Thursday, October 12, 2017

Cold Water Shock -How it impacts you as a swimmer in competition. It's not about Survival it's about Racing.

When we get into freezing to Cold water whether to voluntary or involuntary immersion/swimming. Whether an event or accidental, the body changes physically. 
Our blood, our cardiac responses to function and movement, our veins and our hypothermic responses regardless of why we are in the water- Our body changes once we get into that cold water. Understanding how it applies to us as water users is vital for survival. 

There is a large amount of information regarding the management of Cold Shock-the recommendations are to relax and breathe.
Take a moment to Float first and Swim second. 

But this management is in a 'self rescue' situation or if it happens where you need to steady yourself in the water-which is perfect except we need to sprint.
For a Swimmer-The moment we get into the freezing to cold water, we experience Cold Shock. Our Problem is we require our bodies to swim, to kick our legs, to breathe fast and sometimes to sprint-all contrary to what we are recommended.

Float First Swim Second won't work for you.

The only option you have, is to try and best understand your own personal responses, to best know your own heart-because at most competitions you will only get about 10-20 secs to steady yourself and to breathe and you need to be able to use this 20 seconds very wisely and mostly you need to know what is happening.

Cold Shock is an inevitable consequence of cold water swimming. The initial walk into the water, that immediate gasp we experience with our breathing even before the water rises above our waist. Normally walking in we can manage this slowly and we do but to a swimmer in competition or training to race, there is a dark variable that can completely complicate your personal response to cold shock.
This variable to a swimmer is the need to sprint and the stress of racing in cold water can be life threatening if you are either an individual with existing

  • Underlying cardiac condition, or 
  • Undiscovered cardiac issues and/or
  • Not acclimated  
  • Operating beyond your respiratory limits. 

Respecting your personal limits is vital 

Cold Shock is a powerful cardiovascular response 
When our skin is cooled at this speed (and remember most of the studies are completed at 10 deg but experience shows us the rest (a lot of swimmers are now swimming and racing sub 5 deg down to 0 deg) your immediate response can be to gasp, panic, short sharp breathes, making breath holding difficult and an increase in blood pressure-it can also the triggering of an arrhythmia and a cardiac incident. Thats reality.
This takes some where between 30 secs to 3 mins to relax and to stop fighting the responses and you can influence your responses. 

My First Experience: 
My first time getting into 0 Degree in 2012
Standing Ice poolside in Siberia in 2012, air temperature -30 deg and the water temperature 0 deg was genuinely terrifying. My breathing was racing, I went into a spiral of panic and started to become quite sharp even before I touched the water, my mind was in a spiral-I could not visualise what I was about to experience. I could not breathe out of the water because it was -33 deg. 
I had to focus hard on breathing out-I tried to empty my lungs, on exhaling-something that I learned in Scuba Diving, breathe out longer than in.  
I could not get a deep breathe, I felt the air got stuck in my throat.
 “If you can’t breathe, you can’t swim, breathe, breathe” I kept repeating. 

The first few steps into the ice. I tried to stay calm as the intense pain crept up my legs. I could not visualise anything, every image in my head went black and the water was black. My mind was frozen and my breathing just got faster as I stood with my back to the wall of Ice, I could not believe I was waiting for the whistle, my heart was screaming "What the hell are you doing?"  

In actual events/races in the ice there is about 20 seconds to get control to the breathing and I definitely wasted about 10 of those seconds climbing down the ladder in baby steps, oohing and aaahing.  
I put my face into the water to start the crawl-the tightness of my chest was immediate. The sharp shortness of gasping, the feeling of a lump in my throat. There was a sense of panic creeping into my thoughts, in all of my adventure sports, this was complete terror of what's happening. I tried everything to breathe out and in when my face was in the water and couldn’t get a rhythm.

