Tag Archives: Ned Denison

Open water swimming and marathon swimming is dangerous

Eilís
Coach Eilís

In November 2010, Cork and Sandycove Channel Coach Eilís Burns held one of her irregular brief seminars for prospective Channel solo swimmers for the 2011 Channel season.

It wasn’t an open-to-all seminar. Those attending were people who had contacted Eilís asking her to coach them. Eilís is careful in whom she agrees to coach, requiring a proven desire, a willingness to do the required work, and the temperament to do what she says.

As part of that seminar Eilís had asked four of the local Channel swimmers to attend and speak briefly on subjects of our own choice. The four were; Lisa Cummins, two-way English Channel solo; Imelda Lynch, first Sandycove and Cork female Channel swimmer and a local legend amongst Sandycove swimmers for her tenacity and tough training regime; Rob Bohane, aka The Bull, who as part of the Magnificent Seven, first attempted the Channel in 2010 a few weeks after me; and the fourth was myself.

Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all.
Six of The Magnificent Seven. From left; Ciaran Byrne, Donal, Liam Maher, Jennifer Hurley, Rob Bohane, Gabor Molnar. Channel swimmers one and all. Not a gram of fake tan between us.

I remember all the presentations with varying degrees of clarity. But my own and Rob’s are much clearer.

Rob had attempted the Channel in late August, a couple of weeks after Jen Hurley and I had swum, and within 12 hours of Ciarán Byrne soloing. Liam Maher, Jen Hurley, myself and Ciarán had all succeeded, the first four of the Magnificent Seven, with Rob, Danny and Gábor still to go.

All through training, and Eilís’ training regime for us was brutal, we became increasingly convinced we would be one hundred percent successful as a group. The Channel taught us all otherwise. Rob encountered the horrendous weather of which the Channel is still capable of throwing at Solos even with modern forecasting. Ciarán had gotten to France before getting shut out by the Channel but Rob ran into the full force of the Channel’s brutal face. After a dozen hours of swimming, Rob was pulled from the water by hos crew and later hospitalized with cold water pulmonary edema. That story continued because Rob recovered and on his second attempt in 2012 he was also denied with more horrendous weather. But he eventually prevailed and indeed Rob went on to set the Sandycove club Channel record. Less than the fast time, what is far more important is Rob’s journey to get there.

Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011
Wearing the Hardship Award Hat in 2011

In 2011, following a visit to the Cork University Hospital Emergency by Liam Maher after a particularly … challenging, Sandycove Island Challenge race, a new Sandycove Island Swimming Club annual award was introduced for the most dangerous swim undergone or most damage suffered by a club member, known as the Hardship Award. I was the retrospective inaugural 2010 winner for my Channel solo, followed by Liam, then Rob, with Ned being the 2013 winner for the emotional damage he suffered for losing many of his records in 2013 to other club members. The not-at-all-coveted Hardship Award is a Hard Hat!

At EilÍs’ 2010/2011 seminar, still raw from the first crossing, Rob spoke eloquently of how he had a great family and life, and that if not making it across the English Channel was the worst that had happened him, then he was a very lucky man.

My own input was brief, I only wanted to say one thing really:

I told the assembled aspirants that the thing they most needed to comprehend themselves, that they most needed to discuss honestly with their partners or parents or family, is that solo Channel swimming is dangerous.

We don’t like to discuss this aspect. We like even to pretend otherwise.

In 2010 I had my own near-lethal experience in the Channel and then Rob had been hospitalised. Lisa had been hospitalised after her two-way Channel swim, Ned had been hospitalized after Santa Barbara. Four members from one club, and while I was the only one of that four not hospitalized the experience was no less dangerous. (BTW, as Evan once pointedly asked me, just where is the full account of my Channel swim, given the other swim’s I’ve covered? The answer is, it’s a long comprehensively written account and part a longer term project that may never see light and so may eventually surface here, Frankly the story is far too often told and repeated as a rumour in Ireland, such I’ve been asked, “did you hear about the guy who swam and the Channel and …”).

