Beginning of Cork Distance Week

Cork Distance Week is a 9 day week based in Sandycove a few minutes from Kinsale, Ireland.  The mastermind behind it is renowned marathon swimmer – Ned Denison.  By invitation only – it is akin to marathon swimmers boot camp. Campers swim roughly 4-5 hours a day (over two sessions) in various locations throughout Cork – in the sea, in rivers DSCF1368and in lakes. The week is 9 days rather than 7 because “you never know when your marathon swim might end or how long it will take.”  As Ned explained to some English Channel aspirants…marathon swimming is really the only sport where, most times, you don’t know exactly where the finish line will be when you start.  Hence – a tough 9 day camp.

Matt and I arrived in Dublin on Thursday and spent our first day and night there.  We headed to Kinsale on Friday and had a lovely dinner with friends Anna Maria, Darius and Louise.  Ned and his partner joined us for dessert. Then we headed to another restaurant to meet some other distance week swimmers. The best part of these events is getting to meet and to know open water swimmers all over the world.

Saturday morning came and we were to be at Sandycove at 8:00 a.m. for introductions and toes in the water at 9:00.  There were about 50-60 people there – some participating in all of distance week and some local swimmers just there for a swim. Everyone shared their personal stories, successes and goals. I was a little concerned about the cold as the water was reported to be between 10 and 14 degrees Celcius (50-57 Fahrenheit) as you travel around Sandycove Island. The temperature differential around the island is quite amazing and swings about 5-10 degrees.

I was one of the last people in the water as I eased my way in. My friend Anna Maria helped, as did my new friend Angela who lives in Cork. She agreed to be my swim buddy around the island and gave me the great advice that it helps to dip your chest down into the water before plunging in. I always splash my face – but Angela’s trick worked and off we went after I caught my breath. It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated – I think because I froze-up pretty quickly. The water was rough as we came around the first corner of the imageisland and Angela stopped to make sure I was okay and to give me directions along the way. The water was in the low 50s, the wind was blowing about 25mph and it was a cloudy morning. Thankfully, we made it around the island having done a wide lap to be sure not to get pushed into the rocks by the wind and waves. It was great swim and I was glad to have my first lap under my belt.

Saturday afternoon we were off for a 8k swim across Loch Allua a little over an hour away from Kinsale.  We were shipped up to the start in the back of a box truck and off we went. The lake was fresh water, peaty and a clear brownish color. It was actually lovely and the water temperature a bit warmer around 58 -60 degrees Fahrenheit. There were reed beds and water lillies – and COWS! They were right by the side of the river at one point staring at all the swimmers going by. And – it poured down rain for the majority of the swim. A great way to start a week of swimming in Ireland. I completely regret that I didn’t take my camera with me to capture the cows and the rain.  I finished in about 2 hours and 20  minutes and swam in with friends Janet and Amanda. The swim was followed with a dinner at a lovely restaurant.

Sunday brought another windy and rainy morning and we had toes in the water at Sandycove at 8:00 a.m.  I found Angela and asked if she would be my swim buddy again and my friend Janet decided to swim with us. The swells coming around the first corner weren’t quite as high as Saturday morning – but it was pretty lumpy. I brought the camera along and the pictures don’t really show the extremity of the lumps. At the end of our swim, Angela’s 11 year old nephew was swimming inside the island for his first foray into swimming in the sea and we swam with him a bit. Another great morning. DSCF1378

Sunday afternoon brought the torture swim – and I will do a separate post about that later in the week.  Last night we had cake and dinner (yes – in that order :)) at Anna Maria and Darius’s house along with a number of other swimmers.  Great week so far!

We are off to swim in the Blackwater River in Fermoy this afternoon. It has been pouring rain today so the conditions going up the river should be rough but coming back down the river should be super fun!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The 2015 Season Begins

It has taken me quite awhile to write this post and I’ve wondered over the last few months exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. Tomorrow marks my 13th Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. It is now officially the start of the 2015 open water season for me. It is time for a post.

