Ice Mile Epilogue

As a finish to the Ice Mile shenanigans, we had a get together last Saturday in Dublin, organised by Fergal Somerville, to receive our certificates of membership to the Ice Swimming Association. A good night was had by all. As can be seen from the picture, we all got the trademark red jacket also

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From left to right, Fergal Somerville, myself, Carmel Collins, John Daly, Patrick Corkery.

I also met and had a long chat with a true gentleman of long distance swimming, Martin Cullen

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And finally, not to let a trip to Dublin go to waste, the following morning (not too early) we went out to Portmarnock for a bit of a dip, not too long, just enough to wash away the cobwebs.

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Thanks again to Fergal for doing all the organising here too. It’s great to just turn up and have everything done for you.

Now that the last cold snap seems to have finally left us, maybe now the sea will start to warm up a bit and we can get some “serious” swimming done now !

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Ice Mile Swim

This post has jumped the queue, but better to do it now, while the iron is hot so to speak. Queue is a generous term. Its a queue of one. My English Channel post is almost there, just haven’t had the pics to supplement it.

Last Sunday, due to the trojan work of Fergal Somerville and John Daly, another chance was given to us to complete the Ice Mile. An Ice mile is a swim of 1 mile in water of 5 degrees C or less. Not for the faint hearted. We had previously attempted this during the last cold spell, about 2 weeks previously, in Dollymount along the Bull Wall, but that time the water temperature wasn’t cold enough. That time it was about 7 degrees. We got in and swam it anyway, but knew it wouldn’t count.

This time, a new venue was decided upon, Lough Dan, up in the Wicklow hills. The weather forecast was cold for the few days leading up to the swim, and as luck would have it,  there was snow the day before. So, as long as the snow wasn’t too bad and we could actually get there, we were almost certainly guaranteed water below 5 deg.

Luckily, only the last few miles were snowy and it was easy enough to get to the lake. We arrived around 9, and went down to have a look. Ice on the waters edge ! Brilliant. A first for me. Water temp measured on the watch left in for a few mins was 2.3. I have this watch calibrated to adjust for the temperature variation caused by heat from my wrist, so you can add about 1 degree to this as a reasonably accurate value. So with a water temp around 3 degrees, the swim is definitely on.

View down the lake

What a location !

This is definitely a spot that’s worth another visit. So the swim is 1609m, so this was marked out by using the existing pontoon as a start / turn / finish point and swim a straight line course to a marker buoy located 200m away down the lake. This gives a 400m round trip, so 4 laps of this course gives 1600m. Given the pontoon was about 30m away, from the edge of the lake, made up almost an extra 60m, so giving well over the required distance.

Ice TeamThe Dream Team

Here’s a video I put together, showing the nitty gritty of the swim.

Some thoughts and observations:

  • The water didn’t seem “that” cold. Everything is relative here remember. Don’t get me wrong, it WAS bitterly cold, but I was expecting worse once we got in and started swimming. I had done a swim in 6 deg in Dunmore East, for about 15 mins, the day before as a “topper upper”, and felt that biting hard. As the water temperature drops below about 10 deg and continues to drop, I liken every  1 deg lower than this to another increased level of pain or discomfort. I had never swam in anything below 5 deg before, so I didn’t know what to expect with 3 deg. I suppose the adrenalin that comes from facing such a challenge definitely helped. Also, the water was warmer than the air, so maybe that helped too. Some more thought needed here as to why that was the case.
  • I didn’t go flat out in an attempt to keep warm. My normal pace is about 62 strokes per minute and a reasonable speed for me in warm open water (no tumbles) would be about 4.2 KPH. So as can be seen from the video, I started off at just over 4KPH, which seemed about right. Not too fast, that you get breathless after a few mins, not too slow that you start to get cold early on. I kept my normal breathing pattern of 3 or 4 breaths to the left, then 3 or 4 breaths to the right the whole way through.
  • During the safety briefing, Tom Healy had said the water here was very peaty and dark, and he was right. Although there was good visibility, as I could read the time on my watch underwater, the bottom of the lake must have been very dark, as there was nothing to see beyond your arm. This was in contrast to the view above water, where everything was covered with snow. So every breath was like switching from day time to night time, weird.
  • The swim was split into 4 laps, of 200m up and back, so that was a nice number to count. Not too many that you risked loosing count as you become disoriented, not too few that the laps seem too long and you wonder are you ever going to get to the end. Also, as the swimmers were never more than 200m apart, it made sense from a safety point of view.
  • For those of you who haven’t yet swam for long periods in cold water, you need to be aware that as your body gets cold, it doesn’t function as you would like it to. This is both from a mental and physical point of view. Everything slows down, brain and body. As you lose muscle control due to the cold, your stroke deteriorates. When your stroke starts to fail, your speed drops, and your swim starts to drag on and on. Your last 100m will be a lot slower than your first. I’ve seen people who, when cold, are only about 50% of their warm speed. So I had a plan that I would keep talking to myself, constantly assessing my mental state to see if I started to “go off”. Also I would continuously monitor my stroke, every pull, to make sure that it stayed normal and efficient. I don’t know how possible it is to monitor your own mental state, certainly when you’ve tipped over the line and are sliding into hypothermia, you cannot be your own judge, but I was working on the assumption that before I went down the slippery slope, I would begin to notice something that would raise a red flag for me.
  • I should state that for me, this swim was a controlled experiment in hypothermia. Almost certainly, I would be cold coming out. Almost certainly I would need assistance getting dressed as my fingers wouldn’t work. Almost certainly, I wouldn’t have attempted this without having the support that was there, both expert assistance on the water and both medic and paramedic on land. Needless to say, a swim like this should only be attempted after a long period of acclimatization and building up progressively longer periods in cold water. I’m of the opinion that almost anyone can do it, as long as they prepare for it. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it. To my mind, cold water swimming is no different.
  • So, the actual swim. First lap. Water cold, but not too bad. Walking out through floating ice to get sufficient depth to swim in. No immediate sensations of pain in fingers or toes. The fact that the water was warmer than the air certainly helped. I was last to start, so all the swimmers were in front of me. Donal went to the left, Fergal and co to the right, and I was bang in the middle (in my mind anyway). Fingers started to  hurt by the first turn, about 3 minutes. They usually hurt sooner, so this is good. I notice a modern house built into the side of the mountain on our left. Covered with snow, but lots of glass. Must be a fantastic view. Reach the turn with goggles fogged up, so a quick stop to rinse  and then back down the lake to complete the first lap. I hope I don’t swim head first into anyone.
  • Make it to the end of the first lap, 400m done. Stroke feels good. Goggles clear. I note there is almost no kick. My legs just seem to be fluttering and not giving any significant  propulsion. OK, point noted. Am a bit wary to kick hard in case of inducing cramp in my feet. Foot cramps seems to be a problem this season. Down the second lap I have the sensation that my hands actually feel very flat while pulling, like I’m wearing paddles. This is a first. Point Noted. Little finger behaving itself and staying in position. To those inexperienced, as your arms cools down, the finger muscles in your forearm are affected, resulting in your little finger being pulled away from your other fingers. Something like “the pinkie must protrude”. This is usually one of the early warning signs that you’re getting cold. Try as you might, you just can’t pull it back in. Another test is can you touch all your fingers in turn with your thumb. Index finger is easy, but little finger gets progressively harder as you get colder.
  • Second lap done. Half way. No going back now. Field of swimmers well spread out now. One note of concern approaching the 200m mark on the third lap. I start to feel a warm sensation in my chest. This has happened several times before, and I use it as another warning sign. I think of it as the last attempt by your body to warm up and is a sign that you’re nearer to the end of your swim than the beginning. Point noted. We are swimming around the turn buoy,and its awkward to make the turn, it would be much easier to touch it and swivel around, like we do at the pontoon. Fingers numb but will clench in and out. Pinkie is behaved and stays in position. Strange that.
  • Third lap done. 400m left. Can’t stop now. Fingers pretty much useless now, but stroke still feels good. Slightly short, but I feel I’m maintaining a stretch on the catch and getting a good bit of power on the pull. I slow down my stroke slightly to ensure I still have a good catch and pull. I’m still talking to myself and feeling good. Excited now that the end is coming and I’m going to finish. Stop on the last turn, quick chat with kayaker who has pulled in near the buoy and then head down and swim to the finish. Looking for the exit point now, a narrow boat channel beside the rocks. If I find this, I will be able to swim most of the way in and not have to walk on the stones. Make a mental note to stand up before it gets too shallow.
  • Job done. Stand up. Catch Toms hand and he guides me out. He wraps me in my towel, feels nice and warm. My fingers definitely almost useless now. As agreed with Warren and Seán beforehand, a quick dry off at the waters edge, coat and boots on and then walk up to the car, which has had the engine running with the heater and heated front seats on full blast. Nice and toasty.
  • I go to the boot and sit down. No way the togs is coming off standing on one leg. Another quick dry off, a double layer of clothes on, hat and coat and boots. Having a dresser is a luxury. Then into the front seat to start the shivering and process of warming up my core. Refuse a cup of sugary tea for now. No way I would hold it steady enough to drink it.
  • After about 30 mins of top quality shivering, it starts to ease off and by 45 mins the shivering stops completely and I’ve had at least one cup of tea. Grand.

