rock climbing

Teena Gates – Rock Star?

IMG_2715There is this wonderful moment when your hand runs across warm, rough, weathered rock – your skin listening carefully for every bump and hollow; fingertips seeking out small imperfections, your roadmap to the sky. It’s like an artist, lovingly running sensitive hands over a beautiful sculpture. There’s a naked, raw, powerful beauty in the moment. A bond, forged in sunlight, wrought by nature over thousands of years.

I felt none of that. I’m sitting at the foot of a rock in El Chorro, Andalucia, Spain. The scenery is stunning, the team of climbers are funny, enthusiastic and helpful, the instructors knowledgeable and supportive. For the moment I am happy to let the gang burn off their climbing fever and head for the first ‘routes’ that go up; while I enjoy the view.

There is lots to enjoy. It is our first morning in Spain with Wicklow based company Giddy Gally Adventures. The rain that greeted our arrival in Malaga Airport yesterday evening has blown away to blue skies and warm sunshine, coaxing fragrant perfume from wild sage and lavender that is growing all around us and waving out plumes of scent in a gentle breeze.

Dane Galligan (El Boss) and the ridiculously talented Lloyd O’Mahoney are lead climbing and setting routes on the bolted rock, while I’m basking in the morning sun. See how I did that? how technical am I?  If you haven’t climbed before, let me explain. If you have climbed, skip the next paragraph or read on and forgive my humble attempt at explaining the basics of sport climbing. My example is just a rough sketch and should on no account be used as a manual for setting up a climb!

Sport Climbing involves climbing on ‘bolt-protected’ routes

There are several different types of climbing traditions and purists who prefer each; and some who love all. Here in El Chorro with Giddy Gally Adventures, we had signed up for a week of ‘sport climbing’ – which is climbing on routes that IMG_2419are protected by bolts already drilled into the rock. Dane and Lloyd would ‘set’ a route for the rest of us, by ‘lead-climbing’ up a line of bolts, ‘clipping in’ their rope to the bolts with metal clips or ‘quickdraws’ as they climb. Each bolt provides a protection in case they fall. The rope that runs through the clips attached to the bolts, is at one end attached to their personal harness that fits snugly around their waist. The spare end is run through a ‘belay device’ attached to the harness of their partner on the ground who feeds them rope and takes in slack wherever necessary. When the lead climber gets to the top, they clip on a safety, fix the rope through the top anchor and then climb back down, removing the quickdraws along the way but leaving the rope attached at the top – and providing a ‘top-roped’ climb for the rest of us.

Very soon there were 3 or four routes set and the fun began. Dane and Lloyd instructed us on safety and how to belay. Whether you were experienced or not, the lesson was interesting. There were extra hints and variations included, along with tales of climbing across Spain, snippets of history of Andalucía, and frequent bursts of Spanish from Lloyd, who has only been learning the language a few months, but to me at least, sounds like he’s speaking like a native. I love the gentle ease with which the lads get us up on the rock; working safety and instruction into the climb, without killing the fun and sense of adventure.  Before long they notice I haven’t had a climb and I’m encouraged onto the rope. I am a bit nervous and my hands are shaking a bit, but everyone is really easy-going. There is no pressure, just a gentle enthusiasm and before long I’m tied onto the rope and looking around for my first toehold.

It was not a perfect union of rock and climber, more of a scramble with perhaps an occasional expletive.  I’ve put on a lot of weight since I last made a roped-climb and I can’t help being pretty hard on myself. I have known the feeling of ‘dancing across rock’ jumping from toe-hold to toe-hold and finding the ‘invisible’ grips that the rock reveals the higher you climb.  I just wasn’t getting that feeling, but it had nothing to do with the rock. The difficulty was all in my mind, because the more I compared myself to a previous model of me, the tenser I got and the less I relaxed into FullSizeRenderthe rope and the rock. I knew this. I told myself this. I took a deep breath and forced myself to relax and enjoy the climb. I felt a flash of triumph when I made it to the top. I hung there for a few minutes, supported on the rope by my ‘belayer’ below, savouring the view for a while, before sitting deep into my harness, pushing off the rock and abseiling back down to the ground.