It was so strange I closed my eyes to try and count, I couldn't get past 6 or 7, what I was experiencing was this severe Cold Shock, this was new and I had not read about it. Coupled with anxiety but then having to swim, having to rotate my arms, kick my legs and breathe. What a mess I was. 
Air Temps 0 Deg and Air - 33 Degree. 
The pain in my hands, my face was intense and the sense of darkness in my mind was something that I will never forget, all because I could not breathe.  150m was the total I swam-so short-I was so upset with myself yet it was a complete marathon of understanding.
The fear I had was that I had NO IDEA if this pain would stop-The only thing I kept repeating, I am still alive and after 6 lengths I was in the water for under 3 minutes, it felt like a lifetime. 3 minutes is nothing. 
The ice had covered my goggles and my face was frozen and once I got out I was so calm and exhilarated. 
What fascinated me was the moment I exited the water, I was as high as a kite. No breathing challenges, in fact I felt that there was freedom. 

  • What can influence your individual response to Cold Shock. 
  • Physical health 
  • Temperature of the water 10° versus  0 Degrees 
  • Air Temperature 
  • Wind Chill 
  • Level of Performance Competition versus training 
  • Open Water V. Pool Swim 
  • How remote your swim is versus the safety of a back yard. 
  • Your personal experience at these temperatures
  • Emotional anxiety
  • Time spent preparing prior to entry-last minute frustration with goggles, hats etc can agitate the heart. 
  • Social Media Pressures are huge factors on your respiratory and your heart.
I am not aware of studies in Ice water at 0 deg in clinical research of Cold Shock combining Physiology of Exercise and the Physiology of Stress of competition. I can say with certainty that the moment the swimmer puts their face into ice water that initial gasp is dark in it's feeling. You do feel the threat to your thinking and that is the moment when you need to take control and breathe out.
That is the moment where every 'tantrum' you ever had comes back to you, this is the moment where you take power over the emotion and then it passes.
In my experience that is the challenge for the future and one you should take very seriously before you take on the cold water swimming.
Racing is all about understanding -for me pools are a nightmare as I don't turn well

As a swimmer what do you want from your body? 

You want to race, even at your pace
You need to get into Ice and sprint
You need to be able to rotate your arms, kick your legs and breathe all while in the first 2/3 minutes managing the absolute responses of your body to Cold Shock-when your body is literally fighting you. 
That is why education, training and understanding are the basis to safe swimming in cold water.

Swimming distance in water colder than 10 deg is exhilarating and for us in UK and Ireland it is nearly 60% of our year so it's something we do all the time. Racing is different and swimming in Ice is more complicated. I will say that the last 6 years in Ice water has been some of the best experience of my swimming career. I have competed and completed super distance at 0 deg. I am not a racer, I don't know how to respond to competition. That's me. I was born to be lowered off a boat not down a ladder. My favourite times in the ice was watching the fastest swimmers in the Ice-compete and push limits. Being there has been magic and what I write is from my own development. 

The 2 main areas that effect your performance as a swimmer competing in water under 10 degrees and down to 0 degrees. 
1. Your Respiratory responses-good friend Dr Patrick Buck said while we were discussing this the other day "If only we could keep our mouth's shut!" But unfortunately we respond to  threatening behaviour by opening our mouths and with a sharp intake of breathe and unfortunately in water this can result in drowning. He has a point!!!
What can we manage? 
  • Inspiratory gasp-you can manage this by keep keeping your mouth shut and breathe out slowly
  • Erratic breathing rate-focus on calm breathing and each of us can influence the speed of our breathing. 
  • Breath holding capacity lessens so breathe out so you get a clear breathe in. 
  • The moment you get in, put your face in the water for a few seconds and breathe out to feel the sensation. It tends to calm. 
  • Make sure that you wet the back of your head and neck -allowing your blood to cool a little. 
  • KNOW it will pass so weather the process and slowly speed up. 
2. Your Cardiovascular Response is not as easy to control-these are physiological responses.
If you have an underlying Heart condition, or are a cardiac patient-understand that the responses and challenges of Cold Shock still remain the one mechanism of the body which is designed to kill you.
Every other response is designed to protect the body for survival-Cold Shock and exposure to cold water can where underlying issues exist trigger an arrhythmia resulting in life threatening responses.

