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…

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Defining “Open Water Swimming”

Photograph – Ian Thurston

Swimmers at the start of the RCP Tiburon Mile in California, one of the world’s most popular open water events.

Over the last few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of people taking part in open water swimming – there are now more events than ever before and a much broader spectrum of people taking part. With so many different types of events on offer, from triathlon swim to channel crossings, it can be difficult to pin down just what is “open water swimming” and what is not. There is much debate as to what constitutes open water swimming and, amongst some people, whether or not it is even a sport! These are all very interesting questions, though sometimes divisive ones. In any case, I’ll do my best to get across my understanding of open water swimming, hopefully without offending too many people…

Graphic – Owen O'Keefe

A simplified cladogram of the aquatic sports as I understand them…

Above is a quick sketch of my understanding of the relationships between the aquatic sports. La Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) has responsibility for the administration of international competition in the five* aquatic sports listed above. FINA delegates to continental governing bodies like La Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN), which is responsible for the administration of international competition in Europe, and to national governing bodies such as Swim Ireland, which has responsibility for the aquatic sports throughout the island of Ireland.

*Masters is not included here as there are separate masters rules events for each of the five sports above, i.e. there are both swimming and open water swimming events at big masters events such as the FINA World Masters Championships.

It may come as a surprise to some people that different open water swimming events organised by the bodies listed above have different sets of rules. A rule that might be in force at one event might not be in force at the next. It may sound odd, but it must be remembered FINA defines open water swimming as “any competition that takes place in rivers, lakes, oceans or water channels”. These environments are controlled like a pool environment, so the rules need to be flexible to accommodate changing conditions. The organisation of open water swimming events at club level is still at a premature stage and many events are organised from a point-of-view of increasing overall participation in the sport than providing a high level of competition, i.e. there are, to an extent, no rules!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Swimmers at the start of the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge near Kinsale, Ireland. An example of one of the very well organised open water events that operate outside the aquatic sphere.

There are also many very popular events which are organised outside of the aquatic sphere. These include solo/relay/tandem swims (which are becoming more regularly recognised by clubs/organisations affiliated to governing bodies) and iconic races like the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim and the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge, as well as charity swims and events run for profit. As with open water swimming in the aquatic sphere, the rules for these events are far from set in stone.

Triathlon has become hugely popular in many countries in recent years, particularly in Ireland. The majority of people who have swum in open water environments in Ireland in the last few years have probably done so as part of a triathlon. This has, in turn, led to greater numbers taking part in events such as those mentioned above.

Another, relatively new sport that has been gaining momentum in the last few years is that of surf lifesaving. It encompasses all of the skills of lifeguarding and takes them to a competitive level. Naturally, open water swimming is one of the many disciplines comprising this sport, which has become very popular in countries like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and on the west and north west coasts of Ireland. Surf lifesaving competition throughout the island of Ireland is administered by Irish Water Safety.

Photograph – IWS

Podium finishes for my good friend and lane buddy, Rory Sexton, and his teammate, Bernard Cahill, at the Junior European Lifesaving Championships in Sweden last year.

Of course, there are other terms such as “long distance swimming” and “sea swimming” which have been used as synonyms for “open water swimming”, but I think that, as the sport grows, we will see the standard terminology prevail. So, I have failed completely to come anywhere near defining “open water swimming”, but I didn’t really think that I would anyway! I think I feel a rant coming on about “wild swimming” versus “open water swimming”, but that will have to wait for another day…