I got up at 6am every day.
Temperatures ranged between 2-5C
My double dips where 600m each! And the most difficult.
How does it feel? On entry your body responds to the cold shock, there is a resistance to put your hands in, the sensitive lower back and nape of the neck are key markers for me in my entry and keen to get it over with fast.
First I ease my breathing as the instinct is to panic and hyperventilate and start swimming fast. So I keep breathing slow and start making longer strokes. As I adjust to the freezing water, it’s all relative: I can put my face in the water and deal with the bigger shock now. This has got me to 50m and then it’s about getting into some flow of ease till the 100m. In the next 100m, I can start thinking of my stroke technique – the better I swim the quicker I will go and then get out. There is some logic!
I complete 200m and start feeling the skin around my body tighten and firm, making movement harder. The cold is starting to go under the skin, literally. At the end of the 300m, especially if the temps are low, I need to start focusing on staying mentally steady and make sure I’m breathing properly, not inhaling water.
By the end of 400m my hands are like clumps of ice that I’m moving around, my toes and fingernails feel like they have bullnose clips on each and a heavy spike is pushing them down. I can start feeling the tip of my tongue get cold.
On the 500m mark I need to start working on my mental state, staying acutely aware of my body, making sure my mind keeps on working and literally stays on top of things, on top of the body trying to take control and slow down.
At 600m I have looked for emotional strength to give me the power I need both mentally and physically to push through.
As I stop and stand to get out, I’m acutely aware of the super sensitised finger tips and toes; I don’t want to touch the handrails but I must pull myself out of the water. The barefoot walk to the changing room is painful and I’m very careful not to touch my toes on the ground as much as possible. The body is usually a brilliant pink colour and blood starts flowing back into the hands and fingers. Inside the changing room the first thing to wear is a hat and have a hot coffee. I quickly undress and putt the first layer of clothes on, which is the most challenging process as it all sticks and my fingers are barely working still. The best part is putting on the warm socks and finally a coat.
If I have done 600m in the colder temps I have a window of about 10mins before my body starts shivering strongly. If I haven’t got dressed quickly enough, the shivers make the dressing process even harder. Shivering is good; it is mild hypothermia, but it is the body’s way of generating energy. If someone shivers a lot we sandwich them between two bodies and, it must be instinct, the shivering eases.
Camaraderie among open cold water swimmers is second to none. We look out and care for each other which makes for an awesome sense of belonging and social support.
In the summer we fondly remember the frosty mornings, but sit back and enjoy the blinding sun glimmer on the very much-loved Serpentine…
And that’s what Elina did every single day in January!
If reading this makes you even more in awe of her achievement, please do give. The donation site is still open and with temperatures dropping even more this week in the UK, let’s see if we can’t help get a few more homeless youth off our streets and in a warm bed.
And If you haven’t yet seen the message by RICS CEO Sean Tompkins and LandAid CEO Paul Moorish on Elina achieving her pledge, you can see it here.
Photo credit (unless our own) Chris Jackson, www.vitapoesia.co.uk