Wednesday, 13 August 2014

9 Hours 56 Minutes 27 Seconds

Ok so it’s nearly a week now since the North Channel was swum - this is a short wrap up of how the day, weather and ocean treated me and the emotional rollercoaster afterwards.


The Build Up - At first it was all systems go for Monday 4th August and I was running around like a headless chicken on Sunday night trying to get organised and sorted for a 1am start. At about 8pm though the boat man, Brian Maherg (@bangorboats), called it off due to newly forecasted gale force winds - that was that and I was to be contacted that Wednesday / Thursday to see if we might go ahead. As it got closer to Wednesday Brian contacted me again and gave the go ahead and for Thursday, with a reasonable swim start in Donaghadee at 7am. So this was it - all the training and preparation for 6 good months and now IT WAS ON! 
Ready to Rock - in Bangor!
Game Day - It all started at 3:30am with a big bowl of porridge, followed by a small bit of pasta which didn’t sit well. On the road with the team was AWESOME, Bridgeen (mummy bear), Alex (forever patient partner), Padraig (Brother + Mr “i’ve done this before”) and lastly, legend Keith Garry (training buddy and agony aunt) - ALL SYSTEMS WERE GO!!

Going up the road to Bangor (where we would meet the boat pilots) was nerve racking but the morning was spectacular - I couldn’t of hoped for anything more and the sunrise was epic. We unloaded the car, talked more sh%te and waited on the boat men to arrive. At 6 bells Brain Meharg (pilot) pulled up in Bangor with his co-pilot Mervin and we all bowl’d into the boat, our nerves clean wreaked. From here we drove to the starting point...Robbies Point in Donaghadee.
Crew - "We've got your back!"
On our journey over everyone thankfully kept their distance and I had a wee bit of time (shitting myself) to give myself one last prep talk (as if i hadn’t got enough time on my own in the preceeding 10 hours ffs). When Brian shouted there was 10mins to start my heart dropped - mummy began to grease me up with vasoline – “lash it all on” says I, and showed mummy that it had to be put over the scars on my knees as the cold just zaps everything out of them (2 x knee reconstructions will do that to you).
On my two arms in massive writing I had Alex write THANK (on right arm) and YOU (on left arm) - my biggest motivation tool being ‘GRATITUDE’ - for the ability to even dream about doing something like this and having the support, health and means - and being thankful not only for what was happening on that day, but also everything that has ever happened to me (good and bad) or will happen in the future. 

"JUMP IN, SWIM TO IRISH LAND AND WE WILL BLOW THE HORN OF THE BOAT!" – said Brian the boatman – and from there, everything was moving in slow motion and my heart was going to bust with the pounding. I jumped into the water and “WOW”; there was a mixture of panic and relief – this is actually HAPPENING today and “FOOK” that’s cold!! I swum over to the Donaghadee shore to touch Irish land and before I knew it, with no time to fix my costume or pull it out of my ar&h, the horn went and....I WAS OFF!
No big panic, I tried to approach it nice and easy, find my rhythm – it was good water and weather conditions....all I had to do was swim. I had great trust in my crew that they had it all to get me to Scotland and I had the easy job... just swim!

Within the first hour there were 3 dolphins! (although they didn’t hang out for long and were just being nosy). I was feeding every 40mins after the 1st hour. The 1st hour flew by - everything was ace, I was in a great head space and the body was feeling good. I found myself going a nice comfortable pace, around Keith and my training pace of 1:30 – 1:31 per 100m.

The longest I had swum before the day was 8 hours in Brighton le Sands with VLAD swim squad in Melbourne, so anything after that who knew what my body would do!? I was aiming for 10hrs-13hrs (max, please god!) so I didn’t want to go out too crazy but tried to keep it nice and steady.
So I was ticking along, with good feeds between 30 sec to 1 minute, with very positive BUZZ words coming from my crew on a small white board. We were really moving and making nice progress and BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM ..3.5-4 hours into the swim the sh*t hit the fan! It began to get rough and believe it or not, kept getting gradually worse as we progressed. Mentally draining YES, but this wasn’t going to phase me - mother nature was my friend and many different scenarios were going through my head, like playing a computer game (super Mario Brothers specifically) - every time I achieved the next level i.e. my next feed, the level would get harder and harder. Believe me, i had used a couple of lives by the end of the journey too!

It got to a stage when I said “bring it on..!” and found a nice place in my head and felt the body was on autopilot - I was picking herbs and watering flowers; I even put a wash on and hung a wash out to dry, and had a cup of tea with Alex and mummy! That might all sound completely psychotic, but that’s the best way I can explain it! The inspirational words, names of close friends and family members - were being put up on the whiteboard to help keep me going, and then I could see Scotland (between 5m swell and massive DELICIOUS glops of salty water *vom, as the bow of the boat and large waves coming from the right hand side kept generously pounding me).

