Saturday, April 8, 2017

Swim Failure/Cold Incapacitation - No matter who you are as a swimmer-The cold will take you at some point.

If a swimmer swims past their limits in cold water - The risks are very serious. 
The impact of the cold water will stop us as swimmers from rotating our arms or the swimmer will fail - Every swimmer has a limit in Cold Water-the cold will eventually incapacitate us all that is a certainty. Allowing a swimmer to get this point can be very dangerous so knowing the limits of each swimmer is vital for safety. 

One of the scariest moments I have ever experienced was when crewing for a cold water swim I realised that my swimmer was still moving their arms but was not actually lucid-they were swimming in 'automatic', when their eyes looked at me they were not focused and their ability to communicate was nil.  We were terrified. All I could think about was 'how am I going to get this swimmer back?' How are we going to get this swimmer out of the water? and mostly how did that happen? No one trained us for this moment-Understanding the challenge of each swim is vital -more to prevent a swimmer getting to this point-we were shocked as to how a swimmer could have over ran their own check system and how they continued to swim past their own signs of failure. How did the swimmer continue to swim when there was no cognitive responses?  

Swimming long distance in cold water (Distance is relative to temperature for this article) is a very challenging task both from a physical but also more importantly a cognitive level.
It is very possible for the swimmer to swim beyond their limits. 

How a swimmer responds depends on how cold the swimmer has become on the inside and how cold the environment is on the outside.  For a certain period of time the swimmer can produce adequate heat to stay warm -at very low temperatures the body will begin to cool down.
 The temperature of the muscles in the arms and legs starts to cool down first - That is our priority area for swim failure. In Ice and cold water this can occur rapidly -muscles can lose up to 3% of it's maximum power per 1 deg loss of muscle temperature according to Golden and Tipton (2006).  We see this loss of power so clearly defined and visible with swimmer's arms moving badly, and not able to maintain the full push or pull of the stroke.

As the swimmers become colder and colder -many will lose adequate power even to maintain the body position either to stay going and or in some cases to stay above the water.
It is at this point that the risk increases exponentially.
There will also come a point in some distance swims where the swimmer's ability to make safety decisions will be impacted. What I want you to think about is-because the body is functioning does it mean that it is in control?

 The question that I put is -
Should Ice and Cold Water Swimmers determine their own personal limits or their own ability to continue in the water-can they act in their own best interest or should the outcome of the swim depend more on the work of qualified teams? Sometimes do we need to intervene earlier?

Many wonder how a swimmer can swim a long distance at extremely low temperatures-With training and individual's ability, the human body without question has supreme survival capacity in extreme conditions. If we need it to push into 'negative' the body will keep functioning. Without question-we are born to survive. 
The survival mechanism exists in all of us and our responses to extreme are without doubt 'superhuman' at that moment for a specific length of time when required. 

It is also important to
understand the responses of the human body/mind to stress and mostly our capacity to continue through and past-or to override or ignore the signs and symptoms of failure. The body can keep moving. 
Teams and crews should understand that the swimmer or the athlete is not the person to decide how they feel-they are vested in the outcome-being a team member is a huge responsibility in Ice and Cold water swimming and it is the emerging of so many swims which once would have been 'expedition team rescue cover' to now a minimal rescue cover if any and sometimes little experience in the monitoring of the unit. For me we have to always manage the swim based on the risks to life.  

So How did we get to this accepted practice? 
Not so many years ago our perception of life and performance was different. Some people would leave a pub after drinking 10 pints of beer and get in the car and drive home-we believed them to be great drivers, amazing that they could control a car under the influence. 
Some people can drink a bottle of vodka and continue to function as 'perceived' normal, it takes a trained to eye to know the person is drunk when they are a 'functional' drunk. The fact that we have a term 'functional' alcoholic is testament. 
There are an amount of people who will try and convince you that they are perfect fit to function despite being exhausted. We schedule a person to work a 24 hr shift and make life and death decisions without sleep in the health service-  Adventure racers race for days without rest and solo expeditionaries function beyond all limits with a mere 10mins sleep an hour. But how?   Are we performing or are we surviving? I don't know I just know that the body works-but challenged the failure will be immediate. 

