Category Archives: I wonder

I Wonder articles are where I go off the rails. Contain some of the articles I enjoy writing most, and therefore some worst waffle on the site according to others

Measuring life in metres

In the original Star Wars A New Hope movie Harrison Han Solo Ford famously said that the Millennium Falcon had “made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs“. I still remember how annoyed I was, because even as a kid I knew a parsec was a measure of distance, not of time. (No thanks, I don’t need any tortuous post-hoc technobabble explanations of why this may make sense).

I seem to be oscillating in and out of some kind of swimming burn-out for about a month now though it’s possibly just the annual end-of-summer slump.  I still love the sea, still get excited or interested in swimming a couple of hours somewhere new by myself, or looking forward to maybe one more long open water swim before the end of season.

But I hate the pool even more than normal, and have repeatedly found myself unable to swim a simple thousand metre warm up and when I can, I swim slower than I’ve swum in years. I’ve had shoulder pain worse than I’ve had in four years for a week and after eight consecutive years, I cannot find any reason to swim the Sandycove Island Challenge or justify the relatively high cost of entry, though it’s usually the mile distance highlight of the Irish swimming calendar. I even missed a Sandycove night swim that I’d suggested and a Ballycotton to Capel Island first time swim with Eddie Irwin, Carol Cashell, Finbarr Hedderman, and Liam Maher two days later, the first time I’ve ever missed one swim, let alone two, due to injury or illness (not that I haven’t swum while ill or injured).

A casual comment by another Channel swimmer led me back to my other magnum opus. Not this blog, but my training log. I’ve been logging all my swimming and related data into a spreadsheet since 2008. Each year I add something new, it’s got multiple sheets and fields and even some charts but at its most basic and original it’s a simple record of how far and how long I’ve swum.

I looked at the cumulative distance since 2008, and discovered that I was just a few tens of thousands of metres short of 8,000,000 metres. It was such a simple thing that I’d hadn’t thought to check.

  • 8,000,000 metres.
  • Eight million metres.
  • Eight thousand kilometres.
  • 800,000,000 centimetres.
  • Eight billion millimetres.
  • Four thousand nine hundred and seventy miles.
  • 8.0 × 1016 angstroms.
  • Fifty times around the diameter of the Death Star (apparently, I looked it up).

Since 2008, I’ve never swum less than one million metres per year. (Before 2008 I was using my old running notebook, long lost but I’d  be certain I swam another million in the three preceding years, as I recall swimming about half a million on 2007). Usually I swim 50,000 to 150,000 metres over target and going almost 500,000 over the mark in 2010. At over 850,000 metres so far this year, I’m over 100,000 ahead of the 2014 target (but dropping fast due to the current lack of swimming).

Yearly swimming metres totals chart 2008 to 2014By the end of the year, I’ll have swum the equivalent distance from County Kerry on Ireland’s south-west coast to San Francisco.

You think I’ve have something useful to say after all or about all these metres. Apparently not today. I guess this site will have to substitute as some evidence instead.

The longest time off I’ve has been after my Channel injuries in 2010 when I was (mostly) out of the water for about six weeks but I still wanted and managed to swim the Island Challenge with a barely functioning left shoulder.

So I can’t be overtrained, since I’ve been doing this for years and I’m well adapted. Some weeks later now, I’m finding it hard to motivate myself to swim much at all, except a few three or four kilometre easy sea swims a week.

Which brings me back to Han Solo’s Kessel Run. A long time ago, in a life very far away,  I objected because George Lucas incorrectly measured time using distance.

Does it make me the Han Solo of open water swimming if ironically,  I now find I can do the exact same thing?

I’m not sure I could even tell you why, if you were to ask.

Somehow, my life has become measured in metres.

Swimming and creativity

I asked artist, college lecturer and marathon swimmer friend Rosin Lewis some months ago to write a guest article for me on a specific subject, that of the link between open water swimming and creativity. it hasn’t arrived yet, I think Roisín will eventually write it, but I’m not sure how long it’ll be, so you are stuck for now with my own roughly formed thoughts on the subject, and I’m indulging myself today, even more than usual, by writing about something odd, but something that I have nonetheless been thinking about. I’ll start with this assertion: I believe, that at least for myself, there is a very definite and specific link between swimming and more specifically open water swimming, and whatever creative aspects I have.

Rather than this being some unwarranted belief, I have my own personal evidence that it is only with the integration of swimming into my life that the creative aspects of my life have started to develop more fully from whatever limited ability I had previously. This creativity is  expressed to whatever minor extent it has been in writing about swimming, and more recently and to a lesser extent, also in photography. I’ve even dabbled every so-lightly in swim poetry! (I used to do a lot of model-making previously but though there can be quite a lot of unrecognised original creation in that, there is still also a derivative aspect to it, and it’s in no way symbiotic with swimming).

