Saturday, 27 April 2013

Facing up to cold...

I have to confess that in spite of being determined to move on from my unsuccessful Cabrera Channel swim, I've been struggling a bit with it. I can sometimes have a slightly unhelpful response to both success and failure - unchecked, success feels like I've 'got away with it', and failure can feel like I've been 'found out'. It's a very unproductive, all-or-nothing view that I try to step outside of, but which creeps in occasionally. But some quiet thinking about this, some advice from a sports psychologist, plus time and perspective, mean that I've been feeling much better and am now positively focused on MIMS.

But I also realised that I was experiencing a new 'fear' of the cold...or perhaps, fear of getting very cold in the wake of my run-in with hypothermia in Mallorca. The speed and potency of the cold on the Cabrera swim really took me by surprise, and I have found myself starting to bargain with the cold  - 'if it's over X degrees in the Channel, I'll be fine'; 'I can't swim MIMS unless it's Y degrees...' This is no good. When I was training for the Channel last time, I very deliberately avoided any talk of the 'If I had a good day, I could....' variety. You get what you get, and whether you make it or not, it doesn't help to be setting the conditions for failure in advance.

So, rather than let this newly gestating fear of cold take root, I decided that I needed to nip it in the bud by getting properly (but safely) shiveringly cold. So, off to Lake 32 I trundled this morning. It's a long drive from Coventry (about 90 mins), but it's the nearest swimming spot to me that is open this weekend, so off I went. I have to admit to having some doubts when I had to pause before setting off to let the ice on the windscreen defrost, and the Met Office weather forecast for morning air temps of 4 degrees (down to 1 degree in the wind) didn't fill me with enthusiasm. But if nothing else, I could be sure that my goal for the day - to get really cold - would be achieved.

Out of the wind at the entry point, the water really didn't feel too bad, and off I paddled. Out of the shelter of the trees, however, I could feel the biting wind slewing across my back and shoulders and the water started to feel far icier than the 11-12 degrees recorded last week. I kept swimming, enjoying the crisp, clear water - still too cold for the weeds to have sprouted from the lake bed. Stupidly, I realised I'd left my rings on, but rather than going back and taking them off, I paused to take them off and thread them on to my watch strap -  a dexterous feat with stiff, clawed fingers. And on I swam, although the buoys on the lake seem to have proliferated over the winter and the official 750m circuit escaped me. I settled instead for a 1km loop achieved just by swimming towards the next orange thing and seeing where that took me. After my first lap, I felt like my body temp had settled; my skin felt like it was burning with cold, but unlike in Cabrera, where the cold got into my very core and seemed to be eating its way to the body's surface, the cold was moving from the outside, slowly spreading, but in slow, incremental nibbles from the surface, rather than gnawing away from the inside. Before Cabrera, this is what I understood as being cold in the water; it can be uncomfortable, and even painful, and you have to keep an eye on it, but it's okay. I still don't really understand why I got so centrally cold in Mallorca - probably because I was cold for much longer - but it felt great to supersede that memory, that fear, with this much more familiar, manageable cold, nibbling from the outside in, rather than the inside out.

I got out after an hour, chilled but satisfied, and got changed in the van, followed by a splendid display of some of my very best shivering and comedy coffee-drinking before retreating with pals Neil and Steph to the cafe for a delicious breakfast. Perfect.

It's hard not to let that memory of being so scarily cold and impaired in Mallorca dominate when I think about the cold and particularly for the next month of hard, but inevitably quite chilly, training, but perversely, having got properly, but safely, cold today has made me feel so much better about diving in to the OW training without getting knotted up in those fears.

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