You can take control of your Blood Pressure by knowing yourself and know that many of the events world wide will not allow you to swim if you have an elevated BP. Know what impacts it and know how to regulate it-before you are refused poolside.

Nothing like a chainsaw to up your BP
The GOOD NEWS is that with training and Education, experience -research has shown and also my personal experiences have shown that you can learn to control the Cold Shock and learn to work with it.

The Bad News is no matter how phenomenal you are-you still have to manage and understand your own physical responsibilities each time and that is why the Blood Pressure and Arrhythmia checks are important prior to the events. That is why we have Pre Swim Medicals. It doesn't matter if you are an Olympic Champion or a Nuala Moore-Cold Shock treats us all the same. 

I learned to love Racing at 0 Degree. 
Research shows that if you take your time and go into the water in staged manner 30 seconds movement that your breathing rate and your ventilation rate can reduce by 35%. Taking your time can help greatly. 

Some Ice Swimmers run into Ice water and again use the logic, elevating your effort level, heart rate and then hitting the cold water with Cold Shock in a dive is a cocktail for disaster.
Everything is an individual choice-I would not recommend running in to Ice water-but then again we all know the friend who can drink a bottle of Whiskey, 3 Jagermeisters and a Cocktail and still see you in breakfast-others of us would end up in casualty. Don't follow anyone down a rabbit hole.. your body is your responsibility. No medal is ever worth a risk.

Vigilance is the price of safety at events. 

In 2016 I travelled to Krasnoyarsk, Eastern Russia to compete in the Russian International Ice Swimming Championships in the River Yenesie.
I had completed multiple 1000m@0-1 deg the distance and the temperatures were not new to me.
The biggest NEW variables impacting my emotions and responses to the cold shock were-these things play into your responses

  • I was 8000km from home and at the invitation of the conference organisers. Being responsible was vital to them and myself-the last thing I wanted was to be a casualty and a burden on my friends. 
  • I don't speak Russian-in the event of an incident. 
  • It was an open water event so it would not a safe environment like a swimming pool (Open water is my preference) but adds risk. 
  • It required navigation around buoys-forcing me to lift my head and think, adds pressure. 
  • The time that the swim would take would be longer than a pool based on greater distance swimming. 
  • The extra time in the water at 0-1deg may be more difficult for me-I had not done 25 mins @ 0 degree. 
  • The River water is colder by nature than the lakes as the under water flow is freezing (we experienced this in Finland and also in Tyumen that the river routes were so much more stringent in their freezing)
  • I was completely aware, that in the unlikely event of an incident being admitted to a Russian Hospital would be financially and difficult for me.-I felt vulnerable. 
  • I needed to be leaving on the flight 16 hrs after the race -I needed to be safe.
Staying calm despite the wind chill. 
I woke up the morning of the race and I immediately felt vulnerable. I closed my eyes to breathe. To experience this moment was why I came to Krasnoyarsk. I wanted to see the variables. I lay in bed and said to myself,  "My only priority to be on that flight from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow tomorrow morning, make it happen"  

No heroes. I knew that i could spend longer at 0 deg so for me it was about staying strong and taking the pain in a way which would allow me to exit without a major recovery. I know I could and that involved being in control the entire race. 
I went straight to the rescue teams on the River-I introduced myself, I found 1 man who was River Rescue who spoke english and I asked him to be MY cover and stay with me. 
I then went through my hand signals and asked how they would be taking me from the water if I needed. 

