Friday, 20 October 2017

Cold Water Shock- making myself aware of the causes, symptoms and responses.

I've recently decided that I'd like to continue swimming in the open water into the winter (not continually like Forrest Gump, 'cause that would be just too exhausting!), but even before I've even put a toe in the cold water, a good friend, who is always one to put the fear of God into you if she thinks you are being an idiot/stupid/risking life and limb, has already had her two penneth. She appears to be well versed to the dangers of cold water. Impressed, I enquire as to how she had become such an expert in the field. She admitted that she's quoting the RNLI's advice about the dangers of cold water to me having recently been on an educational visit and, well, (her words) "some of it had sunk in. I knew I'd need it one day to lecture my idiot friend who has no sense whatsoever! Why would you want to do it?"

Why indeed? Swimming in cold water is potentially dangerous, and up until now I have spent all the winter months almost surgically attached to my hot water bottle, so I'm really not sure, but I know I am waiting, with almost excitement (could be fear, they are said to be closely intertwined), for the water to cool down, and it seems I'm not alone, cold water swimming is fast becoming more and more popular, with many swimmers not only enjoying the cold water, but also claiming to have felt both physical and mental health benefits from it. There is, as of yet, only a small amount of scientific evidence to back this up, but there is more than plenty when it comes to the risks associated with swimming in cold water. 

One of the risks is hypothermia, which I shared with you in a recent blog, hypothermia-what-i-needed-to-know.html. Another, and one that people are far more likely to die from (sorry to be blunt), is cold water shock, which unlike hypothermia, happens as soon as you get in the water. Mike Tipton Professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth and cold water survival expert says:

"If you're lucky enough to survive long enough to die of hypothermia, you've done very well; most die in the first minute of immersion." 
I promised my anxious friend that I would read more about cold water and the risks involved and I thought I'd share the information with you, but before I go on please note I'm not a doctor, specialist, scientist, or indeed Guru (unlike my friend), I'm just a swimmer that wants to understand about the dangers, learn how my body will react so I can be better prepared and be able to respond properly, enabling me to enjoy my winter swimming as safely as I can, or worse case scenario, to increasing my chances of surviving. The information below is me just sharing. It does comes from experts, scientists, medical people, accomplished swimmers and organisations, all of which I'm not! These are their thoughts, opinions, recommendations and suggestions. Once again, I must say that some of it may be conflicting, and parts of it that you may not agree with .... Basically, in a nutshell what I'm trying to say is don't shoot the messenger!

Firstly, what is cold water shock?
"It is the body's short term involuntary response to being suddenly immersed in cold water." RNLI (2017)
Our bodies are designed to function and operate efficiently within a very narrow temperature range which the body needs to maintain. If the body's status in quo is altered even just a little bit, it begins a process to return it back. It does this by sending signals to the hypothalamus in your brain (one of it's jobs is to keep your body in a stable and constant condition), via your nervous system. The hypothalamus then generates instructions to return the body to it's equilibrium state, so in the case of swimming in cold water, when your skin is exposed to the cold water, your body triggers immediate physiological responses (an automatic instinctive reaction to a stimulus). 
These responses are collectively known as the ‘cold shock response.' And as cold water carries heat away from your body about 25 times faster than air at the same temperature, the following effects will happen quickly: 

  • Involuntary gasp- this overrides the ability to hold your breath. If this happens and your head is under the water you may drown immediately. One breath is all it can take.
  • You start hyperventilating - (this can be as much as 4-5 times your breathing at rest). The rapid breathing can lead to hypocapnia (this is a deficiency of carbon dioxide in your blood), which can cause: dizziness, visual disturbances, anxiety, numb hands and feet, pins and needles, cramp, onset of asthma, chest pains and slower reaction times.
  • Your heart rate and blood pressure increases significantly, and your heart rhythm may change as the blood vessels in your skin constrict in response to the cold, by shunting the blood away from your limbs to the core, to protect your vital organs- The increased load on your heart can lead to cardiac arrest or stroke. This is most likely you have an underlying heart condition, however it can happen to even the healthiest of people.
  • Your ability to move decreases as the body cuts off the blood flow the the non essential muscles of your body. 
  • Increased levels of the stress hormone adrenaline in your body -  this also increases your heart rate and your blood pressure.
  • Dry drowning - cold water hitting your throat can cause it to spasm to stop any water getting into your lungs. Unfortunately, it will also stop any air getting in. 
  • Your instinct may be to swim hard, however this can lead to drowning as you'll probably be gasping. 
  • A feeling of panic.

