Posts Tagged ‘Cold water Swimming’

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The Seacliff beach hotel which overlooked the swim and hosted the presentation

There is an open water series of swims in my new adopted home and this was the first one. I was looking forward to competing even though my swimming has been a little poor of late. The event was a 1.6km (1 mile) sea swim. In past years it had been along the coast to a buoy near the jetty and back.

When we set out from hone the weather was looking a little unsettled. There had been storms over the last few days and the forecast for today wasn’t too promising. When we arrived, the sea looked a bit choppy and we were told that there quite a strong current running southward. It looked like my ideal conditions. The current would take me to the buoy and then I could fight my way against the wind and wave to the finish. It would also slow down some of the pool swimmers that only ever swim in flat calm.

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The conditions looked either good or bad depending on your view

After registering we went for a little pre-race nutrition or as it’s usually known a cup of hot chocolate and a walnut muffin. As we passed the time of day looking out to sea we noticed that the buoy near the jetty was being moved. What was going on. We could only speculate and all our speculations lead to one thing, the course was being changed.

The truth became known at the briefing. We would now be doing two loops, starting off against the current. I felt slightly cheated by this. I would have much preferred an out and back rather than loops. The rationale was that it would help the weaker swimmers complete the course. I had to reluctantly agree, not that I had a choice.

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Somewhere to hide from the wind

The water felt warm to me but others felt that it was nearly arctic. Water temperature is such a subjective thing. We all bobbed around in the water trying to find the idea starting position. I wanted the shortest route but I didn’t want to be caught up in the fast swimmer’s melee.

All of a sudden, we were off. I didn’t here a gun or hooter, there was just a fast surge forward. The swim was on. I started pushing against the current and climbing the waves. This was fun. This is what sea swimming is all about. Every now and then I looked up for the buoy and corrected my tendency to veer to the left. It took a while to get there but eventually I rounded the yellow blob. The sea conditions changed instantly. Now the current was pushing from the side but I was still climbing waves. The next buoy and the next turn came quickly. Now everything was pushing me down the beach. It made things far to easy. I felt relaxed and cruised down to the next buoy ready for the next lap.

The folly of my pre-race nutrition regime hit home a little way into the second loop. One moment I was happily fighting the current and climbing the waves, the next I had the taste of hot chocolate in my mouth. More worryingly I could feel little bit of walnuts as well. I had no desire to make this the first time I’d thrown up in the sea so I swallowed hard and concentrated on making progress. I now had the taste of salty hot chocolate and walnuts in my mouth. The harder a swam the more the feeling rose. It all disappeared as I rounded to buoy. The feeling passed, I felt relieved

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The finish, a good place to end.

The final leg went well, the weakening current pushed me all the way to the finish where the only hard decision to make was where to stop swimming and get to my feet. Despite the feeling of rising nausea I really enjoyed the swim. Hopefully the rest in the series will be just as enjoyable.

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A small cold aquatic playground

Sometime in the late autumn swimming in cold water was very appealing but now whilst standing on the Baltic coast looking at a makeshift outdoor swimming pool in Tallinn it felt very different. The water was about as cold as it could be before being solid. The air temperature was even colder. There was ice on the ground and the odd flurry of snow in the air. The reality was very different to the romantic notion of the autumn.

Cate and I had been cold water swimming throughout the British winter to acclimatise but we’d not really experienced water quite as cold. I’d entered the three freestyle events and the breaststroke whereas Cate had entered the fly, the breaststroke and the 50 free. Neither of us was really too sure what we had let ourselves into. The time had come to find out.

Day One

Day one started with the breaststroke and Cate was first. We arrived a little early and the place seemed deserted. Slowly as the time for the opening ceremony approached people drifted in from all over the place. I was expecting the sort of atmosphere that was present at the last event we were at, but that was not the case. I’m sure that the cold, snow and complete lack of shelter had something to do with that.

We found the British supporters at the side of the pool ready to cheer anyone from the UK. It was made up of all of the British competitors, their friends, lots of big flags and very loud voices. The aim was to make as much noise as possible whenever one of us was swimming. I may be biased but I think we were possibly the best cold water supporters in the world. We cheered Cate to a medal position in the 25 breaststroke.

