I have an irregular Brazilian open water email correspondent who is a lake swimmer, and is too far from the sea to have ever been able to swim in the ocean. He writes about the wildlife he loves on the banks, the calm warm (high 20’s!) water and the serenity of lake swimming and can’t really get his head around the existence of jellyfish and cold water and why on earth we swim in such.
We see things differently. The biggest advantages of lake swimming for me are twofold: after May lakes are warmer than the sea, and secondly they are generally calmer. So it’s almost purely utilitarian for me, using lakes to supplement training, to take a break from rough and/or cold water, and to get a long swim in on a day when the sea might not otherwise comply.
I don’t actually have any decent sized lakes near me, Ballyscanlon Lough is only about 400 metres long.
So when a long lake swim is required the primary choice for the Sandycove swimmers is Inishcarra Reservoir on the Lee river. It’s a hydroelectric dam reservoir in the valley above Cork City. From the normal start it’s about 1600m to the usual turn point near the pump house, and a further 1100 metres to the dam itself if you require a longer swim, just so you can tumbleturn off the Dam.
The other popular choice is an anti-clockwise loop, since the lake is only about 700 metres wide this doesn’t add a lot of time between feeds.
Ciarán Byrne and I had a five-hour swim there last weekend, deciding to forego rough and cold in favour of a predictable location. We must be getting soft but frankly I’ve had enough of rough water swimming for the moment.
Lake swims start out nice, warm and calm. But in comparison to my Brazilian swim correspondent’s feelings, over a long swim I find them far less interesting. Fresh water at least means no sore throat as happens in the sea. But the water is darker so there’s less or nothing to see underwater and the loops and laps tend to be more monotonous. But most of all is the lack of buoyancy. I have no small sense of admiration for people doing 12 or 18 hour swims in lakes like Michigan, Memphremagog, Lough Ness.
After only four hours in a lake, my shoulders are getting heavy. My longest lake swim is six hours and my shoulders and arms were leaden afterwards due to the lack of buoyancy.
I have no plans to ever swim longer than six hours in a lake.
I had a plan for a swim last week, but I was let down again by my kayaking friend.
What to do, what to do?
Friday’s forecast was pretty good. Very light onshores. I wanted something new. So I decided it was the apposite day. I had a pretty decent breakfast and was ready to go.
When I arrived at the Guillamene the tide was an hour past high and the place was buzzing with people. There was even some sun in the sky but the wind was bit friskier than forecasted, enough to catch the irregular beams of sunlight and cast them about like spotlit rhinestones in a Christmas window, putting on a showy invitational display.
The Scarf current was plainly visible, this time stretching away toward the dunes.
I put on some suntan lotion and attached a D-clip to my togs. Jimmy from the Newtown & Guillamene club told that the local fishermen said the currents where I was going were too strong, according to the local fishermen. I told him I believed the fishermen were wrong.
Onto the D-clip I attached a metre-long string with a bottle with a sachet of Go-Sport carb added (I’m out of Maxim).
I looped away on my normal outward course toward the Metalman and Great Newtown Head. The water was choppy to the front. I was already about three minutes behind normal by the time I read the Head. I swam in below the head between the rocks and Seal Rock, a three metre gap that should only really be swam in Force 2 or less.
From there I swam across toward Illaunglas, passing the rock before it. I’d allocated about 20 minutes between each waypoint so I could track my progress.
I think of Illaunglas as Cormorant Rock. It’s actually a small black reef and the rock of the coast, which is white from the guano of the cormorants and herring gulls that are always there. As I passed they took to the air over me for almost 10 minutes.
Each of the three promontories between Newtown head and Garrarus are sites of neolithic forts.
On the coast all along here but particularly on either side of Cormorant rock are very large sea caves, facing almost directly south-east and south respectively, and therefore in the high August sunlight looking like black dark ocean gates to the Land of the Aes Sídhe, the underworld land of the Unseely Court and the Good Folk.
