Thursday, 16 November 2017

Exchanging my swim buddy for a tow float (temporarily of course...).

Over the last two weeks I found myself 'buddyless', and whilst during the warmer months this wouldn't phase me one bit (well maybe the fish phobia that I have would a little) as I'd just get in the water and get on with it, but this is now November and also the first year that I've swam this late in the year. Alongside this I have also ditched my wetsuit and am trying to acclimatise myself to the colder water that comes with winter and I'm discovering that swimming in it is a whole different ball game, with a whole different set of rules. I'm only just learning how my body responds to the cold water, and with my very limited experience so far (all of a month) I just don't feel confident enough just yet to go it alone (I must just add that I do swim at a venue where there is a safety crew that know their stuff, but I hope you know what I mean?), anyway, back to my errant swim buddy... I have always (apart from an odd time) swum with Shark. She tried getting rid of me in the early days, but I convinced her of the benefits of having me there (not too sure what they are actually, but I must have rustled up a convincing list - that or she just felt sorry for me, either way it worked), and so swimming without her and without my wetsuit in a colder environment than I’m used to had me a little worried.

When I ran my concerns past Shark I thought she might recommend finding someone else to buddy up with, but instead suggested that as her replacement I try using a tow float. She uses one for every swim, however I'm pretty sure that it's not for visibility, but rather she is prepared to use hers as a piece of lifesaving kit (I must add that all the manufactures that I found state that a tow float is just for visibility) as I am completely useless in an emergency. So out of necessity, and my own piece of mind, I decide it’s probably my best option. Shark is keen to remind me that any swap is merely temporary, and a means to an end, and not because she is doing a bad job, but she just has had a lot of other prior engagements recently she told me that she simply must attend. I actually think she may be pulling a fast one and is secretly at home in front of a warm fire, tucked under a fleecy blanket, watching Judith Chalmers swanning around some tropical paradise, whilst smugly drinking hot alcoholic beverages.

After a quick look online, I found there are three types of tow float: A swimming tow float, a dry bag swimming tow float and a tow donut, I have checked out colours, shape, lights and dimensions, and have come to the conclusion that actually size does matter, and have gone large. I've chosen one that's as big as a pontoon, with the capacity to house a capsule wardrobe (probably not including stilettos) and despite the warnings that it is not a safety device should the need arise, like Shark, I am fully prepared to ignore this.

So this week, swim bud is unfortunately not able to swim again. Her excuse, I mean reason, is that she isn't feeling well enough, but has offered to come with me for moral support and to stand on the side (probably whilst coughing up a lung) to hold my towel and offer words of encouragement. I’m very grateful and do sympathise with her for a bit by telling her she looks tired, but it’s really just my polite way of saying "you look a bit shit!" And she really does...

I offer to drive (windows down of course). I also offer her a Berocca and suggest she wraps up warm for the journey -we have an hours drive ahead of us!). We set off earlier than we would normally as I have budgeted for the extra time it will take to blow up the enormous tow float... Shark begins her supportive roll the minute we get out of the car, and makes an attempt to blow it up, but before it reaches her mouth I have snatched it back. I know she is trying to be helpful, but she has nasty germs. I soften the blow by telling her it's because I don't want her to exert her already weakened self, but that's actually a big fat lie and begin inflating it myself - note to self - be better prepared and do this the night before. It saves lots and lots of time that could be used more wisely doing things like swimming for example, or eating cake. Instead I am mindlessly trying to blow it up and getting nowhere. My lungs are about to spontaneously combust before I realise that it has a safety catch, and the safety catch is still on! Turns out I am one of those annoying people that thinks they are above reading the instructions! I should have learnt my lesson back in my youth when I attempted a flat pack, self assembly table. It was after several hours of failed attempts, and only when the electric drill I bought especially to help ran out of charge, that it was declared unfit for purpose, and all eating of meals on my lap resumed. I suspect that the table is still living an unfulfilled life in my loft.

Ready to go with my new, and slightly modified, tow float!

