Day 3: HITtheWALL

Things went a bit haywire over the last few weeks so the updates will come a bit thick and fastish.

There was a disco in the hotel on Saturday night and I had to sleep with the window open so that I did not get too warm (the rooms were warm and I now get very warm at night) so the kitchens/bar throwing the empties out at around 2 was very audible, none of which helped with the recovery sleep. When I did get off to sleep at around 2-3am I did sleep well but was half awake when Ash sent a message at 5:45 to see if I was heading for the HITtheWALL infinity Cure Swim. Much to my amazement I got up and headed down for the swim at around 6am. I had originally thought I’d be doing my 2 hour qualifying swim, so great not to have that pressure now.

I was still a bit stiff and sore from the Saturday swim so I decided to do one lap of the swim to loosen up. The wind had really picked up and it was a bit on the damp side. The increase in the wind delayed the start of the swim as the Infinity crew brought the marker buoys in to the relative protection of the shore between the two piers. Still the time spent waiting was another chance to chat and catch up with the other swimmers.

Once in the water the conditions didn’t seem too bad but I was glad to be only doing one loop and heading for a warm shower and breakfast. The back and shoulders didn’t feel too bad after yesterday’s efforts. Unfortunately Heather was taken out of the water shortly after I got back to the pier and the Infinity team whisked her off to one of the team’s mobile homes to get warm and change, despite her protestations. Not being able to help and knowing she was being well looked after, I headed back to the hotel.

I had a great shower, but had to take a quick trot back to the pier as I still had my numbered arm band; the absence of an armband could potentially have produced a bit of a panic as it could indicate a swimmer still in the sea. I saw Heather heading off in the car just as came on to the main road, it was good to know she was okay.

Next stop was a yoga session up at the Foye Centre. This was a brilliant compliment to the morning’s swim with a good bit of work on neck and shoulder mobility. Having got ourselves nicely relaxed we headed for the nearest cafe for a stimulation coffee and scone and a relaxing chat before heading back for a Q&A session.

The panel at the Q&A included King of the Channel, Kevin Murphy, Kathy Batts (Triple Crown swimmer amongst others), Nicholas Murch amongst other very experienced open water swimmers; I missed the start (the scones and craic, were good) and was at the back so I apologise for not naming all the amazing people on the panel. The longest conversation and discussion was over feeding, Kevin Murphy pointed out that there were no gels etc when he started swimming the channel and swimmers ate food in one case, meat pies, another was boiled eggs or chicken legs and he recounted one swim where breakfast was on the menu – having swam for a hour the swimmer received a piece of back, the next hour a sausage and so on through the breakfast (we didn’t get to the baked beans, though I’m sure they would help with propulsion). Nick Murch pointed out that the gels etc and their use is based on research carried out on runners and cyclists, swimming in cold water is different in that we exercise horizontally and the body reduces blood flow to the gut to prevent the vital organs (eg. brain, heart and lungs) from suffering the effects of the cold. The use of pain killers during a swim was raised, these can upset the GI tract to varying degrees. Someone asked about what happens after the successful swim, the panel admitted that there can be a sense of anti-climax but congratulations and messages on social media can help mitigate this. The recurring theme was practice food, pain relief before the swim and plan, including spreadsheets, a rota so everyone knows their roles and stuff does not get forgotten. This was a really useful session and highlighted the fact that members of the open water swimming community are on the whole a friendly bunch who are only too willing to share their experiences and any advice or tips.

Between the Q&A and the afternoon swim we had a rest and got our stuff together.

The name of the afternoon session should have been a warning about what was in store for us; Ice’n’Dice.

We headed down to the South Pier to find three large containers of ice and water at the end of the pier, in my naivety I briefly thought that these were preparing for fishermen coming in with fish – the fish in reality were us, the swimmers!