At about 45 minutes I was passed another unseen border and I was into water I’d never swum before. From the Guillamene it is all cliffs. There are some small beaches but they are inaccessible at the foot of the unstable cliffs. The last possible exist point is the foot of Newtown head under the Metalman, where it would be possible to climb the cliff and walk along the edge for twenty minutes back to the car park. Not exactly ideal if you are in togs. This swim was a commitment, a Lone Swim.
It continued to be choppy with the chop coming toward me from front and left.
From Illaunglas however I was passing one of my water borders from the outside, from the unknown water section into an area with which I was again familiar and which I think of as Wonderland.
The next twenty minutes took me toward Burke’s Rock on the outside of Garrarus, familiar water again.
With the tide dropping one of my plans to swim through what I call the Wonderland Hole wasn’t possible. I swam between the outside of the Garrarus rocks and inside Burke’s Rock with two fulmars keeping station above me.
From there I was heading across Garrarus bay. As I swam toward The Teeth, I could see three cars parked above the beach, I was back to a location where I could again exit the water, but with my car miles away, it wasn’t have been much use.
From Burke’s Rock, I swam between the reefs that I call The Teeth, because there are two lines of them and on a dropping tide you can’t take a direct line through but have to weave between.
From there I swam across on a slightly curving inward course toward Sheep Island. Sheep Island marks the end of Kilfarassey beach and was my intended destination.
I wasn’t the whole way across. It was one hour and thirty minutes, which I’d set as my turning-back time. I stopped and thought about it. Then I decided and I continued on.
1 hour 40 minutes. Just inside the smaller island I call The Watchtower. Yes, I’ve been giving swim names to a lot of the features along this coast.
I took my carb drink, gulping about half of the 750ml. Then I started back. This time I decided to go outside of Burke’s Rock. The chop was now slightly behind me. It drove me a bit too far inward approaching Illaunglas and I had to swim outward to pass Cormorant Rock, many birds once again taking wing and skimming down close to investigate as I passed. One hundred metres or so I took half the remaining carb and headed for Newtown Head once again being driven inside the head. At two hours twenty-five I took the remaining carb drink, swam inside Seal Rock again with the chop behind me, but knowing that approaching it from this side if I took the left side of the short passage it would be deeper and safer. I passed within fingertip distance of the rocks and then looped deliberately outward for the final leg with the chop now finally behind me. The last twenty five minutes were tiring.
I reached the Guillamene three hours and ten minutes since I’d started. Nine kilometers total. I’d picked up ten minutes only on the return, indicating I’d hit something that slowed me. After I used Google Earth to figure it out , I realised that the whole expedition took longer than I’d expected, since the distance was only about 9k. Obviously I’d lost more time on the outward after passing Newtown Head, and I picked up less on the return than expected.
A good, and new, unsupported swim, with a sufficient amount of scary for me. Just to note, though I was swimming part of the coast I hadn’t swam before, I’d actually, as I’d obviously taken the above photos from the cliff tops and also knew the area of the turning point from swimming it.
I’ve often swum for longer than 3 hours by myself, but I’ve been working from a location that I return to during the swim such as Sandycove, Clonea or the Guillamene. I’ve swum further unsupported in less time (Tramore bay over and back). But this was the longest time unsupported without returning to a base. And in new water.
It’s similar to a Speckled Door over and back swim in Sandycove. The same lack of exits along the coast, and a swim which you wouldn’t normally do by yourself.
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.
I thought I’d revisit this subject, with the benefit of some few longs swims done in the past few months.
On the first six hour lake swim, I crashed (ran out of energy) on the last mile.
On the first six hour SandyCove swim this year I crashed at about four & a half hours, for twenty-five minutes, until I got some more food into me.
The next 6 hour sea went well, as have the various four and five hour sea swims.
The eight hour sea swim went fine, as did last weekend’s six hour. some more tweaking will be done for next weekend’s eight hour swim again.
The pattern we’re using is hourly food breaks. However for myself, I’ve decided I need one extra food break (at least) in a six hour swim, so after four hours I may need to move to half-hourly feeds.
I’ll use a plain isotonic mix for the first hour, moving to Maxim later on.
