Tag Archives: 2012

Swimming 2012 – the pictorial tour continues – Almosts

This follows the 2012 Swim Locations post. I was considering calling it the My Swimming Life series. These photos were almost but not quite amongst my favourites for 2012, which will be coming soon. Like anyone with a camera, you notice that you sometimes take more photos on those really good days than you get to share. So here’s a chance to see some new ones, and revisit some others. Not all are chosen because they are good photographs, as some aren’t great, but they capture something relevant or interesting to me.

Also, I’ve been trying to improve my post-processing skills as well as my camera skills, the two in inextricable in the digital age, and I found a few that I didn’t take much notice of the first time around that have benefited from a run through the bit-machine.

Also, for a variety of reasons I’m struggling to write at the moment, so we’ll continue on this pictorial tour of 2012.

Alan Clack in the English Channel
Alan Clack in the English Channel

The day before Trent’s swim, I crewed for Alan. Despite all I’ve written about Trent, Alan’s solo was personally more important.  Alan first made in contact in 2010 after my solo and I guess we were on the Channel journey together ever since, (me in a supporting role of course). Alan travelled to Ireland three times, swum two full Distance weeks, (more than I’ve done). The risk of bad weather during his window was bigger for him considering the lack of travel availability from Canada. On the day, conditions were very choppy and not conducive to great photography, but I managed what has become a traditional Channel image for many swimmers. Alan swam a fantastic Solo, in a great time of eleven and a half hours.

Swimmers and crew.
Swimmers on the right, crew on the left.

One of the undoubted highlights of my 2012 swimming year was being on Sandycove Island for the final day of qualification swims. I was on crew on Saturday for the Total Brain and Body Confusion “torture” swim, as I was previously in 2011. However the last couple of years I’d swum on the final qualification day. This was my first time on the island, with Finbarr, Ned, Riana, and Andrew Hunt. It was an extraordinary day, to see from land-side what we put ourselves through. I know what it’s like to suffer unending hypothermia around Sandycove, to not be able to stand straight or talk clearly or use my muscles fully. To see it first-hand and up close was another thing again and to be able to help the swimmers was nothing less than a privilege with the level of marathon and Channel swimming knowledge and competence rising each year.

Tramore beach
Tramore beach

Just another day in Tramore. The photo looks black and white, but isn’t. These are the colours of late winter in Ireland.

Tramore pier
Tramore pier

Another wintery almost colourless shot, this was taken looking around the corner of Tramore pier out toward the Guillamenes, fractions of a second before the wave reflected back off the wall.

Blackwater morning
Blackwater morning

Some much-needed colour, motoring up a calm Blackwater on the late-summer morning with Owen for his swim from Cappaquin back down to Youghal.

Climbing to Coumshigaun
Climbing to Coumshigaun

Long-suffering Dee, accompanying me up the Comeragh Mountains so that I could swim Coumshingaun. Look carefully, the doglet is at her feet.

Simple pink.
Simple pink.

April is pinks (sea-thrift) month. I love pinks.


My other favourite of Trent, taken by hanging off the bow. I was sorry I didn’t take more from this angle.

Scout flying.
Scout flying.

Scout regularly accompanies us to the coast along with my older dogs. He refuses to demonstrate his flying ability for others publicly though. The Pomeranian breed’s tendency to go ballistic with excitement has earned them the term berserking. And there’s nowhere more exciting than the coast.

Huge Newtown Cove breaking wave
Huge Newtown Cove breaking wave

The post of the south-easterly summer storm was one of the more popular during the year.

Owen in the Blackwater
Owen in the Blackwater

Speaking of the Fermoy Fish, there were a few minutes early in his Blackwater swim that couldn’t have been better for photos. You’ll recognise this as his banner picture.

Inside the Cathedral
Inside the Cathedral

Looking out from inside St. John’s Island. I seem to have become a cave-swimmer over the past couple of years.

Near. Far away.
Near. Far away.

Now, I’ll explain again Dougal.

Please welcome, the Purple Stinger
Please welcome, the Purple Stinger

2012’s special guest appearance, at every swimming location.

More to come …

A pictorial tour of my 2012 open water swimming locations

This post is now part the My Swimming Life, 2012 series.

I must start with the Guillamenes and Tramore Bay and Kilfarassey of course, my main swimming locations.  My usual range in Tramore Bay is between Newtown Head (under the pillars) to the beach, along the west side of the bay, most of the range seen in this first photo, with much less regular venturing across or out deep. (I also regularly leave the bay by passing around Great Newtown Head into Ronan’s Bay).

Tramore Bay
Tramore Bay, May 2012

Swimming range in Kilfarassey is mostly based around swimming out and around Brown’s island, Yellow Rock and the big arch. Once the water warms up I will up past Sheep Island.

Kilfarassey, August 2012
Kilfarassey to Sheep Island August 2012

Other locations on the Copper Coast: Bunmahon, Gararrus and Ballydowane. I didn’t, that I recall, swim at Kilmurrin, Ballyvooney or Stradbally this year. Funny how you just don’t make it to some places each year.

Tankardstown, past Bunmahon & to Tempevrick
Tankardstown, past Bunmahon (in behind the middle medium island) to Tempevrick
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John's island
Ballydowane Cove across to St. John’s island
Gararrus across to Sheep Island
Gararrus across to Sheep Island with Eagle Rock just visible behind

Clonea beach, but only a couple of times. I didn’t swim at Baile na Gall.

