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

Vico – County Dublin

Mo filming 1b webWords by Maureen McCoy, photos by Paul McCambridge

 

Dublin City has a great tradition of alfresco swimming and further south from the famous Forty Foot, on the Vico Road the pretty area of Dalkey boasts a similar bathing area, The Vico nestled along the cliff edge between Dalkey and Killiney beach, is popular with naturists.

 

Early March this year I travelled back to the Vico, invited by some documentary film-making students from Trinity College. We were lucky, the previous week had been grey and windy and yet the weekend brought with it sunshine, interspersed with the odd shower, perfect spring swimming weather. When I arrived I found the crew had already spent several hours before, setting up time-lapse cameras and planning the story. It’s a little un-nerving having someone new behind the camera, I’m used to photos, not so used to being filmed but variety is the spice of life! Several walks up and down the approaching path certainly warmed me up before I was to get into the water. As the day wore on the regular patrons filtered in and away, stopping for a quick chat, sharing more favoured spots around the country and commenting on the mild weather. “Have you had your swim then?” the constant question, “Not yet, but it’s coming!” As the day faded to evening and the sun sunk ever lower it was time to brave the sea. My last swim that week had been in a lake in the Mourne mountains and had been acutely painful it was so cold, I was now rather nervous that I may squeal and shiver uncontrollably, all to be documented on camera! Joy, the water was not as sharp as that mountain lake. As I swam under the craggy rocks of Hawk Cliff a seal popped his head above the swell some way further out. He’d spent the day milling around, a little curious but otherwise unconcerned with the small stream of swimmers who had been in and out of the sea all day as the tide rose and fell away again. He seemed much less interested in me than I in him.

 

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Once dressed and just before I left the Vico I looked out to see a pod of porpoises gliding through the water, their dorsal fins slicing the small waves as they passed back and forth across the bay. Below me the final evenings swimmer, a lady around my own age, side-stroked along the shoreline, swimming with ease and un-encumbered by swimwear. I admired her bravery as she finished her swim, climbed out, dried and dressed, unabashed, then made her way back up the long flight of steps in the evening light.

 

A narrow gap in the wall along the Vico road walking up the hill away from Dalkey marks the entrance to the path which first goes across a high-sided footbridge over the railway and then down towards the shore. Surfboards line the railings and the small white-washed shelter built into the rocks stands out against the grey stone. Handwritten on a board the words ‘swimwear optional’ and the white painted shelter above the ladders welcomes you in. Steep steps with handrails lead you to the water and to one side a small sea-water pool mirrors the sky, a sharp contrast to the choppy sea.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

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Getting there; by car from Killiney take the Victoria then the Vico Road past Victoria Park. At White Rocks Bathing Area there is a lay-by with car parking spaces. Frome here walk as there is no further parking along the road. Heading towards Dalkey as the road sweeps left and drops down look out for the narrow gap on the sea-ward side, take this path across the footbridge and down to the Vico Bathing Area.

 

Google Maps;

https://goo.gl/maps/rV6bUBTTKs82

 

Glanmore Lake, County Kerry.

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©Paul McCambridge – MAC Visual Media – 2016 Glanmore Lake, Beara Peninsula, Co Kerry.

Words by Maureen McCoy, photos by Paul McCambridge

Slip into tranquil waters around this tree-shaded lake to swim through reflections of the towering Caha Mountains. Weave around the many rock islands in this pristine lake each with trees growing in impossibly little soil. Even climb out and explore the man-made crannog with its small and over-grown stone building.

On a calm day the lake waters act like a mirror, broken only by the occasional trout jumping, spreading ripples out across the surface. Walking into the lake you realise it is alive with tiny insects flitting above the surface, it is these the trout are leaping for and the birds which swoop low over the water returning to the heights of the trees to eat their fill before their next flight. Well-known as a fishing lake, Glanmore is one of the nicest lake swims on the Beara peninsula, set at the base of Lackabane Mountain with the trees reaching up to the sky it could be deep in the Canadian wilderness.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

Getting there; from Kenmare Co Kerry, cross over the Kenmare River and turn right onto R571(this junction has an astounding 20 signs so don’t even try to read them!) Enjoy the scenery as you wind along the river 24km to Lauragh. From Lauragh take the R574 Healy Pass road, past an old pub, an Sibin, turn left following signs for Rosie’s Lake view Restaurant. Climbing further into the mountains as you pass the entrance to Rosie’s the road drops and you get your first view of the lake, pick your spot along the lake shore.

Google Maps; https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Glanmore+Lake/@51.7354675,-9.7821405,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x48457a64440894f5:0xb8bbc7f0c503f1b5!8m2!3d51.7355162!4d-9.7737708

Ballydowane – County Waterford

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©Paul McCambridge – The jagged rocks and promontories of Ballydowane on the Copper Coast, Waterford.

Words by Maureen McCoy, photography by Paul McCambridge

At Ballydowane, between Bunmahon and Stradbally, the entrance to the beach is not inspiring, a narrow lane leads to a basic parking circle which then peters out into a short ramp onto the beach. Two great stacks either side of this ramp hide the true expanse of the bay. It is only when you step out from their shadow that the view opens up and you are transported into a rugged landscape with red and purple cliffs behind and great pointed sea stacks jutting out of the water like some mythical sea creature, you can lose yourself in this other-worldly place.

Irelands Copper Coast, named after the nineteeth-century copper mines that have helped to form sea arches and caves, has 25km of scalloped beaches and bays where jagged rocks and promontories shelter each bay from the next…

Advised for strong swimmers as there can be currents.

Excerpt from Wild Swimming in Ireland 2016, ISBN 978-1-84889-280-4

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Getting there; from Dungarvan, west of Waterford city, take the R675 towards Tramore. Follow this road and take the right hand turn for Stradbally, as you come into Stradbally turn towards Ballyvoonely then after a few kms take the right for Ballydowane.

