Thursday, August 9, 2018

Why did the Irish man swim the channel?

You might find yourself surrounded by jellyfish, in the middle of the separation zone, with Andy the boat pilot haranguing you for being a zig-zagging swimmer.

At times like this it's easy to question whose bright idea this was, what the fuck are you trying to prove anyway, and do you really believe that having a great big swim on your CV will tipp-ex over all of those years spent pissing about on the dole.
And the answer?  Just keep swimming.


For me, open water swimming is a set of loosely connected surreal moments, and applying factor fifty sunscreen in the moonlight at three in the morning as my boat made its way from Dover Harbour to Samphire Hoe is definitely one of them.  It may have been the nerves, it may have been the boat rocking, and it may even have been that the previous two days in the caravan were spent eating non-stop, but I was definitely feeling a bit queasy.  When the boat stopped at Samphire Hoe, I was to swim to the beach, get clear of the water, then the horn would sound and my swim would officially begin.  Less than halfway to the beach, I started puking.  Not a half-hearted retch between strokes, but having no choice but to adopt the fetal position as I spewed like a firehose underwater.  Could being violently sick right before the start of a big swim be considered a good omen?

The initial swimming in the dark next to the boat was a bit disconcerting, but when the sun came up I got into my groove, and it became quite enjoyable.  I kept repeating to myself that I was doing my most favourite thing in the world, had a banging Womack and Womack track playing in my head, and my crew kept relaying uplifting messages from all the people who were tracking me back home.  There was no doubt that I was in my happy place, and I get to do this all day long!  Woo-hoo, go me!

Then at five hours in, I had to swim through jelly soup.  Five proper stings, but the one that really stood out was getting a big long tentacle caught in my armpit which stung my torso, arm, and neck simultaneously.  As bad as the stings were, they were a welcome distraction as everything was starting to hurt.  Then at six hours I noticed my pace dropping.  Then from seven hours on, the blue sky and sunshine were replaced with overcast conditions, and the sea got noticeably choppier.  Even though I was starting to feel a bit at sea (no apologies for that pun) I was able to reason that this was the wall, just keep swimming and it will pass.

The one piece of advice that really stuck with me was to not look back at Dover, nor to look forward to France, as the respective coastlines appear to stay the same distance away for hours on end and give the impression that one is not making any progress.  The thing I kept hearing again and again from channel swimmers is that they were looking at France for a good three or four hours before landing, and it really messed with their heads.  I had lost track of time (the hours and feeds all started to bleed into one another by now), but knew that I was in the water a good ten or twelve hours, and any time I dared to look ahead, there was no sign of the French coast.  At the next feed, John and Kate told me I needed to put down an hour of power.  I put the boot down and ploughed ahead, but was still in the middle of the sea looking at the grey sky.  Am I ever going to even get there?  Why ask me to do an hour of power if it's just to get from one spot in the middle of the sea to another spot in the middle of the sea?  Earlier I hit the wall, but persevered and got back into a groove.  Now I genuinely started to get despondent.  I trusted my crew, they told me that I was doing well, and on the next feed I asked: "Any idea of where I am?" They just said: "You're doing great, keep swimming!"  As much as I wanted to believe them, the doubts were really starting to take hold.

I was tired.  Everything hurt.  I had envisioned a target time for completing the swim, and that time had passed.  I tried going back to the old reliable motivational method of keep swimming until the next feed, and if I still feel like quitting, then quit.  I swam until the next feed and still felt like quitting.  And the next feed.  And the next feed.  The jellyfish stings had long washed out, and all I could feel was the muscular pain which kept accruing, never abating.  Whose bright idea was this?  What was I trying to prove?  Would anyone really think less of me if I touched the boat now and got out?  Could it be seen as a sign of personal growth if I decided to get out early rather than persevere in a vain attempt to get the world's approval?

Shortly afterwards (I say shortly, but time stopped having any real meaning a long time ago), I took another ill-advised forward glance.  Still no sign of France, but I saw a liner emerging from fog in the distance.  It wasn't overcast, it was foggy!  This meant that I might be a lot closer to the finish than previously realised.  Even though I still had no idea where I was, it gave me a bit of a lift, and I even started to feel vaguely optimistic again.

Then the fog lifted, the sun came out, and France was visible.  Even if there were four or five more hours of swimming ahead of me, I was beyond giving a fuck. The end was in sight, I was not in the separation zone, and there was a strong possibility that this godawful long day of horrendous swimming would eventually come to an end. There wasn't much left in the tank, but I put everything I had into a steady groove of just keep swimming.  I didn't bother sighting the coastline, and before I knew it, Andy was getting into the dinghy to guide me to the shore.

One of the things I used to lift my spirits throughout the swim was envisioning what it would be like to land on the French shore and then walk up the beach as a victorious channel swimmer.  A fellow distance week veteran, Big Jim from the US, got the Hollywood ending for his channel swim earlier this week.  He landed on a gorgeous sandy beach illuminated by the evening sunshine.  He dried off his impressive frame with a star-spangled beach towel, surrounded by loved ones who were all overwhelmed with a combined sense of pride, joy, and relief.  Just thinking about this now is making me well up and feel all gooey inside.

Being from a small town in the south of Ireland meant my ending was a lot less Hollywood.  I arrived at a rockier part of the coast, not a stony beach like Dover, but a big bunch of boulders protecting the sea front.  To end the swim, I had to clear the water with my whole body and that meant climbing on top of a big rock.  When I got into waist high water, I tried standing, but the previous hours upon hours of swimming had turned my legs into rubber.  After climbing a rock with the combined physical prowess of Bambi on ice meets Mr. Burns, I heard the boat's horn sound, and my swim was over.  A group of strangers on the seafront gave me a cheer, then Andy started bellowing at me to swim back to the dinghy.
No emotional fanfares or flourishes.  No epiphanies and no real ceremony.
The swim was over, now get back to the boat!

(The swim took place on 5th of July 2018, and took a total of 13 hours, 51 minutes, and 43 seconds)


Thank yous:

First off, massive thank you to John Carroll and Kate Steels-Fryatt for being the most amazing crew ever.  Not only did they keep me fed, but also kept my spirits up, and did a great job of relaying messages from social media.

Thanks to Andy and James King of Louise Jane Charters for getting me across, if you are thinking of doing the channel, look them up on the CSA website.

Tracey Clarke was an absolute legend as always, thanks for EVERYTHING!

Ned and Catherine get a mention for their work running Cork Distance Week every year, which is what put the daft notion in my head initially.

EVERYONE who swam with me to help build up the distance in the run up to the swim.

Normally there's a shout out to the haters, doubters, and naysayers, but there were none.  Everyone was so positive and supportive every step of the way, and that meant the world to me, thanks again!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Erne your happy ending.


My Galway Bay adventure last year was such a laugh that I figured a swim twice as long would have double the laughs.  With that in mind, I signed up for Lake Zurich and waited for the confirmation e-mail to arrive.  Swimmers are allotted places on a lottery basis, but surely they'd jiggle the lottery a wee bit to squeeze in a person of immense stature within the open water community such as myself.

