Do we judge by fear or reality?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Round Ireland Swim- 830 miles, One team, 56 days, 35 swim days-one amazing adventure.

"They say that the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest and the most urgent" 
(DH Lawrence) 
(Derek Flanagan-Marine Co ordinator) 

The Round Ireland Swim-swimming around the Island -the 20th largest island in the world and mostly an unprecedented swim of the most adventurous details-still sounds surreal. 

How simple is it to swim 4-6 hrs a day?-it was a swim of four coasts-Each coast a different challenge both in tides and exposure. 

Ten years later, closing my eyes I can still see these days-so clear.  This will always be a journey that is so difficult to batten down to words for today’s world of swimming- Our team was one of immense adventure takers-driven by passion and risk as opposed to stroke rate and structure. 
Feeding was sacrificed for tides and sleep was sacrificed for progress.  Our Team was there to find a way forward not to decide when we were done. The team became automated and institutionalised into an expedition that the reality of each day both physical and mental was lost in translation to progress and coastline. 

Pain was irrelevant and the individual emotions were boxed away to meeting the targets laid down. As swimmers we became the animals chasing their prey-that’s all I can say-the only thing coming between us and danger to ourselves was our team. After a few weeks we had completely lost the ability to identify our own physical and emotional failings. I can genuinely say I slept through swims with no memory of the time in the water. 
We were in so deep that logic was gone-The rescue team were the eyes that stopped the child before they ran across the motorway.. For that last few weeks we were all walking the white line between the cars racing by and I can say that now-looking back to the pain and the focus.. A step to the right or left would have changed everything. The team is the difference and they kept us on that white line. 

As the crow flies which is how a swim is measured is near 800 nautical miles, 1,330km-swimming up to 20 miles off shore, each day the Marine co-ordiantor placed 20-24 miles a day in front of us and between us that was our plan-as a team we were exposed to the power of nature.

What the Round Ireland Swim taught me what 100% is-I know what sacrifice is and mostly I know what team is? 

Background : We had been together as a team the full unit training as rescue units and swimmers for 18 months. We had intensive training weekends working 24 hrs a day with rescue units allowing us all to be in pressure situations-recovery drill of unconscious swimmers, relays, speed starts, remote locations and transfers. Swimming at 4am and training at night. The one major asset we brought to the unit was that we knew each other's strengths so well.  Trust could come quickly. 

Day 1 

plan: Swim to Downings  -about 3 hrs was the projected time
Wind : North Easterly and Tides were Neap. 
The whole rescue unit of full RIBS were available for the first few days-with Team Alpha starting the first rotation to Carlingford Lough. 
Swimmers: Anne marie Ward, Ryan Ward, Tom Watters, Ian Claxton, Nuala Moore, Leader: Henry O Donnell  Land Ops: Jim  Rescue Teams; Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta-Marine Co ordinator : Derek Flanagan- Command Boat Skipper: Brendan Proctor
Communications; Kathleen King. 
Vessels: Dive Áine, Sea Breeze, Rachel Marie and the Ábhainn Ri

Anne Marie Ward starting the Round Ireland Swim at Carrigfinn, Co Donegal

Walking into the water and saying good bye was quite surreal..The risks and the fears -the next time we swim into this beach we will be swimming in from the South-today we are swimming up to the North. I kept picturing the country. 

The first day was due to be short with only a few hrs swim to Downings Pier but the sea had another thought. The wind was NE and the tide was flowing easterly. Over the VHF I heard that Anne Marie was having a tough time coming out of the headland- Tom and Ian had 40 minute miles, Ryan, Anne Marie and I on 50 mins miles instead of 20 and 30 mins, that was 20 minutes slower per miles each! there was much confusion-what was wrong.
 Once we passed Bloody Foreland-the gigantic cliff face, my eyes drifted up and saw Kerry Flags being waved frantic- Frances Lynch jumping up and down with Ciara and Sandra and I breathed in. Tory Island in the distance-I reached into my pocket and held on tight to the keyring of Garten Clay from Annemarie’s mother. Today was real, friends and family waiting on Maharorty pier and we were already behind by 2 hrs. The air was cold-the water was huge and black and the dark clouds racing in from the Atlantic. We stayed inside Gola Island and tried to pick up some tides. Romance was stripped from us as the hours on the RIBs were sitting exposed in wet clothes. The sudden realisation that we had no cover from the wind and cold. 

