Couch To 5km…

 

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Words by Maureen McCoy, Photography by Paul McCambridge

Taking the Couch to 5k running premise into open water swimming was always going to be a challenge but we decided we would attempt it. Our aim; To bring novice swimmers into the outdoors and take the whole group together on a swimming journey. The bonus would be to complete the Irish Long Distance Swimming Associations (ILDSA) 5k event on 5th August. We were not short of enthusiastic Lake-landers who chose to take it on.

After only ten weeks of training, 16 swimmers completed the swim from Culky Jetty to the Lakeland Forum.

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We started the programme in early June and met our swimmers for the first time at the Share Centre, Lisnaskea. For many this was their first venture into open water and they were somewhat nervous. Lough Erne waterways are not the chlorinated blue of the swimming pool with guide-lines painted along the floor and the deep end clearly marked. Here, there are no walls to stop and rest at and the great expanse of the lough can make one feel rather vulnerable.

 

Having spent our first few sessions in the relative security of the Share Centre bay, we then went to a “wild” swim spot at Ely Lodge Forest, near Carrickreagh Jetty. As Paul and I set out the markers for the swim course, the group chatted nervously among themselves and geared up for an abrupt jump in from the jetty into these new, unknown waters. Gritting their teeth and determining they would “go for it” on this swim. We then called them together for their pre-swim briefing; “Instead of entering at the jetty, we’ll walk in here and ease our way through the reeds.” This slow and gentle transition from land to water marked an increased understanding for many.

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Outdoor swimming is not about times and distances, it is about exploring and enjoying, it can become an adventure in a morning, an afternoon or evening. It is about being connected and immersed, time and distance covered are secondary to the senses and sensations. This, particularly for one of the less confident swimmers, was a turning point. To stop comparing and berating oneself for being slow or cataloguing distances, instead to marvel in one’s own progression and achievement. To really experience what we are doing, at the time of doing.

 

Carrying this new-found knowledge and confidence and with a long swim under their belts, the challenges were then ramped up with a circumnavigation of Devenish Island.

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On the 29th July, only nine weeks into training, the group undertook their most exposed swim yet. Accompanied by Darragh, Conleth and Kealan in kayaks, thirteen swimmers, Paul and I entered at Trory Jetty for the approximate 3.8k swim around the island.

 

The swim across to re-group at Devenish Jetty gave us opportunity to iron out any niggles. Goggles were fixed, photos taken and then we set off. The shallow waters around Friar’s Leap brought the challenge of swimming through heavily weeded sections. Then the stretch along the far side past Devenish West Jetty, began to feel like it would never end. Where was the top of this island?

As we finally rounded the top of Devenish swans watched us from the cover of the tall reeds and a large Heron passed overhead. Through those same reeds, we could just make out the shore and not much farther, Trory Jetty, our finish point. Relief was visible as we turned into the sheltered lee of the island, the toughest swim to date.

 

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One week later, the sun was out, nerves were increasing and the ILDSA event was about to get underway. The ILDSA Championship Swim in Lough Erne is in its 26th year, 17k being the main event then some years ago a 25k swim was added. Now, to attract more swimmers, the shorter distances of 10 and 5k have been added. As we waited at Culky Jetty to start, our eyes were peeled for the lead swimmer to come through, then we would be popped in the water to begin our swim to the Lakeland Forum.

Sunshine beamed down on us as we waited with high spirits. Ciara Doran led the 17k, with cheers and clapping the swimmers were spurred on and now keen to get started themselves. This was it, all training done; “I’ll see you at the finish!”

 

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Line up, countdown and off. Chaperoned by our kayakers and kayaks and paddleboarders from Erne Paddlers, they were underway.

 

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All sixteen Couch to 5k swimmers completed the distance in faster times than estimated. Most wore wetsuits, however two swam “skins” – meaning a normal swim suit.

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Inspired by the 25k and 17k Championship swimmers, who must only wear swim suits, many of the couch to 5k are planning to remove their wetsuits for the next time!

Paul and I would like to thank John Boyle of Waterways Ireland who sponsored this pilot event. Our kayakers, Darragh, Conleth and Kealan McCambridge who gave great encouragement to the swimmers throughout the programme.

Robert Livingstone of the Share Centre and his staff for use of the excellent facilities at Share. Erne Paddlers and the ILDSA event organisers for allowing us to join the 5k event and swim in wetsuits.

(Wetsuit times were recorded separately from “skins” swimmers.)

