I am not climbing Carrauntoohil today. I am in Kerry, I am in Killarney, I am staying at the Mountain Lodge of explorer, adventurer and mountain mentor Pat Falvey; but I am still not climbing Carrauntoohil today.
Pat has a group going up alright; all anxious and excited with crampons and ice-axes, in search of snow and ice in Curved Gulley. I envy them a little, but I am not going with them. I haven’t been on a hill for a couple of months, and halfway through a six hour hike in winter conditions is not the time to discover you’re not hill fit. Especially when you know the answer before you start.
I did get the invitation to join them though, and I couldn’t resist the lure of at least walking in to the foothills.
I had a late and sociable night, finally rolling into my duvet around 2am. When the alarm kicked up a racket at 7am it was still inky dark outside. I shivered, punched my pillow, and considered rolling back into the arms of sleep. A little part of me wondered ‘what was the point of joining the hike if I wasn’t going to climb the mountain’.
The smell of Continue reading
The beautiful mineral blue waters of Lake Cummeenoughter have fascinated me for many years, ever since I spotted the corrie lake on one of my first hikes up Carrauntoohil with mountain ‘mentor’, Irish adventurer Pat Falvey. Depending on light and conditions I have seen the lake sparkling emerald green, deep cobalt blue, and ominously Continue reading
Tonight we’re on TV – our hardy band of six adventurers take to the small screen for the first time after a year where they pushed outside their comfort zone and took on a whole heap of challenges that they never thought possible.
Here’s how the idea began:
Get Off The Couch! follows six people as they seek to change their lives and take on active challenges that they never thought possible. This series captures the triumph of the human spirit through determination and the desire to better oneself by capturing the personal stories, achievements, and courage of these six ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Get Off The Couch – by Athena Media for Setanta Sports is made with the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Sound & Vision scheme. The six part series is free to air on Setanta Ireland from October 24th 2013 at 10:05pm.
For more information on Get Off The Couch! please contact Rob Hope at (01) 4883352 or at email@example.com or visit www.getoffthecouch.ie
Well this evening was lovely. Bracing, but lovely. Very choppy, and the air was cold, but when you were swimming for a while the burning bands of ice around your chest relaxed a little and allowed you to breath… the slap of being dropped from the top of the waves to the sea below as you tried to breath under your armpit kind’ve helped to keep you warm too…. yes. Bracing.
I picked up the text from ‘Get Off The Couch’ swimming mentor and Eastern Bay swimming club Chanimal (for swimming channels) Fergal Somerville, just as I finished a 45 minute sweaty weight-lifting work-out with gym guru David Dunne. Feeling nice and warm, I headed over to Malahide in bright sunshine, and persuaded myself to ‘just get in for a dip’. I wanted to brave the sea without a wet-suit, just for the hell of it. As it turned out, the camaraderie from the other swimmers at High Rock was so encouraging that I ended up swimming for 30 minutes which is a bit of a record for me. I made it from High Rock to ‘The Wall’ (for those in the know).
Climbing up on the rocks afterwards and reaching hungrily for Mag’s famous Eastern Bay energy biscuits, I pondered that leaving the Irish Sea at sunset is getting to be a bit of a habit.
Last week I was getting an introduction to scuba diving at Sandycove with the dream team of Brendan Homan and Martin Durcan – diving instructors to the stars… 😉 I’m winding them up a bit, but if you heard the slagging they gave each other, you’d know I have to! Seriously though, Brendan literally took me by the hand and brought me fin over fin into the depths of Dublin Bay and as experiences go, this was really special.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved it – from bursting into giggles as the lads quite literally bounced me into the very heavy and awkward gear – (and thanks to the girls for the loan) – to the moment of inching into the water, when the clumsiness disappears, the sandy bottom falls away beneath you, and all of sudden you feel you’re flying. Pushing out from the shore, the depth of the water increases sharply and you find you’re floating over craters and rocks, and it looks like you’re sweeping over canyons and cliffs – like a somewhat ungainly heavy, rubber-suited bird. Perhaps a penguin, clumsy and heavy on land, but transformed into a graceful work of art in the right environment.
