Counting down the days!

A long year of training is finally over and I’m now just a week out from heading off to Rio for my 35 km swim from Leme to Pontal. It’s been a struggle at times, but at last I’m feeling both physically and mentally ready. Last Sunday morning, I had my last sea swim in Ireland for this year: a leisurely lap of Sandycove Island with friends and training buddies, followed by the customary confectionery…


A total of 47 swimmers swam at Sandycove last Sunday and, despite the water temperature being between 10ºC and 11ºC, about half swam a full lap of the island without wetsuits!

This week is my last week of training and it will be an easy one to ensure that I stay injury-free before arriving in Rio, so my real challenge for this week will be to try to stay motivated at work while I can do little other than visualise the swim!

Over the next week and a bit, I will be posting details of how you can follow the swim in real time. So keep an eye out for those…

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…

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…

Preparations Almost Finished

It’s hard to believe that it’s July already – the summer is flying by! This Saturday, the best event of the year, the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim, takes place in Cork City. I and all of my Crosóige Mara teammates will be there for our last swim at home before leaving for Dover the following day! Everyone on the team has put in a lot of training, including our 2-hour qualifying swims, a night swim and relay changeover practices, so we are ready for whatever the English Channel has to throw at us…

Logo – Maeve Ryan

Crosóige Mara Channel Relay Team 2013

We are doing the swim in aid Down Syndrome Ireland, a very worthy cause, and if you’d like to sponsor us just go to our iDonate page and click “Sponsor Me”. Any support is greatly appreciated by all of the team!

Preparations for Jersey are coming along also. Last Thursday, I had a very nice 7.5 km swim on my own from Fermoy Rowing Club to the rapids above Castlehyde and back. The water seemed quite warm so I decided to try a 6-hour (Round Jersey solo qualifying swim) on Saturday. After a tough pool session with Chris Mintern and a river swim with James O’Mahony on the Friday, I wasn’t 100% sure how the 6-hour would go but I knew that it was possibly my last chance to get it done before heading to Dover…

I started the swim at 7:00 am on the Saturday morning. It was very dull and a bit cool, but the water was still about 15ºC so that was good news! I was swimming upriver to various points on the bank and then back down for my feeds. I got a but cold during the second hour but this soon passed – no harm to get that phase out of the way early in the swim! After about 2 hours, Dave Mulcahy joined me and swam to Glenabo Stream and back, taking about 1 hour 30 minutes. After just over 4 hours I switched from 30 minute intervals to 20 minute intervals as planned. This made the last 2 hours seem a bit quicker.

I finished after 6 hours 3 minutes of swimming, a bit sorer than when I did the 5 hours in the sea in Myrtleville as long swims can be harder in fresh water, with just over 20.5 km swum. Thankfully, Niamh Fleming of Blackwater Tri Club was there to drop me home as my tracksuit pants (with keys and some small change), warm jumper, shoes and even underwear had been stolen from my gear bag during the swim…

The fact that my belongings were stolen caused me great upset. Somebody had obviously meticulously searched through the bag for their target items, i.e. clothes and cash, and left what was on little use to them. For the last 48 hours my major concern has been my missing keys, which included keys to the front door of my own house and my grandfather’s house, as well as keys to the side gates of my house, my bike lock and, most importantly of all, my father’s car. Luckily, I just this minute found that the thief had taken the keys out of the pocket of my tracksuit pants and hidden them in an unused side-pocket of my gear bag. To be honest, I don’t care about the clothes or the small change that I’m not going to get back, I’m just relieved to have my keys and some sense of security back.

On the other hand, this could have been a very serious safety issue. It was a Saturday so there were no construction workers in the area and the Rowing Club were all away at a regatta, and had the weather been bad, there wouldn’t have been anyone around when I finished the swim. I was in the water for just over 6 hours and could have been very cold when I exited. I could have been hypothermic upon exiting without any means of getting assistance. If it came to it, I’d have had to walk into town in my togs – not an ideal situation, as you can imagine. So, I would appeal to anyone engaged in theft to think not just about the monetary/sentimental value of what you’re stealing or the upset that you are causing to the person that you’re stealing from, but about the very real danger in which you’re putting their life if you’re they happen to be swimming at the time.

Quick Update!

