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 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 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 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'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 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 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! :)

Friday, May 23, 2008

The day before the big one...

It's been a busy, busy week! Not on the swimming front though :( There's a reason for that...but first, last weekend...

I swam on Saturday, a group of about 7 of us headed around the island. It was nice, not as clear as the weekend before, but I'm not sure that that's a bad was nice not to be getting spooked every few minutes! The temperature felt about the same, maybe a little warmer, so maybe 12 or 12.5 degrees C (with the usual warm and cold patches!). I swam with Sally, who did an EC relay a couple of years ago. Her big warning for me was that I'm going to have no social life for the next year!! But I'm used to being busy anyway, all the extra training just seems to make me organise my life better so that I have time to do the other things I want to do. I realise that next summer's going to be pretty busy with all the training and I'm hopefully going to be finishing up my PhD then too...but I'll just deal with it all when it comes to it I guess!

Then...on Saturday night I did something really silly. I was getting up from a chair and as I was standing up I sneezed. And pulled something in my back. So silly but so painful too! So I spent most of Sunday lying down and I've been trying to rest it since then, I only swam a few lengths on Tuesday evening to stretch it out. It's been getting better, I'm finding that sitting for a long time really hurts though, which makes both working and driving difficult. But once it's getting better it's all good.

So in the last couple of days I've been talking to Mark who's coming over for the Champion of Champions here at Sandycove this Saturday. And we arranged to meet up today for a chat and for him to have a look at the island and maybe a swim. So I met himself and his partner Kelly in Kinsale and we went for coffee and had a chat. It's always a lot of fun for me to chat to people who either have swam the Channel or aspire's a great way to learn more about what I need to do over the next 15 months. Mark has his pilot boat booked for August 8th-15th so he's training hard and it was great to hear about all that he's been doing!

We headed for Sandycove after coffee...tide was at its lowest which was very strange for me to see, it showed me where the name came from anyway...normally there's just the slip and some gravel and rocks at the water's there was plenty of sand in view! Mark had decided that he wanted to do a lap to check out the island so we got ready and headed in. It was very strange to have to walk through the shallow water to get in rather than just being able to dive into deeper water from the slip...I definitely prefer getting it over with quickly! I've heard that you can actually walk out to the island at low tide...I never believed it before but now I do, we walked out for ages today before there was enough water to really swim in! We swam for a bit out towards the first corner but then we came to those rocks that are normally submerged and found that swimming between them and the island was close to impossible, it was very shallow. So we ended up walking on the island around the rocks and then getting back in, it was all very strange for me! We headed out to the first corner and when we turned it we found that it was pretty rough out there. I guess up until now I've been spoilt by the nice weather and calm conditions...the whole wind and waves thing took a little getting used to! But we managed ok. Mark is much faster than me so I was following him most of the time...except for the couple of times he headed out into the Atlantic Ocean away from the island...I wasn't sure if it was intentional to swim a little extra and let me catch up or just the fact that he was breathing to the right and losing track of where he was but regardless I was staying nice and close to the island! As we rounded the third corner and started heading for the slip we found a few very shallow areas, it was weird to be standing up in places where I normally would be struggling to see the ground! Overall it was a nice swim, I was happy to see the way the island at low tide too, a very different experience. As regards felt pretty comfortable, I forgot to check my watch but Mark's was reading at 60 degrees F (15.5 degrees C) so after taking a couple of degrees off for body temperature it was probably around 14 degrees C, pretty nice. There was also some nice sun on our backs when it chose to come out of the clouds, so all in all a very pleasant swim! No photos unfortunately but I'm sure that Mark might post a couple!

So now we've just got tomorrow to look forward plan is to swim two laps in the morning and then just hang around and help for the's going to be a very tough one for people. Next year I'll be aiming to complete it but for now that's a bit out of my reach!

Friday, May 16, 2008

1 lap down....

It's been another interesting week on the swimming front...