The aim of the afternoon’s festivities was to do a loop around the buoys between the tow piers and then get out for a refreshing dunk in the ice bath, the time spent dependent on a throw of a large inflatable dice, 10 to 60 sec. Before starting I was saying to myself that there was no way I was going to get in an ice bath – after the first loop out I got, queued up, threw the dice and fairly quickly got into one of the ice baths. The kicker was that the time didn’t start until you were in the bath up to your chin – so cruel – and on the first dunking we were given ice-cream to eat. The crazy thing is that the ice-cream was brilliant, loved it and if I could I’d have orange ice-lollies on the boat for the channel swim, it cut through the saltiness and helped relieve to slight pain of a developing ulcer on my tongue. On the third, dip we were told to submerge completely with a nice fireman to help get the head under! I’m never one for diving into open water, it was fun to realise that I was looking forward to getting back into the sea, even diving in at one point, after the ice-bath – it almost felt warm. This all sounds horrendous but, it was great fun – laughing at yourself and everyone else. The infinity guys no their stuff, I think they could tell if getting in up to your neck or completely submerging was a step to far they wouldn’t force it but they help make you go beyond what you think you can do.

Ice’n’Dice – photographer Heather

We rounded the day off with a very long hot shower, followed by dinner, chat and a lot of laughing with Kenny, Jen and Stuart. I think we all slept well – I know I did!

Day 2: HITtheWALL

The itinerary for day 2 was 6:30am registration for a 7am hour swim on a course from the south pier at Carlingford followed by yoga for an hour at 9am. The Battle of Carlingford Lough Race (swim from Carlingford to Omeath) from 2pm for a maximum of three hours. Presentations, dinner and chat at Carlingford Sailing Club from 7/8pm.

I didn’t quite follow the itinerary, I was dog tired after the night swim and the drive up so when the alarm went at 5:30am I did go back to sleep. I needed the sleep and a good breakfast more! The extra sleep and full Irish did not disappoint and did set me up for the Race later. Had a little walk around Carlingford after breakfast with Ash, it is a lovely little place before heading back to the hotel to prepare a warm drink to carry in my tow float and pack my bag. Heather did the morning swim and the yoga – you have to admire her energy!

We headed down to the pier for registration at about 1/1:30, looking at the itinerary they sent us the time for registration was not clear. Then it was the application of Sudocrem to try and stop the chafing from straps and protect the bit of my neck that was already red from chafing. The fun bit is trying to keep the Sudocrem off your hands once you clean them, the last thing you want is greasy goggles.

Calm before the storm?

Fortunately we could use this swim as a qualifier for the relay, so I picked up my blue hat and then had to get rid of my carefully prepared tow float the warm drink 😦 The water temperature was a fairly comfortable 13oC according to the board. Now the race briefing told us to keep the yellow bouys to our right, to avoid the worst of the wind and get the best of the tides.

My plan was to take it easy and do the two hours I needed. As with most mass starts there was a lot of splashing and looking and trying to avoid being kick or kicking someone but on a swim of 7-7.5 km that soon sorts itself out. I made it easily to the first buoy but when I checked to Garmin it said I had covered 0m which was a little disconcerting – note to self give the damn watch a chance to pick up the satellites before swimming off. The plan was to swim from buoy to buoy and use the lap option. The first 1:45 was okay, not easy and certainly I couldn’t feel any assistance from the tide, I could feel the wind both as windchill on my arms and shoulders and it was trying to push me out into the lough away from the line we had been told to swim. Not that I’m competitive but, I was passing swimmers which did help as there were fairly long gaps when I couldn’t see any other swimmers now. My strategy now was buoy to buoy and try and catch and pass anyone I saw. I think around the two hour mark I lost track of time and my watch was not making sense, in all honesty I had done the qualifying time so all I wanted to do was get finished and get warm.

I’m guessing around 2:15 I could see Omeath and started to site off the white gable end of a house. When I passed next buoy I was more than hacked off to see another buoy, this time I sited off the last building I could see and decided that I was getting out here no matter what, I just needed out! The couple of bundles of muscles in my left calf were threatening to cramp at the stage, my neck and shoulders were giving a sharp pain which did not feel like muscle soreness. Now was the time to follow Dory’s advice “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming”. Next buoy passed, another one ahead and finally almost warm shallow water and a definite feel of a pull from the tide and a few swimmers ahead and I was catching them – can’t be far. Sadly I had to swim around a groin into colder water to see the buoy and the flags at the finish. That last couple of hundred meters were so hard, just like on the odd half marathon though I was a bit better at swimming in than I am at running in. Fortunately there was a nice man to help me stand and walk in and Ash and Heather to get me over the timing mat. I had done the full race in 3 and a bit hours, the furthest and longest time I have swum in open water.

