At my workplace, I sit next to a Dutchman. Last Friday, he
asked me what my plans for the weekend were. I told him I was going to a Wim
Hof Method workshop.
Wim is also Dutch. His nickname is The Iceman because of his
ability to endure cold conditions. He has swam under the ice at the North Pole,
he can sit in ice baths for 90 minutes and he ran a marathon in the Arctic Circle
shirtless and shoeless. I assumed he must be very famous in Holland.
My colleague looked at me and said “Wim who????”
Wim needs to work harder on his Dutch PR.
My colleague then asked what the Wim Hof Method is?
“If I knew what his method was I wouldn’t be going on the course!” I replied.
#spoileralert (Don’t read on if you don’t want the method spoiled)
The Wim Hof Method can be summed up as “remember to breathe when you go experience cold conditions. Also try to go in cold conditions regularly”.
It was a fun class and I took away a lot of information about breathing correctly. Which is more than can be said for one attendee who, when told to breath calmly and gently, exhaled his breath so violently through his nose it was like a volcanic eruption of snot and air.
Despite the instructor reminding everyone to breathe calmly,
the volcano continued his overly enthusiastic eruptions. I think he was trying
to impress his partner who was also attending the course. Like a gorilla in the
jungle marking their territory by huffing, puffing, and bashing their chest he
was making sure she knew he was the manliest breather in the room.
When it came to the exposure to the cold we had to swim in skins in the North Sea. Unsurprisingly Wim Kong – the breathing gorilla was first to run in. I hope, like a gorilla, he didn’t piss in the water to mark his territory!
Ease of Access: Portabello is close to Edinburgh. Parking near the beach can be tricky but normally a space can be found in a side street
Water quality: Murky. I was once told that it was a beach best to avoid for swimming due to nearby sewage pipers. I don’t know whether that is true or not but its always put me off.
Swim Quality: Cold. Water temperature was 12.2. I managed 10 minutes of skin swimming (without a cap) There wasn’t anywhere to swim to so I just swam aimlessly and admired the view of the town.
Other People: Even on a cold, grey, dreich day the beach was busy with walkers and dogs.
Would I go back: No. I’d rather travel a bit further and go to the beaches in East Lothian. They are sandier and more enjoyable to be at.
For 140 years, treasure hunters scoured the coast of Georgia in the United States for the SS Republic, a paddlewheel steamship that sank in 1865 in a hurricane with a reported $400,000 in gold and silver coins on board. In 2003 the ship was located and more than 50,000 precious coins, worth an estimated $75 million was discovered.
While the Challenge Roth canal may not contain millions of pounds of lost confederate gold, if there are any treasure hunters looking for a fortune then they need look no further than 50 metres from the start line – as that’s where my £500 Garmin 945 now lies.
It was a stupid mistake. One I’d even predicted. I’d bought the Garmin a few weeks ago so that I could play music at the end of the run. I’d changed the wrist bands to quick release straps and, during a race simulation at a training swim, Iain had pulled the watch accidentally as he tried to swim in front of me and it had fallen off.
I’ll be clever I thought. I’ll put the wetsuit over it and that way it’ll be safe.
I was wrong.
Just after the start, just as everyone was jostling for position, someone accidentally caught my arm with their stroke and ran their hand along my arm catching the watch.
Which was more than I could do. As I felt it slip, tried to catch it, but only managed to grab hold of the straps. The watch was gone! And with it my only way to know the time, my speed and how far I’d gone as I was relying on the watch to last all day. I had no back up.
And now no choice. I had to complete Challenge Roth entirely on feel.
Saturday was nearly 30 degrees with clear blue skies but the weather forecast for the race was for the heatwave to end and for rain to clear the air. We woke at 430 a.m. with the intention of collecting another athlete (a former member of Glasgow Tri Club) at 5 a.m. That left 30 minutes to dress, eat something and try not to think about the fact it was actually 3:30 am in UK time.