We broke for lunch, which was the first of many banquets to come at El Chorro. Giddy Gally Adventures brought their own chef with them from Wicklow, who quickly became known as Austin ‘El Cheffo’. We learned to stack our plate and then STAY AWAY FROM THE TABLE because it was so tempting to keep nibbling at the variety of tapas and salads and meats and cheeses…..  a total delight and guaranteed to make your harness tighter for the afternoon session.

Piling back into the minibus after a long and leisurely lunch, we fought the desire to snooze and headed back to another ridge for another 4 hours of climbing. You can clearly climb all day here. We did – we climbed all week. But what I really mean is you can climb your heart out and still have climbing left to do. It is a climbers’ paradise. Warm rock, easy access, antiquity, culture, great food, tapas, wine and I haven’t even mentioned the prices. Heading off to the local taverna in the evening, I found it incredibly difficult to spend a tenner. Beer was €1.20, a glass of Rioja €1.40 and a clay pan of prawns in boiling oil and garlic, just €2.50.

Our worst prisons are the ones we build for ourselves

After the 2nd day I realised that my head was really getting in the way of my enjoyment. Instead of climbing all the wonderful routes that were being set, I was curling up in the lavender and watching everyone else. I was very happy, but I kept comparing myself to ‘the former me’ and ‘the climber I used to be’. I kept judging the routes and studying IMG_2565everyone else climbing, slowly convincing myself that I wouldn’t make it to the top and it would be too embarrassing to try.  I worried about my weight, I worried about my belly pushing out over the harness, I worried about whether the belayer would be critical of how heavy I felt on the rope.  Total rubbish, all of it. Nobody cared. Except me. Throughout my little ‘Princess and the Pea’ routine, Lloyd and Dane kept gently encouraging me to climb. There was no pressure but they never stopped making the invitation. Finally, heading back to the villa on day 2, I had a stern talk with myself. I knew the only thing stopping me from enjoying these wonderful rocks was me. So I decided to stop over-thinking things. I decided then and there in the minibus, that tomorrow I would climb the first route that went up.

Of course the first route that went up on day 3 was the most difficult one of the week. Isn’t life like that? There was an awkward start, there was an overhang, it was tough. But a promise is a promise, so up I went. I started up to the left of the route and got about half way, but couldn’t make it any further. I abseiled back down, but then I spotted another way and so I went back up along the right hand side. I still didn’t make it to the top, but abseiling back down I decided to have yet another crack and attempted going straight back up the middle. After three goes, I still didn’t make it past the overhang, but my gosh, I had certainly made it past my mind. With my mental block now gone, I was ‘rock and rolling’ all over the place.  Yep, I was quite literally rolling all over the rock. I was leaping for cracks and jumping for gaps, and failing and slipping and having an absolute ball. All considerations for my poor ‘belayer’ below were gone; as long as he was hanging onto me and I wasn’t falling, I was having a whale of a time, not just feeling like one. I was dancing across the rock again – I may not have done justice to Anna Pavlova but I was doing a damned good Riverdance.

Eventually with my arms shaking and my knees knocking like Elvis, I gave up and came down. This wasn’t really giving up though. This was about giving it a go, your best go, having a bash, having a blast, enjoying every second of it and knowing that there’s plenty more where that came from. I learned a valuable lesson, which I’m pretty sure I had learned before, but somehow I had forgotten. We shouldn’t be afraid of failing, we should be afraid of never trying. Our worst prisons are the ones we build for ourselves.

The scariest walk in the world

On one of our climbs, we passed through a pine forest to reach a rocky platform high above three beautiful turquoise coloured lakes. From here we could just about see the Caminito del Ray or ‘Kings Little Pathway’. Once known as the most dangerous walkway in the world, this heartbreakingly high path has now been restored and runs along the cliffs that hug the lakes, created by a dam across the dramatic 200m high Guadalhorce River Gorge or ‘Garganta del Chorro’. The lads will also arrange for a hike along the walkway, which isn’t as scary now that it’s been restored. But it needs to be arranged in advanced, and as we picked the busy Easter Holiday weekend for our trip, we decided to give it a miss.