As many of you know, late last November, I broke my left wrist in four places as well as the scaphoid bone in my left hand. The break was bad and I had surgery two days later to have a metal plate and screws put into my wrist and a pin put into my scaphoid. And, so began my journey of recovery.IMG_0032

I spent many painful weeks and months after the surgery wondering how this injury was going to impact my swimming. And, quite frankly, it consumed me at times. The pain from the injury itself was nothing compared to my fear over how such a severe injury, to my arm no less, was going to impact my swimming. But, there was nothing to do but work on my wrist along with my amazing therapist Carrie and wait and see.

I got back in the water slowly and, in the beginning of March I tried to swim some while we were on vacation in Jamaica. But, something didn’t feel right – in my body or my head – and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

When I got back to pt, we realized that not only was my wrist still recovering, but my shoulder and my scapula had essentially locked up from having been immobilized for so long. We began working on that and I started to feel a little better in the water. But my stamina had atrophied along with my body. On many days I felt I was taking one step forward and two steps back.

During the last month or so, my body has started to come around, but, again, something didn’t feel quite right. This week, my dear friend Anna Maria sent me a message wishing me luck this weekend in the Bay Swim. And, what she said helped me put my finger on exactly what had been nagging at me. She said that she hoped my arm would get the business done this weekend – because she knew my head would. And, there it was – Anna Maria elegantly summed up in one sentence what I had been trying to figure out for months.

I read her message several times and realized what I had been feeling was a lack of confidence in my body – not in my head. Until Anna Maria’s message, I hadn’t really been able to separate the two things. She reminded me that my head didn’t break last November – my wrist did. Of course, when your body lets you down it does cause you to feel fragile in both body and spirit. But, I knew Anna Maria was right – my body may let me down this weekend (hopefully not) – but my head certainly won’t. I’ve swum across the Chesapeake 12 times before and it is like an old shoe. It is the perfect swim for me to tackle as I come out of this journey of recovery.

I’ve spent some time this morning thinking about my first Bay Swim as that was really where my open water journey started. I vividly remember during my first swim, stopping in the middle, putting my goggles up on my forehead and feeling like a Coke bottle in the current. I remember the water was “freezing” and I wore a wetsuit – despite the water
temperature being only in the low 60s. But mostly I remember the dark places I found myself in along the way and how my head got me through that swim. When I reached the other side – that was why I was proud of my accomplishment. My head got me through and my body had just been along for the ride. That is what keeps me coming back.

Despite my wrist, shoulder, scapula and stamina still not being quite right, I will stand on the beach at Sandy Point State Park tomorrow and look across to the other side of the Chesapeake Bay and know that, whatever happens along the way, my head will get me across. My body may let me down – and I hope it doesn’t – but, there is no way I will stop IMG_1711swimming because my head lets me down. I have spent many, many years training my head in addition to my body. My head hasn’t atrophied or broken. It is still as stubborn and motivated as ever.

So, thanks Anna Maria for helping me find my way back to me. I’ll let you know how it goes after I get to the other side.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

24 Hour Swim4RVA Video

Here’s a video from the 24 Hour Swim4RVA. It was a great event. Seven teams and a total of 87 people participated. Four teams swam in continuous relays for 12 hours. Two teams swam in continuous relays for 24 hours. And, I swam 24 miles in 24 hours (one mile at the top of each hour – 24 times). It was one of the hardest swims I have ever done!  At the end of 24 hours – we had covered 388,800 yards and raised $11,200 for SwimRVA’s Drownproof Richmond Campaign.

Many thanks to new and old friends for taking time to participate in this event and to raise money for such a worthy cause. In particular, thanks to Jay, Adam, Don and Jim for braving the full 24 hours. The wee hours were pretty brutal but made much more tolerable by your presence. Thanks to Molly, Amy and Chandra for companionship and support both in and out of the water. And, most of all – thanks to everyone for your donations.

