I really love swimming in the Liffey. In particular, I really love being a part of the annual, iconic, Liffey Swim.
When I was a young radio reporter I used to write about Dublin’s Liffey Swim and gaze in awe as men and women slipped into the fast moving water and set off swimming down the quays, beneath the bridges. Then a couple of years ago I had a fitness revolution and suddenly that experience was in my grasp. After a year of swimming and training and taking part in qualifying sea races, I finally got to take part in the Liffey Swim. I was last out of the water, but I made it. Since then I’ve made it every year, and despite putting on a tonne of weight, I really hope to make it again this year.
I also fancied pushing the swimming distance. After swimming in ten triathlons last year, and completing the Escape from Spike Island swim, and they Sandycove Island Swim, as well as the Lee and the Liffey, I felt I wanted to challenge myself some more.
I attempted to get a team together to take part in a 17k relay swim on Lough Erne, but it didn’t quite come together. However when I looked at the entries again, I noticed that they were putting on a shorter 5k solo and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d swam several 2ks and 3ks, and I knew I could always leave the water at any time if I ran into difficulty. I also had a big advantage, in that my mate and kayak buddy Stephen Turner, had been pencilled into my diary for the 17k since last Christmas and he agreed to come with me for support.
So last Saturday found me perched on the side of a jetty in Enniskillen jumping into Lough Erne. My kayak wingman Stephen was already on the water, and my mermaid mate and swim buddy Sinead Merrigan was organising the whole event, so I had good company and was in good hands.
I pushed off into soft, very dark, rather warm, peaty water with zero visibility. I didn’t have a clue how deep it was, and I couldn’t see any further than my hand through the dark water. It felt a bit eerie, but I got used to it quite quickly. My first battle was with the yellow buoy that we had to wear for visibility and safety. I hadn’t strapped it tight enough around my waist and it started slipping off. I grasped it as it sailed past my knees and without stopping hauled it back up and over my boobs, knowing it would have plenty of anchorage there! It did, but it also proceeded to in turn strangle me and wrap itself around my arm every time I took a stroke, so I belted it, and punched it, and snarled at it, for at least 1k – before I finally stopped, began treading water – and finally managed to re-fit it properly around my waist.
After that, the swim was pure bliss. The scenery was gorgeous, with beautiful properties and parkland sweeping down to the waterfront, blue skies, and sun warming the back of my head and shoulders. I was comfortable enough to speak with Stephen as he paddled along beside me. There was plenty of boat traffic out on the lake, but we had a vast amount of our own boat-cover, with paddleboards and kayakers, and small motorcraft. Everyone clearly knew where we were and waved enthusiasm as we swam past. I felt totally confident, but also loved having Stephen there beside me. We have kayaked together many times while providing cover for other swimmers, and this was very special to have Stephen covering for me. We knew each other’s style very well and we both cut a great line down the lake, in fact we actually trimmed it so well that we eventually made it over the course in just under 5k.
At one point I commented to Stephen that I thought we were getting some tide assistance because I felt I was actually swimming better. This was halfway through the swim, and looking at the graphics from my watch afterwards I realised that after about 3k I actually started swimming better and faster. Talking afterwards with other swimmers, they said they thought we had been pushing against a current for the first 2k, so that makes perfect sense.
There were amazing swimmers in the water, some like me were just swimming 5k for the first time, but others were swimming 17k and 25k solos. I was in the company of true athletes and that added to the sense of occasion. I didn’t feel tired at any stage, but I did keep telling myself to be prepared to swim for longer. I never allowed myself to think about finishing, and when one motorboat going past, shouted encouragement and said I only had 1600 metres to go, I laughed and thought they were lying – but they meant it! Some time later, Stephen said, you’ve got about 700 metres to go, and it genuinely came as a surprise.
I could hear the shouting before I could see the finish, at the castellated fort up above us on the river. I concentrated on lifting my arms high and swimming as prettily as I could – as a mark of respect to my swimtutor.ie instructor Karl McEnteggert, who is always so supportive. I’d hate him to see me swimming in with lazy arms!
I finished in bright sunshine, with laughter, loads of friends on the bank, and Stephen my wingman on my shoulder. I grabbed a hold of him to haul him out of his kayak for a giggle, but I just couldn’t do it. He’d been with me all the way and I couldn’t bring myself to be that mean. Instead we had a great big warm, happy hug, and the moment was caught on camera. The nicest photo I’ve seen all year and one that’s definitely going to find it’s way into a frame.
Thanks Stephen, Karl, Fergal, Vanessa, Sabrina, Sinead, all my swimming friends, and thanks to Swim Ireland and Swim Ulster and the wonderful ILDSA who hosted the swim. I even got a medal (we all did) and asked on the spot to say a few words I could only confess that … ‘in the morning I had thought ‘OMG I’ve got to swim 5k, but by the afternoon I found myself saying, ‘well it was only a 5k’…. That’s what challenges do. They boost your confidence and your knowledge, and make you think that even greater things are possible. I wonder what might be next?