A mild dose of hypothermia? Into mile 21 of my outdoors and unheated @AspChannelSwim

Today I messed up. Not big time, but big enough time. It was drizzling when I got to the lido. I clocked the temperature gauge and joked with the manager that I was trying to kid myself there’s not a big drop between 11’C and 9’C.

‘Yes there flipping is. It’s COLD today.’

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I respect the lido lifeguard team, if they’re on duty they swim, come rain, snow ice and sun. So if they say it’s cold, it is. I like the way they clock who’s at the pool, they know the regulars and they ask after faces they don’t recognise. They are true life savers.

In I went. Instead of stinging, the water had a sharp burn-like edge to it. It wasn’t properly painful – that joy comes when the mercury is a little lower. We’d worked out I can complete the 22 mile Aspire challenge to swim the length of the English Channel with just 3 more swims of 16 lengths. If you’d like to sponsor me, and I’d be very grateful if you did, pop along to Just Giving. So I set out to do 10 and see how I felt. At 12 lengths I thought I’d go for 14, so I did a real spurt, then stupidly I thought I’d stay for just 2 more lengths, that’s another 120m. As I turned into the final length I did a wobble, something wasn’t right, but instead of powering to the side I carried on. I got to the end, had more trouble than normal getting into my flipflops and enveloped myself in the blue lined duvet aka Dryrobe.

In the changing room I could feel all wasn’t well. My lips were swelling, and when I tried to talk to another lady the words came out in the wrong order. Everything slowed down, I decided to take a selfie (muppet? yes).

A Grade Gold Star Overchilled Swimmer
A Grade Gold Star Overchilled Swimmer

I did another wobble on my bike and then cycled home faster than I have ever done. I got home and luckily everyone was in, so I was bundled up onto the sofa with blankets, hot water bottle and tea and then the double duvet. After 20 minutes the shivering had stopped and all was well in the world.

Lesson learned. At 9’C quit when you’re ahead. 20 minutes is 5 full minutes too long in the water. No matter how good the kit is that you put on afterwards once the body reaches a certain level of chill it needs many layers and much warmth.

Next layer - a full double duvet
Next layer – a full double duvet

In the meantime we have no hot water or heating at home. The cheery gas engineers came yesterday to install a new meter and give our appliances the once over. Apparently the fire’s flame is too high and too yellow, so they summoned the National Grid engineer who shut off all our gas at 6pm on Friday night. You can’t mess with carbon monoxide, but it would have been good if they’d disconnected just the fire. I didn’t realise it should’ve been serviced annually, so please learn from my mistake before you end up in a cold house in November. In theory our Knight in Shining Armour aka gas engineer will be here at 7pm tonight to do a service and reconnect us.

The illustrations in the gas safely leaflet seem rather apt so I’ll sign off with them – I did a good demo of the dizziness one today.

Gas safety leaflet graphics
Gas safety leaflet graphics

 

Ultimate solution for my cold water swimming – a humungous Dryrobe

Swimming in Crete the water was I think a steady 22’C. Back in reality in London the temperature at the lido is hovering around 11-12’C. Swimming in unheated waters under blue skies gives the biggest high, the rosiest glow and the most euphoric feelings, but it also heralds cold hands, even colder feet and the battle to get warm and get dressed as fast as possible. There comes a time when visits to the lido cease to be proper exercise and the value switches to a pure mental kick; I go there now solely endorphin rush. And because I can.

Sunday was a dull dank day. A post holiday in the sun kind of damp day with wispy bits of fog in the air. Not one of those glorious autumn days with sun streaming through the leaves. The water did not look enticing. Temperature was a steady 12’C. All the better then for trying out my new secret weapon against the cold – a giant Dryrobe. This is a piece of clothing, a hooded cloak, with a fleecey, wool-like lining which you put on the minute you get out.

I rolled the robe up and shoved it into a rucksack. A decent sized rucksack, so much so it looked a bit like I was embarking on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, complete of course with thermos and mug.

There’s nothing discrete about this as an item of clothing, it’s enormous, big enough to keep on and change underneath. I felt a bit of a wuss as I walked past the 20 or so swimmers – none of whom were sporting wetsuits – clutching my enormous robe.

I did my 20 lengths, got out of the water, as ever a bit wobbly slipping my feet into flipflops and then oh golly, I put it on and was completely enveloped by it. I realised as I put my trousers on that my back and shoulders were warm. No more avoiding the man spreaders in the sauna, clearly all I need is my trusty new piece of kit to warm me up.

