Race Review: Irish 10 km Championships

Once again, I’m very late in getting this post up – I’d almost forgotten that I even had a blog! Anyway, last weekend I travelled to Northern Ireland for the Irish 10 km Open Water Championship which were being held at the Camlough Lake Water Festival. The venue for the event, Camlough Lake, is a long narrow lake in the hills of South Armagh. The lake is only a 5-minute drive from the city of Newry. Watersports are very popular on the lake and swimming has really taken off over the last few years, with a record-breaking relay which made it into the Guinness Book of World Records and Northern Ireland’s first Ice Swims all taking place in the lake. Great credit is due to local man, Pádraig Mallon who swam an International Ice Mile, the English Channel and the North Channel all in 2013, for driving forward open water swimming in Camlough Lake and bringing together all of the team involved in the Water Festival…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

There was an excellent set-up at Camlough Lake for these events. I particularly liked the finishing zone with the overhead touch-pads…

As the Irish 10 km Championships were also being held as part of this year’s Water Festival, I decided to make the effort to travel up. I left my home in Fermoy in the afternoon and settled in for a long drive. To my surprise, I was crossing the border less than 3 hours later and it was only another 15 minutes to the lake – the joys of traveling on Ireland’s new and largely empty motorways! It was 6:00 pm when I arrived and the last even of Day 2 of the Water Festival, the Try-a-Tri, was just about to start. The set-up at the lake was very impressive, with swimmers being funneled into the finish by two swimming pool lane ropes and finishing by slapping overhead touch-pads as is done at all of the major international events. The safety operation was also top-class!

Photograph – Jacqueline Galway

Me swimming not long after the start of the second lap. I was falling well behind at this stage. (Photograph: Jacqueline Galway)

After a good night’s sleep, I made my way to the lakeside for registration at 11:00 am. There, I met Jon and Jamie Glover and their dad, Michael, who had travelled to Fermoy for the Irish Long Distance Swimming Party last November. Jon would be doing the 10 km, his first swim of this distance, and Jamie would be doing the 5 km. I also met Stephen Kelly and Warren Roche from Waterford. Stephen did a 10 km in the Blackwater in Fermoy about a fortnight before and would be swimming in a wetsuit while Warren, whom I had narrowly beaten at GaddinAbtGarnish in June, would be racing the 10 km in skins. Once we were all changed and had handed in our feeds to be taken to the feeding station, Pádraig gave the swim briefing: the course would be very simple – two 5 km laps of the lake (with the feeding station being at the far end). Pádraig then made sure that everyone in the skins category met the suit and cap regulations so that the event had the integrity expected of a national championship. Once everyone was ready, the klaxon sounded and the race had begun!

As we entered the water, my initial impression was that the water was quite warm: it felt to me like it was 16ºC or 17ºC and pretty uniform. As in most lakes/reservoirs that I’ve swum in, the underwater visibility was quite poor, but I wasn’t hear to admire the subsurface scenery – I was here to race. From the start, Stephen Kelly and Alvaro San Miguel (both in wetsuits) took off and Warren Roche, Lisa Comerford and myself (all in skins) stayed together in a [very small] pack with Warren leading most of the time and me falling back every so often to clear my goggles. We diverged for a time after about a mile but all converged again at the bottom of the lake, where we passed Alvaro. I was hoping to have a liquid feed at this point but the pack kept going, the feed would have taken too long and I wouldn’t have caught up. As we went back up the lake, Warren sped off and Lisa did the same just before the turn at the 5 km mark – I decided to have one of the gels that I’d stuffed into my togs at this point…

Around the next buoy, Warren was out of sight, Lisa had about 50 m on me and Alvaro was passing me. However, I slowly began to gain on Lisa. There was no point in worrying about Alvaro; we were in a different race. I caught up with Lisa as we neared the bottom of the lake and I could see by the trees on the shore that we were moving along at a good pace. This time, we did stop at the feeding station and I had my liquid feed. Lisa got away a bit faster than I did so I had to do a bit of work to catch her back up again. We settled into a good pace going up the lake and I just paced myself off Lisa (and accepted that Warren had the race won). There was a big tree marking about 500 m from the finish so I stopped to have another gel (this time with caffeine) for a final sprint to the finish: it was well worth the few seconds to stop and have the gel! I steadily pulled away from Lisa and, as the finish came into view, I noticed Warren on my left. I started sprinting, passed him and went all out for the touch-pad. At the finish, I threw my right hand up to slap the pad as the timing chips were on our right wrists and walked out. As we finished we each got warm cordial, a finisher’s medal and a multi-purpose scarf/hat/wristband thing, as well as our finish times, which for me was 2:28:29 – a new PB for 10 km!

Photograph – Stephen Kelly

The podium for the Irish 10 km Championship race. Left to right: Pádraig Mallon, Patricia McParland, Warren Roche, me, Bill Donnelly, Aoiffe McCourt-Lynch and Myles McCourt.

Lisa and Warren finished about 45 seconds after me and the other swimmers came in in dribs and drabs over the next hour and a half. Once the last swimmer was in, the presentations were made. I was delighted to not just be on the podium, but to be the Irish Champion for 10 km for 2013. I never expected that, especially just a week after my longest swim ever! I came home that evening with two trophies, two medals, a wooden plate, the finisher’s prize and an Amphibia X-Bag. I had a fantastic weekend at the Camlough Lake Water Festival and would highly recommend it to anyone. The bar has been set very high for other event organisers with this one!