For the first stretch I was on the RIB with Ryan, crewed with Kieran and Aidan. The mood on the boat was workman like and all chat was GPS co ordinates, winds, our feet sitting in water at the back of the zodiac- we were freezing wet and the thought there was no toilet was my greatest issue. We had drank all the hot liquids, all I wanted after 4 hrs at sea was a cup of tea and to talk about my day but methodically we sped off to meet up with the flotilla under Bloody Foreland, All we could do was stare in silence at each other-we convoyed into the pier. The Flags flying was so dramatic-the barage of green and gold.. the cheering the clapping, all shivering it was so hard to smile but we did.  

The jeep was parked at the top of the ladder in a space you would struggle to park a mini, lifting my body up the 30 rungs of the ladder nearly killed me-we were peeled out of our Immersion suits like peeling an onion, just to feel the sun on our wet clothes and see the steam rising from our wet bodies, Neil turned the suits inside out and threw them all on the jeep so the hot metal and sun could dry them- Between hunger and toilet we bolted to the restaurant. When we realised- Sure none of us had any money, we never factored in buying lunch-all we could salvage was an Apple Pie.. the tears and the stress as we sliced it into 5 pieces! but needs must and a pot of tea and a toilet. 

Henry walked over:
“Are you good to finish the 12 miles to Downings?" -With 812 miles to go “No” was hardly an acceptable answer so we took a few deep breathes, nodded and walked back onto the RIBs-I reached down to Ian’s hand and squeezed it. We were in a state of shock. 

The convoy travelled out 1000m past the entrance then all boats split to the way points it was emotional watching all the RIB’s disappearing onto the waves. The darkness of the sky at 5.30pm was foreboding and we were alone again.

After the second hour in the water with Noel and Aidan-it was 7.30pm. I was transferred to Ivan and Hugo boat-and Ian headed off. The insides of my bones were wet-we were wet for hours. Ivan didn't smile-They were serious putting in their GPS points. If I could have banged my head against the rocks without hurting myself I would have-and this was day one of a 2 month expedition. 
“Are you ready? “ Ivan asked 

I closed my eyes and slid over the side into the darkness. 
"Ready for what is all I could keep repeating" over and over again-
I had only covered 800 metres in 30 minutes. My eyes welled up, my breathing raspy and catching- “You’re in a battle of tides, all swimmers are fighting” was all I heard “it’s not you” and I stuck my head in the water-there is no end-the end is not today.. The ladder dropped but my arms were not able to lift myself. I was shattered-I leaned backwards into the water. 

“Give me a minute” I asked 

Two pairs of male hands reached in a grabbed me and pulled me up-there was no minute. 

No feet touched the steps of the ladder and I was planted on the floor at the back of the RIB with my towels. I decided to stay there in a heap. I didn’t want to sit up-I wanted to be in a heap. 

I didn’t take off the goggles-I didn’t dry myself, I needed to be miserable-in the last 5 hours I had a piece of apple pie and water. The United Nations couldn’t have intervened at this point. The boys stared forward and the wall of silence dropped on the RIB. There was such beauty is being allowed to have privacy for my rant on a 5m RIB. There were no answers so why ask questions? My rants were lost in the sound of the engines. 

11 hrs to swim 5 miles each, 800 miles to go. 
The swim was one thing-the day on the RIB was another. Frozen and hungry it was going to be a long 830 miles. 

Ivan turned back and said "Ryan, Tom and Ian were just finished and Anne Marie was still in the water battling outside of Downings, she will be another 30 minutes at least-she has lost all tide and is now against full flow”. It was 10pm. 

When you see the balance of struggles- it was easier to breathe. The crowds on the piers were huge, the banners-when Anne Marie and Ryan-the teams all arrived it was so emotional, their home crowd.  Food just slid down our throats- we drank the meat and veg. Walking out the door at 11.45pm we wondered how to figure out picking up food for 7am- after a quick chat Tom turned around and smiled.. “Remember no swimmer will starve in four weeks.. !!!" We raced for the garage which closed in 10 mins. 

Toilet, cold, constantly wet and food-how was this going to work ? Back into the jeep Ryan in the front with Neil, Anne Marie, Ian and I in the middle and Tom in the boot we raced to catch the garage. 

Leaving behind us the RIB’s and the crews-all the boats had to cleaned and fuelled for 9am and crews back.  Derek and Brendan peering over maps, trying to figure out what happened today-not planning tomorrow-trying to figure out today with John Joe. The last sight -we had leaving the pub, the last look back was maps covering tables and crews smiling because what else would you do. 

 The reaction of the body to the wild atlantic and nature was more than we had planned for-

In the jeep Ryan’s head was going over and back... I caught Neil’s eyes in the mirror and indicated.. Neil stopped abruptly. We all jumped up, alert.. Ryan jumped out.. there was a moment of alarm that something was wrong. Ryan jumped back in. There was a Bar of Chocolate on the windscreen going over and back with the driving. A Bar of Chocolate was the burst of sugar we needed. 