What I have seen during my life as an swimmer, as a crew member/team member and in other working areas is that the body and the mind can override the natural level of capability, 
it does not mean what we are doing is safe-it does not mean that the person is in control of their actions and it certainly does not mean that that swimmer can in any way be responsible for their recovery or outcome, and the moment they finish their swim they may not have enough reserves to recover. 

Information and experience now shows us that the swimmer can continue past the cognitive control.
Decision making processes at this point by us swimmers and these individuals is not only flawed and dangerous but in many cases it's justified and defended. 
“I was fine” is the often response and they were at that moment-but it doesn’t mean that it should be best practice, especially in events and sport. 
 So what does this have to do with swimming-open water or Ice swimming?  

When Cold water or Hypothermia becomes a leading influence on our body temperature -our teams need to train for the expected outcome-They have to know when to stop a swimmer or what to do when a swimmer stops or is stopped. If a swimmer collapses after a distance swim -there is a huge difference between normal fatigue at higher temperatures and fatigue influenced with hypothermia. 
It is the role of teams and swimmers to understand the risk, recovery, recognition and safety planning of the entire individual event-your job as a crew is to plan for the ‘unlikely event’ and all outcomes, not just to 'be there'. 
Being able to risk assess as the swim progresses is vital.  

If you never use your safety plan-that is not a problem.  
The cold/thermal impact on the body and the brain, of swimming distance in cold water shows us repeatedly that the cold water will eventually incapacitate all swimmers -
The amount of time before that ‘failure’ will take to impact the individual performance of the swimmer depends on so many variables. 

Ice Swimming and Cold water swimming has exploded in it’s popularity and so many swims have pushed boundaries both of physical and human endurance at temperatures lower than previously thought possible. Very few of these swims were 'random' they were managed and they had dedicated teams. My mind has been blown at what I have witnessed and experienced in the last 10 years -amazing swims but the positive outcomes of many of these 'Extreme' distance swims were only possible in my opinion, because of the support and recovery teams at that moment and more importantly the absolute focus on the swimmer.
I was present at the 2,400m@0 deg, 2,150m @ 0 deg 2km plus @ 0 deg and multiples 1,650m @ 0 deg all at up to - 30 deg air temperatures. I was also present for some very scary recoveries both in channel and Ice swimming.
I can say confidently that very few swimmers would have been able to manage their own recovery at the end of the swim - so many outcomes without doubt may not have been successful with a lesser qualified team.

I whole heartedly promote the activity of pioneering swims-The sport of Ice Swimming and marathon swims needs extreme swims to allow us to constantly re evaluate the potential for the human body and mind. But there needs to be more focus on the event and the expedition.

I have seen and crewed for swimmers who have zero recollection of their swim, a hazy recollection or at times have presented a completely different recollection of the final section of their swim to the actual events-Some have stood calmly in front of me wholly convinced their version of what happened was actual-the one constant is that these swimmers continued to physically rotate their arms-despite not being in ‘cognitive or physical control’ but once faced with a cognitive decision or the moment they stopped their failing was obvious, one actually sank in front of me the moment the moment the arms stopped and knowing how to manage airways was vital here. 
On a few occasions the swimmer post swim had no memory of being taken from the water-or leaving the water.  So again why do we need to know this?
Would I want swimmers to go to these limits again with the information I now have ? 

 How is it that the swimmer can then function albeit as ‘perceived normal’ to continue the swim?
I have no idea how the body can continue to function-I just know that it does.

If swimmers are functioning beyond a 'thinking' ability then teams need to be able to manage and recognise the step by step process both to intervene, stop or manage and also to equipped to recover/reheat the swimmer to a accepted standard-either at an event or remotely at your location. We have to prepare for all eventualities. Don't allow naivety to control your thinking. 

How far do we allow that swimmer to swim so as to ensure they are strong enough to make that recovery with the location you are in?

Let’s look at the ‘new’ norm in life-the new athlete. Extreme swims which were once remote locations and expedition in planning can now be experienced- the same distance and temperature in a 'perceived' mainstream environment like a pool. Swimmers can be naive to believe that there is safety in a confined space.