We've been getting some lovely weather, I was swimming Friday, Saturday and Sunday last weekend in Sandycove and the water is starting to get that little bit warmer, people are reckoning that it's up at about 12 degrees C (53.6 degrees F) at this stage. And hopefully with all of the good weather we've been having that figure will keep rising!! Friday and Saturday I swam on my own as others swam around, I just stayed inside the island and swam in circles! I stayed in for 40 minutes on Saturday, so I was pretty happy then that I'd be able to go around the island sometime soon. So on Sunday when a group were swimming I decided to head out to the first corner with them and see if I keep up! They were at a nice pace so I decided to go around. So around we went...

The water was clearer than I've ever seen it, we could see the bottom all the way around...sometimes that's not such a good thing though, I still always get a fright when I see something moving that I wasn't expecting!! I need to get used to having crabs and fish and seaweed moving under me without missing a stroke each time...I'm much too used to pool swimming! It was really cool though, when we got to the third corner there was a shoal of those tiny fish that move really fast darting around the place and shimmering in the sun, all you could see was the silver glitter as they quickly swam out of our way!

The times that I've swam inside the island I've never really come out tired, I guess because I'm not swimming with someone it's easier to keep a slower pace and just wander around. But after this swim my arms were actually a little tired, I had pushed to keep up with everyone and I could feel the effects! We swam around in about 32 minutes (it's about a mile around or a little more), which is not too far off my normal pool pace (I'm a very slow swimmer!!!). So I definitely had a good group to swim with, I could do with that push more often!

I went down to Sandycove again yesterday with my sister, Sarah, who decided to try out her new wetsuit. It was a very pretty day back in the city, a little windier down west though! But the sun was still out, and you could feel its effects in the water, the top inch or so felt nice and warm as my arms plunged down into the colder water underneath!! It was nice to have the sun on my back too, I was careful to put on suncream before I went down, I don't want to get burned this early in the summer! We headed out towards the first corner and then came back in and Sarah got out to get dressed while I headed out for another while. I think it was the first day that I wasn't thinking about how cold I was as I was swimming around, I was just enjoying the swim. I swam around the inside triangle and came back in, I swam for about half an hour altogether. It was a very enjoyable swim!

And then like a fool I came home and went to a pilates class...I went to my first one last week and was stiff for three days so I'm not sure what made me go again!! It's supposed to be great for strengthening up your core muscles, and I've been having a little trouble with my lower back...nothing major thankfully, but enough to make me realise that I should get the muscles there working! It's a really enjoyable class, and I find that I come out of it and feel like I haven't really done much...until the next day!! Today wasn't as bad thankfully...last week I was worried that I'd actually managed to bruise my ribs hurt that much!!! This week I can definitely feel that I've done it but it's easier to move today!!

And then after that I was going to go to the Master's swimming but I got up there and realised that I'd forgotten my swimsuit so I figured that it might be a good idea to head home again! But I'd probably done enough for one day at that stage anyway.

I also got my car inspected yesterday, I expected them to come back with a big list of things that were wrong with it, it's been off the road for almost a year and it's making some...let's say interesting...noises!! But they said that the engine is fine, the only thing that was wrong was some rust under one of the doors, so I need to fix that and bring it back for them to check again. But it was a much better outcome than I'd hoped for, so I'm very happy with that...I really am back on the road now :)

The plan for this evening is to head to the pool and try for maybe 4,000 metres, it does depend on how busy it is but usually Friday evenings are pretty ok. And I'm in Sandycove tomorrow and Sunday. And then next weekend is the Champion of Champions at Sandycove...where people do 9 laps over the day...5 laps beginning at 9am, then 3 laps beginning at 2pm and then one final lap at 5pm. There's a time limit for each section: 4 hours for the 5 laps, 2:30 hours for the 3 laps and 40 minutes for the final lap. It's going to be a very tough day! I was originally signed up to do it, but I have realised that I have absolutely no hope of managing that so soon! So I talked to Ned a couple of weeks back and he said to just start away and then hang around for the day afterwards. So I'm going to try to make that the first day I do a double lap, but we'll see how it goes! It will definitely be one of the events that I'll be aiming for next summer though...for now I just need to concentrate on my 8-mile Inisbofin swim in 12 weeks time!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Back in the swing of things....

Hope everyone's long weekend was as good as mine :)

First of all, my sore throat is least it hasn't been bothering me since Saturday, so that's a good sign! I'm not sure if it was the active manuka honey that Mark kindly suggested for me to take or just all the cold water over the weekend scaring my body into getting better or even just the long weekend and unexpected nice weather making me feel better!! But regardless I'm feeling a hundred times better than I was last week :)

It was a great weekend, managed to get four open water swims in....