I've include here a video link with Ant Middleton, the ex special forces military veteran and ambassador for RNLI, experiencing what cold shock feels like at the University of Portsmouth. It also demonstrated how cold water affects your motor skills, even after only a short period of time. It's an interesting watch. watch

Cold water shock only lasts for a short space of time. For some it will take less time than others - Everyone is different, but it usually passes in under three minutes. The important thing is to try and remain calm, and know that this feeling will pass.

How can you minimise the risk of cold water shock?

  • Don't jump or dive in (that involuntary gasp underwater means you'll inhale water).
  • Try and stay calm and relaxed.
  • Wait for the feeling to pass before you set off swimming  (or if you do, swim with your head out of the water).
  • Float on your back. 
  • Habituate yourself gradually.
  • Keep warm up to the moment you get in- swim coats, hats, gloves, socks, hot drink etc.
  • Do some stretches- it should help you to get into your rhythm quicker.

So, if I am to continue swimming through the winter, what can I do to stop this from happening? The short answer is, nothing. Cold water shock happens whether I fall into cold water, or choose to get in and it will always happen, however there is some evidence to suggest that, if I repeatedly expose myself to the cold water (stimuli) it will result in an increased tolerance to the cold, which hopefully will mean that my response as I become accustomed to it will shorten, and I'll be able to enjoy the water for longer (repeatedly getting used to getting in cold water is known as habituation, whereas acclimatisation is the process of adjusting so you're able to stay in cold water for a longer period of time). I'll write more about these when I've had a bit more experience. In addition to reading about cold water shock and hypothermia (there are also two more stages of cold water immersion) I've joined a winter swim club. I've not swum in water colder than 14oc before now (except once very briefly at 10.1oc but I'm discounting that on the basis that no sooner was I in, than I got out - and not very elegantly I might add. I blame the lack of feeling in my feet and we'll leave it there), The one I joined (Swimyourswim) runs for six weeks and includes training, coaching, safety and advice. It's been great, and really informative. It turns out it's also full of great bakers. It's a lot like GBBO every week so far, and I couldn't be happier about that bit!

With regards to cold water they recommend the following: 

1. Keep warm until you get in the water.
2. Walk in up to your waist keeping your feet on the ground.
3. Hand/wrists in.
4. Splash the back of your neck and face.
5. Dip your shoulders under slowly. 
6.Gradually start swimming once breathing has settled.
7. It can take 200/400 metres to get comfy and swim easily.
8. Never swim alone.

I have to say that as I read back through this blog, it all seems pretty grave, however I really don't see the point in sugar coating it- not if it can save your life, or that of someone you're swimming with. Cold water is potentially dangerous, and as I report back to my friend (who I suspect was trying to put me off by suggesting I read about it), that I've now done the reading, am doing a course and still want to continue. She is not impressed, and now tells me that only a full medical will put her mind at rest (this actually isn't a bad idea. A clean bill of health before I start means that I know that I'm having a normal response to the cold rather than something else. This is also recommended by Leon at SYS and Coach Morg at Blue Lagooners), but I now realise that despite all my promise to be careful, there's actually no pleasing her when she said "This is all well and good but don't come running back to me when you've frost bitten toes!" Er, okay, but should I get frostbite, I'm pretty sure running will be out of the question anyway (I don't say these words, I only think them in my head... Too much like poking the already anxious bear otherwise, and I'm not that much of an idiot)!

If you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Bibliography and points of reference (in no particular order): (for Coach Morg).

Tipton MJ (1989) The initial responses to cold-water immersion in man. Editorial Review, Clinical Science, 77: 581-588.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The joys of night swimming.

This weekend's night swim marked the end of an amazing summer open water swimming season. It promised to be a great evening including swimming, food and entertainment. In addition the weather for this time of year was just balmy, meaning the water wasn't so cold. We arrived on site in good time and unloaded our kit. They had suggested that we bring extra items with us, like torches, camping chairs, warm clothing etc, so when Shark emptied an extra bag out of the back of the car, I paid it no attention.

The venue was bustling with swimmers and their families. Shark and I found an unoccupied bench and, once we had signed in, started to get ready. Shark put on her wetsuit and began emptying the extra bag she had brought. I watched in amusement as she pulled out several torches, a string of fairy lights, electric tea lights and a box of glow sticks. I was expecting her to pull out a candelabra and standard lamp as well, however she thankfully stopped at the glow sticks. My amusement quickly turned to horror as she then began to divide them into two piles. There was no way I was swimming round a lake adorning a set of fairy lights and I managed to negotiate only one torch for me and was expected her to do the same, however she began embellishing her tow float, and herself with the remainder of the lights (of which there were many). Finally we were ready to set off. I did express concern that the tow float looked under considerable pressure from the weight of the lights, however was met with 'the look' and thought I'd leave it there. I could always say I told you so afterwards when the body was found!