Also, the assertion is not a value judgement on whether or not either (my writing or photography) are any good. I guess that’s not for me to say, only that; both now occupy a place that prior to swimming didn’t seem to exist to the same extent, and that both give quite some enjoyment, and of course self-expression. Actually a lifelong inveterate reader, and therefore well familiar with various aspects of the craft from a reader’s point of view, I’d long ago come to the conclusion and was fine with the fact, that writing of any kind wasn’t a drive I possessed. And yet I’m not the first Channel swimmer who has felt afterwards the impulse to share and explain to the world the transcendent nature of the pursuit.

Painted waves
Painted waves

Not only do I believe that swimming has enhanced my own creativity, for which at least I have some tangible evidence, as you can see here, I think there’s another face to the subject, and that is, once again applying this only to myself as I have no way to apply it to others, that the very act of swimming could be (but usually isn’t) an artistic act in itself. And I don’t mean in the elegance of the specific swimmer.

Maybe ten or twelve years ago, I recall reading something by once-famous Australian surfer Nat Young, a controversial and divisive figure himself, that he believed the biggest mistake of modern surfing was that it was treated as a sport and not as an art, something which then resonated very strongly with me and which did fade but never left my consciousness. For someone who was one time was considered the world best surfer there could be an argument that the lines he scribed across the faces of waves were themselves temporary  sketch lines, using the board as his brush and the water as his canvas.

That also reminds me of the short story by “Uncle” Ray Bradbury, In a Season of Calm Weather, (as I once heard Irish Playwright Hugh Leonard call the famous American short-story writer and have thought of him since. A man sees a sketch of a picture on a sandy beach, being an art critic he realises it can only be a work by Picasso. The sketch is a finished product, which is enhanced maybe by the brevity of its existence and its limited or non-existent audience. In the case of the Bradbury story the audience exists only to make the story possible, instead the art.

The classic slit experiment that illustrated the dual nature of waves
The classic slit experiment that illustrated the dual nature of waves

Modern art theory as I ( possibly mis-?) understand it says that something is defined as art if the artist simply makes the assertion. But of course we don’t step into the sea with the aim of claiming the imaginary lines we swim across the surface are art. Not that you couldn’t strap a GPS on and portray the resulting map as art, and indeed, now that is postulated it seems likely someone will so do. But more relevant is the mind of the swimmer/surfer/artist during the event. It seemed impossible for me, considering the marine environment is dominated by transient weather, that the idea of quantum waves wouldn’t metaphorically rear itself, the idea of the quantum nature of reality in which it only the privileged place of the observer that collapses the possibilities into reality.

By swimming/creating we take the possibly of all the things that could happen, and make one thing, one sequence of time-bound events, actually happen. Of course this applies to all life, but something about the considered slow -natured metronomic of swimming in skin, almost your entire surface exposed to the world, that links you more obviously into the world around you makes this a more deeply felt experience. Once again, this isn’t a conscious action, which moves it out of the realm of created art and into the psychological.

This is a difficult subject to write about, and I’m sure, if you’ve made it this far, to read. This is just me thinking through my fingers. I’m not claiming anything I do is specifically artistic but what is important, is that the writing is my own creative expression and that expression derives from the pursuit of swimming. More creative expression in the world can hardly be a bad thing, so maybe that’s another reason for some of us to swim, or for me anyway.


25 signs of being a marathon swimmer

I came across this article on 25 signs that you might be a marathon swimmer, by Steve Munatones, on because of a sudden slew of mentions of the article on Twitter. I think it was written some time ago, but I’m not sure.

I thought I’d see if I had the potential to be a marathon swimmer. :-)

1. Your favorite author is Lynne Cox.

Lynn Cox wrote a famous to swimmers autobiography of her life and adventures in long-distance swimming. She isn’t my favourite author, I read too much, but I understand the point. And of course I have the book. 

2. You have four jars of lanolin in your car.lanolin and other types of grease and lubrication

Alan Clack brought in 1.5 kilograms of lanolin in two jars from Canada for me when I was running out last year and worrying about the national shortage that non-one was taking seriously. I’ve got sufficient for about five four years now. (I gave Gábor a tub after I wrote that sentence). No, you can’t have any of mine.

3. You equate the sight of neoprene with someone scratching their fingernails on a blackboard.

I recently felt compelled to write a haiku about neoprene for myself while I was swimming skin in 8 degree water. Yes, you’ll probably get to see at some point in the future.

4. You are Facebook friends with 36 of the 49 Triple Crown swimmers.

I’m not on Facebook but I sure know many of them, whether personally, through email, or through the forum. I’ve even collected autographs!

5. Ocean’s Seven is on your bucket list.

I fail this one. Ocean’s Seven has not been a dream of mine.

6. An email from Philip Rush is like winning the lottery.

I remember the excitement the first time I got copied on an email from Ted Eriskson. And Penny Palfrey. And Anne Cleveland, Scott Zornig, Dave Barra, Chloe McCardel, etc. Steve Munatones was the common point of origin for many of these emails. Lisa Cummins is one of my friends, Kevin Murphy sent me Christmas wishes and Steve Redmond rang me for a chat this morning. Shameless name-dropping!

Mixing Maxim
Mixing Maxim

7. You know the components of Maxim.

It’s just maltodextrin, aka rocket-fuel. I recently saw someone write somewhere that there is protein in it, which there isn’t. If you want the definitive discussion of maltodextrin in swimming, Evan’s blog is the place.

