Sunday 27 January 2008

"Warm Up" for the World Winter Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido, London, my coldest ever swim!

Above: Tooting Bec Lido, London, the largest fresh water swimming pool in England (90 Metres long), home of the South London Swimming Club, and to the World Cold Water Swimming Championships, February 9 - 10, 2008.

Getting up at the unearthly hour of 05.30 Hours on a cold but beautifully sunny January Sunday morning to travel a 180 mile round trip to London for a 20 second swim at 6.7 degrees Centigrade (44.06 degrees Fahrenheit) is not many peoples idea of a fun day out. However, all in the name of "2 way channel swim cold water acclimatisation" today, that's exactly what we did.

In two weeks time competitors from over 20 countries from around the world, will congregate in Tooting to compete in the first World Cold Water swimming championships to be held outside of Finland. Today, we were asked to compete in a trial of the first 8 events so that the organisers could practice for the big day, as well as the competitors acclimatising to the water. We all checked in, and I was given a race card to hang around my neck, which said I was now "Paivikki Filpus" (Female!) competing in race number 4, Lane 5, start time 09.19. (I'd never been an actor before! - Little Britain's "I'm a Lady" sprung to mind).

About Cold Water Swimming (From the World Championships website).

"Aficionados of cold water swimming claim it gives them the ultimate high, making them feel invigorated, even euphoric. Swimming in the depths of winter is popular in Russia, China and Scandinavia - Finland has held the Winter Swimming Championships for several years. Finnish competitions attract thousands of entrants who willingly plunge into pools carved from the ice, while the air temperature plummets to as low as minus 45C. While it may not be quite so cold in south London the water will still feel pretty chilly at an average of 4C.

Despite the freezing temperatures, the rules of cold water swimming dictate that competitors can only wear normal costume or trunks, along with a hat and goggles. For the main races the standard stroke is ‘head up breaststroke’, introduced by the organisers of the Finnish Ice Swimming Championships as a way of levelling the field between elite pool swimmers and hardy ice swimmers. It also has the benefit of retaining more heat in the body and has now become the preferred stroke for cold water swimming competitions.

Converts to cold water swimming insist the practice has real health benefits. While these are still subject to medical debate, habitual winter swimmers say it boosts the immune system, circulation and even libido. Certainly, Lido regulars do not seem to suffer any more colds and flu than the rest of the population and they all agree that cold water swimming gives them an unbeatable feel-good factor. However, it is a good idea for swimmers to obtain medical advice and acclimatise to cold water before competing."

Arriving at the Lido, I bumped into the actress Lucy Petrie (nee Scott), who sponsored me for my 2007 channel swim and was a regular swimmer at Dover in summer 2007. Lucy, is best known for her performance as Charlotte Lucas (the Vicar's wife) in the BBC's 1995 production of Jane Austin's "Pride and Prejudice". Lucy and her actor husband Alistair Petrie, made a two person channel relay crossing in 12 Hours 21 minutes on the same day as my channel crossing, July 10, 2007.

Above: Me with Lucy Petrie, actress and successful two-person channel relay swimmer 2007.

When I arrived, I put my watch into the water to test the water temperature. I was told that it get's down to 3 degrees centigrade, however, after 15 minutes in the water, it had levelled out at 6.7 degrees centigrade. I was pleased and disappointed. I had prepared myself mentally for 3 degrees, but was surprised to find it was 6.7 degrees. We were summonsed to our positions, stripped off and got into the pool.

As I jumped in, it was cold, but not as cold as I had imagined. They told us to put our shoulders under the water, walk forward, grab the starting ring and wait. It was very cold, but bearable. The horn went, and off I went - 25 Metres "Head up breastroke". I, or Paivikki Filpus, came in first, but then again I should as a man in a female race, there were three other ladies and a gentleman who's name I didn't catch ("Paivikki Filpus" you won the race). As soon as I hit the end I said "Can I get out? Can I get out?". The marshall nodded and out I jumped. It was much warmer out of the water in just a pair of speedos, than it was in it. I showered, dressed and was pleased with my efforts.

Above: Watch my lips - "By Jove! This is jolly cold old chap isn't it?". I'm sure that's what I said anyway!

Above: Paivikki Filpus (aka me) wins Race number 4, - Ladies "Head up Breastroke". I know it's very confusing, but it was just a practice of the actual race order for the organisers.

Above: "Can I get out? Can I get out?". After all, you don't want to stand around in 6.7 degrees centigrade water for long I can assure you!

Having returned to poolside, I bumped into Jim Boucher. Jim swum the channel on August 11, 2007 in 15 Hours 28 minutes, and was a regular on swimmers beach, Dover during 2007.