Put it on your calendar for next year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

24 Hour Swim – Fundraiser

24 HOUR SWIM…From Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. to Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. I will be swimming 24 miles (in the pool this time). 24 miles in 24 hours to raise money to help teach people to swim!  At the top of every hour – I will swim a mile. Then, hop out of the pool, rest until the top of the next hour…and repeat.  Essentially – wash, rinse and repeat…24 times. My fundraising goal – $1200.  Please help me reach that goal.  Links to my donation page and information about the event are below.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cape Cod Bay Video

Here’s a video from my Cape Cod Bay swim.  What a great day it was!

Posted in Videos | 3 Comments

Cape Cod Bay Swim Report

From Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Association
“Courtney Paulk has finished her 20-mile solo crossing of Cape Cod Bay (P2P). Her unofficial time is 9:43:47. This shatters the previous solo record! Congratulations Courtney.”

I am so humbled and honored by this! I knew going into the swim that the fastest time was 10:22. Never in a million years did I ever think I would finish faster than that (certainly not under 10 hours). But the beauty of this sport is that you have to take what nature gives you – good or bad. And, thankfully, Cape Cod Bay was pretty kind to me! I got the benefit of a nice current and a relatively favorable wind. And, while it was pretty choppy for a good chunk in the middle and for the last three hours…I don’t mind swimming in the chop. All things being equal, I would never have been the fastest amongst the 6 others who have previously completed this swim. I truly was lucky number 7!

Many thanks and admiration for Greg O’Connor, David Barra, Janet Harris, Eileen Burke, Mo Siegel and the late Russell Chaffee for paving a trail for this swim. It is a beautiful swim and I hope many more people will experience it.

We started around 6:02 a.m. (a little later than expected).  The conditions were very clear and calm at the start, nearly flat.  But, pretty quickly after I started, the fog began to roll-in and almost enveloped us.  Visibility got down to less than a 1/4 mile in any direction. But, thankfully, as the sun got higher in the sky, the fog began to lift and burn off.  The seas turned a bit rough about 3 hours in and never really calmed down.  The wind was blowing from the south at points and south/southwest at others and I got the benefit of a big tide.  There were jellyfish at the start, and jellyfish throughout.  Thousands of them.  They were beautiful to watch doing their jellyfish thing.  They stayed with me for the entire swim.  Mostly, they were non-stinging jellyfish. Unfortunately, I did put my hands/fingers through many of them and I apologized in my head for causing what assumed to be their demise. I did get several stings from something. One down my suit, one on the left side of my neck, then one on the right.  They seemed more than just sea lice – but who knows.  I was just thankful that the stings lasted only about five minutes.

I found it ironic that the water’s surface was awash with wind and chop, yet the jellyfish below the surface were entirely unaffected by the turmoil above.  It seemed a bit like a metaphor for life – while there may be chaos around us, we can still be calm and settled inside.  Or, perhaps what is happening at the surface isn’t always what is happening underneath.  Obviously…LOTS of time to think big thoughts out there! 

While I had been a bit stressed about the recent great white shark sighting in Cape Cod Bay, once in the water I never really thought about whether they were out there.  I did have a very large shadow appear beneath me at one point and it certainly made me wonder.  Because of there had been quite a few recent sightings, we used a shark shield off the side of the kayaks.  The shark shield emits an electronic pulse that essentially bothers the Ampullae of Lorenzini in their snouts – although they have to get pretty close for it to have any impact.  I also knew of the shark-deterent wetsuit designs they are using in Australia.  Apparently, sharks see primarily in black/white.  As a result, wetsuits are being designed with black and white stripes.  There are also stickers for the bottoms of kayaks and surfboards with black/white stripes.  I decided it couldn’t hurt to put some dark zinc stripes on my legs.  I didn’t have black – but figured purple was close enough.  So, I applied on my legs some “war paint shark deterrent stripes” (now being referred to by my friends as Paulk Shark Marks).  I mean – what could it hurt!  After I jumped off the boat, the boat captain said to Matt, “You realize there was a shark sighted this week right where you just put your wife in the water.”  I’m VERY grateful he said that to Matt after I got in the water!

