Saturday, 23 December 2017

Attempting to swim an Ice Mile is not for the faint hearted, that's for sure...

When Leon at Swimyourswim called me to ask if I’d like to attempt an Ice Mile this weekend I couldn’t have been happier. The water temperature was right, I’d already had my medical okay, and I’d been training and acclimatizing since the end of summer, so there was nothing stopping me and was prepared to take every step necessary to keep it that way. My unwell daughter’s cold was immediately elevated to highly contagious, acute influenza, which required complete bed rest in solitary confinement, until at least Saturday afternoon, and I asked Shark to call by with one of her medical face masks as an extra precaution.

The only person I told I was swimming was Shark, who immediately arrived at my house bearing gifts of “an inspiring read” (Sean Conway’s Hell and High Water- it’s fab) and some hand warmers (with sharks on them). Her instructions were “read this, and bring these with you!” I’m not too sure when I’m meant to get time to read it this week however, as the influenza ridden child has me at her beck and call (should never have given her the bell, but that’s what guilt does for you), and am literally run off my feet fetching hot chocolate after hot chocolate after hot chocolate that she could probably get for herself, however that would mean her coming out of her room. Not happening.

On the morning of the swim, after checking my bag for the billionth time (costume, goggles, hat, flask, nasty new fleecy lined shoe things, hand sanatiser, towels, extra socks, gloves, plasters, torch, hot water bottle, etc. all present and correct) I went to put my stuff in the back of Shark’s car (whilst she went for a nervous wee) to find there was little in the way of room, thanks to a huge cardboard box filled with medical paraphernalia. I was slightly concerned that it was there because she thought I wasn’t going to make it, however when quizzed, Shark came up with a plausible reason for this (been on a medical course… she is a nurse, I’ll buy it)… also, I have no idea how a long metal prodder looking thingy could possibly come in handy for an open water swim (or swimmer), or am I being very naïve?

The journey over was just lovely. Shark did a sterling job of trying to distract me from what was ahead talking about our previous swims, and how we had always managed to have an aeroplane flyby. When we swam Coniston it was a WW2 light bomber, and Windermere was a more modern military plane. Both were probably from nearby air displays, however I may have told a disbelieving Shark that I had organized them for us. Shark wondered if I would be so lucky today. I confidently told her I would be … (I know that the marina is actually on the flight path to the local airport and we are almost guaranteed to have one - probably a Jet2 aircraft full of holidaymakers, but a flyby is a flyby, right?). Without allowing me any room for thought Shark moved swiftly on to some suggestions of car entertainment, including Christmas karaoke in the style of Mariah Carey, at which I drew the line, and suggested a quieter and better use of our time like just sitting... I was overruled, and as a cynical individual I wasn’t too excited at the thought of this singing extravaganza, however by the forth song, I was transformed. Long live carpool Mariah Carey Christmas karaoke!

In what felt like no time we arrived at a very sunny Hatfield, but don’t be fooled by the sunshine, it was bitterly cold. The lake was completely still, and teeming with what looked like the beginning of a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film, and although I thankfully notice the absence of vultures, I did notice Nemesis out of the corner of my eye… with back up!

Inside I was briefed by Ally and Leon and told (in the loveliest way) that once I had put my toe in the water and until they had decided I was fit and well enough to leave afterwards, I was their responsibility and I was to do as I was told. We carefully went through all my stuff and how I had laid it out, at which point Ally suggested I ditch the underwear as it was far too faffy, and added that I could put it on later myself if I so desired, although added that she would bet good earned money on me actually returning home commando.

I waited in the clubhouse for what felt like an age, whist the safety team on the boat did some final checks and I was briefly all on my own with my thoughts (Shark had left me to do yet another nervous wee), feeling more determined than ever to be successful. I’d got this! I’d trained, habituised, acclimatized, my mindset was positive and I was in the best of hands. Ally came back in to tell me they were ready for me, and it was time to get undressed. Being Type A clumsy and all, disrobing should be done with extreme caution at all times, however in my haste I somehow managed to let my leg, one nasty shoe and my trousers (I hold the nasty shoe completely responsible) all caught up like spaghetti, no big deal, happens all the time, and I thought I’d styled it out quite well in a discreet way, until Shark saw me, ran across the room at neck breaking speed whilst yelling “man down, man down!” and grabbed an arm to break my fall, drawing the attention of pretty much everyone in the clubhouse, and possibly any one (or bird) within the vicinity. It didn't go unnoticed that they immediately took off and disappeared en-mass!