Clonea beach across Dungarvan Bay to Helvick Head, new Year's Day, 2013
Clonea beach across Dungarvan Bay, past Carricknamoan, to Helvick Head, New Year’s Day, 2013

Sandycove, Garrylucas, Ballycotton, Myrtleville and across Cork Harbour.

Sandycove panorama
Sandycove panorama, the first and fourth corners of the island to the Red House
Garrylucas, April 2012
Garrylucas, April 2012. Most boring photo of the year?
Ballycotton Lighthouse
Ballycotton Lighthouse
Myrtleville beach at dawn, Oct. 2012
Myrtleville beach at dawn, Oct. 2012
Roche's Point to Power Head
Roche’s Point to Power Head

Round Beginish Island, but I missed swimming at Derrynane, Finian’s Bay or Kells this year, which are usual Kerry locations for me most years.

Valentia Island and Sound panorama with Caherciveen bay and the small islands, July 2012
Valentia Island and Valentia Sound panorama, with Caherciveen bay and the small islands, July 2012

Kingsdale to Deal, Dover Harbour, and Cap Griz Nez.

Kingdale Beach
Evening on Kingdale Beach
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Dover Harbour from Dover Castle, July 2012
Les Hennes to Cap Gris, July 2012, taken on one great day with good friends.
Wissant beach to Cap Gris nez, past the WWII bunkers, July 2012, taken on one great day with good friends.

Inishcarra, Coumshingaun and Bay Lough are the lakes I can recall swimming. First year not swimming in any of the Kerry lakes for a while.

Inishcarra reservoir
Inishcarra reservoir
Coumshingaun Lake panorama
Coumshingaun Lake panorama, Comeragh Mountains
Bay Lough
Bay Lough, Knockmealdown Mountians

And of course Coney Island’s Brighton Beach and Around Manhattan.

Brighton beach, Coney Island
Brighton beach, Coney Island
Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan

All photos are of course my own.

MIMS medal.resized

HOWTO: Advice from MIMS 2012 for future applicants and swimmers

So let’s say you don’t feel like ploughing through the 5 parts of my MIMS write-up (you should though :-) ) but are wondering what recommendations I might have or what lessons I have to impart, or advice to give about MIMS, including the notoriously long application process?

Application Process

  • If you plan to apply, create your profile on NYCSwim.org months in advance of the application opening in November and start working on completing the various sections. Do it now.
  • Expect some document uploads to fail and having to re-upload them…the next day.
  • When in doubt add more rather than less information.
  • Be accurate in estimating your 1500m time. This is an essential part of getting your wave right and whether you are actually fast enough to complete (for slower swimmers).
  • If you have also booked and been accepted for any other big swim in the following year, note that also.
  • Estimate to spend from four to eight hours on the application process, excluding medical.
  • Get the medical done in plenty of time as you may require an X-ray or electrocardiogram and there is a medical form for your GP to complete.
  • Yes, you do have to write an essay and I have no idea how important it is in the application process. I suspect with absolutely no evidence, it’s a part of a winnowing process as is the kludgy upload procedure. If you give up at a messy long application process, will you complete the swim?
  • I will write a good swim essay for you for the mere cost of a pair of Visio View V200A-mr swim goggles!
  • You have to pay once you are accepted, not before the race.
  • Add second crew AND alternate before the entry date. You are fine with only one crew but the process is not amenable to adding crew later on.
  • If you feel there is any extra information that will help your process (e.g. in my case explaining why my Channel time was slow) put that in.
  • Book your accommodation earlier in the year.  Remember you have already decided and paid for the race so you can save money on accommodation by also paying up front.