Once inside the kitchen, Tom and Anne Marie opened a bottle of wine, Ryan and I opened a block of Ice Cream and Ian started analysing his Heart Rate monitor, blood pressure and trying to figure out why his miles were 20 minutes longer than they should.. 

Words meant nothing-as we emptied our bags and gear out to dry them. Happy that we were again in Anne Marie’s kitchen tomorrow night..  Drying and washing our equipment and 5 hours later we were back in the jeep to start another day.  

Day 2 on Downings Pier we started with a briefing from Derek and Henry, The learnings of yesterday processed and put down to first day teething - Today was methodical, it was workman like, it was structured and it was nothing like yesterday. Malin Head stood strong and tall, the water was thick and green and heavy. We dug deep passing the entrance to Lough Swilly solely with the objective to get home early and have a good sleep. It was raw ocean passing the Lime Burner miles off shore. The water is much more honest the bigger and the stronger it is, it is more giving. 
Tantrums were minimal and food was good. 
The day finished at 6pm so home for 8pm. 
The challenges would be patience and trust. 

The swimming would be the easiest part-keeping ourselves together would be the challenge. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Don't go out in the cold with Wet Hair"-A Lesson we learned as a child -Value of Good Swimhat

In cold water swimming - 
  wearing a good hat is vital to your health. 
Take your head and the heat seriously-it may prevent your body from getting cold. 

For many cold is what prevents us from staying in the water and cold after our swim-

Maybe it's not about losing heat from the body-but it's about slowing the speed that the cold can get in and take hold...  
If keeping your head warm can slow down the cold you feel? 

"From a surface body area -the head itself is small and only contributes about 7% to the surface area of the body when immersed" according to Giesbecht and Pretorius 2005.  

Do we need to worry about the heat and the head? -the head is only 7% of total surface area of the body.
Having cold hands and cold feet is that the same as having a cold head?
Is there a reason as a child we were warned to keep our heads warm and not go out in the cold with wet hair?

One hat, two hats, neoprene swim hat, diving hood and no hat? the choices of many swimmers are more often than not born from the environment from which we swim and live. There is so much talk about swim hats that I wanted to questions a few areas after my years of swimming and travel to 0 degree Ice.  If you swim in cold water but have good heat post swim-it's different from swimming in Ice and having a - 20 deg air and wind chill. 

The contribution to the overall heat loss from the head, mathematically, as a result of being immersed in cold water is not that great on the scale of a body surface area immersed -it's only 7 % of the body surface. Not a huge heat loss.
Tyumen 2014

All our lives it was always "Don't go out with a wet head" "Get dressed from the head down after a swim"  "Make sure the back of your neck is covered" It was driven into us. I come from a fishing family and as a child I was allowed out without shoes but never without a hat.

Why do we need to know this?

The science shows us that heat loss or core cooling is the opposite side of the same coin-

It is the effect and impact to the body of having a cold head and if that could impact our ability to swim and our health?

Importance to have a hat that comes down over neck
 There is so little research done on this area but let us try and follow logic with what we actually do already have.

Some studies say that a cold wet head can contribute up to a 40% increase on the cooling of the core temperature- we get cold quicker.

That is working the research on Giesbrecht and his fellow scientists. This does not include “whole head submersion”

Research on submersion of the back of the head/neck in ice water as low as 0-5 degree, showed that the cold wet back of the head may contribute as much as 250% to the cooling of the body-again on research by Giesbrecht and his team. That is the statement.
Whether it applies to you or not it has a part to play-that is a huge variable. 

I was fascinated when we travelled to Siberia-in 2012 in Russia at 0 degree water, air temps was at - 33 degree -just breathing was a nightmare!!!
Once we got into the water the pain in the head area was intense-face in the water was cruel searing pain-my first time in water under 6 degrees.
Edward in Tyumen air - 33 deg-hair and eyes
frozen but he is so comfortable with
these temps. 

Many swimmers wore both neoprene diving hoods, neoprene hats with straps and also wool hats instead of standard swimming hats of silicon. It intrigued me and many times I just thought they were causal swimmers. But then they were clocking up distances to 1000m swimming in just a wooly hat-breast stroke, keeping their heads above the water so they were not casual-they were serious.

I was driven to understand the value of the hat and why as swimmers we make the choices we do. I know when I wear a bad hat. 

Over the winter period in our water in Ireland I train with 2 hats (for reasons of heat) that don’t slip -it is so important that hats come low to your lower neck.