I was in Sandycove on Saturday, the weather was only ok and the water was rough, so not ideal conditions for my first swim back after being sick! But I got in and swam for 8 and a half minutes, so still a little longer than my last open water swim and much tougher with the rough conditions. The water was considerably warmer than my last swim (probably three degrees C or so), it didn't feel warm though after being out of it for so long again!

Sunday was a much nicer day, the kind of day that you hope for on a summer long weekend and don't always get here in Ireland! I think it encouraged lots of people to get back into the water too, Sandycove was jammed...I don't know what parking is going to be like in the summer when it was already pretty much full up there on the first nice day in May! The water was nice too, still got the usual cold headache but it felt warmer than the day before, probably more of a psychological thing than anything else! The temperature was measured at 11degrees C (51.8 degrees F) but since I hadn't taken a reading on Saturday I can't compare and see if it's just all in my head or not. I swam for 10 and a half minutes, did my own little mini triangle which was probably about 500metres, it was pretty rough again even with the nice day so I was pretty happy with what I'd done. It was so nice too to get out of the water and to be warm heading to the car rather than shivering!

Then on Sunday evening I got a call from Ned to say that there were some people swimming in the river in Fermoy on Monday morning and would I like to come along. So I jumped at the chance...even though I was going out Sunday night! I was home relatively early and relatively sober Sunday night but it was still a drag to get myself out of bed on Monday morning...not helped by the fact that it was cloudy and there was a light mist outside, I just wanted to snuggle back under the covers instead! But I made myself get ready and went to meet Ned who was driving down. By the time we got there the mist was gone, it still wasn't particularly inviting weather though! There were 5 of us swimming, myself, Ned, Sylvain (who's attempting the channel swim on the same set of dates as me), Eddie (who's attempting the channel this September) and Ciaran. Two in wetsuits, three of us in just swimsuits. Ned reckoned it was probably about 12 degrees C (53.6 degrees F) so a little warmer than the sea at the moment. We set off, I was planning to try to stay in for about 20minutes in the warmer temperature. Since we were swimming upriver it was much tougher on the way than on the way back so I was thinking of swimming for about 15minutes and then turning around. But it turned out that me and Ciaran were about the same speed, so after about 15 minutes we chatted and decided that we'd try to get as far as the half-mile marker and turn there. Which ended up taking us about 28 minutes! But it's amazing the difference that the extra degree or so made, even after the 28 minutes I was more comfortable than after 10 minutes the day before! So we turned, and literally swam twice as fast back! It felt great having the flow with us, it was so much easier! We got back in 14 minutes so just over 40 minutes altogether, which was a huge improvement for me. I think that having someone there really helped me to stay longer because I knew that if anything did happen there was someone there to realise it! I just need to find someone (or a few people) in Sandycove now that are a similar speed to me so that I have someone to swim with there.

Monday morning was a huge boost to my confidence, I knew then that I could do a mile in the open water pretty comfortably and that after 40 minutes in the water I was fine, I wasn't too cold afterwards or anything. So then when Tuesday came around I figured that I'd try to get to Sandycove that evening. I organised a lift down and headed off around was a nice sunny evening in the city but a lot colder by the sea! I was swimming on my own with Sarah watching so I headed out to the corner and back in a small triangle...but by the time I got back in I'd only done about 9 minutes and was feeling fine so I headed back out again in in the other direction this the time I got back in I'd done 17 minutes altogether and had to get out then because I was caught for time. But I was almost as cold after that 17 minutes as I had been after the 40 the day before...I really never realised how much a degree or two's difference makes!
So is a day off after swimming the past 8 days without a break, and then I've got pilates tomorrow evening and master's swimming after, I think the plan is to video our strokes and analyse them so that would be good, make me admit to all the bad habits!! And then I'm back in Sandycove again for the weekend-Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

And the last piece of good news...looks like I'm finally back in business as regards a car: it's taxed, insured, inspection booked for next week and a few small problems are fixed. So I'm mobile again :) No more excuses now for missing training sessions!