I had been using Hi-5 (4:1) carbohydrate to protein mix for a while but discovered at the TBBC swim that the higher sodium in it made it difficult for me to get enough in, so I changed to Maxim after that which is fine.
Depending on the day, I’ll also have some tomato or minestrone soup, with added Maxim. Using the soup alone won’t give me enough energy (that’s why I crashed on the first SandyCove six-hour, nothing extra in the soup).
I’m taking plenty of fruit also, especially in the first three or four hours. Maybe half a banana, and plenty of strawberries and blackberries, which are easy to get in quick.
Good old Kendall Mint Cake comes out at the five or six hour point. I try not to use it until the last hour or two. At that stage, I’ve reduced the fruit intake mostly. I stocked on the Mint Cake early in the year when ALDI had it on sale. I think most of the guys are converts to it also. Some of them are also using one of Finbarr’s recommendations, Fry’s Turkish Delight.
Each feed I’m getting about 400 to 500 ml of liquid in (Maxim plus soup). I have generally discarded the fresh smoothie in the sea that I was using for long pool swims, as it’s too viscous (the way I make it). I’ve removed coffee from my diet, as I mentioned before, using it only on the day of a long swim, to get the benefits. I believe one needs to be off coffee for ten days to get those benefits. I plan to hold off on it in the Channel until the last few hours.
Pre-swims of course involves plenty of carbohydrate and liquid intake. Pasta and fruit and oatmeal for me.
Last week was Sandycove Cork Distance camp. Organised and run by Ned Dennison, it’s a 10 day series of swims designed for long distance swimmers wanting to get some really serious training done.
It started as the Champion Of Champions swim in 2008, based on the UK Dover race of the same format; a 5 mile swim a 2 hour break, then 3 miles, then another break, then a one mile sprint, with results based on cumulative times.
2008 was notorious due to the cold and changing adverse weather as the day progressed, such that only 12 of us finished the whole 9 miles.
2009 included a swim up the coast from the Speckled Door. Still a bit cold but with better conditions. At that stage the Distance Camp also started.
Given it’s not local for me, I skipped the mid-week early morning swims and just stuck to my own program. The guys were swimming 2 hours at 6am and 2 in the evening most week-days, with the big swims last weekend, 4 and half to 5 and a half hours on Saturday (depending on which group you were in) and 6 or 8 hours on Sunday.
We started the first weekend ourselves with a 5 hour swim in Ballycroneen when the rest were doing 1 or 2 hours, but the total for the camp, if you did everything, was 150,000 metres!
I had a car problem for 2 days so my total was about 110,00 metres. Rob & Gabor each did 90k in a week, (compared to my 70k)!
6 hour Channel qualification swim:
In under 16 Celsius:
Whether coach will sign off on it is another matter as 5 of the magnificent seven are currently in the bad books, apparently. It’s not like we won’t be doing it again anyway.
6 hours + in Inishcarragh Lake, water about 15C (+ / – about 0.5), sun shining for almost 5 hours and flat water. The photo is from the morning and doesn’t do any justice to the location.
Thanks to Sylvain, Lisa, Liz & John C. for the and Declan for the kayak support. Thanks to Mick and Kay for the barbecue(s) and enough food to feed an army afterwards.
(And I’d like to say, it wasn’t me started the sprinting, but Gábor heading toward the buoy in the fourth hour. I was just unfortunate enough to be involved then and the subsequent ones. As could be witnessed by how I died in the last mile!)
(WordPress somehow chewed the original of this post, which had followed the Socrates quote, so below is a quick and lazy rewrite).
Last Friday we (2010 Channel aspirants) met for a 10 hour pool swim.
I had only approximately 4 hours sleep the previous night and was feeling tired but expecting the worst after the few previous swims, which had started poorly. And indeed I did feel tired for the first few hours, but certainly not with the same level of discomfort or even pain of the previous two long swims.
Coach Eilís set a steadier pace for us this time, with very short breaks and we were all doing well by the six hour food break. More feeding strategies were tried, I again went with chicken sandwiches but this time with added coffee and tomato & pasta soup for the main food break.