People are under more and more stress to succeed and there are greater ramification to the fear of failure, in many areas of our lives, not just sport-we have moved beyond the ability to stop maybe driven by the perception of opinion and external pressure.

The athlete is now taking on distance open water swims 'unsupported' in difficult conditions which previously would have been swims considered with the assistance of an expedition team/or a qualified boat crew.
Full teams are vital for safety-our first Ice Mile
attempt in 2011 

Why are we changing our model of preparation? Why are we assuming less risk?

Why is a swim that scared some very experienced swimmers a few years ago not ruffling a feather now?
Why were a full crew required to ensure the safety a swimmer a few years back now not required and  why are risks being absorbed in many swims as if these risks are no longer an issue?

Today is a different environment 
There is external and internal pressures to continue to function or more so to be seen to function. 
Motivational statements like “no one remembers a quitter” "I love to push my limits" etc are mantras that fill our ‘feed’ and there is an influence on our psyche.
Fear of failure-etc are all areas that we are driven into.
Finishing at all costs seems to be acceptable drive, but that is an easy statement when you don't know the cost both to yourself and the people who are left to manage the outcome.

There is a crucial difference difference between fighting and recovering from fatigue V. fighting and recovering from fatigue with hypothermia.

One of the obvious answers is when a body does a task over and over and over again..Repeat, repeat, repeat to the point that the body can work automated.  That accepted pain and that same swim route is not a challenge to the body when all things remain equal-it's like walking home drunk.

We train to tolerate the greatest of pain in swimming.  We can swim blind, we can sleep walk, we can over ride all risks when we are so familiar with the risks and with the journey.
Many people can now walk out of a mile at 3/4 deg as if there is not one challenge internally.
So for 40 mins at sub 5 deg, if the swimmer does this route over and over, once the swimmer understands the journey-we only have to complete the journey-or so it seems-the body keeps moving-it learns to manage the challenges.

But the moment all things change and the risk becomes greater is when the mechanics of the body fails.  When the body is challenged with decision making.. that’s the chink in the armour that is when the swimmer is exposed-the moment you interrupt their system, the moment you stop the automation of the arms moving, the moment the athlete is faced with a decision that focuses them to think- the weakness or semi conscious is exposed-on their own the swimmers act in a cocoon type, foetal like action where all work is being done on the inside. The risk here is huge for uninformed, inexperienced teams.

Many Ice swimming/cold water swimmer's ability to finish the distance results only to collapse in recovery.
Trying to work hard as a team member for a large event in recovery when you don't know the swimmer is an emotionally charged task. If you don't know the swimmer, you don't know the triggers and you don't know the limits and you don't know their ability to recover.

Many swimmers now appear to arrive at events without a safety plan-There should never exist that our personal responsibility to take on any swim of any distance of 450m onwards in any event without a safety /recovery plan.  

Why is passing that point in cold water swimming more dangerous than other mainstream sports like running?

The athlete’s response in cold water is measured by how cold the athlete is on the inside and the outside, a runner, cyclist can despite the cool temperatures can increase clothing and increase heat in a way that a swimmer cannot. -The runner can collapse over the finish line but the body is rarely in an acute hypothermic state. 
The runner who wants to stop/needs to stop and collapse at the side of the road they have an opportunity to get their breathing under control -they have a chance at survival but the swimmer who slows or continues to swim while being semi conscious can do untold damage to a heart-up to and including death.  As the runner is slowing down their slow up to the jog, to the walk, or stumble or even fall down.
When the swimmer slows down over a period of time and loses power to the cold muscles and the inability to use their arms and legs at the same function-the body position drops lower, the drag increases with legs falling, the swimmer can start to swallow water maybe even sink. The risks are much greater.  
A solid team is vital

Being able to recognise the signs of Swim Failure and Swim Incapacitation as it approaches are the basic tools to create the limits for our sport. So how do we do that?

The Marathon Swimming/Channel swimming has been responding to management of Swim Failure over the years mainly in the form of observers, their reports and teams, pilots and experienced crews.  
Management of the stroke rate is the most obvious tool we use and after that an experienced crew who can watch for signs and symptoms of failure. 

