Following my failed attempt in the Summer of 2017, this June I’m embarking on a stubborn second attempt at swimming the length of Ireland, taking me from the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast, to my hometown of Waterford on the south.
I set myself the original challenge about a month after the death of my dad to cancer. Aged 65, he died only three weeks after receiving his diagnosis, giving no time to come to terms with what was happening. The purpose of the swim was to set myself a positive focus to dedicate my time and concentrate my emotions to, after what was the most difficult experience of my life. It was and is a tribute to my dad, a means of raising funds for the Irish Heart Foundation and Solas Cancer Support Centre and an attempt to better myself in the process.
Having walked away from non-competitive swimming at the age of 12 to pursue other sporting interests, at 25, committing to trying to swim the length of Ireland with seven months to prepare, was a mammoth task for me. Genuinely having to stop after every 25 metres to catch my breath in the beginning, I knew I badly needed the help of an expert to guide the preparation. After asking around for advice, I was put in contact with Ireland’s top 10km swimmer. I paid them £600 for one pool lesson and a training programme and set to work on my own for the few months I had to prepare, all the while trying to hold down my job as a town planner in London.
Having previously ran 35 marathons in 35 consecutive days, I was concerned the training would be a monotonous slog, as the bulk of the marathon training was long slow solitary miles. It’s one thing jogging around a serene wooded park, on interesting terrain, amongst nature for a few hours each day, but a total different ask to just plod up and down a 25 metre public pool.
Thankfully my training plan is very varied. I train in four-week blocks, three increasingly longer weeks and a scaled back recovery week. It’s not unusual to have seven or more training sessions per week and training incorporates a mix of technique sessions, kick sessions, overspeed sessions and aerobic sessions. I also use various training aids throughout most sessions, such as the kickboard, pullbouy, short and long fins, hand paddles and a snorkel. Different strokes and speeds are integrated too.
Although I’ll be swimming a constant slow front crawl during the challenge and that’s the bulk of my training, the variety is key in my opinion, to keep the journey interesting, fun and engaging and to keep the body guessing and growing stronger after each block of work.
This time around, my training is broadly remaining the same, however, I will be trying to incorporate more double session training days (one AM and one PM) to try replicate the different approach of this attempt, swimming two tides per 24 hours rather than one, enabled by the change in support vessel. Since the support RIB sank and ended the first attempt, I’ve gone all in on a 32-foot sailboat to improve my chances of a finish this time around.
Another change this time will be getting more cold-water experience. I naively thought the wetsuit would prevent cold shock and keep me comfortable on the first attempt. That notion quickly vanished when I immersed myself in the ten-degree depths off the Northern Irish coastline. Having met and discussed this with Dr Heather Massey, a leading UK expert in the area of human physiology in extreme environments, my training this time is supplemented with cold water dips.
By not solely focusing on pool miles, I’m getting (or trying to get) acclimatised to the Serpentine Lake on a weekly basis without my wetsuit. As the start on the 1st June gets closer, I’ll be steadily increasing my time in the cold to help make the transition from pool training to the sea adventure that little bit easier.
If you want to follow the event or donate to the charities, please visit www.marathonman.co and don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re a sailor interested in joining the team this summer.