For some Covid lockdown has been the chance to try something new, something they wouldn't have had time for in the past. For ambitious, energetic, passionate and motivated sports announcer, presenter and event MC, Joanne Murphy, that "something new" has been sea swimming. She has kindly answered a few questions we had for her about sea swimming. If you want to feel inspired, read on!
How long have you been sea swimming?
I started sea swimming at the end of May/ early June of last year after we came out of the first lockdown. Some of my fellow Galway Tri Club members were regularly dipping at Ladies Beach (Salthill, Galway) early in the morning and I decided to dip my toes, literally in the water one day and haven’t looked back since. What started out as a distraction to the pandemic, a bit of fun and a social outlet over the Summer has now become part of my daily routine.
Previous to this I had rarely been in the sea over the last few years. I think the last time I was swimming regularly was when I was training for IRONMAN 70.3 Mallorca in 2017, note the word training, getting into the water in the wetsuit was almost a chore, something I had to do, to be able to complete the 1.9km swim on race day.
Looking back, I did enjoy it at the time but it was very structured, more of a training emphasis than a fun one. Sea swimming now is definitely more of a fun activity and there is no pressure, in fact one of the swimmers has coined the phrase ‘ this is a no ambition swim day’, I love those days. You get into the water to just be in the water. Whether that’s for a quick dip, a longer soak, a splash or a swim there is no pressure, just joy. You feel like a big kid laughing and messing in the water, it’s almost like our playground for adults.
What made you start?
Swimming was one of the only social outlets over the past year for meeting people, having fun and also doing something for myself every day. I started craving the sea and swimming. I was getting into the water twice a day on many days during the Summer. I was swimming so much I managed to clock up 20k for the month of August and was delighted with myself. The sea and swimming became my social outlet and my sanctuary, safe to say I am hooked, pardon the pun.
Over the course of the past few months a lovely crew of us formed a swimming group ‘ Blackrock Banter’ and we were lucky enough to be able to meet for swimming and a social outlet until just before Christmas. On days when you didn’t feel like swimming, or when it may have been cold, wet or damp outside the message coming into the group ‘ who is swimming today?’ would quickly motivate you to pack your bag and head to Salthill. The collective suffering (joking), the FOMO more likely was a huge motivator to get to the sea!
Since the level 5 restrictions have come into place we haven’t met as one group but we still have lots of fun and continue to support each other by sharing our swimming activities in our What’s App Group. I’ve never done so many handstands in the water than I’ve done in the past 6 months!
Added to that my sister took the plunge into the sea in late October and loved getting into the water and making a splash. Even on days when she has been reluctant to make the effort to go for a swim she has always enjoyed the post swim endorphins and continues to embrace and enjoy a splash or two every week since then, for me she is the true winter water warrior.
Do you ever miss a day?
Since the end of August I have only missed a handful of days, I think five in total. Every day I wake up the first plan of the day whilst having my breakfast is ‘ What time am I swimming today’. Once that is locked in I work the day around it in so far as possible. Some days I don’t want to swim, I get too comfy at home or I just can’t face the cold, but I never regret making the effort to gather up my gear and head to Salthill.
I have lived 2k from Salthill for over 16 years and this is the first time I have ever been drawn to the water. For me it almost feels like a reset button on the day, so the alarm goes off in the morning, I go about my day whatever that may entail, then getting into the sea is like a second alarm clock going off in the day.
When I get out of the water, I feel invigorated, energised and my head is clear. If I am writing something or working on something for the podcast and I get a mental block, I find the sea clears my head and gives me a fresh perspective. Not sure if that is the endorphins, the cold or the simply the power of the water, either way it’s become a huge part of my day every day.
I’ve also been taking part in the Walrus Challenge to swim 1k per month in skins from November to March. Some days it’s a splash and dash or a simple soak in the water after a hard bike training/ virtual racing session. Clocking up the swimming distance has kept me focused on getting into the sea every day even on days where I really just want to stay in bed and I’m delighted to be way over my swimming target each month.
