I’ve just had my 4th swimming lesson with Karl McEntegart at DCU and I really feel I’m making progress. In fact it’s not just a feeling – I can clearly see the difference – from 63 mins in the water for my 1st sea race in July, to 36 mins for my 4th race a month later!
I don’t remember not being able to swim. Like walking, it’s just something I always remember doing. My mum used to tell me that my dad left me sitting on a rock at the beach in Tramore and the tide came in and knocked me off. I don’t know if that’s true, but she claimed I was a toddler at the time, and I doggy paddled back to the shore before anyone could reach me. I love the mermaid feel to the story, so I’m going to claim it and refuse to forensically examine it too closely!
You’d imagine with my ‘mermaid-style’ start to life, that I’d be a strong swimmer. Well I’m not. I’m a comfortable swimmer. I have never struggled in water, never felt tired or sore while swimming, never felt afraid. In fact, when I was 23 stone, being in the water was a very happy place for me. I could hide my body under the surface of the waves and imagine I was beautiful. That mermaid thing again…
Have I Made A Huge Mistake?
It wasn’t until I tried my 1st sea-race this July that I realised how far out of my depth I really was. Struggling to breathe as the waves slapped me in the face, I really began to think I’d made a huge mistake. Everyone else was out of the water and gone home, all but the last of the big orange marker buoys had been taken out of the water, and to my embarrassment I was now on 1st name terms with the rescue boat, who kept asking if I needed a lift! They were probably hoping I’d give up, call it a day, and let everyone go home to their tea… I realised afterwards that race means, well, race! I had never swam against a clock before, never attempted to be fast before. I would happily swim all day, but I wasn’t actually going anywhere. Throw a choppy sea and a turning tide into the mix and you begin to see why I was twice the length of time in the water than the svelte creatures who had flown past me at the first marker.
I realised I had work to do and that was when I started my pool lessons with Karl. He is brilliant at correcting my technique without overwhelming me, and I go away enthusiastically anxious to try out each new trick. Joining the Eastern Bay Swimming Club pool nights has also been a revelation. An hour of swimming lengths against the clock. It’s tough and it’s slightly soul destroying because I’m at least a length behind everyone else in my lane. But I know the only way I can shorten that distance is to keep going.
Each of my 4 sea races have been an education too. Dealing with tides and currents, wind, cold and the dreaded jellyfish. It’s been a tough year to get involved with sea racing. It’s been really stormy, there have been water quality issues, and there have been a staggering amount of jellyfish, including the big bad boy sort, that you hear warnings about on the radio.
Will Curiosity Kill The Cat?
So why this year? Why keep pushing so hard? If I’m honest, it’s because I had a dream. I’ve always been fascinated with Dublin’s iconic
annual river race – the Liffey Swim. While doing ‘kayak rescue cover’ for the swimmers last year I had a sneaky curiosity about whether I would ever be able to swim it too. I swam in the sea all last winter with Eastern Bay, but I was staying close to shore and not pushing any distance. Then I came back to Dublin in July after climbing Elbrus and the thought of having a go at the Liffey just refused to go away.
Which brings me to today’s lesson. After race one, I didn’t think I’d have a chance. You need to complete 4 open-sea races to even qualify to join the starting line for the Liffey Swim. Well I’ve done that. Somewhat to my own surprise, I have my races in. I could have given up at race one, but I didn’t,
and it’s a lesson on the value of just staying on in there. I’m still slow, but I’m not as slow as I was, and I’m improving all the time.
Today I drove over to Dublin 4 to hand-deliver my entry form for the Liffey Swim. I’ve worked so hard to complete those qualifying races that I was afraid to trust the form to
the post. The funny thing is, I bumped into the postman along the way and he had a bunch of
envelopes that were clearly other forms headed for the same address. We ended up having a fine chat about sea swimming, the Liffey Swim, and me apologising for my unwarranted lack of faith in the postal system. Nice bloke and only in Ireland…
So now the race is on.
I’m not racing against the other swimmers – I’m racing against myself. The Liffey Swim on September 13th is 2,500 metres against the tide. That’s 1,000 metres more than I’ve swum so far, and there’s a one-hour cut off. I have qualified to enter, but I still have a lot of work to do to complete the swim within the given time.
I have two weeks, I have Karl, I have Eastern Bay and I have a stubborn desire to be a mermaid.
Wish me luck…
My old school buddy Fiona Egan from Sasta Fitness brought me back to my roots with a visit to my family’s old pub; The Cosy Inn, in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. That’s Fiona in the brown dress in the picture, and that’s me in the purple balero – we were at my 8th birthday party in the garden at the back of the pub. I had lived in London until shortly before that photo was taken, and I was getting used to a new town, a new country, and a whole new bunch of friends. It was a big adventure and for the most part, a very happy one.
The Cosy Inn is no longer a pub, but thanks to the current owners, and Fiona’s encouragement, I got a chance to revisit the old days. It felt lovely to look around and remember my early childhood. My bedroom with the deep window where I could shout down to my mates, and the gorgeous lake on the edge of the town; where I learned how to ride my bike. We even had a meal in Kilronan Castle, which was a ruin when I ran along the empty broken walls, through cow pats and nettles over 40 years ago!
I remember playing in the river, catching tiny fish with a net made from my mum’s curtains (oops) and keeping them in a jam-jar (sorry fish), my friend’s pony Merrylegs, and lying in the grass and yellow gorse under the Arigna Mountains with a pencil and a copybook; writing poems under blue skies and fluffy clouds. I can hear the insects buzzing in the warm sun and smell the flowers and the dampness in the ground beneath me. No wonder I still love the great outdoors 😀
I’m back down to earth with a bang after the lofty heights of climbing Europe’s highest mountain and it’s a case of back to work and back to losing weight. I always like a challenge though to give weight loss some meaning; and last year I found myself wondering if I’d ever manage to take part in the Liffey Swim, Dublin’s annual and celebrated river race that was first held in 1920. You don’t just trot up and ‘swim the Liffey’ – you need to qualify and swim in 4 open sea races to get even close to the start line, not to mind the finish. So touching down at Dublin Airport, I gave a quick call to super-swimmer and hero of mine, Fergal Somerville, to see what I’d need to do. Two days later I’m taking part in my first ever open sea race, at Low Rock in Malahide. “It’ll be easy” he said, “a nice opener”. An hour later, as I dragged myself ashore I made a mental note to box him the next time I saw him. But I don’t hold a grudge for long, so when I heard about Fergal’s brilliant swim around Inish Meáin, I rang him again, to invite him to join us, as this month’s Guest Blogger. Fergal’s blog is brilliant and it gives a real insight into long-distance swimming and the head games that nature and endurance-sport present to even the most seasoned athlete. Read on…..
Fergal: At 12:45 on Saturday 2nd August we met on the new pier to discuss the plan for the big swim; the first attempt to swim aound Inis Meáin. The crew was made up of pilot Michael Concannon, Martín Duggan, Michil Faherty, Michael Gartland and Conor Somerville. Also along for the duration was cameraman Des Carolan. This swim had been in the back of my mind for a long time; several years, many of the sixteen years I have been visiting beautiful Inis Meáin on the first two weeks of August.
When you don’t know what you’re talking about you should at least know enough to keep your big fool trap shut
the feckers got me on the ears, face, lips and neck so many times