I spoke to the organisers and I requested that all starts would be about 60 seconds to acclimatise in the water and they agreed.
The one River Rescue Service who spoke English-
My new best friend. 
I stayed calm, the medical team and the team from the event are friends. My job was to be safe. Once in the water, It was so biting on my hands in the first few minutes and the back of my head was very cold. I fought harder that I have ever ever fought before in an Ice swim. All because I needed to be on that flight tomorrow. It was powerful to see my body respond strong. The wind was strong and the water was tight and I breast stroked every now and then to refocus my head and vision for navigation. The breathing was hard but all was possible. My cardiac and BP post event were normal . 
I went home at 6pm despite there being a dinner, got food, and went straight to bed. Slept for some hours and got a wake up call from my sister to ensure my flights. 
I won the Russian Championships. -for me I won the battle, I was so strong. I was safe. 

Cold Shock can be managed. Breathing can be managed. Blood Pressure can be managed and being responsible for your heart and health is necessary. 
The Ice is soo fabulous. The exhilaration as you discover your strength is amazing. There is a dark side. Like all beauty there is a darkness. Learn to love it and learn to manage and the sun rises will be beautiful. You gotta train for how you mean to fight.
I exited 25mins @0-1 deg completely in control and
required limited recovery.
I needed to left alone as I was still fighting myself at this point. 

When I was attending the Ocean Extreme Medicine Course in Plymouth during May this year, I showed some footage and some medicals to a Cardiac Surgeon who specialises in Sports but also in SADS-she was Russian. I asked her opinion and her reply was solid and simple. 
"You're a consenting adult, you can do what you want"
her words chilled me-excuse the pun and we are so obliged to take responsibility.
We are consenting adults.

When we discuss Cold Shock and its Float First and Swim Second.. remember and know if you are swimming and you are racing.. it doesn't apply to you..
Know your body and know that acclimation and training can reduce the
Cold Water Gasp
The Breathe Rate -you can weather this storm.
The Blood Pressure
Your cardiac responses are open to be managed-the Ice is there to enjoy how you play is up to you. 

I have written a Manual on Ice Swimming including details on Cold Shock. For details email me

Monday, June 26, 2017

Respect the Water-it can be your paradise- Water Safety Awareness should be every week-

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

Having respect and understanding for the water and our summer "swimming pool" where we all spend our days is vital for our safety. 
A swimming pool has rules, no jumping, no diving in the shallow end and no running poolside-all these rules are there for your safety-lifeguards are there to watch you. 

In the sea, rivers and lakes-most times you can be on your own or with a small group. 
So you need to imagine how each body of water, every time you swim also has rules-
though not all written they should be known for your safety.

I have lived my entire life near the sea-from a very young age-we were given RULES of where to swim and where not to go. 
Starting with Irish Water Safety Association from the age of 6 onwards to courses in survival and safety where we learned to undress and rescue in the sea-we learned to be able to tow each other to shore. What a skill to learn as a child. Adults should do drills with their children on how to manage an emergency at the beach or remote. 

As children we lived our lives on the beach from morning to night-we always always told where to swim and where not to swim, to stay in groups, to make sure someone watching-even though we were very young I remember knowing when and how the water acted and reacted. 

As a swimmer, I have been at the most dangerous risk areas in the sea. 
 I have experienced the sea at it's greatest, it's most powerful and it's most beautiful. 
Despite having taken on some of the greatest challenges in Open Water including the Round Ireland Relay and the Bering Strait Relay-I hold the greatest of respect for the sea. As a swimmer before you get into the water-we have a responsibility to ourselves and those we swim with and the crews and teams we work with to be the best we can be.

The Blasket Sound-the water here is the most confused water 
Coastal areas and my location, Dingle bay and surrounding beaches are mostly tidal, some face South and some face North. Some beaches like Coominole and Cloghar, I would never ever ever nor would I ever promote swimming off them or near them-the tidal flows are huge. I believe in old fisherman’s tales of power. 