Before Race Day and during swim

  • Don’t forget your checklist and feed schedule. It’s not a Channel swim, keep it simple.
  • Go wide and go deep. EDIT: BUT KEEP WITHIN THE SAFETY BOUNDARIES SET OUT IN YOUR SWIM BRIEFING. The primary reason for keeping the swim corralled toward one side is not to be awkward, but to protect the swimmer AND THE KAYAKER from suddenly-arriving cruise ships and to allow for time to evacuate. We always say, you must follow the safety rules. But given any allowed line, the outside is better.
  • 2012 was the first year all swimmers had trackers. These are all available on the NYCSwim.org website.
  • Make sure you attend the online swimmer, crew and course briefings. Don’t rely on  being able to view the videos later (two of them didn’t work afterwards for me). the briefing and documentation are excellent.
  • Don’t try to buy all your water the night beforehand. We picked up sequential 1.5 litre bottles every time we finished one which made it easier than carrying 10 full bottles back to the hotel.
  • Visit South Cove and the southern tip of Manhattan Island beforehand so you can get a feel for the initial period of the race. A walk over Brooklyn Bridge is recommended.
  • On race morning, don’t trust that the goddamn taxi driver has dropped you at the right pier. Only pay when you are sure or you might be literally 40 blocks away as happened us, (country bumpkins!).
  • If trying to get a taxi to/from Pier 25 / South Cove, don’t try to do it on the adjacent road as that’s a highway. Go one block over.
  • Don’t dismiss the water temperature variability.  There is a big difference in effect between 20/21° C. and 25° C. And a whole world, or at least hemisphere, between 14° C and 25° C. for us cold water swimmers.
  • If you are a cold water swimmer like me, rethink your feed plan. My advice is to decrease your Maxim (carb) feeds and increase your electrolyte feeds. You may also have to increase your volume somewhat from normal.
  • Keep your feeds on the boat cool and out of the sun. An ice cooler is recommended. Yes, this is alien territory for us cold water swimmers. Who ever heard of cooling feeds? :-) It will also help your crew keep comfortable to have cool drinks on hand. Temperatures this year were unusually warm, but there’s no reason it won’t happen again.
  • Make sure your crew will be as well protected from sun as from rain or bad weather.  An umbrella works well for sun, a hat is essential.
  • A day on a boat is a long time. Toilet considerations for women are not unimportant.
  • Make sure you have water to hand before the start, even if you have to leave an empty bottle there. Don’t trust the organisers to have water beforehand for you. Drink it all. Better to be over-hydrated than dehydrated.
  • If it is hot and sunny, use more lube than you would expect. Luckily I had used an entire 100mg of Channel grease, almost more than I used for the Channel because I saw no point in carrying it home, and therefore I was less effected by chaffing. (Though I still chaffed!). Some experienced cold-water swimmers were very badly chaffed afterwards for days after their lube had melted off while waiting for the start.
  • As a consequence of all the extra lube and suntan lotion, carry some a cloth or wetwipes to the start. Mind your goggles.
  • Suntan lotion. Then more suntan lotion. If you are a cold water swimmer, then SPF 50 Waterproof for Kids. Ronseal yourself.
  • Your bag is fairly well protected at the start line. You can probably shove a couple of most pre- or post-swim items in there if you like.
  • Don’t expect your pilot to have food even for himself, let alone your crew. Get your crew to bring sufficient food for themselves, the observer and pilot.
  • Feel free to bribe your pilot beforehand.
  • Stuff your waterproof camera in your togs and toss it to the boat at the first feed, so you can get shouts at the start since your crew won’t be around. I regret not doing this.
  • Make sure your crew has a camera. You will want to review the memories of the amazing sights.
  • I spent some time using Google Earth’s Street View to virtually circumnavigate Manhattan Island. But I was still uncertain with some of the key bridges, and the distances down the Hudson. I’d recommend familiarising yourself with more landmarks. It won’t make any difference except to give you a better idea of your location.
  • It’s a race. For most of us just because we are not seeded does not mean we don’t try our best to swim as fast as possible. Throw everything at it. Afterwards it’ll feel great to say to pool swimmers your longest ever race was 28.5 miles and you know you’ve raced. Race for the second or second-last spot if you want.
  • Do Not take the free post-swim massage if you are not used to having immediate post-swim massages. Ciarán & I felt fine beforehand and wrecked immediately afterwards. I am used to deep tissue massage but never immediately after a swim. Wait the usual  couple of days after the swim before having one. (It was also an excuse to try to hard sell me a followup session the next day when I intended to be enjoying myself).
  • Well, yes, I got sick. Four days after MIMS I developed a really nasty stomach bug that lasted over a week, constant nausea, unable to eat. Ciarán didn’t get sick. MIMS doesn’t have a request to hear from any of the swimmers if they are ill, unlike Cork’s Lee Swim. Nothing I could have done about this, it wouldn’t have stopped me, but just so you know. Occam’s Razor tells me it was the river rather than anything else.
  • Even if parts are tough (Start, Hudson), it’s an amazing, unforgettable swim. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! And the shiny is nice.
lego New York
Donal & Brian heading toward the Emerald City

MIMS 2012 – Part 5 – Hudson River and Finish

Donal & Brian entering Spuyten Duyvil

With the swing west across Spuyten Duyvil the river changed again. The breeze I hadn’t previously noticed was now coming directly head-on and the water got choppy. Not a big chop but after four or so hours, one notices it. I had no idea how much time had elapsed, but asking wouldn’t make it go quicker, and I might discover less time had passed than I’d hoped, a no-win situation. In retrospect it was a quick section of river, though it didn’t particularly feel it. I was waiting for the very low railway swing bridge that I knew was at the northwest tip of Manhattan to appear traffic started to get really busy. The bridge was turned and blocking the river traffic, Brian and I would continue under, where there was less than two metres of clearance, and south-west into the wide Hudson river.

Spuyten Duyvil railway bridge opening

I had developed pain, but not a shoulder or muscular pain. Instead it was a growing pain in my stomach. I was aware that I’d continued to urinate, but not at my normal swimming frequency, when I’m usually pretty regular at about fifteen minutes, or to be precise, twice on a Sandycove lap. I still had intermittent minor cramps in my feet, but I taken every drop of every feed, and didn’t think we needed to increase the volume.

At the previous feed around Spuyten Duyvil the discomfort had reached such a level that I didn’t finish it, taking only about 150 mls. And as we swung out around into the Hudson aiming (as advised in the swimmer briefing) for the leftmost pillar of the George Washington Bridge rather than following the coast, all the held boats came roaring out after me, wave after wave after wave for an interminable ten minutes.

Fastest Triple Crown record holder Dave Barra entering the Hudson – Peace!

And then another feed, by which time Reel Passion had caught up. I refused that feed. For me this was a significant but very conscious decision, I’ve trained over the years to always take my feeds. But my stomach was bloating and I was now in considerable discomfort, still urinating but feeling no relief. Missing a feed is not a decision taken lightly, but I decided I need to let my stomach clear further. I knew (though not with the certainty you’d imagine on dry land) that missing one twenty feed interval wouldn’t leave me unable to swim.