Strong Silicon Hat is vital and ensure ears are covered-
relay in Tyumen 2016 WWSC

The area at the back of the head/brain is responsible for the heat regulation of the body this is called the hypothamlus and this regulates the body temperatures. This a vital area. 

We have more experience of the dangers of being overheated in a swim/dive and it's risks, it would appear much less attention to the information on factors to cooling and the minutia that we need to manage as swimmers, now in an frequent and extreme environment.
Alexander Brylin after 1 hr at 0 deg - 33 Air temp 2,100m 

I firmly believe that swimming without a hat for any distance front crawl in competition in cold water is not advisable-so I investigated some information. Many Russians who are acclimatised often do swim without a hat.
2 hats-I would have worn 3 we were so intimidated
 by the cold
First time swimming at 0 deg-Air temps MINUS 33 deg

Dr Irina Zhidkova is one of the most knowledgable medical doctors at the forefront of documenting Ice Swimmers, in my opinion, in the field. So much study is done in clinical environment and also on research-Doctor Irina and Doctor Nataliya Fatyanova have been at the cold front (excuse the pun for the last four years with us) - having two medical doctors also being our friends has allowed me to ask so many questions on a curious level.
Dr Irina and Dr Nataliya on the Bering Strait Relay
Irina started with us in Tyumen and she maintained contact with us through Murmansk and then onto the the Bering Strait Relay from Russia to the USA and since then in the Ice. She has entire Cardiac files on me and their ability to practically apply the information is stunning.

As competitions now become more and more frequent the majority of swimmers -wool hats and neoprene have transferred to silicon and I was curious as to the usage of neoprene and wool hats.

While out in Krasnoyarsk at the scientific conference-I asked Dr Irina and others what the opinion was on the medical ramifications on hats and the potential injury areas are to the swimmer.
It is very difficult to swim distance in a neoprene hood because of the buoyancy and the restrictions on the neck( in front crawl)  so why were so many Russians choosing neoprene to swim in?
Why is the head so important when it only covers 7% of the body surface area?
The Medical test at Krasnoyarsk

The answers regarding the neoprene hoods and hats was simple- to the point that it was basic.

Majority of Russian swimmers swim daily over a period of 4-6 months in air temperatures of possible - 30 degree to - 40 degree. 

It is crucial that the head and the neck and most important the lymphatic system are protected from extreme temperatures of -10 deg upwards.

A silicon hat does not offer heat, coverage and protection against these extreme temperatures on a daily basis.

It's not just the impact of the ice water-its the air temperature and the wind chill and the freezing water in the ears.

It's the speed of freezing of splashes of water on the skin and hair as we swim-that can impact the cold of the body.

I had not thought about that, at extreme temepratures-if water splashes on your neck, and your hair is wet at 0 degree water within seconds ice would form at those temps.. a frozen head must be a lethal combination to the health-to what degree there is no research-there are no answers I know.

One day, one swim -is not every day-we can all survive one day one swim with one hat-of course and of course people swim without any hats-for short course distance. Info is important ...

There is so much unknown about freezing the blood at the head but what is known is the value of keeping it warm-lets work to keep it warm.
Many are acclimatised to these
temps for short distance

  • My suggestion is 2 hats is better than one-if you are swimming in a very cold environment and exit the water-make sure you get dressed from the head down-wind chill.
  • Make sure that you wear a swim hat that caters for your hair-if you have long hair-make sure you pony tail the hair so it creates an air pocket and not strings out where your hair can get wet..
  • Make sure you have a seal on the hat and make sure your ears are covered and sealed.

Theories as to why we lose heat through the head-or why cold can impact, some include that the blood vessels do not constrict on the scalp due to the need for blood flow to the head -Blood flow on other areas of the body like arms and legs constricts and is slowed to prevent heat loss- not the head.
An Ice Cream headache is a searing pain when we swim without a hat to begin with.

The value of wearing a significant hat for swimming in the ice is further impacted by the results of the study where it listed by Hertzman (regional difference on maximal blood flow to the skin-1948) that the blood flow to the region of the head is 4-10 times greater than seen in the trunk or the limbs. 

Keeping the blood warm is crucial to prevent the brain cooling. 
As swimmers we should be looking to keeping the safety and the cognitive responses of the swimmer on our radar all the times. 

But there is much more research needed here to understand the tissue and blood responses to the cold. 
When I asked Dr Irina why we should work to keep our heads warm?

"The use of caps and earplugs are important for the prevention of early (freezing and infection) and late (meningitis, cancer and autoimmune inflammation) complications that can occur in a few months and years!!!" Dr Irina.