Let me repeat: Open water swimming is dangerous. To be responsible to the others we help, advise or even inadvertently inspire we MUST honestly acknowledge this. Channel swimming is especially dangerous.

2012 we lost Sandycove swimmer and our much-loved friend Paráic Casey in the English Channel. In 2013 the Channel swimming community and her family and friends lost Susan Taylor in the English Channel. I mean no disrespect to any others by not continuing a roll call, as part of my point is these are the dangers and losses incurred within the community of people I know myself. (I’d met Susan in Dover in 2012).

I looked at those people in Cork at the seminar and told them this was their first task as Aspirant Channel swimmer: To be honest with themselves and the people important to them. Open water, Channel and marathon swimming is dangerous.

Regardless of our experience and skill, the sea particularly is a vastness beyond us. To accept this and the inherent risk is to improve our ability to survive.

If you can accept that fact, integrate it as well as it is possible for anyone who thinks they the measure of their own dreams, you have taken a significant first step to being a real open water swimmer.

After that seminar, one of the attendees, who had been present with their partner, decided against the Channel. As someone who encourages open water and Channel swimming, I considered and still consider that a good result. 

I am obviously not against people being open water swimmers or setting their sights on extreme swimming goals or following dreams. But I do strongly believe that you should do it from a prepared base. I will not help someone whom I don’t think takes the risk seriously.

I’m (mostly) a lone swimmer. As a consequence I am not reckless (despite views to the contrary) but consider carefully both my own abilities and thresholds, and each day’s conditions, and weigh each and every swim before I start.

By accepting the existence of risk and hazard (the potential outcome of risk) we actually gain another tool in our repertoire.  By being brave enough to stand our ground and know when not to swim, when not to risk our limits is to know ourselves.

No-one swims, or at least no serious open water swimmer, with the thought of not returning, any more that mountain climbers or polar explorers do. But the possibility is part of what makes open water swimming what it is and a properly cognizant open water swimmer is pursuing a type of existentialism, not fatalism. By realising that understanding our constraints and boundaries and the immutable superiority of nature, which we don’t actually conquer, but temporarily deceive or elude, you are making yourselves a more capable and adaptable swimmer. 

Be safe.

Sandycove Island panorama (50% size)

Guest post: Ned Denison on Essential Volunteering to support solo swims and swimmers (with added maths)

Ned Denison is very much the rotational centre of the Sandycove group, and like a really big jellyfish, he has tentacles reaching out all over the world. To best describe Ned’s place, I’m reminded on an explanation by Mick Hurley, husband of English Channel Soloist and four-time Rottnest soloist and Magnificent 7 swimmer Jen Hurley. We were having dinner in Dover, Mick holding forth to the table (as usual), and we were talking about the Sandycove group.

Mick said that Sandycove was, de facto, a great place. For years, you’d have Irish people swimming there, everyone would be friendly and sociable, and would then go on their separate ways. But take just one American and drop him in the middle of it and almost before you know it, you have one of the most successful English Channel swimming locations in the world, you have organisation and success. Ned is the giant ball of glue from which the Sandycove island group grew.

He is an International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee,  also a committee Member for Santa Barbara Channel Swim Association, Manhattan, the Lee swim, and In Search of Memphre, amongst other things, not the least of which is his long list of swims, from  English Channel and Santa Barbara Channel Solos, to Jersey France, Robben island, Rottnest, Round Valentia and Cobh islands (first time swims). He is the main force behind the internationally growing in reputation Cork Distance week, which if you want to tackle the English Channel from warmer climes, is the best week’s training in the world. For those who know him, he is also persistently confused by the difference between an email subject line and the body of an email text. It’s not unusual to get an entire paragraph in the subject line. :-)

Ned’s domain, Sandycove Island

This picture below is appropriate, it’s Ned doing the 2008 Irish Champion of Champion safety briefing. There are a bunch of Channel Soloists and future Soloists here, (Finbarr, Ossi, Ciarán, myself, Sylvain, Niall, Lisa) and including Kevin Murphy, listening. This is how we are used to seeing Ned.

