The big guns are kept for the final day at the Camlough Lake Water Festival. After a morning of shorter swims for the kids and sprinters the weekend’s final events are the 5k & 10k swims on Sunday afternoon. The race is open to skins and wetsuit swimmers from all over but also incorporates the Ulster Championships.
Many of the participants had also taken part in the previous evening’s Lord and Lady of the Lake event, a 2.7km swim, so everyone was aware of the competition and used to the course – unfortunately there was no longer any edge to be gained from my local knowledge.
The weather and water conditions were perfect. After the horrendous downpours through the night and morning the lake was flat calm and the rain had stayed away.
For the start of the 10k there was a lot of banter as local swimmer and defending title holder Bill Donnelly was nowhere to be seen. Ian Conroy even checked behind the registration marquee to see if he was going to make a dramatic last minute entry. Bill did not show for the 10k but did appear for the 5k this year.
The 10k started with five swimmers in a mix of skins and wetsuits, some tackling the 10k distance for the first time ever. Many 5k participants turned up early to cheer them on their way.
The course was a 2.5k loop – four laps for the 10k swimmers and two laps for the 5k, with a feeding station near the start line to allow the spectators to roar encouragement.
The crowds began to build as 50-plus swimmers in skins and suits were registered for the 5k. Many were the same line up from the Lord & Lady of the Lake swim of the night before and there were some very strong junior and seniors from Limerick, Dublin and Belfast. Gone are the days when the CLWF weekend was primarily local swimmers. It is great to see such high calibre swimmers in attendance. The slipway was full of nervous excitement as the competitors eyed each other up and pointed out lines to take on the course.
The event briefing was held by Padraig Mallon who explained the course, safety and rules for the skins swimmers. There were a few giggles when he declared all wetsuit swimmers cheaters. We were then counted into the water by the safety team and made our way to the start line. Scanning the start I could see two strong juniors from Limerick and Olive Conroy shoulder to shoulder on my right and just a small stretch to my left was John Callaghan and some of the strong Belfast swimmers.
Three, two, one and the claxon sounded the start. It was a very short distance to the first buoy and there was a fight for clear water. On several occasions I felt the force of a full body on top of mine, my hands connected with people’s head and shoulders as I desperately tried to take my next stroke. People were colliding with me and on a breath to the right I could see four swimmers shoulder to shoulder with me with no clear water in between. It was the same on both sides and I then decided to take a slightly wider angle around the buoy in order to not get tangled up in a sea of bodies. I think it was a good move as it looked like mayhem in there and I was also able to conserve some energy in the clear water slightly to the right.
The next buoy was approximately 500m away and over the distance the pack started to find its groove There were four to five people out in front that included the young swimmer from Limerick and then a second pack that I was in that included another junior skins swimmer.
The pace was strong but had settled from the initial panic. We still bumped shoulders occasionally but it was easy to find clear water. As we neared the next buoy cramp struck in my foot and a quick stop to massage it cost me a couple of places, but I quickly got back on track – unfortunately two of the pack had moved ahead of the other three. We picked off a couple of wetsuit swimmers who perhaps started too fast and were now slowing. I picked my line down the length of the lake and settled into my stroke. We were now a pack of three. It was steady swimming as we headed down the lake. As I turned the buoy at the far end I decided to try and up my pace a little and found myself getting into clear water.The water conditions were perfect with hardly a ripple and I settled down and started to enjoy the swim.
Half way back on the first lap I passed Michelle Brooker who was competing in her first ever 10k and waved some encouragement as I passed. I then took a tight line to the shore to round the 2.5k mark near the start line and headed back up the lake. I could see the lead pack heading back around and knew there was no chance of catching up. As I rounded the 2.5k marker I could see the other two that were behind me and I was starting to break clear. I decided to stick with the same pace as this should allow me to slowly pull away further. As I headed back down to the corner buoy I could see a big pack of 10-15 swimmers that had both wetsuits and skins. It looked like they were having a good race, no doubt pushing each other on.I managed to maintain my pace for the remainder of the race and came home first male skins and crowned Ulster 5k winner.
A satisfying result on the anniversary day of my English Channel solo swim despite a lack of training!When I got back the other competitors told me that the lead pack was very competitive with an exciting finish. All agreed that the event was a great success and enjoyed by all.
Junior Male – 1st Lui Hurson (Fastest overall) / 2nd Isaac Fitzmaurice / 3rd Jack Bingham
Junior Female – 1st Ciara Doran / 2nd Eadoin O’Raw / 3rd Olive Conroy
Male Adult Skins – 1st Keith Garry (Ulster Champion) / Sean Campbell / John McConnell
Female Adult Skins – 1st Annette Cullen / Brigeen Mallon (Ulster Champion) / Gillian McShane
Male Adult Wetsuit – 1st Ruairi Hurson / 2nd John Callaghan / 3rd Conor Fabb
Female Adult Wetsuit – 1st Laura Wylie / 2nd Julie Murphy / 3rd Maria Byrne
1st Doireann Barnicle – Wetsuit
2nd Jeff McCormick – Skins
3rd Michelle Brooker – Wetsuit
4th Mark Lynch – Skins
5th Nicholas McCabe – Wetsuit
What a great weekend of open water swimming as I gained the title of Ulster Champion and Lord of the Lake as well as being a buddy swimmer for my seven and eight year-old boys in their first ever aquathon and junior Try a Tri.
Other events that the CLWF team hosted over the weekend included a night swim with over 100 people taking part, Ireland’s only Open Water Waterpolo and a series of junior and sprint distances.
Thanks to Infinity Channel Swimming for sponsoring the 10k, Chillswim for providing some prizes, M&M Services for rigging up the temporary hot showers that were a welcome sight all weekend and of course the CLWF committee and volunteers.