About 24 hours after my swim, we learned that two female kayakers were attacked by a great white within yards of where I started my swim.  While we had joked a bit after my swim (once we were safe) about sharks, this news report seemed to jolt us back into reality.  Would I have been safe without a shark shield or the Paulk Shark Marks – probably.  But, am I happy to have had the shark shield – yes.  I will never know if it actually deterred anything in the early morning hours off of White Horse Beach/Manomet near where those kayakers were attacked.  But, if it did, I’m happy for it.

All in all, the water conditions were beautiful.  It was in the upper 50s at the start, but warmed after about an hour to the low-mid 60s and it just kept climbing slowly throughout the day.  The sky was cloudless and the air temp was warm.  The wind was either coming from my right out of the south or from slightly behind me – which was a welcome change from the rest of my recent swims.  While the water is not as blue as in the Catalina Channel – it was a wonderful clear blue/green.  The crew saw several whales during the day.  And, there was a sailboat regatta off of Provincetown that made for quite a show.  Other than the jellyfish and the whales – I didn’t see any fish until the very end of the swim when I popped up and told Pat and Terry that I had a welcoming crowd of fish.

About 8-9 hours in, there was apparently a debate on the boat about whether to tell me that I had the chance to finish in under 10 hours and/or break the record.  While I don’t typically like to know how much farther I have to go, time, etc., Matt decided that it was best to tell me.  I didn’t have an exact sense of my time, but the crew had dropped several hints along the way that I was making speedy progress – so this didn’t come entirely as a shock.  Once I learned that it was truly a possibility, I kicked it into a higher gear (and was thankful that I still had a higher gear).  I increased my stroke rate so much that Matt actually stopped me to let me know what it was so I didn’t crash before I got to shore.  Pat and Terry were yelling for me to go.  Unlike some of my other swims, it was pretty exciting at the end!  I hit the beach and learned I had finished in under 10 hours and did a little dance on the beach.  Several people on the beach came over to congratulate me.  

While I have trained hard this year, I am typically one of the “slow swimmers” in the events that I do with others.  I finish in the middle or the back of the pack and I am always okay with that.  To me, open water swimming isn’t about winning, it is about the journey. It always has been.  So, to now have the record for the fastest time across Cape Cod Bay is a bit odd – but also pretty fun. I truly would have been okay if I had gotten the record for the slowest time across Cape Cod Bay.  But, to me, having the fastest time speaks to what is amazing about this sport and its relative unpredictability.  

Those of us who do these swims understand what it feels like to stand on shore and look out across a body of water where many times you can’t see the other side.  Standing on that shore there is excitement and anticipation.  There is concern about the unknown, about what lies beneath, of the water and air temperature, the wind and chop, the current/tide, and the ability of your body to handle the conditions and your feeds.  And you wonder, when you hit your dark places (because you will hit them) whether you will be able to work your way through them enough to allow you to continue on swimming.  But, despite all of that, we do these swims because of what it feels like to walk up onto that distant shore and turn around and look back having worked through the dark places and overcome all of the things that concerned us on the other side.  We found a way to put the left arm in the water, and then the right arm in, until we got to the other side. 

I could not have gotten across Cape Cod Bay without my amazing crew. Special, heartfelt thanks to fabulous kayakers Pat Kerrigan and Terry Lopatosky, outstanding crew members Amy Frick and Sarah Hunt, observer extraordinaire Elaine Kornbau Howley, and most of all to my wonderful and supportive husband Matt who tolerates my nonsense and makes me laugh.

What an amazing day!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments


Courtney has completed the P2P swim in 9 hours and 43 minutes!


Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments