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.
“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.
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.
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