The difference between my last two lido swims – and the past half dozen – is that when I left the lido building I was warm. No need for a jog, and no sign of chattering teeth. I left with such a spring in my step I started thinking of swimming through to December, into the New Year and beyond, safe in the knowledge my waterproof duvet would be waiting to envelope me poolside…

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The scene at lunchtime today – taken whilst sporting my new kit

 

The DryRobe was given to me very kindly by Simply Swim UK. They’d spotted I’m doing the Aspire Channel Swim and offered me a piece of kit to test drive. I’m particularly grateful to them for it as I embark on the last few miles – and lengths – of my challenge.

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Scores on the doors are heading South

 

A week in the sea – in Crete – with jammy dodgers for post swim breakfasts

Oh the excitement of returning to a holiday destination. When the almost teenager says, ‘Ah I can feel the relaxation’ as she stands at the door of the aircraft, looking out across the runway, after we land. There’s none of the trepidation – will they like it, what’ll the food be like – instead the utter delight and anticipation of the return. At the hotel we are welcomed as friends by the all Greek staff. ‘How you have grown you teenagers! What can we get you? Some pasta, a pizza?’ It’s 11pm and they stay on til we are fed.

Looking out from our rooms at the dark sky studded with stars, and the darker sea beneath which we can hear gently lapping at the sandy shore. Oh thank you Hotel Ammos. Now at last the children have their oh so coveted Instagramable views…. and we have the foreign escape without cooking or washing up that we’ve been counting down to for the past year. And the breakfasts we have been dreaming of.

Homemade jammy dodgers and a slice of cucumber for breakfast, anyone?
Homemade jammy dodgers and a slice of cucumber for breakfast, anyone?

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One night we swam in the sunset. It was like no other swim. The village was backlit by the rapidly descending sun, and floating on our backs, toes to the orange orb of the sun, our feet were silhouetted amidst an almost oily sheen of deep orange and burnt pink. On the shore the wet slopes of sand were on fire, illuminated in a deep amber before each frothy wave wiped the surface clean again. No phones, no photos, instead a memory etched into our brains.

Here I swam for me and not my Aspire Challenge. No more was I swimming to clock up the metres and miles, in the quest to swim the distance across the English Channel in aid of the spinal injury charity Aspire. Having said I’d do my distance outside, it seemed a bit wimpish to finish it off in the warm waters of the Med rather than in the chilly depths of the lido.

There’s a rocky outcrop to the side of the bay, perhaps a 45 minute round trip, so twice I swam and swam and swam out to it and back for breakfast. Other days the sea was choppy and we decamped to another bay where we swam across its glassy surface.

I’ve escaped into books. Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere – so apt to be reading about an every day Syrian family whose lives were utterly transformed by the advent of fighting, to learn of prejudice and injustices, and hardships of refugee camps – and then to go into the local town and see migrants busking and selling toys and to wonder where they had travelled from and about the lives they’d left behind. And then to disappear into the depths of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun. A book steeped at first in the buzz and furious pace of urban life and then in the wilds of the Orkneys, with snorkelling amongst seaweed, winds so strong caravans are tied down with concrete blocks, and enormous personal challenges. Lying on a beach in Crete it made me long for Mull, for Eigg and to return to our family’s, and my own, adventures there.

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As wave jumping replaced swimming, and the four of us played amidst the breakers in the warm drizzle, sometimes being swept up washing machine style in the waves, I realise we’re quitting Crete ahead. It has given us three magical half terms, dashing from the sea to the shower to the pool, spent in the water, stuck into books, sometimes into phones but also united around the table playing fiercely competitive games of cards. The bar’s been raised high as we start to look for another destination offering warmth, water, delicious food and a welcome as good as Hotel Ammos’s.

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As we departed from Crete we spotted a submarine in the waters beside the runway. Quite something eh.

Spot the submarine - soon to be joined by a tug
Spot the submarine – soon to be joined by a tug

19.5 miles on the milometer for my outdoors Aspire Channel Swim

11’C down goes the temperature and up goes the distance I’ve swum. 19.5 miles! So that leaves a mere 2.5 miles to swim in the unheated waters of Parliament Hill Lido.

I have embraced a new technique:

  1. Swim
  2. 3 minute sauna (during which my face starts to swell, I suppose a classic reaction to being immersed in cold and then seriously hot environments, it’s a bit disconcerting as lips come back to life but it does the trick in just 3 minutes)
  3. Fumbling change and cup of tea in the changing room
  4. Stumble / jog up and down and around the Heath for 20 minutes

    Parliament Hill Lido on Thursday
    Parliament Hill Lido on Thursday

During the jog feeling returns to my feet. On Thursday this all went very smoothly, and I felt rather smug as I got home fully warm and ready for the next part of the day. Yesterday, Friday, the air temperature was 11’C, not 15′ as the day before, and I felt a brand new sensation as I started off on my jog. My teeth were chattering, chatter chatter plod plod chatter chatter plod plod. I was wearing FOUR long sleeved layers, my woolly hat and gloves. I didn’t take a single layer off til I got home.

