Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Russian 1000m IISA Championships Krasnoyarsk

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

International Ice Swimming Association Russian National Championships 1000m 

This was my 9th trip to Russia so each event is filled with friends and faces so familiar and even though I don’t speak the language for me I don’t need to. We know what it takes to swim in the ice and we have travelled this road together- signals and sign language is enough to finish safely.

Waking up in Krasnoyarsk to swim in the Russia IISA 1000m, I started to smile and just couldn’t believe I was out in Central Siberia 8000km from home-about to swim 1km in the Yetisei River, the only non Russian swimmer.
The long Journey from Dingle to Krasnoyarsk 8000km

 Sometimes in planning we remove ourselves from the risks and sometimes the risks are staring us in the face. Until this moment I was blind and now the reality of "what if anything happens me? " creeps in. 

“What the hell am I doing here? “ I started to laugh out loud - least it was laugh and not cry. 
 “This time tomorrow you will be  back in Paris..” that was our usual mantra- “Jump out of bed Nuala Moore and pack your bags you are in the game”

Once I say to myself "you are in the game" my mind changes..

Travelling to Krasnoyarsk a few weeks ago was a trip of 2 halves..

My obsession has long since been the understanding of our bodies and our minds to allow us to engage and strangely embrace the experiences of swimming in the Ice Water.
The body and the mind work together either with us or to conspire against us in our adventures-I’ve lived both moments and for me this journey is all about learning at this point.

The first day was spent at the "Scientific and Acclimatisation of the Body Conference" and it’s reaction to Ice- my dream.

This was my piece de resistance and the reason I came. As Risk Takers, we don't get to see what is happening inside our bodies. It's so easy to mistake emotional responses with reality and the body can over ride reality with the hope that we will be ok.

The medics and the recovery team at this event are as good as what is available in the world. My challenges for today was about staying strong and being able to walk in and out of recovery tent strong. The distance and the speed are not my interest today.

The Yenisei River is a 5,800km River-a colossal volume of water running from Mongolia to the Arctic-a river which is the second longest in the world and is in a constant state of cold-with Ice pieces moving on it all the time. The area of the swim had little or no movement but the open water route would allow us to swim into deep water.

The challenge of swimming 1000m at low to 0 deg temps are something that as a swimmer, I have down to a hymn sheet. I can close my eyes and swim each stroke-knowing when the pain hits, how to manage each of the symptoms and mostly how to stave off that doubt and anxiety.

There are many variables I cannot influence when I travel on 4 flights and without rest
and proper food to another time zone.
What I can influence is my approach to the event. The days before, I do not have coffee, no alcohol, no high sugar foods or any negative foods, my medical is vital but what I can’t impact is the lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of proper nutrition, these and emotional responses all influence the heart and my Blood Pressure-Time to adjust is always my enemy.

Having medics like Dr Irina who know and understand the body’s responses and can interpret my tests is huge benefit. She has my ECG and Cardio file since 2012 and she now knows my responses-knowing us, knowing the swim and mostly the changes to expect, this allows her to make the best possible decision -for a swimmer, learning to respect the medicals is vital.

The route was an open water route in the river. (there was also an opportunity to swim in a pool area as well)
The OW route area was a confined water space in so far as the flow of the river was not impacting. On arrival I threw a stick into the river to determine if there was a flow. It was negligible in this area but 100m outside would this change the values- there was a racing flood. The river drops deep 50m and this with the accompanying wind really changes the mind’s approach to an event. 
The route involved passing outside the initial 3 buoys 50 m from shore and the swimming north in a triangle to repass 2 of the buoys.
The Route

Once at the venue, I went immediately to the rescue cover-there were 4 boats / 9 men. I showed them my swim hat, introduced myself as being Irish and visiting. I wanted to explain that I don’t speak russian and to familiarise myself with any rescue signals that may differ from my own.
Saying hi to the Rescue Unit 
2 members spoke english and they were also members of the River rescue and also swimmers. We talked through the emergency plan and how they would alert me to dangers and signals. 
The swim set was groups of 4 swimmers and the next heat began when all swimmers were exited. Brilliant set up-allowing 20 mins between each end and start.

The medical in advance was Dr. Iryna. My BP was lower than yesterday but at 150/90-it was still high. My cardio and my Ecg were clear and my recovery from yesterday’s swims were visually perfect with the walls of my heart looking strong. The muscle was within the normal range and my pulse Ox was 99%. We agreed that my BP was stress related. I took a 20 min calm moment upstairs and my BP dropped to 140/85 which was evidence that the elevation was emotional-of course my heart was racing-I was a lifetime away from home and any challenges would be costly. I steadied myself and believed I would be in control at all time. Which will always be my goal in these circumstances.

Walking into the river, the bite was severe-the downside of the river is the flow of freezing water that continues to move-it’s fresh freezing all the time and this is biting. The feeling of the cold is exactly what we would expect. The hands and the feet started immediately to freeze. What I hadn't factored into the swim was raising my head forwards to sight and locating the marker buoys. What seemed easy to negotiate from the shore seemed impossible from in water. The fresh water river meant I were lower in the water-I found it so difficult to focus on the cold, focus on my body and then navigate my course.
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It made me so aware of swimming in a cut out ice pool-up and down the lanes-once you get into the lane I only have to count and breathe-the work rate here is so different in the open water. My mind went off on a tangent building my challenges, I was creating a mountain of all the things that were making this swim harder-as the rescue cover redirected me to the course. I had swam right inside, I had to backtrack about 50m to round the buoy on the outside-then I discovered all the ladies were following me.  This was playing on my mind-why are they following me like ducklings?
From the yellow buoy I couldn’t make out the Red buoy 200m ahead and I signalled the boat-got the ok and decided that every 50 strokes I would reconnect with the crew until the buoy came into play. I breathe to the left and the zodiacs were on the right because of the risks. Bilateral is not my thing.