I had asked Leon and Ally not to tell me the temperature, just that it was under 5oc, I didn’t want to panic myself, and at the shoreline I was given one last reminder of the course, and set off with waves, cheers and lovely words of encouragement from my swim family. I followed my usual getting in routine, and then I was off. It takes me a good 200m to get into my stroke usually. I don’t tend to put my face fully into the water until this point (if I leave it till then I avoid the ice cream headache that comes with the cold), and today was no exception. I was finding my rhythm, and with the absence of aquatic livestock, who at this time of year descend to the bottom to rest for the winter where it’s warmer (yay!), I was able to focus, without having to worry about being startled by any of the water’s residents. Swimming was steady, and I had begun to relax in the knowledge that my toes were safe, although having said that, they were already numb, so actually if I had been bitten, there was a good chance I would have no idea until I thawed out… or indeed saw the blood and/or missing digit!

Confirming the temperature was well and truly baltic!

...just setting off.
I thought I had managed to leave my Nemesis at the other end of the marina, however out of the blue at the 500m buoy, I noticed it had arrived, flanked by two other swans. They seemed pretty close, and to be honest for a few seconds my mind was taken away from swimming and onto more pressing issues like questioning myself as to why had none of my cold water planning involved watching clips on YouTube entitled “how to survive being attacked by an army of swans.” From the boat Ray yelled all would be fine, and that the swans don’t like the dingy and wouldn’t come near. What Ray didn’t know was that during several previous encounters with swans they seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with my orange hat. I am not all that convinced that the dingy would fair all that well against a determined swan and hoped that there wouldn’t be a stand off mid swim. In my mind I began planning my escape, and took my eye off the ball (well, swans).  Suddenly, and rather quickly, they all took off (somehow Ray captured this), and although brief, it was something else; I could feel the breeze from their wings as they flew past and was a very welcome distraction, and a very beautiful moment.
Here's the clip of the flyover. It's at about 50 seconds that the magic happens
(I may be bigging it up somewhat).
And so with today’s flyover done (doesn’t always have to be a plane), it was back to the job in hand. I’d completed my first lap in an okay speed, however the second lap, despite more and more effort I just wasn’t moving very far. The water felt dense somehow and swimming quickly became difficult. It was unlikely at this late stage in the swim that any endorphins, that had eluded me so far, were going to arrive. I had to face facts, there would be no sudden rush of adrenalin and no euphoria. Throughout the swim I was continuously asking myself questions in my head (how I felt, any changes, can you feel your hands/feet) and felt I was able to answer (again in my head… I’m sure if I began saying random words during my swim they would have pulled me out almost straight away), so when Ray asked me how I was feeling (1,100m) I was shocked as when I went to answer him I realized the cold had affected me far greater than I thought. My words were slurred, and talking was difficult. I stupidly thought this was because my lips were cold (they were) and didn’t consider it to be coordination because in my head I was thinking clearly. Very quickly I was unable to keep a rhythm and catching my breath became really difficult. I knew at this point that my muscles were so cold that they weren’t functioning properly and my coordination had gone, and with the best will in the world would not be coming back, and despite wanting to carry on so badly, I knew I had to make the call to end the swim, and swam next to the boat to tell them I wanted to get out (turns out I’d only just beaten them to it, and they seconds from calling me in).

I have to be honest, I don’t recall anything of the boat ride, I think I was just so relieved to be out, and according to Shark it took four of them (huge thanks to them all) to lift me out of the boat. I choose to believe it took four because the boat is in fact really tiny and I got wedged in, and we will leave it there…

Back at the clubhouse the recovery felt really long (although I was assured by Ally that recovery is long, and that’s normal). The care from Ally and Shark was absolutely amazing (the jokes were less amazing). They really knew their stuff. I was dressed, draped in hot water bottles and encouraged to drink, walk about and was asked various questions (to check my recovery), and although I felt a mild detachment from all that was going on around me, I did manage to answer them all. I drifted in and out of listening to the conversations going on around me, preferring to focus on the Herculean task of getting the straw in my mouth and drinking without spilling, when out of nowhere arrived some Mars Bar (I will never eat Mars Bar again I don’t think). Someone (Claire) put some in my mouth, which I immediately (and I can’t believe I did) spat it out! According to a very disgruntled (and rightly so) Shark I also spat out her home made lemon drizzle loaf cake… very out of character, and very much apologized for since.