Finally, well done to all the Couch to 5k participants. Of the 20 who attended the course, 3 decided a shorter distance would be more within their capabilities (one of whom swam Devenish) and one swimmer was on holiday – I am expecting a report that he competed a suitable long swim while there!

So pleased to have set you on this journey!

@MAC Visual Media - Paul McCambridge

Testimonials

Thanks so much to Maureen, Paul and the 3 lads for all their help and encouragement. The course was inspirational and transformative, a master class. – B M

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… thank you Mo, Paul and all the lads for Kayak support. What a top class course and an unforgettable event yesterday. Truly inspirational and looking forward to Long Distance swimming with you guys for the future. – E C

erwin

Totally appreciate all the time, effort and commitment that went into getting us further in our swimming than I ever thought possible. Such inspirational, encouraging people. Proud to know you. – M E

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Thanks so much guys. – J B

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A year ago, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting I could do a 5k swim. I just needed a bit of a push! …it was inspiring to see the longer distance swimmers and consider what the next challenge might be.  Thanks again for all your hard work organising the course and for all your encouragement and overall positivity. – T F

@MAC Visual Media - Paul McCambridge

Thanks Maureen and Paul, great event and few weeks training –  T B

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Thanks again Maureen, Paul and kayak support over the weeks. Really enjoyed the whole experience. – P L

@MAC Visual Media - Paul McCambridge

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Moville Lighthouse Swim – Co Donegal

Moville Lighthouse Swim (Dolphins included) – Co Donegal

 

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Written by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The sun was shining on lough Foyle as a small crowd gathered at the harbour. Keen long distance swimmers and some completely new to open water were there to brave the sea on the 3rd annual Moville Lighthouse swim – 1.2km out from the harbour, around the lighthouse sitting pretty on its stilts and back to the slipway.

As the 38 swimmers, mostly “skins” (normal swimming togs) with just a few in wet-suits, walked down the slipway to ready themselves for the start of the race, an audience of family and friends cheered them on. Kayaks sat a little way off waiting to guide the swimmers and out near the main channel rescue boats hovered. As the field began to spread a huge container ship sounded its horn as it slipped on down the Foyle.

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The organiser Peadar’s comment before the swim, “Those of you not racing for a fast time, when you get to the lighthouse just take a moment…look back at the scenery” was ringing in my ears as we watched the swimmers finishing and a pod of Dolphins appeared, jumping and riding the wakes of the safety boats.

A spectacular show followed and I was jealous of the lucky devils out there in boats and kayaks with those magnificent creatures showing off around them.

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My apologies now to the swimmers, you did great but the Dolphins stole the show!

Certainly this event will continue to grow in numbers, it’s a beautiful swim, well organised and I am keen to sign up for next year, especially if there is a chance that the dolphins might return and I will be taking a camera with me!

 

Swimmer and spectator quotes

   “Moville Lighthouse Swim completed today. Can’t believe a few months
ago I started swimming. If you had said to me I would have done a
triathlon and an open water event, I would have laughed out loud. To top
off the swim today I was literally swimming with dolphins. Happy Happy
Happy.”

 “Congratulations , another superb event . We are getting bigger and
better each year , the dolphins were a master touch!”

   “…a great swim today.  I had the added bonus of swimming with the
dolphins for part of it. I look forward to next years’ swim.”
 

“Mammy, when will I be old enough to swim around the Lighthouse like them?”  – Comment by 5 year old boy to parent

19th July 2014

 

Ballymorran Bay – Strangford Lough

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photos by Paul McCambridge

Jon and Sarah, silhouetted against the gleaming water, little splashes from their hands becoming sparkling diamonds in the air as we swam in the low November sun.

We were taking advantage of the dwindling sunny days and with the winter fast approaching, to swim out across the bay toward Darragh Island.  The plunge was taken and the brutal chill awakened every sense in my body as we settled our breathing and then began to swim through knife-like cold, clear water. Jon and Sarah took great delight in introducing me to this secret spot their family have come to for years. They told me how there is now a community of wild goats on Darragh and that as you swim closer to the island there is a deep crevasse where one can feel the temperature drop suddenly as one swims into the deeper water.

Returning to the pier I had the urge to dive, as I climbed out, the water covered my feet and I stood amidst the bright yellows and greens of the lichen covered rocks on the 10ft pier wall. I prepared myself for the ice-cream-headache shock when I dived – it didn’t come! Perhaps two caps was insulation enough or brain freeze had already set in, but I simply felt further exhilarated. Sarah joined me, stepping out of her wetsuit to take the plunge in ‘skins!’ Bravely she jumped in with a cry; “You’d better have taken a photo of this!”