8. You feel like you’ve been to Sandycove even though you’ve never visited Europe.

Well I guess that’s obvious. Owen and I were talking recently and I reminded him of the Sandycove AGM a couple of years ago. I’d just created the Sandycove website and I wanted everyone to start pushing awareness of the website as the introduction to one of the world’s great open water swimming clubs, whenever they could, email signatures, forums, blogs etc. Almost everyone looked at me like I was mad. Two years later …

Sandycove panorama
Sandycove panorama

9. You read Donal Buckley‘s blog first thing in the morning.

That’s quite gratifying, and thanks to Steve for that comment. My blog, a sign of mental aberration! is three years at the end of this month, by the way. For the first time in my life I have a nickname. Well, one that can be repeated on polite society. I do not yet refer to myself in the third person though. Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with new stuff, when it’s the depths of winter, there’s not a lot to report and the time in the water is too short to be very inspired. My 2012 photos have helped recently.

10. The MarathonSwimmers Forum is your favorite online property.

Again, this is great. is becoming what Evan and I hoped, a real online meeting place and discussion and argument place for the world’s marathon and aspirant marathon swimmers.

11. For you, single-digit swimming is doable, not dangerous.

Single digit swimming is bloody unavoidable if you want to be an open water swimmer in Ireland or the UK. I know enough to know there’s a huge difference between 9 C and 5 C.

12. When Mike Oram speaks, you listen.

I do indeed read everything Mike Oram commits to the Channel chat group. (I don’t agree with it all though).

13. When you see a body of water, you wonder what the water temperature is.

I don’t really wonder about temperature of bodies of water unless I am actually going to swim in them. Is that a yes or a no? I just assume there are all cold, it’s easier.

14. When you see a body of water, you Google it to see if it has even been swum.

Google Earth is one of the great modern additions to marathon swimming, and I wish to hell Google would update the entire Irish coast in full resolution, especially the bit around Dungarvan.

15. & 16. Your first question upon landing in San Francisco is, “Where is Aquatic Park?”. You know the difference between the Dolphin Club and South End Rowing Club.

I know where Aquatic Park is (though I haven’t swum there). And La Jolla in San Diego (I have swum there). I do feel my swimming Curriculum Vitae is somewhat remiss by not having a South End membership on it. Yet.

17. After your 100 x 100s, you head to the beach.

I’ve swum 27,000 metres in the pool with The Magnificent Seven and then we’ve gone immediately to the sea and swum in 7 degrees Celsius water. That one sea swim is what led to my reputation with Coach Eilis as being reckless.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.
Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.

18. Swimming extra on holidays is a given.

Isn’t swimming what holidays are for? A better way of explaining this is that you are going somewhere where there is no chance of a swim. But you take your swimming gear anyway.

19. You always wonder if you have done enough and stress out when others do more.

My solution to mileage concerns has been to try to swim at least a million metres per year regardless. I still stress.

20. You fret about every twinge in your shoulders.

Fret is too mild a word when it comes to shoulder pain worry. Before MIMS last year for two weeks I kept repeating to Dee and Lisa that something was wrong, something was wrong but I couldn’t explain it. Nothing was wrong, apparently.

21. “Nothing great is easy”, is your favorite quote.2010 Capt Webb Dawley Memorial 7 Nothing_Great_Is_Easy

Nothing Great is Easy becomes your favourite quote when you’ve earned it the hard way.

22. You love bioluminescence.

I do. I really do. Bioluminescense is the sea’s gift to night-swimmers.

The Purple Stinger
The Purple Stinger

23. & 24. You have considered—many times—how to punch a shark. You know more types of jellyfish than you do cats.


Sharks don’t actually exist. They are faked in the same studios as the moon landing. Jellyfish are a different matter. Those multitudinous feckers. I keep swimming into new types I don’t recognise. When did I ever think I’d start to recognise different species of jellyfish?  Are there more than two kinds of cat; nasty and more nasty?

25. You diet to gain bioprene.

I’ve lost weight recently and my cold water tolerance is badly affected. Bad bad Donal.

Well, do I pass? Can I become a marathon swimmer?


Against the odds, one loneswimmer and the football hordes

Ireland loves football. So does your country you say. Soccer, Aussie Rules or NFL, whatever.

Ireland likes all football: Soccer, rugby, compromise (Aussie) rules, Gaelic football. All have huge followings. That outnumbers your single national football version. And the biggest is Gaelic football, which is only played within the country and is better supported than religion.

Blog Awards Finalist

Someone submitted to Blog Awards Ireland this year (2012). So it’s me against the football hordes. No, I’m not looking for a vote. Thankfully there is no voting, because online voting, as you all know, is nonsense.

I knew nothing about it until someone Tweeted me that I was on the Longlist for four categories. Then I made the Shortlist on three categories. Then I made the Finalists of four entries for Sports & Recreation. Each time I found out from someone else. I guess Sports & Recreation is a valid category, since there’s no specific Talking Crap about Swimming from the Middle of Nowhere award. Yet. They really should fix that.