The sounds hit me first, my heart seemed to beat a noisy audible pulse; merging and moulding with the tide and the current swelling above and below. I could hear my breathing; short and fast at first, then longer, deeper and more regular as I began to relax. The light was muffled, softly dappling the shady sea around me, and piercing fingers through the forest of seaweed, no longer flat and brown, but reaching lazily upward, waving in the ebb and flow, with kaleidoscopic purples and greens, changing hues in the fading light. A moving, liquid, enchanted world where life looks so different and your own transient nature is so clearly felt with each pull on your air.
I’ve had lots of scary experiences in the past 3 years – some quite terrifying – but I’ve got through them, and even got to like some of the things that scared the pants off me at first. But here, 8 metres down, I felt no need for bravery. It might sound strange, but I wasn’t nervous here, I wasn’t scared, it felt calm and wonderful and absolutely natural. I can’t wait to go again. (hint hint).
So it’s September 10th now – and that’s just 18 days away from my big charity challenge for LauraLynn – the Liffey Descent and Cycle Challenge with Kipper Maguire. I’m strong, my kayak skills are improving, and I’ve spent hours in the water padding against the tide in my Sásta Fitness sponsored river boat. It’s looking good. Except I’ve let the running training slip a bit – (a lot actually) – and the realisation has just hit me this evening that I’ve got a forgotten challenge ahead this weekend. I’m signed up for WAR in Powerscourt. The cycle and kayak, I’m confident I can do – but how the heck do I clock a 6k run with the Sugar Loaf in the middle of it? Gulp! I’ll let you know how I get on….
Three years hoofing it around the horse-shoe at Spinc Mountain in Wicklow and looking down with a lump in my throat at the beautiful Upper Lake at Glendalough. My first sight of the lake from the observation point half way up the mountain, marked a turning point for me 3 years ago. I was 19 stone at that point and had already lost 4 stone, which had enabled me to go hiking for the first time. I knew then as I looked down from my mountain perch that I’d be climbing mountains for ever more.
The lake continued to intrigue me each time I’d go hiking to Spinc, but I largely obeyed the ‘no swimming’ signs keeping hot and sweaty hikers at bay. Then a couple of weeks ago, I spotted on the internet that there’s an annual swimming race in the lake. I had just two weeks to train and register, really not enough, but there was a 750m category and I knew I’d swum that distance a couple of years ago in the ‘lake’ stage of a triathlon at Lough Key Forest Park. At the time I had trained with Eastern Bay swimmer & English Channel and North Channel crosser, Fergal Somerville. This time I wouldn’t even have time for a quick swim with the gang at High Rock in Malahide before the lake. I pondered my options. I might be a bit rusty for the job, but I still couldn’t resist the temptation of swimming in that lake. I signed up.
I may have dreamed of cutting through the mirror-like glassy surface of Upper Lake – but those dreams never included rain and a gale blowing through the valley and whipping up choppy waves on the expanse of water that disappeared into the thick mist at the top of the valley. The picture on the website was more like the scenes of my imagination than the reality when Saturday morning broke and I felt like challenging the advert under the trade descriptions act! I could hardly see the road as I drove through the Sallygap on my way to Glendalough. Sheer misery. The organisers had warned that we may be asked to wear wetsuits if the water temperature dipped, and while I was happy to swim in just a suit, I’ve got to admit – when I saw the other swimmers getting wet-suited, it didn’t take me too long to follow their example. Shivering on the beach as the wind blew down the bouncy-castle style ‘starting gate’ – I wondered if anyone would notice if I slipped away. But it was only a passing whinge and shortly I was striding down to the water’s edge, listening to the briefing and hoping secretly that I wouldn’t be the one that single-handedly delayed the start of the second race, by having to be rescued from the middle of the lake. Stepping into the brown, peaty, water I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t feel too cold at all, I’d guess about 15 or 16 degrees. I walked to my waist then pushed off, we all bounced about in the water a bit, getting used to the feel of it, before we got the count and we were off.
