Friday 14 December 2018

Wild man's mini mock epic in 20 minutes

Chilly winter water is a slight shock
Chilly winter water is a slight shock
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

The people who have just got out tell me that it's not too bad today. It's warmer than it was during the week. The sun was on it yesterday they say, so it's warmed up. I always tell people after I get out that it's not so bad. This is because after you've been in it it doesn't seem so bad. And also, what else are you going to say? They need all the encouragement they can get. It is much more daunting before you get in than afterwards, when you have conquered it. So you can afford to be magnanimous afterwards, with that sense of achievement in you.

I haven't been here in a few days. During the week you need the right balance between tides, traffic and toil to get here. I've been in the pool, outdoors but warm, so I am soft. You get soft very quickly. When I come every day I just walk in with no trepidation. But a few days away and it gets uninviting. Today it is cold and grey and indifferent and unwelcoming to me. It looks like a place for seals today. But anyway, get on with it. No point in thinking.

Walking in is starting to feel more like punishment these days, just a slight shock when you get in. Technically I can do much colder than this, but everything is relative, and in the here and now, this is getting a bit nippy. If you thought now about going right through the winter you would think it was impossible. How could you keep going when this gets way colder? But you just take it one swim at a time. And in fact it shouldn't get too much colder between now and Christmas. I still get surprised by the fact that the first quarter of the year is the worst bit.

Bear in mind too that one or two degrees can make a huge difference in this game. It's claiming to be 14 degrees today on some website. That's actually about right for this time of year. And it's actually not far off the average for the summer, which is about 15 degrees. But somehow it bites a bit more. I think the grey cold windy day makes a difference. It'll get down under 10 after Christmas. Some people say it's not fun any more once you go below 10. I'd argue it's just a different kind of fun.

I walk in telling myself it's all in my head and I get going. Objectively it's actually not that cold. I decide I'll do 20 minutes. I'm not so into getting too cold these days, the old recreational hypothermia. It's a good buzz at the time but I don't want a snotty nose or sore gums later. So I aim to get out before I will get so cold that I'll have a shiver in me afterwards. I don't know what that point is exactly, but I know that 20 or 25 minutes is safe enough. There'll be time for recreational hypothermia later in the year.

As I head down by the coast the small waves are shoving me along. I feel like Superman. It vaguely crosses my mind that I will pay for this assistance on the way back up. But for now I enjoy being shoved along slightly irregularly. It only feels cold for a minute or two really. Then gradually I start to feel fantastic. It's not from the exertion. I'm not exerting myself much. The pool is a far harder struggle. It must be my body reacting a bit to the temperature. Dopamine, endorphins, whatever it is, it feels good.

I turn around to come back up. And this is where the pissy little waves start to bother me. These little ones are nearly more annoying. Big ones you know what you're dealing with. But these pissy little annoying ones are like a snappy Jack Russell, splashing into your face, unpredictable, making it hard to get a regular stroke going. But it's good too in that it starts to feel like a mock epic battle against these little tiddler waves. You have to raise your arms higher and turn your head more behind to breathe. It feels dramatic. And the slip seems very far away. It always feels like you'll never make it. Bear in mind it's a few hundred yards and I can swim over to shore at any time. But it's a small challenge. And the nice numbness comes at that point too. I get out, slightly elated and get dressed and go and meet my wife in Meadows and Byrne to look at a lamp. I stand there smugly among these domesticated humans. As they look at this guy oddly dressed in furry crocs and a puffer and a hat, seeming too cold for the day, none of them suspect that I am a wild man who has just completed a mini mock epic in 20 minutes.

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