On the 1st of June 2019, Alan Corcoran will attempt to swim the length of Ireland for the second time: that’s 500km from the Giant’s Causeway to the shore of Tramore in County Waterford. His first attempt was borne out of the shock of grief; it ended with a sinking support boat and the shock of cold water. This time, he has quit his job, bought a boat and he’s not stopping until he crosses the line.
In 2012, aged 21, I became the first person to run a lap of Ireland. This consisted of running 35 marathons (26.2 miles) in 35 consecutive days. As you’d expect, it was a joint-punishing slog, but in the grand scheme of things it went surprisingly well. I raised €15,000 for my chosen charities and kept the marathons between 4.5 and 6.5 hours, with my first and last marathons being my quickest.
However, this challenge felt like a walk in the park compared to my next fundraiser event: trying to swim the length of Ireland. Inspired by stories of Eddie Izzard, Terry Fox and Sean Conway, I had the concepts for these adventures in my head. But it took some unfortunate events in my life to make me actually go after them.
In 2011, my dad Milo (the former President of the Football Association of Ireland) suffered a stroke at the age of just 60. He worked extremely hard to make an impressive recovery from a bedridden state to regain his independence. You could only admire the effort he made to relearn how to walk, speak and drive again; all things we tend to take for granted in our day-to-day lives. It was really something quite special sharing with him my lap of Ireland fundraiser concept, with funds going towards the rehabilitation hospital he attended and the nation’s stroke charity, The Irish Heart Foundation. It was equally enjoyable and memorable having his support during the planning of the challenge, including a long recce road trip and having both my parents company at points along the 1,500km route.
I remember being sat by the sea on my own and crying when I realised the attempt was finished. It was difficult to take initially, but I quickly found peace in knowing I tried to succeed to the best of my ability. Failure is inevitable, but there can only truly be regrets when you don’t try your best.
After the success of the run, I got on with normal life. I completed my studies, was unemployed in post-crash Ireland, then worked for free until I eventually secured a job as a town planner in London. No sooner after I achieved relative success in having job security and being independent, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, flipping my world upside down. Three excruciating weeks later, he died before my eyes, with nothing my family or I could do but be there for him. Hating that feeling of helplessness and wanting to create some positives out of the hardship, I decided to take up swimming and try to swim the length of Ireland the following summer in my dad’s memory.
That swim attempt failed just over 200km in when my support RIB sank and I was left utilising the support of a local fisherman and his boat. I remember being sat by the sea on my own and crying when I realised the attempt was finished. It was difficult to take initially, but I quickly found peace in knowing I tried to succeed to the best of my ability. Failure is inevitable, but there can only truly be regrets when you don’t try your best.
Drawing a line under my 2017 failure didn’t sit right with me. I felt I gained too much experience on the first attempt not to try again, so I’ve taken out a bank loan, invested in a 32’ support boat and will be going back to the start line of the Giant’s Causeway on the 1st of June to achieve what I had set out to do two years ago.
Preparation wise, the pool work is much the same. I’m not starting from scratch with my technique and endurance this time so the only change is making those longer swims that bit longer. Initially I combined two-hour pool sessions with swims in the Serpentine and at the Royal Docklands. Over time, that built up to two two-hour sessions a day and one 10-15km swim a week. I plan to swim six hours a day and complete the challenge in 30 days.
A naive oversight the first time around was the effects of cold water on the body. This time I will be getting a slightly thicker wetsuit for sure, but I think more importantly I’ll be spending much more time with and without the wetsuit in cold water in advance. There are enough difficulties during the challenge without trying to deal with the brunt of cold shock, so by spending this time in cold water it should reduce that physiological response.
I’ve taken out a bank loan, invested in a 32’ support boat and will be going back to the start line of the Giant’s Causeway on the 1st of June to achieve what I had set out to do two years ago.
I’m also quitting my job this time around to get more time in the sea before the event, as the thousands of pool lengths can’t prepare you for the wildness of the waves and the havoc that plays on your technique. That combination of cold and waves makes it feel much less swimming and more surviving. The decision to quit work means I also avoid a deadline if things don’t go smoothly. In that sense I feel I’m truly all in this time. As long as it takes is as long as it takes.