Ned’s post here is sure to raise significant discussion in the worldwide swimming community. Make time to read and consider it. It’s important.

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Open water swimming is exploding with a massive increase in events together with swimmer interest and participation.

Fantastic – however behind the scenes, the inadequate numbers of volunteers places our growth future in jeopardy.

My biggest hope for the future of open water swimming involves a shift as WE SWIMMERS NEED TO START VOLUNTEERING IN LARGE NUMBERS.

“WHAT ??????”

“But Ned you don’t understand – I am involved in the sport to swim and have fun with my mates. I didn’t get involved to kayak, take times, crew a safety boat or spend hours before the event finding boats/kayakers and taking registrations. Anyways – surely the €10 to €50 I pay for each swim must cover all the costs? I assume that all the worker bees were getting paid big bucks to support my passion.”

There are a few commercial events out there – but 99% of all the open water events in the world are staffed by volunteers – typically raising money for a charity or doing a civic duty or just helping their friends and relatives. They not only don’t get paid and they are generally out-of-pocket for travel expenses, food and often overnight lodging and boat fuel.

I like to make the example of a swimmer who just completed an English Channel solo swim.

First of all – well done!

Now consider how many volunteer hours YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF to reach your goal? The phrase “took advantage of” is a horrible expression but bear with me for a moment.

Here is a possible tally of the time others gave along the way:

9 days in Dover (start counting from the moment your 3 crew members left home to their return)

9 days*24 (hours/day) *3 crew = 648 person hours

“But Ned, this isn’t fair! Part of this time they were sleeping, sight-seeing, eating the fish and chips I bought and sunning on the beach while I practiced a bit.”

Do you really want to go down that line? They were away from their families, Dover isn’t a holiday destination and I haven’t calculated their lost earnings while they were off work!

The “official observer” for the Channel swim – yes they are paid a small stipend but the 15 hours you swam with another 5 hours of travel was hardly a “paid” activity.

=20 person hours.

Your 6 hour channel qualification next to a boat with 2 volunteers

2*10 (6 hours plus travel time) = 20 person hours

Your 15k race (you had a full-time kayaker plus 1/5th of a 2 person safety boat crew and 1/20th of the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 100 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

1*8 (5 hours plus travel time) + (2 crew *8 hours)/5 + (10 volunteers*8 hour +100 hours)/20 = 20 person hours

Your 5k races (let’s assume you had 10 in the previous 3 years) where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 10 event volunteers on the day plus the 135 hours it took before the event to get it all organised.

10 events * ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (10 volunteers*4 hours+135 hours)/20 swimmers) =

92 person hours

 Grand total 800 person hours – or think of it as 100 person days (8 hours a day)

Shocked?

Hang on then because this is just the start – or all at the small end of the total.

I didn’t count your swimming buddies who took turns to swim (at your speed) for the previous two years. Having done a few 7am Sunday support swims myself, I can assure that they count as “volunteer hours”!

I also only counted the swimming related volunteer time – so your partner who covered 18 months of extra duties at home and with the kids – you need to work that one out yourself.

YOU CHANNEL SOLOERS OWE 100 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY)

 For those swimmers who ONLY take part on 15 events a year and do not do the marathon swims…you still owe!

Your 2k races where you have 1/20th of a 2 person safety boat crew and the 5 event volunteers on the day plus the 80 hours it took before the event to get it all organised

15 events* ( (2 crew*4 hours)/20 + (5 volunteers*4 hours)/80 swimmers + 80 hours/80 swimmers) = 24 person hours (3 person days at 8 hour/day)

 YOU CASUAL 2K SWIMMERS OWE 3 PERSON DAYS (8 HOURS A DAY) – EACH YEAR

The numbers don’t lie. The logic is correct.