As I am writing this you will probably have picked up on the fact that I did indeed survive the swim without my buddy. Yay! How'd I fair? The burning question on your lips no doubt? Well, the swim went very well, although I missed Shark's witty banter (the float was kind of quiet), it was better than Shark at navigating the buoys. Shark's not so winning strategy for the shortest racing line is to hit the thing head on... literally, whilst the float on the other hand gave them a wide berth (I may have a helping hand in this. The thought of being tethered to a buoy by it is not too appealing really), It did keep catching the back of my leg, which was kind of annoying, but it did the job and I certainly felt more at ease swimming with it than I think I would have done without. When I got back Shark joked (or at least I hope it was a joke) that the tow float had given her peace of mind knowing that it would make locating my body easier from the shore line, but also added that she would like to add some modifications. I (turns out wrongly) thought she meant adding lights, reflectors, whistle, torch, flares, but no, she pretty much wanted to add a full first aid kit in the area reserved for clothing. I remind her of my inability to function properly in any kind of medical situation, and then it dawned on me... she wasn't really going to add a first aid kit, she was reminding me by stealth of how lucky I was to have her and what an asset she is to our little team of two. I go to give her a very brief hug, but remembering she is harvesting germs at the moment and opt instead for a pat on the back, and keep to myself the stark fact that she is actually THE only asset we have!

I must say there are a lot of benefits to Shark being ill. Firstly, as I get out of the water I am handed my warm towel and ushered inside into the warm whilst she carries my bag. Is this the point I'm meant to hand her a tip? I'm not sure what the protocol is?!?. I am given instructions under the door on how to dress (I'm not sure how I've managed to get to my age without this facility) and then when I emerge I'm handed a cup of coffee, and a refilled hot water bottle and one of the Winter Swimming Club's star baker Chris's legendary chocolate brownies (I am obliged at this point to add that Shark too is a fantastic baker. Her cakes are truly amazing- except for perhaps her one attempt at coconut cake, but we won't go there).

So, the tow float - Will I use it again? Here's the thing - I'd much rather share the experience with my amazing swim bud, who is as much of a scaredy cat as I am, if not more (it's the shark in the lake story with which I am basing this on), who almost chokes laughing at my trip ups (of which there are literally millions), is capable of downing a large slab of cake quicker than I can, is terrible at navigating buoys, leaves me stranded when she sees a large fish (I’d do the same to be fair), but she also takes amazingly good care of me, and is prepared to stand in the cold to be my Swimming Sherpa, when she's feeling a bit under the weather, to make sure I don’t prefer a tow float above her as a swim buddy. Shark is definitely my first choice, however on the days that she would rather stay home and be a couch potato, whilst trying to pass it off as something far more important, and isn't available to swim, I'd much rather have a relaxing swim where I feel safe and seen and enjoy it rather than worrying, I am more than happy to swap her (temporarily) for a tow float.

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. 😊

Open Water Woman

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Best laid plans and all that...

The plan for today was as follows: arrive at pool, get changed, get in, swim, get out, shower, change (no-one wants to see someone in a state of undress in the cafe), get some coffee and depart. Today did not go to plan. Fact. Today went like this:

  1. Walking between the indoor and outdoor pools in just a costume, in the cold is bad enough the first time, the second time, and after I’d already got in the water, because I’d left an essential part of kit (goggles) inside was most definitely embarrassing, uncool and fl**ing freezing.
  2. After establishing my line in the non-laned pool I became a magnet to the lady next to me (sadly not the repellent type), who kicked me twice before nearly taking my eye out with a sharp blunt object – probably elbow. I shall be sporting a goggle shaped bruise I imagine.
  3. Lid on drinks bottle not secure, and so tipped a whole pint of now icy water down me, making me yelp. Real classy!
  4. I decide it may be safer to move back indoors for the last 15 minutes of my swim, however getting back indoors was more challenging that getting out. I think the door was also feeling the cold and made the most awful groaning/squeaking noise as I opened it, alerting all the other swimmers to my entrance.  Running is prohibited poolside, and so I did some kind of hopperty skipperty thing to the pool before stubbing my toe and then throwing myself in (no elegant diving in either, that’s also prohibited – not that I could rustle up an elegant dive... or any dive for that matter).
  5. Witnessed a fellow gym goes using the communal hairdryer to dry between her toes. WTF? I had no idea that this was actually a thing that happened. I pull a face like I’ve swallowed a wasp, surely if you’re going to do it it should be in the privacy of your own home, using your own hairdryer? Also some of the acrobatic positions you appear to have to adopt to get your toes dry mean that certain body parts that should not be on show are in fact on show. Someone should tell her, but it won’t be me…
  6. I make it to the cafe almost in one piece for a well-deserved coffee (I’d have cake too, but even I draw the line at cake before 9.30am). I am traumatised and I have one very prominent goggle mark from the earlier collision and eye ache (of which I couldn’t actually be sure whether it’s from the blow to the eye, or my retina burning from witnessing the toe drying incident). I drink my coffee with the utmost of care. I’ve already had one drink spilt down me, and with one eye not fully functioning, I don’t want yet another embarrassing incident before 10am. I may ask for a straw!

