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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Lough Erne – Couch to 5km Challenge

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Waterways Ireland welcomes the initiative of Maureen McCoy and Paul McCambridge to bring their ‘Couch to 5km Swim Challenge’ to Lough Erne. A new and exciting outdoor swimming venture, the 10 week programme is designed to bring swimmers out of the pool and into the open water. The scheme will run over five fortnightly sessions from June to August 2017 and will provide swimmers with the knowledge, skills and training to ultimately complete a 5km Swim event.

Beautiful Lough Erne is the perfect location for swimmers to train or explore the many islands. The coaches are Maureen McCoy an English Channel soloist and Paul McCambridge a North Channel relay swimmer. Both Maureen and Paul will guide swimmers through from the first outdoor swim to competing in this challenging event.

The Couch to 5 Km Swim Challenge is aimed at swimmers of varied levels who wish to either start swimming outdoors or improve their fitness and speed for events. The coaches have designed a programme that will challenge each swimmer and allow them to acquire new skills, no matter what their starting point. 

The five fortnightly sessions will take place on Saturdays starting on the 3rd June and will increase in intensity with the aim of completing a 5km swim in August, 2017. There is a fee of £30 for participation. Register your interest by emailing swimfree4@gmail.com

Santa Splash 2016 – Portrush

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Portrush’s East Strand was a hive of activity when I arrived. I did wonder where I should go to register for the swim but the steady stream of people all sporting various Santa hats assured me I was at the right place. It looked as though most of Portrush had turned up, all bedecked with festive regalia besides the customary hats. One chap had an extremely smart Christmas jacket, there were many woollen jumpers and in the crowd I spied a very fetching reindeer onesie, I may have to ask Santa for one of those myself… cosy after a swim.

I followed the surging crowd and we wound our way along the prom towards the Arcadia Gallery and small beach. Up the steps facing the beach at Café 55° North the queue condensed as we all pushed our way to sign up for the swim and pop a donation in one of the many buckets. This year, the 8th of the Santa Splash, the chosen charity was the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, a local charity.

Over the past 7 years the Arcadia Bathing Club have raised several thousands of pounds for various charities. Each year they choose a charity that someone in the club has links to.

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The first Santa Splash was very low-key, just a few pals asking for sponsorship and taking a dip at the Arcadia beach. Each year the numbers grow and they have had to move to the East Strand because Arcadia beach isn’t big enough!

Little islands of discarded clothing soon formed on the sand and we crowded on the steps for a short pre-swim brief, I’m afraid I have no idea what was said but next I knew the hooter sounded and we all began to race down to the sea. Photographers braved the stampede of swimsuits and Christmas hats as several hundred charged, one aim in mind, hit the water running!

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The Santa Splash is certainly the biggest Christmas dip I have seen with a massive crowd cheering from the side lines. Once dressed the party went on at 55° North with hot food and mulled wine being served to the swimmers, music and a raffle.

Stephen, chief organiser on the day, told me a little about the ABC. Formed as it was many years ago it was recently resurrected by Stephen and several pals. “We used to have silly rules, like no over-arm strokes in the summer months. In the winter you were allowed swim front crawl to keep a bit warmer. We’ve abandoned that as now we have so many swimmers!”

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ABC swimmers meet every Sunday, 10.30am, all welcome but to get a member’s certificate and be eligible to buy their fleece you must swim a minimum of once a month for twelve consecutive months. I might just try that…I do like their swim cap!

Thanks Arcadia for a great splash see you very soon!

Supermoon Swimming

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There is something magic in a moonlight swim, with that disc gleaming pearly white.
The call of a bird across the beach, I can’t see her in this muted light
As I take off my shoes and press bare feet into the cool, damp sands,
I remember a time many moons ago, when I held my brothers hands.
Our first night swim, a Donegal beach, we begged our parents consent.
And scrambled our way down a steep sand-dune, there stood with nervous intent.
I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight but I remember that night so clear.
Adventure, excitement, the cold and damp, all tinged with an escence of fear.
Now forty years on and again I stand, as wavelets caress the shore
Silver threads dance that are soon to be lost, as the waves retreat once more.
As I cast my clothes in a heap on the sand, my skin glows a milky white
And I step into the water, a silver-tipped grey, under pearlescent moonlight.

