The last time I swam competitively was over 20 years ago when I took part in the Community Games in Mosney. I’m no fish, but I did the backstroke in the 4x25m medley relay. I diverge. Last Friday I took part in the Leinster Open Sea Swim event in Wicklow Town. They organise over 50 swims over the summer all along the coast.
You just need to join Swim Ireland and a swimming club. Luckily Triathlon Ireland and Swim Ireland have a special dual membership this year, so I can race. It’s non-wetsuit – most triathletes seem to have an aversion to swimming in “skins.” For me it’s normal, as it’s how I grew up swimming in the sea at the Guillamene. Wetsuits constrict you.
Anyway, it’s like IMRA or ParkRun. Like all good things it’s simple – no bells or whistles, you pay your €10, get a time handicap (I got a 6min based on my 400m pool time of 7 min), then you load your bag into the van and they take your gear to the finish. No chips, goodies bags, hats or other paraphernalia.
The Wicklow swim started in a rocky beach just under the harbour headland. Swimmers start at 15sec intervals, based on handicap. This system is great, like golf, in that (a) everyone finishes in a group and (b) anyway can win, not just the fastest swimmer.
I was surprised by age, body shape and atmosphere. Everyone was very relaxed, no dead triathlete stares. Club members and friends chatting. No overbearing officials. Women and men start separate races. So, I had over 120 men, generally aged 40-60. Some thin and tall, others more rotund, carrying “bioprene” as a work colleague remarked.
My 6-min wait was long. I wanted to go and knew the fastest swimmers were behind me. Off I went, relaxed. First buoy reached, then a strong southerly current carried us along. Water temps were lovely. I was getting passed but not worried. Second buoy was a long way away. Then I could see safety boats and figured I was near the end. The swim in was long and goggles fogged up, so hard to see. I felt I was holding things up. Arms spinning and trashing, probably not that efficient.
Up onto the strand. Unsteady on my feet. Two ladies recorded my number and time. I wandered up the climb to the car park. Weird thing was you’ve no towel – so picture men in togs walking on a path through the middle of a golf course.