Tag Archives: Ciarán

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.

Swimming through it – the value of long pool sessions

It’s over two years since The Magnificent Seven did our first 8 hour pool swim. It seems longer. Early in 2010 Coach Eilís started adding regular big long pool sessions for Aspirants and The Magnificent Seven were the first test pilots. That year we did, I think, five pool sessions of at least six hours.

By now I’ve done at least twelve pool sessions of six plus hours, maybe more. (How did that happen)?

The most recent swims have been with Gábor, the Flying Hun, and there hasn’t been anything specific worth writing about and guest-starring many of the usual suspects, Lisa, Eddie, Rob, Karen, Ciarán, and some of this year’s Aspirants, Padraic, Carmel, Catherine. On this swim Lisa was in the next lane having started an hour before us, starting a 15k swim herself, having swum 17k …THE PREVIOUS DAY!

All six-hour swims are difficult for varying degrees and often, or even usually, for different reasons. You may be more tired starting, you may have been ill recently, you may develop shoulder pain or stomach or even leg cramps, or like a few weeks ago,  you may spend two hours in hell chasing Eddie Irwin who is holding 1:30 intervals per hundred easily. The point being that these swims are never easy. They are just varying degrees of tough and each usually teaches one something.

The most recent 20k with Gábor solidified many of the lessons.

Neither of us wanted to do a speed set so I took a set from marathon swimmer Mark Robson that he had posted on marathonswimmers.org Animal Set thread and adapted it. The Animal Set thread is both a great resource for finding new ideas for long punishing swims and for feeling small because no matter what you’ve done there are probably other sets in there that you’ll find horrifying.

Mark posted up 1 x 1000, 10 x 400, 2 x 2000, 10 x 400, 1 x 1000 for 14k. I’ve used this set before as a good base that’s flexible and easy to change and adapt.

This time I changed it to: 
  • 2 x 1500
  • 10 x 400 on 6:45
  • 2 x 2000 as 1st paddles & 2nd pull
  • 500 b/c
  • 10 x 400
  • 2 x 1000 as 1st 1k paddles & pull, 2nd 1k swim
  • 4 x 500
  • 500 b/c, making up a 20k session

Plenty of rest on the 400s but still making good use of time by doing 8k as 400, and a few long sets.

View Visio v200mThings were mixed early on. Swimming was fine but I was cursed by a host of minor issues. On the first 1500, my nose clip kept slipping off, I was obviously having a greasy-nose day. My Oceanswims.com Fully Sick googles, which are now my firm favourites (and not available anywhere in Europe :-( ) have been solid for 6 months started leaking and I couldn’t get them cleared no matter what I did and ended up switching back what now seems like huge Aquaspheres. I got cramps in my foot on the first 2k set (after 7k), something that hasn’t happened six months so I obviously wasn’t drinking enough, then I started to get hints of stomach cramps. All minor, but cumulatively throwing me off and taking away that sense of easy swimming that should have been prevalent early on.

While the times on the 400s were fine, doing an easy 6:45 to give us plenty of rest each rep, they weren’t exactly fun and I’m didn’t know why, since repeat 400s are bread-and-butter in my training. The first difficulty really hit on the 2k with paddles, with developing foot cramps, and then my left shoulder started really hurting. This shoulder is my good one, as almost all distance swimmers have a shoulder more prone to injury, and it’s a problem that’s only arisen this year, when my good (left) shoulder started hurting from paddle work, so I’ve reduced power paddle work by about 75% from my normal. (I used to like paddles). Pull sets are fine with me, as I don’t have a big kick so I am less affected. After finishing the first 500 back stroke, we were at 11.5 kilometres done. Three and half hours in. And that was the easy part.