There was a long gap to my attempt at the same distance. The snow had turned to rain and the rain had got into my down jacket to make it a cooling jacket rather than a warming one. The cold was getting to me and I’d yet to enter the water. I was shivering before I got changed; this was not a good state of affairs. Stripping down in a cold tent didn’t help the situation. I stood nervous and shivering by the tent entrance waiting for my heat to be called.

I stood at the poolside waiting to go. I was announced to the crowd and a big cheer. I was too cold to appreciate it. The announcer then instructed us in a thick East European accent to “Remove your clothes”. The cold air hit my skin. What the hell was I doing here, standing almost naked on the Baltic coast in the winter? I was not confident. My breaststroke is appalling. I’ve never been taught to do it properly, I just guessed, I don’t even practice my appalling technique. The announcer then told us to “Enter the water”. This was the moment of truth. I went down the ladder and felt the water. It grabbed at my very core and sent piercing shards of ice into my very soul. “Set!”, “Swim!”; I started across the pool with the icy water clawing at my skin, for the first two strokes I thrashed with my legs. It was not breaststroke. I calmed down a little and the legs came into the fold. My entire focus became getting to the other end and out of this frozen hell. I was last, I didn’t care, I’d completed the length and that was all I had to do. I hauled my cold body out of the water and into the icy wind. That’s when the cold hit.

I sat in a tub of tepid water hoping it would help but I just got colder. I shivered my way to the changing tent and decided that I would not be swimming the next event. It was the one I’d come to do but I didn’t care. I was not in the right frame of mind and body.

I got back to the hotel and after a few hours’ sleep I felt a lot better. Lack of sleep and cold are a deadly combination that lead to almost instant exhaustion. I can cope with one or the other but definitely not both.

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Day Two

I felt much more positive after a good night’s sleep in a warm room. I’d heard tales of yesterday’s two hundred meters freestyle and knew that I’d made the right decision not to take part. It sounded brutal. It was run in the dark and the water temperature had dipped lower.

Cate opened the account with an impressive swim to a medal position in the ice fly. The supporters club was on top form and cheered all the British girls to the end. I didn’t see the lads as I needed to get prepared for the 100 meter freestyle. I felt warm, I’m sure that the changing tent was warmer too. I got changed and then covered myself in a pair of fleece leggings, a robe and my down jacket. I felt the warmth of the clothes against my skin. This was so much better than yesterday. This time I felt ready. I knew what the water would be like, I knew how the marshaling worked, and I wasn’t cold. I was in a good place.

I have never received a cheer from the crowd before, let alone a cheer from wildly enthusiastic flag waving crowd that was standing on pool side. It made my heart fly. For the second time this weekend I was forcibly instructed to “Take off your clothes” and then “Enter the water”. This time the water was cold but not hostile; this was somewhere I’d been before. It didn’t hold any mystery.

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Cate and her WIN face

The first length was fast, the second was a little wobbly. The water was murky and there was no black line to follow. I was very aware of the lane ropes getting far too close. I nearly swam into the pool wall on the third length. The cold was starting to take its toll. The energy was being sucked from my limbs. I had a sneaky look round at the end of the third. I was definitely taking part rather than competing. The water turned to treacle on the fourth length, the energy seemed to drain from my limbs and the end of the pool seemed further away than ever. Eventually I reached the other side. I glanced up at the results to see that I’d swum a personal best. That made me happy.

I stayed in the hot tub for a long time. It was warmer today and I was expecting the after drop. Then I made my way to the sauna. The heat in there was so welcome. I sat there and breathed in the hot damp air, this was so much better. I was being warmed from the inside and the outside. It didn’t take long for normality to return.

I was there on poolside to cheer Cate to her third medal before heading off to get changed for the 50 free. This one held no mystery. I knew the ropes, I’d swum twice the distance, and I knew how to keep warm. This one was for the fun. I’d selected my brightest trunks for this race, it seemed only fair. I lapped up the whooping of the crowd. I felt it was a fast race and looking up I saw that yet again I’d scored a personal best. I beamed all the way to the hot tub and sauna.

