Tag Archives: 24 miles in 24 hours

The Seven Ps of Long Swims

Practice everything.

Do nothing new on the day.

These are the two corollaries of the long distance swimmer’s maxim about preparation. Experienced swimmers learn it early. Plan.

So for planning for something like a 24 hour pool swim, experienced swimmers like Lisa & Danny first think about what they will need, and will go back to previous experience to recall lessons learned. Then they talk to each other, and others experienced in the same area, to see if there’s something they forgot or of which they hadn’t taken account.

With four of us going to have a shot at the 24 mile in 24 hours, for the laugh, three of us having long swim experience, the first step was to mine that experience.

The first concern was feeding. This was a pool swim so the first thing we knew, was this shouldn’t be a Maxim-fest. It shouldn’t be fuelled by Maltodextrin because of the biological problems inherent in trying that in a pool, even with breaks built-in and with a much warmer temperature. This was better done as a primarily food-based swim attempt.

Second are the environmental problems caused by long-term immersion in chlorinated water. Both similar to, yet different from, a long sea swim. Skin protection was still important but also different. Theres’s no salt but there’s still chaffing. There were dry and painful facial skin problems.

Hydration was even more important given the higher temperature, and even though I was conscious of it, and drank a lot, afterwards I realised I still hadn’t drunk enough as I had quite a thirst in the last few hours. Timing between swims was also important and changeable as the swim progressed, and sufficient dryland equipment for comfort through the swim was necessary. And of course the obligatory painkillers, just in case.

So the seven Ps:

Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance“.

24 hour pool swim recovery

Well, I have to say recovery was pretty easy.

I had a tight chest on Sunday, and still somewhat on Monday. It felt similar in a way to asthma, but without the wheezing.

I did an easy 2k in the pool on Tuesday, felt really lethargic. I did the same on Wednesday but felt a bit better. Marie came in while I was there, feeling much worse, so we stuck to short 80% repeats.

I had a massage on Wednesday night from Vinny, which hurt wherever he touched. Every muscle was solid and felt brimmed with lactic acid. But it was the trick and yesterday I did 4k including reasonably fast 100s and today 4.5k including 10x 200s on 3:20 with plenty of time to spare. Deltoids still felt a bit sore but not enough to affect me. So I’d say recovery in four days, a lot different than a marathon swim.

I used my Magic Cups to ice earlier in the week, particularly my neck and over my shoulders and the tennis ball again for a few knots.

I think the extra stretching and use of the tennis ball in the middle of the night really helped.

24 miles in 24 hours swim

Lisa Cummins, Danny Walsh, and myself tackled the 24 miles in 24 hours swim challenge this weekend past, as I briefly mentioned last week.

Mark Robson alerted us to this UK charity swim back in January/February. I thought it sounded like fun and asked a few of my regular swim friends and the rest of the Magnificent Seven if anyone was interested for the past weekend.

We finally had the short list of four.

I had chosen Kilkenny’s Watershed pool back in February and the manager Aoife Mullins was immediately receptive and positive. The Watershed is only open about two years and is a beautiful FINA approved 25m pool (and fantastic sports centre) which has UV water processing.

We met at 9am on Saturday. Aoife had given us use of a First Aid room off the deck for the day and allocated a lane for the four of us (on their busiest day of the week) and we had discussed chlorine levels and water temperature previously. Aoife had posters up around and one staff member (Robin) had (unknown to us) even been on the local radio with our names and the challenge.

The use of the First Aid room was fantastic, given the huge amount of food and gear we all had.
People used to club and pool swimmers are always shocked when they see the amount of stuff required for a really long swim. We had circulated a list amongst us based on the experience of all the long pool swims the Magnificent Seven especially did last year and all our Channel swims, so everyone was well prepared, as you saw from my preparation list last week. We were able to get away from the deck and eat in peace. We also all made a point a showering off the chlorine after every session.

The pool was a lovely 29 C and the chlorine level was between 0.8 down to 0.2 overnight! (In relation to other pools, some older municipal pools might get as high as 2.5 to 3.0.)

We started at 10 am, sharing a lane for the day. After a couple of hours we noticed that Aoife had even arranged to give us a lane that was about a foot wider than the others. We had enough space that we only had one hand-clash in the entire 24 hours and that was my fault. The first few miles, despite trying to take it slow, went off at around 25 to 26 mins so we consciously dropped it a little bit to reserve energy.