About fifteen or so minutes later, after I’d tried and as always failed, to count strokes to figure elapsed time, I felt I could tackle the feed. Co-incidentally for those few minutes Brian was ahead of me, Reel Passion was behind and outside. I tried to swim to Brian but he stayed fractionally ahead of me so I shouted his name, the first sound I’d made. He stopped, I fed. My swimming and the pain in my gut resumed.

Heading down the Hudson toward the George Washington bridge

The George Washington bridge was still ahead, bisecting the world-sky like Bifrost, the Bridge of the Gods, my target estimate all along was that I should assume an hour to swim from the turn into the Hudson to under its arches.

Think of a Wolf. Not any wolf. A Wolf. Yellow eyes, black fur, lips curled back from snarling jaws.

Now don’t think of the Wolf. Eliminate it completely from your mind so that you don’t know you were thinking of the Wolf.

But think of the Wolf’s belly.

Now, don’t think of the Wolf’s belly, that black sack.

Think instead of the Wolf’s consuming hunger.

Now…stop thinking of the Wolf’s hunger. Do not think of the ravening black void inside the Wolf…

This is distance swimming. Another book comes up from the recesses, this time not an assistance. Not thinking of the hunger in the belly of the Wolf was the ongoing stomach pain. It’s an overwrought metaphor, but the one that visited me and stayed quite a while in the Hudson river. Don’t mistake my intent: this was not English Channel level of difficulty. But this was a tougher swim than I’d expected and this was the important part and this is how it felt for this part of this swim. Next time, it will feel different, next time I’ll try to find a different way of explaining it. Of all the aspects of swimming that I know and I’ve written about, I’m aware of omissions, some conscious and deliberate, some because I still struggle to convey what I intend. And because I think too much sometimes, according to my friends.

Swim your own swim. I’d said it to swimmers in Sandycove only the previous week during the qualification swims at the end of Distance Week when I was helping on the island. I’m sure other swimmers say it. Swim your own swim. Put aside the external factors of other swimmers going better, faster, stronger or tougher than us. Find the nowness and swim through that. And then swim through the next bit. And on, and on through the glacial slowness of it all.

I reached the George Washington bridge with an internal wolf, the bridge taller longer and more massive any previous bridge, the chop from across the wide river increasing. Odin’s rainbow bridge spanning the sky and worlds, swimming under its huge height. Another feed, and as I gave the bottle back, my right thigh cramped hard, another sign of dehydration. I punched it and resumed swimming. Almost immediately two kayaks and swimmers passed flanking me to east and west, moving like they were last-wave seeded swimmers, who would have all passed me long previously in the very low reaches of the East River and Lower Manhattan. I was not amused. I couldn’t risk increasing my stroke rate so far out. Swim your own swim, put it out of your mind, swim on.

Approaching Uptown & the Sewage treatment Plant

The west bank of Manhattan Island slid past and we were well out, maybe three hundred metres, far enough to feel invisible, my preferred place out the water, out deep, out far. I saw a building like a giant Battenberg cake, others that reminded me of the Planet of the Apes town (the original mind you). I still occasionally checked behind me while feeding. Ciarán was not visible but I was low in the water, surrounded by chop, no great distance vision to select targets, no time to look and figure anything out. Captain Joe shouted encouragement. Brian was positive, Dee gave me thumbs up.

I saw a spire and a hint, very low in the distance, of the Emerald City. The spire grew to a church steeple and slowly I swam past it. The chop was now constant and often large. Captain Joe moved the boat around behind me a few times for short durations to my left  hand side to partially protect me from large bow waves of the rushing navy and white-coloured East River Ferries. But the waves were mainly coming from my primary right-hand breathing side.

Donal & Brian heading toward the Emerald City

Soon afterwards, Brian told me I was at 122nd Street, to which I responded that meant nothing to me. Really, I didn’t know how far up that was. After the church spire I noticed an increasing amount of berthed boats, which meant while looking during feeds I couldn’t tell which were moored and which were the race boats. I saw one boat I recognised from swimming near it for hours in the East and Harlem rivers, Get Over It, or something similar. Not once during the swim did I equate the name with anything meaningful or useful. The pain in my stomach continued, what more is there to say, I continued to feed, I began to realise the stomach pain wouldn’t stop me at this stage.

Donal & Reel Passion passing the Intrepid

We swam slowly past Uptown and Midtown, the Empire State again, with the Chrysler barely peeking up briefly from the far side of the island this time. Piers passed, counting slowly down. I’d see Pier 112 expect and hope to see pier 102 the next time I saw a pier number, but only four would have passed. Then the number would unexpectedly drop six, always even. We moved out for the Intrepid’s Security Zone. Couldn’t say how far we had to go, as always with swims and these parts, the time itself was interminable in swimming, and short in recounting, “long in the living, short in the telling”. There was a Department of Marine and Aviation pier that took forever and was probably only a couple of minutes to pass. Tower One was a growing beacon, reeling me in.

Another glance showed me the low towers has grown large and separated. I’d been seeing both the World’s Capital and New Jersey’s towers. This heartened me greatly as I guessed the Emerald City spires were closer than Jersey. I was wrong as it turned out. At a feed Captain Joe shouted out happily that all was going well. I saw Tower One again and now I was starting to look upwards at it as it started to really pierce the sky.

