Posts Tagged ‘Pirita Open 2017’

tallinn (2)

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.

tallinn (1)

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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.

tallinn (4)

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.

tallinn