Thanks gbimages photography for this lovely pic.
BTW- this is not Shark's tow float we are sitting on!
For safety reasons, and rightly so, we were issued with a glow stick which was attached to the cord at the back of our wetsuits. I'm not entirely sure that Shark needed further illumination, she already looked like Christmas, however rules are rules. We set off doing breaststroke to warm up and enjoy the view with all the lights and campfires back to the beach area, but my wetsuit isn't designed for this stroke and so had to swim front crawl the rest of the way. My wetsuit is also not designed for swimming with a glow stick either, and after several nasty strikes to the face. I thought I was under attack at first, and one near miss decapitation (Shark, not me) I stopped and asked her (for her own safety as well as mine) to help me to relocate it to my goggles. I (probably shouldn't have) used the nearby buoy to steady myself (too scared to use the tow float for fear of electrocution) however this manoeuvre caused an avalanche of lights that were illuminating the buoy. With the help of the safety crew the buoy was quickly returned to its former glory and we were on our way again. We managed to swim a mile, before it began to get too dark for me, my middle aged eyes were struggling to see too far ahead. I suggested we head back to the campsite for pizza (there was a retro pizza van there! How amazing is that?), and Shark, not one to miss a golden opportunity, suggested that as I was struggling to see, that I follow her well lit tow float back. I have to admit it was helpful, however she was so well lit that I suspect that she could actually have guided a plane in to land! TouchΓ© Shark!

The campsite atmosphere was great, and when they announced there would be singing I was beside myself with excitement and nostalgia. Sadly the fact that I am still word perfect at Kumbaya and the Kookaburra song would only add more enjoyment to my evening. If I'd known in advance of this most marvellous thing I would have spent the daylight hours doing vocal warm ups and gargling with salt water instead of doing the ironing and cleaning my kitchen! I needn't have worried, it seems that campfire songs have moved on significantly since the 1980's, and modern classics are the thing, which were sung amazingly well by the young girl with a guitar. I'm not sure I would have enhanced the experience at all, and not because my voice had not been in tip tip condition, but rather because I've actually no idea what the words were! Shark look relived when I said I wouldn't be joining in. She thinks she, and the rest of the people that were there have dodged a bullet... I say you can't judge my campfire singing on what you hear on brief car journeys. The acoustics are nowhere near the same!

The campfires were lit, adding atmosphere, and also the opportunities to roast marshmallows! I was delighted when Coach Morg arrived carrying the mother of all marshmallows for us. They were so large that the skewer was practically bowing under the weight. This is not a complaint...

Before we were allowed to go (Shark was driving, I had no choice), we had to make sure that all of Shark's torches and lights were turned off and untangled... It took ages , there were so many. I thank goodness she wasn't plugged into the National Grid, for there would not certainly have been a power dip in the area. Also, and quite an important piece of information- electricity and water don't mix. We had such a lovely evening. The water was amazing, the atmosphere great, the mood lighting (courtesy of Shark) was mostly bright, illuminating and I have to admit, almost a little bit magical.

Finally, if you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Hypothermia: What I needed to know before I began swimming in cold water.

The water at the beginning of the season seemed to take an age to warm up, yet now it's nearing the end it feels like it's taken a bit of a nose dive! Not to be deterred I make the (feels like) bold decision to ditch the wetsuit and try swimming in skins. The last time I swam sans wetsuit was over a month ago, when the water was warm, the sky was blue, flowers were in bloom ...  This time, although the water wasn't so cold at 17.3oc, when you're not accustomed or acclimatised to it, it's frankly a bit of a shock when you get in.

I stood on the side of the lake as Shark vocalised many excuses and reasons why she should swim in her wetsuit instead. I reaslised she wasn't being serious when they ranged from tooth damage from shivering to the possibility of it giving her trench foot. I diagnosed a case of acute hypochondria and told her to get on with it.

In our inexperience we entered the water with extreme caution, and closely followed all the instructions from Leon, who was standing on the side. He told us we would be fine by the time we got to the first orange buoy, and he was right. I was expecting at best to have ice cream head, and at worst I'd have the shortest swim in history, however was delighted when neither happened.