IMG_2573Over dinner back at the villa, ‘El Cheffo Austin’ told us how the old Malaga-Cordoba railway line that ran through the gorge, and sections of the scary Caminito walkway, were used in location shots for the 1965 adventure film Von Ryan’s Express. He pulled out his smartphone and tapped into the wifi to show us grainy black and white images of Frank Sinatra standing on the bridge, beside the cliffs that we’d been admiring earlier in the day. I remarked that I’d love to swim in the amazingly blue waters down below. Austin explained that they get their colour from the ice-melt that floods them from the mountains during the spring thaw, adding that they also keep their icy chill. Undeterred I was eager for a chance to get up close and personal with El Chorro’s ‘Lake District’ and the gang agreed with enthusiasm and laughter to head for the lakes the next day.

We climbed in the morning, then headed to the Gorge of the Gaitanes for lunch at a lakeside restaurant. Drooling sadly, I soon realised I had made my one mistake of the trip, avoiding the house specialty ‘BBQ Pork Ribs’ in favour of a ‘Salmon Skewer’ and fitting into my climbing harness. Now the salmon was good but a taste of the ribs confirmed what I already knew, Spanish pork ribs barbecued on an open flame and packed with fresh rosemary is not something that should ever be overlooked by dieting Irish girls. I suppose I will just have to come back.

In the afternoon, we climbed a couple of hundred stony steps down to the lake that I’d been longing for. Local people who had travelled back from the cities to holiday at the lakes for Easter, laughed with amusement as we got into swimming gear and headed for the crazy blue water. Only mad Irish people would dip a toe into water that cold. There were plenty of screams as we walked, tiptoed and plunged into the lake. It was cold. It was very cold. But it was amazing. Reaching long strokes out into the water, feeling the sun on my back and the crack of cold along my spine, I looked back at the beach to catch the looks of delighted surprise on the faces of other less crazy tourists! I swam laps across the narrow part of the lake, parallel to our beach, and I felt I could have swam there all day. It was an ‘into this world’ experience and remembering it will put a smile on my face for many months to come.

The following morning we were back out on the rocks and I had a chance to climb a route that the lads set up through a IMG_2597‘chimney’ in the rock. In rock-climbing parlance, a chimney is a large crack in the rock that is big enough for a climber to slip inside, as they climb up a route. Chimney climbing or ‘chimneying’ brings with it a whole new style of climbing, from wedging toes and hands against the side and ‘squeezing’ your way up inside inch by inch, to ‘bridging’ or using your body to span the space from side to side. You can use elbows, shoulders, backs, every part of your body. It can feel quite enclosed and I was intrigued to find out how I’d feel, buried inside the rock, high up on a cliff. Somewhat to my surprise I found I loved it. I felt protected by the rock and went about halfway up this particular route, before I decided that things were getting just a bit too tight for me.

There’s another move in rock-climbing where you slide your hand into a crack and make a fist, like a kid with a hand in the cookie-jar. Your hand won’t release while you keep the fist, and the move is called a fist jam. I joked with the gang that I’d created my own move for this rock, a ‘boob jammer’ – I wonder if that’s been used before?  Still grinning I let my belayer lower me to the ground and before long we were finishing up our last climbs, coiling our ropes, packing our harnesses and helmets and heading back to the villa for our last supper and final night.

A brighter, better, human being

It was a blow out. We arrived back to see ‘El Cheffo’ had been busy, with local rabbit and chicken broiling away on the bbq. There were salads, vegetable stir fries, home made burgers; it was a veritable feast. We ate outdoors beside the pool and I even had time for another swim. Later we went back into the local town for beers and a sing-song with ourselves and the locals which lasted into the early hours. Flying back to Dublin the following day, I could hardly croak my name, I had sung so much the night before.