In the distance swims and marathons- cold incapacitation is a slow development-in low temperatures in the ice- this is a fast process and the margin for error is tiny-mistakes can be huge. 

When we see a swimmer's stroke count drop along with a body position change-when the legs collapse, when the angle of the body changes and the head is unable to turn adequate so as to not get enough oxygen - these issues can be life threatening. 

One of the biggest risks in cold water swims is the reduction in power of the swimmer. Cold slows us all down, the drop in stroke rate is not a problem-the reduction in power is the problem in the Ice. 
Cold water Incapacitation is real and under a certain temperature in the cold water it is a matter of time. 
There are some amazing exceptions to the rules, but one of the certainties of Ice water <5 deg is that there is a end ‘time in the water’ to the body. 

How is the swimmer physical output impacted by cold? 

Most of the research is done on muscles cooling and exercising in cold environments-and stationary research has shown that the temperature of the arms can drop below 27 deg in 20 mins in 12 deg water. 
The double side of the equation-if the arms are rotating and creating heat-and also if the Ice water then strips the heat away from the muscles 20 times faster than air-we have a really complex but inevitable conclusion. 

So what about 10-15 mins at 0 deg? 

There is no reason swimmers competing over 10-15 mins with adequate training would have any loss of power which would lead to swim failure but the experiences we have seen show us that past 20 mins @ 0 deg there begins a power drop for some swimmer and past 30 mins sub 5 deg shows some power reduction to potential risk to some swimmers. 

It does takes some time for the arms and legs to cool. The faster the swimmer the more heat generated, the slower the heat loss. The body type,the training, the individual etc all impact. 

The Major Risks are: 

When the swim is remote and off the side of a boat into very cold water -the risks are greater. 
Having the information and the ability to confidently to step in -knowing that once the cold water has reduced the power- swim failure cannot be reversed-your information can save lives and mostly avert a difficult experience for teams and maybe a life threatening experience for the swimmer. 

Now with the volume of swimmers entering events-many without the back up in training and experience it is so important that we push forward the ethos and culture of knowing your safety plan in advance of your swim. When you exist the water is no time to start organising your recovery.    

Recognising your limit will save lives. That's the Gold Standard-knowing when to pull and when to allow the swimmer to continue.

The survival instinct and the ability of the body to survive is not a mechanism that a swimmer should be using. It is not healthy to push continually beyond the controlled -the risks of systems failure are greater by the personal confidence "I am ok" until some day a 'curve ball' a 'variable' is thrown into the mix and the skill set cannot or is not able to process the change. 
Expedition swims cannot be confused to controlled swims- extreme cannot be confused with mainstream and reality will always be reality. 
If you have decided to take on a swim at a temperature that you have not prepared for, take on a distance that you have not trained for -preparing for the failure is responsible-not a negative. 

The main problem is when the swimmer exists the water-the team have to work hard to recover the swimmer-act responsibly.  
Take on swim distances and temperatures that you have trained for. 
If you have not trained for the distance or the temperature make sure you have your exit plan and your team know your limits. 

Know who and how you are going to be recovered-manage your exit from the water -you are not someone else's problem.
Don't arrive at an event and believe that it is ok to take on a distance without a full personal dedicated team. 

Always check out your own requirements and make sure you have your tools to recover. 

At some point when you are swimming distance at temperatures below a certain temperature.. the cold will stop you or you will stop or be stopped... 
Just because you can does not mean you are in control or you should. .. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Circum Rescue Collapse - or After Drop Information necessary for Ice Swimmers.

All Organisations/Groups/Teams faced with a probability of treating hypothermia should be prepared to apply the best care available and not that which is merely available or assumed sufficient to prevent death. 

Over the last few years of dealing with acute hypothermia injuries -I am reminded over and over again that no one is immune.  

According to Giesbrecht, there are many examples of people being taken from cold water immersion in an apparently stable and conscious condition only to experience "a rewarming shock" or a "rewarming shock" with symptoms ranging from Ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest. 

Golden has noted that deaths can occur either before, during or after rescue-known as "Circum Rescue Collapse" It was long thought that the After drop with a potential drop of 4-5 deg could contribute to the collapse post cold water immersion but Golden discounted this and started to focus on a collapse in arterial pressure BP and inadequate coronary blood flow and the increased sensitivity of a cold heart. 

