I woke up feeling stiff, my chest wheezy, and a slight sinus headache. I looked at the digital readout on my alarm clock and the red digits told me the alarm would be screaming at me in 15 minutes. I groaned and rolled over, not sure if I was feeling so bad from my persistent cold, or from feeling toxic from too much turkey and trifle! I certainly didn’t feel like going for our ‘Stephens’ Day Swim’ at Malahide, and peeping out through the blind to see the grey, misty sky didn’t help.
I reluctantly dragged myself up and into my swimsuit, which seemed to have shrunk – or was it the turkey and trifle again? I gave my 87 year old dad a shout, because I’d roped him in, to hold my towel on the beach. We made a flask of coffee for me and a hip flask for him – I knew which one I’d prefer, a pity about the driving. Driving up to Malahide I couldn’t believe the crowds, all these crazy people rushing to pull their clothes off in the rain and run into the sea. They must be crazy I thought – before reminding myself that I was one of them!
I spotted ‘Chanimal’ – Channel Swimmer extraordinaire, Fergal Somerville, and exchanged hugs and introductions with dad, before stripping down and heading off towards the damp sand with a flock of other odd looking swimmers, wearing santa hats, and reindeer ears, and ‘officer and a gentleman’ uniforms (honest). I was keeping my Santa-hat firmly on my head over my swim cap, in the belief that every little bit of warmth would help!
I’d read on the internet that the easiest way to do a ‘wild swim’ like this, is to splash cold water on your face to warn your body that a shock is on the way and then tell yourself that it’s actually warm. I tried to splash the water on my face, although it was tricky having time to do that and keep up with Fergal who was already running flat out towards the choppy waves. OK, no time or point in messing and prolonging the agony. I ran for it, ankle deep, shin deep, knee deep, and a breaker hit me flat in the chest and I was swimming. I wasn’t necessarily breathing, but I was swimming. It’s hot I told myself, it’s hot, hot, it’s hot….
Panting as the cold stole my breath from my lungs and the iron bars tightened across my chest, I struck out and tried to get a bit of heat going as I swam further from the beach. I popped a sneaky toe down – still within my depth. I was kind’ve glad, because my breathing still wasn’t normal. Splashing around a bit, we turned to head back for the beach and Fergal asked if I was done. I laughingly started to say ‘you bet’ and then I realised I wasn’t. Without noticing, I’d warmed up and now I didn’t want to get out so soon.
To my own suprise, I turned and swam back out – catching up with a frogman, a guy in a wet suit and snorkel. ‘High fives’ and a small talk, or should that be cold talk, bobbing around in the waves. I swam up close to the ‘rib’ – the boat providing cover for the swimmers (thanks Coast Guard or whoever was doing the honors today, it was good to see you out there, just in case).
After 10 mins I finally swam back to the shore, getting chilly now, my fingers nipping, and my skin a bright, healthy (I think) red. The rain was a bit miserable as I struggled to get back into damp clothes with clumsy fingers. But I felt terrific. My sinus headache was gone and I felt alive and fresh. One of my friends once told me if I was in pain, it meant I was still alive! I thought of that as I was heading out there today. To my credit I didn’t scream – to be honest, I probably didn’t have enough spare breath!… But boy – I was certainly alive. Happy Christmas everyone… xxx