The slump nearly always hits me at this point. Back to another 10x 400s and by this time the pool got very busy, with people coming and going into the lane for about an hour, Lisa being pushed into joining us, all different speeds, etc. It was probably a good thing because it helped to distract us as Gábor and I were taking turns leading out. Talking afterwards we both hit the real slump at the same time, at 11.5k and both of us struggled for the same duration of over an hour. Despite feeling worse the second 400s went quicker. At the end of the 400s we were at 15.5k and started the 1k pull and paddles, which we cruised through. Starting the next 1k straight, we were both still moaning. Gábor said he was going to take it easy. I zoned out for the first couple of lengths, and was slipping back when I noticed Gábor dolphin-kicking off the wall. Did I imagine it? At the next turn he did it again…

We were back. That kilometer was a race, ending with a sprint finish (him, by half a body), going into the repeat 400s, ending again with a sprint (him by a finger, each time I couldn’t make an attempt to pass until the last length and I was coming back from behind and he’s usually faster than me so that was ok). But that’s not the relevant point. What was relevant was the gradual recovery, so when we decided to up the gears again, the bodies responded. By we were both sore and tired. (Sore shoulders are a rarity, especially when you are swimming all the time).

All this is by way of explanation and scene-setting and context.

I’m trying to analyse this swim, and the other long swims I’ve done and extract some useful lessons on the value such sessions.

  • All long pool swims are difficult. The reasons change.
  • Feeding during pool sessions may not be completely applicable to open water.
  • But you will get better figuring out when you will run out of energy and what that feels like.
  • Long pool sessions can be used to figure out some other stuff like preferred analgesic/cramp intervention.
  • The session structure is less important than just putting in effort and time swimming and hitting that wall.
  • The post-slump improvement is gradual as your body adapts to ketosis and you don’t get a sudden sense of feeling better.
  • The glycosis to ketosis transition can vary by person and time and swim.
  • Post-swim recovery, immediately after the swim, and over the subsequent days, are important parts of long swims and the more long swims you do, the quicker and better you get at recovery.
  • The most important lesson: You can swim through it. Whatever it is. This is what makes a distance swimmer. Everything is secondary.

I hope for a future guest post on this subject and I can think of NO-ONE better qualified than Lisa to write it. Let’s everyone ask her nicely.

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Six hour swim in sub-eleven degree Celsius water – my longest cold swim

Edit: The original title of this post may have been the worst title I ever wrote. And that’s saying something. I’m really bad at titles.

Dante wrote that the Ninth Circle of the Inferno was ice. He didn’t seem to consider freezing water, so I guess it might have been the lobby entrance to the Ninth level? Where we spent six hours on a Saturday on 2010. Reserved for the wilfully stupid, and marathon swimmers. Who may just be one and the same.

It was supposed to be the final eight hour swim for Jen & I yesterday with Ciarán and Rob also in the water.

Ciarán had arranged Kieran O’Connor to provide rib support for a Speckled Door and back swim before finishing with more laps of Sandycove. (Thanks again Kieran).

We started just after nine am. Cold at the slipway, as bloody usual but then…it didn’t get much better. Wind was South West, about Force Three starting hitting Force Four occasionally later on. So headwind and chop down to the Spec. First feed was just after Hake Head, the main landmark for swimmers on the way down at about fifty minutes. Rob and I reached the Spec at about two hours, a couple of minutes ahead.

We had expected it to take somewhere between one hour thirty to one hour forty five. At least fifteen minutes behind. And cold.
Kieran told us it was fifteen Celsius the whole way, but the wind was making us cold. We knew he was lying. At this stage I’d lost my left hand. And my thighs were starting to seize. I started kicking them against my hands underwater to improve circulation.

He sent Rob & I into the harbour to circle before the feed. When we got back he’d already fed Jen and Ciarán, and sent us to chase them the whole way back.
“Pursuit”, cackled Rob, and off we went.

We stroked side by side until the next feed ( apart from ten minute divergence as we each felt we knew the best line back, both of us confident in our navigation skills). We split and came back together after Hake Head side by side again. At that feed looking back we saw we’d passed Hake Head (it’s not easily visible from the west side) and were obviously flying with the wind and swell behind us. We’d had ten minutes of sun and slightly warmed up. We never saw Jen and Ciarán the whole way back

We hit Finbarr’s Beach just catching the other pair, with them about five seconds ahead at almost exactly four hours. Half an hour behind our estimated time, but twenty minutes faster on the return journey.