We went and took a few pictures for fun. Well it wasn’t for fun per se, it was to try to get two tickets for the award ceremony. This isn’t Tinsletown after all. Tinsletown in the Rain, more like.

Tinseltown in the rain, all men and women.

Here we are, caught up in this big rhythm…

…But it’s easy come and it’s easy go.

All this talking is only bravado.

When Dee tried to enter the photos, she discovered they’d closed the competition before they announced the finalists who might want to be there. Cart -> Horse. Funny.

You want to know what the number one rule of blogging is? Actually that’s not relevant here. But a rule from further down the list is…

No-one reads your blog on Saturday.

Not quite no-one, but usually less than 50% of your daily average. Bloggers, never publish a post on Saturday. Guess when Blog Awards Ireland put out their list of finalists? Yes, Saturday. I may possibly be the only one who finds this hilarious. :-)

But as I said, we took some pics, and they’re of a use-once-only type. So this post is entirely to find an excuse to use them. (Note to self: Pretend you didn’t see this picture below, you’ll sleep better.)

Here’s a fun picture. Swimming over to Ballyheigue, as the rock at the far side of the Guillamenes Cove is called, for no apparent reason other than every damn tree, field and individual rock in Ireland has a name, to take a photo, the water pulled the laminate and Dee caught the image perfectly.There was quite a bit of movement in the water, about two metres of mixed chop and swell and it was windy and grey.

So anyway, back to the football hordes. More power to them I guess. But it seems highly unlikely I’ll have a chance against the football hordes. And it’s not that important, just nice, as they say, to get this far.

Open water swimming is a minority sporting niche in a minority sport. It’s a sport when I train, sport when I race, but that’s not all. It’s part of my life. It is life. Open water swimmers are not defined by watching, so much as we are defined by doing, individually and in groups, solo and with friends. A couple of years ago I started this blog by saying open water swimming is an individual expression of freedom. Sometimes I think it may be an essential expression of freedom. In this constrained world, few people know the freedom experienced by stepping off a shore and casting oneself into the blue, grey or green.

An open water swimmer is Billy Kehoe, 85 years of age, President of the Newtown and Guillamene swimming club, swimming daily (when the conditions allow) for over 70 years. Billy doesn’t think of open water swimming as a sport.

And most of you readers come from outside Ireland anyway.

Still, the point of the whole thing, I guess, is that a conjunction of critical and popular acclaim is nice. will reach 200,000 readers around the new year, assuming I’m still writing it, and that’s not always certain and the appreciation of readers will always be the most important measurement. Making that finalist list I guess, I may be wrong, means there’s some independent merit visible from outside the core swimmers.

All that mattered to me since I began is to be honest in what I write, and try to make it useful. To that end I’ve put up with significant “slagging” to use an Irish term, “ribbing”  would be an alternative word. I guess that the blog is still occasionally on target because you good folks keep putting up with me. Oh, by the way, I rarely think of you when I’m writing. It’s just me here. If I try to direct stuff, it goes wrong mostly. I write for the me from the past, what the me who knew nothing about open water swimming would have wanted to know. I think as that past me as my audience. That seems narcissistic, it’s not meant to be. And then, because of the blog, I’ve gotten to report on a world record, crew for a friend and to feature the words of many great and interesting swimmers in the Guest Article series. I’ve already won a lot from this.

Below is our favourite picture from this series. As usual Dee is the invisible backroom engine who keeps me and therefore this blog going.

I got free goggles from the blog once.

No one swims to France by accident – Channel Season & Channel Fever

For some, there is no greater sporting event than the English Channel. Sporting event isn’t even a good description. The Australian surfer Nat Young once said the worst thing to happen surfing was that surfing was seen as a sport instead of art. Similarly, for most swimmers, Channel swimming should be thought more as a prolonged life-change than some short duration swimming event. It is a unique fascination of which millions dream, (every Soloist will tell you of the multiple times they hear this), who dream it without knowing why nor or of what they dream and it goes beyond swimmers to the whole world.

Few phrases in the entire canon of sporting terminology reach out to others like “I’m going to swim the English Channel”, more even than “I’ve swum the Channel”. Few phrases convey absolute commitment in the same way and the bonds that exist between Channel swimmers tend to reflect this. Those words express more than most people understand, a desire to go not just up to but beyond personal physical and mental limits. Something in the idea of swimming the Channel conveys transcendence, of someone aspiring outside the normal, maybe outside themselves.

One hundred and thirty-seven years since Captain Webb’s Solo, eighty-seven since Gertrude Ederle’s; (a swim that had at least if not more effect on the global awareness of Channel swimming, simply because she was woman doing what was considered impossible, and she was photographed); ideals of Channel swimming still exist beyond most modern adventure and extreme sports. Channel swimming itself now transcends the English Channel and includes the Catalina, Gibraltar, Molokai, North, Cook, Tsugaru and other Channels.