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The water felt fresh and clean and the jellies gone for the winter. The family must have had a blissful summer coming to this quiet spot in the hot weather to picnic and play.

As we helped each other into our warm clothes I extolled the virtues of fleece joggers and pyjamas, and thermal socks, easy to slip into with numb toes and sticky, half dried Skin.

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CURSED LAKE – Slieve Gullion,

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

To dip in the legendary waters of a volcano crater, famed for a curse on the giant, Finn McCool, was too good an opportunity to pass by, so on a warm, sunny day we drove to Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Armagh. A track led us up the mountain and during the 45 minute walk to the summit we passed a stone shelter and read of ancient tombs and the legend of the lake itself.

Arriving at the trig point, to our left lay the small Lough, the sun was shining and with the Lough reflecting the blue sky, it looked like a scene from a Dali painting.

A grey haired man suddenly appeared from the other side of the hill, taking his daily walk, saw that we intended to swim and warned us of the curse…

…when the great, Finn McCool came to the Lough, he saw a beautiful woman there who enticed him into the waters, he bathed but, having entered the water as the strong giant of legend, he emerged reduced to a weak old man with all his hair turned to white!  The beautiful woman was a Witch who had cursed the Lough stealing the great Giants’ strength and power.

 

It took him years of searching but finally Finn found a good Witch who was able to restore his youth, strength and vitality, but his hair remained forever white.

Despite this warning we ventured in, and found, quite unnervingly, our skin took on a blood-red hue in the peaty water, this must keep the story of the Curse alive!

We lay on the water and sculled our way towards the centre, but the Lough is very shallow and floored with peaty silt, easily disturbed and quickly turning the water black, so not good for swimming, although a quick dip on a hot day is refreshing, you will spend more time wiping the silt from your body after!

Perhaps just to sit on a rock and cool ones feet, is enough.

Still, to dip in the blood-red waters of a volcano crater in Ireland was an experience!

Philips Street Atlas, Co Armagh, pg 140, E5

 

Slieve Gullion Forest park, Armagh, drive along the forest road and park at the side of the track. The walk took around 45 mins from the start of the track to the trig point.

 

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BLUE LOUGH – Mournes, Co Down

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge

Nestled in the centre of the Mournes Annalong valley, the Blue Lough is well-known to hill walkers and provides a lovely, cool dip after a hard days walking. I have often waded into this pretty Lough on a hot day, a favourite after climbing Slieve Binnian, walking along the tors and then the fast descent getting hot, and ready for a breath-taking dip in the fresh water!

On a hot day in July I brought Michelle and Erin up to this spot and after around thirty minutes of walking we rounded the Percy Bysshe and they had their first glimpse of the lough, surrounded by purple heather and tufts of Bog Cotton, the dark peaty water reflected the blue sky and clouds above.

We quickly discarded our walking shoes, stripped to our swimsuits and picked our way through the stones at the edge to drop down into the cool water, refreshing our hot faces and cooling our limbs. The scene was peaceful and quiet as we explored the lough, gazing up at Lamagan slabs to one side and Slieve Binnian on the other. We spent a good few hours in this lazy mood, climbing out to dry off in the hot sun, followed by another dip in the lough each time we got too warm.

Although easy to get to and a suitable walk for most families, one gets the sense of being right in the centre of the mountains, miles from civilisation.

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Down time for Michelle

Blue Lough     Annalong Valley         Mournes          Co Down

Blue Lough is situated above the Annalong Valley, between Lamagan Slabs and the North Tor of Slieve Binnian.  The route to the Lough is an easy walk from Carrick Little car park.  Follow the path alongside Annalong Wood, soon you will cross the river and the path rises up, passing Percy Bysshe you will see the small Lough straight ahead. 

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Darragh and Conleth enjoying one of the hottest days in the summer of 2010

MAGHERY TO CONEY ISLAND Co Armagh

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Words By Maureen McCoy
Photography By Paul McCambridge
 
As I stand here in the warm sunlight on a sunny day in May, I look out across Maghery Bay to Coney Island. The sun glints on the waters’ surface as I slide in and catch my breath as the cold water folds around me, the warm sun belying the fact that the water has not yet warmed this early in May and I take a moment to acclimatize to the chill.  The soft peaty water of the lough takes me back to swimming as a child a little further along the shore, at my grand-parents farm in Co Tyrone. I am reminded of the adventures my brothers and I had, swimming, canoeing and camping out on our own small island, taking over the hide used for duck shooting in season, and imagining ourselves far away from the civilized world.
 