Neil Shawcross

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media –  Renown Irish Artist Neil Shawcross takes his weekly dip in Strangford Lough, over 40 yrs he has kept this ritual

 

Words by Maureen McCoy, Photos by Paul McCambridge

Neil arrived in the café, casually dressed in jeans and a shirt, he immediately spied us across the room and approached with a smile. I was relieved as we had arrived late due to the horrendous traffic and a staff member had told us that Neil had had to go on to take his brother to the airport, but that he would be back if we would wait. Of course we would.

 

As Neil shook Paul’s hand he introduced me saying,

“This girl swam the Channel…”

 

Neil shakes my hand and seems intrigued, he pulls himself a chair as I launch into the reason we asked to meet.

“I believe you are also a keen swimmer.”

“Yes.” He confirms, “I swim in the sea every week, all year through.”

 

I explain the concept I’m working on, this diary of swims, writing how I feel during the swims and of others who swim, what they gain from it, why they do it. Is it meditative? Does it clear the mind? Is it for the health benefits?

 

Neil thinks for a moment then looks intensely at me, smiles and says

“I do it for fun. There is perhaps an element of the rest, I’m sure there are health benefits and it’s certainly become a habit, but mostly I do it because it’s fun and I have done for forty years.”

 

It’s refreshing to hear such a simple explanation, something so in line with how I feel, it is fun, and that’s the point.

 

His face becomes more animated as he talks of his regular swims with his friend, Henry French. He clearly does love this, it’s written on his face, and he seems pleased to talk to a couple of like-minded folk who understand.

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media – Maureen, Henry and Neil 

I think of how many of the poets and artists of the past who also enjoyed the freedom of swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes. Of course, then, that was where one bathed – swimming pools are a fairly modern phenomenon – but it seems sea swimming is now done by a growing number as simply an enjoyable thing to do. It’s not seen as a workout, performed for some future goal of health, fitness or weight loss but rather for the pleasure it brings at the time. That strikes a cord with me, being ‘in the moment’ is something I strive to be aware of and I catch glimpses of it. Swimming can be one of those glimpses, the watch is discarded time is forgotten and so, briefly, stands still. Of course later, after I dress, or perhaps it’s during that dressing, time has to catch up again and suddenly I am brought back to the fast world with a bump.

 

Neil is quite right, it is fun.

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media – Renown Irish Artist Neil Shawcross takes his weekly dip in Strangford Lough, over 40 yrs he has kept this ritual

Since that first encounter, I have been able to meet up with Neil and Henry, Bob and Dougie many times to join them for this fresh sea dip. There is no ‘Hanging around.’ With these guys! My usual tentative, halting, walk in means I am put to shame. They will drive up, jump out of the car and nip behind the nearby wall to quickly strip into swim shorts then, with a childlike exuberance they race across to the water’s edge, walk straight in and begin to swim – no fuss.

 

I am left standing, marvelling; how do they do it? I know standing there and waiting will not make it any easier to take the plunge but for some reason I simply cannot will myself to dive straight in. Once I do stretch forward and move out into the deep water to join them my body tingles with the cold and I giggle with the joy of a swim for no other reason than pure pleasure.

 

The current is strong here so we will look at the boats moored a little way out and decide which direction to swim, the aim each time is to get in and allow the water to assist, sweeping us down towards the slipway. In the warmer weather we might take two of these trips, or begin by pressing up against the flow, working hard to gain a little ground against the strong current and then stop, lie on our backs and drift lazily back to our starting point.

 

Over-coated onlookers gaze down at us calling out; “Is it cold?” We reply; “It’s fabulous! Lovely! The water feels beautiful!” Surprise in our voices even though we do this every week, each time feels new… a tiny little adventure.

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media –  Maureen and  Neil Shawcross 

Wild Swimming in Ireland – Book

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‘Wild Swimming in Ireland’ The Book

Our newly published ‘Wild Swimming in Ireland’ book arrived today in the post…due to hit the shelves very soon but available through pre order on Amazon…Just in time for the outdoor swimming season!…
P.S. We’ll keep you posted on the book’s official launch date and venue.
1st Wildswim Book