Irish swimmers take the plunge to get a fitness fix
ONE of Ireland's oldest and most famous sporting events, the Liffey Swim, takes place in Dublin on September 13. The first Liffey Swim took place in 1920 and since then, hundreds of swimmers have signed up each year to take part in the historic race.
The event is the final race of the swimming season, which is made up of between 25 and 30 open water races, held during the summer months. While all ages and levels compete, swimmers must be a member of a club and have completed four races of the season to qualify for entry.
The 2.2km race begins at the Watling Street Bridge, near the Guinness Brewery, and swimmers pass landmarks such as the Four Courts and the Ha'Penny Bridge on the route, until reaching the finish line at the Sean O'Casey Bridge.
Ceall O'Dunlaing, Dublin Swimming Club men's captain, says that the Liffey Swim is one of the best races on the calendar.
"It's a surreal experience. When you go under the bridges it's dark and quiet and there are always the rumours of rats, but just to do it is to be part of history. It doesn't matter where you come in the race, it's great fun."
Dublin Swimming Club is Ireland's oldest swimming club. Founded in 1881, the club now has over 120 members and has produced Olympic and national champions. The club has both a men's and women's team as well as junior members, meaning members of all ages are welcome.
The club competes in pool galas as well as open water races, which take place in the sea, rivers and lakes. Training sessions take place in Sportsco in Ringsend, UCD and Swan Leisure in Rathmines.
Ceall says that the open water swimming season is a period when dedicated swimmers have little time for anything else.
"If you can imagine a load of golfers who can't play for nine months of the year until there's a three-month window - holidays are off and there are plenty of swimming widows and widowers during the time," he quips.
A competitive swimmer as a child, Ceall says that swimming took a back seat in his life for many years, until he joined the Dublin Swimming Club three years ago.
"I think what happened to me, happens to a lot of swimmers. You're training six days a week as a teenager and then when you hit your 20s and 30s you don't want to do it anymore. I feel much better that I am back swimming now though. I used to smoke and not live as healthily as I do now and it makes me look back and wonder why I ever stopped it."
For Ceall, swimming is much more than a way to keep fit, as he says it has helped him to deal with the pressures of life.
"I'm in my 40s and I feel that I can cope with life better when I am physically active and fit. Whatever gets thrown at you, whether it's young children or the stresses of work, your coping mechanisms are much better when you exercise. If I've had an unpleasant day at work, I get into the pool and do a tough training session. Then I feel completely refreshed and reinvigorated after."
For Stuart Moncrieff, the social aspect of joining a club has been important, as he has recently moved to Dublin from his native Edinburgh.
"The first thing I did when I moved here was join a swimming club as I thought it would be a good way of meeting people. It's a great support and you can share tips," he says. "I have always enjoyed the social side of swimming. I was a member of a club during university and there was a great social scene there too. The atmosphere among everyone when you have completed a swim is brilliant."
Having goals in mind and pushing himself is something that inspires Stuart. He recently came sixth in his first Irish open sea race and says that challenges, like the 100 FIT Days plan, are the perfect way to keep motivated.
"I always loved competitions when I was younger. Then I began to set myself different challenges and became involved in open water swimming. I started focusing on how far I could go rather than how fast. I like having a goal in mind and I have bigger ambitions on the horizon, such as doing the Channel Swim. I have also started doing triathlons to keep things interesting."
Coming from a family of swimmers, his parents met at a swimming club, Stuart is unable to remember a time when he didn't swim. He says that swimming is an essential part of his life.
"I find the fitness benefits of swimming are just a nice side-effect. I obviously swim to keep fit but for me, that is secondary. I swim because I enjoy it and because I don't feel like my week is complete without it. It feels like there is something missing when I haven't been swimming."
Sandra Trappe joined Dublin Swimming Club when she was 13. A swimmer since she was nine, Sandra was drawn to competitive swimming after winning a silver medal in a relay race when she was 11.
"Winning that medal led to my interest in competitions. I trained every morning before school to make sure that I was in with a chance of winning. I still love to compete and I have taken part in many events since then," she says.
Sandra has achieved a lot during her years of swimming, including winning the Dun Laoghaire Harbour race in 1990 and 1991 as well as winning the Ladies' Liffey Swim in 2003. She has also been involved in water polo and played competitive volleyball at a national and club level.
With so much training and dedication needed for her to be at her best, have there ever been times when it's been difficult to find the motivation to train?
"Sometimes I'm not in the mood to go training," she admits. "But I always find that the best medicine is to just go and the minute you are out the door and exercising, you feel better. I remember a few years ago I said to my mum that I wasn't in the mood for going training and she reminded me how great it was that I could still fit into the same clothes each year. Swimming is certainly good for that."
One of the challenges of 100 FIT Days is finding the time to exercise. Sandra says that training in the morning before work suits her best, as it helps to keep motivated during her session and for the rest of her day.
"If I go training before work then I know I only have a certain amount of time to complete it in, which keeps me focused. I find it very good mentally and it makes me feel better in my day, as well as saving me a trip to the gym."
Swimming in a club means that Sandra is able to continue to push herself to achieve her best.
"It's great to be still swimming competitively. There are masters' galas during the winter which mean I get to swim with my age group and see how I am doing with my times. There is a mix of ages in the club, and a great mix of men and women too, so I have a chance to keep up with the younger people as well and give them tips," she says.
Sandra says that the open sea swims are a chance for people to get to know each other a little better. "We could be standing around at the beach for a good hour or two chatting after the sea swims. It's really nice to be involved in something that you love which also has a good social side."
TRAINING AND NUTRITION TIPS FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE
My training: I train four times a week for 45 minutes at the moment and make sure to take it easy at the same time so that I have a balance.
My nutrition: I find that healthy, home-cooked food is more important than food that scientists recommend. I think that training and sleep is more important than nutrition.
My tips for 100 FIT Days: You'll have days where your training will go really well and others when you will wonder what went wrong - don't give up and just keep at it.
My training: I train six out of seven days and I try to fit in swimming, running and cycling as I am training for a triathlon
My nutrition: I eat more meat leading up to a race, as I feel it's what my muscles need. I prefer pasta to rice in the last week.
My tips for 100 FIT Days: I like to enter small events in the lead up to an event, such as doing a 5k and then a 10k race when training for a marathon.
My training: I go to the pool about four times a week, five if it's a good week.
My nutrition: I am conscious of eating the right foods but I'm not fanatical. I stick to the staples like meat and potatoes and I eat a lot of salads too.
My tips for 100 FIT Days: Always be open to trying something new, if you find that you don't like one exercise then try something else you do enjoy.
Health & Living