I haven’t posted in a while but I have a good excuse in that I was actually busy getting some swimming done! With the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim put behind me for another year, I took a day (alright, two days) off swimming and had a rest for myself. I then managed another 40+ km week, including a 5-hour swim in Myrtleville which you can read about in this article on the Myrtleville Swimmers website: Owen O’Keefe’s Swim

Map – FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS

There was some more good news this week in that entries have finally opened for the first ever Munster Open Water Swimming Championships at the National Rowing Centre, Cork on Saturday, 17 August 2013. These promise to be great regional championship events and will also include the Irish Junior 5 km Championships and a relay event. You can find more information on the event website…

Logo – Owen O'Keefe

Chun deireadh ceart do chur lem’ sheachtain snámha, do bhuaileas bóthar siar go Corca Dhuibhne agus an snámh bliantúil de chuid Nuala Moore ó Ché Cuain go Cé Cheann Trá agus thar n-ais arís (más mian). Lá grianmhar tirim a bhí ann ach bhí sé ana-ghaothmhar, do bhí cuilithíní ag teacht ón dtaobh clé an fhaid is a bhíomair ag snámh ó Ché Cuain go Ceann Trá. Do bhíos i n-ann teach ard buí do dhéanamh amach agus mé ag dul sa treo ó thuaidh – ní rabhas ábalta an Cé d’fheiceáil ar aon chor. Do chríochnaíos an chéad slí (b’fhéidir 1,800 m) i n-am píosa beag ní b’fhaide ná 30 neomataí. Nuair a chasas timpeall is do thosnaigh ag dul ins an treo eile, níor thig liom rud ar bith d’fheiscint thar na dtonnta is do chasas ar ais go Cé Cheann Trá airís. Do bhí tae is ceapairí i dTigh Pháidí Uí Shé ar Ard an Bhóthair againn i ndiaigh an tsnámha.

Grianghraf – Owen O'Keefe

Im’ sheasamh ar Ché Cuain ag féachaint trasna go dtí Cé Cheann Trá…

That’s pretty much all I have to say for now. There is the possibility of meeting Diarmuid Dennehy and Carol Cashell for a new swim, Bridgetown Priory to Fermoy, on Saturday but other than that, the next big one is the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim on Saturday, 6 June…

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!

Yes, I’m still here!

I haven’t posted in a while, but I am still here! The last week and a bit have been very busy with a college field course. We had a great 3 days doing ecological research in Garretstown (one of our less regular swimming spots), Castlefreke (not advisable to swim here) and Glengarriff (home of the Gaddin’ About Garnish swim). I seemed to be one of the few people to get the reports in on time so that leaves me with almost 3 full weeks to study for the summer exams, or maybe get distracted and actually do some swimming!

In my absence from blogging, though, I have actually been doing some swimming for a change. On Sunday, I travelled to the University Arena in Limerick for some long course training with Fermoy SC and have been swimming regularly with them over the last few weeks. As well as that, the weather has been improving so Dave Mulcahy and I headed for a swim in the Blackwater on Tuesday. The water temperature was much higher than expected (about 8ºC) but there was a strong flow which was reflected in our 0.5 km splits of 16 minutes and 5 minutes for our 1 km dip! Hopefully the trend in increasing temperatures and increasing swimming will continue over the next few weeks, and maybe I might get some study done as well…

Ba mhaith liom ádh mór do ghuí ar gach duine atá ag déanamh a scrúduithe béil sa Ghaelainn agus sna teangacha eile an tseachtain, mo dheirfiúr ach go h-áirithe. Go n-eirí go geal libh go léir!

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 benefits of training with someone other than yourself…

As you may know, I do pretty much all of my training on my own. Most of my swimming is done at the Mardyke Arena (membership is compulsory as a UCC student), but I also do the odd session in Fermoy Leisure Centre and at Source Health & Fitness. While all three of these pools are regular short course (25 m), indoor, heated, chlorinated pools, they are each very different to swim in, for reasons that I won’t go into here for fear of sounding like a downright poolside fascist! Suffice to say that trying to get any proper training done can be “frustrating” at times…

Photograph – Unknown

The pool in the Mardyke Arena, UCC. My usual training haunt…

Anyway, rant contained and moving swiftly on! My average weekday training session at the moment is usually between 3,000 m and 5,000 m and is done at the Mardyke before lectures around midday. Sometimes, I’m lucky and the lane is quiet so I can train reasonably well, but other times, it’s busy and any attempt is futile. Occasionally, I’m extra lucky and I get to train with someone! In my opinion, no matter how focussed you are, it is always easier to apply yourself when training with others. Maybe when you do a lot of swimming on your own, you really look forward to the company. I found this especially true during my Channel training, when the club sessions came as a huge relief.

