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
I’m standing on the shore and the old guys coming out of the water are telling me it’s the best it’s been all year, and much warmer than yesterday. Now yesterday was bloody cold, so any improvement is welcome. But the sun is shining and looking at their open, friendly faces, I believe them. Idiot!
Plunging into the waves, the shock almost takes my breathe away. I come up for air (and to scream), only to get a face full of salty water, as the next strong roller nearly knocks me on my back. Struggling to right myself and grasp a breath, I come up again and sneak a glance at the girls on either side. We’ve got a couple of channel swimmers out tonight and their long limbs sweep palely ahead into the torn and angry sea as they pull ahead, aiming for High Rock or maybe even the Tower – far out of my league. There’s Jessica from last night, who’s been ‘minding’ me for a couple of swims now, and is fast becoming a life-line. Either I get quicker, or I’ll soon become a nuisance, but for the moment I’m happy to accept the help and the company out here.
The high breakers are new to me and it’s a case of head down and push to get out beyond the break-water, then on a choppy but less violent sea, I get back into my stroke and my rhythmn and swim out parallel to the shore in the direction of High Rock. I’m not used to this choppy water, but after a while I start to enjoy the slap and battle of pushing through. It seems faster than last night when I spot the red bars of the High Rock bathing spot ahead… and it probably was faster, because when I turn to head back, the tide hits me in the face – lifting me up out of the water and slapping me down through air onto the green sloping waves below. I realised too that I’d managed to get myself seperated from the rest of the swimmers who had broken into groups. I could see a couple of caps heading off in the distance, presumably aiming for The Tower and for a moment I hesitated and thought I should follow. But it was cold, and rough, and I hadn’t swum in sea this rough before, so I gather myself and head for home.
It was much rougher swimming into the diagonal surf and I felt I was being battered as I pushed on, but once I got used to the rough and tumble I began to enjoy it, and with the sun piercing through the greeny light of the water, I felt a grin working its way between my ears. After about 20 minutes I see the yellow blaze of the clubhouse up ahead and relax a little. I take my bearing between a type of castle silloutted against the setting sun and a dark blip somewhere in the distance towards Malahide, and push ahead, checking my landmarks every 15 or 20 strokes. My swimming colleagues caught up and checked me out before bolting off ahead. I so wish I had their speed, but maybe in time. Approaching the swim-in to Low Rock, my buddy Vanessa pops up beside me like a seal, but wearing a pink swimming cap. Laughing she commented on the waves and advised me to ‘dig in’ for the shore and dig-in I did! It was a tough swim in, for me the toughest of the 43 minutes I spent in the water tonight. I felt the waves pulling me back away from the beach despite my best efforts, but gradually I could see the shore coming towards me, and before long I chanced a toe down, and with relief gripped the sandy bottom below. I’d made it. Pulling myself from the water, I hesitated and took a few steps slowly back into the surf. It felt warmer than the air around me, and felt welcoming. Maybe it’s true. Maybe you do finally begin to acclimatise to this lark…. hmmmmm…
PS. I made the WeightWatchers’ weigh-in on the way home. I lost a half a pound this week. I’ll take it! 🙂