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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Too hot, too cold !

What a difference a change in wind direction makes. For the last few weeks we’ve had mainly northerly-ish winds resulting in below average air temps and general coolness. Today we have southerly winds and general warmness.
I’ve had some swims this month where the sum of the air and water temp has only been 12 degC, but today that was blown completely out of the water, excuse the pun. Today the combined air / water temp was 30 deg C ! But let me explain.

The good weather was flagged on the forecast, so I availed of the opportunity and got in at Dunmore East early this afternoon (thank you flexitime). The pic below is old, but it looked exactly like this anyway

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So you know when you first walk into the water and it’s really cold, ankle cracking cold? Well today was nothing like that. It actually felt warm. Time to measure it and confirm. Setting up my feed station, affectionately known as “The Gulp and Go”(more on this in another update), in a depth of about 3 ft, gave my watch sufficient time to register the temp, an unbelievable 15 deg! Ok so this was in the shallows and only in the top few inches of the water, but hey 15 degrees is 15 degrees.

However this euphoria was short lived. I was swimming laps across the cove, for those who know the area, from Counsellors strand to Peigs rock, a distance of about 200m. I equate this to pool swimming except the lengths are longer. This meant I was crossing the same stretch of water continuously. Once I was out of the shallows though, the temperature plummeted back down to 10 deg, so back to normal water temps. So at the beach, 15deg for about 20m, then 10 deg for about 200m, then a slight rise to 11 at Peigs rock. This made for quite a training session, to go through a 5 deg temperature gradient every 3 minutes or so was quite challenging. Swimming slowly in the warm water to make it last as long as possible, then sprinting like a mad thing to keep warm in the cold water, all the while concentrating on maintaining a good stroke and consistent rhythm. 4 hours later I was pooped and also cold, but the warm air helped keep the after drop away.

I got out just as the Monday evening triathlon group were arriving for their weekly session. All in all a good session made more difficult by the constantly changing temperature.

Back again early in the morning for a quick 1 hour sprint session before work and another long set on Wednesday.

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Feeling blue?

Today’s swim was brought to you by the colour blue and the number “lots”. Blue, as in blue jellyfish, one of the nastier jellies we have around here. And lots as in about 20 or 30 in my 1200m lap.
Here is an excerpt from the rather excellent website detailing the bugger.

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There was one up to 6 inches across, the rest were only a few inches, but thankfully they were all a good way down so posed no threat of stinging. Although I had to to do a hard right to avoid one, just spotted it in time.

So thankfully, I didn’t feel any blue at all today 😉

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As good as it gets

In complete contrast to last Thursday, here is a shot from this mornings swim in Tramore. Sunshine, remember that?

The only thing in common was the water temp, up a smidge on last week and now officially up to 9 deg.

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The sun always shines on TV.

But not always in the real world. Here is a picture from this mornings swim, cold, rain, fog. Very enticing…..

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