So final thoughts. Bitterly cold, but not as cold as I was expecting. Would I do it again? Definitely. Would I do more than 1 mile? Most likely. I would have definitely managed another 400m at least. How much further? Who knows.

Some things will just have to wait…..

ps. I’ve felt increasing muscular pains, yesterday and today, down both sides / ribs and stomach. Maybe due to the longer bout of shivering?

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Swim is on !

We’re to meet the pilot at 2:30. Looks like we’re off this time !

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Thunderbirds have been stood down

Got a call from the pilot to say the swim has been postponed temporarily. The wind has not died down as expected, so the sea conditions are still far from ideal.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

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Thunderbirds are go !

I got the call from the pilot this morning to meet @ 2 am tomorrow. Probably in the water by 2:30. So finally, this is it. A big thank you to everyone who helped get me this far. Too many people to mention, but to everyone who swam with me, kayaked, crewed, supported, organized swims, made tea, brought cake and biscuits, gave lifts etc thank you for the support, I owe you all a debt I am more than willing, but unlikely to be able, to repay. It’s now up to me to finish the job.

If we can sort out the onboard IT, updates should be on twitter @soloswimmer, which should be echoed on Facebook.

Here is a link to the boat tracker, hopefully it’ll be on and working.

http://www.shipais.com/shiptrail.php?mmsi=235018589

Here’s a pic taken this morning from the top of the white cliffs of Dover. France visible if you squint hard 🙂

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Codladh sámh, a chara.

Here is a tribute to Páraic, written by fellow open water swimmer John Tierney, in words much more eloquent than I could ever hope to put together. It is taken from the CSPF website, link below

http://cspf.co.uk/article/a-tribute-to-paraic-casey

Dear Paraic,

It was early Sunday morning when I knew that something tragic had happened during someones English Channel swim. I didnt know it was you. Truth be told, I never met you but we were friends in common. If you are an open water swimmer no introduction is necessary, friendship is a given.

Once home after my swim training in my local lake in preparation for my English Channel relay swim, I trawled for news on the internet. In disbelief, I web-searched your name in the hope that it was all a terrible mistake. But sadly, the different spelling of Paraic, the Irish for Patrick, confirmed that a tragedy had occurred with your passing just one kilometre from French soil.

Paraic, you could have been one of any of us swimmers and this is why we know you. We shared your dreams and aspirations. We experienced similar training efforts over the years, pain, illness, fatigue on the negative side. And the many many positives including the pleasant feelings of being in swimming pools or open water, meeting challenges, cutting through waters so cold, and waters quite balmy. And the friendships forged. The warm camaraderie of swimmers based on as little as a two minute chat or reading about Sandycove swimming club or any other swimming location. And now we mourn your sudden loss.

Peering at your winning photo with the floral garlands awarded following a successful Lake Zurich swim, nothing is hinted as to why you passed. Yours was a happy face, a kind visage and clearly displaying the healthy glow of a swimmer. Even at the crest of the heartbreak, your wife Riana had grace in her grief describing you as an amazing, healthy, tough, loving husband, friend, brother, uncle, son, nephew and cousin whose recent passion for swimming brought you to great places.

But dear Paraic, it is a seismic loss to have lost you to the sea. You set off at 09:13 on Saturday 21 July and were taken into the boat around 01:30 on the Sunday morning. Not in vain hope had you trained properly. You had done the miles, in fact over two million metres of swimming in one year under the eyes of many experienced open water swimmers. Six people have previously perished attempting a crossing of the English Channel but theirs had elements of desperation and naivety about them. You had ticked all the boxes with smaller preparatory swims being done in anticipation of meeting the big one- the English Channel.