Then an e-mail arrived saying that I was unsuccessful in my application, and to try again next year.  This was quite embarrassing, for them at least.  So I gingerly composed an e-mail pointing out their mistake, that human error is acceptable, that I don't hold grudges, and would they please now message me saying that I would be doing Lake Zurich this year, and they can't wait to meet the actual me in person.  Sadly, the organisers could not swallow their pride and admit the mistake on their part, which meant I'd have to find a 25km swim somewhere else.

Through the magic of Facebook, I came across the ILDSA's 25km swim in Lough Erne, and after much navigating of their website, was able to sign up for it.  It was in early August, which meant that Cork Distance Week (CDW) would get me over the hump in terms of training.  Over winter and spring, however, I'd need to get myself as far as the hump.

My winter training was a few sessions a week in the pool with the tri-club, which is nice baseline training, but over the course of spring into summer I'd be upping my distance in the sea.  The distance goals were to hit double laps of Sandycove by the end of April, triples in May, and quadruples in June.  I managed to hit these targets, but doing that many laps so early in the year usually meant having company for the first lap or two, then going solo for the remainder. On top of this, Donna and Anthony organized swims with kayaks from Fountainstown to Churchbay and back, and Speckled Door to the Dock Beach (with a lap of Sandycove in the middle for good measure) to practice feeds and the like.

As this was my second time at CDW, there was no sense of excitement or mystery about what the week would bring, just a nameless dread in the pit of my stomach.  When talking to civilians, I'd describe CDW thusly: "Close your eyes. Now imagine doing ALL the swimming.  Now multiply that by two, and add a zero at the end.  That's what I'll be doing for the week!"  I took the week off work and trucked through the first half of the week with grim resignation, accepting that my arms and shoulders would be sore regardless of how much I might stretch.

One of my outstanding characteristics (aside from my immense humility) is my generosity.  Because of this, I offered the organisers of the Myrtleville to Churchbay swim (on the Thursday evening of CDW) the use of my van to carry participants' bags from the start to the finish of the race.  At no point did it cross my mind that I would get a prime parking space reserved for me at Myrtleville, or that my van would be chauffeured over to the finish for me.  These things were happy coincidences as far as I was concerned.  The downside was that I would need to clear out the contents of my van ahead of the race, which at the time was a small nightclub's worth of speakers, amps, and other such equipment.  While carrying a gigantic subwoofer up the stairs to my flat, something went in my shoulder, and this would be the end of distance week for me.

I had been hoping that the Champion of Champions and the six-hour channel qualifier would get me over the line in terms of distance, but these had to be sat out.  (I was then hoping to help with feeds on the island for the other six hourers, but a bad dose of Delhi belly on Sunday morning meant I'd be staying at home for the day.)  This put a serious question mark over whether Lough Erne would happen for me this year.
After lying idle for a week, I did the Lee Swim.  Goosed shoulder or not, I'd paid to take part, it was only 2km, and if I finished the race I'd get a souvenir mug.  While not having the greatest swim of my life, I placed third in my age group, got a mug, and my shoulder felt alright, if not better afterward. The following week I was back in the pool, got some work done on my shoulder by my sports injury guy, and feeling a bit more confident about the looming 25km.  Triple-Crowned Ubermensch Matthias was still in Cork preparing for his next channel, and would be doing a four hour session in Sandycove that Saturday, so I asked if I could join him.  After doing eight laps of the island in under four and a half hours (big thanks to Bronwyn and Ina for helping with the feeds) a week before the main event, I was fairly confident I'd be able to do the distance in Lough Erne.
This is what confidence looks like
This is what confidence looks like:
After a really long drive, and not enough sleep the night before, I was at the start on Naan Island.  Then it dawned on me that the ridiculously long swim I'd been preparing for all these months was about to begin any moment now.  There were three of us racing, so if we all finished we'd be getting different coloured participation medals.  Bernard Sweeney was from Dublin, with a background in water polo, and an unknown quantity.  Anthony Sloman, for those of you who don't know, is the most inappropriately named swimmer I've ever met.  "Fast Bastard Flash" would be far more fitting, not that he's a bastard, but it's usually what I say to myself whenever he pisses past me in the water.  I started strong, but began falling back as Anthony and Bernard ploughed ahead.  This didn't phase me as I was not in it to win it, and just wanted to keep doing strong strokes and get to the finish line.  At a few points throughout the swim there were thoughts of: "What the fuck are you doing?  Just stop now and put an end to this nonsense."  While it was tempting, I fooled myself into continuing with: "Just keep going until your next feed, and if you still feel like quitting, then quit."  Regular feeds helped me keep track of the time, so at two hours it was roughly one quarter of the swim done, and at about three I was over a third.  When it got to the four hour mark it was halfway, and I could distract myself with the thought of: "More done than left to do, more done than left to do, more done than left to do … … …"

My interactions with my kayaker were minimal: he'd hand me my bottle at feed times, I'd drink the allotted amount, then hand it back saying thank you.  Part of the Irish Psyche/psychosis is to try and be on good terms with everyone, and I had to fight the thoughts of: "He must think I'm very anti-social, I really should engage in more small talk with him, ask him about his family life, career etc."  At seven hours while I was gulping back the carbo-drink he said: "That's the last one now".  I was worried that he meant I was out of feeds, but then he pointed down the river: "The finish line is about 2k away, you can just about see it!"  As I plodded down the last stretch, I saw another kayak with a pink buoy behind it, and a white-capped swimmer tagging along.  It was Anthony!  The only reason I was catching up on him was because he was succumbing to a few injuries that not even Nurofen could fix.  I'm not one to take pleasure in another's misfortune, but I'll happily take a medal.  Having done over 20km at a leisurely walking pace, I put the boot down for this final stretch, overtaking him with ease and finishing ahead of Anthony for the first (and only) time in my swimming career.

Safety first

When the race was over, there was no sense of elation or achievement.  The race, much like myself, was done.  I smoked a celebratory cigar with Anthony, and cheered myself up with: "Remember when your major goal in open water swimming was to do a lap of Sandycove island, and not be a liability to those swimming with you?"  I did my first lap of Sandycove just four years ago, and it had been so disastrous that I waited full year before I attempted my second lap.
Spoils of war
Even though it is now my biggest swim to date, this was just a bridging swim as I have bigger goals for next year.  CDW has been a serious boost for me these last two years.  Not only by being around some seriously badass motherfuckers, but it has stretched me and revealed previously unrealized qualities about myself as a swimmer (I'm not so un-badass myself as it turns out).  Its reputation for performance enhancing qualities in swimmers has meant that a few of this year's participants were spying on behalf of WADA.  Their reports at the end stated that no doping was taking place, but that a week of swimming, stout, and Sandycove will bring out herculean qualities in anyone!

