade)

There was a lot of stuff going on at the finish so there was little opportunity to take the team photographs that we wanted but we got a few anyway. The video below by Youghal Online shows the end of the swim and the atmosphere on the quay afterwards. I was totally unaware of how vacant I look and how inebriated and rural I sound after 12 hours in the water. I had recovered a good bit by the second interview (about an hour later).

There are so many people to thank in relation to this swim. I must first of all thank Tony Gallagher of Blackwater Cruises for his time and expertise in getting this swim off the ground – it really could not have happened without him! Great thanks are also due to my good friend, Donal Buckley, who had the hard task of observing from a kayak for the first half of the swim and then transferring to the boat for the second half – he did a superb job as well as taking lots of top quality photographs! Mona Sexton and Maura Murphy also did a fantastic job of kayaking with me from Fermoy to Cappoquin. Paul Noonan and Róisín Lewis were top class crew on the boat: Paul did an amazing job of keeping in contact with the outside world and Róisín managed all of my feeds perfectly and gave me great encouragement. Ellen Lynch of the Avondhu Press was also on board “Maeve Óg” for the second half of the swim to take notes and photographs – that’s hands-on journalism for you! Thanks are also due to the manager of the Quays Bar, who gave me a complimentary meal of steak and chips after the swim, and the very kind lady who let me use her shower to get the muddy water and grease off of myself before getting dressed. I want to say a huge thank you to all of my family, friends and supporters who were out following the swim from early morning and cheered me on at Ballyduff, Lismore, Cappoquin, Villierstown, Dromore, Conneen, Ballynaclash, Templemichael and Rincrew, the crowd who gave me such a great reception in Youghal and the members of Fermoy Camera Club who took fantastic shots of the swim.

I really appreciate everyone’s contribution to this swim and am glad that you all enjoyed seeing the sport of marathon swimming up close and personal. I also hope that the swim has also opened a few eyes to the beauty and heritage of the mighty River Blackwater. I feel very privileged that the Great River is such a big part of my life.

Photograph – Lee Fox

I’ll finish my report with this great photograph by Lee Fox. It shows, from left to right: Tony Gallagher (pilot), myself, Grandad (Tom Baker) and Leo Bartley.

There will be many more great photographs uploaded to my Facebook account over the next few days for anyone who’s interested in them…