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Race Review: GaddinAbtGarnish 2013

With my Round Jersey solo approaching, I’ve been trying to up my training mileage over the last few weeks. Over the last fortnight, this has been made a lot easier by a spell of great weather (by Irish standards). College exams out of the way, I managed 33.4 km for the last week of May, including a great 2-hour swim from Fermoy Rowing Club to Castlehyde House, Michael Flatley’s “Irish residence”, and back. Last week, I managed to increase this to 45.4 km, only 13.3 km of this was in the pool (with Fermoy SC) and the remaining 32.1 km was in the open water (mostly in the River Blackwater but also in Ballycroneen, Knockananig Reservoir and Glengarriff). The highlight of the week had to be the annual GaddinAbtGarnish swim in Glengarriff on Saturday…

Photograph – Ossi Schmidt

The crowd of 120 swimmers ready for the briefing at GaddinAbtGarnish 2013 (Photograph: Ossi Schmidt).

Garnish Island (Irish: Oileán an Chuilinn) is a small island in Glengarriff Harbour, a very sheltered inlet off Bantry Bay, West Cork. There were three options for the swim: 1 km (out and back), 3 km (out, once around and back) or 5 km (out, twice around and back). I did the 5 km swim, as I had done in 2011 and 2012. Conditions were ideal – it was hot and sunny and there was hardly a puff of wind. The water was also very clear. Despite the perfect conditions, I was unsure of how I’d perform as it had been a long week to this point and I remembered very well how I struggled around the course last year. The first 500 m of the swim would tell a lot!

There was hardly any fighting at the start, unlike previous years, and a group of three of us pulled away almost immediately. Alex Rathke of UCD Swimming & Water Polo, formerly of Dolphin SC, took the lead while I drafted off of Oran Kane, Killarney. The pace seemed fine out to the first buoy so I felt happy to leave Alex off and sit in behind Oran for the rest of the swim and try to pass him before the finish. Oran seemed to have major goggles issues (for once it wasn’t me with the goggle disorder) at about 800 m so I decided to head off in front of him. At the first corner of the island (about 1 km in) I noticed that Alex had taken a bad line and gone very wide – think my line was pretty good as I had to dolphin over a reef but didn’t get cut!

Over the next 1 km or so, Alex caught up to me but didn’t pass me at the third corner. At this point, we were heading in a straight line back to the buoy at the 500 m mark, but the sun was in our eyes and it was hard to navigate. Alex knew that I’d done the swim before so stuck with me as he figured I’d have some idea of where to go. Oran was behind getting a nice double draft all the while! I eventually spotted the buoy and rounded it as instructed in the pre-race briefing, as did Alex and Oran. However, on rounding the buoy (and politely asking a kayaker blocking the way to move), I spotted at least two white caps rounding the first corner of the island – this made no sense as all of the 3 km swimmers should be well on the other side of the island and, assuming that everyone followed the correct course, there should be no 5 km swimmers in front of us. It soon became clear that the two were 5 km swimmers, Ned Denison and possibly Warren Roche, who had decided to take a shortcut along the side of the island…

The pace picked up a bit for the second lap – Alex took a lead on me and I pulled away from Oran. Alex still didn’t venture too far away for nearly another 1 km, it seems he still needed some guidance on the course! At the 3.5 km mark, though, he started to pull away and I could see him catch Ned and some of the 3 km swimmers. It was long before I did the same myself, swimming over Ned’s legs a few times just to let him know that I was there and that he’d been caught cheating!

At the third corner, I was still able to see Alex and could also see Warren Roche just ahead of me. Having caught Warren, who also seemed unsure of the correct path, I kept a good eye on Alex’s position and could see him taking a bad line again – he went way off to the left and I managed to reach the buoy before him. With a lot of swimmers in the area, I lost sight of him and so sprinted the last 500 m back to the slipway. To my surprise, I was the first of the 5 km swimmers to finish and did so in 1 hour 8 minutes 24 seconds – definitely a new personal best 5 km time! Not long afterwards, Alex and Warren finished together (not quite at the slipway but close enough). Ned was next in wondering why the rest of us had taken “such a bad line” and he was followed very shortly by Oran.

Photograph – Ossi Schmidt

Me exiting the water at the end of GaddinAbtGarnish 2013 (Photograph: Ossi Schmidt).

It was a great race in amazing scenery. It was a treat to finish a 5 km sea swim warm and be in no rush to get changed. On getting out, I met Dave Mulcahy and Declan O’Keeffe, both Fermoy SC, who had finished their 3 km swim. I also met Mary McEvoy, Gina Lyons, Adam Blaiklock, Niamh Fleming and James Slowey, all from Fermoy, who had finished their swims. Iain and Ciara MacCallum, Fermoy also, both finished their 3 km just after me. Ciara had originally planned to do the 1 km but was feeling good after the Fastnet Triathlon in Schull that morning so decided to do the 3 km! I got a bit worried that there was still no sign of Paul Noonan, also Fermoy SC, who was also doing the 3 km and should have been out well before me. I hung around for a while and he eventually should up, having “accidentally” swum the 5 km instead, his previous longest open water swim being 2 km! Well done to everyone from Fermoy who took part, it was great to see both Fermoy SC and Blackwater Tri Club so well represented.

Other great points about the swim included seeing a few big moon jellies (a very welcome sign that the water is warming up), clean clear water in a beautiful setting, seeing lots of starfish on the seaweed (maybe a good sign for the Crosóige Mara relay in July) and top class kayak and RIB support. Well done again to Ossi and Imelda on organising a great event, I’m looking forward to next year already!