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. 😊

Open Water Woman

Sunday, 29 October 2017

No two pools are ever the same!

MY pool is being refurbished. Personally I was fine with the slightly tatty pool, although I prefer the term 'well loved', however as it now has new owners, and unlike me, they would like more people to come. Unfortunatley I am completely unimportant and so MY pool has closed for a whole month for a spruce up.

The new owners have luckily lots of new other pools (sometimes two at each venue) that I am now allowed to use, all bigger than My pool, and if I were to be on holiday or a trip away I would thank my lucky stars for this facility, however I live almost an hour away from the nearest one, and so for the next month it won't so much going for a quick dip to the pool, but more of a day out! Still, it's that or not swim, and so for the next month I will be unable to meet friends, go shopping, cook, clean, iron or walk the dog; I simple won't have time!

And so I arrive at the temporary venue I notice some immediate differences. Some good, some less good:

1. At MY pool I can walk in and help myself to a million towels if I wish. I could have one to dry every strand of hair, every limb or every digit if I chose. I don't, I stick to two, despite probably needing three, but no-one likes a greedy cow, especially not the cleaners! At this pool the towels are behind the counter and closely guarded by a diligent receptionist who is managing to talk on the phone, type on the computer whilst keeping one close eye on me. I asked for two towels, although suspect I may really have needed a few more, they were tiny. She placed them on the counter and said "three silver coins please." My first thought was to consider locating the nearest Ikea- you can buy a hundred towels for three silver coins, but that would add more precious time, and so thinking on my feet I decided to assume she was talking to the person on the phone still and so with a flamboyant "thank you' and wave of the hand I hot footed it at neck breaking speed to hide in the changing rooms (if I can locate them before I'm found).

2. At MY pool they provide shampoo and conditioner. This nice touch is not a facility at this pool, and so after my swim I am afoot in the changing room bartering the contents of my kit bag in exchange for some (what is the going exchange for used ear plugs? Anyone know?). Unfortunately the time I got in the shower coincided with the children's mini gym session finishing, and so the best on offer (which I took gratefully) was baby shampoo. Two helpings later were not quite enough to rid the smell of au de chlorine, but beggars can't be choosers and all that.

3. At MY pool I know my way round. It is familiar and quite compact. This pool (and surrounding gym) is cavernous and the way to the pool from the changing room really could do with directions, maps, compasses (or colour coded lights would do) and small snack for the journey. I regret now not doing my Duke of Edinburgh award in my youth, but unfortunately it clashed with disco night... sacrifices that had to be made at the time are now coming back to bite me on the bum it seems.

4. This pool is longer than MY pool, and so in theory less turns should mean that I have a faster time. Unfortunately I lost count at thirteen, or could have been fifteen, or indeed any other odd number in the vicinity, and so couldn't be sure whether I was actually quicker or not. Disappointingly it would appear that no matter the length of the pool I still can't keep count...

5. Toe tapping is not a thing in this neck of the woods it seems, no, from my very limited experience of only one day, they appear to prefer more body parts touching when they are establishing superiority over the fast lane. This is achieved by actually swimming over slower swimmers without a backwards glance to see if the same slower swimmer has actually survived the ordeal (unless it was a complete accident). I shall have to find out what the protocol is for the return favour when they run out of steam and the slower swimmer catches them up. Over? Under? Around? Just in case it were to happen to me...

6. This pool had the biggest coffee machine ever, and when I clap eyes on it I am practically skipping into the cafe (I say practically - firstly I haven't actually skipped since I was 9 and really can't remember what to do, and so without running the risk of ending up in a heap with my legs pleated together at the foot of the machine I actually do some king of fancy looking legwork from my disco going years that I think Michael Jackson would have been proud of). I noticed though that it was not accompanied by any cake of a similar size, or any other for that matter. There were plenty of alternatives that all seemed to be sprinkled with healthy, but I'm not sure how I feel about no cakes. On the bright side though, being a huge cafe and all that, there are plenty of blind spots, and lets just say that if someone were to have a huge kit bag to hide contraband, and they were pretty stealth... well I'd go as far to say I think they may well get away with having their number one choice of post swim nutrition without being noticed.

Shark and I have been at the pool for what seems like the best part of the day, and as we depart for our long journey home, I notice an electronic suggestion box on the way out. In a bid to claw back some time I send Shark off ahead to warm the car (do people still say that now?), whilst I take time out of my (our) already long day to leave some constructive feedback and recommendations... They are after all stuck with me for a whole month and it's good to have things right from the off!!!

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. 😊

Open Water Woman

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. 😊