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But I felt AMAZING ALL DAY LONG and hey that was worth half a length trying to conquer the loud chimp in my head shouting ‘OMG IT’S COLD OMG YOU’RE MAD OMG THIS IS YOUR LAST TIME’.

I’m definitely going to crack this, it’s going to take more trips swimming shorter distances and longer and faster jogs to warm up afterwards. It’s going to be more of a challenge as I’ve a break from the lido, and then a change in working patterns, but hey I’ve the whole of November and a week of December to nail this.

I’d you’d like to sponsor me, perhaps £11 to match the temperature I’d be so grateful. I’m taking part in the Aspire charity swim to swim the distance across the English Channel in support of the work they do to help stroke victims. Thank you very much.

Light sifting through the trees on the way to the top of Parliament Hill
Light sifting through the trees on the way to the top of Parliament Hill

Man spreading in the lido sauna, giggling and clocking up metres on my Aspire Channel Swim

Tonight it is pouring, absolutely pouring with rain. But yesterday I went swimming with my friend. It’s the first time I’ve swum with a buddy at Parliament Hill during my Aspire Channel Swim and it was the best fun in ages. We were at uni together, where she played hockey to a very high standard and I rowed to a very low standard. Any swimming was confined to the City Baths, which were periodically flooded by the River Wear, or the pool at Durham School.

We arranged to meet at Parliament Hill Lido. She had travelled half way across London and I had 2 miles to cycle and was late (slow puncture + phone call + pedestrian speed cycling = poor excuses). I found her in the shower area, clad in swim suit, 2 swim hats, gazing up at the small radiant heater. Cue some giggling and a very quick change on my behalf, me thinking, it’s completely crazy to subject someone else to this but I can see we are going to have a very good morning.

She’d brought her wetsuit. So to suit-up or to ‘skins’ it? I lowered myself in, acknowledging and accepting and getting on with the cool temperature, and left her to make her own decision. In she got, out she got. Over she went to put her wetsuit on. Back she came, without wetsuit, and off we set together. We’d had a brief chat about it being a bit nippy, and agreed to get out if it started feeling warm. She is a Very Fit Athlete (ie hill running rather than pavement plodding). I am not. But I have added insulation, which she does not. We’d originally said we’d do a mile together, but with the water temperature at a notsohotso 12’C agreed we’d just see how we got on. We also agreed the swim would involve:

swim + sauna + cuppa tea in changing room + hot lunch in cafe

After a bit she said she was feeling a tad wobbly, so got out and went straight to the sauna. I swam a bit more, then started panicking about a) etiquette – is it ok to ditch your mate in the sauna whilst you swim, and not check they’re ok? b) distance still to be covered.

So I clocked up 16 lengths and jumped out and into the sauna. I have never set foot in the funny wooden structure by the water’s edge – more fool me eh. I opened the door and was met by a fine array of man spreaders, OMG, honestly! Much much worse than the tube I promise. And there right in the corner was my lovely friend. I took one look at her, another at the man spreaders, and started giggling, very loudly. She started talking, and giggling, about 19 to the dozen. I do not know what the man spreaders thought. I just thought they could have given us a bit more space so that my chilly thighs didn’t have to stick to her hot ones. After a lot more loud giggling I realised my neck was on fire, so we shot off to have our cuppa teas from my thermos.

If I’ve made you chortle at all please do think of donating – perhaps your #FirstFiver – to my challenge, thank you very much.

I’ve included the two short but very memorable swims at Clevedon Marine Lake and Portishead Lido in my Aspire Channel Swim total. Both of those involved giggling, mainly as we tried to execute some legs-in-the-air-like-we-don’t-care synchro swimming moves…

17.4 miles down – 4.6 to go!

Let me know if you know anyone doing their entire Aspire swim outdoors, so far I’ve discovered one lady who’s doing as much as she can outside

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Post swim reading on a sunny day last month with my 2 toning swim caps

Conquering 13’C and losing all feeling in my toes – swimming outside for Aspire

So today I took on Cold Water Swimming for the next stage of my Aspire Channel Swim Challenge. There’s a very big difference between swimming a mile or two in water that’s a balmy 21’C (1st September), 16′ (1st October) and water that’s hovering around 13’C, as it was today, but hey France is almost in sight.

Mid way through this challenge to swim the length of the Channel I decided to do it all outside. Before half term. Hmmm. That was when it was a bit warmer, when we were basking in our Indian Summer. Now the idea of doing a mile in rapidly cooling water 4 times a week is not quite so achievable, feasible or sensible.

