Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sherkin to Baltimore

Last Sunday we had our last organised swim of the 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 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 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!" 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 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