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Two years ago I competed in the UK cold water championships; I entered every category I could with the reasoning that I would probably never do it again. That’s why, two years later I was back at the next running of the event. This time I’d persuaded a few others to join me the water was colder but it was just as much fun.

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My first event was the ninety meter freestyle. It doesn’t sound far but when the water is 1.5 degrees it makes it a long way. I was marshaled through the familiar stations around the pool before arriving at the pool side. There was a woman with a camera standing next to my lane. She asked me to give a reaction as I entered the water; I told her that that would not be a problem. Then she asked me not to swear. That, I said may be a problem.

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Normally I take a long time to get into cold water. I don’t find the whole process of getting wet that pleasurable. But this was a race and there was no time for the niceties. It was straight into the water or nothing. The cold hit me like an ice cube tied to an express train. The lady with the camera got her reaction. I started to doubt my ability to do this event. Then I had to duck under the water, more cold water pain, before the very quick countdown. The first width flashed by. I was in an end lane and could see everyone to my right. I appeared to be about level with everyone else. I turned and headed back across the pool. I may have even convinced myself that I was warming up. The water turned to cold slow flowing treacle on the third length. I just couldn’t keep up the speed. The cold clawed at every limb and held me in the water. I saw a few people streak ahead but my only concern was to finish. I wanted to be out of the icy hell and into some warmth.

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The next event was the thirty meter freestyle. After the ninety meter this was small beer. I had no doubts about completing this but I now knew exactly how cold the water was. The thought of entering it again was not that appealing. I felt smug that I had remembered to pack many pairs of swimming trunks. Slipping on cold and wet swimwear would not have enhanced the experience. The race was over in a flash, thirty meters is not a long way and there was a reward of hot Ribena and a dip in a hot tub at the end.

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The fun part of the event is the head up breast stroke. Some people take it seriously and race whilst others wear hats. My breaststroke is appalling so I chose to wear a hat. I should have spent some time decorating it but although I had the inclination I didn’t have the time. I left my battered old summer hat as is and swum wearing it. I came last but felt good for entering into the spirit of the event. I stayed a lot longer in the hot tub this time, the cold was starting to accumulate and no end of warm clothes was going to take the chill away

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There was a big gap between the individual events and the relays so I took advantage of the array of food stalls and stuffed my face with a pulled pork sandwich. It was a delight to stuff it down my throat. I followed it with a marvelous cup of hot chocolate that warmed some of the less accessible cold bits. We had decided on a relay team uniform, garish scale patterned tights, selected for there hideousness. I slipped into the changing rooms to put them on and then quickly covered them with jeans. These were not an item of clothing to be proud of.

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Our race was called and the four of us headed for the changing rooms, we all had the tights on under our clothes. I’d like to think that we emerged from the changing rooms at the same time to a chorus of whistles and cheers. The reality was a little more muted. We took our places on opposite sides of the pool. I went first and, in my mind, powered across the pool, Tom was next, this was his first experience of water this cold. Tim was next; he wore the hideous unicorn head we had bought to go with the outfit. This had the disadvantage of flopping over his eyes. He to a very unsteady line across the pool bumping on and off the lane ropes. Cate brought the hideous head back across the pool in a similar style. We all felt that we had swum the relay in the style that it should be done. We spent a long time in the sauna.

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Getting changed I discovered I’d lost my underpants. I had to suffer the annoyance of unshielded jeans on the walk to the station. It was somewhat uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I put my hand in my coat pocket that I remembered putting them there when I changed into the tights. The equilibrium returned to my life.

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Jubilee 1

Cate and I had entered the Jubilee river swim an while ago. We had decided to do it as a relay as it was a little more sociable. We also intended to do it without wetsuits. Cate does all of her swims without a wetsuit as she feels uncomfortable wearing one, I tend to waver between the two choosing to wear one or not depending on the water temperature and the length of the swim.