I passed very close under a pier with people on the edge above me. I waved momentarily as my left arm was recovering but no-one waved back, all staring down onto me. I paused and roared out “wave back you fuckers”. Some waved back. Out on Reel Passion Dee thought someone had abused me, not realising it was the other way around. Irish stereotype abroad. I was in a good mood.

Anther feed and Brian said the Magic Words, “this is probably your last feed”. “Really?” I said. “Yes”. What did probably mean? I asked myself. Captain Joe and Dee were there. “Swim to the orange buoys, the orange buoys”. I looked and saw the orange buoys. I didn’t notice Brian leaving as he had to go into North Cove to drop off his kayak.

Hammer down

I gunned it, hammer down for about 1500 or 1800 metres, the swimmer’s mile, a lap of Sandycove, home free and unstoppable, the measure scribed deep into distance swimmers as our gauge of the world. Where pool swimmers stop counting up, we start. Marathon swimmers own watery distance in the way sailors own the wind.

Angling into the Battery Park wall, breathing mostly on the right as I pushed to the maximum, occasional breaths left to stay constant from the sea wall and to see the people, legs beating hard, all thoughts of camp and pain evaporated, kayakers paddling upstream against me, people on the sea wall, the only sound still my breathing in the water. And then the buoys were there, I rounded the wall, and that was it, the steps were there.

Donal finishing in South Cove

There were two people on the ladder which was moving up and down significantly.

They reached out to grab me and I roared again “Don’t touch me”! I hadn’t realised MIMS was a water start AND finish, requiring me only to touch. I’m a Channel swimmer, I get out of the water unaided, it is fundamental to how I see swimming. Any touch is against Channel rules and I swim Channel rules. They shouted again, “You MUST touch for a finish”. This was not covered in the briefing. I touched hands, separated, and hauled myself out and up the pontoon. “What do you want?” they asked, or words similar. “I’m going to swim back out to the boat to say thanks”. I slipped my goggles back, jumped very ungainly into water, the goggs slipped off, I re-adjusted and swam across the Cove toward Captain Joe, Dee and Observer Shi Ling. They were moving away and shouting at me to go back so I stopped, roared my thanks, and swam back, having apparently caused a mini-furore in South Cove.

Arguing about the finish! Bloody Irish.

I climbed the piling, up the slipway, got a rinse off from a hose, and waited. I felt great, no swaying, no soreness, no tiredness. I went around the Pier Wall to look up the Hudson and there were Ciarán and George coming toward me. Down for their exit at the pontoon. Manly swimmer hugs as usual on the slipway. We were all done.

Shortly afterwards we discussed the swim. Ciarán and George found it equally tough, we all experienced difficulties in the same places, the lower East River, Spuytin Duvyil, the mid and lower Hudson.

All three of my crew did an fantastic job in communication, navigation and protection but Dee carried the burden of worrying that she would somehow ruin the swim, and went into it with fantastic preparation, and always watching me.

My first stroke rate count when Dee saw me before the first feed was 76 strokes per minute. I’d assumed with changes I’d made to my stroke over the past year that my rate would be a little lower but it was 71 stroke per minutes thereafter until the end, one stroke per minute higher than the English Channel, consistent enough to be measured. The significant stomach pain I’d had was invisible to the crew, and Dee said I’d never wavered and that I looked completely in control. She also said I passed the two swimmers who’d flanked my under the George Washington Bridge which I ascribe (possibly erroneously) to the time I’ve spent in rough water.

My nick-names for landmarks (which Dee made me take out of the writeups!) around Manhattan are how I will always think of them from now and Lower Manhattan will always be the Emerald City for me … though the road there was more murky-green than yellow.

p.s. Water temperatures measured during the swim were from 76° to 78.5° F. Air temperatures were 87° to 89°F. My time was eight hours thirty-two minutes, finishing in 22nd place from start number 32.

Captain Joe & Shi Ling

Thanks to Captain Joe and kayaker Brian for their guidance (literally) and keep me safe and Shi-Ling for keeping an eye on everyone. I’d love to see her pictures. Thanks to Dee for being such great crew…and for her fab pictures!

IMG_2617Donal in mid Harlem.resized

MIMS 2012 – Part 4 – The East and Harlem Rivers

Swimming past the Empire State Building

For the three people who asked for this, sorry for the delay, it’s been a busy few weeks, Stephen Redmond and Channel swimmers are far more important.

Somewhere in the East River section I saw a boat coming up on my right with an Irish Tricolour flying above the cabin. I guessed this had to be Ciarán’s wife Margaret’s innovation (as it so proved). So the third wave had certainly caught me due to the Hold at the Staten island Ferry. Nothing to be done except swim.

UN Building

We had passed a couple of river bends and within ten minutes entered a wider stretch of river aiming north toward United Nations Plaza. After passing under the United Nations buildings, the river narrowed between the west bank and Roosevelt Island, and we were squeezed northwards like wet soap between giant concrete hands, speed unabated, passing under the Queensboro Bridge, one of the last I was to recognise, and the sounds of the traffic overhead as I flipped to backstroke again, sixteen strokes before emerging back into the sunlight and forward.

The spires of midtown Manhattan, notably the Empire State and the beautiful Chrysler building, the one building in New York I had wanted to see for myself for many years, slipped away into the past and the behind.

