Saturday, 22 November 2014

2 Triathletes, 1 Challenge: Day 1.

And so we find ourselves at 9am, like all normal human beings, stood in a pair of budgie smuggler trunks facing a cold shower armed with a video camera and a heart rate monitor. The strangest thing of all - that this doesn't seem strange. Just another day in the life of 2 Triathletes...
(We were going to shower at home and report back, but keen to see each others reactions and being at the pool anyway it was suggested we do it post swim set. I feel obligated to report that after that was agreed last night I turned to Sarah and excitedly said "Ross has suggested we do it in the showers together after swimming so we can film each other". She raised her eyebrow and supressed a smile. I have to confess a smidge of embarrassment as I realised how it sounded. It was too late now though, I was fully committed and looking forward to it.)
So back to the showers......after explaining to a couple of bystanders what we are doing, Ross takes his heart rate, its a respectable 106bpm having just finished an hours swimming. He's still cooling down. Don't worry pal, that process is about to get a pretty decent sized shove....
He steps into the shower and I begin filming. The camera is useful, knowing a video is pointing at you is going to make you do something properly. Nobody wants to be seen wimping out. He strides in and presses down the button - The water starts beating down. 2 minutes and it will be over... I won't dissect his experiences here, it is eloquently described in his own blog :
Having experience in cold water I knew he would suffer a shock response.  Everybody's body goes through it. Its not voluntary, but its how you deal with that reaction that counts. What I saw on a physical level I expected, reddening of the skin, hyperventilation, dizziness and frustration, the frustration of the discomfort, but forcing yourself to endure, the numbness in the finger ends after.
What I saw on a mental level was a man with the presence of mind to assess the situation, and try different things to counter the effects. Regularly checking  his heart rate, standing in different positions, modifying his breathing, anything he could do to distract from the pain of the cold. Despite his own misgivings I was impressed. By finding what works he will be taking the shower with ease by the end of next week I am sure. As he exited his heart rate was at 145bpm - a good 50+bpm's spare in the tank.

And so it was my turn. I started at 91bpm, and honestly, was a bit angry it was that high, because I knew blood belting round my body at that rate would be stripped of heat quicker than I wanted. That had to be the focus, get the HR down. I put it down to the amusement at seeing a mate suffer and stepped up.
The water started pummelling the top of my head. This took me be surprise. I'd normally be climbing in a lake feet first. The last thing to go under is the face and the head - which always has a cap on, I've been taking that piece of kit for granted!  I was surprised by how cold it felt on my head. I didn't expect it, and for the first 20 seconds it tried to take my breath away. I looked at the HR monitor and could see it was creeping up. I was also annoyed that I couldn't quite talk normally, I could hear the strain of the cold in my voice, so I focused hard on my heart rate, reducing my breathing and the latent anxiety that had built up. 
You know how you gasp when you splash cold water on your face when you have a quick wash? Imagine that, but without any let up. That's what exposure to very cold water on your face is like, but without any respite. The gasp just wants to keep coming. This is what kills people when they fall into cold water, they repeatedly gasp, hyperventilate, panic and drown. I had a better understanding now of why Ross had struggled. This head cold was new to me, and had clearly presented itself as where the challenge of the next 60+ showers was going to come from.
Not moving was hard. Normally as the cold bites I would increase my stroke rate, but all I could do here was stand and take it. There is something quite cruel about having to hold a button in to keep the cold water coming out. It would be so easy to let go at any second and warm up, but that isn't an option.
It's coming to the end, I have been watching the heart rate and I'm down to 74. The focus on that has distracted me from the numbness in my skull. I notice how time seems to slow down when you are under pressure. In 1min 45 seconds I feel like my mind has quickened and covered a lot of ground, assessing different things, making critical choices.
I'm out. I loved it. I will feel fresh and alert all day. The tingle of excitement dancing over the nerve endings of my skin as the body rewarms naturally once I am dry. I know that will linger all day.
I hadn't expected the cold on my head, but it reminds me of the 'Reflections' post on SwimBikeRoss that I read last night, and how you can make significant gains without really realising how quickly you have advanced. That's how my body always used to feel, cold and numb, now I will get the chance to go through this again on a microscale with a bare head.

Regular exposure to cold lakes has clearly helped me out of the starting blocks of the challenge, but also reminded me how difficult a thing it is..... I am hopeful that as much as the years of weekly seasonal exposure have got me to this point the daily does will again raise the bar. How quickly will my accomplice close the gap? I don't doubt that will happen.

I get home to find we have another recruit in our friend Ron. A great athlete I have swum both the length of Coniston and the Corryvwreckan Whirlpool with. I'm sure he will post up his experience in the comments box below.
Tomorrow we have a 10k run that will doubtless see a return to business as normal, and Ross wiping the floor with own times. For now I can take solace in the knowledge that, following tomorrows race at least, I will suffer less showering after.