We have beautiful beaches but also big big water. Ask around.  
As a child we were constantly reminded when the sand is on the surface of the water there is risk, watch the patterns of the waves, know if the tide is going in or out if the water/waves is not equal approaching the shore-think about it.  Because we are SW facing here-my swimming pool is the Atlantic-we grew up in awe of the power.

There are no two beaches alike and the one certainty is that water no matter which body it is has rules of engagement. This time of year, triathletes, open water swimmers many new to coastal swims are continuing their training on holidays which is fabulous to have people in the water. It is wonderful to see teenagers, local and visiting all excited to visit new areas and families-great to hear laughter again-Love each evening swimming and seeing teenagers talking and in the water. -Love it. We were educated growing up about the beaches-pass it on and feel no vulnerability in asking for advice.

Never take you eyes of children in the sea/lakes or rivers-

Water around the Islands of Ireland in the summer ave 12-14deg-Which in itself is quite cold.   When the air is warm the sea is warmer close to shore and when the air is cold, the rocks are cold, the sand is cold and then the water is cold. Swimming on the tides as it covers hot sand is warmer then cold sand. Swimming near to hot rocks is warmer than in the middle of deep water. 

Can the the water temperature change in the same area? 

The depth of the water and the speed of the water can cause a drop of a degree plus so a swimmer can be nice and toasty close to shore but when you swim and the depth increases in channels or bays the water drops and this can be uncomfortable and cause stress. 

What changes the conditions of the water?
Wind, Tides, Channels where boats travel, Rocks, coastal and Islands. 

If an area is tidal than you need to have a tide book-or a tide app on your phone. Each year I am reminded that many swimmers do not swim with tide books and many swimmers have never had the reason to understand that water outside an island, approaching a pier or the mouth of a bay or inside a body of rock can react and act so very differently to that inside a protected location like a shallow beach. 
For those swimmers I would say, imagine yourself tucked into the lee or the protection of the wind and then remind yourself what it feels like when you expose yourself to the force. Such is the power of the water. 

Lets look at the risks and the challenges to swimming in Open Water before you take that plunge to train or play in NEW water.

Swimming in Cold Water is not just about the distance you swim-it is about self managing the time it may take you to finish and knowing yourself as a swimmer. Know what you're capable of.

Tidal Influence can effect change on:
  • The distance you can swim 
  • The time you spend in the water
  • The effort is takes to swim the distance. 

If you are a swimmer who swims by time-for example if it takes you 20 mins to swim 1000m remind yourself that you may need 30 minutes to swim that distance in the sea. Also remind yourself that you may may swim by time and not distance if 20 mins is all that you have.
Match your route with your energy reserves and your ability. Be aware of engines and boats near you. 
Be responsible with visibility-if you are going into areas with boats. 
If you want to swim 2km and it normally takes you 40 mins-than an hour is a long time to spend if you don't have the reserves.

  • Can you keep a line of orientation when you don't have sight of the shore? 
  • Do you breathe away from the coast?
  • Can you breathe with waves hitting into your face if you only breathe one side ? 
  • Can you stay calm on the return leg of the swim if conditions change? 
  • Lot of variables on that level to think about. 

When you arrive at a new beach-before you get in... find out where you can get out of the water-I have seen swimmers jump off rocks BUT they do not have a plan to get out? 
Sometimes you can’t exit a cliff face. 

Do you know the currents and flows? 
Do you understand the power of Spring tides v. Neap tides? 
Neap tides are weaker and happen in between Full and New Moons-
Spring Tides are very powerful at certain points and these tides can carry you a distance or prevent you from crossing an area-these tides happen at 3 days give or take a Full or a New Moon. 
Impact of wind and tide or wind v. tides?
Do you know the direction you are facing and morning importantly can you breathe into the waves. 
When you swim out from a coast or a pier have you experience in deep water?
Are there boats in the area? Jet skis etc? 
Are you visible-have you a tow float. 
Are you wearing a bright colour hat.
Have you checked if you are in a working area where vessels can come in and out. 
Do you know the depths of the water? 
Temperatures can drop dramatically over deep patches of water. 
Can you exit the water safety possibly cold and tired?
Don't jump off a rock unless you have a clear exit. 
Can you walk out over the surface of rocks without shoes-? 
Can you exit the water in a cold state on a ladder? 
Can you swim in a confined space which allows you safety? if it means swimming over and back do so-rather than swimming out a 1000m and have to swim back
If you get tired and stress do you have a plan?