I thought about Christopher Priest’s mind-bending novel Inverted World, where a city on rails is always moving toward the horizon, striving for The Optimum, time compressing and slowing in front of the city and diluting and speeding up in the past. I never know what book will come to me when I’m swimming, but it seems to happen like songs come to other swimmers, but almost all are welcome and never hang around annoying me like songs. Here I was, not Helward Mann, the book’s protagonist, but just a man, swimming up into the Future, my arms the rails I must pull myself along, the Optimum always in front of me, never quite catching it.

All this time a few of us seemed, from my vantage at least, to be jockeying for position. I could pas a swimmer, get ten metres on them only to see them do the same on the other side five or ten minutes later. With a long swim ahead, there was no sprinting to put clear water between us, everyone settled into their long strokes. Since we were all wearing the same fluorescent pink RCN caps, sometimes I was sure it was the same person, at other times I seemed to randomly assign a name. Was that Graham from Jersey? Am I still just behind Genevieve from Canada? Is that George? Is that Elvis?

Ciaran and boat

At around two hours we passed Gracie Mansion and entered Hell Gate, the confluence of three rivers Harlem, East and Long Island, and so named from a corruption of the Dutch (because of the shipping lost there) and now an area for the swim that would see the blazing progress begin to slow, and an area often notoriously choppy. My second feed was good again and a quick glance while I was feeding and facing backwards while kicking showed Ciarán’s boat just behind. I don’t waste time on looking where I’m going, except inadvertent fraction-of-second glances from the top of a wavelet. It’s worse than pointless as it slows the swimmer however momentarily and being long-sighted without prescription googles meant I would gain no valuable information.

Crossing Hell Gate

Hell Gate progressed slowly, but it was not the trial I’d expected, where and when I’d expected to possibly have to put the hammer down in the third hour for anything up to an hour. I had my third feed before I crossed it, my feed plan calling for larger feeds on the hour for the first two hours, then a feed after 30 minutes for the next two feeds, until three hours had elapsed, and then changing to feed every 20 minutes, reducing time spent feeding in the early stages when there wasn’t as much to be gained from it. Of course that plan had been written in cool Ireland, though I amended liquid amounts once we realised the heat would be a factor, but only increasing the volume by 50 ml for the twenty-minute feeds. Every time I looked Dee was there on the stern on the gunnals, watching, looking intent but with everything in control, calling Brian in for feed bottles, occasionally taking a photo. I wondered what Brian thought. Apart from the words shouted from South Cove, no further word had escaped my lips. I’m not a smiler when I swim (unlike Gábor). Brian gave me the bottle. I fed, I swam on. When he spoke I looked at him and nodded from behind my dark Vanquishers if I thought it necessary, which wasn’t much. Business. I must have looked like Mr. Grumpy.

During these hours I flipped between feeling good, and feeling everyone was passing me and with everything out of my control beyond turning over my stroke. It was a huge distance to have travelled in a short two hours, quite an average training distance. Bridges had passed of different heights and widths, whose names I no longer knew nor could remember their locations.

Donal in the Harlem river

The real beginning to the Harlem river is at Ward Island Bridge. As we closed on it I realised Reel Passion was slightly wide and right of the bridge’s left stanchion heading under the main span. I kept left forcing them to readjust and I passed the left stanchion within arm reach. As I exited I saw a large industrial digger out of my left eye and as I did the water quality changed like entering a sluice. It had previously been good once the first hour’s constant diesel slicks had passed but now it tasted … nasty. Evan described it as industrial, and I felt it tasted like the stale dishwater mixed with an oily tang, a failed vintage.

Minutes later, the bridge still visible behind me, the sides closer and surrounded by mundane post-industrial landscape, Ciarán’s boat appeared right behind Reel Passion and moved quickly up beside it. Crossing Hell Gate I’d caught and left a swimmer, it seemed, who had previously been ahead. I’d had a better line I’d felt, through the decisions of my kayaker and crew. Now Ciarán was doing the same to me. His boat disappeared behind Reel Passion’s outline, he was moving much faster than me.

The next feed came, now onto the twenty-minute interval feeds, and I checked and Ciaran was forty to fifty metres behind. I switched breathing doing a minute of right-side-only breathing allowing me up my rate slightly, then reverting to bilateral breathing and kept this up for some time, maybe until the next feed. It wasn’t a sprint or anywhere near it, but an increase of pressure.

And then I got confused. All the way up the east side, the Sun had been over my right shoulder, then it moved to over my left shoulder. I began to think I was approaching the sharp swing west of the river. I was wrong, and the Sun back moved again over some time. A tower appeared in the distance. I swam toward it and the river continued moving north according to the Sun, even allowing for time elapsed.

Kayaker Brian and Donal in mid Harlem, all going well

Time passed, bridges passed, many bridges. With twenty minutes feeds I lost track of the former and had no idea of the latter. I remembered reading how Evan had felt his arms starting to ache and therefore worried at three hours. I couldn’t remember where he said he was, I was guessing Spuyten Duyvil. Just thinking about it first made me worry that my shoulders would get sore. But I’d take a few prophylactic Ibuprofen before the start and everything felt fine. Then it was the thinking about it that bothered me slightly. So i stopped thinking about it.

