“Ninja Midges” – that’s what we dubbed them, as the dying throes of the soon-to-be infamous ‘Summer of 2013 Heatwave’ burned deep into the reddening Roscommon skyline. As we gathered around the citronella flares that marked the heart of our Wild Water Kayak Club tent village, dodging dive-bombing beasties with fangs – I scratched lazily at the rising bumps on my legs and arms – and pondered that my weekend in Cootehall would be memorable to me for a host of reasons.
I’ve had two days of open canoe fun with old and new friends which has come as a timely kick-start to training for my next adventure – a Liffey Descent and Cycle challenge for LauraLynn Hospice (which you can read about by clicking HERE). I’ve also randomly found myself back near Ballyfarnon, where my dad owned a pub when I was 8. We moved around a lot when I was a kid and I’d nearly forgotten about living here – so a weekend of driving and paddling through this old familiar territory has stirred up a whole bunch of memories. The surprises continued when I met with one of my LauraLynn challenge SASTA sponsors who lives down here – only to find she was also an old school-mate back in the day!
The club’s canoe weekend saw us out on the Shannon and paddling from Cootehall to Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday, which was around 12k of water covered – more if you include the messin! Sunday saw us move the boats to Lough Key Forest Park where we paddled the whole way out to the island with the castle on it, that I used to stare out at as a kid. Then we paddled further again, to picnic on yet another island even further out in the lake. I just love the way canoes open up the waterways to allow for a whole new range of adventures. Someone had camped on the island, or had at least lit a massive bonfire and I stared in envy – wishing dad had brought me here when I was 8. But maybe I’ll bring him, now he’s 88.
I tore myself away from Roscommon with a heavy heart and a whole heap of new questions about how life could have turned out if we’d stayed in the pub. It was known as the Cosy Inn – in case you’ve ever raised a glass there. It’s closed now I’m told. All those laughing voices and clinking glasses faded into memory.
Back in Dublin, Monday brought no muscle soreness, which is a good sign that I’m off to a flying start for my Liffey Descent training. I need to get my cycling legs back now, build on my current fitness, and lose a stone in the next two months. Then I’ll be ready. No problem – Gulp!
These fun-filled, action-packed weekends can only help. Exercising is so much better when you’re having fun with friends. It’s my secret weapon for getting fit and keeping fit. Last weekend I climbed Carrauntoohil for Concern to support climbing buddy Vera Baker who’s heading to Kenya with the charity this year. We followed the hike on Saturday with an adventure on Sunday which saw us in Tomies Wood in the Gap of Dunloe – with legendary Irish adventurer Pat Falvey and Eamon Waldron from ‘Get Off The Couch’, the adventure programme that I’m presenting on Setanta TV this September.
We spent about an hour hiking through some of the country’s oldest oak woodland, breathing in the earthy tones and feasting our eyes on the 40-shades of green mosses, herbs and ferns of this magical ‘Alice in Wonderland’ trek. Thank’s to Pat’s excellent stage-management, we suddenly stumbled with gasps of delight into a shady glade that thundered with the sound of O’Sullivan’s Cascade – 1.5kilometres of waterfall tumbling through the woodland and down to the lakes of Killarney National Park. We girls couldn’t resist taking a dip in one of the ice-cold plunge pools; feeling like wood-nymphs in a fairytale, or maybe the girls in a Tomotei advert. It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you in a magical place like this…
Folklore tells us that O’Sullivan’s Cascade is where the chief of the Fianna, Fionn MacCumhal stashed his personal whiskey store, before a row with invaders saw the precious drop turn back to water. Later, we turned the water back into wine, over a bowl of chowder at Kate Kearney’s Cottage.. 😉
Can’t wait for next week’s adventure.
My ‘Happy Feet’ relay team for the Lough Key triathlon was waiting for me at registration when I turned up, shoulders shrugged high, to stop the torrential rain running down my neck, realising the futility of keeping dry – when I was just about to jump in a lake!
As I walked up to the girls, I couldn’t help gawping at the big yellow markers on the water, that were clearly marking the swim. To my eye, the markers seemed far too distant from the shore; surely they’d made a mistake? It looked so much further than I thought 740metres would look like. There were shrieks and hugs as we met up and shared training disaster stories from the past week; but all the time I felt butterflies the size of bats in my gut. I shouldn’t have eaten breakfast, I knew I shouldn’t. The egg and ham and goats’ cheese and spinach soufle that my host had made me, was now hanging heavily on my mind.
I was doing the swim, Teresa the cycle and Anna had been roped in at the last minute with a dodgy knee and very little notice, to cover the final 5k run. It had all seemed so simple to offer to swim the 750m for team Happy Feet, until I read the briefing notes with just a week and a half to go, and realised there was a 30 min elimination time on the swim! Pressure, and not enough time to train. If you followed my training blog here, you’ll know I tried to short-cut my lack of speed-work by swimming without a wet-suit, against the tide at Malahide Beach in North Dublin. I suppose I thought that if I made myself suffer as much hardship and discomfort as possible, I might feel more comfortable, and swim faster, when I had to get in the lake. Well it was a theory at the time, and the only one I had! My big problem was that although I was comfortable doing the distance, I had no speed and was planning to complete the distance in 40mins. The briefing notes blew that out of the water – if you’ll excuse the pun.
