Well, here I am in Ireland, tucked away in the van on Garrettstown House Holiday Park just outside of Kinsale. We're now one week into the training camp, and I'm just about holding my own.... but I reckon I've done almost 70 km in the last 7 days, which is already double my usual training week, and we've got a heavy weekend of swimming ahead of us. I'd be lying if I said I wasnt' finding it tough, but the swimming has been amazing - stunning locations, a mix of fresh and salt water, new (and familiar) swimming chums, plus some unexpectedly splendid weather, which certainly helps.
We started off gently, with a 3 mile sea swim at Ballycrenin, followed by a splended dinner courtesy of Eddie Irwin and family. This was probably one of the worst swims for me - I'd had a few days off after the 6 hour swim at Swan Pool, and I couldn't really get into a rhythm. But then the next day, we went to Fermoy to do the Martin Duggan Memorial Swim, which was wonderful. The race was a river swim, 3km up against the flow, and then 3km back down with the current. The swim up seemed to take forever. We'd been told to turn at the buoy outside the big house, and I kept seeing big houses and thinking "this must be it"....but no, and on we forged. I generally don't enjoy racing, and after my awkward swim the day before, I was planning to just take it gently but once in, I couldn't help but push myself. Of course, I'm not that fast anyway, so most people wouldn't even notice that I was pushing, but I was pleased with my swim, clocking 1.08 on the way up, and 50 mins on the way back (because of the current), crossing the line at 1.58.30 (I think I was 19th out of about 30 swimmers). It was a fun swim, followed by sandwiches and cake in a packed rowing club hall, complete with fiddle music.
The next morning, we arrived, as instructed, ready for a 6-8am swim - in my case, clocking 4 laps of the island. This was the first of five early morning Sandycove swims, plus one evening session there too, each of two hours. It's a great place to swim - constantly changing in the different light, and as the tide rises and falls. Those more familiar with the circuit are more expert at avoid the protruding rocks that catch neophytes unawares at low tides, and most of us visitors have smacked into rocks, or found ourselves inelegantly beached on thick beds of weed, at some point. Every one of these swims has felt different - on Tuesday, the early morning sunlight was glorious, the sea was pancake flat, and I felt positively drunk with the peacefulness of just swimming; on Thursday, I was overtired after a late return from a trip to the amazing salt water lagoon of Lough Ine, and felt cold and uncomfortable, with the laps feeling like they would never end. On Wednesday, we swam for two hours in the warm waters of the reservoir at Iniscara in the peaceful evening sunshine, and on Thursday night, we did an 8km swim at Lochalua, forging our way downstream along increasingly narrowing, peat-tasting waterways, guided by kayaks to stop us wandering off down tributaries and never being seen again. We had to stop at one point while our kayaker shooed a small herd of curious bullocks out of the shallow stream we were swimming down. I thought about my bright pink hat ... "red rag to a bull"... and thought that being trampled by bullocks in a river was a swimming hazard I'd never really considered before. Apart from the bullocks, there's been a happily low wildlife count - no seals as yet, and only one jellyfish encounter in Lough Ine, leaving me with hot, red welts down the back of my leg; there are some fabulous crabs around Sandycove, plus thousands of long, thin fish darting everywhere.
As well as the amazing swimming locations, and the challenge of fairly relentless training, it's been fantastic to meet so many fellow swimmers who are utterly lost to the sport. Some I know from previous encounters - Paul and Andy, who I met in Gozo this summer, and Roisin from last year's Gozo camp. Others I've only encountered online - Enda, Gabor, Ned, Lisa - plus lots of new swimming friends. The standard of swimming is extremely high here and I am at the slower end. There's also a lot of very competitive swimming among the faster swimmers, and I frequently find myself momentarily surrounded by thrashing bodies as they storm past, trying to edge each other out or hold on to a lead. But I'm sticking to my sedate plodding - I've always known that I'm never going to get across the Channel quickly, but hopefully, with luck, will do so steadily.
So, as you can see, it's been an amazing, and relentless week of swimming. I've found it tough - especially getting up early to swim. Of all of the aspects of training, this is the one that I've always found hardest to cope with - getting up very early. Early on in the week, I was getting back from swimming, having breakfast, and then working on my laptop through to the evening swim, but by Wednesday, it was clear that this wasn't really working out for me, and I was losing way too much sleep, so I've cut back on the work side of things and am having a seriously long nap after breakfast (and sometimes after lunch too!), which is really helping. I've also been eating more, and making sure that I'm having protein shakes after every swim, which has improved my recovery. In terms of swimming, I feel like things are going really well - no injuries, and although some of the swims have felt hard, my pace has stayed pretty steady and I'm feeling on good form. The water isn't exactly warm, and I've been doing my fair share of post-swim shivering, but the cold water swimming in May has really helped with the acclimatisation and this hasn't been a huge problem so far. So....with Jersey to France only a couple of weeks away, I'm feeling reasonably confident that my preparation has gone well.
But having said all of that, this week of swimming is really only the appetiser for the weekend to come. Saturday is the Total Body and Brain Confusion swim - a day of swimming about which we know no specifics, other than that we are to leave "watches, attitudes, tears, whines and rolling eyeballs" home. For my inner control freak, this is very troubling, but for now, I'm approaching it in a spirit of resigned calm. And then on Sunday, to round off the camp, we have a six hour swim. Assuming that I survive, I then need to zip up to Dublin ready for Monday morning, when I'm sitting on a PhD supervisory panel at DCU, and then giving a seminar paper, by which time I will probably be a complete basket case, but hopefully, a very satisfied one at the end of a tough, but amazing, week of swimming. If I make it all in one piece, I'll update when I get home.