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…