Well I put my shoulder to the wheel – or tide – and soaked up all the tips I could drag from my Hi-Rock swimming friends in Malahide, and in particular ‘Chanimal’ – Channel Swimmer, Fergal Somerville. Deep, even breaths – long, measured strokes, no panic. Now today was the day.
As the other athletes gathered in the holding pen, adjusting swim caps and goggles, stretching to warm up arms and legs and shoulders; they looked sleek and professional, I sneakily looked around comparing the size of my belly with everyone elses. I thought mine looked much bigger, and I grimaced. A throwback to my days of being 23stone. These days I’m just under 12 stone and still a bit on the curvy size, but despite no longer being morbidly obese, I still have body-image flashbacks, especially when I’m standing on the shore in a screamingly tight wet suit along with 300 taller, slimmer, fitter looking people. I just had to remind myself that I was strong and healthy and capable of taking them all on. (I just didn’t really believe it).
The Public Address speakers crackled into life and there were speeches and applause as the rain continued to fall and we stood, shuffling our bare feet in the wet grass, wishing for the start. Eventually we got the nod and as one, we swimmers moved towards the water. It was all new to me, we were to get into the lake and swim to warm up, before the start was called. I followed the leaders and reached the water’s edge, noting the lack of reaction from the other swimmers and imitating their composure as I stepped calmly into the lake, biting down a gasp at the cold. Up to my ankles, my knees, my chest and finally I’m swimming, then finding some space to keep treading until the race ‘got the off’. This part was unexpected, and I felt a tremor of adrenalin or something close to fear. I was out of my depth, I couldn’t swim out with a proper stroke or I’d crash into the swimmers ahead. I was just bobbing about getting cold, and I didn’t like it. I determinedly removed my mind from the lake and imagined I was going through my yoga routines in the sun, and felt the warmth and the calm flood through my legs and up through my body to my arms. I relaxed. We’d go when we’d go – and finally the human wave washed back towards me, as the race began.
I reached out into the dark waters of the lake, pushing my head under water and noticing the pink hue of the feet in front, dyed red by the peaty flood waters. I had taken the other swimmers’ advice and kept out of the crush at the start, for fear of being dragged or accidentally thumped in the fury of the moment. I took my line against the yellow marker out near an island in the lake and just swam. I didn’t try to go fast, hearing Fergal’s comments a week before, telling me that trying to go fast was the fastest way to slow down. I wasn’t sure if he was right, but I was taking his comments on board. After about 250 metres, the 1st marker was drawing close and I realised there was a crush emerging as the swimmers tried to get a tight line around it. I didn’t. I pulled left and gave it – and them – a wide berth. I think I actually gained time instead of losing time, as I swung wide arount the buoy and the human soup, and took my line to the next marker.
I had told myself that if I was comfortable after the first 250, I would step up the speed on the 2nd leg. It worked fine, I stretched out and increased my speed, breathing deeper into my lungs and concentrating on rolling smoothly to catch my breath, keeping my face down between strokes and pulling my arms smoothly through the water. Quicker than I expected, I reached the second marker, and swept around to face back into the shore. I looked up, and saw swimmers far ahead and far behind. At my right was an orange kayak, on hand to help if I needed it. I didn’t need it. I saw the last marker, saw the shore, put my head down – and bombed it. I gave the last 250 every last bit of energy and strength and felt excitement well up inside me. I’m not sure why, I just felt powerful and thrilled because whatever the time on the clock, I wasn’t the last person in the lake, and I knew I had the energy to get me back to shore. Stumbling out of the water, I took the waiting helping hand eagerly and pulled myself free of the lake, then sprinted to the holding paddock and my teammates. Pulling the electronic tag from my left ankle and passing it to Teresa, I recognised she was excitedly shouting at me about the time. I felt tears well up as I realised I’d made the 30 minutes…. and more.
Later, with the time confirmed at 22 minutes. I joked that it was the egg and spinich ‘Pop-Eye’ breakfast after all (thanks Mary) but I was humbled. This body of mine, that I have so abused in my lifetime, again pulled out a blinder for me. With less than 2 weeks to prepare, it had delivered all I asked, and I had smashed my own time. I felt like one of our Olympians, I could proudly say I had a PB and I’d smashed it! It was hard work getting here; swimming in cold, choppy, waters off Malahide, hours of weight training in the gym on our few sunny days, and a lot of self doubt. But the help I got, the support from my friends, from FB and Twitter, and all the generous tips and training swims I got from Fergal and his Hi-Rock mates, had paid off. I’d made it – and Team Happy feet could run and cycle the rest of the way, without being disqualified by the swimmer!
You know, when I started training for our Concern/Uganda: hiking, cycling & kayaking challenge in November, I never thought I’d end up long-distance swimming too. But I suppose it all helps with general fitness. What’s next? Well, the whole Concern group is due to climb Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain this Sunday; and that’s going to hurt – because with all the time I’ve spent cycling, swimming, working-out in the gym and learning to kayak, I’ve somewhat neglected my hill climbing. There is a reckoning a-coming on Sunday. And do you know? there’s a 750m sea swim in Killiney on Saturday….. 😉
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.