It was a fine adventure and I’m definitely going back for more. Whether you are an experienced climber or a complete beginner, this is a trip of memories and I’m pretty sure that if you join the Giddy Gally Adventure boys once, you will repeat the experience again and again. I got a tan, I had a swim, I climbed, I learned something new about myself, I ate amazing food, I met amazing people, and I’d like to think I’ve made some lasting new friendships. Did they make me into a rock star? Yes, in my own mind they did and I think that’s where it matters most. I travelled back to Ireland a braver, brighter, better human being. How much more can you expect from an adventure? www.giddygallyadventures.ie

Our Giddy Gally Adventures team in El Chorro, Spain, were: L/R (below) John Morrissey, Szymon Sieraszewski, Dane Galligan, Luke Prendergast, Teena Gates, Ray Prendergast, Gemma Worrall, David Russell, Lloyd O’Mahoney & ‘El Cheffo’ Austin Galligan (not pictured)

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When Your Snorkel Snares Your False Teeth…

Dad in Spain 2013

I’ve been on holiday, but I haven’t stopped being active and having fun.

I’m just back from Torremolinas in Spain, where I took my dad to celebrate his 88th birthday.  We stayed in the Sol Aloah Puerto 4-star hotel with a deal from Clickandgo.com travel – and I’ve got to say we had a ball. it wasn’t a freebie or a sponsorship or anything, so I’ve no avaricious reason to promote or advertise the travel company or the hotel, other than to say how brilliant they were and how fantastic they were in tailoring the trip to myself and dad.  They really delivered and I think that’s worth a shout-out.  Thanks lads.

Sol Aloah Puerto

The hotel is situated right on the beach between two Irish bars, walking distance from the Marina, with plenty of shops and restaurants nearby, and the sea-front promenade that comes alive at night with a magical display of impromptu music, traders and entertainers.  During the day we soaked up the sun, ate too much, enjoyed happy hour and spent ages in the sea Although the Med hadn’t quite warmed up to Summer temperatures, it was certainly warmer than my Sunday swims in Malahide.  During the trip, Dad came kayaking with me, and body boarding and sailing – which is all pretty impressive, given the fact that he doesn’t swim!

The snorkelling was going well too, until the mouthpiece snagged in his false teeth….

Joking aside, what a fantastic spirit my dad has, and what an inspiration.  Every day he shows me how life is a dream come true – you just have to wake up and live the dream. I’ve got 40 years of fun ahead of me, to get to where my dad is now, and he’s still open to new adventures.  I just can’t wait until tomorrow to see what we both do next. xxx

Back in Training

On holidays:

  • 1,000 metre swims twice daily, 2 half-hour kayak trips, 30-min jogs each morning at dawn, some snorkelling, body-boarding and sailing, lots of walking.

Back Home:

  •  Monday June 17th – 30k cycle / Returned to kayak with Wild Water Kayak Club, this time helping the instructors with the new recruits – 1 year after starting out as a newbie-paddler myself.  (Awe…… )
  • Tuesday June 18th – 30k cycle, 45-mins weights session in gym, climbing with a mate at Awesome Walls.
  • Wednesday June 19th – 30k cycle, 45-mins weights session in gym, running training at Le Cheile AC
  • Thursday June 20th – 30k cycle
  • Friday June 21st – Rest Day
  • Saturday June 22nd – 25kilometre hike ‘Walk The Line’ fundraiser for Dublin & Wicklow Mountain Rescue
  • Sunday June 23rd – kayak boat cover for Get Off The Couch at Lough Sheelin long-distance swim event

 

 

…Just Smile for the Camera, and Do It Again!

Filming in the hills with Athena Media

Well it’s a week to go to Uganda, so if I haven’t trained enough by now, I’ve just left it too late.  I’m excited, but I’ve got those pre-expedition ponders – when you just can’t help going over the last few months in your mind, and wonder… if only.  If only I’d tried hot-yoga, it would have helped me prepare for the heat.  If only I’d spent more time on the hills, more time on the bike, more time in the pool. But in fairness, I drafted a training plan several months ago, and I’ve pretty much stuck to my plan.  I’ve cycled 15k into work and back, most days – I’ve lifted weights in the gym twice a week, I’ve joined Wild Water Kayak Club and learned the basics of how to paddle, I’ve got my level 2 cert to prove it.  I’ve climbed Carrauntoohil twice, and Purple Mountain and Tomies – as well as several training runs up my beloved Spinc in Wicklow.I’ll know very soon if I’ve done enough to tackle the altitude on Mount Elgon, whether I’ve done enough to keep up with the rest of the group as we cycle over 200k through the African bush, and whether I’ll be able to Kayak well enough, when we get to the Nile and Hairy Lemon Island.