No success happens in isolation, and there are so many people who helped me along the way this year.  Ned and Catherine's work during distance week; Anna-Maria and the family Mullally taking care of catering during distance week; my training buddies in the pool; my open water training buddies (special mention to Jonathan and Anthony, as well as the Walrus Pup and the Great White); Donna Galvin, whose organisational skills in the run up to the swim meant that so many things fell in to place so easily (she keeps saying that we did the hard work by swimming, but we all know that's not true!); and finally my many nephews and nieces whose names I'd repeat to myself any time I needed a wee boost during the swim, they're a seriously funny bunch, so it's hard not to smile when I think of them!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Electric Picnic 2016

It was the Friday morning of Electric Picnic, and after several months of making no effort to buy a ticket or trying to schmooze my way onto the line-up, I sort of decided that I kind of wanted to go.  A friend posted on Facebook saying that he might have a spare ticket, and was open to offers if anyone was interested.  I sent a message to see what the story was, and this is what he told me:  He and his act were scheduled to perform there, but a few days after receiving the performer passes in the post, they were e-mailed and told that they had been cut from the line-up.  At first their plan was "Fuck it, let's go up anyway and have a weekend of fun!" which quickly turned to "What if these performer passes are no longer valid, and we only discover that after driving all the way up there?"  I was welcome to take one of them, for no money up front, and if I got in I would give him a token amount for the ticket upon my return to Cork.  Bit of a risk involved, but as a wise man once said: "Yerra feck it, 'twill be grand!"

After a mind-numbing day spent working on-site in East Cork, I got home late and hastily threw the barest essentials into the back of my van.  I called round to my friend's house and picked up the ticket which he had left in the wheelie bin for me (take that Electric Picnic!), then headed to Aldi where I picked up flapjacks, baby wipes, bottled water, and a three pack of socks which were going on special offer.  Till number 3 had just opened, so I beelined towards it, paid cash, and didn't even bother to show off my Electric Picnic performer's pass to the attractive eastern European girl working the check-out.  If I wanted to get in that night, I would have to be up there before ten.  It was now half seven, and it would take a good two hours to get there, god knows how long to find parking, and even more time to get to the right gate.  And even if all of that falls into place, there was still no guarantee I was getting in.

After driving the shit out of my van and not getting stuck behind any tractors, I landed in the carpark shortly after half nine, and started frantically looking for the right gate.  After getting misinformation from two different guys in hi-vis jackets, I then found myself on the right (and muddy) track.  Fingers crossed they let me in without too many tricky questions about who I'm with, when I'm on, and please god don't let their be a list with the numbers of performer's passes that are no longer valid.  After spending most of the drive up mentally rehearsing my friend's name to give at accreditation, the nice helpful lady behind the desk instead asked: "Which area are you performing?"  Shit, a crafty curveball if ever there was one.  After a pause and almost shitting myself I answered "The Hazel Wood" hoping that's what it's called.  She then wrote down HW and the wristband number in her book, took my wrist and put my pass in place saying: "I was just about to close up, so you got here just in time."  "Lucky me!" As I walked in I turned around and said: "You know where to find me this weekend, be sure to check out my act!"


It was already dark at this point, and there were masses of people teeming around, lots of them on their phones waving one hand in the air frantically "I'm waving my hand now, can you see me?"  Holy shit, it was barely Friday night and they had already lost their friends!  Not wishing to be too smug, but this is where not having any friends and going to festivals alone really comes into its own.  There was a chance I might lose myself over the course of the weekend, but there was also a chance of finding myself.  God I'm so profound!  After wandering around a while, I bumped into two sound heads I knew from Cork city, and wandered around with them for a while, no fixed agenda just taking it all in.  They wanted tea, so we went into the Flying Machine Tea Shop and sat down with a cuppa for a natter.  In the corner, there were about five or six DJs taking turns on a set of decks.  One would drop a track, then wander off, then another would shuffle over, drop a track, and wander off.  They were keeping it nicely loose, with no mixing, but all the selections made sense with no gaps between the tracks.  It was mainly on the heavy funk and afro side, with some boogie and jazz-funk working its magic in between.  Bit by bit, more and more people got up and danced, and when "Evil vibrations" by The Mighty Ryeders came on, I felt obliged to do the same.  It was one of those nice dancefloor moments, with a wide range of people doing their thing and creating energy, and there was just enough space so that there was no bumping, just grinding.  This lasted for a good half hour to an hour (what can I say, I lost myself in the dance and existed outside of time, maaaahn), but then the tent got invaded by a selfie brigade.  Upon seeing a large group of people enjoying themselves, they thought the best thing they could do was to insert themselves in the middle of this group, and selfie the shit out of everything.  The atmosphere was ruined, the moment was lost, so we left the tent and headed off to see what else was happening.

We wandered into the Red Bull greenhouse to find Fish Go Deep had transformed into Fish Gone Jackin': upfront hip-house laden with harsh 12 bit drum sounds!  It might seem redundant to drive halfway up the country to see DJs from my own parish, but the last time I had gotten down to Greg and Shane was at Body and Soul a few years back, so I was being nothing but consistent.  The crowd were a valuable education in the varying levels of how fucked up a person can be, a Mongtessori if you will.  People-watching was out of the question, down here on the ground I was jaw-dodging!  One guy was so wired his jaw was pointing over his right shoulder and the rest of his body contorted to follow.  His hands were held uselessly at chest level like a t-rex, while his half open eyes rolled way back in his head as he communicated with ancient spirits from a far away planet.  Another was so fucked that he couldn't stand or walk with any great effectiveness, but had taken so many stimulants that he was unable to fall over either.  The ultimate catch 22 of the party lifestyle!  The music was excellent, and it was a privilege to hear so many decades of house music distilled into such a short space of time.  As well as the many madouttavits, there were lots of dancers present who had not even been born when Greg and Shane had first gone deep.  Whether they really understood the significance of what FGD had done for house music in Ireland is irrelevant, all that really mattered at that moment was that they were getting down and having a hell of a good time!

Up next was another local, Mr. Colm K.  Colm is a friend of mine, but I'm a massive fan of his.  His last release was "The Love EP" in 2013, and it flipped me out so much that for a period of several months after it was released, anyone who called round to me was forced to sit down and listen to it in its entirety.  He had started out as Stevie G's Padawan in Sir Henry's way back when, but has since gone on to be a Sick Lord in his own right.  His soulful style is New York by way of Cork, and his set combined long smooth blends that either made the new track creep in completely under the radar or be apparent from the distance as it got teased into the mix. When he played an instrumental edit of "Let's lovedance tonight" I had a transcendental moment on the dancefloor, where the sublime beauty of the track was perfectly offset by me saying "OH YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" far too loud and far too often.  All good things had to come to an end, and although we were spared the selfie squad this time, there was a massive cramp building in my gut that could just be a fart, but could be oh so much more.

"When is the best time to use the portaloo at a music festival?" is almost a rhetorical question, but there are a series of acceptable answers to this.  The most correct answer is "Never".  The next acceptable answer is "Only if you really have to", which is then followed by "Friday night, before it gets completely destroyed over Saturday and Sunday".  I had felt the cramp starting a while back, but was able to distract myself with music and dancing and whatnot.  Now that I walked carefully and purposefully towards the portaloos, my gastrointestinal situation was doing its best to not be ignored, as I felt my gut gurgle, and sphincter pucker with every step.  As I had packed and changed in a rush after work, these were the only jeans and jocks I had for the weekend, so this was a mission where failure was not an option.  I made it to the jacks, and then sat in the dark box comforted by the knowledge that what I couldn't see, couldn't infect me.  It wasn't long before I felt painful, emotional, and liquid relief flow through and out of me.