We swimmers know, deep down, that lots of people are involved so we can have our event.

For the vast majority of the swimmers – YOU ARE NOT PAYING BACK AT ANYTHING LIKE THE LEVEL YOU NEED TO MAKE IT BALANCE.

 

I am just back from the Rottnest swim – and even deeper in the hole myself.

 Jennifer (Hurley) helped the local organisation, and her family collect me at the airport etc. (ok they are friends – but still takes time) = 40 person hours

Clive (kayaker) paddled in 2 training swims and discussed the plan over coffee = 8 person hours

Clive then drove 2 hours to get to the location, stayed overnight, launched at 4:45am and paddled 5.5 hours (now let’s forget the time to have a pint!) then travelled back on the ferry to get home = 12 person hours

Mike piloted the boat and Barb joined me in a training swim and then crewed = 30 person hours

Then finally the Rottnest team of 100 strong put in (at a guess and probably low) 10,000 organisation hours – thankfully I can divide this by the 2,500 swimmers! = 4 person hour

So – another 94 person hours I have to pay back. This gets added to the debt from the previous 30 long swims and 200+ short swims….at 54 years of age I am not sure I have enough time left!

So, my call to action is to change the dynamic.

  1. Accept the principal that YOU OWE
  2. Start volunteering. Miss one swim in 10 to help.
  3. Learn to kayak. Borrow your brother’s boat.

Start now….

The Sandycove Swimmers Annual Achievement List released – a must-read

Some time ago I discussed Ned Denison’s 3,5 & 9k annual swim list which runs each year and is available here on the Sandycove Island Swimming Club website.

For some years now, Ned Denison has also maintained a list of swimming achievements by Sandycove Swimmers and those swimming within the area. For the last few years since the actual club was formed, after season’s end, relevant swims for the year are added and the committee discuss and ratify the final list before release.

Actually known as the County Cork & Bit of Kerry list, the list includes the Sandycove regulars, other distance swimmers within the region, and visitors, particularly those who have participated in the Cork Distance Week (which originated in the 2008 & 2009 Champion of Champions swims, for those of us who were there). It also includes swims on the Waterford coast. The list includes swimmers from Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Dublin, Clare, the UK & USA, Australia and some others.

This year’s list was discussed back in October and it was released this week.

At this time of year, when the media is full of Best-Of lists, and reviews and recommendations of sports books of the year thus has become, in my view at least, an astonishing record of (primarily Irish) swimmer’s achievements.

Starting with Lisa’s double English Channel solo and leading through swims around the world and all over Ireland, I think this is one of the great documents of Irish sport and probably one of at least some interest to open water swimmers around the world.

The committee accepts the word of swimmers (in good standing) where such swims as don’t have observers are added (like the 5k+ swims that I did on Project Copper this year)  or Craig and Gabor’s swims, or where club members are observers.

This link will take you directly to the Google Docs file where you can view or download it as a PDF, (or here where I’ve added epub & mobi options).

Every year this list grows, every year behind every name and distance and location is a world of interest. Each swim carries its own story, its own joy reduced to these entries. As Ned says, if you are not already on this list, maybe next year will your first entry. Or maybe it’ll be your most successful, longest or toughest entry. maybe you are coming for the Distance Week. This is a great document to be part of, because it’s a great group of people to be part of.

Two Irish Inductees for International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMHSOF)

It’s a great pleasure to announce TWO Irish Nominees Inductees for International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, Class of 2011.

From The Daily News of Open Water Swimming. Quotes from Ned & Martin Cullen.