Consequently the two hours after the food, everyone suffered, feeling very uncomfortable, heavy and bloated. But we all prevailed and made it to just under 9 hours, when we abandoned the pool for a half hour sea swim to ease out the muscles, bringing the total to just under nine and half hours, short of the ten hours, but to be honest, this was only due to available time, rather than capability.
The effects of training are obvious on everyone, with us all looking much better after the swim. We finished with 400 I.M. by the way, you know, just for the hell of it!
When we were talking the other day, Ciarán mentioned, that Danny Coholane (English Channel soloist) had told him and Eddie, (also English Channel Soloist) agreed…
…that every swim over eight hours mark requires a week to recover.
Ciarán also mentioned that he had been shattered for the week after the nine hour swim, meaning that all of The Magnificent Seven without exception had suffered that week after the swim.
It was such an important piece of info for long-distance swimmers, I’m giving it it’s own post!
Rest day and after 6 1/2 hours session yesterday, it’s even better.
Put on some music, have a fruit smoothie, grind and brew the coffee beans, throw on some pancakes. Not training food but pretty nice for a change. Like being a normal human.
The Magnificent Seven, and Eddie, assembled at 6.30am in Source again yesterday morning for a 7 hour swim.
I was again awake at 3am of course, an hour before the actual alarm went off. I had taken some over the counter sleep aids I’d picked up the US the last time I was over there, and I got to Cork with a very groggy head. (Eddie told me the main ingredient was an anti-histamine, so I stayed groggy for a good few hours).
The boss was there and cracked the whip immediately. We would start with 10k, 1 minute rest after 4k, 3k, 2k. No other breaks, even for a drink.
Straight into it.
I said I’d lead out the first 1k. Got the count completely back-asswards. Handed over to Liam at what I though was about 1000 but then looked at the clock and it had actually been about 1500. Anyway, pace was “hot” right through and I put too much into that first 1500. Did the 4k in 1:05, and finished the 10k in under 3 hours, thus being by far the the fasted 10k I’ve ever done.
I cracked early on in the 10th kilometre, couldn’t hold the speed, and slipped off Ciarán and Rob’s toes and there was no way back, getting further behind. Shattered my confidence for a while.
Gabór had to go to work after a few hours, he had already done a 10 hour during the week, by himself!
Danny got sick and Eilís sent him home. Being Danny he wouldn’t have went otherwise.
Couple of minutes toilet break, (I had time for one mouthful of a sandwich & half a banana), and back with 10×100 paddles, 10×200 paddles, 3k straight, and mixed bunch to finish the last 4 k. We did the 3k straight in 45 mins, each of taking a 500 and pushing it. Again a fastest ever 3k for me.
I recovered my composure in the second 10k and feeling fine all through, sticking the pace ok. A couple of well-placed words from Ciarán & Rob were much appreciated and ensured some repair to the damage my confidence had taken.
(I did cheat when using the paddles by using my small ones. We had a 2k paddle session earlier in the week and about 800m into it my left shoulder starting hurting intensely. I finished the 2k, which in retrospect I shouldn’t have done, but required a visit to Vinny, who said both shoulders were inflamed and red around the lats. (Lattisimus Dorsii). So I didn’t want that to flare up again so I used the small paddles.)
20k finished, with a few breaks in 6:15. Eilís had planned 7 hours, so we actually got to finish early. Sore arms all round after the stiff session.
Up to the cafe for some food, we were all ravenous after the pace, while Eilís was being interviewed for Gay TV prior to her visit to the World Gay Games this year.
Plenty of laughs were had earlier when she informed of that we probably be in the background swimming for this.
We offered to oil up on deck, massage each other, roll our togs down to thongs etc. We’re hoping some websites dedicated to us might spring up.
Given the height of him, Liam especially is likely to be a gay icon. Pity Gabór was gone, with his tattoos he’s surely get his own speciality website!