I woke up around noon-ish in the back of my van.  Friday's dancing and sweating meant that wearing the same farting crackers two days in a row was not going to be an option.  My jeans had an impressive tear in the groin area, so going commando was completely out of the question.  After some rummaging through the mess, I pulled out a pair of speedos.  If they are sufficient coverage to protect my genitalia from the raging sea, then they will be adequate coverage to protect Electric Picnic from my raging genitalia.  After deciding that last night's anal outpouring was a one-off event, and that my stomach was now purged of its nastiness, I went up to the festival and had a chickpea and lentil curry for breakfast.

Walking past the Today FM tent, I saw Paula MacSweeney sitting by herself, so I went over, sat down next to her and said hello.  After staring at me blankly, politely, and awkwardly for about five to ten seconds, she suddenly burst out with "Oh wait, I know you - SWIMMING!"  It had been about twenty years since we last spoke, but we were instantly nattering and taking the piss like nobody's business.  Paula had been a prodigious swimmer way back when, so much so that by the time she was a teenager she was done with it.  I did my best to convince her that swimming as a grown-up is a whole other thing, where eating loads of junk is a central part of the training. "Isn't that the only reason anyone exercises?  To eat rubbish?" "You don't get it Paula, with open water swimming, the cakes, THE CAKES!"  This was accompanied with hand gestures that were meant to convey some inconceivable splendour, but instead made me look like some sort of delusional cake fetishist.

Most of Saturday was spent wandering about with my camera.  The light was pretty good, but as I had only two rolls of film for the entire weekend, this would mean that I'd have to shoot smart rather than getting snap happy.  The good news was that when Saturday's roll was shot, I could unburden myself of my vintage slr which was only slightly lighter than having a bag of records slung round my neck.  Other highlights of Saturday was getting fed by the bread and cheese stall.  It was conveniently located right next to a pretentious vegan food stand that prided itself on serving rabbit food with meagre dressings to actual people.  Bread and cheese was very straightforward:  A loaf of bread with cheese in the middle, toasted in a pizza oven until crispy and gooey, then served with a sour cream sauce loaded with bacon bits.  The allergen list and ingredients list for these bad boys were identical, and goddammit was it delicious!  As fate would have it, two friends of mine got food from the vegan stand, and they sat next to me picking at their sawdust and olive oil while I wolfed down my uber-toxic wheat and dairy hybrid with the smug self-satisfaction that is normally only reserved for vegans.

The next port of call was the comedy tent.  As a result of watching way too much QI, I had fallen in love with Aisling Bea, and it was only right that I attend her set so that she could return the favour and fall in love with me.  I sat right up at the front, but somehow she managed to avoid looking my way throughout the entire set.  I even laughed at all her jokes, but that was not enough.  Maybe my presence was too intense and she found that off-putting?  Maybe the next time I'm at one of her shows I can do my best to not laugh at all, and then she'll be all "Ooooh, who's that guy over there who's all brooding and mysterious?"  Having reviewed that plan a few times in my head, I decided it was brilliant, and wrote it into my "I'm in love with Aisling Bea" notebook for future reference.  Next up was the Rubberbandits, and they were an absolute joy.  They did an abridged version of 'Up The 'Ra', which sadly didn't contain the line "He had a sword made out of hash sellotaped to the steering wheel of his mother's face", but had a fresh line-up of people who were in the 'Ra (I creased myself laughing when Nelson Muntz got a mention).  They also did "Spoiling Ivan" and "Hipster or Hobo" and even though I knew both of those songs inside out, the killer lines still made me laugh out loud.  At the end Blind Boy had a long-winded non-rhyming poem about *bortion (I won't mention the 'a' word) which had just the right amount of political sentiment without getting too political.

Now it was time to wander off for food and coffee and then head back to see Dylan Moran.  I love Dylan Moran, but had never seen him live. It would be terrible to someday meet the man and say, "Huge fan, watch you on youtube all the time!"  As much as I wanted to see him live, there was the trepidation that he might not have it any more.  What if seeing him live for the first time was just a massive disappointment?  Thankfully he killed it in a way that only Dylan Moran can.  His word choice, economy of language, and timing are unparalleled.  The true testament of his jokes is that they're very hard to retell.  Without the right pauses and inflections they fall completely flat, but when he unleashes them, they have this throwaway quality where every second line is a mic drop moment.  Throughout his set I was either in tears laughing, rendered breathless by his lyricism, or both at the same time.

Normally I avoid trying to go to see particular acts at festivals, to just let the weekend happen, but this would be the exception.  Mr Scruff was playing in the Red Bull greenhouse that night and I  didn't want to miss him.  Having seen him the last few times he'd played the Pav in Cork, and come away massively inspired every time, I was not going to miss him here.  He is known for being fastidious in his setting up his gear and performing sound checks, but when I interrupted his soundcheck in the Pav one year asking if he'd sign a teapot for me, he was so gracious and gentlemanly about the whole thing.  As I walked towards the greenhouse to the sound of some very rich and kicking Afrobeat, I felt a familiar cramping in my gut.  The nearest portaloos were way over in the Body and Soul area, so there was no choice but to tramp over there and give Mr. Scruff a miss.

The upshot of this was getting to hear Donal Dineen's set at the earthship stage.  He had a small audience, and would frequently pick up the mic to do shout-outs to people he recognised in the crowd.  The outstanding quality of his set was its intimacy.  He wasn't on stage performing for a crowd, he was taking part in the experience with everyone else.  He would gently sway and shuffle along to the music, which ranged from deep house to dub techno with the occasional sprinkling of post-disco.  It was marred by frequent pilgrimages to the portaloo on my part, but even though I was hanging out down the back, I still felt a sense of the man's easy presence as it permeated out from the stage.  Even though I had been looking forward to dancing to Scruff, hanging out and soaking up Donal Dineen was exactly what I needed.


I woke up Sunday morning not feeling ready to face the day, so I got into the driver's seat, turned on the ignition, the heating, and Lyric fm.  I put the seat into full recline, and then the combination of the low rumble of the engine, the gentle classical music with the hushed tones of the DJ, and the dead heat from the fans allowed me to slip and in out of a gentle stupour for god only knows how long.  At some point it occurred to me that if this is my idea of bliss, maybe I'm too old to be going to music festivals.  This was interrupted by a guy knocking at my window, he'd left his lights on overnight and needed a jump-start.  Having been in that exact position far too often of late, I didn't hesitate to sort him out.  My good deed for the day was done, and it was such a good deed that I was now entitled to act completely dickishly at least once before the day was out.

It was time to hit the festival, and I needed coffee.  Everywhere I went had a long queue, and queuing while needing a caffeine hit is a purgatorial feeling.  Sod's law dictates that when you just want a cup of black coffee that takes less than a minute to brew, the eighteen people ahead of you will want ornate flat whites amd will feel obliged to ask the barista a series of questions, when I just want coffee.  I bumped into a friend and explained that I couldn't stop to talk, needed to find coffee without a queue.  He responded with "Coffee is spelt c-o-f-e-e, so there's no q!"  Luckily for him I was too strung-out to point out how retarded his attempt at smartarsery was, and pressed on in my quest instead.  Eventually I found a stall with just three people in the queue, and one of them had just been served.  Hurrah! 

