Cork Distance Week is coming. The water is cold. (The water is always cold, relatively speaking). For the locals who know the conditions, Distance Week is still a very tough week. For many of those coming from abroad it will be even harder, maybe the toughest week’s swimming they have ever done. But to get to Distance Week for the locals, May stands in the way.
Though May is officially Summer, we tend to think of it as Spring here in Ireland. And it’s the toughest period of open water swimming of the year.
Why? Because the water is still relatively cool and conditions are extremely variable (at the start of May, 7.2° Celsius in Tramore, 10°C in Sandycove, with a two to three degree possible range). We can (and did) have frosts and days where the temperature was below the water temperature and for half of May this year at least the average air temperature was about ten degrees Celsius. The Aspirants and others have to be putting in the mileage training. Constant cold winds and low air temperatures bleed the heat and resistance from the swimmers, building a cumulative effect of attrition. It’s the 23rd of May this year before temperatures got to 12° Celsius (53.7° Fahrenheit to be exact) and the day was actually warm (18° Celsius).
When the water is colder no-one is doing much more than hour and generally only the experienced distance swimmers will do that, but some of the less experienced will look at calendar and think the date is all is all they need to know.
And there’s the repetition, the grind of getting very cold day after day, when it’s acceptable for one or two days, the first couple of weeks of getting hypothermia every day, thinking on nothing but swimming, eating, cold and heat is like a millstone, grinding swimmers down in a race between breakdown or crack up, and making it to the degree or two warmer waters at the end of the month. All the Sandycove Channel swimmers and Aspirants will make it because it’s what Sandycove swimmers do.
Someone will do something extravagant and push their exposure but it will only feel good for a day because Sandycove swimmers Lisa Cummins and Finbarr Hedderman, two of the world’s great cold water marathon swimmers, who have no publicity machines, will out-swim everyone in time and distance.
Feel good because you did an hour? Lisa had two done before you got started.
Feel great because you did four laps of Sandycove? Lisa and Fin did twelve.
Just swum your first double lap of the year? Fin already passed his hundredth for the year.
Finally joined the Centurions (100 lifetime laps)? Fin became a Millenarian (1000 laps). (Liz, what are we calling that one?)
Sandycove swimmers: Pressure to achieve (loneswimmer.com)