Channel swimming is carried out in private. It’s mostly done away from public visibility. Sure, if you are connected with or following a Channel swim you’ll follow GPS trackers and Twitter, get SMS messages and even see uploaded images. But a Channel swim happens as much inside the swimmer’s mind, when they take the decision, during the long training and in the fear and excitement before they step into the water, as it does at the point at which Kevin Murphy said to me: “You swim and you swim until you are tired or exhausted. And only then it gets hard”. No GPS tracker or Tweet conveys what a swimmer is going through in the second, third or later tide. Even those familiar with the various Channels; swimmers, crew, friends and family, can only vaguely imagine it, and it is that imagining, the attempt to extrapolate from a series of dots on a computer screen or chart and project ourselves to the brutal reality of the Channel, or any Channel, that is Channel Fever, when the Channel Dream becomes Channel Reality. Therefore Channel fever afflicts more than swimmers.

No one swims to France by accident.

In Channel swimming we know that everyone who gets to the other side deserves it. Every single one. And many who also deserve tom don’t get there. And that is also part of Channel Fever.

This one is for all the Irish Channel Dreamers this week, English, Tsugaru and North, and all those with Channel Fever whenever, whomever and wherever you are.

Rob & I after Sandycove Challenge 2010

Swimsuit models never look like Open Water swimmers

These are typical swimsuit ads, you see them all over the place. You know the only cold that this pair has ever felt was when he left his cashmere scarf behind that one time in that lovely little boutique in Chelsea after he came back from a weekend in a yacht in St. Tropez and he was feeling the chill of the April air and he met up with her for lunch after her fish pedicure and afterwards they walked her Chi-waa-waa in around Kensington. Or so I imagine.

Warning, get your sunglasses. Here’s me, 6 months ago, probably at my weight best! I weight about 4 kgs more at the moment after 6 months of open water swimming … but my tan is better!

Here’s another picture of Rob & I, just after finishing the Sandycove Challenge last year. We are the two without wetsuits obviously, and I’m the one without a cap. I was the exact same weight then as now, 78 kgs, and I’m 171cms (5’7″ … and a very important bit, which is technical height measurement term that IS NOT IN ANY WAY IMAGINARY). That’s the two of us in the centre of the picture. It’s sometimes called The Channel Body. Stereotypically handsome Irishmen! Not.

Rob & I after Sandycove Challenge 2010

Would you buy those togs after seeing that as an ad? Not those exact togs obviously, we’re OW swimmers, they get pretty skanky. :-)

And because I love opportunities to use these pictures, here’s my adopted Hungarian child. In his thong, same day.


Sometime earlier in the year I put up a post with pictures of the different types of athletic bodies across different sports. I was going to originally put the first picture of me above into it for the laugh, (which was why I’d edited in a black background). I think in theory everybody over the age of 30 dislikes the body composition issues we see in society, but at the same time, it’s difficult to be honest about ourselves when we don’t meet these bloody ideals. I’m not the most handsome man in the world. As a cold open water swimmer, I’m always a bit (to more than bit) overweight from carrying some extra fat for warmth (I had originally written little bit, without realising it, my subconscious still trying to compensate). You’d swear though that any fat was the worst thing that ever happened to humanity, instead of remembering that it has specific purposes, like insulation and energy storage, especially in our line of sport. Live an active life, and just keep doing stuff. In the long run, you’ll be fine.

So I guess all this rambling just means; get real, swim companies. There’s a whole world of real swimmers out here.

These sounds …

I swam toward the promontory, passing various unsurfable reefs, the vertical cliffs high and bright in the southerly sun, reminiscent of Dover and the White Cliffs, except red and ochre, and my own. About three-quarters of the way down, I stopped to listen. To the sound of swell.

You know what waves sound like. But do you know waves from wind sound different that waves from groundswell? Swell waves are more regular, and produce a deeper sound. If the swell is big enough, the sound will be of course be loud, and on the West Coast of Ireland at Spanish Point  and Lahinch and Doolin, on huge swells, I’ve felt the swell and breakers shake the ground, literally shake it. But that’s not the sound of which I’m thinking.

There’s another sound, a deeper, more visceral sound. It’s the sound of the swell coming into the coast, the sound of the actual water moving, not the breakers. And the sound of the ocean bottom being rearranged and being transmitted, being transducted, from beyond your sight to your other senses.

You hear below it your hearing.

You feel it and taste it and smell it, like it reverberates at the resonance point of the long bones of your arms and legs and ribs, rattling your heart and the drum bone of your skull where it beats you into submission and it becomes a synaesthesia of sensation, and once you’ve realised it, it will forever be a part of you.

And in the quiet, when you give yourself the space and the freedom of imagination, you will always be able to summon it because now it’s inside of you, always reverberating and echoing in your spaces, the interstices of your imagination and your living.

And there before, during and after is also another sound, one I can never capture, regardless of equipment. The sound of myself in water. I hear my breathing modulated in a liquid medium. I hear the splashing of my arms, legs and head. I hear the water wash around me. I hear my exhalation fed back to me. The sound of life becomes solid and tangible. I can see my life in the water.

These Sounds. Of swimming and the sea.