We swam for 800 metres before Shark began to feel the cold and wisely decided to call it a day. I wanted to complete a mile if possible and after a quick recce (can still I feel my toes? Yes. Are my hands clawing? No.), I decided I'd be okay to carry on. I'd really enjoyed it, and wasn't feeling the cold, so I carried on. I felt great, and when I got out Shark was waiting, holding my towel and Swimzi ready to put straight on (she's a great swim bud), so I could get dried and warm quickly. I dressed, but as I said before I wasn't feeling cold. This is most likely because I had actually spent the second lap trying desperately hard to keep up with another swimmer (in a wetsuit) who at first sight appeared to be going relatively slowly, but in reality he was actually very, very fast, making keeping up impossible, however all the extra effort meant that I concentrated less on feeling the cold and more on the (fruitless) chase, and so by the time I got out I was exhausted and practically hyperventilating, but not cold.

Shark and I had decided to try and swim once a week without wetsuits for as long as we could tolerate the cold. Swimming in cold water is very much unchartered territory. I realised after our swim that I had not really much idea of how my body would respond to the cold, and actually when I should get out. Just checking if my feet and hands were cold or not wasn't at all thorough enough and so I was wanted to find out more about how it will affect me, and Shark, in particular with regards to hypothermia. Shark is the nurse, not me and if I presented the symptoms of hypothermia I'm confident I'd be well looked after, whereas Shark wouldn't be. I think it would bad form to have replace my swim buddy due to neglect, and I'm not entirely sure I'd have many takers if I'm belong honest!

I read loads, and want to share with you what I've found/discovered/learnt. Whilst I usually attempt to make anything I write a bit light hearted, and can pretty much find something (usually me) to poke fun at, when I began looking in more detail about hypothermia it's just too serious, dangerous and important topic to be jovial about. And so...

The next part in this blog has been taken from various websites and people I know. I'm aware that there are various differences of opinion, and some of which some of you will agree and disagree (as some of the websites did) in parts. I'm not an expert, but would like to share what I've found in the hopes that at least one person, other than myself, is better informed, can recognise the symptoms and get medical help and treatment as quickly as possible if necessary. The information I've included is found in the websites, and folks that I know that know far more about it than I do. I've added at the bottom (and not in any particular order - my university professors would not be happy) if anyone wants to read more broadly.

"Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature below 35C (95F)."

"Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature... When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work normally."

Although most hypothermia happens in low temperatures I have read that even temperatures as mild as 26oc can still be dangerous, and hypothermia is still a possibility, and whilst the colder the water, the quicker and the more likely you are to suffer (there can be other factors involved), there is no time frame for when hypothermia will set in. None of us are immune, and that includes the most seasoned and adapted of swimmers.

Our bodies work best within a certain temperature range, and it's important to maintain this in order to function properly. Many essential chemical reactions that happen in our body can only happen in this range, so when it alters, our body immediately triggers changes to return it back. This is the function of the hypothalamus, which is found in the brain. It collects all the internal and external information (in this instance temperature) and puts changes in place to right the imbalances, to return the body to it's status in quo.

When you are swimming in water colder than you, in order to protect your vital organs, your body begins a process. Blood vessels shunt (moving blood to where it's needed) the warm blood away from your skin and limbs towards your vital organs by reducing the blood flow to your extremities. This allows more oxygen to be delivered where it's needed the most. This is to preserve heat in the important bits. Your body is working hard to try and keep your core at its normal temperature. This process is called peripheral vasoconstriction. It's the body's way of protecting against hypothermia.

"Peripheral vasoconstriction basically means the narrowing of your blood vessels that supply your extremities. This means that your blood vessels in the periphery have constricted and hence bring in less blood so that whatever blood is there in the body is diverted to your vital organs"
Dheeksha (studies at Mysore medical College and Research Institute (2020)) 

This process stops when you get out of the cold water and your body then sends the warm blood from the core back to the skin to warm up again. The problem though is that it also cools the blood as it does so, as it's now mixing the warm blood with the cooler blood, and then recirculates the cool blood back to the core, meaning that your temperature will drop further. This is known as the "after-drop." This doesn't happen immediately, and when you exit the water you'll probably feel great for a short time. This is because your cooler blood hasn't reached your core straight away, however within a short space of time, you will begin shivering (great piece of advice was to get dressed quickly after getting out, as it's really difficult when you're shivering).

Shivering is one of our body's immediate reactions to generate heat. Our skin sends messages to the brain, which then sets off a series of warming tricks. Shivering is one of them. It's your muscles contracting and expanding quickly to produce heat to raise your body temperature.

