Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year :)

2008 was a very busy swimming year for me. Over the year I swam 75o,000 metres, and did 108 laps of Sandycove Island. I did my first sea swim back in March, my first Lee swim, my first 12km swim around Inishbofin harbour and my first 10km session in the pool. And I paid my deposit for my pilot boat for my swim-a whopping £1000 Sterling which will be worth every penny when I complete my swim!

It's strange to think that this time last year I didn't know any of the Sandycove gang-an absolutely fantastic group of people that I'm so lucky to have gotten to know. I've also been so lucky to have Eilís take me on to train me for my swim, I really appreciate all the help that she has given me these past few months.

It's been a great year for my Channel swim training, and I've really enjoyed it. So now it's time to look forward to 2009-from now on I'll be talking about my Channel swim 'this' year instead of 'next' year...a scary thought but very exciting too! I can't wait for all that's ahead of me this coming year...roll on 2009!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas swims...

I've had a fun few days on the swimming front...

After Mike's party on Sunday, I had my last session with Eilís on Monday before she started her Christmas holidays, so that was a nice long 10k session...my last long session for a few weeks :) For the next few weeks I've got a program of sessions to do so I'll still be swimming but my distances will be much smaller and I've got a couple of weeks off circuits too...yay!

So on Tuesday I had a nice short swim and since then I've been in the sea. On Christmas Eve we were in Sandycove, the weather had gotten a little colder since the weekend but it was still very mild so we got in hoping to do a double. I hadn't done a double in over a month, and the water temperature was about a degree warmer then, so I wanted to see if I could stay in that long, but at the same time I didn't want to end up hypothermic at the back of the island. So when we got to the second corner and I was feeling fine I decided to go around to the first corner again and see then how I was feeling-if I was feeling cold at that stage I'd head back to the slip. When we got around to the front of the island Ossi headed in towards the slip to see if Mike Harris, who had arrived while we were doing our first lap, was coming around, but it turned out that he wasn't. So while he was doing that I managed to catch up with Imelda, who was waiting for him, and I decided that I'd go again and head off ahead of them since they were wearing fins and were much faster than me. They waited for Sevy, who was also doing a double, at the first corner, so the three of us got to the second corner at around the same time, good timing! At that stage I was starting to feel the cold-mainly across my back and shoulders so it was probably more from the air than the water. My hands and feet were numb but not sore and I was still getting power from my stroke so hopefully they've started getting used to the cold! We finished in just over an hour, a good Christmas Eve swim!

On Christmas Day I went down to Robert's Cove for the Christmas Day Swim taking place there. It's really well organised-there's a nice big bonfire to keep warm beside and lots of soup and hot whiskey in case the bonfire isn't enough! There were lots of people there, way more than I expected. We were all told to get ourselves ready and gather by the bonfire until everyone was ready...

Waiting to go in

And then off we went....



The mad dash...


...which soon slowed down as
   people hit the cold water!



The tide was way out, so by the time I was in any decent depth of water, my feet were absolutely FREEZING!!!! Eventually I managed to get out to deep enough water to dive in, swim about 4 strokes and then get out again!! For me this was much harder than getting into Sandycove because I'm used to just diving in and dealing with the cold all at once rather than delaying the pain! 

It wasn't a day to be hanging around-especially since we couldn't feel our feet at this stage! So we trekked back through the shallow water again, the bonfire a very welcome sight at this stage!

Fallon greeting Tom, myself and a wetsuit-less Ossi!

Getting dressed was nice and easy without numb hands, and I had nice cosy boots to warm up my numb feet, so I wasn't really cold at all after the swim-it didn't stop me having a nice hot whiskey though...thanks Imelda! :) There are a few more photos from the day here.

Stephen's Day was another sea swim day...back to Sandycove again. We had a nice big group of peope turn out for the swim, it wasn't such a nice day for it though-there was an easterly wind, which not only made it really cold, it also made the water really rough. So it was a case of heading to the corner and deciding then where to go from there. I headed out with Ossi and Kieran, and as we were on our way out a big group of people who had headed out ahead of us were making their way back down the front of the island, having obviously decided that they weren't going around. We decided to head around anyway, making sure to stay together all the way along the back (in other words the other two swam slowly so that I could keep up with them-thanks guys!). I normally enjoy swimming in rough water-it's good for a change and it makes you forget about the cold. But it just wasn't a pleasant day for it-I found that by the time we got to the second corner I was absolutely exhausted from fighting with the water! It was definitely a one-lap day, so back to the slip we headed and it was only then that I realised just how cold I was, getting dressed was a struggle!!

So when I heard the forecast for today (stronger easterly winds) I decided that it was time to go back to the pool...the tides are at bad times anyway for the next few days so it makes swimming at Sandycove difficult. So it's back to short, sprinty pool sessions...my favourite....NOT!!! And it's Christmas holidays so the pool will be full of kids and their parents taking up the lanes :( Oh well, I guess I'd better get used to it...the New Year is coming so the place will be packed now for the next month with everyone and their resolutions to get fit...kill me now!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Knee-replacement party...

We finally had a mild weekend this weekend, it was about 11 or 12 degrees C both days, much better swimming weather than on previous weekends! And I was very glad of it-after a weekend off I was not looking forward to getting back in, so the warmer weather made things much easier!

Sunday was a fun swim-it was Mike Harris' first lap since he had his second knee replacement in November, so the plan was to get around the island and then back to his apartment in Kinsale for mulled wine and mince pies-great incentive to get around as fast as possible! There was a good gang of people down for the swim-both swimmers and onlookers wrapped up in nice warm clothes!

Mike hadn't been in for longer than 10 minutes since his operation so he decided that he'd head to the first corner and see then how he was doing with the cold. He refused to wear a wetsuit but conceeded to wearing the bottom half of an old one to cover up his knee so that it wouldn't seize up! So after the obligatory group photo (which I will post when I get a copy of it!), out to the first corner we headed. And of course when we got there he had no intention of turning back-his only comment was to "push on"...so that we did! It was quite rough so a few of us stayed with Mike to make sure that everything was ok. And it was better than ok, he made it around with no problems at all, and then proceeded to get out and make tea for everyone while still wearing the half wetsuit!

So after we had tea and were warmed up a little we headed back to the apartment in Kinsale, where Mike's wife, Ann, was making way too much yummy food!! Once everyone was fed, John Conroy started passing out the lyrics of a Christmas carol that he had composed last year after Mike's first knee replacement:

Harris the red togged swimmer
Has a pair of bright speedos
And if you ever saw them
You would even say they glow

All of the other swimmers
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Harris
Join in any swimmer's games

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Imelda came to say
Harris with your togs so bright
Won't you guide the swim tonight?

Then all the swimmers loved him
Since he got his brand new knee
Harris the red togged swimmer
You'll go down in history!

And then there was the presentation...

Mike's new red togs!

Mike had lost a pair of red togs during the summer so Finbarr found a 'lovely' replacement pair!

So know that Mike has had his two knees replaced, we're trying to figure out what joint is going to be replaced next so that we can have another party next year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Website and Charity info...

Last weekend I had a weekend off-it was my birthday on Monday so Eilís gave me an early birthday pressie! So besides going out for a great night on Friday, I spent a lot of the weekend working on finishing up my website. So it's finally done! Check it out at http://www.arockieswim.com (for those of you who don't get it-I'm from Blackrock, hence I'm a Rockie!).

I've sorted out all of my charity details now too. I decided that I would support three charities-one online, and two offline. I had two reasons for picking my online charity. I have worked part-time with children for over 10 years now through swimming teaching and they have provided me with so many smiles and laughs over the years, so I wanted to support a children's charity. I also talked to Eilís since training Channel swimmers is one of her ways of raising money for charity. We picked the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation as my online charity. The Jack and Jill Foundation provide home respite for children up to four years of age who suffer from severe developmental delay and associated problems, requiring extensive medical and nursing care at home. Usually these children cannot function at birth and require 24 hour care. Jack and Jill provide funding to allow the family to hire a carer or nurse in order for them to get a break from this 24 hour caring role of looking after their Special Needs child. My donation page is available here.