This was my very last weekend for training, and it’s been a howler.  A day’s climbing in Wicklow yesterday, followed by climbing at Awesome Walls last night – and a day out on the Liffey kayaking today – and all with a film crew shadowing every move in preperation for “Get Off the Couch”, a programme I’m presenting for Athena Media on Setanta next year, which aims to encourage people to get up and get active and get outdoors into our lovely countryside.  Thanks to Barry and Paula and Rob and Helen – you were all brilliant this weekend and I’ve learned so much already from you all.

I really don’t know whether I’ve done enough for Uganda on Saturday – I really hope I have, I hope I do Concern proud.  But at least after today, I feel a lot more confident about the paddling.  I’ve had a real mental block over paddling over weirs into white water and was gutted last weekend when what should have been my last training session didn’t come off the way I wanted it to.  I decided to have one last shot and the guys in the club pulled out all the stops for me and got me in the water again this weekend.  Last night I kept telling myself I could do it – even though I didn’t really believe it!  Today I told myself the same thing, and eventually when the time came, I popped over Wrens, and stayed upright….then did it again… and again.  Andy, my WWKC instructor was with another group downstream, and he told me later they all heard me screaming with jubilation and they laughed as he said “ah, Teena’s made it down Wrens!”

I’m so grateful to Wild Water Kayak Club.  To Andy, Aidan and Dave – who first showed me the ropes, to Andy again who never gave up on me, and to John Judge and Sean who took me out today.  Thank you to adventurer, friend and mentor Pat Falvey,  to Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel, ATI ‘City Kayak’ chief Donnchadh McCobb, to gym guru David Dunne, to my own fantastic radio station 98FM, to Howth Coast Guard and all our ‘forces’, to the most patient dad in Ireland, to my brother who’s prepared a detailed list of all the spiders I need to avoid in Africa, to the Albany Clinic who gave me millions of injections for a very tiny price and no bruises, to Great Outdoors who always support me and who are on P41 of my book!, to swimming ‘Chanimal’ Fergal Somerville, and to everyone who hiked and climbed and encouraged and motivated me over the past couple of months.  So many friends, including my FB & Twitter supporters, I’m so very, very lucky.   And thank you to whoever told me to fake-it till you make-it… ‘cos today I faked my way over Wrens until I suddenly made it!  If it turns out that I haven’t done enough for Uganda, I guess I know what I have to do.. 😉

 

 

A Purple Heart in Kerry…

Oh my God, the stunning beauty of Ireland from the top of our high places (as Adrian Hendroff, author and photographer, would say).

Myself and Concern/Uganda buddy Vera Baker are heading off to Kerry tomorrow evening to climb with the extraordinary adventurer Pat Falvey on his beloved mountains.

Vera and I have been building up our hours on the hills in preperation for climbing Mount Elgon as part of our tri-adventure in Uganda for Concern next month.   Two weeks ago we climbed Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain – and that was the plan for this weekend too.  But Pat might have something slightly different planned.  He mentioned Purple Mountain and Tomies – a beautiful hike through gorgeous Killarney, with stunning misty views of the Gap, and the purple-hued shaly rock, after which the mountain gets it’s name.

Looking at the magical view of the Gap from the top of Purple, here, I feel my breath catch in my throat with excitement and emotion.  Only some of us feel this way about mountains.  You either love them or hate them.  Sometimes I hate the way they make my body feel…. but I’ll always love them.

The first time I climbed a hill – Spink Mountain in Wicklow with Rosaleen from the Hope Foundation, I stood at the summit and told myself with complete certainty that I’d be back when I was 80…. I weighed 19 stone at the time, and getting to the summit had been excruciating.  Then Rosaleen turned me around to look down across the lakes of Glendalough and said in a soft Dublin/Scottish burr “look how far you’ve come girl”.  It meant so much more than that as I looked off across the lakes….   and there were tears.

There will always be tears, and there will always be fears, but thank God – there will always be mountains.  x

Has My Training Peaked….?