The drive to the start involved a missed junction, which wasn’t a problem for me but for Iain it meant we’d have to take the next junction and a car park which would be shut until 11am while the bike course was closed.
Getting round was okay though. Iain dropped us off at transition and then went to park while we checked the bikes and dropped off the swim and race bags. The swim bags needed to be dropped off by 6:15 but other than that we were free to enter and leave transition, even after the race had started.
A cannon signals the start of each wave with the rain stopping just as the professionals started. There were thousands of people around the canal, more than I’d seen at any other race.
Every five minutes another wave would set off and another blast of the cannon would sound.
I was swimming at 8am, the second last wave, and it was easy to get lined up. Swimmers could wait near the start and when your wave was called you were directed into a pen as volunteers checked your swim cap to make sure the time printed on the side of it matched your start time.
Once everyone was in the pen, the previous wave would start and you were allowed to enter the canal and line up.
I stayed near the centre, as it was quieter, and hung back so as not to be swum over by the faster swimmers. I thought I had it sussed. I would avoid a melee and be able to find my own pace. But we all know how well that went…
The race started. There was the usual flurry of legs and limbs but no fighting for position, just the accidental crossing over of a few hundred swimmers in a few short metres.
And the less said about the next five minutes the better…
The water was warm. Almost 25 degrees, and just shy of banning wetsuits all together, but it was calm and swimming was as easy as swimming in a swimming pool.
Sighting was easy too. There was very little need to look forward as you could always judge if you were swimming in a straight line by looking at the side of the canal. Provided you could see the bank, the people and the trees, you always knew if you were getting closer or further away.
Because of that, I swam most of the way in the centre of the canal. The side is reportedly easier but it was quieter in the centre and it gave me free reign to carry on at my own pace and just count out the strokes. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe. 1. 2. 3. 4. Breathe.
You swim around 1500 metres to the next bridge, then around 1700 back to the bridge overlooking the start before swimming under it and doing a u-turn back to transition.
I felt strong throughout, and the fact you’re always swimming to something – bridge, then bridge, then under bridge, meant the swim was broken up and didn’t feel like one long slog.
There are also metre signs on the bank but I didn’t look out for them. I prefer not to know how far I’ve swum when swimming. And, thanks to my accident at the start, I would also find out what it was like to cycle and run without knowing how far I’ve gone either. Damn!
This was the bit I was looking forward too. I’d read that the volunteers in transition will help you get out of your wetsuit – something I always struggle with as I can never get the wetsuit off my legs. Prisoners in shackles have more chance of getting free than I do with rubber wrapped around my ankles.
And it was true. As soon as you grab your bag from the ground as you go into the tent – each bag is laid out in numerical order – a volunteer starts to help you strip, empties your bag and hands you everything you need.
Except a watch.
Sadly, they didn’t have a spare Garmin.
I changed into full cycle gear and eight minutes later (a new record for me) l was on my bike and away.
The best thing you can do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water. The last thing you want to do before swimming open water is to splash your forehead with water because… it’s BLOODY FREEZING!!!
Or at least it is in May in Scotland. The water has only started to reach 10 degrees aka Highland Tropical. Below 10 degrees, if you’re going for a dip, you need balls of steel – and toes of steel and feet of steel and basically an entire body made from a metal that doesn’t know how to gasp. Above 10 degrees and you can start to consider a paddle, just as long as you don’t dip your head below the surface as otherwise it’s instant brainfreeze, faster than sticking an ice lolly up your nostrils.
But the thing is, you adjust to it. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s an ice lolly this week, next week it’s a three bar heater. The more you swim outside. the more your body adjusts to the tempteture until eventually your skinny dipping in Ben & Jerry’s and wondering why it’s so warm.
First, you have to go in. And the first dip is always the hardest. The water runs down your back. You’re slapped in the face with an ice cube and you lose all feeling in your feet and toes.