Google Maps;

https://goo.gl/maps/KMuNURASAjk

 

 

 

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 

BEST EVER SWIMMERS MEETING! – SKINNY-DIPPING – SOMEWHERE IN CONNEMARA

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

 

Words by Maureen McCoy, photos by Paul McCambridge

Traveling along the coastline of Ireland I have been welcomed by swimmers young and old in the ever-changing weather, the common thread between us all; a sense of play and having fun in the outdoors.

Following the coastal roads there are many single track, rough lanes leading down to the shore. One such lane brought me to a chance meeting with a gentle man on an almost private beach. The track ended with just enough space to turn a car and a flat grassy area surrounded with tall bracken, a superb place to pitch our tents on this late summer evening. As the air cooled and the sky darkened we settled down to have a hot dinner and a cool cider.

As the early morning sunshine lit up the tent walls I could hear the stirrings of the others as they rose. Without enough strength yet in the morning sun to warm the air I pulled on my fleece and prepared to greet the day. Zipping open the tent there was an excited; “You just missed the funniest sight!” and as Darragh related to me our new friend’s dramatic entrance to our little ring of tents, pitched as we were at his favourite early morning bathing spot, Paul came charging to his car for camera lenses then sprinted back over the grass towards the sea to record this impromptu introduction to John’s morning ritual.

“This guy just walked past our campsite… BUTT NAKED!”

Tentatively following Darragh and Paul towards the shore I kept my gaze to the ground but was soon assured that the swimmer was merrily breast-stroke swimming at a modest distance, quite decent and perfectly happy to be photographed. As I approached he called across the silver water with a cheeky smile, “Maureen, I hope you don’t mind but I’m not wearing any trunks!”

The sun glinted silver on the water as he happily extolled the virtues of “free-swimming” while drifting back and forth and the tide gently filled the bay, his Jack Russell terriers scoured the rocks on the shore, chasing the varied scents and every so often lifting their heads to check on their beloved master.

“Do you know, September is a great time of the year for ladies to swim in the sea?” he told me. “The sea-weed releases its nutrients into the water. It’s good for the skin, you can bathe in the true fountain of youth and it won’t cost you a penny!”… He invited me to join him, I declined but Darragh decided it was time for his morning bath and so launched himself in…modestly clad.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

 

…“Now, Maureen, you know I’m really going to have to come out now and I don’t want to offend you.” As I turned away to spare his blushes he followed with; “Mind you I don’t think I’d offend anyone right now!”

Wrapped safely in his towel and with a disarmingly good-humoured manner, he quoted some Seamus Heaney and cited the feel-good benefits of sea swimming.

Over a warming cup of tea after his swim John told me that, when he saw our campsite he had almost turned away and left but then said to himself, “Feck’em! This is my beach! I come here every day, if they don’t like it, tough!” and so he had carried on, striding boldly through our little campsite, towel slung over his shoulder, cap and goggles on and nothing else… to swim as nature intended.

Since retiring he has given up alcohol, eats only fruit for breakfast and enjoys a simple life; his ritual sunrise dip in the sea every morning from early spring right through into autumn, while the dogs investigate the rocks, impatiently waiting as he dresses to then take a warming walk along the shore. Later, he might meet up with friends for lunch or go home and read; poetry his favourite. Feeling healthier than ever, he has contentedly exited the rat race and found these simple pleasures perfectly fulfilling.

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

©Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

He looked at the sky and pointed; “See, there’s a squall coming through. It should miss us though and stay out over the water.”

I left this new friend with a renewed sense of the beauty of outdoor swimming, so many people, from so many different walks of life sharing a common love. No matter where one goes, when one meets a swimmer there is no difficulty in conversation.

2016 World Record Ice Kilometre for Sabrina Wiedmer

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Words by Maureen McCoy & photos by Paul McCambridge

I first met Sabrina in September 2015 at the Copeland Islands swim, where she was the first

swimmer into Donaghadee Harbour after the choppy but fun 3km plus swim. The event that year

was in memory of my late friend, Sheena Paterson who loved the swim between the island and

harbour and I know Sheena would have been delighted that a woman won it!

Some weeks later, on a trip to sunny Dublin, Sabrina met with me at Bull Island for a swim interview.

I’d never been there before and we were lucky to be blessed with glorious weather so late in the

season. As we prepared for our dip looking across the bay towards Dublin Port and the Poolbeg

chimneys dominating the skyline, Sabrina and I chatted about her swimming history. In her native

Switzerland Sabrina was a 50m Back Stroke swimmer – quite a change to then become a long

distance Front crawl swimmer. Shoulder injuries prompted Sabrina to give up the sprint Back Stroke

but her love of swimming pushed her on and she told me how, since changing to Front Crawl, her

shoulders have been fine.

Sabrina said she tried sea swimming, and despite still being a little scared of what might be in the

sea with her, she loves it. She joked that sometimes she closes her eyes so she won’t see the fish.

Since Sabrina came to live and work in Ireland and joined the “Irish sea swimming family” she has

never looked back and continues to find new friends throughout the country.

As we carefully walked down the bank of steps into the sea we talked about the ice mile, “I don’t

know how many ice miles I actually swam before the event. I went home to Switzerland and trained

in the lake almost every day, it became easier!” Even with her record of achievements in long

distance swimming, when Sabrina applied to enter the Lake Zuric marathon event, she didn’t get in.

“I’m told people rarely get in on their first application, hopefully next year!”

Sabrina has certainly started 2016 off in a positive mode; well done, Sabrina in your latest feat of

matching the world record fastest female to swim a kilometre in 13minutes 58seconds, in water

temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius!

And the best of luck for the rest of the year!

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