The medal is fabulous!

Blue hat (to show that I was doing a qualifying swim) and fabulous medal

It was so good to see Ash and Heather, they had my bag and robe ready and a warm drink. They were brilliant!

I’m now tired and stiff, the shoulders and back are complaining but I hope they are okay in the morning. The pressure is off as I have the qualifying swim done.

Infinity put on a proper meal for us and there was even cake. I thought I’d passed a fair few swimmer, but the winner did it 1:50, so I was well off the pace! Still the passing helped to get me to the end.

Bed now, it’s a busy day tomorrow.

Feck it, sure it’ll be grand!

Day 1 HITtheWALL

The plan for leaving at 12 and meeting at Carlinford for 4 pm went haywire, rocked up at 5:45 and all my own fault. Carlingford is beautiful! The registration was at the Skypark just outside the village and billed as an adventure event.

The hint about the type of adventure was in the name of the park, if I had thought. I get nervous standing on a chair and I had a choice of a zip line, climbing up a totem pole and jumping on to a bar then being lowered down, a wall climb or abseiling – all higher than a chair! The safest option was the zipline, I have a nasty habit of freezing when I get too high, have to say it was okay, I even half opened my eyes but it was enough. Ash and Heather did all four options (photos to follow if they let me); Heather seems to fear nothing and Ash was hilarious on the top of the totem – if I’d taken a video the language was not suitable for before the watershed! I am in constant awe of both of them, they meet every challenge and overcome it!

The first swim of the weekend was at Camlough lake aiming to be in at 9:45pm and swimming into darkness. Finding the sodding place was a challenge, especially as my SatNav seems to have a propensity to choose narrow roads and boreens! We made it just in time, I suspect it is a beautiful place if we had time to look around.

The swim was round a 750m course as many times as we could in 1.5 hours – yellow caps (us three) not being let out before that unless we were on the point of hypothermia. The water temperature was warmer than the Guillamene two weeks ago, the water was black (nothing to see) and it was okay. I now know my biggest problem is not the cold or swimming for a long time per se, it’s boredom; after about an hour my mine kept going to “bored now, want to get out” fortunately on about the third or fourth circuit the yellow hat came to the rescue. I got called to the RIB to get out, amazingly Ash was on bored with one other swimmer and we got whisked up the lake away from the others told to get in a swim back. It was freezing as the RIB sped up the lake but the water felt almost warm when we got back in, the three of us stuck together and the swim back was not problem except that we got back 5 min before the 90 was up and had to dawdle around, that was when the chill set in.

Really chuffed I swam in relatively cold water for 1.5 hours, this is the longest I have managed and I didn’t get really bad shivers afterwards. The trip back, using my wayward SatNav again, was less ‘odd’ apart from one point where I turned on to a narrowish (can just fit two cars) road and a boy racer drove across the road in front of me, very glad I wasn’t too tired or too cold as I half predicted a stupid move so had slowed enough to stop in time, if I had been driving like him both cars would have been write-offs and both of us in hospital. Having driven on I was being flowed quite closely by a car which really put the wind up as this was border country (NI side) I drive a republic registered car and there is no mistaking I was born and raised mainly in England when speak! To add insult to injury having let the car behind go through the next turn was a single track road which made me think that my suspension may well not survive. Still made it home safe and sound, I think the suspension is still okay. Hot shower and bed.

Quite pleased with myself today.

N.B. I’m going to be posting when I have the chance, so apologies for the grammar, punctuation, spelling and general sense of the posts this weekend.


Quick post as I need to pack and clean the car. Next stage in my training is the Infinity Channel Swimming’s HITtheWALL weekend in Carlingford Lough.

Just a tad worried as the training has gone to pot over the last three weeks since I had the lurgy, which has not entirely disappeared. On the good side the water temperature, according to Infinity, is above 10oC, the bad is that I have to get a two hour swim done to qualify for the Channel relay this despite having only managed 50min this year.

It’s going to be an interesting weekend. I will try and report back on the activities if there is WiFi at the hotel, if not then there will be a long post. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the Varne Ridge Camp we went to in October last year (I will post a report).


Another day in paradise?