For the offline charities I wanted to pick charities that provide care and support to people with cancer. Most people today have been touched in some way by cancer and I am no exception-a number of my uncles have died of this horrible disease. I wanted to give something back to those people who care for and help people when they are going through a very difficult time. I picked two local cancer charities to support.

I have always wanted to support Marymount Hospice, which is a hospice in Cork City that provides help and support to terminally ill patients and their families when the illness is at an advanced stage. I have known a number of relatives and friends who have received their hospice care and they are truly a deserving charity. The staff are absolutely wonderful and do their utmost to provide support and care for people during a very difficult time.

Cork ARC Cancer Support House is a voluntary organization established to provide a centre in which people with cancer and their families can find emotional support and practical help. A diagnosis of cancer has an enormous psychological impact, the effect of which can be prolonged. Cork ARC provides the necessary support when the patient leaves the hospital setting, and helps them to adjust to their life after diagnosis. Along with the support provided to cancer patients, Cork ARC provide support for family members and friends of those affected by cancer and for members of the caring professions who work with people with cancer.

Details of how to donate to my offline charities are given here. Please give as generously as you can, I really want to do as much as I can to help. It makes my training that bit more worthwhile to know that it's doing some good for charity!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Back to the pool :)

Another cold weekend at Sandycove-I absolutely froze on Saturday!! But I think that had more to do with me than it did with the actual temperature since the air was a little warmer than the weekend before and the water was about the same. Put it this way-heading to London for 24 hours on your day off and then going straight back into training is not the smartest of ideas! My birthday is coming up and myself and Sarah had booked a few days in London, but circumstances changed and it ended up only being one day really-we travelled out on Wednesday (after she did an exam and I did a swim session), went to a spa Thursday morning, shopping Thursday afternoon and back to the airport to travel home Thursday evening. Basically we spent about a third of the time traveling! And then Friday was busy with swimming, circuits, more swimming, a sports massage and work. So by the time the weekend came around I was wrecked! So I guess it wasn't surprising that the sea felt really cold on Saturday-I spent the whole lap wanting to get out! But at least I got a lap in I guess-I did about 40mins altogether.
Then on Sunday I really didn't want to go down there, but I figured that I'd only dread next weekend all the more if I didn't! And I'm really glad that I did...I spent 5 minutes longer in the water (which really is a long time in 9 degree water!!) and still felt a million times better than Saturday. So all is good again :)
Still, even with the good swim on Sunday, I was very happy to be getting back into the pool again yesterday...warm water is much appreciated at the moment! I didn't even mind the thoughts of circuits-I might come out of the class in pain and wrecked tired but at least my hands aren't swollen up and awkward!
So all is good on the training front. And for those of you wondering about the website that I mentioned...it's on the way, I promise! I need to sort out a couple of small things in the next few days and then it should be up and running...it's just that between training and work at the moment it's so hard to find time to go and do things-I don't want to imagine what it will be like after Christmas when Eilís really steps up the training! But it's all good...the more I do now the easier it will be on the day of the swim-that's what I keep telling myself anyway!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brrrrrrr!!

The weather has officially turned evil. All week fine weather. Thursday...it turns cold. Saturday, Sunday are freezing. Actually freezing with frost on the ground. And the forecast is saying that it will get warmer midweek but it will be cold again next weekend. That shouldn't be allowed!!

Saturday was a really beautiful day in Sandycove. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. And it was about 4 degrees C. A lovely day to sit in the car and look out at the sea, but not such a nice day to get into the water. I had been dreading the swim since Thursday when I heard that the weather was going to be so cold for the weekend. And getting up to frost on the ground Saturday morning didn't help matters! But I had arranged to meet Niall down there, plus I knew that if I didn't go down I'd have to face the pool which is full of parents and children on a Saturday afternoon-not such a fun time to be trying to get a decent session in! So off I went, with my car heater to keep me nice and warm and banish all cold thoughts on the way down!

I arrived in Sandycove to find Ger there, one of the Sandycove regulars. Niall arrived and measured the water temperature with his lab thermometer-it read at 9 degrees C, a degree colder than last weekend...it was to be expected though with the few cold days weather. We decided that we'd better get ready quickly before we talked ourselves out of it! So in we went...it was so, so cold...my feet and hands were numb just about immediately and it took a long time for me to get my breathing right...I was breathing every second stroke until I got to the first corner, normally I get into the rhythm of breathing every third stroke after about 30 or 40 strokes. And I thought the headache would never go away! But by the time I had rounded the first corner I started to get used to it, I kept my stroke rate high to keep warm and soon caught up with the two lads, who had left a couple of minutes before me.

The plan had been to swim two laps, or an hour if there was noone around to swim the second lap with. However, when I felt the cold as I got in I decided that an hour was out of the question. Mainly because I'm terrified of getting hypothermic. I don't mind the shivering or the numbness, or even the pain in my hands and feet when they get really cold. What I'm afraid of is the mental state that goes along with hypothermia-the confusion, the drowsiness-and the possibility of not realising that you are indeed hypothermic. It's a very dangerous state to be in if you're in open water. And the two lads were getting out after the lap, so I was going to be on my own after 30 minutes. So I decided that swimming back to the first corner again, then to the red house and back to the slip would be enough-it brought the swim up to 40minutes, which is about 2km...enough for 9 degree water I think!

I could get used to people handing me cups of tea when I get out of the water-yesterday it was Mike Harris, who recently had his knee replaced and was down to catch up with the goings-on of Sandycove-he misses the swimming but has to wait another few weeks yet before he can get in. It was good to see him and even better when he handed me hot tea!! So I drank that down, got a jumper on me and headed back to Actons. Unfortunately the hot tub wasn't working-apparently it was too cold outside for it to work properly!! So I had to make do with the steamroom-even that didn't get me warm fully though, I think because I was just so cold going in there. It took a few hours for me to really begin to feel warm again. But I guess that's to be expected when you swim in the sea for 40 minutes on a day when most people won't leave the house without a hat, scarf and gloves on!!!

Today was just as cold as yesterday. I was the only one mad enough to go down and swim today, so I took my mother and my dog, Fallon, along for the spin to make sure that I didn't freeze! Tides were at bad times this weekend-high tide today was around 6:30am and 7pm so the only times to swim were either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Early in the morning is not really an inviting option when there's still frost on the ground so 3:45pm it was. Unfortunately that meant that the sun had already gone down over the hills around Sandycove by the time I was getting in, so no bit of warmth even from that. So even though the water temperature was the same as yesterday, it felt much colder.

Having no company meant that I had to stay inside the island-whatever about the middle of summer, there was no way I was going around on my own on a cold winter's day! So I got in and swam up and down parallel to the island for a while. After 30minutes I decided I'd had enough-my hands were swelling up and quite sore and the sun was well and truly behind the hill at that stage so it was getting colder by the minute! And I knew that my poor mother was walking up and down the hill with Fallon, probably feeling the cold as much as I was!!!

Getting out was a challenge-the tide was still quite low, and my hands were very sore and more swollen than they've ever been getting out of the water I think. But I managed to crawl up the slip to the nice cosy towel that my mother had waiting for me! It was so nice to have the car warm when I got into it, normally I have to put up with those few minutes of cold air while I'm waiting for the heater to warm up! And to have someone drive me into Kinsale so I could keep my hands near the heater for the whole way in...I was spoilt! I don't know if it was that warming up or the fact that I stayed in for a shorter time, but I recovered much faster today than I did yesterday. I only spent about 10minutes in the steamroom today, but I was all warmed up by the time I was leaving Actons. It was nice not to feel cold for the evening!

All in all it was a good weekend's swimming...I didn't get as much done as I would have liked, but I think that it was enough given the temperatures. I never thought I'd say it but I'm actually looking forward to getting back in the pool tomorrow, the extra 20degrees will be much appreciated! I'm sure that will only last a few minutes before I'm giving out about the heat again though :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

100 laps and counting...

Today was my 100-lap milestone in Sandycove, and what a day for it! It was cold (air was 6deg C), windy and raining-and very tempting not to get in at all! But Eilís had told me to try to get 2 laps in both days this weekend and there was no way that I was going to go up to her tomorrow and tell her that I didn't get in today because it was raining!!!