Through the day Lisa and I also made a point of using a Asthma Inhaler (Ventolin Reliever, 100mg). In fact I really overused, just in case.

The day passed easily and by 7.30 pm the pool closed and we had the place to ourselves. I remember the early third mile as feeling great, as did number six.

Aoife put some music on the public system for us. Over the next few hours we discovered it was mistakenly playing a short playlist, so we heard the same few songs at the end of each hour and we all have some songs that we now particularly hate as they would be playing just before we got back into swim and would run around our heads for a mile.

The individual miles were all obviously different for everyone with us all peaking and dropping at different times. Lisa & I got shoulder twinges early on, and we were both concerned we were seeing flareups of our respective Channel injuries and took some prophylactic painkillers. But these aches abated and didn’t return for either of us. Danny (aka “hard as nails“) got a bad stitch somewhere around the eight hour mark which caused sickness and caused him to struggle intermittently from then on, though he never gave up completely.

The 12th hour saw us still feeling good, tweets and texts were exchanged occasionally with Mark in the Guildford Lido where the UK swim was progressing, with them having a cold open air night though these messages dropped on both sides as we all got tired.

We had moved our stuff to poolside at 7pm, and we were getting fed up with even the wide range of food and liquid we’d brought. After the public left we were able to spread out, each taking a lane.

I alternated between water and my homemade isotonic mix each hour, with a couple of cups of soup in the afternoon, and two cups of coffee during the night.

At around midnight or 1am, Robin arrived with freshly made porridge for us, a fantastic treat, and I can say, given how much of the stuff I’ve forced down unwillingly, the first time in my life I’ve enjoyed it and I had the single greatest jelly baby I’ve ever eaten at about 2 or 3am.

I remember mile 14 as being particularly good, as Marie and I cruised stroke for stroke very comfortably, yet mile 15 I found difficult and I started to glide like it was 1944 and I was invading Normandy, holding seven to nine metre glides of the wall for about 1000 metres until I realised it was making my neck sore and I had to revert to a normal glide.

Mile 16 was ok and I recall writing a future article for here in my head. Mile 17 was tough and mile 18 was my worst, with my times dropping to 30 mins for both 17 and 18, 18 was a real struggle as I felt strong nausea throughout and I had to concentrate strongly.

By this stage my throat and tongue were getting sore. To mile 19 I gave a theme, (relentless). On mile 20, I decided to forego my noseclip for the mile so change to my seas breathing pattern but I went back to it for afterwards. At some point in there, one mile went so well and I was so in the zone, that I forgot to stop and the girls, who were for that mile relying on me for the count, were not best pleased.

As I said each us had their own battles at our own times. The small hours were long, with tiredness and contracted muscles playing their roles. Though the rest times didn’t shrink nevertheless we felt like we had much less. Get out and shuffle to the showers. Back to deck for slowly consumed food and drink. Back to the toilet. Back to more vaseline or channel grease and putting the gear back on and to stare at the lane before getting in. Seemed like mere minutes. Pro-tip: always leaves your swim gear int he same spot so you don’t waste time looking for it.

My stroke count dropped from the initial 18 to about 20 by mile 14, reclaiming two strokes per minute on the kilometre where I was really gliding and I dropped further to 21/22 for the final hours. It’s funny how once you lose those four strokes per minutes, it’s hard to figure out where they were, because your muscles have shortened with use and you can’t extend/contract as you did previously.

But the bad phase passed, thanks possibly to a strategic Ponstan pain killer and some extra stretching and use of my tennis ball on shoulder and arm muscles.

It was all fine from there on for me, as I started to drop times on each subsequent mile again. Just minutes after the mile start at 5am we started to see the first hint of false dawn and by the time we’d finished that mile there was light through the windows. At 7.30 the Kilkenny B squad arrived for training and we were compressed back into one lane, making the second last and penultimate miles a real exercise in frustration as our mismatched speeds became more difficult. We started out last mile at 9am and were done by 9.30am, Lisa & I finishing 2 lengths apart (I had early on decided to do 25 miles to go to 40k).

Following last year’s habit set by Liam, Eddie and myself in our nine hour pool swim, butterfly finish for me FTW.

We’d done it and were feeling tired but good.

Everyone did well. Danny battled with illness, never giving up.