We arrived in plenty of time despite a few minor navigational errors and some guesswork. We had been placed in the third start group, this meant that we had a civilised start time. The registration process was very quick. This was probably due to the first two waves having already left and most other people being already registered. All that was left to do was to get changed and head for the double decker bus that would take us to the start. I felt decidedly under dressed when sitting on the bus surrounded by people wearing wetsuits.

The swim its self was split up into four sections, Cate decided that she would do the first and third sections leaving me the long second section and the short fourth section. This was fine by me, I like a long swim and it meant that I didn’t have to bob about in the water waiting to start.

After the safety briefing the 3rd wave shuffled into the water ready for the start. There were all the usual squeals and squeaks as the water reached the more sensitive parts. We had been told that the water was 15 degrees but that didn’t correlate with the volume coming from some people.

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Following the swimmers along the towpath

Once the swimmers were off the rest of us started following them down the towpath. We all had to be at the handover point before our swimmer but most of us were on photograph duty as well. Every bridge had supporters hanging over trying to take the perfect photo. If theirs were anything like mine than some of them will be sorely disappointed.

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Cate doing her stuff

I arrived at the changeover point about five minutes before Cate and set up camp. Then began the wait, watching each of the swimmers emerging from the water, any one in a wetsuit could be classified as “Not Cate” as well as any man not wearing a wet suit. This made the job of spotting her much easier. She emerged from the water looking cheerful and relaxed. She had obviously had a good swim; she thought that there was a reasonable current running. We swapped over the timing chip and I wandered along the path, wishing that I brought some flip flops to guard against the small stone, and started the long leg of the swim.

The water wasn’t as cold as I was expecting and after a few hundred meters I was up to my usual working temperature. As it was a river swim it would be very hard to get lost but I still have an inability to swim in a straight line so my usual technique is to try and keep the bank at the same distance away or to follow someone who looks like they going in a straighter line that me. This is a dangerous strategy as there is usually no way to tell at water level if someone is actually swimming in a straight line. It didn’t take long to settle into a nice rhythm, I went under a few long bridges, this was a little disconcerting at the water dropped noticeable in temperature and the gloom was a bit oppressive. I know that they were reasonable long as my watch started buzzing.

he faster swimmers form the group behind started coming thought about halfway through the leg. I could tell they were in a different wave as they had different coloured hats and some were taking no prisoners. I was a little unsettling to have all these people rush past after a period of relative serenity.

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Me and my colourful trunks doing our stuff

Near the end I started to feel a bit cold, the soles of my feet were chilly and I felt the tell-tale cold lines down my back and arms that meant I was coming up to the shivering point. I started wondering how far I had to go, I had lost track of time and had no grasp of any landmarks to gauge where I was. A quick look at my watch revealed that I only had five hundred meters to go, this knowledge lifted my sprits no end. Only ten minutes until I could grab a bite to eat and start warming up. Suddenly the row of yellow things ahead made sense that was the weir and the end of the leg.

Cate was there waiting, she grabbed the chip and left me to start grazing the selection of food at the aid station. They had just the right mix of chewy sweets, flapjacks, crisps and Jaffa cakes to satisfy my needs. I could have quite happily stayed there for a long time if it wasn’t for the fact that I needed to be at the next changeover before Cate and that I had a full and rapidly expanding bladder. I needed to find I secluded spot to fix that.

I got to the next changeover in plenty of time, enough time to take advantage of all of the goodies on offer. The next leg was reasonably short so I wasn’t too worried about being weighed down with cakes and biscuits. Cate arrived smiling and happy and then set me off on my way. This leg seemed to be over really quickly, it was shorter than one of my lunchtime swims and would have taken less time if I had followed the course of the river rather that zig-zagging down the river like a piece of demented flotsam. It wasn’t long before I was being helped out of the water and being handed a medal and a chocolate bar. At that point I was more interested in the chocolate bar.

We finished of the day by sitting in the field next to the car park devouring custard tarts and homemade Victoria sponge. It was the perfect way to round off a lovely swim.