There were 8 of us down to swim, a good turnout for such an awful day. We all got dressed and ready to head in...and just as we were ready it started to lash rain...not a good start to the swim! I think that I got in today faster than I ever have before-mainly because I was hoping that it would be warmer in the water than it was standing on the slip (I was wrong about that one!). The water temperature was 10 or 11deg but felt colder-it took a while for me to get my breath, and I had a headache for the first few minutes. We had a lot of help from the wind and current out to the first corner and down to the second, where we regrouped. Finbarr was my only hope for a second lap, and he decided that instead of doing that he'd swim back towards the last guy in the group and make sure that he was ok and then just finish out the single lap. So I said that I'd join him and then do a triangle inside the island to make up the time to an hour. So back we went-we didn't have far to go though, he had nearly gotten to the corner at that stage. So we checked that he was ok and then went back in our original direction again.

By the time we had reached the front of the island I was getting pretty cold, so I had more or less decided that I'd swim to the first corner and then head back to the slip-that would be about 40mins in the water which I was figuring was good enough given the conditions. Finbarr had other ideas though. He decided that since we hadn't gone back very far at the second corner that he'd do the second lap...which I had written off in my mind at this stage!!! But I figured that my arms were still moving and not too numb...so I had no excuse not to go again! So we did...and by the time we got to the second corner again I was regretting not having gotten out...it was REALLY cold at this stage-much more so than yesterday, when we had done two laps and I had felt ok the whole time. Today I just wanted to be out of there. And the only way to do that was to put the head down and keep swimming. I started counting strokes to distract myself-I figured it was about 300 strokes from the second to the third corner, another 300 to the red house and then maybe another 200 to the slip. So I did the first 300, turned the corner...and once I could see the slip I basically kept my arms moving as fast as they would go to get me there! And then we got out to the welcoming sight of Niall MacCarthy with tea and chocolate...thanks Niall :) And of course then we headed to the hot tub in Actons to warm up...it does make it all worth it to sit in 38degree comfort...and it's so nice to not be cold for the rest of the evening too!

So all in all a good weekend's swimming-4 laps-59mins yesterday, 1hr 3mins today, in about 10deg C. And now that I've done my 100 laps I figure that I could take the rest of the year out of the cold sea...I'm not sure that Eilís will be agreeing with that one though!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm still alive!

I know, I know...I haven't posted in ages. I've been spending less and less time online lately (anyone who knows me well knows that this is very strange for me!), I just don't have the time for it-any time I sit down at the computer I feel guilty if I'm not working on the PhD! It's a good thing though I'd suppose-I've gotten very good at being organised and managing my time, I never was very good at that. Now I have to be just to fit everything in!

So...updates on what I've been doing since I last posted. The biggest one I think is that I'm now training under my coach, Eilís Burns, who has trained 8 solo English Channel swimmers (all of whom successfully completed the swim) and is one of the top swimming coaches in Ireland. It took a lot of pressure off me to have her on board because now I just do what she tells me to do, I don't have to be trying to figure out if I'm training enough or too much or if I'm doing the right types of sessions-not that I ever knew what the right sessions were anyway really! Of course now I have the added pressure of not breaking her perfect record but I'll be trying pretty hard not to do that anyway-I'm not doing all this training to not make it across!

So that brings me to the worst part of having her on board-my diet. I have NEVER been a healthy eater. It's not like I ate take-out seven nights a week or anything, but I really like my chocolate and sweet things and junk food. Not any more. Meals are healthy, snacks are healthy, I'm eating more fruit for breakfast now than I did all day before this (which wouldn't be hard since I used to eat practically no fruit!) and I've actually started eating vegetables. Maybe all of this is normal to some of you, but I REALLY miss my junk food! I know that it's doing me good though, I'm feeling really good at the moment and I have tons more energy than I ever did before. But I'm so looking forward to Christmas when I have every intention of eating chocolate for a week solid!!!

Training itself is going really well, I'm swimming 5 or 6 days a week now with 1 or 2 of those sessions being in the sea. And yes, the sea is REALLY cold now, it's down to 9 or 10degrees C (depending on whose watch you look at!) and it's not really comfortable to be swimming in it any more. But I'm still managing a lap both days most weekends for now. The biggest problem is that the days are getting so much shorter so it's getting harder to find good swim times. We usually swim at high tide since that's when it's safest to swim at Sandycove. But when high tide is at 7am it's really hard to make yourself get up for a sea swim! I actually had one morning a few weeks ago when I had to defrost the car to go down for a swim-that's never a good sign! But I haven't been seriously hypothermic yet and the body does warm back up-it might take a few days but eventually you feel your toes again!!

I also have some news on the non-training side of things...I'm in the process of setting up a website so that I can put up a bit more info about things that are going on. I figure that if I write about it on here it might spur me on to get it finished and published-I've been working on it for quite a while now and I just need to finish it off and put it out there!!

So that's probably about it for updates for now I think...hopefully I should have some news on my charity in the next week or so (for all of you out there who are just dying to give me money!) so I'll post about that when it's sorted. Until then....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sherkin to Baltimore

Last Sunday we had our last organised swim of the year...it was the Sherkin to Baltimore swim organised by Liz Buckley. I had never been to Baltimore before so it was all new to me-this whole swimming thing is doing wonders for my geography knowledge!

I headed down with my sister Sarah (who I had volunteered to help with timekeeping!) and we managed to only get lost once on the way (even with a gps telling me where to go that's a good record for me!!)! There was talk of a few people swimming out and back to the island so I was hoping to get there in time to join them (and the lazy part of me was hoping that I wouldn't!!). So we got down there for about 2pm, with the boat leaving for the island at 3pm. I went and registered and found Imelda and Ossi, who were leaving about 15minutes later to swim out, giving us plenty of time to cover the 2km distance before the others got out there. So I figured that since I was there in time, I really had no excuse not to do the extra distance!

I went and got myself ready and grabbed a towel to put in the kayak in case we were waiting around for a long time at the other side (the others were wearing wetsuits so it wasn't such a problem for them). And we set off. It was such a nice swim out-I love swimming with Imelda and Ossi because they swim just fast enough to push me and keep me on my toes (although when Imelda's in a wetsuit she could leave me for dead if she wanted to!). We weren't in a rush so we had a chance to look around and just enjoy the swim. We could feel the tide pushing against us-a good sign for when we were going to be coming back!

We got out to Sherkin in about 40mins, just as the boats carrying everyone else were starting to arrive. I thought that since everyone was arriving we'd be heading off again soon, so I didn't bother getting my towel from the kayak-unfortunately though the kayakers needed to be briefed and that took a while, so by the time we were ready to start off I was shivering like mad-I was dying to get back in there to warm up again! I was in the second group of people to start, thankfully there was only 90secs between the starts though.

The start was absolute mayhem-there were 52 people swimming altogether, with most of them in my group. And most of them were triathletes who are used to high-contact swimming races! I wanted to sprint a little at the start to warm myself up, but I soon found out that if I did, I'd just keep getting kicked in the face...so after a few of those kicks I figured I'd just hang back and let them off-I was in no rush to get in in first place!! I warmed up pretty quickly once I got going anyway.

It was a totally different swim on the way back-there was no looking around and admiring the scenery this time around! I found some people ahead of me to follow and just tried to stay behind them for the way across-I know how bad my own navigation skills are!!

I came across a swimmer who was stopped at one point and I stopped to check if he was ok-it turns out he was only fixing his goggles, but he seemed really surprised that I stopped to check on him-I don't understand that-why would anyone keep going if they suspect that someone is in trouble? By his reaction I guess he wouldn't have stopped if it had been the other way round. Some people take these races WAY too seriously!!!

I managed to pick my way around the boats near the end-that's always the part I hate most-at almost every slipway there are always boats parked and I'm always afraid I'll go head first into one of them! But thankfully I didn't this time and I managed to make my way to the slip to finish the swim. The second half of the swim took 35mins so a little faster but we had some tidal assistance I think so it may just have been that.

As usual I headed straight off to get changed after and get myself warm before joining everyone in the pub for drinks and then pizza. It was a nice end to a really fun swim. I was glad that I'd done the swim both ways, it made it feel like the journey was worth it-a 2hr journey is a long way to travel for a 2km swim!! But for 4km it's not so bad. A big thank-you to Imelda and Ossi for swimming out with me and to Derek for kayaking for it-without a kayaker we couldn't have done it.