Above: Me with Channel Swimmer Jim Boucher (11-08-2007 - 15:28).

Having met up with Jim, and watched him get in for a swim, I decided to get in again, and try a bit of front crawl at 6.7 degrees Centigrade. This meant obviously, putting my head and face in the water. This is undoubtedly the worst bit. It gives you a real "Ice cream headache". Just as if you've bitten into a freezing ice cream, only it just doesn't give up, it get's worse the longer you are in there. I managed about 100 Metres, then got out.

Above: My first attempt at 100 Metres Freestyle at 6.7 degrees centigrade (44.06 degrees Fahrenheit).

All in all it was a successful and pleasing day, a further bit of cold water acclimatisation and I am now looking forward to the World Championships in two weeks time. Good luck to all the competitors there. My next blog will probably be after the championships...

Sunday 13 January 2008

The first dip in The North Sea for 2008 at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, a chilling experience!

Above: Apprehensively standing on the beach, thinking about swimming in The North Sea at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Sunday January 13, 2008.

This week has been a good two-way channel swim training week, with three sessions in the pool giving no problems with my finger, and my first visit to the gym since June 2002 when we trained for our Great Wall of China Trek. All it needed was a dip in the sea to continue to acclimatise to the cold water for the channel, and for the World Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooing Bec in February. I have felt back in the groove again this week, after such a prolonged and enforced lay off. So off we went to one of our favourite seaside haunts, Aldeburgh, one of the most easterly towns in England, and one of the prettiest.

We arrived and parked the car, and had some of the world famous Aldeburgh fish and chips from "The Galleon" fish and chip shop. I thoroughly recommend them and it is worth visiting Aldeburgh just for the Fish and Chips! I was somewhat apprehensive about getting in the sea for some reason and walking from the sheltered high street onto the beach, I knew why. The wind howled across the sea shore and I could hear the roar of the sea clearly. It was very loud.

As we stepped onto the beach, and looked at the sea, I couldn't believe it! It was really rough, and I thought that even if I did get in, which I didn't want to, there was no way I could swim in it. Looking around for any possible sitings of dorsal fins from our alleged and elusive "Great White Shark", I walked along the beach with Beccy, and said "I'm not getting in that". "I don't blame you she said". Thankful that it was all over, and I wasn't going to swim, I relaxed and went to a local cafe for a hot cup of coffee.

Leaving the building, I said to Beccy, "I'm really angry with myself for not getting in the sea. That's what we came here for". She looked at me and said "Well get in there then!". I stood by the car and contemplated things. It was bitterly cold on the beach, and I really didn't fancy getting in. However, if I returned home without getting in, I would be really angry with myself. I opened the car boot, grabbed my bag and headed back to the beach.

I put my swim hat, ear plugs and goggles on, which meant I had to get in. Didn't it? My hands were already cold, and I didn't want to get in. How was I going to get in that water? I know, I thought of Freda, the Channel General, standing there giving me a bollocking for not getting in Dover Harbour on time at 9.00am. That would do it! I stripped off, put my Oakey flip flops on, which I had only found earlier that day having lost them since my channel swim, and walked towards the water.

As my feet touched the water, it was cold. Very cold, but I continued to walk in as the waves started to approach me with great force.

Before I knew it, a wave hit me, swung me round with great force, and knocked my Oakey flip flops straight off my feet! It took my breath away, but I couldn't stop laughing. The force of the sea and the cold was incredible, but I was in! Yes! Thank you Freda! A great mental bollocking which got me into the water even from 200 miles away!

I ran out and told Beccy that I had lost both flip flops and we laughed as having lost them for 6 months, I had only found them earlier in the day, and then I had worn them for the best part of 53 seconds before they were swept out to sea. They were last seen heading towards Gothenburg in Sweden. If anyone finds them, they're mine!

I ran back into the water for another dip, but it was very cold. However, at least I had been in the sea again, and put another tick in the box towards sea acclimatisation. Tooting Bec, will be about 3 Degrees Centigrade. The sea at Aldeburgh was about 8 Degrees. I will have to get back in there for a bit longer before the World Championships I think!

Saturday 5 January 2008

Last swim of 2007 in the North Sea at De Panne, Belgium with the BBV Belgium 2007 Channel Relay Swim Team

Above: Leaving England for the last time in 2007 with Dover Harbour, the forum for so many fantastic swimming experiences and memories in 2007, clearly in the distance.

