18/06/2012 by Carl Reynolds
Like Maurice Sendak’s Max, my fantasy was fed by anxiety. Off to Sandycove (just south of Cork) for nine days of sea, lake and river swimming, with a target of 100km over the week, on Ned Denison’s Distance Training camp. My shoulder was hurting (how would I cope with 100km of swims in nine days?); I’d agreed to be Stephanie Voss’s Channel support swimmer in July (how will I keep up with her and be useful?); and I’d agreed to, in the loosest sense, ‘look after’ Sarah Tunnicliffe and Bryn Dymott during the camp. But the biggest one was…I’m mixing it up with some of the giants of sea swimming…Lisa Cummins (double crossing), Lone Swimmer, Ned Denison, Owen O’Keefe, the Skellig Bull, Jen Schumacher, Fantastic Mr Finbarr and a host of others. And here comes the little old Aquatic Ape.
Ned said I should come anyway, despite the shoulder, and provide some background support; and with the exception of missing a swimmer one day – they came in half a mile from where all the others came in – enjoyed the role immensely. I wasn’t needed for the GaddAbtGarnish, so thought I’d see how the muscles held up to a 5k sea swim. Remarkably I came in in 1h 31m and had the pleasure of watching Bryn’s elegant breaststroke most of the way. But I was twingeing, so decided to keep it to 40 mins or less for the rest of the week. So I had a week watching 40 to 60 remarkable Irish, American, British and a lone Hungarian swimmer immerse themselves in cold water for hour after hour after hour. Sitting on the wall, checking them in, giving the odd feed, chasing blankets, Robies, chocolate; nattering about history and US culture with Bryan Lenahan, equality with Barbara Held, endless observations of a range of stroke styles; the role of cake, carbs and Maxim; discussing support crew mistakes and achievements; stories of previous crossing and the challenges faced; weeping and elation. And of course, my own swims. Several swims in Sandycove in clear and turbid water; a 4km rush down the River Lee, fed by a 6 cubic metre flow specially arranged by the water company, the aforementioned Gadd and a swim across Lough Ine through a mass of rubbery non-stinging jellyfish. A lovely 19.5km week for me. But what of the others?
Sarah T clocked up 86km, including a six hour swim in 12 degrees C and several two or three hour swims; Bryn’s breaststroked impressively for hour on hour and made porridge each and every morning; Stephanie was in her element and stayed the distance for every swim and kept her cadence up all through a six hour swim. I swam beside her for 20 to 30 minutes and was relieved to be able to keep up with her (one anxiety down) and am looking forward to a trip across the Channel in July. And I kept Sarah and Bryn well fed for the week.
Finally, thanks to Mary of the Tap Tavern for the generous rent agreement on her central Kinsale flat; Ned for tolerating me and for his time, enthusiasm, wit, drive and sheer bloody belief in all comers; the locals (you know who you are) for being the friendliest concentration outside Tooting Bec Lido of people on the planet; and the other visitors for sharing their stories, struggles and successes with the ape on the wall. I’ll be back.