Is there a community of sea swimmers?
Yes there is a wonderful community of sea swimmers not only here in Galway but all over the country. Each community has a multitude of pockets of swimmers within their groups. If you look at Salthill there are the obvious Blackrock Towers and her swimmers, there are also communities of swimmers along the beaches in Salthill and beyond, some overlap others stick to their own crew but the collective community is incredible.
Everyone looks out for each other, the knowing nod of a fellow swimmer walking the prom to warm up, or the ‘ how was it today’ to a random stranger as they exit the water… It’s brilliant! We didn’t see any ‘ Dryrobe Wars’ down here in Galway, in fact we saw the opposite with some new local companies setting up their water sports based businesses right here on the shores of Galway Bay; Blackrock Beachwear and Nug Changing Robe were big hits along with Luv2Swim and High Tide Galway who also set up during the pandemic.
We are very fortunate to have a very welcoming and diverse community of swimmers here in Galway. From the daily dippers to the sometime splashers, the magnificent mermaids to those who swim further than they walk on any given day.
There are lots of online groups too, filled with people sharing their adventures, their expertise and their joy of swimming. With such a huge increase in the number of people taking up the daily dip and swimming generally last year, the support and advice from some of the regular and long standing daily swimmers is invaluable.
What’s the coldest weather you have swam in?
I think the coldest day was in January it was 3.6 degrees in the water in Galway Bay, the air temp was way down too, we were walking on some frosty seaweed getting into the water. The cold water isn’t for everyone though and I had been swimming every day since the Summer so my body was acclimatised to the reducing temperatures as the days went on. On those colder days, they were definitely ‘no ambition swim days’
Do you think you’ll ever stop?
I hope not, although when I get back to work and the world starts to spin fully again ( sooner than later I hope), it will be difficult to maintain the daily dipping routine, but I expect my swimming togs and goggles will become a regular feature in my suitcase just like my runners!
What other activities are you involved in?
This quote for me sums up the last 11 months of life quite well ‘She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away she adjusted her sails’
The pandemic brought my work to a grinding halt back on 8th March 2020, that’s the last time I worked with a live audience at an event. I’ve picked up bits and pieces of virtual work over the past few months which has been super and I expect many of the virtual events or a hybrid style of events will continue into the future beyond Covid.
At the moment due to the restrictions around travel and training I am cycling regularly from the comfort of my kitchen on a turbo trainer. Between our weekly Zwift session that we host with PARC Tri and Team RWB and some regular racing with Team RWB and Triathlon Ireland it’s been great fun. I’ve loved meeting lots of new people albeit virtually and enjoyed getting fitter and stronger on the bike. I’ve also started back running a bit too and have set some goals for 2021 to keep the legs turning this year.
For me being able to embrace the sea, get back to some regular training and connect online with so many people has been a massive silver lining to Covid. We have increased our Tri Talking Sport podcast listenership hugely, embraced a weekly live Facebook Show and have some exciting plans for Tri Talking Sport generally to announce in the coming weeks.
At the start of the pandemic I really didn’t know what to do with myself or my business, it’s been a roller coaster of a ride and it’s not over yet. I do know though that trying to find fun in every day has made a massive difference to my mindset, seeking out a reason to smile and to achieve something in every day, however small has been hugely important.
Swimming in the sea has become more than just a daily activity, it is part of who I am now, I consider myself a swimmer and enjoy the social and community aspect of it as well as the many physical and mental well being benefits of daily dipping. The impact of covid on so many people has been immense, it’s hard to quantify how much the pandemic has, and will continue to affect people now and into the future. I hope this new found love of the sea will be a positive legacy for me and many other new swimmers and daily dippers for many years to come.
Thanks Joanne for teaching us all about the joys of sea swimming. Maybe the Nuasan team might even join you when restrictions allow us to (hopefully it will be a little warmer then!).
Nuasan is a range of natural bodycare products specifically tailored for sports and active people. Learn more and check out the range here!