Monday, 27 October 2014

cold water cult

While it is fun to be involved at the creation point of a cult, before it gathers momentum and becomes a national institution, it does mean that there are a few things that need to be ironed out first. Like embracing the cold. Mary posted on the fb submergathon page, a link to the outdoor water pursuits of a lady, Nell Frizzell who puts across the notion that is it more mind over matter about swimming through the winter in cold water outdoors and that she prefers not to bother with a wet suit, possibly because it inhibits the refreshing interface between herself and the enlivening waters. She describes a process of immersion where only a few seconds are required between going knee deep and then progressing to waist deep and so forth as if it is no different than entering an unusual restaurant or museum.

The article and photo are both very encouraging. It sounds and looks delightful and you may well think that's the sport for me this winter now it's too cold and dark to run. Hell, I'll while away the frosty evenings breaking the ice on the canal and using it as my own personal swimming pool. And what was I thinking struggling into that restrictive neoprene? If the only water you have lain in recently is a bath you may be in for a surprise.

I once took exercise with a semi feral family of hill runners, when one or 2 of them lived round this neck of the woods. They were very keen on vigorous sports and very competent at running, cycling and the like. The only thing I could do and they couldn't, was to stay in the sea for more than about 10mins. (In the days before wet suits.) Being fell runners they eshewed the insulation I carried like a ready made wet suit, that allows a body to remain in the Forth for 10.5 minutes before hypothermia sets in. Their teeth would be chattering after a couple of minutes. So it definitely helps to be a bit more David Walliams shape. 

Looking at the photo of Eskimo Nell, she would seem to be more porpoise than whale (unless like an iceberg there is so much more under the plimsoll line than above,) and so I don't think we can accuse her of maintaining a subcutaneous reserve of insulation. Generally women will have slightly more of this than men but again my experience is so far removed from her's that I am thinking it's more a mental imbalance than a physical one. Evidence? Paragraph 2: "The sea is a at its warmest in September, when the sun has been heating it all summer. It's at its coldest in April, so February temperatures can be a pleasant surprise."(WHAT?! Not in the North Sea unless the pleasant surprise is a bout of angina.) "You can wear a wet suit if it makes you feel more confident, but I prefer a swimsuit so my body is in contact with the cold water - once you get used to the temperature, it's a lovely experience. A wool hat over a swimming cap keeps your head warm, and the wetsuit gloves and slippers will protect your extremities." Yeah right, that's why the Forth in winter is hoaching like the Ganges with people bobbing about in their woolly hats. Where there is no sense, my mother used to say, there is no feeling. If it were just a question of determination I'm sure I wouldn't feel the cold so much, but this article is verging on the irresponsible. Which brings us back to Sunday and our own paltry immersion.

First we went for a recovery run. A handful of miles in a near hurricane wind. I have to admit to being a bit tired after the 33 miler the previous day. Not too stiff legged or unable to run but just in need of hot chocolate and something nice on the tv. But first, get the harshness done. Bad with the sandstorm behind, worse in your teeth. Head down and don't think about it. Back to the car for the struggle into the wet suit. This would take nearly longer than we stayed in the water. But it does block out the wind nicely. The penguin-like jog to the beach is the last time I will be properly warm for an hour or 2.

And then the moment of no return. Where are all the other swimmers? Why are so many people denying themselves this lovely experience? I am actually wearing one shoe. Having lost the other last week I feel it would be stupid to have 2 slightly-colder-more-prone-to-gravel-bruising feet than one, so I am trialing the lopsided look. My right foot is defo warmer. Which is not to say warm. Maybe the difference between the fridge and the freezer. I spend quite some time at waist depth reluctant to go in over the zip which starts at the small of my back. That and the neckline are the culprits for inviting in the bitterly chilly sea. I dunk my gloves in and wipe my face. My face sends urgent messages to my brain that it has submerged and if the collective we had any sense we would call it a day and retreat RIGHT NOW.

I swim. I am pretending to swim. I wished my goggles covered more of my face. Like a diving helmet. I accidentally swallow half a cup of sea. A couple of weeks ago I mistimed a breath and before I knew it, had consumed a good sized wineglass worth of raw sea. I felt sick for a couple of hours. I am really just waiting for Mary to conclude her lovely experience so we can both have a warm-up scamper along the beach while trying to shout with faces paralysed by the cold. She looks over to see if I am done. Yes sir!

Of course the worst is not over: there is still the grim business of peeling off the rubber with fumbly fingers and trying to pull on socks over corpse-like sandy damp toes while the wind blows a hooly through the open door of the car. I have been starving since about 5 minutes after we set off - the 30 miler taking its ransom - and am now nearly tearful with hunger. I cannot resist the siren call of Gullane Superfry and have to admit the best part of the day is the chip butty warm in my lap. I only do 1 or 2 of these a year but today I am at something of a low ebb. 

rescue remedy 
(easy on the salt - I've already had a month's worth of electrolytes today)

Oh dear. AGF has just posted a submergathon photo without wet suit, all be it not much swimming. I hope this isn't going to be a trend. It could be a long winter.

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