The Irish Long Distance Swimming Association (ILDSA) - honoured for 40+ years of excellence and promotion of the sport

Martin Cullen, the Public Relations Officer of the ILDSA replied to the IMSHOF announcement:  “We in the ILDSA are delighted at the recognition of the tremendous work that has been done over the many years by so many people in the organisation. In all parts of the country there are individuals who teach, encourage, promote and arrange swimming at various wonderful locations. Over the past 10 years there has been a far greater awareness of what we do and it is so pleasing to see so many new people getting involved.  A real indication of the success of open water swimming in Ireland is the large amount of Irish swimmers taking on and completing some of the great swims around the world. Your recognition will encourage further development and increase awareness that such a small country has made such a big leap forward.”

Ned Denison – honoured for his contribution to marathon swimming

Since 2005, 16 English Channel solo swimmers have come from Sandycove Island in Kinsale – over seven years the 3rd most successful training location in the world (behind Dover Harbour and the Serpentine in London).  As one of the 16, I can attest to Ned as a FORCE to motivate and create an environment which results in success.   Many of you would have “caught the distance bug” from Ned during his presentations at 13 seminars around Ireland to over 350 attendees.  Over 50 of you have signed up already for his Cork Distance Week in June 2012 – to drive further success.  I caught Ned at a loss for words (a first ?!?) after the announcement:   “I credit and thank Martin Cullen for providing easy access into the sport and teaching me how to run a proper marathon swim event.  It was then possible to leverage off 10+ years of successful swimming around Sandycove Island, the big mass participation Cork swims and the best marathon swim coach in the country, Eilís Burns.  Finally, my wife Anne supported my passion in every way possible.” 

 They join Ireland’s previous honourees:

1944 Ted Keenan – the first Irishman to swim the English Channel

1999 Billy Wallace – the leading light of the ILDSA for many years

After 2010 which saw Anne-Marie Ward honoured as the Global Open Water Swimmer of the Year – Ireland is a rising star in the Open Water Swimming World !

Irish Open Water swimming organisation – Ned’s email list

One of Ned Denison’s great contributions to Irish Open Water swimming is his email qualification list, sometimes just called the list, or the 9k list.

It’s a simple idea. Each year as people progress in experience in open water, they can add their name to Ned’s email list, which is stepped in increasing difficulty. The list isn’t limited to Sandycove swimmers, but actually covers many people nationwide (but with more of us from Sandycove represented). Each year the list starts again, last year’s achievements are gone and we all start fresh.

There are three levels, 3k, 5k and 9k. And people can be on it for either wetsuit or togs (or even both). People make it to each level based on their own submission (validation is not required). Each level will receive notification of appropriate upcoming events. Making it to the highest 9k level means being on a much shorter list receiving notification and entry to more select longer events such as Cork to Cobh, which require considerable experience (or at least ambition or masochism).

The list requires a lot of work for Ned to maintain, for which we are all grateful. The most recent revision for Ireland for 2011 has 273 entries who have completed the 3k minimum in togs or wetsuit.

The wetsuits numbers prove, contrary to what may be the opinion of how things are done here in Ireland, that wetsuits are fully embraced in our cold waters. In fact at the entry 3k level, 102 of these were togs while the majority were wetsuit swimmers, which is exactly the way to have in it, to encourage new swimmers who can develop their confidence and distance, and some of who will subsequently shed the wetsuits.

At the 5k level in 2011, 67 completed in wetsuits and 88 in togs, whereas in 2010, 44 completed in wetsuits and 52 in togs, showing clear progression in numbers at this vital middle distance stage.

Of the 273 people on the list in 2011, 35 have completed a 9k open water swim in togs, and 22 in wetsuits. In 2010, there were also 35 togs, and 17 in wetsuits. With the number of EC aspirants due for 2012, especially locally, the 9K list is likely to increase again.

Someone also gets the 5k swim done early, puts the pressure on everyone else, I usually wait until the water temp. is over 10°C. get the 5k done.

Thanks Ned, for the organisation and useful info!