Anyway after the food and chat, Phase two was out to Ballycroneen where Liam lives for a sea swim. Original plan was for an hour but sea conditions were too rough for a long swim. We did about 15 minutes, particularly hard for Jen to get in as she has just returned from the hottest Australian summer on record and swimming Rottnest again, to come back to 6.9 C
I was not most popular as, after I returned to the beach, apparently everyone though I’d been lost at sea. (They’re not the first as my wonderful fiancée would attest). I’d gone “out back” as surfers call it. No-one could see me, even Eilís on the beach.(I was out there wondering why no-one else was coming out).
I had expected it to feel colder as we’d be tired but in reality I think all our temperatures were still up and made it feel warmer (I would have guess 8 or 8.5C), so I found it lovely. (All the winter swimming I’ve done has really helped). Everyone felt great after with arms and shoulders nicely relaxed.
Liam had home-made soup and bread waiting for us in his lovely house (thanks Liam & Kay!) and for once we were able to sit around and have a chat.
Then home. Great day, no-where near as tiring as the last day, not particularly hungry last night. (Had my first pizza in almost a year and HATED it).
Of course, we also now know what the next big day will be. And we’re already dreading it.
So only 6:30 total. Felt almost like we got off light.
Usually phrased more like:
“What the bloody hell do you think about? It must be hellishly boring”.
A lot of the time that kind of misunderstands swim training. Since I’m always working to Eilish’ program, usually I thinking specifically about what I’m supposed to be doing right now. This works for sets up to about 5 minutes long. Therefore:
Am I sprinting now?
Am I supposed to be at 85% effort?
Can I hold 85% for the next 8 repetitions or will I have do drop to 80%?
How much time is left?
Can I just get through this rep. and I’ll worry about the next when it comes?
Am I working on stroke, strength, endurance?
Why can’t I swim better?
How much time is left?
Is that a bikini?
How’s my stroke?
What age is she anyway?
What temperature is this god-damned water?
How much time is left?
What’s that hand doing?
Am I kicking badly?
Am I kicking enough, or too much?
What’s that clown doing in my way?
How much time is left?
Did my head just go to the left…again?
Do I really need to stop at the end of this length?
How much time is left?
Otherwise, take your pick. Today was 10k of long sets, 500s, 1K & 2k.
So today I thought about Neville Chamberlain and “Peace In Our Time”, the Glen of the Downs Protest in 1998 and how I could merge the two using the Deep Green Movement and modern environmentalism to explore an argument I’m pursuing on an atheist discussion board. Yes, really.
For me, a 3 hour 40 minute swim, consumes close to 3,500 calories. I think the standard rate quoted for swimming is about 830 per hour for “moderate” swimming. I consume about 900 per hour with slightly higher intensity. For longer swims like this morning, obviously, speed is fairly constant, (except I increase it for the last 10 minutes).
So I consumed the full 2 litres fruit smoothie and maybe another 2 ½ litres of isotonic. I also ate two bananas and a few handfuls of grapes during breaks. My liquid intake looks a bit low, but I think that’s kind of normal for me as well. Certainly for the first three hours I felt bloated from the carb. loading. Later on I would have loved some solid food (other than fruit). But that’s one of the swimmer’s dilemmas. What you can eat while swimming is a tiny subset of your normal diet. Some of the guys went for cold pasta as sold food during the break, but I can’t stand cold pasta, another limiting factor.
If only we could find a way of making a waterproof sandwich! All told though, the fruit smoothie worked from an energy and liquid point of view. Of course, there were, shall we say, repercussions, from 8 hours of a liquid fruit diet and two hour drive home. :-[
So three plus hour swims are a weekly (or more) feature of training right now (end of January ’10). “Normal” day’s training is hovering around two to two & an half. I did a four hour about a week and half ago, just to see how I feeling. I had been planning to do a five hour solo that week until The Boss told us we were doing an eight hour together.
The four hour swim was a significant change from a mixed three and an half-hour session. I was doing a “Pyramid”, 1000 to 100m and back to 1000m as the main set, apart from a 1000m warm-up and few hundred swim down. The intervals were constant. I was tired by the end but “could have kept going’, which is how I judge my condition. Tired obviously though. But double the time? My previous longest swim was a five and half hour sea swim with Danny in 2008.