Rounding the red buoy, I had to correct again as the ladies were right beside me then to the pink buoy but by now the waves were high with the wind lifting the river water. Turning the course to return the 500m was into the waves. -sighting forward was constant wallops of water as the wind rose huge lumps in our faces, swallowing 1 deg water took my breath away.  My head was now going under so breathing was another challenge. My heart went out to the ladies breaststroking-I was at least able to breathe to my shoulder-their faces were getting smashed by walls of freezing water. My previous 3 x 1000m were in a pool environment and counting to 40 compared to this was an absolute different challenge.  

Knowing I was going into the challenging period of the swim, physically my fingers and feet were stiffening. I needed to do a body check-My mind felt so strong and each time I felt some stress coming into my head-I would use the freedom of the water to breathe.. feel my freedom to move, I could twist and turn and the depth of the river all are so free. You're free-this is your space-just breathe. My goggles had fogged from the freezing water-in the pool this doesn't matter but trying to navigate it did. 
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At this point I was content that the ladies were all going to follow me. Without a doubt I had swam an extra hundred metres or so. 

Once I saw the final line of 3 yellow buoys I lifted my head to signal to the boat that I was breaking from the group and started to kick. I was so surprised how strong I was-my mind was so busy-I visualised standing up and exiting the water strong. I could have easily have been 3/4 mins faster-what I needed from myself was to be was strong. You can never take your eye of the cold and you can never take your eye of the cost of a swim to your body. 

I kept repeating to myself-“it’s only about staying strong”  I kept repeating to myself how strong I felt- but I was unaware of the time we were swimming so again my brain was switched on. A moment can come and you can lose yourself so today was about being able to leave this country in 12 hrs. I was first out of the water, I was delighted. I knew the ladies were tucked in behind me-this was the first Open Water swim for many of them so they were going to follow me.

I exited the water and though the Danil and Albert came to meet me-I wanted to exit myself.

There were stones on the exit so the balance with my cold feet was difficult.
"You gotta figure this out-stand strong " My focus was deep-I wanted to see how the 2 ladies behind me were.
Nazhdu was strong she would be great but one lady was in a battling space long before she went into the water and I wanted to wait for her.

Breathing and standing, holding onto the pontoon, my coat around me-I had this wry smile when I heard it was 25 mins.. "wow and look at you" I said inside. I focused on my breathing and wanted to just take a moment.

Many would say-"geez you were 3 mins slower" for me I was 10 times stronger on exit despite being in the water 3 mins longer. This was a journey of recovery for me. There is no value in getting faster and getting out quicker to me.. the challenge is staying in and learning how to get out stronger. I didn't do the speed work so I was so happy.
Speed will never be my thing. Learning is my thing. Being in physical and emotional control is my thing.
Once all the ladies were near shore-I walked to the recovery tent, cool calm and collected.

Over the years post swim is one of the most vital of area of learning. Having worked so much myself in the recovery area on the towels since 2012- this has all allowed me to be on both sides of the swimmer.

We can often not be aware of the process. I believe we have to witness it as an independent to genuinely understand the battle we go through. With the experience I have gained over the years, this has allowed me to be as tough on myself as I would be with anyone else. We often believe we are 10 times stronger than we are-as we need to believe it-when as a swimmer, you see the weakness, you appreciate it and your weaknesses all the more.

The recovery was standard. painful but controlled. I dropped my head and focused as the towels were placed on me to heat me. There were a few challenged swimmers. One lady was her first open water experience and being in the water for longer had taken it's toll. The team were amazing as moment by moment they managed her back to a focused state.
These moments are vital.
Then from here we walked to the indoor sauna but I found the heat just too stiffing.
I was back out at the lake side for the exit of the following group which means in total my recovery was 40 minutes including getting dressed.

I was delighted with my weekend-in 12 hrs I will be on a flight to Moscow so anther event, another
adventure and yet another first for me. The joys of discovery are what life is all about.   

Long term I have other goals so I have to use all the opportunities of being in 0-1 deg water. There were so many offers of dinner and celebrations and I just smiled, dutifully declined and headed back to my small space where I bought some food at a supermarket. 
I walked around the city, breathed some air, exercised my legs, increased my circulation to ensure that in 8 hrs my legs and cardiovascular would not be challenged on 4 flights-24 hrs home. I stretched and exercised. after an hour of walking, visiting a beautiful church, giving my towels and t shirts to a lovely homeless man-I arrived home-ate everything I could get my hands on and contacted home in SW Ireland for a wake up at 2am. 

Rolling into bed, I took one last look at my trophies and 4 hrs later the phone rang, my sister from home-my wake up call “are you up for the flights? “ Yep as I jumped out of bed.. another amazing trip to Russia. Let the adventures continue-spin the globe. So much learned and mostly so much to learn.

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