There’s a reckoning a coming, I reckon….

If I’ve had a difficulty with training this year, it’s about balancing multi-discipline sports.   Our Concern challenge in Uganda this November requires me to climb a volcano, cycle for several hundred kilometres and kayak the source of the Nile.    Well I bought a bike and started clocking up hours earlier this year, and I signed up with the Wild Water Kayak Club on Dublin’s Strawberry Beds and learned the basics of how to fall in the river!  (…and of course, more importantly – how to get out).

Now, as you can imagine, this all takes time – hours of time, and the one thing that has suffered is the activity I had previously been very familiar with – climbing mountains.   To get hill-fit, you need to be walking up inclines for between 4 to 6 hours, at least once a week….and I haven’t been doing that.  I simply haven’t had time for much more than a quick spin up and around Spink in Wicklow, which is a beautiful mountain, but not the most challenging – particularly when you’re only doing it intermittently at best.

So this Sunday, I’m facing the Goddess.  Carrauntoohil in Kerry, at 1,038 metres (3,406 ft) is Ireland’s largest mountain, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly.   I’m heading there this weekend, feeling a bit like a fool – because I know I haven’t prepared, and I know I’m going to suffer.   I love this mountain and know her well, but I also know it’s not clever to take her for granted.  I’m also pretty certain she’ll be wet and cold and windy.  Mountains have a way of letting you know……

‘Happy Feet’ Wing It…

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…..  😉

 

 

 

Days That Leave You Hanging….

I love days like this.

Training today wasn’t about the gym (although I know I have to do that too)…..  today I trained with good friends, spending an hour kayaking on the Liffey in bright sunshine, and then a couple of hours hanging off a sunny rock in Dalkey.

The arms and core muscles had a good workout paddling against the tide on the Liffey, down at the Jeanie Johnston where City Kayaking operate their new watersports business off the pontoon – which will be great fun when the Tall ships hit town!  Myself and fellow Concern Uganda adventurer, Vera Baker, paddled off down-river first, to check out the talent (ahem, I mean the crew) on our Navy Patrol boat the Eithne, which was docked near Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.  Then we paddled back up past the Samuel Beckett Bridge – straining against a pretty strong current – until we reached our turning point and then surfed the tide back to the pontoon.  Sunburned and happy, we skip off to the car and head for Dalkey.

I’ve heard my climbing friends talking about the city’s climbing Mecca, Dalkey Quarry, since I first tied onto a rope at the Trinity College Climbing Wall; and yet this was my first visit.   The invite came from climber Niamh Gaffney, who was looking for ‘newbies’ to clock up teaching hours for an evaluation.  I was happy to oblige and I dragged my mate Vera, without really tellling her what I was getting her into. She was a natural, which was fortunate – because we remained friends afterwards – which was fortunate, because she was driving me home!  Wicklow Mountain Rescue hot gun Ronan Friel joined us with Charlie the dog, and both offered lots of encouragement.

It was a sunny day, with lots of climbers clinking as they walked past in their toe-pinching skins, jangling metal carabinas and different ‘protection’ blocks rattling off the metal hoops in their harness.  It’s a distinctive sound, like the clinking of the sailing lines on the masts of yachts at marinas.  It’s the kind of sound that goes well with warmth and sunshine, the smell of hot grass, drying thistles… and good feelings.

Hanging off a rock in Dalkey….. today was a good day. 😉

 

Reaching your Peak…

Hiya…. I’ve got an interesting challenge that you can help me with.

I’m climbing the beautiful Carrauntoohil in Kerry, on September 16th, with the Concern team that are heading out to Uganda for their tri-adventure challenge this November.

The charity has said we can invite some friends along to climb Carrauntoohil with us – if they fill out a sponsorship form and raise some squids for Concern.

It’s the highest mountain in Ireland, so it’s definately worth raising a bit of sponsorship – it also requires anyone tackling it, to be hill-fit with decent gear, boots, waterproofs etc.

There probably won’t be that many spaces available, because we’ll need to match numbers to guides etc… so if you have your boots greased, and you fancy joining me, don’t hesitate, email now and let me know on: teena.gates@98fm.com

 

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