Clocking up the metres as the mile draws close

It’s almost race day for our ‘Swim for a Mile’ challengers . . . and they are feeling a little nervous, but ready

Coach Peter Conway  reckons once you find your perfect pace, you can swim all day. Photograph: Getty Images

Coach Peter Conway reckons once you find your perfect pace, you can swim all day. Photograph: Getty Images


Laurence (no more excuses) Mackin

I was on a recent trip to Kinsale for a wedding lunch with friends who had got hitched abroad. (I can’t recommend this enough – all the good bits of a wedding, and none of the dull parts. And any day when you find yourself sipping a pint on the harbour outside the Bulman instead of being at your desk is a day when you have not a problem in the world.)

When making the booking, finding a local pool was paramount. This has become the conversation of late.

Like recovering addicts swapping stories of decent AA meetings around town, we’ve been swapping tips on places to swim around the country. With strangers it works even better, as it casually works your swimming status into the conversation.

They can usually tell already though, by the bang of smug/chlorine off you. I imagine this is how vegans ask about local restaurants.

At the wedding, I also slipped the swimming thing into any possible lull in the conversation (little tip: if we end up at a wedding together, sit anywhere else for the sake of your own sanity).

So much so that on day two, while the recovery was in full swing outside a local hostelry, I broke into a cold sweat of fear at how close D day was, and how much work I still had to do. So I powered straight off to the pool to bash out the lengths.

Away from the whip of Peter Conway (where does he buy those things? Horseware Ireland?) the experience was revelatory. Maybe it was the crippling hangover, maybe it was the burst of freedom, but I drifted through 40 lengths, bobbing along like a happy boat for the best part of an hour.

Out I popped and back to the pub, delighted with life.

Oh comeuppance, you weren’t long in coming. Back in Dublin, and with the full effect of a long weekend away on board, the effect was catastrophic. Our training session was torture; I could barely swim a stroke without gasping for breath. Everything was out of synch. I seem to have grown an anchor (it may be made of porter).

With the clock ticking, it’s back to racking up the sessions, getting the maximum of time in, and I think I’ve learned my lesson. No more training sessions down the country. They do things differently down there.

And now D day is upon us. The day of reckoning is at hand. The excuse well has run dry. Pray for Larry.

Orna (sleepless) Mulcahy

Not many more sleeps to the big swim, if only I could sleep. I was doing so well there for a while, swimming every day, sleeping like a log, muscles beginning to bulge in my upper arms, actually loving the water, feeling energised, if permanently starving. Then came a long weekend in New York. Drink. Pizza. Doughnuts. Sleeping five to a room and now jetlag.

It’s not how an elite athlete would prepare for a challenge but I’m not one, and the NY trip had been booked for months before I signed up for Swim for a Mile.

Believe me, I tried to be good. I schlepped downtown to a university pool where, rumour has it, if you talk nicely to the guys on the door they’ll let you in. I blabbed away about Swim Ireland and keeping up my training to no avail: the pool was closed for Easter. We went for a big Mexican instead. And brunches to beat the band and Easter eggs.

Back in training I struggled two full laps behind colleagues Malachy and Laurence and felt more water buffalo-like than usual. Coach Peter tells me to go at my own pace, and that’s even more humiliating.

The next session is only marginally better and I am still way behind. Still, looking on the bright side, we’re at the three-quarter mile mark now and next week it will all be over. “Rest and swim, rest and swim,” Peter tells us.

At this stage, he says, we should be swimming along nice and easy, as if we’re taking a walk in the park. I sort of get it. I’m not thrashing around as much and I’ve started to have normal, everyday thoughts while swimming up and down. And even though after each swim I have to sit in a darkened changing room for a while to calm down, I walk out feeling brilliant.

If you’d told me three months ago that I’d be happily standing around semi-naked with colleagues, or indeed using facilities where you might find anything in the toilets, including, yesterday, what looked like a heap of shaved back hair, I just wouldn’t have believed it.

I’ve become a swimming bore with friends, telling them to give up their anti-inflammatory drugs and get swimming.

If I can do this mile then, believe me, anyone can.

Rachel (finding her pace ) Collins

It all started when something clicked a couple of weeks ago. Not the usual “there goes my knee” click when I’m running; swimming has turned out to be a wonderfully injury-free way of exercising. No, the click came in the form of Peter Conway hollering, “slower . . . no, slower . . . no, slooooower”, at me from the side of the pool. In the space of one training session, the months of effort, the gallons of water swallowed, the lungs stretched to burning, the eyes blinded by contact lenses sloshing around in goggles, the knackered arms too sore to raise above my head, the frizzy chlorine-addled hair, and the hours and hours and goddamnit, so many hours of sploshing up and down the pool, all came together.

I found my perfect pace and everything slotted into place. Funny to think that going slower would make you go further.

It’s not that I was going fast. I certainly wasn’t giving Britta Stefan a run for her money (Stefan is the German powerhouse who holds the 50 metre freestyle world record.

She did it in 23.73 seconds, which is how long it takes me to fix my goggles at the start of a length. You can see her break the world record in 2009 on YouTube (

I was just going too fast for me. And once I slowed down, the lengths flew by. Peter reckons once you find your perfect pace, you can swim all day. Put your money where your mouth is, Conway, but I do see that it all becomes easier and, gasp, enjoyable.

So, I was finally ready to brave the 50 metre pool. It’s an intimidating sight, stretching out before you, beyond the horizon, into the next county (okay, I may be exaggerating, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s only double the 25 metre pool).

Swim for a Mile training has been a numbers game. We’ve been converting the mile into metres (1,600), dividing that into lengths (64 of the small pool, 32 of the big), taking away the metres you get from your kick off the wall (up 7 metres, if you give it welly) and then putting the whole thing into manageable chunks (400 metres, then a little break).

The first thing you realise with the 50 metre pool is that you’ve got half the number of kicks off the wall, which adds extra metres of swimming over the mile.

And those longer lengths do seem endless, but they give you time to think; how far we’ve progressed over the past couple of months; how each of us has surpassed our expectations; how if you’d told me three months ago I’d be swimming a mile this Thursday (in Trinity) and another on Friday (at the National Aquatic Centre), I’d have laughed in your face and pushed you into the pool; how I know only three lines of that pesky Kinks song and it’s now stuck on repeat in my head. Roll on Thursday.

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