Several elements came together to help Sandycove develop as a base for marathon swimming. They are presented in no particular order as each one is seen as a critical element in the success of the program. Together they represent a critical mass of interest, participation, communication, encouragement and organization.
- 30 to 45 minutes drive for most – so 8am and 6pm swim times (in the summer when it is light) are possible.
- Eastern facing – so the major winds/swells from the West have little impact.
- Interesting – plants, fish, rocks and of course feral goats!
- As safe as possible while still giving exposure to the elements.
- Easy(ish) parking.
- A natural course –once you round the first corner you are emotionally committed (tight around the Island is 1,300m, wide about 1,800m slipway to slipway.
- Water temperatures range from 5.5°C to 17°C – so 12 month swimming is possible. Temperatures can vary by 4°C on every lap and typically it is colder than the English Channel.
- While there are a few jelly fish from time to time – there are no nasty lion’s manes.
Swimmers keep stepping forward to create and manage events and keep this “ad hoc” program moving forward.
Annual dates/times are published when groups swim (typically at high water) and for various local races and marathon swims.
(45 local marathoners) are very human, active and available.
Lots of training partners – many swimmers start out doing 1 hour stints to help Channel aspirants complete 6+ hours swims.
Local swimming events take place at distances from 1.1km to 16km in fresh and salt water in very different conditions. It allows the swimmers to step up their personal best distances constantly.
Two of the largest “open entry” (no membership required) open water swims in Ireland are local and help feed in a steady stream of recruits. In addition there is constant recruitment into the open water group. This was made possible by the generous help of the Lion’s Club.
Communication vehicles are in place: Twitter, Facebook, SPOT tracker, Google groups, regular mailings and fast email replies.
Wetsuit swimmers are VERY WELCOME and prizes in this category are given in major swims. 9 of the 19 English Channel solo swimmers started in wetsuits and moved to togs only for their marathon training and some have returned to wetsuits. It makes the first steps easier.
It is easy to start swimming. There is no fee – you just show up and stay inside the Island until your confidence and distances increase. New swimmers are VERY WELCOME.
There is a compelling atmosphere of setting and achieving personal best distance goals: fitter, further and faster. The group encourages and celebrates through applause and regular parties. Other swimmers “just enjoy” and they are recognized by inclusion in the 100+, 500+ and 1000+ lap clubs – with special caps.
Excellent swim coaches are available for private and group pool work. Coach Eilís Burns worked with 90% of the marathoners.
Volunteers keep appearing: kayakers, pilots with boats, timekeepers, etc.
There is a critical mass of Channel crew members who have swum it and been in a crew before. When the Sandycove swimmers arrive in Dover with their crews, they are very well prepared for not only the swim but for the 100+ critical decisions, preparations and actions required from a top performing crew. Swimmers and crew are more than happy to share their experience and knowledge.
Cork Distance Week (9 days – average 90k) and formal seminars on swimming the channel demystify it all and encourage new marathoners.
Local masters clubs are available along with a reasonable selection of 25m training pools for the winter.
A local list is kept of all 5k and above “expedition” swims – so swimmers can write themselves into the record book several times each summer. We also celebrate the C, D and M clubs – so 1,000 laps (Roman Numeral M) over one’s lifetime can be the goal!
Other Local Groups
Many “pods” of open water swimmers (Waterford, East Cork, Myrtleville, Schull and Lough Ine) are now active within 100 miles of Sandycove Island. They are feeding on the energy and knowledge at Sandycove Island and contributing new marathoners and providing new enthusiastic marathon aspirants.