As one of the original team from Toting Bec's South London
Swimming Club who put the Cold Water Swimming Championship's on the
map in 2007, this event is an absolute must for me. I swam
every Sunday through the winters of 2002, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the Lido
and still miss that great comradely and "sensation" when racing
there. Feeling the water's temperature fall slowly from
October to February is as much nerve racking as it is exhilarating,
but the times when it fell as low as 1 degree Centigrade are few
and far between. Sadly I never got the chance to break the
ice to swim at the Lido.
So when I jumped into the 1 degree water for my first race, I was genuinely shocked.....not just because I am not acclimatised like I used to be, but I was also entering unknown cold territory. I screamed with cold, my body tensed up......then the beeper started and the race (30m freestyle) had begun. With my arms pumping and legs doing a 6-beat kick, I was on my way. The water ahead had amazing clarity, I could see no one close to me. I had won but there was no time for hanging around. In one fluid motion I touched the wall and leapt out of the pool. My body felt like a stone standing on the side for 2 seconds before the blood starting returning to my body, and that incredible feeling started. The buzz is pretty post-coital in nature.
And this is the reason why cold water swimming is so addictive. Yes, I am a fully paid up member of the Nutter Club (along with lots of you reading this article) but a few of us get our kicks from freezing waters. The beer tent, hog roast, hot tubs, sauna and comradely all add to the experience. Oh, and reaching two finals (freestyle and "head-up" breaststroke) also help. What started in 2011 with five members of the Tri and Swimming Clubs going up to London has turned into 10. Tim Fraser from the swimming club scooped a gold and silver. Our two relay teams acquitted themselves well and we all had a superb day. Next time we might have to break the ice.........here's hoping!
"From outside looking in you cant understand it -from the inside looking out you cant explain it."
It is said that with cold water plunges the non-initiated can only stare and ask "why?" Well that's not really true I also was asking myself that in the run up to the Cold water championships. I was looking for any excuse to pull out but as I was not only entered for the freestyle I also had the joy of the relays so there was no way I could let my team mates down. With gritted teeth and grim determination I accepted that it was inevitable and actually started to look forward to it.
Ok that's a lie, the first time I did this event in 2011 I looked forward to it as I did not know what to expect, this time I knew exactly what was coming. The water temperature was somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees depending on where it was measured the distance was a width of the Tooting Bec lido (32-35m) in just speedos goggles and a hat.
The journey there was good fun I travelled with Matt and Jamie (we were also in the same relay team) we were also accompanied by some of the Marlins. We managed to stay off the hip flasks until nearly all the swimming was over, unfortunately Matt downed my hot mulled wine after one swim final while he was waiting for the next, I say unfortunately as he thought it was hot Ribena until he finished his gulp and then coughing spasam.
The rules state that you have to all drop into the water hold onto the edge with shoulders under the water and wait for the count down this felt like 5 mins but in reality 5 -10 sec's then off. There were some quality swimmers there who I think had the advantage of not spending so long in the water. 600 individual swims so it was quite a large meeting with some of the most eccentric people you will ever meet.
Anyway a great day with some bone chilling painful swims, would I do it again... Of course cant wait until 2014.
This week has been interesting; challenges at work, sleepless
nights with children, a house without heating, a sick wife, a
couple of trips to the Dentist (what kind of individual would
become a Dentist anyway?) a few swim and run sessions that pushed
the limits (the heavy meals beforehand were a mistake).
Regardless, life is now thoroughly enjoyable as the National
Cold Water Swimming Championships are out of the way.
There is absolutely no justification as to why. There is no need to jump into freezing (literally) water and swim about like a loon, however 600 of this nations "finest" disagree. The Eccentric Magnet that is Tooting Bec Lido was to put on a show - they came from everywhere, all taking pride in a bond created over sadomasochistic joy!
I often think that with sport you are given a bottle of pain to deal with as you see fit. Regardless of the competition, you should have an empty bottle by the end; be it a 400m swim, 10mile TT, Marathon, Ironman, Ultra, etc. Emptying the bottle in 20 odd seconds can be quite an eye opening experience, while using it up through anxiety before you start inevitably ends in grief. Having completely emptied the bottle, to find out the body wants to continue with jaw grinding grief is "un-fun"!
Like reaching blindly into your toiletry bag and feeling the sweet sensation of your Mac 3 razor lacerating your fingers, so it was to be, one race after the other until Jagermeister and Whiskey dulled the sensations and nullified the singing of the local hula ladies and their ode to the Lido.
Seriously though, I can't wait to do it again, it must be like childbirth!
"Make pain your friend and you will never be alone".