Marathon in a Month is a fundraising initiative by the Irish Cancer Society to encourage typically inactive people to get out and about and walk/run/hike a marathon over the entire month of July.
During the Irish heatwave back in June, I thought it would be a really good idea to do a swim version. I might add this sort of challenge would not be suitable for a typically inactive open water swimmer. Growing up near the coast in Wexford, my parents’ greatest gift was a love of the sea, in particular, my mother who swam every day, rain, hail or shine. I put the feelers out in the local swim community and happily recruited four friends to join me on this journey, some also grieving from cancer loss, others just happy to give something back but each of us committed to swimming 26 miles, in the Irish Sea, during the month of July.
Not Entirely Selfless
Swimming this marathon in a month was not entirely selfless. I’d lost my second parent to cancer last summer and another friend earlier this year (not cancer) and what I’ve found is that grief is debilitating. It knocks your confidence and takes away your sense of joy making it almost impossible to enjoy the very things that will help you through the darker times. All year, I pulled back from the club, didn’t sign up for winter training and couldn’t bring myself to go swimming so when I heard about Marathon in a Month, I thought ‘that’ll get me back in the water’ and it did which was a fitting tribute to my parents.
So if you have been bereaved and think you just can’t face what you love, then sign up for some sort of challenge. You’ll get yourself back on the road to recovery while minding your physical and mental health and make some money for a charity.
Day In / Day Out
26 miles over 31 days gives an average of 1.3km swimming every day. I decided to tip along every day as days off would mean doubling or trebling the output which is fine for a once-off but not so cool when you’re managing old rowing injuries that need complete rest if aggravated, so little and often was the only way for me. I started off full of the joys, my first swim was on a gloriously sunny and calm Sunday morning on July 1st in Courtown, my favourite swimming spot. I was joined by our surf lifesaving coach and another Master, together we did a cool 1.6k around the buoys, only 25 more miles to go! Day 2 was not so joyful with high winds and waves throwing me around, I could only manage 800m having spent more time in the water. So it continued, on days off I’d prefer to start the day with an early swim before breakfast, when working or commuting it meant it hung over me all day until I finally got to the sea by 7 or 8 pm. Through our WhatsApp group, the team of 5 tried to get together or in groups at least twice per week and we followed each other’s progress through our charity pages.
After a day or two of swimming on the spot around day 11, I cornered a surfer/kayaker friend at dinner and got him to teach me to read the tides and winds and we were plain sailing from there – no longer man against nature, but with the currents. Some days we circled loops on smaller beaches like Ballymoney and Cahore harbour but I always prefer a good A to B with the slipway in Courtown to the Burrow or back, depending on the conditions, being my favourite.
I might add that somewhere mid-month, a stream of comments about jellyfish and seals, that started under a photo posted by one of the team members, turned into a full-blown ‘what lurks beneath’ discussion. I had nightmares that night. The following evening, I met Aodhagan for a swim in Courtown where we’d usually swim 200m out to the buoys and across. Well, I saw all sorts of shadows and ripples, I jerked and twitched my way to the 200m line and fear drove me back inshore where I completed the remaining kilometre practically in the surf. It took me a while to get back to myself although I still see the odd shadow. In fact, I came up with an idea for blackout goggles for other nervy swimmers, we could call them ‘sea en rose’ but they wouldn’t be great for sighting.
I set up the charity page in mid-June and had surpassed my target within 24 hours. Throughout the month, we got such amazing support – people who couldn’t commit to the full challenge joined us on our swims and we almost always met somebody who knew about it and wished us well. One morning, we met a woman on the beach and in the usual banter of ‘is it cold?’, we told her about our challenge. She burst out crying, told us her father is terminally ill with cancer and thanked us for our efforts, all we could say was ‘sorry’ and give her a hug. Although we didn’t envy her journey, it reminded us that we were doing the challenge for a very good reason, not just a crazy swimming challenge. Then I can’t underestimate how proud I am that together we raised over €5,000 purely from our charity pages. We were featured in the local newspaper and interviewed on national radio because we were the only swimmers among the 773 participants, they added the swimming activity to the charity page just for us. The Head of Fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society reckons we’ve started something and thinks more and more swimmers will sign up next year.
The Last Hoorah
We organised a final swim together to mark the completion of the challenge. We created a Facebook event and invited friends and families to join us for a final dip followed by some chips at the harbour, a very Irish thing to do. It lashed rain all day, it was cold and miserable. I drove straight from work presuming I’d be joined by just the other team members. We were astonished to see the car park almost full and the number of people getting kitted out in the rain – about 25 of us got in for a dip joined by a few on boards/craft. A few short speeches, some medals, and lavender crowns were donned and we were off to the chipper, happier, fitter and stronger than we’d been one month before and proud to have raised so much money for the Irish Cancer Society. Thanks to everyone for your amazing support and watch this space next July, it’ll be an annual thing now.