It was the perfect end to a great swim season-let's hope that I'll manage to fit in some of the swims next year around my other training! From now on it's the pool during the week and Sandycove just at weekends...training starts for real now!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blackrock to Cobh 2008

Last Sunday I had my last long race of the season...a 12.5km (flow assisted and tide assisted!) river swim from Blackrock (my home town!) to Cobh island. I was very excited about the swim when I first signed up for it a couple of months back, I was really looking forward to swimming past all of the local landmarks that I had seen from a rowing boat many times in the past! But as the day grew closer I looked forward to it less-I remembered how much I don't really enjoy swimming in fresh water (it's much more murky and less pleasant than the sea) and how much nicer it would be to be down in Sandycove doing three or four laps instead as we've often done on a Sunday morning recently. And then the night before it was rainy and windy as I went to sleep, it sounded like it was going to be a horrible night-not very promising for the day ahead!

But it turned out quite the opposite-it seems that the storm blew itself out overnight and I woke up to a lovely bright, sunny morning, which made me more optimistic about the swim! I headed down to Blackrock village where there was already a good group of people gathered. The big question on everyone's lips-how cold was the water? I was just hoping that it was about the same as Sandycove at around 13 or 14 degrees, anything much lower than that and I knew that I'd be uncomfortable for such a long swim. But we were assured that it had been measured at 14, both in Blackrock and in Cobh, so no need to worry!

All of us listen attentively to the safety briefing!

We had our safety briefing which included a description of the course-which totally went over my head because my geography is so bad! But I just hoped that my kayaker had a better idea than me-I didn't intend to do any navigating at all besides trying to stay in the flow as much as possible to make it easier!

My mother looks frozen as she waits for us to head off!

The start was handicapped (faster people start later to kinda give everyone an equal chance of getting in first) with four starts, each 10 minutes apart. I was in the second group to start, so once the first group headed off I headed off to get myself ready. Then there was the big decision-do I want to jump in or wade in? We had been advised to jump because of the possibility of glass on the slip but I decided that I'd take my chances with the glass and give myself a couple of minutes to get used to the water while we were waiting to start!




A crowded start





The 10-minute mark came quickly and we headed off-I think ours was the biggest group, there were 9 or 10 people all starting at once, so between all of us, the kayakers and the boats scattered around the place, the first few minutes were mayhem! But we soon spread out, found our kayakers and headed off at our own pace. I was pleased to find that the water wasn't as murky as I had thought it was going to be-it was actually quite pleasant, like the sea on one of the not-so-clear days. I didn't want it to be too clear since I didn't really want to see what was under me!

As we swam down towards the castle, I fell into pace with Jen Hurley, who's training for the 19km Rottnest Channel swim in February. It's always nice to have someone to swim with, it makes it easier to keep the pace up and I'm sure that it's nicer for the kayakers to have someone to chat to too! We passed by Blackrock Castle and headed down towards Loughmahon. By the time we were in line with MahonPoint shopping centre, 45mins had gone by and it was time for my first feed stop. I was having warm High5-the same drink that I'd had on the Inishbofin swim, but this time it wasn't going down so well-I was gagging on it and it didn't go down well. I need to find a replacement, but I knew that anyway-High5 has electrolytes in it and when used for a long period of time these can cause an electrolyte imbalance in the body which will cause sickness, apparently it's better to use a pure carbohydrate drink and just take electrolytes every few hours-so it's time for me to go and order some Maxim I think.

So after the first feed stop I was basically lost-my geography is useless, I knew the Blackrock/Mahon area because I've lived there all my life, but once we passed Rochestown I had no idea what was coming next! So I just trusted that my kayaker would know where we were going and I figured that the river would eventually take us to Cobh anyway!

It turned out that the next town we were coming to was Passage. As we got into Passage the river got narrower so the flow got much stronger and made swimming much easier. Unfortunately it made navigation that much harder because we were moving faster and the kayak was being pushed by the flow-plus the fact that there were a whole load of small boats in the way-I thought I was definitely going to crash into a few of them! Thankfully I didn't, although I did hear afterwards of a couple of people who did! I stopped for my second feed at that stage, and as I was stopped I was still drifting down past the boats-it was a great feeling to be still making progress and not having to put any effort in!

My next big adventure was passing the Rushbrooke ferry-there's a ferry that brings cars from the Passage side of the river across to the Cobh side and back, and our big warning that morning was "do NOT race the ferry-you will not beat it!"...so basically, we were to keep out of its way! So I spent about half an hour watching for the ferry (as I said, my geography is useless!). And then I saw it-taking off from the other side and heading towards us. At the same time one of our safety boats passed us going upstream and didn't seem worried about where we were, and my kayaker was still going forwards, so I kept swimming. But I could see it coming closer and it seemed to be coming straight for us and I was really getting quite worried that I was going to end up under it at this stage! So...very stupidly...I stopped to shout at my kayaker to make sure that we were actually going to make it-not realising that the place that I stopped was the very place that the ferry was heading for! He was very calm and told me that yes, we were fine and to just keep on swimming. So I put my head down and swam as fast as I could until I saw the ferry swing back towards Passage and I could see then that we were well out of its path. Big lesson there though-don't stop in the path of a big huge boat that could potentially kill you! And another big lesson-trust your kayaker...that's a hard one for me because I like to know exactly where I am and exactly where I'm aiming for. I don't like following someone without being totally sure that I'm going in the right direction. But I just need to get used to the fact that they can see a lot further ahead than I can from the water!

After all that drama and a big apology from me to my kayaker for being so silly, we continued on down the river towards Monkstown. At this stage the river opened back up and we needed to cross the channel to head towards Cobh. This was a more difficult task than we imagined as, just as we were getting to the point where we were supposed to cross, the river suddenly got busy and we had a number of large fishing trawlers heading out of the harbour. Since I didn't really feel like racing any more ships(!), we waited until they had gone, and then, with perfect timing, one of the safety boats appeared and told us that there was nothing due for a while so we could head across.

At this stage I could see Cobh harbour in the distance, but I'd been warned by a few people that did the swim last year that it was further away than it looked! I had my last feed and decided to stop trying to figure out where the end was and to just keep swimming and following my kayaker. We passed a stony beach and I could see some people looking at us-I thought that it was just some people out for a walk curiously looking at these people swimming past, but it turned out that it was my grandparents who had come down to see us as we finished! So I stopped for a couple of minutes, and then continued on only to see Ossi a few minutes later shouting encouragement! Having people on the bank like that always gives such a boost, it was great :) So then I figured I'd better start putting a bit more effort in since I was nearly done anyway...so I upped the pace a bit and soon the tugs that we were swimming towards were in sight...and so were the long line of seaweed-covered steps that we had to climb up!!

There was a great crowd at the finish-the good weather on a Sunday afternoon made sure of that! I hurried to get dressed before I got cold-it was such a nice day though that I warmed up quickly. We hung around and watched the rest of the swimmers finish (there weren't too many after me though!) and then headed for yummy soup and sandwiches to replenish any calories that we may have burned along the way (a very important task!)!!!

Tadhg is trying to get every bit of warmth from his cup of tea!

It was a really enjoyable swim-I was so glad afterwards that I did it...the water wasn't at all horrible the way I'd dreaded (much better than the Lee Swim even) and it was such a beautiful day for it. And of course I got to see some of the gang that I'd met from other swims over the summer, and a couple of new faces too which is always good!

The (approximate!) swim course

Thursday, September 11, 2008

364 Days To Go

I just thought I'd mark the fact that my tides start a year from today (September 11-16th, 2009)! I can't believe that this time next year there will be 4 of us from Cork sitting in the Varne Ridge caravan park waiting for call from our pilots, hoping that the weather will allow all of us to swim. It's going to be a hectic year trying to get all of the training but I'm enjoying it so far. So let's hope I feel the same way through the winter with those long pool sessions!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Inishbofin Swim

I know it's a long time since I've updated...I've had a lot of stuff going on recently-more than anything I've been trying to get plenty of time in the sea before it gets any colder than it has already and before college starts up again for real! So here goes about Inishbofin....

