Starting a little late, the swimmers entered the water about 9.30am on the beach just outside the small harbour.
At the time, not recognising it as the start of my current burn-out and long dark night, I’d been injured and disinterested during the previous week, so I decided to go out really easy for the first couple of miles of the trapezoidal loops, just enjoy the swim and not do any chasing or hard swimming. The course was very calm on the near side of the loop, the second and third legs were more exposed and less protected by Dunabrattin Head so swell from the south-west was hitting the far side of the route. Indeed as a (former) surfer, I knew that the far side of the course led toward cliffs and a small break called Speedy’s, while the entire far side of the course was over what local surfers called Rock Bottom. The sea bottom hear transitions from deep water to shallow very quickly so the area is prone to catch swell and move a lot of water when other parts of the shallower local coast were more settled.
After the second loop as I rounded the fourth and last buoy to start the third lap when I saw Eoin Big Fish come out past me. Eoin is faster than me, but he’d obviously decided on a feed stop at the beach after the first couple of miles. I didn’t set out to chase him but I had the inside line and though I rarely swim at Boatstrand, I was easily able to use different bits of the spectacular coast that I know so well to sight more easily for navigation, particularly using the Kilfarassey cliffs in the distance for the longer outside section. Eoin and I finished the third lap about the same time when I checked my watch and saw that only slightly over an hour had passed so the course couldn’t have been a mile, which would have taken another ten minutes for thee miles. It was about 200/300 metres short for the first leg, and lengthened for the subsequent legs after the first break.
The far side was getting rougher, which suited me and on “mile” four, I was feeling well warmed up and much better than I’d felt all week or than I’d expected. I’d lost Eoin and I didn’t know why and wasn’t sure if he was ahead or behind, though I guessed the latter and that he’d had another feed stop. I hadn’t had any of the kayakers or boaters near me and that had been fine by me.
In the fourth lap I stopped briefly and pulled a gel pack from my Speedoes,and quickly downed it. And then instantly my calf cramped hard. My leg was like knotted wood. There was a boat some distance off, so I shouted them over, got some water from them for a drink and then set off, with my right leg utterly useless for a couple of minutes until the water took effect.
I finished the lap four with the cramp loosened out, and then swam lap 5. The three final laps had been mostly by myself, I only saw one other swimmer that I passed in lap four, then another in lap five whom I guessed I’d also lapped.
I’d finished the first five laps half down the field in a slowish one hour fifty-two minutes (recall that the lap wasn’t a full mile) but feeling fresher and better than I had felt in the preceding week. Ned Denison, always one of the fastest of the local swimmers had also foregone any feeding as part of his strategy and was in the lead a full fifteen minutes faster than my mediocre time.
The day was overcast and not cold but I quickly got changed anyway to retain heat, donning far more than I would ever wear after a swim in August, even the cool August that occurred this year. Along with the experience of the two previous CoC swims, in 2010 and on plenty of other occasions I’ve done repeated swims on a single day, and it’s always important to maximise heat retention and thermogenesis, (the heat your body generates).
So woolly hat, ski pants and a winter jacket. I went back to the finish line and saw Eoin leaving the water a full five minutes behind me. Feed strategy wouldn’t be important in the second leg, and with Eoin almost certainly going out strong and faster than me, I had now a reason to race.
For those of us who aren’t at the top end of speed, racing is rarely about winning. Some days it’d enough to finish or to just race against one friend, even if they don’t realise it. In those cases, you are racing against yourself just as much as anyone else.
The first break was spent eating and chatting while Colm lengthened the course to the correct distance. We sat around outside or indoors in the Recreation Centre before we assembled for the second leg. By luck I was behind Eoin when we hit the water, and after the initial flurry settled and people spilt by speed, I was still right behind Eoin 75 metres later as we rounded the outside point of the harbour wall to aim at the first buoy. My strategy, such as it was, was presented to me. Go as hard as possible for as long as possible and minimise the time that Eoin would take from me.