As symptoms of hypothermia can happen slowly, you would think that would give you time to get out in good time, however you may not be aware of them as hypothermia can affect, amongst other things, your cognitive ability; your ability to think clearly, and make intelligent choices, which means you may not even recognise the symptoms. Your brain is so sensitive to cold, and electrical activity slows down in response to it, so your ability to do things and move lessens, making it more difficult to take action. I've included a list of the symptoms of hypothermia, that are listed on several websites below, for your reference:

Symptoms of mild hypothermia include:
  • Dizziness
  • Shivering
  • Hunger and nausea
  • Increased breathing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Lack of coordination
  • Tiredness
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Poor judgement
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Numb hands and feet
Symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:
  • Shivering, but importantly, as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops
  • Worsening coordination difficulties
  • Slurred speech
  • Significant confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Apathy or lack of concern (doesn't recognise that they are in any danger)
  • Weak pulse
  • Shallow, slow breathing
  • Paradox undressing -  the person removes their clothes, inappropriately despite the cold because they feel warm.
  • Muscles become stiff
  • Slow pulse
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
Symptoms of Severe hypothermia include:
  • Shivering stops
  • Extreme confusion
  • A decline in consciousness
  • Weak or irregular pulse
  • slow/shallow breathing
  • coma - can result in death 
Hypothermia will advance quicker in the cold water, and so it's important to get out as soon as possible to prevent further heat loss, get yourself warm, and if necessary, seek medical help. 
When you exit the cold water Outdoor Swimmer magazine recommends the following: 
  • Get dressed quickly and warmly. Immediately after swimming you may feel great as the cooled blood has not yet returned to your core. Best to wrap up warmly before it does. It’s much harder to dress when you’re shivering. 
  • Don’t take a hot shower as this will increase the rate at which cooled blood returns to the core and makes the drop faster and deeper. Cold water swimmers have been known to faint in hot showers. Wait until you’ve warmed up again before showering.
  • Don’t attempt to drive or ride a bike until your core temperature has recovered. Driving and shivering is not a good combination. If your core temperature drops too much and you become hypothermic it can also affect your cognitive abilities. Again, not good for driving.
  • Drink something hot and eat something. Shivering is a highly energy consumptive bodily function. You need to fuel it.
  • Keep an eye on your fellow swimmers. Someone who appears completely fine getting out of the water may be in trouble 10 minutes later and may need your help.
  • Get out of the water before you get too cold as you will continue to get colder after swimming – give your body a margin of safety.
In addition, here are Jonathan Cowie, Editor at Outdoor Swimmer's six tips for cold water swimming….

1. Acclimatise
As the temperature drops in autumn, just keep swimming and your body will get used to the cold.

2. Be safe
Open water can be dangerous. Only ever swim where it is safe, and make sure you can enter and exit the water quickly and easily. Never swim on your own.

3. Wear the right kit
Wear a swimming hat, or two, to help preserve body heat. You can also wear neoprene gloves, booties, balaclava or a wetsuit.

4. No diving
Do not dive or jump in unless you are used to the cold water. Cold water can cause gasping of breath and cold water shock, which can be dangerous.

5. Know your limits
As the temperature drops, decrease the amount of time you spend in the water.

6. Warm up slowly
Don’t have a hot shower as rapid warming of the skin may increase the flow of cold blood from your extremities to your core, and can be dangerous. Instead, make sure you have plenty of warm clothes, wrap up well and have a hot drink.

Swim bud left, me to the right after our swim

So this week the water temperature had dropped almost a full degree to 16.5oc, and I realise with sadness that all hope for an Indian Summer had now completely gone. Shark and I arrived lakeside and readied ourselves for the swim. We were organised and unpacked our clothes and towels in advance of getting out. Shark told me that in addition to her clothes she had also brought a flask of hot Ribena, her ski socks and an extra hat. What she didn't tell me is that she had also brought a hot water bottle, and had wrapped all her clothes around it! A little OTT? Actually possibly not. We swam a mile and at the end when we got out I realised that we are very different, and it seemed that I was able to tolerate the cold a little better than Shark (I put it down to being a farmers daughter - kind of makes you more hardy I suppose). What is clear is that we need to adapt our bodies to tolerate the cold water better (acclimatisation) so that our bodies will grow used to it as the water gets colder still (I'll write more on this in another blog), but in the mean time, I don't mind admitting that I really did feel envious of Shark's forward thinking as I put on my 'at room temperature' clothes, and fully intend to purchase a bottle in advance of next week's swim. What could be better? Other than perhaps someone serving hot chocolate fudge cake on the lake side as we got out... (for medicinal purposes).