Not actually the Vulcan Academy of Science

The field has spread, I had no swimmer within 50 metres of most of this time. Progress felt slow, by which I mean normal. Something loomed again, it turned out to be a building I immediately thought of the Vulcan Academy of Science, looming over the east bank. Brian left for his break at the Boathouse. I was surprised because I thought we’d already passed that point. Dee was preparing to feed me when he reappeared, both Brian and Reel Passion almost always on my right hand side where I’d requested them to suit my preferred breathing and better vision. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the GPS seems to shows this as being the slowest section of the race. I saw a big Target and Marshalls in a crook of the East bank and as I passed them, I was finally certain I was heading west into Spuyten Duyvil.

MIMS 2012 – Part 2 – Race day

Part 1 -

Saturday indeed broke more bearable, with temperatures in the high twenties with an almost cloudless sky and no forecast of rain or thunderstorms.

I’d brought my bag of oatmeal for porridge which I microwaved in the hotel dining room, and as usual, forced it into myself. It was not the best bowl ever made, even by my appalling standards, resembling a rapidly hardening tiling grout. To follow this was a concoction consisting of more oatmeal, Greek yoghurt and mixed fruit juices from supplies purchased in one of the ubiquitous local pharmacy/markets, (which just confuse us poor Irish country people; where do New Yorkers do the weekly “Big Shop”?). Smoothie and porridge, breakfast of marathon swimmers, taste and enjoyment not essential.

Protip: bring your own big funnel

 Using another trick from Lisa, I’d applied suntan lotion the previous night, which never seemed to dry completely. But I’d slept moderately well, which I wasn’t worried about anyway, as I’d slept well on Thursday night, which I knew was sufficient for me for a big swim. A lesson leaned the hard way, as so many more. I never expect to sleep the night before a swim, but jet lag provided some assistance. We’d packed the swim and boat gear the previous evening, much of it in my large dry-bag and I’d sat on the floor of the shower mixing Maxim into 1.5 Litre bottles. Mixing Maxim is a sticky job, even when you manage to mix everything dry, which I didn’t. The bag included things that had seemed more necessary back in cold and wet Ireland; wet-gear for Dee for the boat, wet and warm gear for me in case I had exit the water for a period due to lightning, all utterly superfluous, even ridiculous as it turned out. Four hours after reaching New York I’d emailed Ciarán asking what kind of idiot I was that I’d brought two, two, hoodies AND a heavy merino wool top to this insane heat. I have become so conditioned to cold and wet.

As an aside, it’s usually easy to spot Irish people in an airport. They arrive at their destination wearing utterly inappropriate warm clothes looking like polar bears lost in the Caribbean oozing sweat from every pore, and arrive home to Ireland, rain and cold, wearing sandals and shorts and sombreros. In winter.

We headed for Pier 25 for Dee to meet the boat and load the gear. The taxi driver conned us and we found we’d overpaid him for being nice, quick and helpful, when instead he’d dropped us at Pier 66, well Uptown. Uptown is a technical New York term by which I demonstrate my suave well-travelled and cosmopolitan erudition. But as happened all week a friendly New Yorker helped us get a taxi across the highway. Yes, Manhattanites are on the whole friendly, and were so repeatedly, usually without asking. That’s some bad PR Manhattanites have been getting, someone should fix that.

Pier 25 was busy with Soloists loading the gear and the relay teams bustling about. If you knew what to look for you could tell the experienced Soloists. I saw one relay team sitting on the ground trying to mix feeds from scoops into narrow bottles, asking how much was needed and where was the suntan lotion. The Soloists who were around were ready to go.

We said out farewells and made for the Start Point of South Cove, at Battery Park on the west side just around the south tip of the island. The water in the Cove was looking pretty dirty, but experienced swimmers know this is just an effect of eddy currents gathering debris. Carol Cashell (from Sandycove) had told me that when she swam The Little Red Lighthouse 10k last September the water was so murky that she couldn’t see her hand. I’ve swim in conditions where my arms and hands are invisible to myself, so it wouldn’t be a surprise, but it does have some implications for trying to concentrate on your stroke for a long time if you can’t see where your forward hand is.

Ciarán and I met Thomas Kofler, English Channel Soloist and graduate of the first Cork Distance Camp; George Meenan from Derry, also an EC Soloist and our third compatriot, and others such as Graham Lowe from the Jersey crew, Genevieve from Canada, Kent Nicholas from Arizona, Jim Fitzpatrick, Yale swim star Abby Nunn and others, (and sorry I didn’t get to meet everyone). With Thomas there it was literally like having a bonus Sandycove Swimmer around.

{By the way, after Thursday’s Brighton swim, Friday’s Briefing, and the morning’s pre-swim chat, I was utterly astonished and gratified that so many marathon swimmers knew about loneswimmer.com, and that’s not false modesty, you know by now what I say; one average swimmers in the middle of nowhere, taking shite}.

But it was hot. Drinking and walking to the distant toilets to urinate, we waited and talked and chatted to the occasional bemused passers-by, roared at Shaggy as he ran past (Ciarán is from Leinster), and waited some more. And we put on more suntan lotion.

With no camera, I can only fail to describe George, who, even more worried about sunburn than Ciarán and I, resembled someone who’d emerged from a tub of pancake batter due to the layers of suntan lotion and lube applied. All over. All. Over.

The support kayakers arrived in South Cove, flocking and jostling about like a bizarrely coloured flock of new marine wildlife and where possible we grabbed an introduction, and I shouted an Hello to Brian Johnson, my essential paddler, safety, navigator, feeder and lifeline.

They assembled us on the board-walk in groups according to our start waves, with no shelter, and almost no water. Then they reassembled us in groups. Then they reversed the order of the groups. Meanwhile the sun bore down, we all ran out of water, and there was no shade.