I traveled up on the Friday on my own unfortunately-I couldn't carpool with the others since I was going to be heading to the airport to head to Dover on the way home on Sunday. So I got up in the evening to find that everyone else was already there and had had a quick swim-the water looked lovely and calm at that stage and we were just hoping that it would hold for Saturday so that we'd be able to swim to the island. We went for dinner that evening which was lovely, there was a big group of us including Ned, Niall, Julieann (who's also signed up to swim the Channel next summer), Eddie (who had just swum the Channel and was full of useful advice!) and his wife Nora, Graeme (who swam the Channel last year) and a few others who were sitting too far down the table for me to remember! It was a lovely dinner-I think Ned totally confused the waitress by asking for just a big bowl of plain pasta for the table-I'm sure that they don't get that as an everyday request!

When we left to head back to the B&B afterwards the weather had changed for the worse. It was drizzling rain and the wind had started to come up. Through the night I could hear the wind howling through the window, which was not a good sign for the swim! We got up to a dry morning the following morning, and it seemed to be much calmer than the night before. We had breakfast (which consisted of huge bowls of porridge along with cereal and eggs and much encouraging from Ned to eat it all-I thought I'd never be able to get up after all the food!), got ourselves ready to go and headed down to meet Martin Cullen who had traveled over from the island that morning.

Unfortunately he had bad news for us. He had decided that, for safety reasons, it would be too risky to swim from Cleggan to Inishbofin. So it was decided that we would head out on the ferry and do four two-mile laps of Inishbofin harbour-the same distance but much safer. When the ferry was leaving Cleggan all seemed very calm-until we got outside the shelter of the land and then the ferry started lurching from side to side more and more and we realised why exactly Martin had made his decision! It was very rough out there and it would just have been too dangerous for both swimmers and kayakers.

When we got to Bofin, we were paired up with our kayakers, there were a couple more swimmers than kayakers so I was sharing a kayaker, Ann-Marie, with Sharon, who trains with Martin in Cavan. We were briefed on the course, which was basically a wide square from the slip out towards the mouth of the harbour, across and back down towards the slip. We then went and got ourselves ready to swim.

Starting out-I'm on the right with the orange cap-Ned and Julieann are off in front already!

13 of us began the swim around 12 noon. The first few minutes were mainly concerned with keeping together with Sharon and trying to find Ann-Marie but once the crowd had thinned out (in other words, the fast people had left us!!) we got into a rhythm. It was nice swimming up towards the harbour, we swam up past an old fort towards a white tower at the edge of the harbour which made it easy to see where we were aiming for!

(As an aside...the two photos below were both taken during the swim-notice the difference in the weather-talk about 4 seasons in one day-we had 4 seasons in 4 hours!!!)




The lovely views as we swam towards the mouth of the harbour




It was much rougher as we swam across the mouth of the harbour, it made it hard to see the buoy that we were swimming towards...thankfully Ann-Marie could see it! Swimming down towards the slip it got much calmer again and before we knew it we had a lap done and we were able to have a nice hot drink-I was starving even though I had thought I'd never be hungry again after that breakfast!!!

Rough water near the mouth of Inishbofin harbour

Sharon's plan was to do two laps, so when we came in after the second lap she was undecided as to whether or not to go again. Up until then I had not felt cold at all, but in the time we were waiting around while everyone was encouraging her to go again, I cooled down a lot and by the time she had decided to go for one more I was quite cold. I really needed to speed up to get warm again or this was going to be my final lap too. While most people tend to start off quickly and get slower, I tend to start off slowly and then build up...I don't know if that's me warming up or just speeding up as I get closer to the finish because I know then that I can get out of the water sooner! So when we were half way around and another kayaker showed up (some people doing 3 laps had finished at that stage) to keep Ann-Marie company, I decided to take that as an opportunity to up my speed a little and warm myself up. So unfortunately for Ann-Marie she was on her own with me again and the other kayaker stayed with Sharon as she finished out her final lap.

At this stage I wasn't sure how many people were still left swimming and if I was the last one doing 4 laps or not. So I figured I'd try to catch up with Niall, who I knew was maybe a quarter of a mile ahead of me-if I don't have something to aim for then I just get lazy! So I sped up to Niall and caught up with him close to the mouth of the harbour on our last lap. And I figured then I might as well keep going as fast as I could to get to the end-at this stage the weather was turning horrible and, while I didn't mind (or even notice) the rain, my poor kayaker (a different girl who had taken over from Ann-Marie at this stage) was getting soaked! I feel sorry for the people taking care of us at swimming events-they have the boring job of traveling around slowly (whether it's by boat or by kayak), in this case in circles, and then when the weather turns bad they're much more badly off than we are in the water! So I ended up doing that lap in about 55 minutes (the first lap had taken 1hr 10mins in comparison!)...I "sprinted" (my sprinting isn't very fast-especially when I've already swam 7 and a half miles!) between the old pier and the new pier at the end, thinking that it might take about 100 strokes-it took over 300-bad estimation! But while I was tired at the end, I still felt like I could have done more, so I guess that's a good sign.

As I came up the slip, Sharon came to meet me drinking a hot whiskey-I was glad to see that she had finished comfortably and was "sensibly" warming herself up! I got into the waiting ambulance-the local ambulance driver was very kindly spending his day transporting us to the community centre where we had showers and food waiting, so that was great! I had my shower, drank hot tea, had yummy cookies and chatted to the others who were all nicely warmed up at that stage.

That evening we had a lovely dinner in the Dolphin Restaurant and then there was a presentation with a prize for everyone who took part, which I thought was really nice. Julieann had finished first in a time of 2hrs 58mins in what was her longest sea swim to date, which was an amazing achievement. And Ned came in soon after at 3hrs 7mins. I completed the 8 miles in 4hrs 23mins which I was happy with. 9 of us in total completed the 4 laps, and 4 people did 3 laps. And we mustn't forget Eddie, who did a lap to "loosen out" after his Channel swim 3 weeks previously! For most of us it was our longest sea swim to date. The night of chatting afterwards did some good too-we have at least one swimmer, Breccene Ennis, who has since announced plans to do a Channel swim in 2010, another person to join us Channel aspirants!

All in all it was a fabulous swim-it was disappointing that we couldn't swim from the mainland but swimming is always weather-dependent and we were lucky in this case to have a safe alternative where we could do the equivalent distance. I met some great people, and I'm sure that I'll be seeing some of them in the coming year as I train.

I want to say a huge thank you to Martin Cullen, who organised the who swim so well, to Graeme who harassed us to keep swimming after each lap, to all of the boat crew and kayakers who made the swim possible, to the ambulance driver who gave up his day to drive us around and to anyone else who helped with organisation. I'm looking forward to next year's swim already!

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Congratulations

And I almost forgot....congratulations to the second Channel Swimmer of the summer from Cork....Eddie Irwin completed his swim on July 31st in 13hrs 47 mins. His swim was originally supposed to be in September but he was offered the slot at the end of July and went for it...good choice...now he has two months less of training! Well done Eddie!

A Proper Update...

The one time I'm half way through a big long post and Firefox goes and crashes and loses it and Blogger hasn't autosaved it....ick! Golden rule...save often! So here goes again...

I've been swimming lots since I came back from Madrid. Mostly all in Sandycove, in differing temperatures...it got nice for a while but has been feeling cold again the past week or so, my watch is telling me that it's back down at about 14degrees C now...I'm sure that I'll be wishing for that temperature when winter sets in, but for now I'd prefer it to go back to 16 or so!

I've had a few swimming firsts in the past few weeks. One of these was my first time swimming in the Lee Swim, which I have already posted about. Another first was a jellyfish sting...I knew it was gonna happen sometime, I've been dreading it for so long! A couple of weeks ago I was coming to the end of a lap with Tadhg and we stopped to chat for a minute about something and while we were chatting I got stung on the arm...that set me swimming again pretty fast...anything to get out of there!! It wasn't so bad though...so much so that by the time I'd gotten to the slip the pain was more or less gone. I've had one pretty bad sting since, it was on the inside of my forearm and it left me with long red marks, I assume from the tentacles. I was swimming for an hour after and by the time I got out it was still sore. In fact, about 5 minutes before the end of that swim I got stung again on my ear and between my knees (by the same jellyfish!) and by the time I'd gotten to the slip those stings were gone but the earlier one still hurt like hell. I guess it depends on the type of jellyfish or maybe the length of contact time. I've also gotten stung across my face, which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be either. It would be a hell of a lot worse without goggles I'd imagine!! So now I'm trying to convince myself that stings really aren't so bad and I need to get over my jellyfish fear...maybe I'll have gotten over it by next summer!!