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You have to pack a load more gear in your cycle swim pannier, and a whole different attitude when embracing water under 14’C. Cue adding an old favourite to my Winter Season Hat Collection. Yes, it’s a knitted number which my mum made for me to take on a Geography field trip some several decades ago. I asked for one which would show up if I attempted to climb Snowdon, and red was my favourite colour. I think I should dedicate this post to the football coach who clocked me with said hat + cycle helmet wedged onto my wet hair, and then looked a second time as he couldn’t quite believe someone could wear a hat like that, under a helmet… perhaps I should have asked him to sponsor me. Into the pannier goes the mug, tea bag, tiny milk jar and thermos for the essential post swim cuppa. In too goes the rash vest. I lost last year’s – durr – and the new one has the kind of snug fit you’d opt for if you wanted to minimise your bust. It does a good job at both warming me up and flattening my chest.

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Now to attitude. I know it’s going to be cold. I’m not stupid. But I also know I can manage this. Last winter I swam through in skins – so no wet suit, boots or gloves – til 6’C. I know I need to recognise the signs of hypothermia (slowing down, starting to feel nice and warm) and head out very sharply if they appear. So it’s a case of acknowledging, accepting, and getting on with it. It’s very much what Prof Steve Peters talks about in his book The Chimp Paradox.

I clocked up 20 lengths = 1.2km, not a mile, but a fair decent swim. I’ve ditched the post swim shower as warm ones make me cold, and cold ones don’t seem worth the effort, so it’s a swift stumble along to the cubicle to fumble with the thermos and my clothes. And then the reward of a post swim catch with fellow hardy swimmers under the glow of the electric heater.

I regained the feeling in my toes about an hour later, otherwise all was fine and I’m now up to 16.8 miles – every yard and metre of which has been swum outside – at Parliament Hill Lido – with guest swims at Portishead Lido and Clevedon Marine Lake.

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12 noon at Parliament Hill Lido, Hampstead Heath

 

 

Thank you to officials standing damp-legged & soggy-footed poolside at swimming galas

What is it that makes people become volunteers? What is it that nudges them into giving up their time? I’ve been mulling over this lots recently, as both parts of my swimming life (gala mum v lido user) need more of them.

Recently I spent the day at Southbury Road Leisure Centre, the venue of a Middlesex Swimming Winter Development Meet, aka swimming gala. There were probably about 30 of us all dressed in white and gathered in a room for the officials’ meeting before the racing began. The President of the London Region stood up after all the poolside tasks had been allocated and safety briefing given, and donned his special chains of office. (Think Mayoral chains with lots of gold and ceremony.) He wanted us to pause and thank the volunteers who had served the region for the past 5 or 10 years, attending galas at weekends, standing poolside, getting quite wet. Each long timer was presented with a certificate and a pin badge, and thanked.

These volunteers, in their 60s and 70s are people are giving back to a sport long after their own children have stopped competing. What makes them do it? Without them competitive swimming would grind to a halt. In hindsight this low key ceremony should have taken place poolside, in front of swimmers and parents.

I had a very long break from volunteering, ie from sixth form through to 18 months ago. A 20 year gap of not pulling my weight or putting anything back. Caused partly by not really knowing how the swimming system worked. Now I’m proud to be a fledgling volunteer and a trainee official.

As I see it, there are definite upsides to being an official:

  1. if you’re going to have to get up very early to drive a child to a gala you might as well keep yourself busy rather than slumping back into the car or in the spectator rows
  2. it gives you something genuinely useful to do; any parent or carer who says they can ‘work’ whilst at a gala is fibbing. It’s hot, noisy and uncomfie = not conducive to work
  3. if you do get a chance to sit down you don’t have to fight someone for a seat, you have one allocated poolside
  4. you get to know the rules even better than your child (and actually having to learn something in detail is quite fun, stretches the brain in a different way to daily life)
  5. it brings you closer to your competing child, you’re there down on the poolside, at their level, able to keep an eye on their heats
  6. you get a free meal – don’t scoff – it is a luxury to be given a meal that you haven’t thought about, shopped for, prepped, made, served and washed up. So the catering might not be cordon bleu, but hey how nice to have someone else do it for you. And meanwhile you’re not responsible for what the rest of the family eat at home.
  7. you get to give something back into the system, just as other parents officiated for your children so now it’s your turn to keep a watchful eye on a younger generation of aspiring competitors

I brought up the topic of volunteering at the National Lido Conference I attended last month. I want to find out more about volunteering; how to be a better volunteer, how to work with volunteers and how to persuade more people to take up volunteering. At the conference a man who runs an outdoor swimming lake said the most useful thing for him was to know what people could do, and what their limits are – it’s in no one’s interest to promise more than you can deliver.

I’d like to know what magic thing it is that prompts retired people like the officials I saw honoured today into carrying on joining in decades after their kids have grown up and left a sport. Thank you uber volunteers.