These are my favourite posts to write, the ones where I am inspired by the pure actual act of open water swimming, where I feel free enough to start working on the idea. Something like this often takes me hours to write, short as it is, and will often be months from the first idea to publishing it. I started this one about six weeks ago, one of a pair, the other still to come.


Announcing the Loneswimmer for President campaign

Given the farcical state of the Irish Presidential election, the dogs and I sat down and discussed it and I decided to throw my name into the contest.

Now I know many of you are overseas, and desperate as you are to vote for me, I thought I should explain the Irish Presidency is a Non-Executive role as Head Of State. For those of you in Ireland, this means that even with zero political experience, I still can’t mess up too badly. The worst I can is embarrass us all and spend all the expenses. Free grease and googles for every Sandycove Swimmer. Come on, you’ve given €75 billion to foreign banks, wouldn’t you like to see me using the expense account to support local swims? I’ll use it for free entry to all Open Water swims, with a state dinner after every swim over 5k! Free flights on the Presidential Jet for all Channel Aspirants, to any Channel. Do I get a Presidential Jet? How about a Presidential Rib?

But what’s my manifesto, you ask?

First – to ensure continuity with the two previous Presidents, I promise to change my name to Mary and indeed, I have already asked Dee to also start calling me Ma’am and Uachtaráin.

Second – The two previous Presidents set out to be Bridge-builders. To continue this theme, I promise to swim under those bridges. And bring others with me. We will swim in every* river in series of national free swims. I will initiate a national debate on the state of Irish Open Water swimming, and will put the Presidential Seal on free silicone hats for all swims.

Third – I will use my personal bodyguard (surely I’d have a bodyguard, right?) from the Army and Coast Guard to provide boat and safety cover for all swims over 1k. The LE Eithne will provide safety cover for the Sandycove Challenge. No more Swim Ireland!

Fourth – The use of Farmleigh House will be granted for the annual Channel Swimmer’s party. I will lobby for have the Monday after the Sandycove Challenge made a new public holiday.

Fifth – The Council of State will include Ned Denison and Eilis Burns. I will seek the introduction of a National Honours System, with everyone who has swam 10k or more guaranteed of selection for an award of Son, (or Daughter), of Manannán.

Sixth – I will lobby the Executive Branch of government for the removal of VAT on all swimming products. And to use National Lottery Funds to install changing rooms, toilets, hot showers and jacuzzis at all popular open water swimming spots**. All Channel swimmers will benefit from a special tax-exempt status and crew costs will be covered by a special EU grant scheme.

All I need from you is the nomination and the support of 20 County Councillors and a small donation toward my campaign.

At the start of this post, you were wondering about my sanity, but now you’ve seen the Grand Plan, you realise everything I say makes sense. You know it does …

Just remember: Vote early. Vote often.

* Except those rivers that are, you know,  too ichy.
** i.e. Guillamene, Clonea & Sandycove

A politically-incorrect view of the Ronan Keating/Richard Branson Irish Sea relay swim

A map of the Irish Sea Major ports shown in re...
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Most of the swimmers and many others reading this will have heard of the Richard Branson / Ronan Keating Irish Sea Relay swim. By the way, look at some of the headlines. (“Richard Branson to swim the Irish Sea”). We had a bit of fun about it on the Sandycove email list when it was announced. But a few times I’ve seen statements to the effect of “it’ll be good for our sport because it’ll raise its profile”. And of course, since it’s a big charity fund-raising event, it’s considered crass to question this aspect. To question these basic principles is to be churlish, egotistical or selfish. So one has to keep quiet. I disagree. (And I know I’m not the only one). Think about the Olympic stadii in various places around the world. Those in well-developed and wealthier countries become part of the national sports infrastructure. Some others don’t fare so well, like Greece. Greece was the smallest country to host an Olympics. Apart from the huge cost, even before their current problems, four years after the 2004 Olympics, the various facilities were mostly unused. Partly because Greece isn’t big enough to support their ongoing use efficiently. That huge investment doesn’t translate into useful facilities or any resurgence in sport in Greece. Instead it left a debt that will have to be paid for a long time. I believe the analogy to the Richard Branson swim and Open Water is similar. But I’ll try to be more specific.

  • Richard Branson and Ronan Keating don’t love Open Water swimming.

You know how I know that? Because that’s the main reason we do what we do. Because every one of us prefers the sea to a pool. We all love swimming. To be out there. For the challenge or the camaraderie or the sheer existential pleasure. It’s a tautology. We swim because we are swimmers. Sure, we all had to start, we all developed the love of it. Maybe they will too, you say. Maybe they will indeed. But have you read anything about it so far that indicates they love it? No. There’s only moaning about cold and not being good swimmers or being afraid of the water. I also believe that you would have to be fairly naive to believe there’s no self-promotion for Richard Branson going on here.

  • It’s disingenuous.

In the early advertising there was much claims about a so-called World Record. Repeatedly it asked what record before this tag was dropped. I emailed the Marie Keating Foundation months ago and asked this question myself, but received no response. For the benefits of publicity they exaggerated the difficulty. It’s a team of 12 swimmers for dog’s sake. Those of us with big swims done know we like to try to explain the difficulty. We also know how some people with little or no experience sometimes belittle our achievements. (Or our friends, which I have a real personal difficulty with, when people put down my friends, but that’s another story). But never, ever have I heard a swimmer exaggerate one of their swims. Many are downright self-deprecating, like Lisa or Finbarr. We celebrate real achievement and don’t like to see others claiming something is more difficult that it was.

