Sandycove – First Morning Swim

Saturday morning marked our first swim at Sandycove.  We crammed five swimmers (3 Brits, 1 Italian, and me) into a Ford Fiesta and all piled out at our lovely destination at 5:50am.  I was still tired from the travel and the time change, but I was oh-so-glad to be at Sandycove!

The sky was overcast, as you can see in the picture.  I felt a little disheartened by that; my friends had promised sunshine.  And the cheater swim Carl and I had done the night before had been cold – colder than anything I’d been in for over a month.  It was going to be a tough swim this fine morning.

There were many friends from last year present.  Brian, a professor from South Carolina, is back.  It was great to catch up with some of the local Irish folks.  I am staying with Carl and Bryn and sharing a room with Sarah, all from the UK.  And David is here! 

We made our way down the slipway toward the water at Ned’s command.  Carl dove off and there was a collective gasp from those present.  My feet touched the water and oh boy… it was cold.  I felt myself shudder slightly as I walked in.  

Goodness… even our ocean is 65° right now!

The tingling achiness of the cold was beginning to numb me, and I thought I should start swimming before I got really, really cold.  David, who was just beside me, gave voice to my thought.  I agreed and didn’t wait too much longer before taking a breath and diving in.

The route for the swim is to go out from the slipway and then proceed counterclockwise around Sandycove Island as many times as you can in two hours.  I could do three laps in that time-frame, about a 5k, if I wasn’t too cold.  

It was 9° Celsius at Corner One; something like 50°F.  I didn’t know this when I started.  I just knew it was cold.  A painful kind of cold.  But once I got going, it felt better and by the time I got to Corner Two, I thought that I should be fine.  Corner Two was a whole lot warmer and always has been; I remembered that from last year.  It was 52°.  Those two degrees made all the difference!  It felt like a bath by comparison. I stopped to smile at some folks and check in with them and chat before we continued swimming.

I felt awfully cold the second time I got to Corner One, but I was looking forward to getting to Corner Two again.  My shins started to ache and wouldn’t stop.  I told myself that I was fine, that I could keep going.  I wasn’t shivering.  My hands were still operable.  I was doing okay.  It was just uncomfortable.  It wasn’t dangerous.

I didn’t feel really good about going around a third time though.  Not by myself, and the one swimmer ahead/with me swam to shore after lap two.  Still, Sarah and I were swimming pretty close to each other.  She could at least keep an eye on me… and, of course, she was going around again (Her Channel Swim is in three weeks and she has been training intensively). My hands were stiff now, but I could still make them into fists if I tried.  My fingers were aching though.

Well, Bethany, I thought.  This is why you come here.  You come to push yourself.  Because this is a safe place to test your body and to make it do everything you need it to do.  This is why you come to Distance Week.  I couldn’t remember the last time I shivered.  I couldn’t tell how cold I really was.  I think it’s about time for a good shiver.

So I went around again, near Sarah.  I felt cold.  I lost the ability to make a fist with my left hand and was kind of excited!  In cold water swimming, that’s called “the claw,” and normally, my pinky fingers just do their own thing and don’t listen to me, but I have never ever been unable to make a fist.  Well… maybe during the 6-hour swim last year in 53° water.

We finished our 5k, and I was really proud of myself. We walked up the slipway.  It seemed that everybody else was out, and I looked around for David to make sure he was okay.  But I couldn’t see him anywhere.  I noticed, then, that his shoes were still on the slipway.

I made my way to the car to change and get warm.  By then, I started to shiver and could hardly move.

I kept an eye out on the water though, and watched as David and Irishman Colm, having completed five laps of the island, swam in just a few minutes behind Sarah and me. I was quite proud of both of us.

I was so very cold.  I layered up in two or three layers under my winter coat but still shivered.  Bryn took me by the hand and walked me along a path to keep me moving and warm me up.  I couldn’t make my hands go into the gloves he offered; my fingers would not obey me.  Oh well.  He held my hands for me in his to warm them up.

Ned called us all in for introductions and we headed over to where he was.  Poor David was there, shivering hard, also.  We stood there, in the Irish summer morning, like two hypothermic ski bums.

Introductions were made.  So many, many long distance swimmers from all over the world!  Sylle, who plans to attempt a Butterfly crossing of the Channel.  There was a gentleman who has done it backstroke.  There were folks training for Gibraltar or Catalina. Others weren’t there to swim anything in particular; they were just there to swim the week and have fun and do what they love.

As we got in the car to head off for breakfast, I felt accomplished.  It was good to know that I was actually cold, and not just a whiner.  Good to know that I could still swim for two hours in 50° water… now that I knew the temperature.  It was just good.  Good to be tired.  Good to be cold.  Good to set a good tone for the week.

Really good to be back at Sandycove.

And really good to know that I can do this.

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