Tuesday, April 2, 2013

1000m @ 0 Deg inside the Arctic Circle..

"There is absolutely nothing that separates the elite from the paupers except their expectations. If you wish to rise above the masses, then let the fire burn fiercely within you. Do this, and it shall be done!." - J. Arthur Holcombe

Turning for the last 2 lengths, my mind started to release so much emotion. There were no feelings of elation, not a sense of achievement, or recognition. All I could think about was that I had held it together and I did good. Now I need to do better... We get to the 1000m on our own but we don't get back on our own.. 

Day before the event.. 
It was hilarious on so many levels, Anne Marie and I were in Murmansk 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle, to take part in the International Winter Swimming Championships. What an invitation and what an experience. Today would be one of my biggest challenges, or would it? I was taking on 1000m at 0 Deg water.
I was careful to drink a lot of fluids.The heat in the hotel and the buildings was intense and the 28 hrs of travel and tiredness had definitely contributed to dehydration. I was going to give myself the best possible chance. The atmosphere in the breakfast was filled with smiles as faces reunited after a few months, last time was in Tyumen Siberia in Dec.

My mind was already in the pool, I was up and down the lanes, trying to organise my thoughts when in walked the South Africans, Ram, Kieron and Ryan. 5 hours earlier they arrived in Murmansk, only 5 hours ago after a 30 hour journey. Cristian and Melissa landed from the US and Henri from Estonia, Jackie from the UK yesterday so we had met. Today we were joined with Alexander Brylin who in Tyumen had completed 2,200m at 0 Deg with an Air temp of -30 deg. What a stacked room.
Great group.. 

We were like special forces, landing in and out of each others lives with intense speed and precision, long enough to share, encourage and facilitate dreams,  but 48 hours from now, it will be over, gone mostly without saying Goodbye... It's hard to describe the feeling of being in a room with such surreal achievements. It's a feeding frenzy for possibility.

What would today bring? what did it offer? What would 0 Deg water do to me over the distance?  I had only ever spent over 3 minutes at 0 Deg in Tyumen so how would that change when I'm going to do 8 times that? Were my dreams bigger than my reality? I didn't think so. I had no real idea what I was afraid of, what "fear" I held. I was nervous.but of what? My greatest monster is Disappointment. Me, myself and I would be my biggest challenge, on the flip side I am my biggest fan. It's a tough one to reconcile.

In Tyumen I got into the Ice, the air temp was -30 deg plus, I remember thinking that I would go as far as I could go, the moment overwhelmed me and I got out at 150m. Once out, my recovery was minimal. I was disappointed, I was totally able to accept that on that day I went to a limit, maybe not my limit but I respected where the conditions I was in and what I was dealing with.
My ice swim in January was an emotional challenge and when the pain kicked in, and not physical pain my responses were as I had hoped for. Going to empty was one of the best experiences. 

The opening cermony was stunning and the flags, the sense of pride was brilliant. The Tri Colour raised high, the music blared it was such a positive atmosphere. The International Winter Swimming Championship in Murmansk inside the Arctic Circle was opened. After a few moments we all retired to the holding pen for a few hours to wait and stay warm out of the freezing temperatures.

The 30 minutes before the swim was surreal, my heart was beating at an intense pace.

Anne Marie was out of her swim, hurried along to the sauna by Maria, wrapped in her dressing gown. Her face was a bit stressed, her eyes darted me a look..
"Oops I thought, AM doesn't walk that fast in general.."..The swim was fine, the jog up 2 flights of steps and 300 m was a challenge..
The support we get is stunning.. 

Big smiles 1 from 2 for us. Silently we gathered for our walk to the pool. Despite all the festivities I saw no one and nothing, I remember nothing of the walk to the lane, I was so focused. The immediate immersion takes your breath away and within a minute the horn goes and pushing off from the wall is a release. It takes quite a few strokes to loosen the chest, to be able to breath without a gasp, to exhale fully without gulping.

A few lengths in, my breathing had regulated, not breathing too deeply, just pushing along. water had started to leak into my goggles. my right lens was filled. I was angry. I stopped at one end and pulled the strap. I couldn't believe that it was a reason to stop me. 1000m with water in my goggles-s**t.
hmmmm just before the 1000m..

Maria was at the end so I stopped and asked for my other pair of goggles from the tent, I turned and pushed off to decide my plan. I decided that the eye that was filled was not my seeing eye. I only breath to one side that it would be under water the whole time . Maria stooped down to offer me my spare pair, I gave her a thumbs up I was ok.
The burn was building into my hands and I found that I was clenching them as I pulled a lot under neath my body. My teeth started to feel a little Ice Cream freeze. I used my tongue to block the water. I tried to focus on the positive. The snow was flickering, the scenery was stunning, the crowd amazing as I watched Cristian midway clicking the camera.  I found the lanes count, hard to see finally I spotted the card 23 lengths.