  • It will not bring any people to the sport.

How anyone can think it will bring people to Open Water is beyond me. Let’s call it  the David Walliams effect. All English Channel swimmers know this. “If David Walliams (an English T.V. comedian) can swim the Channel it can’t be that hard”. The same people don’t know David Walliams was a swimmer all his life and trained like we all do. We all respect him because there’s no way to cheat the Channel. He’s one of us. He’s the real thing. Anyone who gets across does it by hard work. It’s one of the reasons all Soloists respect each other. We all know what it takes. So a few years later is there one extra person who became an open water swimmer because of David Walliams swimming the Channel? I’ve never met one, though I’ve met a lot who knew about it. That’s hardy absolute. But if you wish to refute, please provide some figures. The same thing will apply to the Branson/Keating swim. If you are the kind of person who needs a Celebrity Endorsement to take up Open Water swimming, you will NOT take up Open Water swimming … because what it needs more than anything else are the love for it I mentioned above, and a sense of determination. Who is going to get into cold Irish or English water because Ronan Keating did? In a wetsuit.

  • Big charitable events take from smaller events
In over a year I raised about €2000 for the RNLI. By swimming the Channel solo. I’m not a great self-publicist. And I was busy training. While charities will no doubt benefit, it’s also highly likely, as this pattern always repeats, that others will suffer. Someone who knows nothing about swimming who donates €50 on the Marie Keating Foundation “because it’s such a brave thing you are doing” is not going to do the same to the girl in the next town doing a Solo but without much publicity. In this case charitable donations are a zero-sum game. The donations are not really for the swim itself, but for the publicity.
  • Much fuss about little.
It’s a 12 person team. Seriously. I was part of a double English Channel relay of five. Lots of you are also relayists. This was actually the bit that made us all chuckle so much initially. Who out there thinks this team are going to be hanging off the back of a re-purposed trawler or sitting on rolls of rope vomiting in the rain while waiting their swim leg? Of course I could be wrong about this.
I am reminded of an incident in Irish Swimming a few years back which some of us will recall. Someone we know here made a very difficult and brave decision to go public on a reported North Channel swim and publicly question its validity (a swim that has never since been validated). He did it because he loved the sport and believed that an unsubstantiated North Channel swim would have severe consequences for the sport if left unchallenged. I think the Richard Branson swim will actually have a similar effect. It will detract from our sport. Celebrities parachuting in, taking lots of media attention, for a not very significant swim, will detract from actual achievements in open water swimming.
Call this what you want. Churlish, ungracious, selfish, unsubstantiated or wrong. Get started on the hate mail. (Yes, I get hate mail).
But don’t call it an isolated opinion.

It doesn’t matter

Edit; Hmmm, a sudden surge in interest in this post on a day where I get abused? So you do know behind the front page I can see where traffic is coming from, right? Chuckle.

-I’d had a bad morning. It had been the worst day I had this year, I think. So I went for a swim, ’cause that’s part of who I am now. It had to be in a hostile environment. Very hostile. So I put on the armour I worked hard for, the Irish green, and which I am very proud to wear. ‘Cause you know you can talk all you want, but you don’t get the green because you know how to say “energy systems”. You earn it.

Donal, Ciarán, Coach Eilís, Jen, Rob, Gábor

So I sauntered in. And I looked at them. And I smiled.

And as I swam I told myself: “This doesn’t matter, you are the swimmer here.  You have friends that you love helping out and swimming with. There are people out there whom seem to respect what you say. You can feel the water. There’s only one way to get that feel, and it’s not on paper. You’re 1134. No-one can take that away. And yesterday you passed half a million metres for the year so far, maybe it’s time for some more chart porn. You know how you love charts. And what about the crazy swimming idea you had yesterday? We need to work on that. Go find some figures for that equation from last night and arrange some testing with Clare. We might be able to get Alan C. involved. Hey, a swimmer travelling across the Atlantic to train with me! “

But by that stage I was probably approaching schizophrenia territory. So I busted out a fast (for me) 10 x 200m main set ’cause I am swimming better this year, I hope… It all went better than expected, (the swimming that is).

Other WordPress users, especially Evan, I love the new WordPress Just Write feature!

Coming soon: the whole story.

Dublin Swimming Club survey; what OW swimming in Ireland needs

Ossi forwarded a survey this morning to the Sandycove email list from the Dublin Swimming Club:

Warning, blue font ahead in my response!

Dublin Swimming Club is 130 years young this year– making it the oldest swimming club in Ireland – it even predates the GAA! As part of the club’s anniversary activities Dublin Swimming Club is surveying as many people as possible who compete in the open water / sea swims in Ireland. There is a simple online survey which will take 5 – 10 minutes to complete. It is completely anonymous.