Your hobbies were not just swimming, for you were also a talented viola player with the Cork Symphony orchestra. You also had a kind eye and were raising funds for St Vincent de Paul and Marymount Hospice. Your nature work educating visitors to Fota island was also part of your warm character. Indeed, lucky are the people who knew you. We may never have met but we are kindred spirits. We miss you, we love you. Rest in Peace Paraic Casey.

Our thoughts are now with your family and friends.

From all the marathon swimmers who feel we knew you but never had the pleasure of meeting you and also those who had the fortune of your company.

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Here be dragons

Here be dragons” is a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps.

I have often considered it apt in describing the mental side of marathon swimming. Many people have described a split between the physical and mental side of the sport, with such a percentage mental / physical. Whatever the actual ratio of mental to physical actually is, and it probably varies from person to person, the mental side is definitely a major component and needs to be given the same, if not more care and consideration as the physical.

Given I am now in the last stages of heavy training and doing longer and longer swims, I’m now encountering dragons. Quite often really. These take many forms. Cold, injury, pain and dare I say it: boredom.

The water is still quite cold, especially when the sun is a stranger to these parts. At least in sunshine, there is some degree of heat available, but swimming in sea fog and rain and single digit air temps? That does nothing to raise the water temp. It’s still regularly at 12 deg, occasionally rising to 13. Sometimes you just get tired of finishing every session in a state of mild hypothermia. It hurts, makes sessions much harder and generally just wears you down. Although a recent swim at High Rock in Portmarnock was a welcome break, it was a tropical 14 deg there. Unusual, as up the east coast is typically colder than here. Every little bit helps.

I’ve been largely injury free for most of the winter, the usual shoulder niggles but nothing sinister. This is good. However I’ve noticed a growing pain in my left hip. Most likely a slight imbalance has crept into my stroke, not unusual given the quantity of cold water swimming where muscles don’t exactly do what you tell them to do. Again nothing major, and only really apparant on the longer swims, but at his stage with only 3 weeks to go, it’s probably better not to do anything stupid to make it worse. Tapering begins next week anyway with a switch to some speed work before the ease down. A few pool swims will probably allow me to analyse my stroke and make the necessary corrections.

I came across this quote recently and found it very apt:

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea. -e.e. cummings

True.

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Summer Solstice

Seeing as this is as good as it gets, for daylight hours at least, it was worth getting in an early morning swim in Dunmore East. However any thoughts of a crisp clear morning were soon dashed. Driving out to the sea the rain started. Great…..

So, arrived and smelled the seaweed, not good. Must be a lot washed up, ergo rough. Yep, a nice maelstrom of waves, weed, sticks, grass, flotsam etc greeted us, Trevor and I. Lovely brown water too which means zero visibility.

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So a quick decision, in or not? We decided to go for it, a bit tricky getting in without being swept off the slip, water temp ok (13) and off we went , climbing and falling over the waves, chop and backwash.

We did a few laps over to the slip, listening to the mooring chains clinking underwater as we went.

We had to time the exit carefully, as the waves were still washing over the slip, but got out with no cuts or scrapes.

Job done.

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Cork Distance Camp – Epilogue

Well, I got through the week and managed to cram in 115K in total. Tough going, but got there in the end. It’s designed to wear you down and then hit you with two big swims at the end, just when you’re at your weakest. However, it’s probably the most fun I had swimming in a long time.

Highlights include:

  • Swimming through thousands of jellyfish, mostly non stingers, between Tragumna and Lough Hyne. I did get a few stings, but nothing of any consequence. I described it at the time as like swimming in a nature documentary, great visibility, fantastic array of jellies, wonderful.
  • The River Lee descent from the Inniscarra dam. Swimming with the flow of the river and whizzing along.
  • And given my origins as a competitive pool swimmer, completing a 5.1K sea swim in 1:08.33. In open water I would have anticipated about 1:14 – 1:15, so coming in about 7 minutes ahead of schedule was a great feeling. I must have done something right over winter training.