I learned a bit since my first outdoor swimming race, and hung to the back and side, letting the sharks fly off ahead. It saved me getting a toe in the face, or getting physically pushed down in the water as the speedy types swam over me. I struck out confidently, happy that I knew the job ahead. We had to swim out past 2 yellow marker buoys, then across the lake to a third and back to the fourth to finish. The lake was choppy and waves broke in my face, forcing me to time my breathing carefully and be ready to adjust my breathing rhythm. I could see a couple of the swimmers were finding it tough going but to be honest, I was in my element. Swimming with the Eastern Bay club off Malahide is perfect training for these rough, choppy conditions, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was never going to be fast, but I felt strong and felt like I was flying as I made my way down the lake, eating up the buoys. I turned to go across to marker 3, prepared to feel a different current with the cross, and it was fine. I turned for home and felt the familiar swell of a current coming behind me, picking me up and throwing me forward. I knew this feeling too, all good. I picked off the last buoy and turned for the finish. Suddenly I had a moment. Mentally something changed. In hindsight I think I had told myself the last buoy was the end of the race, and I suddenly got a bit of a shock when I sighted the finish and saw I still had a bit of work to do. My breathing got ragged and for the first time I lost my confidence. I swung over onto my back and took a couple of deep breaths. I rolled back over and had another look, just as one of the safety kayakers edged over to check if I was ok. I heard myself shouting back that I was fine, it was ‘my head, not my body’ that had the problem. I realised that was true and to my shame I started to doggy paddle, while I gave myself a swift, mental, kick in the ass. Then I had head down and was pushing forward again – all the way to the finish. Despite my little crisis, I made it back in less than half an hour, which was my target. So job done, and lessons learned. Next time I’ll train!
After Glendalough, it was on to Bray – to Brennanstown Riding Stables to go trekking with friends. It certainly was a great way to warm up after the lake swim. Brendan the instructor had me in stitches laughing as we rode out for a couple of hours through more of my gorgeous Wicklow. He has good taste, he listens to Dublin’s best radio station, my own 98FM! There was great irony going downhill on horseback. For the past year, Dave, my kayak instructor at Wild Water Kayak Club has been yelling at me to ‘lean forward’ in my kayak, as we fly down the weirs on the River Liffey. The opposite is true on horseback, and it amused me greatly to hear Brendan shouting at me to ‘lean back’ in my saddle, as we wound down the hills.
Saturday finished with a hog roast at the Garda Boat Club in Chapelizod to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wild Water Kayak Club. A brilliant night arranged by a great bunch of people, and really interesting to see the old film footage of Dalkey where the club was originally founded. The things they put to sea in! The film gave me extra confidence for the following day when I was taking my river kayak out into Dunlaoghaire Harbour to help with boat-cover for the Dunlaoghaire Harbour Swim. It was a long day but it was a great experience and it all goes towards my training for the LauraLynn Liffey Descent. The water was quite choppy out near the lighthouse, but Sásta Sage, my Sasta sponsored training kayak didn’t let me down and we cut through it really well. I was glad to be in a kayak and ON the water rather than IN it this time. That really is quite a swim and it was inspiring to be involved with these amazing people. My Eastern Bay swimming pals were strongly represented in the Harbour Swim, as well as some of my work colleagues. GOTC Swimming mentor and buddy, Fergal Somerville was back in action – coming 12th in the overall mens’ race, as well as 1st Vet and winner of the Kevin Darby Trophy.
Oh my gosh – what have I done?
In 12 hours’ time I jump off O’Connell Bridge and into the Liffey! I’ve taken the leap from higher heights from that, but usually I’m attached to a rope. My poor head for heights is kicking my butt already over this one, and I haven’t even reached the bridge. For some reason the idea of stepping off into emptiness is freaking me out. Aggghhhhh….. it’s for Cystic Fibrosis though – so at least the fact that it’s such a good cause, should help stop me from running away.