The smell of the beans set the craving off worse than ever, but knowing I was so close to getting it into me took the edge off considerably.  The two people ahead of me became just one person ahead of me, but then disaster struck: He was a cheeky chappy who insisted on bantering with the barista.  I'm not a patient man, but I have been learning tolerance and whatnot throughout the years.  Frequently I'm at the Credit Union, and there's an auld wan ahead of me telling half her life story to the lady behind the counter.  As much as I'd like to let rip in that situation, I have to take a few deep breaths and acknowledge that this person is quite lonely and her talking at length in the credit union is one of the few social outlets she has.  Other times at Aldi, the person ahead of me in the checkout line is genuinely brain damaged and will take longer than the average person to pay for and bag their shopping.  Again, deep breaths and acknowledging that this person's daily life has challenges that I could never imagine. 

I tried breathing deeply and to see the world from this guy's point of view, but all I could think of was hurry to fuck up, order what you're ordering, and get out of my way.  Finally after much bantering, he decided what he wanted, and ordered.  The barista who was not enjoying his humour, just smiling politely to humour him, told him "That will be four euros fifty so".  He then reached into his pocket, pulled out a paint-brush, dabbed some paint on his cheek, and then attempted to do the same to the barista.  She smiled, leaned back out of his reach, and politely said "No thank you".  "Come on, it's just a bit of paint!" (cheeky-cheeky chappy, banter-banter-banter).  I'd had enough, this was going on far too long, and he was just acting the ballocks now.  I wanted to tap him on the shoulder, and firmly say "She said no, can you just pay and get on with it?"  Instead I found myself taking my camera off from around my neck, and repeatedly bashing him on the back of the head until he was a bloody twitching mess on the ground, still clutching onto his paint brush.  The barista and the queue that had formed behind me all heaved a collective sigh of relief.  "Black coffee, please."  "Anything else?" I motioned towards the blood on my shirt, "A few extra napkins also.  How much is that?" "You're ok, thanks for that!"  I put a euro in the tip jar, and wandered off sipping my coffee as the paramedics and Gardai made their way over.

The highlight of Sunday was the sing-along social on the Body and Soul stage.  A lady with a laptop was playing crowd favourites that were inherently sing-along-able.  Destiny's Child and Gwen Steffani got the respect they deserve, and when B*witched's "C'est la vie" went into that jigs and reel bit, the crowd spontaneously bust out the Irish dancing moves like the most well executed flash mob in existence.  The crowd was overwhelmingly female, and I had not witnessed that many excited young women in one place since that time Penney's gave away a free puppy with every pair of patterned tights.  Then came a curve ball:  Enya's "Orinoco Flow".  The crowd did their best to mumble along in good spirits to the verses, but when the chorus dropped, the audience boomed out "SAIL AWAY! SAIL AWAY! SAIL AWAY!" giving me shivers like I never felt before.  I tried taking a few pictures of it, but it was impossible for me the capture the immensity and intensity of the atmosphere there.

Wandering by the comedy tent, I popped in to catch some of Karl Spain.  I'd seen him twice before, so some of the jokes were familiar but still funny.  He then looked over and saw two Gardai at the side, and started taking the piss out of them.  After ripping on them for a few minutes, he turned back to the audience and said "It's alright, they're only Bean Gards, if they go off and get some real Gards, then we're in trouble!"  Al Porter and David O'Doherty were on later, so it was my mission to hang around the comedy tent for the evening before driving back to Cork.  In need of some food, I went over to a nearby burger place and saw that their piece de resistance was a six ounce burger.  Was that more or less than a quarter pounder?  If there were twenty eight grams in an ounce, and four bars in a key, and fourteen pounds in a stone, then six ounces is ... ... ... ?  I spent about ten minutes standing in front of the server trying to juggle the necessary mental arithmetic to figure out that riddle, when he asked "Are you alright?"  I ordered the six ouncer, and resigned myself to eating it without knowing whether it was more or less than a quarter pounder.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Sandy Capped 2: Torture Week Diary

Courtesy of Siobhan Russell

Every July, Ned Denison and the Sandycove Island Swimmers host the Distance Week Training Camp, where swimmers from all over the world take part to help prepare them for the toughest swims imaginable.  When I first read about it in Matt Bondurant's article for Outside magazine, I thought "Good Jesus, that's crazy, no way would I do that!"  A few years later, armed with nothing but a perverse sense of humour and a desire to be a better swimmer, I e-mailed Ned to see if I could partake in Torture Week 2016. 

To my dismay, he said I could. 

Here is what happened:


I woke up Saturday morning to heavier rain than had been falling the night before.  Hoping it was strictly localised, I drove to Kinsale and then on to Sandycove to find it still raining with poor visibility.  The most important thing was that the island was visible.  Sort of.  We gathered round as Ned asked how many present did a solo English Channel swim.  Of the sixty odd people present, almost half the hands went up.  Holy shit, even by Sandycove standards this was a hell of a lot of channel swimmers!  Of the remaining swimmers, easily half or more were scheduled to swim it in the next few weeks and months.  Even holier shit!  Ned continued to call out various marathon swims, (Catalina, Manhattan, North Channel, Windemere etc.) with less and less hands going up each time.  Eventually for the last few it was just Ned and a tiny little tanned guy.  His name was Attila, he was from Hungary, and he had recently been inducted into the International Distance Swimming hall of Fame.  To put this in perspective, this tiny guy who was only up to my shoulder, had swum further and faster than most other human beings, EVER.  Holiest shit!

Attila - Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair

Not everyone present was a speedster.  A German named Peter had recently done the channel in twenty four hours, which is nearly twice the average time, but is impressive as he spent that amount of time in the water without dying of hypothermia or losing focus.  He wasn't slow and steady, he was slow and hardy as fuck! 

The idea of the first morning swim was to do a lap or so (but no more than four) at our own pace and hopefully slip into rhythm with someone else who would be your swimming buddy for the week.  The sea was rough and cold, so I did two wide laps on my own to avoid getting hopped off the island by a rogue wave.  After not finding a swimming buddy, I towelled off, wrapped up, and hit the complimentary goodies on the picnic table.  Bit by bit swimmers drifted in from the sea, all but the locals freaked out by just how bloody cold the water was. 

After a while, the only outstanding swimmer was Peter from Germany.  Nobody was particularly worried as slow swimming was his MO, but as the minutes ticked by and he didn't materialise around the corner of the island, everyone started to get worried.  Two search parties were sent out but neither could find him around the back of the island.  Now everyone started to get more worried.  The coast guard was called, and we waited.  The training camp was already infamous for being one of the toughest in the world, but a floater turning up on the first day would definitely give its already questionable reputation a massive thumbs down.

After what felt like far too long, the coast guard called back to say they had found him on the road.  We didn't get exact details where, all we were told was that he was cut up from having to climb over rocks, but he was otherwise fine.  Two valuable lessons were learned from this.  One was to be cautious in rough waters, as even experienced swimmers can get into trouble out there.  The other was to always drive carefully on Irish country roads, as there might be a bewildered German in speedoes waiting around the next bend.