Please click on the link to start.
The survey results will be announced at Dublin Swimming Club’s race on July 3 at Windsurfers. The findings will also be published online during the summer.”
If you are an Irish swimmer, please take part.
My thoughts about it:
The survey doesn’t seem to realise, at least from my point of view, and from the thrust of the questions, that there is far more to OW swimming than racing. Even when asking, Why? it asks in the context of racing. It really doesn’t matter if I am reading it incorrectly, as part of the nature of surveys to explore the ambiguities they throw up. But I’m glad to be see this being done, I think it’s a great idea.

“Q: Do you have any tips (other than not getting in) for dealing with the cold water?”

Read my website:

“Q: What is the most helpful hint you would you give to those considering getting involved in the sport?”

Read my website:!

“Q: Can you suggest one improvement that could be introduced to improve open water swimming in Ireland.”

My slightly longer and more considered response than the brief version I posted into the survey.

Ireland and Swim Ireland especially needs an Open Water Swimming conference. It needs to involve and listen to, a variety of  those involved in it, whether from a participation point of view or an achievement or organisational point of view , like Ned Dennison, Joe Donnelly, (whoever the other provinces equivalents are), Martin Cullen (Ned & martin on the S.I. OW committee), Lisa Cummins, Anne-Marie Ward, Eilis Burns, ILDSA, Sarah Clifford, Chris Bryan, representatives from Sandycove Island, the Guillamenes, Dublin’s 40-foot and North Wall, etc, etc, to explain and discuss just what we and this sport is about, and the diversity of our sport, from winter polar bears to marathon and endurance swimmers and 2012 & 2016 Olympic hopefuls and across the age range.
The conference could allow us to focus on a possible solution to the greatest current problem in Irish swimming, that of swimmer retention past the teenage years, and thereby grown the sport as a whole, and grow OW specifically, and become a greater part of the Irish marine experience by energising local Open Water Swimming communities and making Open Water swimmers feel less like outsiders…
And of course any survey needs to make its finding public and any problems with the survey design and ambiguity of responses.
Steve, you could come over and chair/facilitate it!
Of course, I doubt anyone in Swim Ireland is reading this. I’m one of the freaks after all.

Swimming the Alpha waves

Copper Coast Bunmahon to Dungarvan 5 ft swell Feb 07

Anyone having the misfortune to have a surfer as their partner will know how capable surfers are of missing any occasion regardless of importance.

Something that’s common amongst surfers while out surfing is an enhanced sense of relaxation and a decreased sense of time.  It doesn’t always happen but it does seem more prevalent on certain days, days in which the water is calm and there may only be a light offshore wind, and the swell isn’t too large. Add in a long wave period and time between sets, and surfing a reef rather than a beach and you have the perfect conditions for the surfers mind to disappear.

Onshore winds, breaking beach waves or large swell disrupt this, whether from having to work harder or from greater adrenalin. But on those other days, an experienced surfer is often just sitting their board (I wonder if some equestrian grammar would apply to surfing) waiting for waves. It becomes an exercise in calmness and meditation, so time and the outside world disappear.

There are six main types of electrical (EEG) waves produced by the brain Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Mu and Theta. Beta waves are normally predominant when we are awake, alert and concentrating.

EEG Beta Waves

Alpha waves usually occurs when we are falling asleep or waking up and are associated with relaxation and have been shown to be associated with creative people. However it has been shown that Alpha waves are often produced when we enter a meditative state. Therefore Alpha waves often associated with stress reduction. (Important since stress is one of the most dangerous states that we all endure). Contrast these two graphs. The Beta Waves remind me of an onshore sea. Jagged, choppy, unpredictable, whereas the Alpha Waves have the smoothness of offshore winds and swell, of great waves and calm water.

Alpha brain waves on an EEG

I’ve almost never become aware of entering the state of enhanced Alpha wave calm while pool swimming, (though I  wonder if the few rare times where I’ve completely lost track of time and lengths and ended up crashing into the wall were such occasions).

But I have no doubt that that sense of enhanced relaxation is one of the reasons that compels us sea swimmers to the ocean. And there’s another possibility, that the enhanced buoyancy is subconsciously reminiscent of amniotic fluid.  When pool training we operate on times and lengths, sets and drills, counting up and down.

But in the sea, you can just swim.

I couldn’t think of a better way to put that, it seems so banal… just swim.



Just swim the Alpha waves.

The Big Question: Introversion and distance swimming – any correlation?

EDIT: when I look at my list of potential future subjects, after I’d written this, I began to think I had a few subjects that I might consider Big Questions. This is the first.

Much of this is true for me (maybe 90% +). I wonder how well it correlates with distance swimmers as a group (not sprinters!). From here. I imagine introvert’s ability to be alone within their own heads is an advantage, and part of the reason we struggle to explain distance to others. When people ask about the “boredom”, it never occurs to me explain how my mind works. I sometimes might try to break down why it isn’t boring but I never get anywhere. Those who are already distance swimmers already understand and have their own mental strategies.  Though I think the figure of 25% as introverts is wrong. My reading has always shown around 40% are introverts.

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends in low numbers. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race.