It’s been such an intense couple of weeks, very busy at work and very busy with the camera crew for ‘Get Off The Couch’ the TV show that will broadcast on Setanta later this year. My gang of hardy participants have completely transformed themselves into athletes, and we all took part in their first Sprint Relay Triathlon last weekend in my hometown, Blanchardstown. They had a 750-metre pool to contend with, in our magnificent Olympic Distance pool at the National Aquatic Centre. I personally got a PB cycling the 15k – but pushed myself so hard, I could hardly walk afterwards, not to mind run the 250 metres in the transition back to rack my bike. We’re all competing in a Sprint Triathlon on June 1st, and I’ve learned my lesson – I’ll have to pace myself when I’m doing all three disciplines, so my time won’t be as good for each section, but my motivation will be to complete all three parts. So complete rather than compete will be in my mind – we’ll see how the times work out afterwards!
We’re coming to the end of filming for GOTC, but as usual, I’ve found this latest adventure is really only the beginning for something totally new. Joe, Maryanne, Cathy, Karen, Eamonn and Damien are the participants. When you watch the programme, you won’t believe how far they’ve come; not just in changing their physical fitness, but their entire lifestyles. It’s been a roller-coaster ride full of hard work, injuries, recoveries, bravery, camaraderie and craic. If these last 6 months had never made it to the screen at all, it would still have been a magnificent project to be part of, simply to see where we’ve all come from and gone to. Most important of all, I’ve made 6 new friends, which is such a heavenly gift from the world. Will everyone continue on their athletic journey? Well we’ve all discovered some sports that we liked more than others, and we’ve already made plans for getting together for sporty adventures in the future – without the cameras.
The best memories? Carrauntoohil is high up there (excuse the pun) I was hoping that people would like it, but was quite prepared for the likelihood that they wouldn’t. I’m not going to tell you who did and who didn’t – have to leave you SOMETHING to watch the programme for… lol. The Galtymores and the Mournes were both very special, running with Catherina McKiernan was extraordinary and probably life-changing for me. Running the Ballintotis 4-mile in Maryanne’s home town was incredibly memorable, including the fun and laughter before and after. Joe coming back to run alongside me on the track, training with Eamon Tilley in Greystones was pretty special, and Olympic Champion Katy Taylor coming over to help us train was extraordinary.
I’ve a feeling that Sunday’s gig will be another special moment – when Channel Swimmer Fergal Somerville takes the gang out to swim in the sea at Malahide. I’ll be doing boat-cover for that, paddling alongside in my kayak (Saffron). That brings my mind back around to tomorrow and O’Connell Bridge. It’s Fergal that’s talked me into making the ‘leap of faith’ off the bridge and into the Liffey. I walk the plank at 12-noon – but someone may need to give me a sharp push. No doubt Fergal will gladly oblige! OMG. :/
It was a grey, misty start to my first trip to Greystones – but I didn’t mind, I was buzzing with excitement. I was joining the six participants of Setanta TV and Athena Media’s new programme ‘Get Off The Couch’ for a Triathlon Training session with fitness guru Eamon Tilley, followed by swim-coaching with Channel Swimmer and ‘ICEMAN’, Fergal Somerville. This was the first day of a two-day ‘festival of fitness’ for us, with our first GOTC hill-walk together planned for the Wicklow mountains on Sunday with John and Frank at Wilderness Tours.
We’ve only been filming for a few weeks, but already there’s a huge bond forming among the six participants of the show which follows their journey from Couch to 5k – and perhaps a lot further. If you don’t believe in magic, watch ‘Get Off The Couch’ this Autumn and I’ll guarantee you’ll change your mind. The growing confidence, the physical achievements, the dedication and discipline, the healthy bodies and healthy minds, growing stronger every day before my eyes. I’m already stunned by the power of the great outdoors as a life-changer and worker of miracles.