There is a value... Health Health and Health...

I think is it real to accept that swimming in cold water takes an enormous toll on the physical of the body-and the cold depletes the system to a point of incapacitation. The cold will take us.. so if we can in any way assist the body.. 

  • Look for a good quality silicon hat for competitions that require one hat. 
  • Be mindful that it covers your ears and lower on neck. 
  • Does not slip and mostly is the heaviest silicon you can get- (some is very slight and will rise off your head) 
  • Do not use a new hat for the first time at a long distance event. 

My small question has morphed into a key vital area that I feel as we spend more and more time swimming in the winter and in the Ice-we need to think about this. We need to protect our head.. Surfers are ahead of us here-they already risk assess for the cold water and cold wind chill. 

Photo Taken at Murmansk by
Shamil Tanna for Red Bull-swimmer
with chin strap 
Finally I asked Dr Irina about the Neoprene hat or hoods used by swimmers with chin straps. 

Obviously for protection and security of the swimmer, the use of neoprene caps, top rubber. Better to use hats that cover the neck and the chin (lymph nodes/lymphatic system-vital for colds and flues and infections). They do not slide-like some swim hats which fall off. It is possible to swim without a swim hat short distance and also without ear plugs if you swim breaststroke. 

Irina continued: 
" Maybe it is acceptable to allow in conditions to swim without a neoprene or swim hat beanie, if a temperature of air is +10 deg and no wind..maybe in these conditions no hat is ok"  

Short Distance without a hat.

So if the people who live and extreme conditions follow this practical advise-and our parents and grandparents drove the same information... let us believe there was a reason for it..

Always have good quality thermal hats for wearing in and around the Ice pool /sea and outdoors before and after the swim. 
If in very cold swims-please take the time to dry your hair and do not walk about with wet hair in freezing temps. 
Wet hair on your neck can cause a chill. 

Just my advice from my experience and my learning.. 
it's not about the heat loss.. it's not about preventing the loss of heat, it is all about preventing the cold from getting in..The risks of a cold head and a cold blood supply are real-from there we should start from. 
We can create best keeping the head warm. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Russian 1000m IISA Championships Krasnoyarsk

"Life is filled with certain obligations and responsibilities, 
but none more basic, primal or important than the responsibilities that we have to ourselves"  

International Ice Swimming Association Russian National Championships 1000m 

This was my 9th trip to Russia so each event is filled with friends and faces so familiar and even though I don’t speak the language for me I don’t need to. We know what it takes to swim in the ice and we have travelled this road together- signals and sign language is enough to finish safely.

Waking up in Krasnoyarsk to swim in the Russia IISA 1000m, I started to smile and just couldn’t believe I was out in Central Siberia 8000km from home-about to swim 1km in the Yetisei River, the only non Russian swimmer.
The long Journey from Dingle to Krasnoyarsk 8000km

 Sometimes in planning we remove ourselves from the risks and sometimes the risks are staring us in the face. Until this moment I was blind and now the reality of "what if anything happens me? " creeps in. 

“What the hell am I doing here? “ I started to laugh out loud - least it was laugh and not cry. 
 “This time tomorrow you will be  back in Paris..” that was our usual mantra- “Jump out of bed Nuala Moore and pack your bags you are in the game”

Once I say to myself "you are in the game" my mind changes..

Travelling to Krasnoyarsk a few weeks ago was a trip of 2 halves..

My obsession has long since been the understanding of our bodies and our minds to allow us to engage and strangely embrace the experiences of swimming in the Ice Water.
The body and the mind work together either with us or to conspire against us in our adventures-I’ve lived both moments and for me this journey is all about learning at this point.

The first day was spent at the "Scientific and Acclimatisation of the Body Conference" and it’s reaction to Ice- my dream.

This was my piece de resistance and the reason I came. As Risk Takers, we don't get to see what is happening inside our bodies. It's so easy to mistake emotional responses with reality and the body can over ride reality with the hope that we will be ok.

The medics and the recovery team at this event are as good as what is available in the world. My challenges for today was about staying strong and being able to walk in and out of recovery tent strong. The distance and the speed are not my interest today.

The Yenisei River is a 5,800km River-a colossal volume of water running from Mongolia to the Arctic-a river which is the second longest in the world and is in a constant state of cold-with Ice pieces moving on it all the time. The area of the swim had little or no movement but the open water route would allow us to swim into deep water.

The challenge of swimming 1000m at low to 0 deg temps are something that as a swimmer, I have down to a hymn sheet. I can close my eyes and swim each stroke-knowing when the pain hits, how to manage each of the symptoms and mostly how to stave off that doubt and anxiety.