After exhaling a collective sigh of relief, it was time to head to the afternoon swim.  It was in Lough Allua (trans. the lake of Kahlua), which was way over on the darkside of Macroom.  After a long drawn-out drive through the absolute middle of nowhere, which involved getting stuck behind the same tractor twice (don't ask, just DON'T ask), we rocked up to the Inchigeelagh GAA club for registration and safety briefing.  The route looked straight forward enough on paper, but there were only three marker buoys over the wiggly windy 7km course, and the only notable landmarks were some cows, a caravan, and some uncharacteristically tall trees.  Ned then took centre stage and assured us that the entire of point of this swim was navigational bewilderment.  If one manages to stick to the route, it's a handy 7km, but a few wrong turns could easily bring it up to 8 plus.  This was worrying, as I had done a freshwater swim recently which was a straight course, but I had managed to oscillate wildly from bank to bank while swimming downstream.  It looked like Loch Allua would be the perfect opportunity for me to mess things up completely and set the record for the longest swim of the day.

There were three other swimmers in my wave that I was familiar with.  Aidan, a Sandycove regular who recently whooped me in the Carrick-on-Suir river swim; Barbara-Anne, who had indulged in some cheapo vino the night before and was now hammering into energy gels and electrolytes to compensate; and Angela, who I knew little about but had done a few laps of Sandycove with me the week before.  When we were unleashed, I kept swimming long and strong strokes and staying abreast of Angela in her wetsuit and orange hat.  Bit by bit we pushed to the front of our wave, then gradually started picking off the slower swimmers from the previous waves.  Water temperatures were quite hospitable, and between us we kept a pretty straight course.  After the third marker buoy, Angela stopped for an energy gel, and I knew that it wouldn't be long until she started pulling ahead of me.  My arms were still sore from doing battle with Sandycove earlier, but at this point there was no choice but to just keep swimming.

The afore-mentioned cows. Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair
Eventually I started to tank, Angela started pulling ahead, and I was unable to close the gap between us.  After a while I looked to my right and the familiar wetsuit and orange hat was there.  Before congratulating myself on a successful catch up, I popped my head up and saw Angela a few metres ahead of me.  It looked like all of Barbara-Anne's gels and electrolytes were finally kicking in, and now she was really kicking ass!  Sore arms or not, I did my best to keep up with them, and another swimmer entered the mix.  Non-wetsuit, just a yellow hat with two gels sticking up from the goggle straps like antennae, and a cossie with striped straps on her shoulders.  This was the last leg of the swim, and the real race was happening as I did my best to stay in with this pack as we thrashed towards the finish line.

After the swim, we were loaded up into the van to go back to the changing area. "We were neck and neck there at the end weren't we?" It was the lady with striped straps, sitting opposite me.  I nodded.  "My name is Kate, do you want to swim with me for the week?"  I nodded again.  The first day was done not only had I already swum further than I normally would in a week, but I had also found a swimming buddy.  Success!

Barbara-Anne: Equal parts hungover and victorious.  Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair.


Sunday morning was two more torturous laps of Sandycove.  Kate was a fierce and determined swimmer, and really made me give that extra bit of push as we went round.  She was scheduled to do the English Channel in a few weeks, so came over with her partner Rory to get some training in beforehand.  She kept tight laps, but never once cut herself on the rocks.  Two locals Eoin and Alex, and a visitor Dani, all came out of the water that day looking like shark attack victims after brushing off the rocks, but Kate somehow had the instinct to not get too close.  These laps were inconsequential really, as that evening we had the notorious torture swim.

Dani, a bloody foreigner.  Courtesy of Gordon Adair

Ned devised the torture swim to mentally prepare swimmers to deal with the unexpected things that might happen in an open water marathon swim.  He gleefully told us of the various ways he had messed with swimmers' heads in previous years.  These all make for very entertaining reading, but instead I'll leave it to your own imagination.  I'll now add that whatever you're thinking, what he has done in the past was waaay worse.  Then to show us that he was not just an unhinged sadist, he told us of genuinely insane situations swimmers had to deal with in the middle of marathon swims.  The ultimate goal was to turn us into swimming machines, devoid of emotion, who will keep swimming regardless.  When he repeatedly explained that all of this was for our own good, I couldn't help thinking that this is what Jim Jones must have told his followers before passing around the kool-aid.  The craziest aspect of the torture swim is that it's an optional extra.  Not only is it not mandatory for the swim camp, it also costs extra to be psychologically abused by the charismatic cult leader of the Sandycove Island Swimmers.

Ned "Koresh" Denison. Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair
No gels, no watches.  Nothing but caps, goggles, and togs were allowed for the swim.  Not knowing how long we had been swimming, or for how much longer we would be swimming were essential parts of the torture armory.  We were sent swimming on entirely random trajectories, up the inlet until it almost got impossibly shallow, then a support boat materialised saying to go back over to the island.  We were then sent out to sea where it was lumpy, cold, and unforgiving, like swimming through a bowl of yesterday's porridge.  It did not matter whether we wanted to swim in these conditions, all that mattered was that we followed the instructions we were given.  At one point I popped my head up to sight as a bearded guy in an orange hat rugby tackled me mid-stroke, then swam off on his merry way.  There was no time to process this, just catch up with Kate and keep swimming.

A support boat waved us over, told us we were swimming well, and asked if we wanted water?  We nodded and they threw bottles at us.  A common trick throughout the years is to offer swimmers water, and then give them something else entirely.  Myself and Kate eyed each other warily as we broke the seals on our bottles.  It looked like water and was in a sealed bottle, but might mean that they had gone above and beyond with their pranking.  We had been swimming for god knows how long, so we took a risk and started gulping it back, waiting for a reaction from the guys on the boat.  It turned out that this was actual water, they were being nice, and this was not a prank in the slightest.  What a headfuck!  We threw back the bottles,were instructed to swim off in an arbitrary direction, and we just kept swimming.  After a while the cold jumped up a notch and the water started stinging my skin.  I wanted to get out, but just kept swimming and stayed abreast of Kate.  After an eternity we were instructed to go back to the slipway, our torture swim was done.  The week can only be easier after this, right?

Post Torture Swim Dishevelment


This was the nicest morning to date in Sandycove, and myself and Kate got three laps in.  Some of the overseas visitors still hadn't acclimatised and had yet to complete their first lap.  Others were stamping their feet like a downmarket riverdance in a crude attempt to get the circulation going..  The good news was that the afternoon swim would be up the Blackwater which would be comparatively warm.

We met at the Fermoy rowing club later on, and the route was to swim up to Michael Flatley's mansion and back again.  We would have to stay close to the left bank on the way up as if we got too close to the centre we would be swimming against the current.  The water close to the bank would vary in depth, be weedy and rushy in places, with the occasional tree sprouting up here and there, and there would be the added bonus of dealing with low hanging branches.  In its own way, this swim was a perfect metaphor for the futility of existence: either you struggle against the current, or else deal with a whole host other obstacles doing their best to grind you down.  The good news is that the swim back would be with the current and a hell of a lot easier, a perfect metaphor for life as a privileged white male.