To the right of the slipway, two markers approximately 150 metres out warn boats of the shallow water, beyond these markers it quickly gets very deep.  The bay is sheltered out to Coney Island which sits 1 kilometre away as the crow flies and makes a pleasant swim for the strong and confident swimmer, however the far side of the island is exposed to the greater lough and is subject to the eddies and currents lough Neagh is renowned for.
 
Here at Maghery Country and Caravan Park – at which there are no longer any caravans and only the occasional wild camper – a slipway flanked by wooden boardwalks gives easy access.  A noticeboard maps the Blackwater canoe trail and the canal leading to the Blackwater river is to the right of the slipway.  A little further down the laneway one may take the footbridge across the Blackwater and step into County Tyrone.
 
Living year round on the Island, Peter the caretaker, has a wealth of knowledge of the rich history, flora and fauna. Peter gives guided tours by prior arrangement through Kinnego Marina.
 
Take a dry-bag with warm clothes and sandals for a great day out, swim to the island then take a walk around the paths leading you to the Anglo/Norman motte from 13C, the 16C O’Neills Tower and the stone at which St Patrick rested during his travels. Just leave yourself good time to swim back again. 
 
Be aware that at times jet skiers use this jetty too and make yourself clearly visible.

LOUGH ESKRAGH Dungannon

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A NOVICE EYE VIEW

Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge

The scene was of a calm lake, a small slipway flanked by two wooden jetties and the evening sun dancing on the water’s surface. Off to the right, tall reeds stood to attention, directly ahead lay a large marker buoy.  This was the venue early that last day of May for both a double and single Ironman event and now a sprint triathlon, organised by the Trilimits Club. A growing group of triathletes were gathering.

Joanne and Julie, cyclists used to mountain and road biking, decided to take part in the sprint distance triathlon, the influence of an evening’s discussion over a bottle of wine possibly being a factor in their decision.  Having made the commitment, they went on the hunt each to borrow a wetsuit.  With some rudimentary advice on how to get out of the wetsuits and encouraged with the knowledge of the extra buoyancy the wetsuits would provide, the girls looked forward to the event. 

Neither of them label themselves swimmers. Julie’s last swim was two years ago in the Big Splash sprint triathlon and Joanne tried to remember her last swim – perhaps she was around 10 years old in the old Lisburn pool, which closed in 1999. The girls were facing their first open water challenge of the season with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation.

Before the swim Julie said: “I think the fear of the open water will make me complete the swim, to do 750m in a pool, well I couldn’t, but this way I HAVE to finish. My main objective is to stay clear of the other swimmers and I will probably use every stroke, front crawl, back crawl and my own made-up strokes to get through it!”

Joanne, also looking forward to the event, said “I’m excited about this new challenge, I enjoy doing something different – THIS is something different for me!”

Before the event the nerves began to kick in, where to rack the bikes? Should they lay out a towel to dry their feet? And how to get into those wetsuits! Suffice to say in all the excitement Julie, having rushed to don her wetsuit, had to try again. This time the right way round. All fixed and ready to go, they followed the crowd into the water.  With a final few tips and words of encouragement, the whistle blew and the swim began.

Allowing the other swimmers to strike out first gave Julie and Joanne space to settle into their swim and, as they predicted, they used a variety of strokes throughout.  Joanne was probably not the most encouraging to her buddy by laughing when Julie’s occasional bouts of back crawl caused her to veer off course.  When she looked around, she was a little disorientated, had someone moved those pesky buoys?

Two laps of the course and both girls were still smiling as they exited the water. In their minds the hardest part of the race was done, now for the bike and run.

How did they feel after the event? Joanne said,

I enjoyed the swim – it seems like a long time ago now already. I was really struggling to breathe at the start, due to a cold I’ve had, so I just decided to take it easy, as not completing the swim (or the whole event) was not an option to me!

It was really nice to be out in the water with the sun starting to go down – the same kind of feeling you get when you walk in the mountains. I’m tempted to go somewhere for another wee swim before I return the wetsuit!

Julie is also planning to get some practice swims in before another event.

Lough Eskragh

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Near Dungannon with good parking facilities and easy access down a slipway.  A second car park is used often by fishermen.

Gently shelving, the lough is spring fed and the near side has a sandy bottom, further out is based on peat so the water is dark and underwater visibility is poor. 

Contact the local triathlon club at http://trilimits.wordpress.com/