Box End Boxing Day Nippy Dip 2014
Jo Mitchinson reports on a Boxing Day dip at Box End Park near Bedford
“That would be great; but my husband is working,” was my initial response when asked if I was interested in an open water swim on Boxing Day 2014. However, two weeks later my husband is off work following a hernia operation and I decide I can do it although I’m unsure whether my decision is based on excitement, intrigue, or simply a desire to leave the house.
Suffering from a severe bout of ‘end-of-term-itis’ (symptoms; grumpiness, extreme tiredness and a house so disorganised it looks like it’s been burgled) I was very ready for a relaxing week’s run in to Christmas followed by a refreshing and invigorating swim to counteract some of the festive season’s over-indulgence.
But, as usual, things didn’t quite work out as planned. Picking my daughter up from school on Friday before Christmas, I was met with a teary, pale wreck who told me she’d fallen from a climbing frame and hit her ribs. Two days later, unable to sleep, dosed up to her eyeballs yet still un-huggable, the official diagnosis was severely bruised and probably cracked ribs. The doctor told us there was no point in doing an x-ray as it wouldn’t make any difference to the treatment but to return if a fever, cough or breathlessness develops. 24 hours later and, BOOM, all three! So, my hoped-for restful week becomes a perpetual cycle of administering steroids, antibiotics, Calpol and ibuprofen.
On Christmas Day, I packed Wilbur (my beautiful Aqua Sphere sleeveless wetsuit), essential supplies (hula hoops!) and something to drink (Science Fitness Glycosource) and received a weather report from my partner in ‘it-sounded-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time’ events, Stuart Hacker. It promised snow! I start to get excited about the prospect of a freezing 250m fresh air swim.
Waking up on Boxing Day I was nervous – but strangely intrigued to see if I could actually switch off my brain enough to block out the cold. I set off with a hot water bottle stuffed up my jumper, warm clothes on and my hideous ‘only where I don’t know anyone’ onesie in my bag. I am concerned that the temperature gauge on the car never gets above 1 degree and drops back to zero the second I pull into Box End car park. The lake looks dark, uninviting and unsurprisingly cold.
I go inside to register and chat to one of the organisers. It was a taste of things to come – this event was superbly organised. Everything happened when it was supposed to – nothing was too much trouble and hot drinks were available right from registration onwards.
Stuart arrives and we talk tactics, as we would do for any swim. Usually this might expect to be something about pace or intended finishing times, but this was different. The big question was whether or not to get in early to acclimatise. As a severe asthmatic, I need to regulate my breathing in cold water – but I can’t hang around in it as my hands and feet get too cold if not moving. Stuart chose to get in for the full two minutes of acclimatisation time allocated, while I decided to walk to knee depth, submerge my face, gain control of my breathing, then exit the water. I returned about 10 seconds before the start signal.
So we’re off! The first thing I remember is congratulating myself on getting this far. The adrenalin quickly replaces the pain of the icy (well, 4-degree) water on my hands, feet and face. I settle into a good pace. By the first set of markers I have a good line, a clear view of the turning buoy and can see Stuart and another swimmer to my left. By the halfway point I had pulled clear, taking a tight line around the buoy and heading back to the jetty.
But then something strange happened. I wasn’t tired, and it wasn’t the burning lactate feel you get in a pool race, but my shoulders suddenly felt really heavy and I had a total inability to increase my leg kick towards the end of the race. It was the first time I’ve ever experienced the draining feeling of swimming in cold water. I keep focused by counting my arm strokes.
Before I know it I’m back on the jetty, climbing out and giving my number to the marshal. I turn around to watch the other finishers coming in and spot Stuart approaching strongly and getting out. After a quick post-race de-brief to check we’re all fine I head to the showers where some of real tough ‘Skins 125m’ swimmers are already changing. I was surprised at this stage by how warm I actually felt.
Within 24 hours of finishing this event, Transition Tri have named the team for our next it-sounded-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time swim: the UK Cold Water Championships on 24 January at Tooting Bec Lido – this time, non-wetsuit.
Beyond that, my 2015 racing schedule is filling up well, with a mix of the Great Swim Series events and ASA Open Water Competitions. My new venture for 2015 will be the Oceanman events around Spain where I am hoping to qualify in April for the European Oceanman Championships in October.
Jo Mitchinson featured in the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 issue of H2Open Magazine, which you can buy here.