There are many variables I cannot influence when I travel on 4 flights and without rest
and proper food to another time zone.
What I can influence is my approach to the event. The days before, I do not have coffee, no alcohol, no high sugar foods or any negative foods, my medical is vital but what I can’t impact is the lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of proper nutrition, these and emotional responses all influence the heart and my Blood Pressure-Time to adjust is always my enemy.

Having medics like Dr Irina who know and understand the body’s responses and can interpret my tests is huge benefit. She has my ECG and Cardio file since 2012 and she now knows my responses-knowing us, knowing the swim and mostly the changes to expect, this allows her to make the best possible decision -for a swimmer, learning to respect the medicals is vital.

The route was an open water route in the river. (there was also an opportunity to swim in a pool area as well)
The OW route area was a confined water space in so far as the flow of the river was not impacting. On arrival I threw a stick into the river to determine if there was a flow. It was negligible in this area but 100m outside would this change the values- there was a racing flood. The river drops deep 50m and this with the accompanying wind really changes the mind’s approach to an event. 
The route involved passing outside the initial 3 buoys 50 m from shore and the swimming north in a triangle to repass 2 of the buoys.
The Route

Once at the venue, I went immediately to the rescue cover-there were 4 boats / 9 men. I showed them my swim hat, introduced myself as being Irish and visiting. I wanted to explain that I don’t speak russian and to familiarise myself with any rescue signals that may differ from my own.
Saying hi to the Rescue Unit 
2 members spoke english and they were also members of the River rescue and also swimmers. We talked through the emergency plan and how they would alert me to dangers and signals. 
The swim set was groups of 4 swimmers and the next heat began when all swimmers were exited. Brilliant set up-allowing 20 mins between each end and start.

The medical in advance was Dr. Iryna. My BP was lower than yesterday but at 150/90-it was still high. My cardio and my Ecg were clear and my recovery from yesterday’s swims were visually perfect with the walls of my heart looking strong. The muscle was within the normal range and my pulse Ox was 99%. We agreed that my BP was stress related. I took a 20 min calm moment upstairs and my BP dropped to 140/85 which was evidence that the elevation was emotional-of course my heart was racing-I was a lifetime away from home and any challenges would be costly. I steadied myself and believed I would be in control at all time. Which will always be my goal in these circumstances.

Walking into the river, the bite was severe-the downside of the river is the flow of freezing water that continues to move-it’s fresh freezing all the time and this is biting. The feeling of the cold is exactly what we would expect. The hands and the feet started immediately to freeze. What I hadn't factored into the swim was raising my head forwards to sight and locating the marker buoys. What seemed easy to negotiate from the shore seemed impossible from in water. The fresh water river meant I were lower in the water-I found it so difficult to focus on the cold, focus on my body and then navigate my course.
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It made me so aware of swimming in a cut out ice pool-up and down the lanes-once you get into the lane I only have to count and breathe-the work rate here is so different in the open water. My mind went off on a tangent building my challenges, I was creating a mountain of all the things that were making this swim harder-as the rescue cover redirected me to the course. I had swam right inside, I had to backtrack about 50m to round the buoy on the outside-then I discovered all the ladies were following me.  This was playing on my mind-why are they following me like ducklings?
From the yellow buoy I couldn’t make out the Red buoy 200m ahead and I signalled the boat-got the ok and decided that every 50 strokes I would reconnect with the crew until the buoy came into play. I breathe to the left and the zodiacs were on the right because of the risks. Bilateral is not my thing.

Rounding the red buoy, I had to correct again as the ladies were right beside me then to the pink buoy but by now the waves were high with the wind lifting the river water. Turning the course to return the 500m was into the waves. -sighting forward was constant wallops of water as the wind rose huge lumps in our faces, swallowing 1 deg water took my breath away.  My head was now going under so breathing was another challenge. My heart went out to the ladies breaststroking-I was at least able to breathe to my shoulder-their faces were getting smashed by walls of freezing water. My previous 3 x 1000m were in a pool environment and counting to 40 compared to this was an absolute different challenge.  

Knowing I was going into the challenging period of the swim, physically my fingers and feet were stiffening. I needed to do a body check-My mind felt so strong and each time I felt some stress coming into my head-I would use the freedom of the water to breathe.. feel my freedom to move, I could twist and turn and the depth of the river all are so free. You're free-this is your space-just breathe. My goggles had fogged from the freezing water-in the pool this doesn't matter but trying to navigate it did. 
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At this point I was content that the ladies were all going to follow me. Without a doubt I had swam an extra hundred metres or so. 