We've had a couple more swimming events in the past few weeks. Two weeks ago we had a swim out in Gougane Barra, it was by far the most scenic 2km I've ever swum...it's really gorgeous there. I'd actually never been there before...another first for me...even though it's so close-shame on me! It's where the River Lee begins and where Saint Finbarr is said to have founded a monastery back in the 6th century. I can see why he would have wanted to live there anyway...it's so pretty! Here are a couple of photos that I've found online to show just how nice a place it is (I forgot my own camera that day!)....


After the swim we went back to Tadhg's relative's house for yummy dinner and a few hours of chatting before facing the road home...it was a nice end to a really fun day...thanks to Tadhg for the organisation and hospitality :)

Last weekend was the weekend of the Kinsale regatta, and the regatta committee organises a race-a lap of Sandycove. Since I was heading down for a swim anyway I figured I might as well take part! It was handicapped (slowest swimmers start first to give everyone a chance) and I was in the middle group to go, which is probably right...I'm faster than some swimmers down there but I'm slower than a lot of others too!! I swam it in 31:06 altogether and was the 10th person finished overall and the 3rd woman. Which meant that I got another medal :) I'm starting to like these medals...I know that the only reason that I'm winning any is because there are so few woman open water swimmers out there in comparison to the men...but the medals are still pretty!!

So now my next event is coming up this weekend-I'm swimming from Galway to Inishbofin...8 miles long...out in the Atlantic Ocean...off the west coast of Ireland. It's gonna be tough. But I can't wait! I've been training for it the past while...I did a 3 hour swim a few weeks back (the one where I got the horrible sting!) and that went well...thanks to Tadhg and Paul for swimming with me on that one...it was a dull and dreary evening and it was quite rough out there so I really appreciated the company :) I wasn't too cold or too sore after, which was good. Then this weekend just gone Niall, one of the other people doing the Bofin swim, was saying that he'd like to do a long swim on Sunday. So I said that I'd head down and swim with him-he was planning to do 6 laps in about 4 hours...I wasn't sure that I was going to do that much but I figured I'd swim as long as I felt comfortable and not push it too much with the swim itself coming up so soon. It was quite cold that afternoon...made a little more comfortable by the fact that the sun was shining but still enough to cause brain freeze for the first few minutes! We stopped after two laps to have some drinks (Niall had brought a "picnic" box over to the island...there's a little cove that people use to store a box with energy drinks and whatever else rather than having to head back in to the slip...very useful!)...and again after the 4th lap. At that stage I was still feeling good...cold but not enough to want to stop. And the hot drink really helped with that too! So we did the 5th lap and then made the decision to go for the final 6th lap...I'm not sure if it was a sensible decision on my part or not since I actually spent some of the lap shivering as I was swimming, but it felt good afterwards to have done it. It took us 3hrs 57mins to do the 6 laps (about 9km) so Niall's estimate was spot on! I recovered really quickly once I got warm clothes on and had a warm drink...I had stopped shivering before I even left Sandycove. So that was good! I'm pretty convinced that I'm ready for Bofin now...I'm sure that I'll question myself once I actually start swimming away from land towards something that I can't see tho! But it will be a good challenge, a good experience. And hopefully good fun too! Now let's start crossing our fingers that the weather allows it to go ahead :)

And my last update (I think) is that I'm heading to Dover on Sunday to crew for Joni Storer on his channel attempt next week. So I'm spending a week in Dover, and I'll get to put faces to some of the names that I've been hearing for so long! Mark has the same tide window so it will be great to see himself and Kelly again. And on top of all of that I'll hopefully get to do lots of swimming! I'm going to be Joni's support swimmer, so I'll not only be seeing the whole process as a crew member, I'll also be in the water with him if he needs me to give a bit of a push at any stage...the whole think will be a really good experience for me I think.

I'm leaving tomorrow morning for Galway so it's probably time to be getting to bed now...I've an exciting week ahead :) I'll update when I'm back from Dover and life is back to normal...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

You Did What?!

So I've been back in Cork for a while now and I'm back to Sandycove training most days and loving it! And a couple of weeks ago I had my first Lee Swim. For those of you who don't know...the River Lee is the river that Cork is built on. The Lee Swim is a 2,000 metre swim through the city that was first held in 1914. Bad water quality (due to the raw sewage that was being pumped directly into the river!) stopped the swim for a nu
mber of years, but the swim was resurrected in 2005 after a huge cleanup of the river. Most people in the city are not fully convinced that the river really is clean and give you very funny looks when you talk about swimming in it, but the swim is now in its 4th year and noone has grown any extra limbs after swimming in it so far-or lost any for that matter-so it can't be that bad!!

The swim course

This year was the first year since the swim restarted that I've been in Cork for it...so naturally I signed up. The day began with registration where we got our bag of freebies...including a bottle of coke which I figured would kill anything bad that I swallowed on the swim anyway! Then after a safety briefing at the finish, we all walked to the start. On the way we had some interesting entertainment...

There was a big seal in the river (in all my years living in Cork I've never seen a seal in the river-it figures that the one day I do is the day that I'm swimming in there!!). The seal had just caught a salmon that looked like it was a foot and a half or so long. And, as we watched, it tore the salmon to shreds. In minutes. I was just hoping that if he was still hungry he'd go for the fast people in the first group of swimmers and not me back in the sixth group lol!

When we got to the start we got ourselves ready to go and had another short safety briefing and then it was time for the fast people to head off. We were in groups depending on the time we had put in for ourselves-I had no idea how long it would take me...normally 1,600 metres is about 30 minutes for me in a pool so for 2,000 metres in open water I figured 45 minutes would be a comfortable time. So I was in the 6th group of people to start (with 30 people per group).

We watched the fastest people head off down the river with the seal swimming around the front few people! The organisers were great and we weren't waiting long before we were called to get to the start. I expected when we dived in that the water would smell horrible...we've thought of the river as dirty for so long that it's hard to believe that it's not! But it really didn't smell bad at all...it was very murky-you could only see an inch or so in front of your face-but that was probably a good thing, I didn't really want to be able to see to the bottom anyway! It was nice and warm too, about 16degrees C I think, so it didn't feel cold at all :)

I wasted no time getting in to the water...I'm causing the splash that's circled in red!

It was really nice swimming through the city-on every bridge there were lots of people watching. It's great to have lots of support when doing an event like that-although I'm sure that lots of those people were just curious as to what was going on! It was a gorgeous day for it too, as you can see from the pictures...

Enjoying my swim!




It still looks strange
to see so many people
in the river-especially
when I'm one of them!





We had been warned to save some energy for when we had to turn around and swim 300metres upriver at the end. I swam down to the turning point at the Port of Cork comfortably, and expected a bit more of a push when I turned but I must say that I didn't really feel it at all. I guess because the tide was coming in it would have countered some of the flow from the river.

I finished with people from the 4th and 5th groups to start, so I had obviously overestimated how long it would take me-it took just over 34mins, much less than the 45 that I had estimated! I found out later that I came 2nd in my age group-out of only 8 tho!

All done!

It was a really fun day and night after....a big thank-you to all of the organisers who did a really great job! I'm looking forward to next year already :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Congratulations!

On Sunday, July 13th, Finbarr Hedderman became the first Irish person to cross the English Channel this summer, in a time of 13hours 21minutes-an amazingly fast time! All of those long days in Sandycove really paid off. Well done Finbarr!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Greetings from Madrid

I know, I know....it's been a long long time since I've posted! I'm in Madrid and have been for almost a month now. Not that that's any excuse I know, but it does mean that I've done less swimming and especially less open-water swimming so I haven't been in any rush to put stuff up here!!

I've been really enjoying it here, the weather is beautiful, the people are great and I'm getting lots of work done while still enjoying myself. And the celebrations after Spain won the European Cup for the first time in 44 years were just amazing! The only downside to being here is that my swimming has suffered big time.