I pushed off the wall and thought 23 means that 22 once I get back to the start. That 11 doubles so that 50 and 500. By the time I had that much sorted I was back up and it was 21. I started again to try and figure out what to count. You really do need a degree in maths to figure out pool swimming. 21 was too high so I decided to do 2 x 4 doubles and then a countdown of 4 so that was exciting. so it was all 4's.

How I wanted to see a pink house, pass an island or see a rib. I imagined the pier and then counted my way back the beach. Suddenly my mind went into a heightened sense of awareness, instantly I panicked in case I was drifting-I started to check everything, start at the head and ask a question and once I was on a final 10 lengths my mind was racing. Check Check Check... My mind became a little elevated, I think it was the first time that I understood that I was on my way.
My mind was very strong. I was cold but I was more excited about the way I felt rather than the way I actually did feel. I touched and saw Anne Marie looking down. I was never so relieved. No matter how confident I was or not. Anne Marie what to do with me, in case I was delusional!!!

I increased my leg kick in an effort to get to the end quickly but after a few increased breaths I slowed up. My feet were solid and there was no flex in my ankles, kicking was not an option. There was no place for increased anything now. "pull it back" I screamed. I cruised up to the final length, my only focus was my breathing.
The final few lengths of my 1000m

I don't remember thinking or feeling that I achieved anything, there was not one moment of "high five to myself"  my mind was consumed with focus and staying strong to get out.Peddlers Lake was forefront in my mind. Now was the work.
My hands were at an end stage burn and my fingers were so sore, as I tried to reach to the ladder but I  had the strength to lift myself up.Hands grabbed me. Once out I was 100% tunnel vision. The crowds, the music, the sounds that brought me through the first 20 lengths were now filled with a complete eerie silence. There was no sounds, no people. I saw Anne Marie and Maria. My feet were moved so quickly that a sea of people opened to the tent. Once in the biggest challenge I faced was a huge burp. I needed to burp. I had swallowed so much water and air. My belly hurt. My togs were ripped off as I faced the heater. Anne Marie and Maria climbed the ramps with me to the sauna, 300m to the centre through the snow, Each step a mini mountain to lift my feet over the timber lips of the ramp, don't trip I repeated.
The heated timber of the sauna, as the towels arrived to wrap around my core, Vikki and Irina working so hard. I closed my mind and for a few minutes I focused on the heat filling my core.
Melissa and Jackie arrived, it was great to see their faces. Melissa in her Stars and Stripes bikini can only ever bring a feeling of heat and smiles, Jackie in her zebra dressing gown.
The fab four.. 
We chatted about swims, I tried to engage but I was concentrating so much on my reheating. It still didn't matter that I had completed 1000m at 0 degrees inside the Arctic Circle. The mutual respect was surreal. For me the moment was about how I managed to break through another barrier, I worked my way to a new level, baby steps and Tyumen really allowed me today, my training wheels have gone.

After what seemed like a few minutes Irina said that the men would be coming. Ram, Kieron, Ryan and Henri would need the space and our help. Taking the mile and 2km then Sasha and Cristian taking on the 1000m. There was huge recovery to come.. I stood up and walk out of the sauna, the doctor took my BP and HR. My BP was 140/100 which was fine with a HR of 103. This was fine considering I had just put my body under the pressure I had. Putting on my teddy bear dressing gown.. Ryan was in in a flash, I wished for a brief second that I had a fashion advisor, but you know what, with recovery, dignity out the window. The next hour was one of the most surreal learning experiences of recovery in my life. Being on both sides-seeing my reflection in their faces, finally getting a view of what we look like. So many dreams released inside the Arctic Polar Circle, so many personal moments of achievement and so much pride in each other and so much love and respect. 
I know I could not achieve this in open water, the confined sections of the Ice allows the mind security to keep going. the counting of lengths, the security of safety cover are a few metres away. The touching at each end. The challenge is compartmental and broken to possibility this confined space. 
My 450 m was 10 minutes-my 1000m was 23 mins so my first 500m and my second 500m was pretty much equal. There is NO way I have a mile in me now.. that would take a lot of work. I know what has to be done, I can see the path but It's not within my reach now. 

The weekend inside the Arctic Circle in Murmansk allowed me to go somewhere that I knew was possible and to enjoy the experience. Big thanks to all who made it happen, who treated us with the utmost of love and welcomes. Russia really has a lot to be proud of, allowing us to drop in and out of our heroes lives. To be part of Ice Swimming History and have so many stories to tell.
To complete my 1000m with the swimmers I did is what made it one of the most special experiences of my life. Thanks to all who helped to make it happen and allow me to believe. 


  1. wonderful and exciting to read! "a feeding frenzy for possibility." congratulations!

    1. Thanks so much-but it is a feeding frenzy-anything is possible in the right environment.. !

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Paul.. such an fantastic experience.. loved everything about it..


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