Ravenous and tired the next day, though I had planned a two hour session but RL intervened & I had an enforced break that day.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached the eight hour.
Having been sick during the week, I was most nervous about an induced asthma attack, which would have stopped me swimming.
Having talked to fellow soloist (oxymoron?) Jen about feeding the previous weekend, I tried to carb. load (though with a poor appetite) and had two pasta dinners the afternoon and evening beforehand, and a bunch of sandwiches before bed, along with some of the usual crap I eat.
Breakfast was fresh made smoothie and porridge, my normal training breakfast, along with another bunch of sandwiches in the car on the two hour drive down.
I also spent quite a while making two litres of fruit smoothie for the swim to keep it fresh as possible. (Grape and orange juice, peaches, pineapple, banana & yoghurt). I also had another five litres of my Miwadi isotonic mix and some grapes & bananas. Basically my swim feeding strategy was to try 100% fruit which I had done on many three plus hour swims, the only change moving from solid and awkward to liquid and easy.
The other six of The Magnificent Seven had started swimming at 7.30am in the accommodating and friendly Source Fitness Centre pool in Springfields Morans Hotel in Cork, with The Boss on the deck. A quick chat before the start, she told everyone was nervous about it.
I joined the guys at 8.40am and we kept to one lane for the day.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe lots of long sets and it an eight hour version of a usual training session. The whole shebang. 1000’s, 1500’s, paddles, pull-buoy, laterals, alternate speeds and strokes etc.
The first three hours flew, until Eilís called a 15 minute break on the four hour mark (for the guys, only three hours in for me). Fine again after. The Boss had to leave at mid-day.
At the five hour mark I was reflecting on the comparison between my four recent hour solo pool session and this session. I was definitely feeling fresher by the five hour mark. The six hour mark I considered about equal with the four hour solo. The seventh hour for me, last hour for the guys, included an 1500 hard. I held onto Liam and Rob (leading) but it hurt. They wound down their last 20 minutes easy enough and I said good-bye.
Then the dreaded re-entry into pool by myself for the final one hour and 20 minutes. I was thinking of repeat 1000’s but too leaden by then and needed a break after 800, and settled on repeat 400’s. 10 to 20 secs would be my usual interval at this point but I’m afraid they crept up to 30 to 45 for the last few despite the presence of one of Eilís’s representatives on earth, this time her brother Pat, whom I was bit too tired to recognise, though after chasing him, (unsuccessfully and being lapped), for a few k., I think I now know his style very well.
Astonishing performance of the day was my English Channel Double Relay friend and team-mate Danny, who finished work at 6am, had an hour sleep, and completed the full eight hours, and Gábor who swam with sprained wrist and damaged shoulder after a recent fall.
But everyone did great and we would have been lost without Liam keeping track of our sets and leading us out so much.
(At one point in hour seven, I was leading out a 1000m alternate set, Liam recommended I track the easy/fast alternate 150 metres. The 1000 metres were done when I was sure we had only swum 600m! No more leading out for me, I can’t count).
Turned out a few of the guys were watching from upstairs for my final hour, making sure I didn’t drown I guess, and came down after I finished, which I really appreciated.
Liam estimated about 24,000m for their total based on all the intervening sessions completed, so I’ll assume the same, besting my previous longest ever pool swim of about 14k.
I had a recovery shake, which I only do after big swims, my usual chicken breast and hit the road.
Happy to have finished.
Having contracted yet another lung infection really quickly after the flu earlier this week, I had recovered enough to do a quick hard hour yesterday to test whether my lungs would hold without an asthma attack.
One hour isn’t much of test so I did some speed-work to stress the breathing and my breathing held.
Enough to decide to give the swim a shot.
I did get an asthma attack the previous night but the new asthma steroids I’ve been on for the past 8 weeks seem to be doing the job as my Peak Flow Meter Measurements didn’t drop more than 10% from my normal (which is about another 10% below “normal” anyway).
Will write more about preparation and the event itself anon.