I joined the university pool here where I'm working, it's an outdoor, 50metre pool. I haven't taken any of my own photos of it so the ones from the university website will have to do!


<- The dive pool





The 50m swimming pool ->

The week that I arrived here was the first week that it was open for the season, and it was perfect for swimming at that stage. Approximately 17 degrees C (62.6 degrees F) and absolutely empty-the weather here wasn't great at that stage and 17 degrees is considered to be ice-cold for most people here! So I was alone in the pool for most of my workouts with someone joining me for a couple of hundred metres every so often and the lifeguards giving me very funny looks for staying in for an hour at that temperature...of course it was nice and warm for me after being in the sea at home so much before coming here!

However, things have changed since then. The weather has gotten much, much better since then (we're up to 40 degrees C-104 degreesF-some days) and as a result the pool temperature has risen to about 24 degrees C (75 degrees F). So lots of people are training in the pool now, and even more are using it to cool down while sunbathing-and there are no lanes to distinguish between the two. So swimming there now is like swimming through an obstacle course and it's impossible to do a full length without having to dodge at least two or three people if not ten! So it's very hard to train there now, and that's probably one of the better pools for training-at least this one only has college students and no children! It's nice there for about the first 30 minutes after it opens and the last 15 minutes before it closes so I've been trying to do my workouts at those times. I'm looking forward to getting back into the Irish sea though, however cold it may be there right now!

And speaking of the sea...we went to the beach a couple of weekends ago-to a town called Oliva near Valencia. It was gorgeous, perfect Spanish beach minus all of the big hotels and tourists...we stayed at a campsite just behind the sand dunes, it was perfect.

Oliva Beach

The water temperature was incredibly warm, around 24degrees C on my watch which I really wasn't expecting from the sea in June (even in Spain)! I did a 45 minute swim on the Sunday, it was very nice....warm, calm, not so many people. But jellyfish instead...and I was told that the jellyfish that were around have a very painful sting so I was none too happy swimming close to them. I did notice that they were swimming fairly deep whenever I saw them so I tried to stay out deep also so that they would be well below me! It worked well, I didn't have any come too close to me. Overall, it was a nice swim, I didn't want to stay in too long though because it was close to 40degrees C (104degrees F) in the sun and I didn't want to end up burning badly.

So that's been the extent of my swimming for the past month. I'm home at the end of this week so I'll need to really step up the pace then to get ready for my big swim in August! I've got some other swimming news to write about but I think that will have to wait til later...if I wait til I've finished writing everything this will never get posted...I'm on holidays for the next few days so I'll try to fit in some time to write some more and post it when I get home....adiós for now!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Just keep swimming...

It's been an interesting week's swimming....

I woke up last Sunday to find that I couldn't move my left arm and shoulder, and I had to get up and go teach lots of 4-year-olds how to swim! The morning was hell, I spent the whole time trying to keep my shoulder as still as possible, which is not an easy task when you've got six kids hanging out of you! The warm water did help a little tho, and I stretched it out a little in the pool when the classes were over. When I got home I rubbed plenty of tiger balm into it and rested it for the rest of the day. That really helped to loosen it out and reduce the pain and by the time I was heading to bed that night I was feeling much better. I had arranged for a swim Monday morning with Finbarr (who's swimming the Channel in July) so I was hoping that I'd wake up pain-free!

When I woke up Monday it was sore again but nowhere near as bad as the morning before. I put on more tiger balm and got ready to head down for the swim anyway-I figured that I'd see how it was after a few strokes and decide then if I was going to head around the island or not. Finbarr was out for a short break when I got down there so I got ready and we headed in. I wasn't sure if it was the cold numbing it or just that it needed to be stretched out-but my shoulder felt ok when I started swimming so I decided to head around-Finbarr was on his last lap of the day anyway (at the end of a 6-hour swim!) so he was at a nice slow pace for me. I managed the lap with no problems, I was actually much more comfortable than I thought I'd be. I got out happy that I hadn't made a bad decision by carrying on swimming after I felt pain on Saturday.

On Tuesday I was back to the pool for my Sunday's Well Masters swimming session, it had been a while since I was there so it was nice to see everyone again. Swimming in the pool was doing my head in tho after being in the sea so much recently...I don't know how I'm going to make myself get back into the pool routine next week when I'm in Madrid! It was a good session though, we did some timed frontcrawl sets which I always enjoy.

Then on Wednesday it was back to the sea with Finbarr...it was a lovely calm morning which was a big change from the few previous swims! I found it quite cold though, colder than it was for a few weeks. My watch was showing 56 degrees F which is about 13.5 degrees C so I guess leaving about a degree for body temperature the water was probably at about 12.5, at the lower end of Saturday's range. I think too the fact that it was early in the morning my body just didn't want to be in cold water so that probably played a big part! I was the first time in a long time though that I had an "ice-cream headache" when I dived in first. We did a double lap and the cold wasn't so bad after a while...I definitely appreciated the tea that Mike Harris had waiting when I got out though! Finbarr didn't seem to feel the cold at all...he had done another full lap by the time I was leaving and was starting to go around for another as different people came to join him.

On Thursday it was back to SW again, there were only two of us in the lane so that's always nice, I like not having to speed up and slow down the way you have to when there's a big group. We did some timed 200s which were fine and then later on some sprints, which are always tough! I really was never built for sprinting! It was a fun workout though.

I talked to Finbarr Thursday night and he said that he was planning to head to Oysterhaven the following morning (a little closer than Sandycove) for a 2-hour swim and if I wanted to come along there would be a boat with us so I could get out before then if I needed to. So I decided to go...thankfully I have a nice new sat nav which could tell me where to go, otherwise I'd probably still be trying to find the place now...I don't know my way around most of West Cork that well!! So we met there at 10am on Friday morning, it was a cloudy morning, not too cold, but with lots of fog, especially as I got closer to the coast. We were supposed to be swimming from the red circle marked on the picture below out to the big "island" (it's really just an extra-big rock!), which is known as Big Sovereign (Little Sovereign is the smaller one off to the right), which is about 2.5km out according to my measurements on Google Maps. However, we couldn't see past the corner in the headland due to the fog! Thankfully we had a boat with us so we (hopefully) couldn't get too lost. We decided that if we got out to the mouth and we still couldn't see the island, we'd take a left and head the shorter distance towards the smaller island instead.

"The Sovereigns"


We got in and started heading in the right direction, and thankfully we found that when we got out a bit we could see the island. I let Finbarr do the navigating and I just followed him...if it was me navigating we could have ended up back at Sandycove!!! I got a rather unpleasant surprise as we headed out further from the land...there were jellyfish swimming under us! There weren't many of them and they were small and they were down a decent amount I think...I didn't exactly stop to check! But they freaked me out anyway...every time I saw one I sped up dramatically...normally I just use my legs for balance when I'm swimming but when a jellyfish passed under me I'd kick like my life depended on it! Maybe it's a good training technique to make me swim faster lol! I guess my big fear is not knowing what a sting feels like...maybe once I've been stung once I won't be so freaked out by them after that!

We got out close to the island and the guy driving the boat (whose name I never found out...oops!) took some photos...there were a couple of seals in the water closer to the island and he wanted to try to get them in the photos with us. Unfortunately I couldn't see the seals apart from a couple of times when I got the right vantage point over the waves...he had an advantage being up on the boat! I do need to get my hands on those photos tho, I think there might be some cool ones in there.

We turned around and headed back in to land with Finbarr making sure that we didn't miss the opening to get back in! The whole swim (about 5km) took about 1 hour and 45 minutes, with the water temperature about 57 degrees F (14 C) so probably 13 degrees C in reality...to me it felt much warmer than Wednesday in Sandycove...I guess a lot really does depend on what you're body temperature is like and how you're feeling at the time. It was a great swim, it was interesting to swim right out from the land rather than staying close like in Sandycove...it's a bit scarier this way but more fun too I think. I just need to get rid of those jellyfish!