We headed down the slipway in single file, Kate had got in ahead of me and taken off.  There were too many people ahead of me so that when I finally got in, was unable to close the distance between us.  Nevertheless I trucked on, focusing on doing long and strong strokes.  Even though Ned had briefed us on what to expect, the constant variation in the swim was a nightmare.  At one point the water got so shallow that I couldn't do an effective stroke, and tried digging my fingers into the riverbed in an effort to claw my way forward.  This didn't work, and I then had the bright idea of standing up and walking until the water was sufficiently deep again.  I got two steps forward in the knee deep water and suddenly it was waist deep again.  Fuck you river, now just keep swimming.  At another point I popped my head up to sight and saw some over-hanging branches that were too close to avoid.  There was no choice but to plough forward and hope that my arms wouldn't get mangled and entangled as I did my best to power on.

Eventually I saw a mansion ahead on the right hand side.  What was worrying was that the lead pod of swimmers had not passed me on their way back yet.  What if this wasn't the mansion in question and we had to swim even further up this poxy river to the next mansion?  After a whileen more of just keep swimming, they appeared in the centre of the river and I gurgled a sigh of relief.  When I eventually got to a point where I could see the front door, I turned tail and wearily swam back down the centre channel.

Normally I try not to swim on consecutive days so as to give my muscles a chance to recover.  After three days of two swims a day it was really taking its toll on me.  With every swim I could feel the cumulative effects of the previous swims with every stroke taken.  It was only the third day of nine, and already I felt like certain muscle groups were being highlighted in red marker every time I moved.  On top of this, I was going through a shit ton of calories a day and needed to monitor my diet carefully.  For this, I would need a high intake of carbs, protein, and fats, as well as hammering as much sugar into me as possible.  To translate this into real world terms, it meant eating as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted, and then eat a bit more just to be sure.  The MMA credo of steak for breakfast is laughable by open water swimming standards as it implies only one breakfast!  Bowls of porridge, followed by bagels laden with bacon and brie, yogurts and custard, and anything else that happened to be within reach was going down the hatch with gusto.  A bit of flab goes a long way in the sea as it provides a barrier against the cold water, and if things start getting bad it will get eaten into and transformed into energy.  The main goal I set for myself this week was to not lose weight, and even that was proving difficult.


In the morning myself and Kate did three and a bit laps of Sandycove, and then that evening we went to Fountainstown for a low-tide swim to Myrtleville and back again.  There had been weaver fish stings in the area before, so we dragged our feet through the shallow water as we walked in single file, like a group of inmates shuffling grimly towards death.  The horizon was filled with dark angry clouds, which contrasted nicely with the gorgeously tanned (non-Irish) bodies in brightly coloured swimsuits.  When we finally started swimming, the heavens opened and fat drops of rain pierced the water around us.  Everyone should experience sea swimming in the rain at least once.  This sounds like a ridiculous statement as most Irish summers and family day outs are rained off, but when you get the right kind of rain (fat and heavy, not light or drizzly) it's a fantastic marriage of the elements!

Courtesy of Gordon Adair
When we got to shallow waters in Myrtleville, we turned around and headed back to Fountainstown.  I found myself thrashing through some very kelpy water, when suddenly the sea withdrew and I found myself lying on some rocks.  I clawed myself forwards to get back in sufficiently deep waters, cutting my fingertips in the process.  Wanting to get as far from the rocks as possible I did a wide arc out, once again finding myself separated from Kate and not having enough energy to close the gap between us.  When I got out of the water in Fountainstown a few people on the beach pointed out that my face was cut and bleeding.  "Must've cut myself when shaving!"  When I got back to my van I checked the mirror and saw my left cheek was gashed and bleeding, from my encounter with the rocks earlier.


Today would be two nice swims in the beautiful Lough Hine near Skibbereen.  The only catch was that it was nearly two hours drive from Cork city and we had to be in the water at 9 am.  It was gorgeous swimming.  The water was really clear with lots of interesting fish, plantlife, and seashells visible below.  We swam over some rapids (wheeeeeeeee!) and then around some gorgeous rock structures.  An immense bronze Moldovan named Ion (pron. "Yonn") was really taken aback.  "Holy fuck, it really doesn't get any better than this!" he boomed out.  "Oh my God, this is it, THIS IS IT!" 

After the swim we went to Skibb for lunch, which was followed by a discussion on keeping one's head together in tough conditions.  Normally I'm cynical and pessimistic about people's inspirational stories about overcoming difficult situations, but I heard some serious shit that day.  Tracey the upbeat Kiwi told us about tearing a bicep tendon with several hours to go in the English channel.  She couldn't get her arm up out of the water to do a complete stroke, so she did a pseudo dog paddle with that arm while the other swam as normal.  DAMN!  Attila told us how his feeds take an average of 3-4 seconds, that he doesn't focus on what distance or time he has clocked up during a distance swim, just swims between feeds.  "I don't want my crew to talk to me unless something is going wrong, just swim, feed, swim, feed".  Others told of night swims in Catalina when they were certain something big and shark-like was swimming in the dark below them, and trying to focus on just keep swimming while that was happening.  You might be scoffing, saying that's just the mind running wild, but when a large shoal of something small and luminescent suddenly disappears, it's fairly certain that an oceanic big bad wolf is on the prowl.


Someone left my van's lights on overnight, so I woke up to a flat battery Thursday morning.  I wasn't able to get a jump start and missed the morning swim, so used the morning to recharge my battery, and recharge my batteries.  The week was really taking its toll on me.  I had never been seriously sporty, but now could fully understand those motivational posters which featured arty black and white shots of marathon runners captioned with "I can't go on.  I will go on!"  The cumulative muscle pain of the swims had eased off and become the muscular equivalent of background noise.  Each upcoming swim no longer made me nervous, instead it filled me with an all-consuming dread that I would tank during it and get swallowed by the murky waters.

For whatever reason, I was late arriving to the evening swim and missed the carpool to the speckled door.  Feeling a mixture of disappointment and relief, I sank back into the driver seat and decided to take advantage of the chance to rest.


Disaster struck Friday morning when I discovered a load of mouth ulcers all over my tongue and gums.  This would mean that I'd be unable to eat anything with texture or flavour, but still needed to get an ungodly amount of calories into me for the day's swimming.  Not having the stomach to swallow raw eggs, I went to the freezer and took out a tub of ice cream and a pack of Lidl-brand mars ice creams.  Half the ice cream and three of the bars were stuffed into a pyrex jug and microwaved until soft.  These were then blended, poured into a pint glass and gulped down rapidly.  I repeated the process with the rest of the tub and bars, and felt a remarkable combination of satisfaction and shame all at once.  [Hashtag] Eat like a swimmer.  [Hashtag] Diet of a champion.

The morning swim was meant to be in Garryvoe (east Cork), but it was too foggy so we went to another beach just down the coast.  The route was to swim parallel to the beach down as far as the grey house and back.  This would be a 2km swim, the shortest swim of the camp so far, but it made up for this by being a terrible slog.  Conditions were horrible, lots of wind and waves combined with poor visibility meant it was hard to get a straight line.  The grey house was half hidden in fog and seemed to take forever to materialise, then even longer to get to.  The swim back was just as bad, and I constantly felt disoriented as the sea had its way with me.

