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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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

YULETIDE SWIMS 2015

Newcastle Xmas 11b

CHRISTMAS EVE SWIM at King John’s Pier, Carlingford, Co Louth.

24th December; Register 11.30am, swim starts 12noon.

CHRISTMAS DAY SWIM at Newcastle Harbour, Co Down. Raising funds for Knockevin School Dundrum.

25th December, 11.30am

XMAS MORNING SWIM  at Myrtleville Beach, Cork, 11am.

DARE TO DIP for Cancer Focus NI at Crawfordsburn, Co Down.

Registration £10.

1st January 2016; 11am. http://www.communityni.org/event/dare-dip#.Vnmq0fmLTIU

NEW YEARS DAY DIP at Brown’s Bay, Co Antrim

1st January 2016; 1pm.  http://newyeardip.weebly.com/

NEW YEAR’S DAY SPLASH for mental Health Charity AWARE, Newcastle Beach, Co Down.

1st January 2016: 10.30am

Newcastle Beach near the beach gate entrance to the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. Access is available from the beach or from the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa

The first 70 people registered will receive a free spa pass for two at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa or Culloden Estate and Spa (valued at £60)! 

Registration is £10 and that includes an AWARE t-shirt.

www.aware-ni.org/newyearsplash

If you would like to know more about AWARE or about the event please don’t hesitate to contact kieran@aware-ni.org.

Newcastle Xmas 10b

Camlough Lake Ice Mile Training

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Words by Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The last Sunday in November and a crowd of us gathered at Doyle’s bar in the centre of Camlough village. Nervous excitement permeated the air as we each debated our own sanity at even contemplating the journey we were embarking upon.

A queue weaved its way first into the bar to sign waiver forms and register, then back-tracked through the narrow porch and into the snug, where in turn we each rolled up our sleeves to have our blood pressure checked – despite my occasional case of “white-coat syndrome”, I was pronounced fit to swim. Not sure whether to be pleased, a high BP would have been a great excuse! Oh how good we swimmers are at finding excuses!

The briefing then started with Padraig Mallon sharing some of his hard-found wisdom with us, little tricks of the trade to help calm anxiety, finding a mantra that works for oneself – I have a super one for getting up hills when hiking or cycling; “Buns of steel – Thighs of iron!” (Yes, I can dream on but it gets me up the hill every time!)

So far my swimming mantra is more based on; “The stronger I pull the sooner I get there!”  It doesn’t work so well when one’s swimming for time rather than distance though.

Nuala Moore then gave us an entertaining but also slightly sobering talk on what to expect and how to conduct ourselves. The onus is on each and every one of us to be responsible for ourselves and our own safety. Yes, there is a team of willing volunteers but let’s keep their job as easy as possible.

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Down to the lake-side and as we gathered on the slipway a team of kayakers headed out to escort us round the 250m loop. As is my usual want, I hung around – I can faff with the best of them but once I started, I felt not too bad although my cheeks were cold and I was glad I’d remembered ear-plugs. I hate that one little drop of cold water that always seems to seep in no matter how far I pull the cap down over my ears.

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As we gathered to start I saw Donna hugging her Chill swim float, “Have you a hot-water bottle in there?” (Shh! That might be an idea for next time!) The first challenge was to complete 750m before the first whistle was blown and the 20 minute swim group left the water. Continuing to kick I tried to maintain heat, remembering as Nuala said, “If you stop kicking, your little bum muscles will tense up and you won’t be able to kick,” made me smile. By 30 minutes my smile was wearing off, I could feel my hands beginning to tense and the baby finger on my right hand was creeping out. I clenched and opened my hands to try to pull it back into line but the stubborn baby seemed bent on getting out of there – leaving the rest behind if need be!

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The next turn around the marker and the call was “3 minutes left. Don’t swim too far.” Hooray! I can thole another few minutes. When the three whistle blasts sounded our time up, I dashed for the shore. I raced to my feet and as I thought a well-deserved pat on the back when Padraig quietly said “Well done. Now get back in and swim out to that rib and back.” You are MEAN Padraig Mallon!

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Dried and dressed in several layers it was a pleasure to gather around the braziers burning merrily on the lake shore as we congratulated each-other.

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Thanks to CLWF, mean Padraig, Ger and nice Nuala for setting up this program and I look forward to our next session.

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Clougherhead – Co Louth

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Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

With countryside to rival any on the West Coast of Ireland, Clougherhead has a popular beach. Chalets line the rise behind the strand making the most of their sea-view and the gently shelving beach gradually fills as families come out to enjoy the sun. With mum and dad, son and daughter and the family dog, all racing in in to enjoy the waves before heading back up the beach for breakfast.

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Families here take pride in their chalet-life during the summer months and some come back generation after generation to weekend and holiday in this prized spot.

Taking the path from the beach we were told of a lovely walk from the village along the sea cliffs into picturesque Port Oriel Harbour. “Be guided by the Dancing Starfish.” They told us. A grassy track up over the cliffs, full of places to scramble and explore, we found craggy inlets topped with mauve clover flowers and white daisies lead down into deep gorges. We climbed down one of these gorges to plunge in and, as we swam around the rock-face, we found what remains of Red Mans Cave, almost inaccessible now after decades of the seas erosion.

There are several gory tales as to how this place got its name; one story is set during the Cromwellian wars of 1649, which tells of Cromwell’s soldiers having put to death a number of Catholic Priests here. Until recently the cave was repainted red to commemorate this event, now, time and sea, have worn it almost away. The cave also is said to lead to a tunnel which runs to the tower at Killarty where St Oliver Plunkett was sheltered prior to his imprisonment and execution in 1681.

With a shiver we re-traced our strokes back into bright sunlight and climbed out to follow the rocky coastline further. Dancing along the harbour wall, standing tall and waving to welcome us into Port Oriel, the starfish is a happy sight.

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Clougherhead has been used as a film location for several movies; Captain Lightfoot (1955- Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush), The Devils Own (1997 – Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt), Perriers Bounty (2008 – Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson)

Lough Derg – Co Donegal

©Paul McCambridge.com / MAC Visual Media

Words By Maureen McCoy

Photography By Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media

The reeds whispered in the gentle breeze as we walked into Lough Derg on a warm summers evening and swam out into the dark, peaty water. Far across the lough rose the impressive structure of the Sanctuary, the circular Basilica with its great copper dome dominating the lake. I thought of the many thousands of pilgrims who have travellled here seeking enlightenment, or to ease their suffering and that of others, or came here in thanks. Clearing my mind of the everyday rush, I stopped making lists and simply enjoyed being here, immersed in the water and the moment. In a kind of meditation I let myself relax and breathe, taking the time to enjoy the cool water, the warm sun and the soft breeze.

For hundreds of years, Station Island where the Sanctuary sits was believed to be a special place, even before Saint Patrick travelled here in the 12th Century. But it was after Patrick’s vision of the afterlife during contemplation in a cave here that it became a place of Christian pilgrimage and the island was given the name, Purgatorium Sancti Patricii.

©Paul McCambridge.com / MAC Visual Media

The largest lough in Donegal at six miles by four, Lough Derg can afford the swimmer plenty of quiet places to explore without interrupting anyone else’s spiritual experience. Away from the main car-park there are plenty of access points used by fishermen and with no motor-craft allowed, the peaceful air is tangible.

Although it would be tempting to swim out to the Sanctuary, they ask that no craft go within 300m of the island, and I accept that this would include swimmers and so I am happy to enjoy my solitary contemplation, enjoy the peace and admire the grand building from afar.