Last Friday, I was joined for my regular Mardyke session by Sunday’s Well SC swimmer and international triathlete Chris Mintern. Chris is a first year student at UCC and lives just around the corner from the pool so it suits us both to do the odd session together. Here’s what last Friday’s session looked like:

We warmed up with 2 × 250 m freestyle while Cork Triathlon Club were finishing up their early morning session. Even though I’d been up for over two hours already (it’s a long bus journey and walk to the Mardyke from my house), it still felt like one of those stupid o’clock sessions that I did as a club swimmer! Chris suggested that we start off the main set with a bit of “distance”, as he called it, so  we did 3 × 400 m freestyle, turning around on 6:00 and coming in on 5:16, 5:07 and 4:57. I could only manage a 5:00.78 (I used to be faster) at the Mallow Masters Gala the week before, being faster in training than I am in competition is new to me…

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Chris Mintern wins the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim 2012, surprising no-one.

Next we decided to finish off a bit of a session that I had left over from earlier in the week. The turnaround times were slow so we decided to push the swims. The first part was a steady 4 × 200 m freestyle, turning around on 3:30 and coming in on 2:25, 2:25, 2:28 and 2:25. These again were good times for me as I don’t often go under 2:30 in training, though these would be fairly normal times for Chris. Next was 4 × 100 m freestyle, turning around on 2:00 and coming in on 1:09, 1:10, 1:09 and 1:08. Again, I was delighted to get these times as I almost never go under 1:10 in training, which is a bit embarrassing when you consider that the main himself, Trent Grimsey, turns around on these times!

We eased up then with 200 m backstroke at recovery pace and with 5 minutes left to spare, we decided to do some sprint work (I thought that that was what we had been doing for the last half an hour), which consisted of 4 × 25 m butterfly sprints, turning around on 1:00. It’s just as well all open water races are freestyle! I needn’t say any more… Finally, we cooled down with 100 m freestyle at recovery pace and called it a day as Chris had a very exciting-sounding “abstract algebra” lecture to go to.

For me, that was a quality 3,300 m session and well worth the 5 hour time investment for a mere 1 hour 10 minutes in the water. Being able to train with one of Ireland’s top triathletes, or indeed anyone with the type of attitude to training and sport that Chris has, is a real luxury and great motivation. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know that someone else is feeling the same pain as you! I should also point out that all of the above times are from push-offs as diving ist verboten in the Mardyke…

Guest Post: Eoin McCarthy, Elite Cyclist

Every so often I will have someone else write a post for the blog. I stole the idea from my friend Donal Buckley who has had many guests posts on his blog. The following guest post is from fellow Fermoyonian and elite cyclist, Eoin McCarthy. He writes about his experiences on his journey to becoming a professional athlete, how he motivates himself and what his lifestyle is like. I’ll leave him to introduce himself:

Hello All,

My name is Eoin McCarthy. I am 19 years old and from Fermoy. I am now traveling all over the world (but mostly in Belgium) as a full-time cyclist. Owen has asked me to do a guest blog for him, for ye to hear what it is like to be a full-time elite cyclist. I will tell ye about my journey so far, what it’s like for me to live away from home for months at a time, what motivates me, my training/racing schedule, my diet etc. I’ll try to keep this as short and sweet as possible which will be hard as I’ve so much to say!Photograph – Unknown

Being a cyclist I rarely think outside the “cycling bubble” and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I started cycling with encouragement from my uncle Noel when I was 10 years old and never turned back! I can even remember to this day learning how to ride a bike for the first time without stabilizers in his yard. My early days in the sport were successful and as I progressed through the underage ranks I showed my potential and gained some invaluable experience that still stands to me now. On the racing front, we never took things too seriously as kids, we used to rock up to races eating junkfood, constantly messing about and having fun on the bus and not caring all that much about the result – we just loved meeting all of our best friends every weekend and I think this is what really made me fall in love with the sport. Some of my best memories come from these enjoyable years. Oh how things have changed!