If you get into difficulty always keep the back of your head to the waves and protect your mouth and breathing. lean backwards into the water and protect your airways. Stop, breathe, think and act. If you can float stay with the swim and breathe. 

Fast moving, Rain, Speed, Reed, Weeds, Weirs, Entry point and Exit point, Depth and Bridges, Debris.

Rivers are a different animal. 
Do you have a secure entry and exit point? 
If you are swimming distance and time have you checked out IF or where you can get out of the water? 
Do you have a knowledge of flows in a river? 
If there is rain does the river increase it’s power and if caught have you done a visual plan of an exit point lower down than your planned exit?
Have you tried to exit the river at other locations in the unlikely event of an incident? . 
Can you return to your car via the shore if lower down than your planned exit point? 
Do you know how the river reacts after rain or a storm?
Can you be trapped under bushes and trees?

If you are a swimmer who swims by time-30 mins max-remind yourself that the 30 mins in a pool may not equal the same distance covered in the sea. make your route match your ability and the conditions. If it takes you 20 mins extra to cover 2km in tough conditions -have you the extra 20 mins in your reserve. 
Can you keep a line of sight when you don't have sight of the shore? 
Do you breathe away from the coast?
Can you breathe with waves?
When you arrive at a new beach-before you get in... find out where you can get out of the water-I have seen swimmers jump off rocks BUT they do not have a plan to get out? 
While you are thinking if you get into difficulty always keep the back of your head to the waves and protect your mouth and breathing. lean backwards into the water and protect your airways. Stop, breathe, think and act. 


Lakes are another body of water which really do require your attention. 
Lakes can be still bodies of water or they can have flows depending on rivers flowing into them. I am not a fan of lakes. 
  • Location is vital to understand- one of the major thoughts I would think is that regionally the names of lakes can differ from that of it's official names for rescue services -know where you are.  
  • If you plan an adventure -know the GPS co ordinates for the location in the unlikely event of conditions changing.
  • Do NOT swim into the centre of lakes in remote conditions -if you have fog likely to drop. Exiting the centre of a lake in foggy conditions is near impossible.  
  • Check if you have phone coverage. 
My suggestions to choosing a location-especially for a distance swim and if you are new-
  • Always the check weather forecast
  • Always understand the tides and the time of the tides. 
  • Every 2 weeks there are spring tides, these tides are fast and strong. 
  • Familiarise yourself to the location and-ask local knowledge always taking your own experience into account. -remember the lakes/beaches may not have names that are recognisable to others. 
  • Check if you have phone coverage at location-crucial 
  • if training in a remote location take a GPS coordinate 
  • If training alone-always phone a friend giving them your entry and exit time-
  • Remember to phone to confirm when you are out of the water. 
  • Swim parallel to the shore and ensure you have an exit plan. 
  • Swimming in cold water only requires you to be in water deep enough to stand up in-you do not need to challenge your capabilities beyond that.
  • Check if it is tidal, flows, currents and rips. 
  • Ensure you have shore visual at all times and your exit point in visual at all time. 
  • Have sugar in the car-fueling the recovery.
We are an island surrounded by water.. get out enjoy but remember to look after ourselves, look after each other and mostly keep in mind that the most predictable thing about the water is it's unpredictability. 

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.

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.

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 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. .. 

I have written a manual on the technical side of Ice swimming, swimming in cold water and mostly the impact of cold water immersion on the physiology on the body. 
for €11.00 post included anywhere in the world . for more details

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