(Cont’d from Part 1) Starting at the front of the crowd and off to the right, I had pretty clear water all round me – until a handful of us swam straight into a kayak, that was! It was a surreal experience seeing Damián Blaum next to me in the water for a short while. How often do we get to compete with the top athletes in any sport? As we rounded the first bend, I managed to draft off Esther Núñez for a few short minutes – I was very proud of myself, as you can imagine! At this point, I also realised that there was no more than half a dozen swimmers ahead of me so decided that I’d better swim properly…
Rounding the first corner of the swim. The calm conditions allowed us to cut close to the rocks as we would do in Sandycove… (Photograph: Marnaton)
Now, this writing business is becoming a bit tiresome (especially as it’s 1:30 am and I’m switching between tabs keeping an eye on Sylvain Estadieu swimming butterfly across the Channel) so I’m going to continue this post as substantially captioned pictures.
After the first long straight (of about 1,500 m) and passing over shallow rocks between a small islet and the mainland, we came to the first feed boat. Here, the helpers handed out cups of water. There were three of these stops, located at the 2 km, 4 km and 5 km marks. At the first stop, I noticed a handful of swimmers pass me so I decided not to stop at again! The change in position was good to release some of the heat trapped in my suit, though… (Photograph: Marnaton)
After the first feed stop, we crossed a wide bay. Navigation was made very easy by lots of support boats and kayaks on the left hand side and a large yellow marker (with a red balloon 20 m up in the air directly above it) at the next turn. I saw a few jellies on this stretch but didn’t pay much attention as I was more focussed on not falling behind the swimmers in front. Around the next headland, we stayed in shallower water and went between and island and the mainland. A kayaker led me between lane ropes marking the deep channels and, here, there was even a rope on the bottom marking the best line! This was a great feature of the swim as a swimmer could badly damage their suit of they didn’t have these guides… (Photograph: Marnaton)
The last feed boat at the 5 km mark flies the Marnaton logo and the flag of Catalonia. You could pretty much see the finish from here – time to change up a gear! (Photograph: Marnaton)
There was no excuse for missing the finish at this race: big yellow inflatable arch with crowds either side! (Photograph: Marnaton)
As I exited the water, I was faced with new challenge for me: running up the beach to the finish! I am not a runner by any definition, and even the 15 m run up from the water to the timing mats would present a challenge to me. In any case, I made it up the beach without falling or embarrassing myself… (Photograph: Marnaton)
I finished the swim in a time of 1:20:45, which was much faster than expected. My average pace throughout the race was 1:15 per 100 m. I struggle to hit that time in the pool, let alone turn around on it 65 times in a row, so I think that the current may have been taking about 0:10 off every 100 m. I was delighted to see that I actually finished in sixth place, and was only 7:11 behind Damián (who placed first) and 4:18 behind Esther (who placed fourth). Imagine that: only two places behind Esther Núñez! I was feeling very smug indeed entering the finishers’ area. Just after me was Miquel Suñer, who swam without a wetsuit. Only the week before, he swam 30+ km around the entire Cap de Creus peninsula!
Damián and I with the Fermoy flag in the finishers’ area. (Photograph: Donal O’Lochlainn)
Before I got a chance to take off my wetsuit, Esther alerted me to the fact that there was a couple calling me from the beach. The couple was Donal and Edna O’Lochlainn from Fermoy who were in Cadaqués on their holidays… Fermoy people: you just can’t escape them! They even had the Fermoy flag with them for the occasion so Damián and I had our picture taken with it. It was great to meet Donal and Edna at the event and very nice to have some local support. Mauricio and I met them again later that evening for a drink. Damián, Esther and I hung around in the finishers’ area for another while, meeting all of the swimmers that we had met at dinner the night before. The area was very well set up: the swimmers had a nice patch of beach to mill around in, there were chairs, showers and stands with lot’s of soft drinks, water and fruit. On your way out of the finishers’ area, you passed “baggage reclaim” where you picked up your things which had been transported from the start for you. In the plaza, there was also free recovery massages and even an inflatable medical centre! The whole setup was very impressive and great credit is due to the organisers for the effort that they put in. By the time we’d seen the results it was nearly midday and getting very hot, so it was time to cool off in the hotel pool before heading back for the presentation of the prizes at 1:00 pm.
My category was Male 18-29 and, as the fastest in the category was in the overall prizes, he was excluded from the category prizes so I found myself winning the category outright. I was not expecting that at all! I was particularly pleased when I saw the age range of the category and that there was actually over 50 swimmers in it… (Photograph: Mauricio Prieto)
Fastest three swimmers in both the male and female all-ages categories on the podium with some of the Marnaton team. (Photograph: Marnaton)
Right after the prizes we had a really nice lunch by the hotel pool. I was advised to try a local dish – a Catalan noodle paella – which I must say was really nice and hit the spot very nicely after the race! After, all that swimming, talking and eating, we were all exhausted so it was time for a siesta by the pool (there’s that pool again).
Cadaqués Sunset… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)
Before we ate yet again, there was some important business to attend to for the soccer fans and Catalans in the group: Barcelona were playing a match and it was imperative that we watched it. I wouldn’t normally watch soccer but I was getting the full Catalan experience so was looking forward to seeing how the locals followed their biggest sporting institution. To my surprise, everyone gathered in pubs and restaurants, sat and watched quietly. I was sure that there was probably more excitement about the very same match at home! The crowed did get a bit more lively during the next match though, where they relished in seeing Real Madrid fair poorly – I suppose it’s a bit like a Cork supporter sometimes appearing more anti-Kilkenny than pro-Cork in hurling. Anyway, enough about dry-land sports! At 10:00 pm, it was time to eat some more… There was another big crowd for dinner, this time including the race organiser, Miquel Rahola, and his wife, Irene, as well as David Campa and others. The dinner was tapas style and, yet again, the food was top class – as was the company, of course. By now, I was picking up some of the more basic Spanish and Catalan phrases – I promise to be able to speak some for next year! After dinner, it was time for the party…
From midnight to 3:00 am there was a great party in the plaza. It was great to meet Domingo and Macarena here, who were very keen to practise their English on me! We did have to shelter from rain in the beach bar for a while, which was unexpected… (Photograph: Owen O’Keefe)
That wasn’t the end of it, though! After the band stopped, the party continued into the streets of Cadaqués. The group eventually found our way into a tiny nightclub in the village where we stayed until 5:00 am when I was disgusted to have to leave to catch my bus back to Barcelona and fly home! Still, I’d had an absolutely amazing day and a half with brilliant people – a simply surreal experience.
Thanks a million to Mauricio for looking after me from start to finish. Thanks to Damián, Esther, Miquel and all my new swimming friends for their hospitality. Well done to Miquel, Pablo, Irene, David and the rest of the Marnaton team on organisation such a superb event. I can’t wait for next year!