The conditions deteriorated to a nasty 5m swell with gale force winds causing us to swim a 40km route, rather than most direct route of 35km, in a time of 9hours 56mins 27sec, stroke for stroke the last km was EVERLASTING. Eventually a note went up on the whiteboard that the overall course record was GONE and I was to relax and enjoy the end of my swim. So THAT WAS IT - I didn’t go in with the intention to break the record of 9hours 35mins, but had explained to my crew that if I was near it come the last couple of hours, please let me know and try and push me if I had anything left to give. The encouragement was wonderful but I left everything I had in the water and mother nature got the better of me - being 1km offshore with tides, waves and winds being reluctant to let me “land on the moon” (otherwise known as Scotland) was tough. But hey, that’s why this ocean is said to be the SWEETEST one to conquer - the unpredictable elements and how mother nature makes you feel so insignificant.

So I plugged along and eventually one foot found sand – I gave a great yelp as if I was starring in the final scene of brave heart AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! - while having my arms up facing god and saying THANK YOU!

"Thank You!" - Port Patrick, Scotland

Time Check!
Brian and Padraig where on the dinghy waiting to take me back to the main boat, but I wanted to find a few wee stones for my crew to thank them first. I could only find wee shells, but down the back of the cosy they went and I went back into the water to get my lift home. Padraig pulled me up into the boat, tears where shared, and I proclaimed loudly “Well THAT was HARD!” And I do admit it was the hardest challenge i’ve done to date, and I feel proud and privileged that this infamous body of water allowed me to cross it – I hope I have earned a bit of respect from it, because it sure has earned it from me!
Don't worry - we saved the Moet!

What next?? Who knows... but for now, my beautiful talented partner and myself are taking on Europe with our shoestrings and i’m sure there will be a few stories evolving from that!
THANK YOU to everyone who sent messages of support on social media etc etc – it was really overwhelming and it meant the world to me.

Summing it Up - All in all - Dreams do come true when you give it your all – thank you everyone who helped, supported, inspired, listened, loved and believed in me on my journey to conquer the Channel - you are every bit a part of my success and I will be forever grateful.
- Colleen

Friday, 25 July 2014

Clowning About In County Cork!!

So I’m sure you have forgotten about me and glad I have not updated this blog – but I’M BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hehehehe!!! A lot has happened since the last update, many many kilometres have been swum, and great times have been had - so here is a brief recap and insight into what’s to come. 

I have been training hard with Keith Garry - all credit to him, he is very focused and I think some of it has rubbed off! We have clocked some very decent weeks, mostly in Camlough Lake (where the heart lies), Carlingford Lough, Giles Quay and Donaghadee (starting point of the North Channel swim) - all equally beautiful in their own right. Home has been great, catching up with family, getting to know all the nieces and nephews, and being persuaded to babysit a little too often, palming off the hard work to my partner Alex BAHAHAHA (sorry). But it’s magical to say the least and it has reinforced how important and amazing family really is. Anyways enough emotional talk…

Now for the more serious stuff like swimming…When I first went to the cold water up north a couple of weeks ago I had a bit of a meltdown and was completely beaten, as I had never imagined what 11 degree waters actually felt like. But now I am stronger and have acclimatised BOOOOOOOOM! I feel like I’m in a great space and ready to rock!
I recently attended a Distance Swim Camp in county Cork and it was AWESOME – swum 101kms in 9 days, so it was very hard on the body and mind! It was run by locals of Sandycove, but the main man himself was Ned Dension, a wonderful character full of enthusiasm and shear passion for the open water. What a great privilege it was beating his ass on numerous occasions (but I’m not going to mention he is 50 odd and still storming on - fair play!). He amongst many others made this camp unique and every single swim was all guns blazing, but I have to give out special mentions to Keith Garry (we swum the majority of the camp together and really helped each other on…he gets in there, gets the job done and that’s it - no sh*t!) and also Ann-Marie Mullally, our local host extraordinaire and just an amazing person.
Keith and I

Camp Overview for anyone interested 
(hint for speed readers - days 4, 5 and 8 were not to be missed!):

Day 1 - AM was in Sandycove (which I missed to catch up with my aunty and cousins that I haven’t seen in years) followed by the Lee race in Cork City (2km) – a swim right through the heart of the city under pedestrian bridges and all! (and it was a wee bit dirty). I was pipped at the post for first place by 7 secs, so it was a good competitive swim and loads of fun!
Keith, Oonagh, Alex, Me and Mummy post LeeSwim, Cork

Day 2 – laps around Sandycove which is SO beautiful - the local people were very welcoming and so  proud of their island; we covered 6.5km (being enough considering we had a 8km race in Lough Allua that evening). When we got to Lough Allua, we all knew there was a horrific week of mileage ahead, but once the race started and I got involved there was no holding back! We have a race on our hands! 4 of us, Keith Garry, Sabrina Wiedmer  (recently crossed the north channel and would have to still be recovering GOSH this girl can swim),  and a local legend Trevor - all 4 of us powering along stroke for stroke. I have never experienced a full on battle for an 8km swim like this before, great fun and sport by all. I was lucky enough to just sneak home with first place and we all had a lovely feed at the local pub before heading home.
Sandy Cove Island

Day 3 – 5AM swim in Fountains town, and as we were travelling in a campervan we decided to park there the night before (anything for an extra few minutes in bed!). But this obviously was the spot for the night kiss…as there was lots of characters floating around for a bit of passion BAHAHAH, anyways up early for a good 4.5km swim and the water was very cold and rough coming back. The PM swim was back to the local grounds of Sandycove to cover a steady 4 laps (6.5km).