Finally, if you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Bibliography and special thanks to:

Leon @Swimyourswim and Chris@Swimzi for you invaluable knowledge.
Jonathan Cowie @outdoorswimmer for your guidance and help.
risks-cold-water after-drop-is-real-and-how-to-deal-with-it

Friday, 8 September 2017

Training plan for Windermere one way swim.

Planning the training schedule for a 10.5 mile swim ought to be undertaken with at least a small degree of military precision based on a whole cohort of factors like, for example, research, fitness, experience... Instead, armed with nothing but my diary and a (borrowed) unicorn pen, Shark and I found a quiet corner of the cafe to more "hatch a plan' than produce some structured training! The general consensus amongst the small group of two, after a morning of deliberating and pretty much eating our way through the menu was that neither of us had much of a clue.

In honesty I did look on the internet for a training plan to use, but my searches pretty much drew a blank when it came to anything over 10km. There were/are many for up to this distance. I know this as I used one last year, as my very generous children surprised/shocked me with the Mother's Day gift of a 10km swim, and although I didn't follow the plan to the letter, it gave me a great base from which to train. I did need to adapted it slightly to suit me, however it worked a treat. I base this on the fact that I survived the swim in one piece, and enjoyed it enough to do another one after it (although not immediately- I was in shock for a short while after ...).

I did start the planning for Windermere by writing what turned out to be a worryingly long list of my limitations. Some temporary (on doctors orders and physiotherapists advice) and other things I could never do because of my dicky knees and hips, in fact the list turned out to be longer than my actual diary, and so I quickly ditched this approach in favour of just writing down each week and what I hoped I could do, and as I am only a novice swimmer, and far from qualified to know how to plan to train like a champion, I could be forgiven if I cocked it up!

Here's the original plan

And so it began. I stepped back into the pool on 1st March, and gave myself a month to be swimming a mile. Speed didn't matter (no I don't actually believe that either), I just had to be up to that distance. This is a copy of the original, and very un-neat 21 week plan. It only included the dates for the longer swim, and so in the interest of completion here's the rest.

Day 1- long swim - increase gradually according to scheduled week (open water whenever possible).

Day 2- rest

Day 3- steady 1 mile (just turning my arms), loads of stretches.

Day 4- sets and sometimes a training session with a coach focussing mainly on stroke and drills, followed by a steady mile.

Day 5- rest

Day 6- either a 1 or a 2 mile swim. Slightly faster pace than when swimming in long session.

Day 7- rest

And there you have it - with very limited knowledge, a very amateur and basic training plan was cobbled together, and only time would tell whether it would actually be successful.

As I got into the swing of things, I have to say that the original plan (I'm talking about the long swim day here) was working a treat, right up until the day that we had to change venues, as one of us (that be me) had a family party that had to be attended that evening (our usual swim time). According to the plan, that I had been diligently following, I was scheduled to swim 6 miles on this date, and therefore had to change the swim venue. Unfortunately, due to unswimmable swimming conditions (Shark seeing a shark (I know, right? In a land locked lake in Yorkshire...) amidst some unruly weeds in the middle of the lake) led to an abandoned attempt after only a mile (read here for the finer details) still-yet-to-overcome-fear-of-weeds.html before we headed to the cafe to eat cake that we really didn't deserve, but ate anyway!

With no other opportunity to do a long swim that week, I had to wait (feeling tetchy) till the next week to get back on schedule. I must say that it was a great 6 mile swim that followed. I felt surprisingly well, despite the week off, and after much discussion, analysing (loosely) and agonising, Shark and I realised that we had enjoyed not having a longer swim and felt refreshed and revived. We discussed the possibility that swimming a long swim every week was not giving our bodies sufficient time to recover after each one, and that having what was essentially a week off, there had actually been no dip in performance, and we felt none the worse for it, and actually revised the plan after this date to:

20th June - 6 miles
27th June - 5 miles
4th July - 7 miles
11th July - 5 miles
18th Jul - 8.5 miles
25th July - 5 miles
1st August - 9 miles
8th August -6 miles
15th August - 4 miles 

Was the training plan successful? Did I over train? Did I under train? I truly have no idea, but here's what I do know (now I'm post swim). I had trained to swim the length of Windermere for 6 months, and yes there were times when it was tough, it was tiring, the water was really cold, I couldn't find my mojo and some days it just hurt to swim, but I did it! I swam 10.5 miles without stopping (bar the food breaks) and without injury and the knowledge that I had worked hard to get to that point. I exited the lake (in the most inelegant of ways - as standard!) feeling absolutely amazing. On reflection, I have to add that it's not just about the training plan. It's also about having a great group of supportive family and friends that believe you can do it. It's also about determination and self belief and it's about the rewards at the end. I'm talking about the sense of achievement, the sense of accomplishment, the bragging rights and finally the huge slab of guilt free cake!