Once I saw the final line of 3 yellow buoys I lifted my head to signal to the boat that I was breaking from the group and started to kick. I was so surprised how strong I was-my mind was so busy-I visualised standing up and exiting the water strong. I could have easily have been 3/4 mins faster-what I needed from myself was to be was strong. You can never take your eye of the cold and you can never take your eye of the cost of a swim to your body. 

I kept repeating to myself-“it’s only about staying strong”  I kept repeating to myself how strong I felt- but I was unaware of the time we were swimming so again my brain was switched on. A moment can come and you can lose yourself so today was about being able to leave this country in 12 hrs. I was first out of the water, I was delighted. I knew the ladies were tucked in behind me-this was the first Open Water swim for many of them so they were going to follow me.

I exited the water and though the Danil and Albert came to meet me-I wanted to exit myself.

There were stones on the exit so the balance with my cold feet was difficult.
"You gotta figure this out-stand strong " My focus was deep-I wanted to see how the 2 ladies behind me were.
Nazhdu was strong she would be great but one lady was in a battling space long before she went into the water and I wanted to wait for her.

Breathing and standing, holding onto the pontoon, my coat around me-I had this wry smile when I heard it was 25 mins.. "wow and look at you" I said inside. I focused on my breathing and wanted to just take a moment.

Many would say-"geez you were 3 mins slower" for me I was 10 times stronger on exit despite being in the water 3 mins longer. This was a journey of recovery for me. There is no value in getting faster and getting out quicker to me.. the challenge is staying in and learning how to get out stronger. I didn't do the speed work so I was so happy.
Speed will never be my thing. Learning is my thing. Being in physical and emotional control is my thing.
Once all the ladies were near shore-I walked to the recovery tent, cool calm and collected.

Over the years post swim is one of the most vital of area of learning. Having worked so much myself in the recovery area on the towels since 2012- this has all allowed me to be on both sides of the swimmer.

We can often not be aware of the process. I believe we have to witness it as an independent to genuinely understand the battle we go through. With the experience I have gained over the years, this has allowed me to be as tough on myself as I would be with anyone else. We often believe we are 10 times stronger than we are-as we need to believe it-when as a swimmer, you see the weakness, you appreciate it and your weaknesses all the more.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fear is your friend -learn to love it.

“Fear is nothing more than an Obstacle that stands in the way of Progress….” -

So many times in our lives we cite fear as a reason to stop-but fear is your best friend. True Fear is the moment that every sense in our body is heightened to survival and survival is the side of life that so many people are failing to engage with their adventures. 

The moment you are afraid-this is the moment you should wait for, this is the moment that you can become greater than your emotions-this is the moment that you can become your own hero. This is when you work the hardest. Fear is not anxiety. 

To take on any risky sport, It's important to understand  that you may fail and it may be a terrible experience, in failing we may devastate our emotions and set ourselves back, or else we may release ourselves to a phenomenal journey. It's forward or back.

0 degree was a new journey for me in 2012.  I traveled to Siberia, to Tyumen to take part in the Russian Cup to swim in Ice Water. It was the first time I was exposed to understanding if I could trust myself. It was also the first time that I could not train for the challenge, because I did not know what the challenge was. 

“1000m is nothing-40 lengths of a pool, I only have to stay alive” was my mantra. Such a brave statement and sort of cocky.My only training was sitting in a bucket of Ice in a fish factory to try and understand the feeling. So unprepared.
The only training I could do

When we arrived pool side at - 33deg air, breathing was near impossible- the air was so dry I was coughing. The men were starting up the chainsaw to cut the pool open. The sound alone brought the reality home. The medical check was pending while the rev of the chainsaw elevated the Blood Pressure. The anxiety of taking off my gloves was proving challenging to take photos. I had no idea how this was going how to swim at 0 degree, the pain of standing around was overwhelming

Chatting to  Anne Marie Ward, both long distance swimmers we discussed that we try to swim the 1000m  event- so blasse, it’s such a short distance, we’re swimmers.  We could get out at 500m, and still get graded as 500m swim, then as time passed we discussed getting out at 300m-I remember thinking who swims only 300m?   We only have to be able to stay in there. Why did we give ourselves opt out of each distance? We had both been through so many extreme swimming challenges in our swimming career so why were we afraid?

Easing myself into the Ice at 0 degrees, my chest was so tight, the pain was all encompassing. I managed 150m, of the first 100m I just couldn’t figure out how to stay alive, being a swimmer seemed so lost, swimming had nothing to do with success todayI just could not sort out my breathing, I couldn’t compartmentalise the pain, I could not even acknowledge what I was experiencing-my body was being hit with so much physical change that I panicked and got out. I was terrified I was going to die. It was fear, fear of not knowing what was happening. I could not will my arms forward, turning my face into the Ice was searing pain.  How do I keep moving? How can you trust yourself to  the next step into the unknown beyond the comfort zone of letting myself go. This was terror-all these emotions, all these changes and pain, all for the first time.  This was not about swimming.