If you’re really unlucky, the shock of the cold, causes you body to contract and it feels like Aquaman is hugging you, and not in a good way. In a “I’m going to crush your chest coz I’m a strong superhero type” way.
However, next time, it get’s easier. And the time after that you’re Aqua-man’s equal. You’re Kettleman! The only man who can make Aqua-man disappear!
But first you’ve got to get in. So, this weekend, I went for my first open water swim of 2019. 10 minutes in a loch near Applecross. It was freezing. And it was fantastic. And by next week, not only will I have adjusted, I might also have the feelings in my feet back.
Can you smell chlorine? Any one who has ever been to a public swimming pool will say ‘yes’ – that strong smell that hits you as soon as you walk in the pool is the smell of chlorine. Except it’s not. Chlorine doesn’t smell. What you’re smelling is the sweat and dirt and who knows what else that’s come into contact with the chlorine in the pool. A strong smell just means that the odourless chlorine has done it’s job and kept the water clean by reacting to everything in it.
Chlorine is counter intuitive. The truth is the opposite of what you think it should be. The smellier the pool, the cleaner it will be.
The same thought applies to swimming. Why do we shower before we swim? We’re just about to cover ourselves in water so why do we… cover ourselves in water before we go in. Or why do we shower afterwards? Surely, the whole point of swimming is to avoid the need for a shower?
Which reminds me, I was getting my hair cut last year when the hair dresser said, with no prompt or link to our previous conversation: “Are you a swimmer?”.
I thought he must recognise my swimming from my broad shoulders, strong biceps and v- shaped back. (Also my deluded opinion of myself).
He said: “I can tell because your hair is so damaged!”.
He then went on to tell me that the best way to protect your hair is to add some conditioner to it before you start. The conditioner will protect he hair from the chemicals in the water.
Which made me think – why don’t they just fill the pool with soap?! Why don’t they just turn it into a giant bath?
In fact, people say when they are going swimming that they are “going to the baths”.
It’s a genius idea. And no fact or sensible claim that you can’t actually swim in soap because you’d die if you swallowed it will change my mind!
Anyways, I was thinking about all of this when I washing my wetsuit at the weekend. I thought: “Why am I washing a wetsuit? It was in water. I’ve now got it in more water. Isn’t this pointless?”
And even though I was thinking this while everything I brought back from the Carron Valley reservoir was washed through my wetsuit – from twigs and grass to at least two boats and a fisherman with rod – I thought it’s brilliant idea. From now on – no more washing my wet suit!
And even though I’m typing this covered in a red rash from head to toe why don’t you give it a go? Trust me, it’ll be as clean as a swimming pool!
Home to the Western Isles for Easter and a chance to join the Hebridean Triathlon Club’s open water swim on Saturday morning. I say club but, as it’s only just started, it’s mostly a nice man called Colin who was happy for us to join him on his weekly swim at Coll beach.
He was prepared. He had an orange buoy to help with sighting, emergencies and generally keeping safe in the water. We had wetsuits and serious doubts we’d last more than five minutes in the water.
It was FREEZING!
“Six and half degrees,” said Colin.
And then 30 second later.
“Good news, it’s now seven!”
I couldn’t feel my feet. I’d not worn swim socks as I find them uncomfortable. They’re like two heavy bags strapped to your feet.
Not that I knew if I had feet. I couldn’t feel anything below my knees as I waded in.
“Dip your face in,” said Iain.
Like The Weeknd, I couldn’t feel my face.
So, that’s what that song is about. It’s not about cocaine at all, it’s about open water swimming.
“I can’t feel my face when I’m with you!”
I tried swimming breaststroke for 10 minutes keeping my head carefully out of the water. Then, once I’d acclimatised, I tried some freestyle. (Or free(zing)style.)
I couldn’t feel my ears.
I was noticing a pattern.
Cold water is, well, cold.
But the sun was out. The swimming was good and it was great to be swimming again in more extreme conditions than a heated pool.