Finally, if you have enjoyed reading my blogs also I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome. Here are the links. 😊

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

We did it! We swam the length of Windermere!

Finally, after 2 cafe stops for coffee and scones (it's not even a two hour drive, but frightened of not eating enough carbs), Shark and I arrive at Windermere. The car suspension has survived the journey, and I'm talking about our over zealous packing, not because I've spent the last 8 days overeating, but passing it off, rather successfully I thought, as carb loading!

We head straight down to the lakes edge to see where we would be finishing and to dip a toe in. As we approached the waters edge we were confronted by some very territorial ducks that were diligently parading up and down where we were. Their beaks looked sharp, and I suspect they weren't afraid to use them in a bid to protect their lake.  As I couldn't be sure whether it was food they were after or my feet and not wanting to get a toe injury this late in the proceedings decided to retreated instead to the pub (only for soft drinks- my body being a temple and all that!). We met up with Leon and Al from Swimyourswim to discuss the details for the following day. This was the point I broached the subject of available room on the boat, to which I was pretty much told that it wasn't the QE2 and that silver or waiter service would not be provided during the swim.

Checking out the venue

After our standard pre-swim meal of fish and chips, we head back to the hotel for an early night, but unfortunately despite the comfiest of beds it just didn't happen, so I began to read, only to be distracted by worrying questions going round my head. Not sensible ones like did I pack a spare towel? Or have I added the right labels to each feed? No, it was stuff like will my sandwich taste any good if I drop it in the water? (No, it was shocking, but ate it anyway) Would it be worth putting sun lotion on my hands? (even though I didn't because it was overcast, I should have- I really should. I now have awful tan lines on my wrists!) It must have been bad as usually it's impossible to distract me from a Roy Grace novel once I get reading, but as it stood I couldn't sleep and nor could I read.

The following day, the day of the swim, and I couldn't have been more excited. Breakfasted, we were collected and driven to the other side of the lake where we met up with Al and Leon at the boat. Although Al had given us the limits on size of bags, what he hadn't mentioned was weight, and so taking full advantage of this had tightly packed everything I needed (and more, and was prepared to tell them that the I πŸ’œNew York keyring and the peg (long story) I took were actually my lucky mascots and essential to my mental well being for the swim). As we handed over our bags, we also handed over some envelopes. We had provided them with some activities to do whilst they were on the boat. Things like colouring, Mastermind quizzes, Mr&Mrs, reading sonnets (in the style of a sergeant major) and Beatrix Potter stories (with a mouthful of marshmallows) and yoga - that kind of thing. We told them it was to keep their minds and bodies active over the course of the day, however the reality was actually an attempt to stop them being mischievous. You see, they provide a live link (available to watch on the Swimyourswim Facebook page) which mostly charts our progress, and reminds viewers of the Virgin Giving pages for any donations to the charities, but as well as this they use it to keep themselves, and viewers amused (please watch them, they are hilarious- especially the one with Keri-anne Payne (who actually watched it and commented, and then congratulated me on my swim), and Al reading Peter Rabbit with a mouthful of marshmallows). Swimyourswim

From the slipway I did my warm up and then we set off. In my eagerness to get started I forgot to ask the temperature, and I also forgot to put my goggles on! My second attempt at starting was thankfully more successful, and despite being given clear direction from the boat about which direction to take, began swimming towards the wrong buoy. With an eye roll from the boat the more simple instruction was "see those huge hills over there? Head for them!" You couldn't wish for a better, or bigger thing to use for sighting!

The water was a millpond, and the temperature okay, I soon found my rhythm and a steady pace; I was worried about setting off too fast, after all I'd not swam this distance before, and after what felt like no time at all it was time for the first feed. We had planned on every hour and although the conditions were near perfect, it's usual for me to have really cold hands and feet for the first hour or so, and today was no exception, added to this there were some really cold spots in the lake. To help with this I had packed some hot (too hot) orange squash. I asked Al for some of my (Harrogate) water, packed specially to cool it down a bit to which I was told we didn't have time and to stop faffing about and dip my cup in the lake!