I would love to think that we can embrace our fears. Such a “coined phrase” embrace your fears..but there is no tutorial. so the most important issue is to understand what it is, that is scaring you? 
What are we afraid of when we step up and say those words?
is it fear of judgement? fear of failure? as an athlete it is better to succeed a little-to stay in the comfort zone than to expose yourself to your own standards or to other people's eyes and that “look” when you think you disappoint.

When you excel at something, to be brought back to juvenile humility is incredibly tough? 

The first time I met Ram Barkai (extreme ice swimmer) of the IISA in New York in 2011, I was quite stunned how human and normal he looked. His stories were off the Richter Scale of extreme but his “talk” was normal. I had him on a super human pedestal. For us when we get to a point of competitive comfort is it just fear of exposure?

So what is it that makes us stop and give up -if it is not a physiological issue then why do we need 'out' of that situation? While some prefer to continue the same path, many choose the path less walked. 

As athletes failure is such a challenge.  That moment of breaking, that moment when our spirit is questioned, it can be devastating-it’s not pretty to see or to be part of, that vulnerability but it can also  be the moment of phenomenal progress. If we can risk it-if we take that step to bare ourselves.. 

Failure is often  judged as not succeeding-when in fact you could have surpassed yourself a 1000 times just if you tried.  

Without doubt the moment you make that call to get out of 'dangerous' situation, it is real emotion.  The feelings are overwhelming and the anxiety attached to that moment when we have to exit is real.

You can perceive Fear as Danger and it can be. The body responds in a way that overwhelms you, breathing becomes difficult, you gulp oxygen, your vision becomes tunnel and your ability to process your environment and your safety is compromised, you most likely are a danger to yourself. There is absolute physiology of stress and real emotion and at that moment you are experiencing it. It is real but this is manageable anxiety. 

I’ve been there and I’ve got out in panic. I was so proud that I had taken on the swim-I gave myself a high five for a small achievement but I was disappointed that I let myself down. I was determined to understand how some swimmers like Ram Barkai, Kieron Palframan, Ryan Stramrood and Henri Kaarma were all able to stay in the water that day and still survive.

Why do some walk away from their fears when others walk into them? We are all equipped to deal with fear so why do some hide behind emotions? 

In the back of my mind, the fears that Kieron and Ryan spoke about, were real-. I saw their eyes before their swim, they were terrified so how did they stay in the water? I saw the way they walked the 1000m with Ram swimming, never taking their eyes off him, then dived into 0 deg and they swam through their fears.Was-the difference that they had an understanding of the challenge?We had no idea.

I saw Henri Kaarma, stay silent, calm and then get into the water and trust the water for 1,650m, exit the water and trust the team. I was determined to understand how one person could be different to another when acutely we have the same skills.

The last few years of my sporting life have thought me so much about myself, about my journey. About what life had taught me and mostly about who I am. The ice has given me the real me. I love the edge and I love that moment when it is only me and I needed to step up and silence those voices.

Fear as an emotion-we can start afraid of failure, then fear of judgement, fear of self disappointment, fear of just not being good enough and I really do believe being exposed to our own weakness is the greatest fear that allows athletes an opt out..

I have spent much of my life in risky sporting adventures, all controlled, all with an exit strategy, all planned safety measures-Dive your Plan, Plan your Dive scenario. When I decided to take on the Round Ireland Swim Relay in 2006 I was truly exposed to the concept that I can’t swim and also worry about if one of the rescue crew were doing their job-from that relay swim of 56 days, 830miles, I learned trust in other people but learning to trust myself has been the toughest lesson that the Ice has taught me.

Over 2012 winter to 2013 March, I broke down all the challenges. I wrote down all the fears, everything that I could expect from my reactions to the challenge and mostly I decided that this was my journey. Fear is a fabulous thing. It allows us to put in action a plan to save ourselves mostly from ourselves and our limits.

Don't ever fear Judgement-Don't ever fear disappointment-it is only when fear is not an issue that you can commit 100%/. All those in my group that day in Tyumen 2012, in those conditions, Anne Marie Ward, Cristain Vergera Padraig Mallon, all of us have gone on to achieve stunning success in the Ice.  Fear was placed to one side- Limits were smashed and dreams were experienced. 

“Fears we don’t face.. become our limits. “