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Got the medal and the hat

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Start one side, finish the other

I’ve seen the pictures and I’ve heard the stories so it was high time to do it. I headed south to swim through Durdle Door. The first problem was actually getting there. I’d not been there before but back in my climbing days I had visited both Swanage and Portland and it was in between the two. In the intervening years I’d forgotten quite what a long and torturous journey it was. Finally we started seeing the thatched roof prettiness of East and West Lulworth and we knew that the only obstacle left was to find the car park.

The walk down to the cove was fantastic, first we had views of the cove opposite and then slowly the rock arch of Durdle Door came into view. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it looked like every picture that I’d seen of it but I was.

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It Looks exactly like this

The initial plan was to swim under the arch and back to the beach. Now that we had actually arrived we could see that the arch was very close to the shore and the planned swim would be very short. An alternative plan was hatched. We would swim through the arch and on round to the next bay. That seemed like a much better idea.

The swim started with the usual squeaks and squeals but we soon got used to the temperature and headed off in the crystal clear water. As we neared the arch, the sea bed, coated in flora, came up to meet us. Though the arch the water was different. The rhythm of the waves changed, the colour was darker and the water was deeper. I felt a little exposed and tiny, groundless doubts creeped around the edges of my mind.

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A view from the other side just to prove that we swam through

A few strokes and we were off, navigation was easy, just follow the shore. There was no appreciable current but the water felt heavy and cool. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks? In the depths I saw one or two jellyfish lurking menacingly. My only experiences with jellyfish have been painful so prefer to see them from afar rather that up close and personal. It didn’t take long to settle into my stroke, push ideas of being stung or swept out to sea to the back of my mind and to start enjoying the swim, after all we had almost perfect conditions for this little adventure.

The water in the next bay was significantly warmer, although there were a few mystical cold spots. It seemed rather a shame that the swim was over so quickly, maybe we should have swum to Lulworth cove…

It was going to be a warm day and we fancied a little bit of history and adventure. The plan was hatched, a visit to Tooting Bec Lido followed by a trip to the Serpentine. Train tickets were bought, it was going to happen.

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The vast expanse of Tooting Lido from the viewpoint of someone eating cheesy chips

The last time I was at Tooting Lido was for the Cold Water Championships. Then it was a hustling hotbed of people. This time it was very different. There was a lovely lawn where the tents were and the water was a lot warmer. “It’s 17 degrees” we were informed by someone leaving the pool. That’s slightly warmer than the sea water we swam in the week before.

The one overwhelming feature of Tooting Lido is its length, it seems to go on forever. It makes twenty five meter pools seem claustrophobic and laughs at the inadequacy of fifty meter pools. It’s almost like wild swimming. If it wasn’t for the smell of chlorine and the bright blue it would be wild swimming. I can see why this is a training haven for long distance swimmers. I loved every length relishing the freedom of the pool and measuring the distance travelled by the number of coloured changing room doors I passed.

We celebrated a lovely swim with a plate of cheesy chips before tackling the underground to emerge in Hyde Park

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The vast expanse of the Serpentine Lido from the viewpoint of someone not too sure if it’s a duck toilet or not

The Serpentine Lido was a completely different experience. We approached via the manicured gardens of Hyde Park and then a stroll along the banks of the Serpentine. I’d heard the Serpentine being referred to as “a giant duck toilet” and there very certainly enough ducks and geese here to make that seem true.

Entering the Lido was like entering a secret world. The Lido is shielded from public gazes and is reached by going over a bridge to the water’s edge. No one is  going to be here by mistake. The Lido is actually a cordoned off bit of the lake. The buoys keep the boats out but not the two swans that were floating serenely on the water. The water wasn’t too cold but it could not be described as warm either. It was just like swimming in a lake because that was exactly what we were doing. There was weed on the bottom and the occasional duck bobbing about. This was open water swimming even though we were somewhat restricted by the buoys.

There was a down side, there are no warm showers, so there was no opportunity to wash after, unless you count the very cold shower on the shore. This shouldn’t be a problem but the maddening itching on the way home said otherwise.