Photograph – UnknownAlthough I said we didn’t take things too seriously, we still won almost every race between us! I was a very consistant underage rider, almost always in the top 5 and picking up a few wins along the way. The highlight of my years in underage was being on the Irish squad for the European Youth Olympics which were held in Finland.

When I was 16, I had what is called my “ignition moment”. This is when you see something and realise that “this is what I want to do” and really begin to chase the dream. I went to see the prologue of the world’s biggest race le Tour de France, in one of the nicest places on earth, Monaco, Monte Carlo. This is when the light switch flicked in my head and ever since I have been dreaming about becoming a top professional. Every time I have a drop in motivation I just think of Monaco.

Photograph – UnknownI then moved into the Junior when I was 17 which is the u19 ranks and really found it difficult at first. I progressed and adapted quite quickly, picking up a few win’s and top results along the way. At the start of 2011, my second year as a Junior, I was happy to be selected for the Irish National Team after a promising first year. My season started particularly strong and about halfway through the season I made the decision to jump in the deep end and get racing in the heartland of bike racing – Belgium! I got in contact with ASFRA Racing Team, who I was racing and training with in Belgium for the second half of the 2011 season.

This year was my first year as an under 23 or “Espoir”. I was riding again with ASFRA Racing Team and was based in Oudenaarde, Belgium. I completed my leaving certificate exams and I’m now in full pursuit of my dream to one day become a professional cyclist. I have recently signed a contract with a new team for 2013 which is yet to be announced. So back to Belgium for 9 months in 2013 as a full-time cyclist!Photograph – Unknown

Ye may be thinking now, “this guy is living the life”, like most people think firstly – but the truth is it’s bloody hard and if many of the people who are serious swimmers are reading this then I am sure ye know all about it! Belgium is known as the “Mecca of bike racing”, it is known to be, arguably, the hardest place you can race your bike on the planet, therefore being committed and dedicated is essential.

People often ask me – “Do you ever get home-sick?” – but the answer always is – No, I don’t! That’s just me though, a lot of people, and some I know, often crack or have cracked when in Belgium and went home. I love it, but a lot of people hate it! Kind of like Marmite!? I just want it so much so I am always focused on my racing. Being at the “Tour” has definitely stood to me. I also have 2 little brothers involved in cycling who are also very successful in their own right – they also keep me motivated. I am a role model and need to set an example, this is a massive thing to help keep me motivated.

Photograph – UnknownThere is a lot more to cycling than just riding your bike, it’ a very complex sport. Diet is an extremely important aspect of being a high performance athlete, as cyclists we need to be as light and lean as possible without losing muscle mass. Therefore our diet is massively influential on how one performs and prepares for an event or a full racing season. I very very rarely eat junk food or drink soft drinks. I always substitute these for more nutritious and less calorie & fat condensed snacks. For example, instead of a chocolate bar I may have a rice cake with some jam and to replace a Coca-Cola, I have water or green tea. I must say I have become obsessed as of late! In saying this, the odd time I would have a few treats but only after a hard race. No alcohol either, BIG no-no for any serious sportsman in my opinion.

I am currently in Gran Canaria preparing for 2013, I will be here now for 5 weeks training before Christmas and a further 4 weeks after Christmas before I make a return to Belgium mid-February for the start of the racing season which will run until mid-October. I am in the good hands of Luc Wante, my coach, who is from Belgium and coaches some of the top pro’s in the world, and we will be working towards a successful 2013. Unfortunately, a few days after being here I have picked up a knee injury but It’s under control and I hope to get back on track very soon.

I have big ambitions for the future and will do all in my power to make all of my dreams become a reality. In a way, I am already doing that! I love the lifestyle but it certainly doesn’t distract me from what I need to do. Hope ye enjoyed reading!

Yours in Sport,

Eoin McCarthy

If you’re interested in following Eoin on his journey to becoming a professional athlete, you can follow his blog Eoin McCarthy Cycling and you can also follow him on his Twitter account @Eoin_MCarthy. Best of luck, Eoin!