Getting out of the Ice water after spending 10-20 mins at 0-5 degree and walking to the recovery area to begin the recovery is some of the most challenging moments which exist for a swimmer and the team since 450m/1000m became a bigger event in Ice Swimming. The recovery is also the greatest risk area. 

Going back to 2012 in Ice Swimming and before that with Coast Guard and Rescue training- what I have experienced and loved learning in the last 4 years is not so much about the swimming but about the management of the swimmer and seeing what we can do to protect both the swim and the swimmer. 

When a swimmer exits the Ice water. 
it was not JUST a swim-
1.The swimmer has exposed their body  to extreme freezing water and the physiological make up of the body has changed completely.  
2. The work for the team and the recovery unit is challenging for many reasons of "laws of physical inevitable consequence"   
Collapsing and altered consciousness is something that I have seen many times in the last few years in the recovery area of Ice Swims. It has a lot of supporting evidence and I myself have witnessed and managed this area about 10-15 times in the last few seasons at Ice Events. 4 of these circumstances were of a serious nature. I felt we were lucky to have positive outcomes and for this reason i think it is important that we begin to start creating procedures and education in this area. 
Swimmers should not be allowed to assist in their own recovery.

Afterdrop or the area of Circum Rescue Collapse.  Both are vital to understand. In my experience Post Rescue Collapse has a greater role to play with the movement of the swimmer post swim.  

After drop is a process where the sequence of heat flows between an inner and an outer area-the core being warm and the peripheral being cold. it is the physical law of inevitable consequence of having your body immersed in cold water where the heat loss is greater than heat production and then reheating began. 

However the fact that losing consciousness on recovery, rescue and also removal from water can occur before the after drop begins-this then focused leading discussion and rescue services to address this area as a greater risk to life. 

The protocol for Coast Guard- removal and management of cold water extraction is horizontal positioning from Vertical removal. Holding the swimmer in a horizontal position has a greater recovery potential. If a swimmer becomes unconscious on removal it is vital to put them in a horizontal position

Watching the transport of swimmers in 2012 in Siberia when many distance swims were completed was exactly as we now understand. Many extreme swimmers were transferred to the sauna in complete horizontal position including Andrey Stoyev. 
In Murmansk 2013 when I completed my first 1000m at 0 degree, the distance from the poolside to the sauna involved a lot of steps so those who could stay in the heated area by the pool for a few minutes to steady and then transferred with assistance. This also existed in 2015. 

Many swimmers including myself had moments where we drifted in and out of consciousness on the walk to the sauna-but we were managed brilliantly once there. 
The procedures of recovery and removal are vital for sustaining life post an Ice Swim. Understanding the body is crucial. 

To truly understand the sport-you have to be there-you have to see the management of an Ice Swimmer on the edge. You have to understand why each move is calculated and understand the value of knowing this information.

Swimmer or casualty we all have the same physiology. It's the same injury. 
I have spent a lot of time talking to and working with Rescue services and medical personal on the issues around these physiological challenges post removal. I would love to see swims implement procedures. 
Some would say the speed of the swim can increases risks to the physiology of the body and outcome but I would also argue that the expected and managed time outcome, the proximity of the swimmer to the exit and the expectation of the swimmer to survive also acts as a positive for swimmer v casualty. 

The main difference between an Ice Swimmer and a Casualty in Ice water is that the Casualty is hoping for survival and the Swimmer is looking for Performance and survival. 
  • The body now contains a mixture of warm blood and very cold blood. . 
  • The heart has a decreased ability to speed up to meet swimming needs  as time passes 
  • The muscles fail to perform small tasks
  • The veins and nervous system are temporarily altered in such a way that has them on the edge very close to significant hearts malfunction 
  • Risks attached to the speed the swimmer approaching the finish 
I have seen and managed probably over 15 cases in the few events 1000m I have attended. 
Lifeboat services in Germany post war decades ago discovered that if they managed the casualties horizontal post swim and fewer died.

The good news is the best chance of Survival is water temperature under 5 degrees.