The standout, unsurprisingly, and she’ll of course not want me to say this, was Lisa who did it WITH NO TRAINING, displaying her phenomenal mental strength yet again! It was a privilege to swim to them all.
The after effects are ok. I have a sore ankle from all the tumble turns, Lisa & I both had sore throats. But a couple of days is all that is required for recuperation, (I did an easy 2k yesterday morning and it was fine).

Thanks once again to Aoife Mullins and all the staff of The Watershed who were so accommodating.

As long distance swimmers we are often seen as the freaks and outsiders of swimming and the best we often hope for is tolerance but this was not the case in Kilkenny where we were welcomed with open arms.

I hope I might run it again next year, when I will have more of you fighting for places, as I believe there is no better pool in the country to host it (including UL & the NAC). Start emailing me now for places! Well done to the large group in the UK who also finished, it was nice to know we weren’t the only idiots swimming early Sunday morning.

Donal, Marie, Aoife, Lisa, Danny

Talking to Clare later she asked me the most interesting question: “how would you rank it compared to the Channel, if you were to place the Channel as a 10″?

So, I have both a Channel double relay (25 hours, also overnight) and the solo, and Gábor’s solo to compare, I thought it was a really interesting question. I said 5 to 6 to her.

First point it that’s allocating a 10 to the Channel I know, not those who had different Channel swims. I think with even a few days I’d say no more than a 5, but you have to go with initial impressions on these things. It’s a tough challenge, but it’s nowhere near in the same category.

No cold. No tides. No horizon. No tides. No wind. No currents. No jellyfish. No tides. No diesel fumes. No vomiting. No unknown finish time or distance. The psychological difficulty is nowhere near similar. Did I mention the tides?

One small sign of swimmer’s spring

Swimmer’s Twitter accounts, which have often laid dormant during the winter, start to come alive again.

I’ll irregularly updating progress tomorrow as we hopefully go through the day on my Twitter account and maybe a post or two here from my phone. I mean, how rare is it for a swimmer to be able to update on their own swim?

Best of luck to Mark Robson who is starting tonight in Guildford in the UK, but with an almost 300 mile drive first! And Fergal Galvin who is also taking part in a 24 hour team head to head relay in the NAC.

24 miles in 24 hours pool swim preparation list

Food: Not Maxim. We know that won’t work for 24 hours in a pool. :-)

Fruit. (Especially berries, bananas)


Hot or cold Pasta (ugh)



Chocolate, biscuits, mint cake, jelly babies. The usual.

Fruit Cake/flapjacks

I’ll have a tub of Maxim for the times we need a boost.

Coffee for the night.

Lots of water. I’ll probably bring 2x 5l bottles for myself. One will 20% Miwadi + salt.

Cordial or squash to add a bit of flavour.

Mouthwash also, just in case of sore throats.

A few high energy bars.

Other things :

3 togs, 3 goggles, 3 hats, 3 nose plugs.

Vaseline/lanolin or Channel grease. Vaseline should work fine for this.

Towels (I’ll be bringing my sports chamois towel for quick drying off but will still need/bring 3 or 4 regular towels).

Few pairs of shorts and track suit bottom.

Sandals/flip flops.

5 or 6 t-shirts and a few hoodies.

A warm coat for the middle of the night when tired.

Wet wipes or damp cloth, and dishwashing liquid for getting off the lanolin.

Baby oil.

Something to keep faces moisturised.

Painkillers. And different painkillers. And other painkillers. At least one with an anti-inflammatory.

Anti-diarrhea tablets & Peppermint oil tablets (in case of stomach cramps)

Asthma Inhaler, which I recommend everyone uses a couple of times since you are in a pool environment for 24 hours.

Some Biofreeze and Volterol for topical pain.

Talked to Aoife. Chlorine levels to be between 0.8 and 1.0. Great! Pool is normally cool.

Cocaine and/or Amphetamines.

No MP3 players allowed, as usual.

Lisa Cummins, Ireland’s Double English Channel Queen

Danny Walsh, 2010 & 2102 Solo Aspirant, National Double English Channel relay team record

Marie Barry, 2010 English Channel single relay


(Possibly one other if she shows up).

Many thanks to Aoife Mullins, Pool Manager in The Watershed for being so positive when I asked her about this all those months ago and being so helpful in organising.