However it wasn’t all roses, there were low points too. Our last swim was a 6 hour English Channel qualifier swim. I had done an 8 hour swim in Inniscarra (freshwater) at the start of the month, so was hoping to extend this to either an 8 hour or even 10 hour sea swim. As it turned out, I “only” made it as far as 6 hours. Once we started the swim, I knew after a few minutes that I would have difficulty making it. I was cold and tired, after the full week I had just put in, arms were heavy and no real strength in my pull. The arms were going round, but there was no one at home.

After an hour, I wanted out. I can’t recall how many were doing the swim, maybe 20, but I was damned if I was going to be the first out of the water. So I stuck it out for another hour, still tired, colder, shivering, heavy arms, not in a happy place. So, two hours done. Will I, won’t I stop? Too tired to go fast to warm up, but not so tired as to be unable to continue. Teetering…. I decided to do another bit thinking maybe I’ll feel a bit better in a while (but knowing I was kidding myself). Two hours then became three and I started thinking of all the other swimmers who had suffered long cold swims, swimming at the Farallon Islands, North Channel etc, how they must have felt in significantly more difficult conditions than I was in, how much of a wuss I had become, and eventually decided (nothing really happens quickly in marathon swimming) “too much thinking, not enough swimming”.

So three hours done, thinking, if I’m doing six, I’m half way there. Can’t stop now. So then I set the definite target at 6 hours. Started the countdown to reaching the magic number, and swam in 30 min slots, taking the feeds and ticking off the time until I got to 6. I never did “feel better in a while”, got increasingly colder, numb feet, claw hands. The sun came out and gave a slight boost, but nothing significant. Finally the magic moment arrived. 6 hours done. I always feel that when doing a long swim, it’s a terrible pity to stop when you’re at the end, having come so far. Think of how long it took you to get there and if you’re doing it again next week, you’ll have to start from zero again, but I had decided 6 was it. Job done. Get out and get warm. 8 hours will have to wait for another day.

Above is one of the swimmers, Charlotte Brynn, legendary swimmer of the 26 mile Lake Memphremagog, taken after the 6 hour swim. She and I swam together frequently during the camp and as pure luck would have it, we’re both swimming the English Channel on the same tide with the same pilot. So looking forward to meeting up again in Dover in August.

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Cork Distance Camp

Once a year, about June / July, the legend that is Ned Denison holds the Cork Distance Week. This is 9 days ( yes a week is 9 days here) of two swims per day, averaging about 2 hours per swim. Some are in the sea, some are in lakes some are in rivers, some are with the flow, some are against the flow.
It is generally regarded as one of the toughest swim camps going, with cold water temps and long hard swims. I signed up for the full camp this year, having done both weekends last year, and we are currently on day 6 of 9. The format for the day is a swim at 6 AM for two hours and a swim at 6 PM for another two hours. We can travel up to 2 hours to swim in some particularly stunning locations, Lough Hyne being one such fantastic swim spot. This makes for part of the challenge as you don’t get home til after 11 and then you’re up at 4 am to travel to the next swim. This is part of the plan to wear you down both physically and mentally and it works ! We are on day 6 now and I’m pretty exhausted.
However the hardest bit still looms over us all. The final weekend. The Saturday swim is a Total Body and Brain Confusion Swim (TBBC). This is done to bring you out of your comfort zone while swimming. You will probably spend most of it swimming alone ( as far as you can see) you might be told to tread water for 20 mins ( while a rope is untangled from the pilot boats propellor) you may or may not be given a feed at the appointed time, you don’t know how long the swim will be. 2,3,4 8 hours? All things that can wreck your head. It’s up to you to see how you can handle it.

Then on Sunday it’s a straight 6 hour English Channel qualifying swim. This is a mandatory safety requirement to ensure that those attempting the English Channel have at least some experience in swimming long distances in water colder than 16 degrees ( the water temp this morning was 12). The average swim time for the English Channel is about 13 hours, so 6 hours, while tough, is not even half way. The really hard bit is to have to do it after a tough week of swimming. We’ll probably have swum about 100K, then have to do the 6hr qualifier.

Nothing great is easy

However, for me, one of the great advantages of the week is that you get to meet and swim with lots of other like minded people, all who have dreams of marathon swims, not just the English Channel. For this week, people have traveled from as far away as the US West and East coasts and also the UK to participate and while many of these were just names on email or Facebook, now they are actually real people.

I’m not the only looney is the asylum 🙂

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