Saturday and Sunday were gorgeous days here, I headed down for the organised swims both afternoons, making sure to put on plenty of suncream! On Saturday I did a single lap, the water temperature was lovely, nice enough to laze around in and do a little breaststroke or relaxed frontcrawl without getting cold. My watch read at 60 F (15.5 C) so it was probably around 14.5 C, the warmest we've seen so far this year. On Sunday myself and Sylvain headed down and managed to get a puncture just entering Kinsale...thankfully he was there because I'd never have managed to get the nuts open myself! I do know how to change a puncture, but every time I've had one I never have the strength to open them. Thankfully Sylvain managed ok tho while I busied myself swapping out the spare from under the car! When we got there we headed around for a double...again nice water temperature, much more fluctuation than Saturday-the cold spots were colder but the warm spots were warmer...I saw variations from 58-62 F (14.5-16.5) on my watch at different stages going around...so it wasn't just my imagination!

Yesterday I didn't get a chance to get near the sea...with it being a bank holiday I knew that it would take a long time to get through Kinsale and even longer to get home since everyone would be traveling back from West Cork in the evening. So since I had a ton of research work to do I figured I couldn't really spend so much time driving there and back...although I really wanted to be down there, the weather was gorgeous!

Instead I headed down this evening, it's been another lovely day today so I headed straight down from work, the swim was at 6pm. It was a great evening for a swim, with the sun shining down and not a cloud to be seen. The water was back at 57 F so about 13 C after adjusting and it was lovely and clear-I'm not sure why it's so unbelievably clear some days and not at all on others. I used to think that it just depended on how calm or rough it was, but it was rougher today than it has been all weekend but much clearer. The wind was in a strange direction too, it was pushing the water back against us as we were heading back towards the slip, it was kinda fun fighting with it tho! I was starving after missing my dinner so I only did the one lap and headed home for a nice big feed!!

There's another swim tomorrow evening and again Thursday...I've got an appointment to give platelets in the morning tho and sometimes I don't feel great for the rest of the day after that so I'll have to see how it goes as to whether I'll head down or not. And then on Friday I travel to Dublin to fly out to Spain on Saturday for a month...I'm doing research at the university in Madrid for a while. It will be nice to be in Spain but it means no open water swimming the whole time there :(

But at least I've got the whole summer ahead of me when I get back...and the water should be even warmer by then :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sandycove Champion of Champions 2008

Yesterday, Sandycove was host to the much-anticipated Champion of Champions race...5 laps, then out and back in for 3 laps, then out and back in for a final lap. I think that it would be easier mentally to just do the 9 laps at once, it's hard to make yourself get back in after being out and warmed up. But then 9 laps without a rest would be tougher physically I guess. Regardless, it was a huge challenge...one which I'm definitely not prepared for yet! My plan was to do 2 laps out of the initial 5 and then enjoy watching everyone else completing the challenge for the day and help out wherever I could.

I traveled down with Sylvain, who was hoping to complete the day. It was a lovely morning, sun shining and not too cold...no wind in Cork but then it's always a different story down west! We arrived at Sandycove around 8am to find Ned's wife Ann parking the huge horse trailer in front of the wall...not exactly an everyday sight!

Our dining room for the day!

We got a nice parking spot just across from the slip (good idea to be early!) and waited for Ned to be ready for our briefing. He began with a welcome and some introductions, the most notable of which being Kevin Murphy, "King of the Channel". Some of the group had previously completed relay and/or solo EC crossings, and many others were signed up for an attempt this year or next. It was great to be part of such a distinguished group of swimmers! He went on to talk about the initial 5 laps and wished us luck for the day ahead.

We all then headed back to the cars and got ready to get in...

Ready and waiting!

At about 9:15 the first swim of the day began at high tide. Conditions seemed relatively calm and the water wasn't too cold (the temperature range for the day was 12.5-14.5degreesC - 54.5-58degrees F). We all headed out for the first corner, where everything changed rather quickly...rough water hit us and we were thrown around like rag-dolls! It felt like a (very big) washing machine!

It was like that for the whole of the outside of the island...when I turned my head left towards the island to breathe all I could see was the waves crashing on the rocks and most of the time when I turned my head right all I was getting was a wall of water in my face. So I stuck with breathing to the left most of the time, it's my preferred side anyway! Looking at those waves breaking was kinda freaking me out though, I kept having mental images of me being thrown up onto the rocks by one of them...so as a results I was doing a VERY wide lap of the island, I was probably swimming a couple of hundred metres more than I needed to but I wasn't going for a time or anything and I felt much safer out there!

Our Giant Washing Machine!

Once we rounded the second corner things calmed down a lot and by the time I was around the front of the island I'd almost forgotten how rough it had been! So I swam around again and had the not-so-nice experience of Ned lapping me, he was on his third lap and I was only on my second when he passed me at the third corner!! A couple of others must have too judging by times afterwards. But I was happy to just be completing my first double, it didn't bother me that it was a very slow one! I headed back into the slip and got warmed up and dressed and then waited for the others to start coming in. Soup and sandwiches arrived, provided by the RNLI. The soup was great for warming everyone up!

People soon started arriving in...and the general feeling was "I'm not getting back in there"!! It had been a tough morning and the thought of getting back in for 3 laps and then again for a final lap was a horrible one. But by the time 2pm came most people were ready to get back in...it's amazing how much the mind buries over time...we forget how painful something was the first time around and then go do it again! I'd suppose it can be a good thing...I'd probably never have gotten back in the sea again if my mind had remembered how cold it was that first day!!

The original rules for the day didn't allow anyone to get in for the second session if they hadn't completed the first 5 laps. However, when it came to it, people were going ahead anyway since many people had missed some of the earlier laps due to the horrible conditions. So after much coaxing from Sarah and Kelly (who had lots of experience after coaxing Mark to get back in!) I decided to get back in too for a lap. It's so hard to get back in after just warming up and getting comfortable, and it was made even harder by the fact that conditions were still horrible (although we were assured that things had calmed down a little on the outside...I think that was just to make sure that any of us got back in at all tho!!). But most people got ready and headed in...at this stage the tide was at its lowest so we had to walk out to get to deep water and then we ended up walking around some of the rocks as we headed out to the first corner. I was happy that I'd been down there with Mark the day before at low tide, it really helped with knowing what to expect and I wasn't quite so freaked out swimming through the seaweed this time around!

We decided that walking out to the island would be easier than swimming!

Things were just as horrible when we rounded the corner, but I managed the lap and even decided to do a second. My left shoulder was hurting quite a bit-I'm never sure whether to keep going or to stop when I'm in pain like that, I'm afraid of doing damage but then again I know that I need to learn to swim through a certain amount of pain...there will be plenty of pain to go through on the day that I swim the Channel! In the end it decided for itself though, after I finished the second lap and was contemplating doing the third I was talking to Finbarr and Imelda...and when I went to swim again it seized up-I could move it but definitely not enough to get around again. I'm not sure if it was the rough conditions or the cold or the fact that I'd swam more than I have had before in my life or just a mixture of all of these factors...but I headed for the slip anyway, very happy with the amount that I had done...it was twice the number of laps that I had planned to do and I did more laps on that one day than I'd done in total up until then in tough conditions so I think that was a pretty good achievement!

I got warmed up for the second and final time that day and put on my many layers of clothes (helped by Sarah-thank you! It's horrible to not be able to dress yourself properly...but with the shoulder having given up there was no way I was getting my layers on without help!!). And from then I on was just sitting back and watching others do the hard work for the rest of the day!

Conditions apparently started improving a little for the last lap of the day...the wind had died down a bit. Some people headed out early so that they could get back to watch Munster in the Heineken Cup rugby final (which, incidentally, we won!) and the last few got in at 5pm. I have great respect for anyone who got in for that final lap, there was nothing going to make me get back in there again at that stage!

The day ended with many happy, some disappointed but everyone truly exhausted. It was a great day overall...the weather was good (besides that wind!) and the people were great. Only 4 people completed the day without wetsuits and 8 with wetsuits out of a total of 35 people (the results can be seen here). This year was more of a learning experience for me than anything else, and a chance to meet lots of people whose names I have only heard in passing up until now! I planned to do 2 laps, I ended up doing 4. Next year I'll be hoping to do all 9 tho!

And last but definitely not least...thanks to Sarah who gave up most of her day to come down and be my volunteer for the day...and to Kelly and Ann and everyone else who helped out and made it a great day for us swimmers! :)