Return to cold water daze

One year later… only 10 weeks to go.

Once again it was a beautiful Indian Summer ANZAC day in Sydney when we flew into Melbourne for yet another weekend of fun in the cold waters of Port Phillip Bay. More people this time… can’t recall the exact number of adventurers, but I think it was around 20: dedicated Vladswimmers and 4 Queenslanders trying to find open water below 25 degrees! All aspiring to cross some large cold body of water: mostly English Channel, but one Catalina Channel (Lochie) and Colleen who is crazy enough to cross the Irish Sea!

Much the same as 2013, I whinged, I shivered and I shrivelled, but in contrast to last year, there were fewer laughs on the big Saturday swim… in fact, no laughs: goggles, but no giggles.

Thursday was relatively easy: a 90 minute afternoon swim followed by a one hour dark swim. On this and Friday, where we did a 3 hour morning swim followed by a 90 minute afternoon swim, I was pretty convinced that the water temperature was warmer than in 2013. Near glassy conditions and warm sunlight lulled us into a sense of security. Pushed myself quite hard on Friday… was aware of the cold, but loved it!

This year we were consenting lab rats in an experiment by Tara Diversi, dietician and channel swimmer. In the previous week we had undergone DEXA body composition analyses and I was quite perturbed to find out that while I’d gained a few kilos of lean mass since my last test in December I’d also lost 4% body fat. Which got me worried about cold water. ┬áDuring the cold water camp, we provided multiple samples of urine and blood and also had sequential core body temperature recordings during our big swim through the wonder of ingestible thermometers. This will provide a lot of data that should inform the final weeks of training and weight gain, so I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of science.

Saturday’s swim started early and dark, at 6 am… the weather had deteriorated overnight: overcast with a NW wind that started out about 20 kmh increasing to 30-35 kmh through the morning. I think the water temperature had dropped overnight and this, in addition to the wind chill led to 8 cold, miserable, boring hours! I think the channel will be different: a start, 12-15 hours in the middle then the finish. Swimming on the same circuit until someone tells you that you can stop does things to your head! The first few hours involved loops of the marina, with progressively difficult conditions as the wind rose until it was senseless disorienting shop and it was deemed unsafe to continue and we moved to a shorter, more protected, but colder route.

Far tougher than last year: although at no point did I think I would ask to stop, wishful thinking got the better of me a few times and I convinced myself Coach Charm was going to tell us we could get out because the weather was deteriorating; knowing my core temperature was really useful: at no point did it drop below 36 degrees, so now I know no matter how cold I feel in the ditch I can seek solace in the warmth of my intestines and other offal. I experienced the darkest hour ever between 5 and 6… but after swimming into the abyss I know the way back out and swam well thereafter.

While I experienced a strong mixture of satisfaction and fear about the Channel on Saturday, I can see I’ve got it in me: I can gain a bit more fat, live with persistent cold and I can swim beyond the point of physical pain, eat the pain and carry on swimming, for 12 hours, 16 hours, however long it takes to hit France.

Watch this space!