We’d started the first leg on high tide, and the section to the first buoy passed very close to the harbour wall and over reefs right outside the harbour. With the tide dropping for the second leg, Colm had advised swimmers to curve left to avoid those reefs.
This in completely at odds to how I normally swim or race, when I prefer to embrace the prospect of submerged reefs, as I like to see rocks as potential advantages, scaring away into detours those unwilling to risk some skin or flesh. It doesn’t always work, as some of my own scars would demonstrate, but I took as always a direct reef-hugging route to the first buoy. Eoin and I arrived together, with local ultra-endurance athlete and marathon swimmer Alan Smith and another local swimmer making a loose group of four.
Along the outside leg, the swell has grown slightly. Alan and the other swimmer were slightly off on my left, Eoin close to my right. All three are faster than me. My only move was to draft off one of them and Eoin was closer. If I risked trying to get onto Alan’s wake, I might not make if across and might get dropped by all three. The other swimmer had the same speed as the others but I guessed he didn’t have the open water navigation experience and I knew Alan was very similar to me in that skill. I did make a couple of attempts to bridge across to Alan, unwilling to risk a full sprint to get there. It was frustrating. I’d end up back in Eoin’s draft. Alan was taking the inside route that I’d have taken, but it was better to be in Eoin’s draft than swimming behind all three by myself and letting Eoin get away.
And so it continued. For the next lap, Alan increased the distance between us slightly. I made another attempt on the fourth section to get onto his legs, but as I closed slightly I thought he’d gone too far left, so I moved right again, and ended back with Eoin as he lopped around right. On the second lap I lost any chance of getting behind Alan and lost sight of him in the swell and chop. Eoin continued to lead the way. On the short far leg of the second lap I decided to try to get away from Eoin, using the swell and rough water, but that leg was too short to allow me to get a sustainable lead and Eoin caught me well before the fourth buoy. On the final lap at the same location I made a final attempt for the same result, except Eoin was expecting it and caught me quickly and then on the long last section he sprinted away to finish well clear of me.,This allowed him to declaim loudly and widely as I left the water: “Calls himself the Lone Swimmer? He drafted off me the whole way!”. I grinned, he hadn’t got the distance or time he needed from me. As it had transpired, Alan had swung into the beach for a feed. Ned held onto his overall lead having been beaten by local Waterford open water speedster Warren Roche, who hadn’t swum the five-miler.
The day was still overcast with no direct sunlight to warm us, so the next break we were more concerned with warming up. Alan and I went for a walk up onto the coast road which was very effective in rewarming.
For the final swim “Bit” of a mile, we’d been joined by many more local swimmers and triathletes, which would just mean more people in the way. The swell had dropped again, the course was flatter and the tide was bottoming out. No sign of Eoin, for a short fast mile I wouldn’t have stayed with him and by now there was no way he could take so much time back from me. He’d beaten me by twenty seconds a year previously over the 1700 metres Sandycove Island challenge.
Fast and hard, the mile passed quickly, I churned out a sprint against someone on my left side for the last 300 metres but didn’t have the fitness for the last 50 metres. Eoin made sure once again to wait for me as I finished. He’d beaten me by 14 seconds. Ned and Carol were first place male and female swimmers and number one and two.
I’d finished in 13th place.
And Eoin finished in 14th.
It was excellent and well run race, a good day out with some good swimming and distance for a reasonable cost, (although I missed out on getting the Champion of Champions woolly hat). As a local distance event it’s great to have people visit instead of us having to make the usual trips elsewhere to swim. Even with the much easier-to-manage summer temperatures due to the time of the event, there were a few drops outs and DNFs. I’d highly recommended doing a Champion of Champions format for people wanting to step up in distance and difficulty.
So next year, if all goes to plan the Copper Coast will host both a Bay To Breakers and a Champion of Champions.