I’d like to use this opportunity now to let Ally know that the neck massage was amazing, and actually I may have taken advantage of your good nature by not completely revealing the exact moment that I felt tons better, which was probably way before I actually told you. This was because I was worried that if you stopped I would feel cold again and I didn’t want to interrupt your flow, AND, you were not only helping my recovery, but also other important health benefits including: helping my muscles to relax, improving my circulation, strengthening my immune system, reducing fatigue and relieving constipation (although in truth I’m not sure whether the last one is actually achieved through just a shoulder massage)… So I’m very sorry, and also very grateful. X

When I finally felt completely back to normal, the reality was that I hadn’t succeeded, and no matter how many fellow swimmers congratulated me regardless, and no matter how many told me swimming 1,250m in that temperature was an amazing thing to do, for me I’d still failed. I felt quite sad and teary. The car journey home was spent with me, between tears, quizzing Shark on the bits I’d missed, whilst she continued to check my pulse every fifteen minutes.  She had told me that when the boat came in she thought I was in big trouble as I was laid down, rather than sitting. I lied and told her that I had actually rolled into the rather tiny boat, and got stuck, hence the lying down bit. She then revealed to me that I had lost one of my new nasty shoes, and that despite a thorough search of the premises at the time, there was no clue as to its whereabouts. I told her I was very upset that she had been so careless with this timeless and iconic fashion statement piece, that will no doubt become a collectors piece of the future. She said there was no doubt it would turn up, and unfortunately it did, rather quickly as it happens, for who would willingly steal a nasty shoe like that anyway? I checked with her that I hadn’t had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction as I got out. I was so numb I would have had no clue if I had unknowingly revealed far too much of myself to the poor folks that lined the shoreline. I also checked that I hadn’t made any promises, or agreed to do anything stupid, legal, or indeed illegal, whilst I was recovering.

When I got home, and after a very long, hot soak in the bath, I began reflecting on the swim. Today I learnt that it wasn’t just about my strength of mind, it was also about how my body coped (thanks Karen for your wise words). Today I discovered where my limit is currently, and it's not at a mile yet, it's far from it. I've also learnt how I recover afterwards, and also know that if I want to carry on, I have to make more changes in order to progress. I can’t do anything about the water temperature, but I can do something about other element, including more acclimatizing, improving my fitness further (get faster) and probably spending the Christmas period high on a hefty dose or two (but probably more) of sugar in a bid to put a bit of extra weight on (oh the sacrifices!). Merry Christmas!

Before today I have swam in water as low as 6oc, and after every swim, once fully recovered, have felt elevated, lively and with a great sense of well being. It's exhilarating! We are all very different, and what I experienced today there will be some of you reading this that find this temperature and distance a breeze, but I'm not going to sugar coat it, for me today's swim was not only very challenging, it was also demanding, exhausting, harsh and by far the most difficult thing I've ever done (child birth excluded ... GWS). Added to this, the very lengthy recovery that followed was at times deeply unpleasant, uncomfortable and strenuous mixed with violent shivering and (I'm told) a few sweary words, and the remainder of the day spent on the sofa glued to my hot water bottle feeling fatigued and lacklustre and also very regretful of my decision to reject Shark's lemon drizzle cake! Despite all this, I'm far from put off. I cannot wait to get back in next week, not to try a mile, but to get in, swim a bit, embrace the cold, and enjoy a cappuccino and home made cake afterwards with my amazing swim family!

One more thing, I couldn’t finish without expressing how thankful I am to have been surrounded today by the most knowledgeable and experienced bunch at Swimyourswim, led by Leon, and if (it’s really only a matter of time really) I decide I’d like to have another stab at it, they are the guys that I trust the most to get me through it. What an amazing team! I’d also like to thank the great folks that I consider my swim family, who cheered me on, fed me and stayed well beyond they would have normally to check I was okay, oh, and if I did accidentally reveal all (or even a little something) to any of you, I’m truly sorry. X

Finally, to Shark, who supported me, stood freezing cold on the shoreline to make sure I was okay. She bought me hand warmers, inspirational books, dressed me, fed me, worried about me, cheered me on, yelled at me (all for the greater good), filled me hot water bottle up and drove me to Hatfield (a two hour round trip) whilst singing Mariah Carey Christmas songs to me at an ear piercing 120 decibels. All this without asking for a penny (well she hasn’t presented me with a bill as of yet.)! Thank you Shark, proving once again, without doubt that you are the best part of our swim buddy pair!

Finally, it's a year since I first began writing my little blog, which stared as a way of writing about my recovery, the training and the swim I did last year (Windermere one way). I have been amazed and overwhelmed at the amazing response, and lovely messages of support I have had. After I had completed the swim I was asked if I would consider putting last year’s journey into a book. Going from a blog to an e-book is something quite different, and a lot scarier, however I decided after a lot of consideration to take the plunge (no pun intended) and do it, and finally has now been published this week on Amazon. How amazing (but mostly scary) is that? I hope that for those of you that read it feel inspired to not only take on difficult challenges, but also to never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve what you set out to do.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere is available on Amazon

I also I have a "group" on Facebook. It's not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Open Water Woman

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