On a cold, wet and misty Greystones morning, the group’s enthusiasm was warming my heart… and if any of us held any doubts about what we were doing, a true sparkle of gold lit up the morning when our stunning Olympic champion Katie Taylor put her own training session on hold to come over to us on the track and wish us well. That young woman inspires in so many ways and every one of us visibly glowed after meeting her, the rain disappeared and the sun shone in our hearts as our souls soared with a growing belief in ourselves and our team. As Katie says, to achieve your goal you’ve got to “plan for success and then do the work to get the job done”. Easy isn’t it. 😉
Day two at Malahide. A solo swim with ‘Chanimal’ Fergal Somerville, my long-distance swimmer angel who’s taken me under his considerable wing, to give me tips on how to make a 750m open water swim in Roscommon this Sunday – in 30 minutes.
You’ll know from yesterday’s training blog that the pressure is on with a vengeance. I agreed to do the ‘swim’ section of a relay triathlon in Lough Key Forest Park, but didn’t realise until last week that there was a disqualification time; which means I’m now at risk of getting my whole team chucked out, if I don’t get my speed up! *gulp*
Tonight we arrived at Middle Rock beach in Malahide as the tide was ‘filling’ or ‘coming in’. There were no other swimmers and despite the sunny evening, I shivered at the thought of getting into the cold water. I’ve dipped into the sea a couple of times now, but that first couple of minutes when I’m getting used to the cold, still doesn’t seem to be getting any easier!
As soon as I stopped gasping for breath, I reached out and pulled off in the direction of High Rock, the plan being to swim for 30 minutes again tonight, but try and cover a bit more ground. I was anxious to try out some tips that my friends on FB had been suggesting over the past 24 hours. I shortened my breathing periods, breathing on every fourth stroke instead of every 6th. I pushed my legs deeper into the water and tried to avoid losing energy by letting them splash, and I continued with Fergal’s advice and made long, steady strokes, concentrating on making my arms enter and leave the water cleanly.
I got into a really fast rhythm and swam and swam, until Fergal swam up for a check and chat again and told me I’d been swimming 10 minutes. I felt amazing, I felt I was flying tonight. I looked up and looked around in anticipation. I reckoned I had gone way past High Rock and was on my way to the next point, the Tower. I looked hard, searching out recognisable landmarks, trying to make my eyes cut through the setting sun to make sense of the dark silhouette of the shore. I pulled my goggles off in amazement. I was nowhere close! I had got twice this distance in the same time last night. I wasn’t gutted, but I was a bit browned off. Was I tired, were the different strokes slowing me down? How could I have felt so fast and swam so short a distance. After a quick chat with Fergal I decided I wanted to keep going – so we ended up swimming out for 20 minutes. I actually made it past High Rock and halfway to the tower before deciding to turn back – prepared for another 20 minute swim back. That would give me a swim of 40 mins instead of 30, so even if I’d missed out on speed, it would help my fitness and endurance, and that can’t hurt on Sunday.
We turned, and the sun sparkled on the drops running down my arm as I stretched out and swam back into the dying gold of the day. I kept my head out of the water for a couple of minutes as I swam. I didn’t feel tired. I wasn’t scared about the 20 minute return trip, and I took a few moments to simply enjoy the swim and the sea and the low flying birds that seemed to skate along the surface of the surrounding sea. Head down I pushed on again and 10 minutes later, I got a tap on the shoulder from a laughing Fergal. We were back at Middle Rock. 20-minutes to swim out and just 10 to get back. He explained we’d had a tougher current than we thought running against us on the trip out, and it helped us on the return. I ended up doing a slightly longer swim than last night, in about the same time. And that folks, means I probably did the 750m in 30 mins!!! Okay, difficult to judge what role the tides played, and I’ll have to wear a wetsuit under the rules on Sunday, which might either help or hinder me…but mentally – I feel more confident. I think I can do it. I’m not convinced I will – but I’m confident that I can.
Now all I can do is continue to train gently up to about Friday and have a rest day on Saturday and then give it sox on Sunday. Fingers and fins crossed! lol… and if you have any more tips for me, feel free to add a comment down below.