And we dripped, indeed we veritably oozed. Suntan lotion, petroleum jelly, emulsifying ointment, Channel grease, whatever anyone’s lubricant of choice was, flowed in rivulets and the smell of slowly self-basting swimmers wafted gently along the board-walk, all desperate to be in the water and protected from the heat.

The last minutes, like my Channel Grease, seeped slowly away.

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, Battery Park (left) to the Ferry Terminal (right), the first 10 minutes of the course

MIMS 2012 – Part 1 – Three Rivers

New York maps show Manhattan Island plumbing a line from north to south, bounded by three rivers, the East and Harlem rivers circumscribe the east curve of Gotham with the East River swerving out and around lower Manhattan, up through Hell Gate and the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers and the Long Island Sound, and then the Harlem river arcs back northwest and cuts through the gash of Spuyten Duyvil, and bludgeons into the Hudson, which delineates the long straight west side of the island, arriving back at the southern tip.

It’s all a convenient and anthropocentric lie of course.

In reality there is only one river, the impressive Hudson, following an 167 mile fjord down from far up New York state, the East and Harlem rivers are just tidal straits (like the Kenmare River in Ireland is just a Bay). And there is the Atlantic, and the island is actually aligned closer to a southwest/northeast axis.

The rivers are convenient names and fictions to please mapmakers and give us humans that sense of control over the world we endlessly seek. Changing an island’s direction from reality to fiction gives us power over the world. Swimming around the same island may be another way of attempting to achieve a similar result. If you know why I swim, please tell me.

Dee & I landed in New York three days before MIMS 2012, in the middle of the first heat wave of the year, the sun above the city hammering us onto the streets with temperatures in the high thirties (97°F). It abated slightly over the next couple of days, bringing thunder storms, one of the potential difficulties with MIMS which can force delays or even stop the swim.

It’s not Sandycove. Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and some assembled MIMS and CIBBOWS swimmers

On Thursday Dee and I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, everyone else looking at the astonishing cityscape, and I mainly focusing on the East River below, watching the high volume of traffic.

Lower East River from Brooklyn Bridge ; East River & Staten Island ferries, FDNY & NYPD boats, commercial and leisure craft, all throwing wakes, and this was NOT the busier Saturday morning of the race

On Friday morning Magnificent Seven swimmer Ciarán Byrne, myself, and our crews met some of the MIMS Soloists and some CIBBOWS swimmers at their regular open water location of Brighton Beach. CIBBOWS is one of the world centres of Channel swimming, with Dover, La Jolla, London’s Serpentine, Chicago, Perth … and of course Sandycove. We met such luminaries as Dave Barra, (fastest Triple Crown ever and Director for 8 Bridges), Jim Fitzpatrick from California (once swam 700,00 yards in 30 days in training) and the remarkable Forrest Nelson and more.

Ciaran and Donal at Brighton Beach, partners in swimming crime

The water temperature was about 21° C, in the realms of “imaginary” until that point, and Ciarán and I swam an easy 45 minutes punctuated by some chatting. Very warm, (but not unbearably so we were relived to discover, as we’d been worried it would be too warm for us cold-water swimmers).

We were also relieved to discover that we both still knew how to swim, a ridiculous but perennial concern for swimmers coming off taper, all rationale, evidence and history to the contrary notwithstanding.

And very salty, similar to the English Channel’s one-percent salinity increase over our more open and exposed side of the Atlantic, where the water has more freedom than the bays and Sounds of New York to become more dilute.

Thunderstorms on Fifth Avenue

The forecast for Saturday had the thunder storms passed by Friday evening after the mandatory final briefing, when we’d met more of this year’s MIMS Soloists, of whom this year there would be a total of 38 swimmers.

Taking Back the Rivers 2012

A quick recap for those of you not familiar with MIMS, it’s NYCSwim‘s flagship event, and has been run annually as a race since 1993 1982, the island having first having been circumnavigated by Robert Downing in 1914 in under 14 hours (using a different course) and swum by many famous marathon swimmers since then. It typically runs in late June, and entries open in November, the available slots usually filling with swimmers from around the world within minutes, all of whom must already have completed at least a six-hour swim in the preceding 24 months. If I was to use my English Channel Solo as a qualification, it had to be this year or never and there would be very few Solo swimmers there without marathon experience, (a couple only having a single 6 hour qualification swim). No-one would be a beginner.

And it’s a race. With Argentina’s 2012 Parana swim cancelled for this year due to inclement weather, it would be one of the longest swim races in the world, with the record standing since seven-times World Champion Shelley Taylor Smith swam it in 5 hours 45 minutes, (only 15 minutes slower than the computer-estimated fastest possible time), in 1995, my friend Evan Morrison, a much better and faster swimmer than I, was second last year in 7:31, and other friends Eddie Irwin, Gábor Molnar and Ned Denison from the Sandycove club have previously successfully swum it.

With a later start this year than usual because of tides, the earlier online briefings were punctuated with warnings of increased traffic because of conflicting events on the rivers on the same day, and because we would be out there later in the day, and therefore winds on the Hudson would also be stronger and the water more choppy, and yet another boating event had been announced for the East river, adding to events of which we’d already been informed.

Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry, Battery Park (left) to the Ferry Terminal (right) and the Brooklyn Bridge, the first 20 minutes of the course