An enormous, solitary and curious swan that was in no hurry to move guarded the next stretch. We had a whole lake between us, but were both determined to want to be in the exact spot. We were on the brink of a stand off with a swan, when I realised that I was actually in no position to win. We were eye level with it and very much at a disadvantage. I swear it was sizing me up, and had pretty much come up with an exit strategy when thankfully it flew off further down the lake. Thank goodness. I'm not entirely sure whether me leaping on a small boat, with two people on it and a load of heavy (and quite large) bags would have actually survived the impact and I can say with certainty wouldn't have ended well! Continuing the swim I had been using the "huge hills" to sight, however decided at this point to stop using the landscape in front of me, it just never got any nearer, and instead began using the boat to my left and any buoys to the right, to which I found quite successful although of the whole lake stretching roughly 18km x 1.5km you would thing that I could use a buoy to sight, and not actually touch it, but no, I managed to hit the thing with my arm. You could look at it as a positive though. I am 100% accurate!?!

I began to tire but knew that our next feed was imminent as I'd seen Al rifling through our bags. It had felt like a long hour, and my stomach felt a little strange. I continued swimming until Al indicated he was ready, and this was the point where I think I saw the only fish of the whole swim. I say think because there is a possibility that because I was tired I was actually hallucinating, still, worked a treat and for the next five minutes my pace increased, despite the lack of energy. When we stopped I was ready for something more substantial than a bar or a gel, so ate half of a jam and butter sandwich (the bit I didn't drop in the lake tasted 100% better than the bit I did!) and as I began eating it I realised that the unfamiliar sensation I'd been feeling in my stomach was actually hunger. Something I'd not felt once for the last eight days, since I began carb loading...8 days is far too longer stretch for carb loading.

In all of my training it's around the six mile mark that I struggle a bit, and knowing this in advance really helped me to chose carefully for my next feed. It wasn't a case of choosing what my body needed, it was more about having some home comforts, and bearing this in mind I had packed myself a Fat Rascal from Betty's (the cafe in my local town), and I have to say it really perked me up. It tasted amazing... except the bottom half. That was less amazing having being dunked (definitely not deliberately) in lake water. Next time I'll break it up into smaller, bitesize, chunks before hand. Lesson learnt.

The weather couldn't have been better, and the water was really flat, so it was very much a surprise when suddenly Leon indicated some chop (you can see it on the live video). A boat, that we hadn't seen, had come towards us quite fast and of course caused a wake. I say wake, it actually caused a real wave that stopped us in our tracks. I have never heard Shark swear like that which made me laugh and swallow a large part of the wave as it hit me in the face. This brief interruption was actually really welcome by way of a bit of a change, however my feelings was short lives when shortly after another boat came near causing another smaller wake, which also put me off my stroke for a bit... I was less keen on other boats being in the lake after that.

With one mile to go the feeling of knowing we had nearly completed it spurred me on. I had a sudden burst of energy, and almost euphoria. We were nearly there! The end was in sight, and so was our large, solitary swan again! (I'd at least like to think it was the same one, because I'm not entirely sure that they are usually that large). I'm not sure why it kept appearing, possibly just to keep me (metaphorically) on my toes...

We were finally at the finish with only a few strokes left to do. At the end I had planned to exit the lake a lot like Ursula Andress in Dr. No. In my mind I had it perfected, but unfortunately where we were to get out the ground was covered in large, slippery pebbles and as I stood up to get out to give Shark a "bloody hell we did it!" hug, I slipped and at the same time she stumbled backwards. We both fell back, very unceremoniously, into the water. I tried again to stand but my unobliging body was not having it, so sitting in the water for a breather to come eye to eye once again with our favourite stalker swan, this time flanked by the army of ducks from yesterday, and a sudden grim dilemma hits - there are two ways to get out of the lake and the other is back where we came from... Maybe next year!!
Al, Shark, me, Leon

I just wanted to add - It's been 8 months since my surgery, and 6 months being back swimming. It's been hard work, but it's been worth it. There's been mostly ups, but also some downs, but with the love and support of family and friends, a fantastic swim buddy Shark, Hollie and the guys at swimyourswim, some really hard graft, determination and not taking no for an answer, I did it. Thank you all so much. I am so proud of myself and a week on am still grinning. I can't wait for the next challenge...😊

Two last things - firstly I've been asked by swimmers about the training plan that I used for this swim. I did my own as I was unable to find one online that suited me. I'm more than happy to share, and will write it all out in neat as originally it was done in a cafe in the back of my diary in very untidy writing, and also there were changes made nearer to the swim that are different the original plan. I'll hopefully get it all sorted next week, and secondly, if you enjoy my blogs I have a "group" on Facebook. Its not really a group, as it's only me, but on it I post more regularly, and I'm also on Twitter and Instagram. You'd be very welcome.


Open Water Woman