As we transferred our feed bottles to the beach, Ciarán told us the real temperature.

Ten point seven to eleven point one. Degrees. Celsius.

Sweet merciful Cthulhu. No wonder we were all suffering and in pain. Actual pain by the way. My neck had seized up, I had pains up my forearms, biceps and shoulders. My lower back hurt. My thighs were the worst, with hideous pain in them. I tried punching them as hard as I could to restore some circulation. Lying to us was exactly the right thing for Kieran to do. If we had known we might decided on a short swim early on.

Only during the week I had been thinking how I could never have done the six hour qualification in thirteen degrees that Ciarán and Rob had done.

We agreed on two laps (one hour) then we would call it.

The first lap was bad.

The second lap was a nightmare, the second toughest Sandycove lap I’ve ever done, (the worst was on  the eight lap (mile) on the first Champion Of Champions swim in 2008, the race where only twelve out of over fifty finished and it took twenty minutes to swim the normal ten minute outside stretch).

We made it back. Fed. Time (and everything else) was getting a bit blurry but I was not getting out short of six hours. We were around five hours at that stage. I was going to go again when the boys suggested an inside lap.

There was no merciful warm patch after the third corner, nor outside the island, as there had been for a few weeks now.

Now the boys are tough as nails. On the eight hour swim, when it was too rough outside the island at the end for me, Rob kept going out. If they were suggesting moving inside that’ll tell you something. Rob is not known as The Bull for nothing.

We did an inside triangle. A warm patch as the fourth corner felt like paradise. It was…only 11.4 C!

Yes, only half a degree higher. We swam up the Pil estuary where it was a bit better, but still with cold patches. Back for the last feed.

Thirty minutes. We needed thirty minutes.

We went for another inside triangle. We stood for a few seconds in the sticky mud up the estuary where Rob asked if standing there for two hours would count. We made it back to Finbarr’s, attempting the final sprint. Which didn’t look or feel like one, but no point hanging onto any energy at that stage. We came in together again.

As we stumbled onto the low tide sandbank, I looked at the guys. They looked like I felt.

Our legs were unable to bend or properly support us. Arms bent and back hunched like chimpanzees. Necks not working. Moving very similar to movie zombies.

Get the boxes. Into the cold one final time and swim back across the channel, pushing the swim boxes or towing them behind us. Warm shower from water bottles warming in the too-late sun.

Where were you Sun, when we needed you you six hours ago“? Bit bloody late . “You see Sun, it’s that fickleness that means Ireland never developed a proper Sun Worship religion. Just think, you could have had a shot. You have been a contender. A few month’s sunshine and we could have had our own Ra or Akhenaton. Instead we got those bloody priests. And we all know how that ended.

Dressed. Almost immediate recovery, something Jen had pointed out to me a few weeks back. Food and chat for a few hours. More talk about details for our Channel swims. Questions, some of which will soon be directed toward those of you successful Channel swimmers reading this.

Lessons learnt:

  • I would have sworn it was impossible (for me). (A day later I still think it’s impossible)
  • If I had known the real temperature at the start I would never have done it
  • If I had been by myself I would never had done it
  • Sometimes will-power will take you places you never thought possible. I hope I never forget how I felt starting that final hour with all higher powers of cognition and articulation fled:

Fuck you sea. Fuck you waves and wind. Fuck you cold. I’m coming. I’m fucking coming. Third Corner? I fucking OWN the Third Corner.”

(It lasted until said Third Corner by the way, by which time I was back to whimpering.)

Update: Months later, thinking this was a great achievement and also reflecting that we were all borderline hypothermic (and we all know hypo), I discovered that Lisa had done nine hours in similar temperatures during her EC Double training!

But a year and half later memories of this swim are still with us all, and it often discussed. Ihope to never have to do anything like this again.