Day 4 – My arms were starting to feel the 8km race and screaming ‘WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING, AND YOU HAVE PAID FOT THIS YOU FOOL’ anyways no pain no gain, so get on with it. AM we travelled to Blackwater in Fermoy – there were a few fresh faces and the tempo was lifted. I knew there was 5 LOOOONG days left and I couldn’t get too cocky, so was just happy to hang out and cover the mileage - 7.5km.
Lough Hyne Rapids- Go Mummy!
PM swim, the one I was MOST looking forward to – Lough Hyne. A magical place that feels like the end of the earth and completely untouched. It is a protected marine site with all sorts of interesting sea creatures found nowhere else in the world (something about the mix of salt and freshwater, as the lake has an outlet to the sea). There were natural rapids at the outlet that were absolutely unreal – you’d jump in at the top and they’d whoosh you down into the lake! Swimming against them you felt completely powerless. My mummy nearly had a heart attack jumping into them! We hit 4km in all and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face because the it was such good fun!

Lough Hyne Rapids!
Day 5 – bearing in mind we have 4 days left and I’m falling apart…we were back to Sandycove to turn out 6.5km in the AM - I felt the water particularly cold and was blaming it on me being tired and feeling sore in every fibre and joint in my body – but once we got out some locals had recorded 11.7oC in some areas, this made me very happy.

PM swim was from the Speckled Door pub to Sandycove; not a massive distance but pretty open ocean along beautiful cliffs. I found this swim very very tough; my body was really imploding and sore, and I talked myself into the swim, out of the swim and then was sick listening to myself! Still clocking 1:31 for 100m pace but came out grumpy and wasn’t enjoying it, so I skipped out on the next AM session as my body was screaming for it.
Day 6 – AM enjoyed a bit of a sleep in (from an unreal seafood meal with mum and alex and a few sneaky drinks to break the week up). PM swim blew my socks completely off! Had no expectations as had never heard of the Copper Coast Co. Waterford, but it was MAGICAL and definitely in my top open water swims of all time. Thanks to Donal Buckley @loneswimmer for sharing his special discoveries and being so excited to do so. Ohh yea what made it so special….was swimming out to islands in the ocean, through rock caves and caverns with turquoise water - couldn’t believe I was in Ireland doing this swim!

County Waterford

Day 7 – AM swim was in Garryvoe to Ballycotton lighthouse – as Ned said ‘just swim over to the lighthouse’, dead on says I - it not looking so far away…. So I got in, and was swimming and swimming and SWIMMING and SWIMMMMMMMMMMMMING ahk FFS where the hell is this lighthouse!?!? Yes it is right in front of me, but I was swimming and getting no closer! This was the most mentally tough swim of the whole camp for me, and I personally felt it harder than the ‘torture swim’ (will elaborate later) and also the 6 hrs, because there was no talk and I had no expectations and was not prepared for it. It got me good and I genuinely was going to give up and get in the boat…but I was so proud of myself for just gritting my teeth and doing it – all in all it was a GREAT training session!

Day 8 – the Torture Swim…SHHHHHHHHHHHHH this was awesome and such  great idea, thank you Ned and all the torturers. I’m not allowed to say anything for future camp attendees, but let’s just say the aim is total body and mind confusion, whilst also covering a dirty 13.5mk swim, with the 6 hours HAUNTING me the next day.. did I mention I was staying in a campervan and my back was broke?! – ahh… the Irish loves a good ole complaint.

Day 9 – Target: 6 hours in the water around Sandycove Island – had great practise doing my feeding (taking energy drinks at 50min intervals because of the size of the island) and it worked a treat. Alex that will be feeding me in the North Channel was awesome, positive and pretty much born to do that job – BAHAHAHHA thank you so much! And thanks to Oonagh for her help too. But I was extremely happy with this swim, my last big hit out before the big day, covering just over 23km and speeding up after 4 ½ - 5 ½ hours to get in my fastest laps (pain killers are bloody awesome).

A MASSIVE thankyou to all involved and for all your inspirational stories, kindness and for sharing some of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been in. I will be back (if Ned is kind enough to invite me and also I will be making mummy Mallon sign up, as she had the time of her life).

Keith, Ned and myself after 6 hour swim

I’m just about recovered 5 days later and back to a lovely steady 20 – 25km for the next 2 weeks. Will go and support my friend Caroline O’Hanlon playing netball in the Commonwealths next week, which I’m hoping will add to my drive and fuel me with inspiration. Basically I will be on call for the my Channel swim from the start of August onwards, now that Ireland has been like the Bahamas weather wise these last few weeks... Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeoooooo!
Team Awesome - Copper Coast, Co. Waterford