Where has the Circum Rescue Collapse thinking come from?
Over 15-20% of people who are taken from the water conscious as casualties, collapse and die post rescue. This is a very significant number.

This area of death post rescue is well documented with reports of entire ship crews picked up after the war and once removed conscious from the water, many died from no apparent injury with the exception of the immersion. 
Cold water  temperature played a significant part. 160 rescued from the water below 10 deg 17% died within 24 hrs of rescue. 
Of the 109 rescued from the water over 10 Deg none died after rescue. 

Matthew describes airman being in the water for a short period of time, once their rescue commenced and they assisted in their own rescue, some fell unconscious and died on removal from the water. 

 similar to standing up to quickly and feeling faint but the same thinking that could cause the swimmer to collapse on exiting the water. 

There is anecdotal evidence that 1985 a sailor who was washed overboard North Cape Sea Temp 5 deg-8 mins in the water, airlifted by helicopter on a vertical strap,(he assisted with the rescue on a few attempts)  he regained consciousness on the helicopter once he was put in a horizontal position in the helicopter. Golden et al-circum rescue collapse

Hypothermia in itself has proven that it is not a major risk at 1000m events-especially as majority of our swims are short and those which are longer as time and distance have a time limit of 25 mins for most events. 
The difference between 300m and 1000m is gargantuan. It was the difference between 6 mins in the ice and 20 minutes.  When the swimmer stands up to climb the ladder-swimming position from Horizontal to Vertical -and a drop in blood to the head. 
 It is now considered that it is a collapse in the Arterial pressure which contributes to collapse also the speed of the swimmer.  

  • Racing to the ladder horizontal at speed then quickly standing up gives a HUGE possibility that climbing up the ladder and the hydrostatic pressure of the body could collapse.
  • This change in body position could also stimulate Hypovolemic shock when the working rate of the heart collapses as the warm blood drops down and the workload of the heart needed to function could cause the swimmer to go unconscious. 
  • The movement of the swimmer’s arms and legs have to be kept to a minimum when moving and could rush and flush the cold blood into an already stressed working heart causing possibility Ventricular Fibrillation. 
  • The release of stress hormones at being removed from and being in a safer environment can cause the swimmer to relax and collapse. 
  • Incorrect rewarming or no treatment -Techniques are important if there is rewarming of the body incorrectly -such as rewarming of the hands and feet can send cold blood back to the core and this cold blood trigger the heart to collapse and arrhythmias. 

    Paradoxical Undressing -where the swimmer states that they are OK.. that the swimmer indicated that they do not need assistance.The swimmer indicates that they do not need any rewarming assistance-we treat everyone equal. 

Particular the post swim 30 minutes 

Recommendations : 

  • Responsibility of the swimmer is explained and understood. 
  • Experience at both temperature and distance is relevant to the temperatures of the event and distances 
  • Medical responses are final. 
  • The removal methods of the swimmer from the water understood by teams and discussed in advance
  • The risks of swimming at 0 degree and also - 40 degree Air temps are understood.  
  • The distances from pool to recovery is managed and challenges like steps etc are taken into consideration for the recovery. 
  • Understanding the risks of swimming Open water and also pool-rules are different. 
  • The steps to distance swimming is slow and organised with building physical understanding. . 
  • The treatment in the recovery area to rewarming is explained to the team and also the swimmer-this is the greatest risk. -do not rub, handle gently, and sow managed recovery. 
  • The understanding of the energy required post event-Blood sugar drop -shivering takes energy and this must be fuelled. 
  • Team training. 
  • The understanding of the physical response from Horizontal to Vertical and the risks attached. 
  • The responsibility of the swimmer to be healthy-and have understanding of the hypothermia impact on the body
  • The responsibility of the swimmer to be emotionally strong to fight the survival. .. such as the return down the mountain-in Murmansk 2015 I feel many swimmers experience 0 degree for the first time and the recovery as not easy. 
  • Maybe having 3 x 450m at 0 degree before 1000m at 0 degree or something like this. 
The future is so bright for Ice Swimming but understanding the best practice for removal and for the safety of events is vital for all. 

For more information I have published a manual 
An insight into the World of Ice Swimming. 
for interest please contact me on

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.