In a slight change from our usual routine, Ash and I met on Sunday afternoon at the Guillamene for a swim. It was the sort of spring day that makes you believe that a fabulous summer is on the way, the sun was out, the bluebells blooming under the trees and the sea was blue and inviting. On a day like this, Ireland and Britain are probably the most beautiful places in the world.

Fun in the sun.

Both Ash and I had goggle issues, necessitating two returns to base to wash out goggles and refit. It always amazes me how much foggy or slightly leaky goggles can upset a swim, in the pool or open water; it is difficult to do without the damn things but they can be the most irritating pieces of equipment a swimmer uses. When I was doing a swimming teacher course many years ago, the tutor told us “goggles makes kids deaf”, at the time I don’t think I fully understood, after over 30 years I heartily agree. I’m sure you will be saying that goggles can’t possibly make kids deaf, you’d be right; kids adjusting/fiddling/cleaning goggles stop them from paying attention and they become functionally deaf – if you ever see me teaching a class of children and get them to take the goggles off you now know why.

We both managed around 45 minutes and a leisurely 1k and with very little, to no shivering afterwards so, whilst not the best session, it was great to be out in the water in the sunshine.   You may be wondering where Heather has been, fear not “Feck it, sure it’ll be grand” will be a three person relay crossing the English Channel in July.   Heather is in Castlebar, Co. Mayo on a training course for work.

It’s a beautiful day

Another bank holiday Monday and another drive down to Tramore. The morning was bright and sunny and there was very little wind, on the negative side I was still a little horse, had a stuffy nose with an odd cough. Having been out of the water, apart from one pool swim, for two weeks and HITtheWALL in about three weeks, I was in need of a fix.

As usual, I was a little late and Ash was patiently waiting for me and watching, Ironman in training, Michael Murphy swimming with some of his training buddies from Clonmel Tri Club. I wouldn’t say either of us were looking forward to getting in and I was really unsure as to whether I could or should get in it, but we took off our changing robes and got ear plugs in, hat on then grabbed goggles, tow floats and, in my case, my new toy, a waterproof camera, and headed for the steps; it would have been shame to waste a sunny day and calm sea. I think we both found it a little harder to get in than two weeks ago and I think we both did a bit more ‘controlled breathing’ but we did get swimming. Once able to swim we made it out to the flag and met up with Michael and some of the other tri-guys.

Micheal in the centre and Ash on the right enjoying a beautiful day.
Enjoying the water, happy swimmers.

I decided to err on the side of caution and just swam in and out to the cove, a real shame as it was a beautiful day and the sea was calm. Ash swam up to the 250m buoy a few times with Micheal. I surprised myself and stayed in for about 30 minutes and felt fairly comfortable. I even managed to take a few scenic shots with my new toy.

Looking back at the Metalman.

Once out, I stripped off the wet costume and dried off quickly before walking back up to the car to change into dry clothes and make a cup of tea; no second swim today. Much to my surprise I did not start shivering at all, though I did have two thermal layers, a long purple duvet coat and my purple Charlie McLeod with purple wellie socks to keep my feet warm and a purple bobble hat for head and ears. The vision in purple raised a laugh from Ash and Michael.

Guillamene Cove

I’m a bit worried about getting the 2 hour qualifying swim done at HITtheWALL, I’ve not managed to do an hour in the water yet this year and I’m not sure the water is starting to warm much. I think next week I’ll be taking a warm drink in my tow float, hopefully having a warm drink after 30 minutes will by a bit more swimming time.

It’s 7.00am and we’re coughing up the phlegm

So much for ramping up the training after our Easter Monday session! Woke Tuesday with a bit of a sore throat and what I thought was hay fever, the antihistamine I bought at lunchtime had no effect. By Tuesday evening it was obvious I had a cold and I felt like dying rather than going into work on Wednesday but went in as I had sampling scheduled and the kit was in the back of my car. I did take the sensible path on Thursday and spent most of the day asleep or coughing and sneezing at home but back to work on Friday – not a good idea. Now two weeks later, and only one slow swim session done, I’m still prone to the odd bout of coughing and getting more than a little frustrated that I haven’t been training. I’m hoping to do a couple of swims tomorrow with Ash at the Guillamenes, hopefully the weather will be as lovely as today and the coughing will have subsided still further.