On December 27th, we set sail from Dover, on a heading for Dunkirk with two aims in mind. Firstly, to have an enjoyable new year's break, and secondly to meet up with three members of the BBV Belgium Relay team who crossed the channel in 11 Hours and 17 Minutes on July 31, 2007. I had met them at the CSA Dinner in Dover on November 3rd, and we had arranged to meet at 11.00am on Friday December 28, 2007 at the Hotel Iris, De Panne, Belgium where we were staying.

Sure enough, at 11.00am Jean-Pierre Deckmyn, Chairman of the BBV Swimming Club, Frank Couke, a member of the relay team, and their wives, arrived at the hotel. Greetings over, we headed for the beach.

Once we had strolled across the main road in De Panne through the ever increasing new high rise appartment blocks which have been built in recent years with views of the North Sea, we arrived on the promenade and, with the tide being out, we began the long trek across the beach towards waters edge. As we got closer and closer, with the cool wind blowing across the beach from the North Sea, butterflies were beggining to emerge in my stomach. Not having swum much since my finger injury, I was unusually apprehensive. How cold was it? Would my finger hold out? Would I be able to stand the cold after so long out of the water? The list was endless. We began to undress, and there was now no turning back.

Above: Little Hoffy, wrapped up warmly as any sensible human being would be on a cold late December day, watches Hoffy start to prepare to enter the North Sea.

Above (Left to Right): Hoffy, Frank (putting on wet suit boots) and Jean-Pierre (opting for a full wet suit without the boots though).

Above: Hoffy, Frank and Jean-Pierre just before entering the icy waters of The North Sea!

So, finally, everyone being ready, we said our goodbyes to our loved ones as one by one we walked towards the water, and slowly walked into the icy waters of the North Sea.

As my feet entered the water and we started the long walk into the sea to get to an area deep enough that we could actually swim in, I was struck rigid at just how cold it was. My feet went instantly numb. Then after another 10 Metres, my shins. Another 10 Metres, my knees, until I looked at Frank who was cupping his manhood saying how cold it all was! LOL! I laughed, started to splash water on my body, then dived forward into the North Sea. All my senses left me, my face and head went instantly numb through my swimming hat, and I surfaced trying to get my bearings. It felt absolutely freezing. Colder than anything I had been in before, but it couldn't have been as I had swum at 7 and 8 degrees before with no problems.

Above (Left to Right): Jean-Pierre, Frank and Hoffy swim in The North Sea on December 28, 2007.

We had decided to aim for a yellow post on the beach, but at this temperature, I doubted we would make that distance. I looked at the temperature gauge on my watch which was now dropping from 20 Degrees Centrigrade. Down it went, 16.4, 14.2, 12.5, 10.1, 9.6, 9.2, 8.8, 8.4, 8.2. From the time we had entered the water, until the time my watch read 8.2 Degrees Centigrade (46.76 Degrees Farenheit), 15 minutes had passed, and I couldn't stand it any longer. My whole head and face felt like I had an "Ice cream headache". This was the worst bit, my head and face. My body felt fine. In all my Dover training, I had not experienced cold in my head and face like this before. I stopped, bobbed in the water for a couple of minutes with my head out of the water, then stood up and started the long walk out. My damaged finger was really throbbing from the cold, and continued to do so for about an hour after the swim.

Above: Frank and Hoffy start the long walk out, but Jean-Pierre in the wet suit, stays in a little longer.

Just as I was being handed my towel and B.L.D.S.A. hat I heard a helicopter in the distance. It was a helicopter and rescue diver from the Belgium Air force. Everyone on the beach stopped and looked, and I forgot all about the cold as we watched events unfold. Watch the short video below for more info...

Above: A Belgium Airforce rescue diver makes a dramatic entry onto the beach in De Panne, to the amazement of all onlookers.

The diver certainly knew how to make an entrance! He stopped and chatted for a few minutes, then as quickly as he had arrived, he left by the same means!

Above: A short video of the resue diver leaving in the same manner as he arrived, by being winched up into the Belgian Air force resue helicopter.

After a long walk back up the beach to our hotel as the tide seemed to have gone out even further and a quick shower, we all met up at a restaurant we have visited many times over the years, "Robinson's" in De Panne.

Above: A well deserved after swim beer in our favourite restaurant in De Panne, "Robinson's". Left to Right: Little Hoffy, Hoffy, Frank Couke, his wife, Jean-Pierre's wife and Jean-Pierre Deckmyn, Chairman of the BBV Swimming Club. Photo by Beccy Hopfensperger.

Well, it certainly was a dramatic end to a fantastic year, and I would like to personally thank Johan, Jean-Pierre, Frank and their wives, for making us so welcome and putting on a fantastic morning's swimming for us. We have made new friends in Belgium, and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Kind regards.

Hoffy, Beccy and Little Hoffy.