The afternoon swim was the Copper Coast, so I stopped off in Lidl in Dungarvan to stock up on ice-cream and yoghurt, then called in to my sister in Tramore for lunch.  I'm mad about my niece Clíonadh, but was glad she was away at summer camp and wouldn't have to witness me and my wonder diet.  What hope would my sister have of telling her that she needs to eat her vegetables to grow up big and strong when her giant of an uncle eats meals that consist solely of puréed stracciatella?  My sister did her best to glower at me while I made use of her microwave and blender, so I threw her one of the ice-cream bars which softened her mood considerably.  When I was using her jacks, I noticed how itchy my t-shirt was, especially on my back and shoulders.  Taking it off and looking in the mirror, I saw lots of red splotches on my skin.  Just my luck, went swimming in miserable conditions, and now I'm destroyed with wind burn.

The afternoon swim was along the copper coast through choppy water, and then into a really dark cave (optional).  As enclosed spaces and the dark are two things that give me the willies, I swam along the cliffs and let the others go cave swimming while I hung out on the swell outside.  The swim back was with the wind, which meant less chop and greater speed.  We were then treated to a massive feed in a tiny cabin (there were blaas for days, maaahn) which I couldn't enjoy because my mouth was still pissed off at me.  I had gotten even more burned that afternoon (thank you and fuck you, Mr. Wind!) so had a fantastically itchy back to keep me company on the drive back to Cork.


The morning swim was in Myrtleville, and I did roughly a mile at a leisurely pace.  Kate and Rory were missing, and Ned was not joining in the swim today.  I put all of these things down to the Lee Swim being on that afternoon.  Rory and Ned had competed against each other eight times, and currently were tied at four each.  Today's swim was going to be a serious grudge match, and whoever won would have serious bragging rights.  I had a score to settle myself, as my childhood next-door neighbour would be swimming today.  A few weeks earlier I had been up against him in a river swim, secretly hoping to beat him, but he gave me a proper trouncing.  It was of utmost importance that I come a close second to him today.  Beating him was not conceivable as I was at the end of a hard week of swimming and there was very little tiger in the tank at this point.

After getting home, registering, buying a new pair of shoes and a tub of High-5, dropping off my gear at the finish, then walking through town in my togs and t-shirt to get to the starting point, the pre-race nerves were starting to kick in. I met with Conor, and we joked about, then got in line and began the weary shuffle toward the starting scaffold.  My dives had never been too fantastic, so when the horn sounded, I did a straddle jump and and started ploughing forward, outputting as much power as possible as I made my way to the first bridge.

My arms hurt and my shoulders burnt with each stroke, but I kept repeating "Long-And-Strong (breath) Long-And-Strong (breath)" to myself as I made my way past several wetsuits and on towards the next bridge.  Before the race I had been told how many bridges there were in total, and which one represents the half-way point, but all that was soon forgotten.  Even though I had no idea where I was in relation to Conor, all that mattered was beating him or not getting too badly beaten by him.  If either of those things could be achieved without swallowing any of the river water, today would be a good day.

Eventually I got to the big boat on the docks, and as I was still gaining on and overtaking other swimmers, I made a point of swimming uncomfortably close to them so that they got mashed against the boat in passing.  The final leg was literally just around the corner, and this meant that after swimming the bulk of the race with the current, the last dash would be against it.  I switched on my legs and gave it my all as I kept aiming for the big yellow inflatable thing at the finish.  When I reached the finish, it looked like I had beaten Conor, so I started breast-stroking slowly towards the quayside to get out.  Out of nowhere, a wee wave came along and splashed me in the face, sending some water right up my nose and down the back of my throat.  It was only the tiniest of drops, but the thought of all the rubbish, rat-piss, and god only knows what else that it contained was nearly made me pass out.


It was the last day of distance week, and as a fun way of wrapping things up, there was a six hour channel qualifier swim.  I had no intention of swimming any of the channels, but thought I'd do the swim purely for the craic of it.  It was low tide at Sandycove, so for the first hour I did my best to keep up with Sligo Clodagh and French Phillippe as they swum around the inside of the island.  Then it was over to the feed-bay on the island for some High-5 topped up with hot water.  YUM!  Even though it was still low tide, I started doing laps of the island, getting a feed after each lap (more Hi-5, more hot water, more yum).  Although I didn't have a watch to time it, each lap was roughly half an hour, so if I could keep some tally of the laps, then I'd have a vague idea of how much time had elapsed.  A few laps in, Carol and Donna at the feed-bay complained that they were a bit bored, so if I could tell them a joke and make them laugh at the next feed, that'd be great.  At first I thought this was a ploy to keep me mentally engaged while swimming, but when I came around after my next lap, they made it clear that if I didn't make them laugh, I wasn't getting fed. "Surely, you can't be serious?"  (Blank stares, no feed).  Jeez, tough crowd! "Why did the toilet paper roll down the hill?  To get to the bottom!"  (Lots of laughs, High-5!)  The next lap: "What do you do when you see a spaceman?  Park the car there, man!" (More laughs, more High-5.)  I only had one joke left, and after that I'd be relying on my Rodney Dangerfield routine.  This was worrying as it really depended on getting his mannerisms down, which would be tricky in swimming hat and goggles.  At the next feed, Ned was sitting at the feed station.  Maybe he'd heard of my comedic prowess, and had stopped by for a much needed chuckle. "What do gay horses eat?" He responded curtly with "Stop telling jokes, your feeds are taking too long."  Feeling cowed, I slugged back my High-5 and hot water in silence.  Then just as I turned to swim away for the next lap, I shouted back: "Haay-ayyy!"

By now I had completely lost track of how many laps had been done or how much time had passed, it was just a case of lap-feed, lap-feed.  There were a few warm pockets of water that were worth looking forward to every lap, but there were also some icy cold bits, especially around the back of the island.  The bottles of High-5 started off as a treat, now became less tasty each time and it was a struggle to get it all in to me.  The sugary bubbles would linger in my throat for the first leg of the lap post-feed, and eventually I started fantasising about the little lunch boxes of jaffa cakes that Clodagh had packed for her feeds.  Maybe if she crapped out early, I could eat her jaffas?  At this point I was torn between wanting to see her succeed, but also hoping she didn't so I could claim her tasty orangy cakes as my own.  Would it be rude to ask at the next feed how she was faring?

English Jane jumped in and joined me for two laps to keep me company.  When she tapped out, she said it was too hard to keep up with me.  I wasn't sure if she was being serious or just saying that to keep my spirits up, either way there was nothing to do but to just keep swimming.  Eventually during a non-jocular feed, Donna said: "Well done, you're doing great, that's over five hours done now!"  I thanked her and went off on what would be my last lap.  At the next feed Cork Carol said: "You've twelve minutes left, so swim over to that house and back again, and then head over to the slipway and get out!"  I did as I was told, and got out at the slipway to a big round of applause.  Afterwards at picnic table I asked Clodagh how she got on, being genuinely interested at this point as I physically and mentally in a place that was waaay beyond jaffa cakes.

"I finished it, so will be able to do the Channel in a few weeks!"

"Well done Clodagh, delighted for you!"

"And you?"

"Ended up doing the six hours."

"Good stuff, looks like you have to swim the channel now!"