Cold Turkey

The Internet sucks, doesn’t it?

There you are, doing your best and still struggling. Everywhere you look online everyone else is telling you how amazing they are. That’s how I feel about it most of the time anyway. Just considering swimming, everyone else says they are swimming farther, longer, faster and better. They are also swimming colder and warmer, calmer and rougher, longer and more skilfully. Yeah, the Internet sucks. I do like to remind myself that some of them are faking it (a couple of well-known on t’Internet swimmers are frauds).

Myself, I struggle. I make mistakes, I do dumb things and I struggle more. I beat my head against the end of the pool year after year, (sometimes even literally if I am not concentrating). If anything, perpetual struggle, mistakes and three-steps-forward-two-steps-back are the defining characteristics of my swimming. No inspirational speeches here. Just keep doing it may be the closest thing I have to a motivational aphorism. Just keep doing it. Just go swim. And swim different places.

Though I forgot to mention it in the pictorial review of 2014, the annual 2014 Christmas Day Guillamenes Cove swim was the best in years. The water was practically warm at 10 degrees Celsius, and flat, unlike 2013. The day was sunny and people turned out in their many hundreds. I had a quick swim out The Chair cove and back. And then, as so often happens, winter storms or weather or events conspired to keep me out of the sea until half way through January.

After the cold Christmas turkey, I go Cold Turkey myself.

All the pool swimming is essential, and part of my life. But unlike swimmers who build their life around the chlorine box, the pools main purpose for me is only to facilitate fitness and ability and therefore allow the freedom I need in open water. Three weeks away from open water is a long time.

When I return to the Guillamenes, it is as so often a cold grey solitary Saturday morning. The water is grey, the sky is grey and the cold grey worn concrete sandwiched between embodies grey.

Guillamenes cove old steps IMG_2416_02.resized

I stop in the cabin, where a few of the club stalwarts are having a mid-morning livener after their dip. All sensible long time winter swimmers, they never, ever drink before their swim. I delay. We chat. Joe tells me, again, to stop spending so long in cold water. Joe is well known in the club for always measuring the water temperature as lower than it is. I feel partly responsible because a few years ago when I was using an infrared thermometer Joe decided to change to a similar one. Unfortunately he got a less inaccurate one, and then takes his measurement from the top of the diving parapet, increasing the inaccuracy. Joe says the water today is under 42º F. The older members of the club still use Fahrenheit, and I’m always mentally converting (i.e. guessing) backwards and forward. That’s about 6º Celsius. Really? It’s okay, it’s Joe.

Ten or fifteen minutes pass, and as always, I finally sigh and say “I better get on with it”. Not the picture of enthusiasm everyone presents on the Internet.

So down the fifty steps to the cove, no-one else around. Just me and the sea, as always. No Internet in the water, thanks be to Jeebus. One thing I know, the water temperature will have dropped. Balmy days of 10º C. are weeks ago and won’t be experienced again for months.

Yep, I check and the water measures 7.2º Celsius. Pretty good, and about as expected. Joe’s record of inaccuracy continues. The water doesn’t vary much by year. It was 7.5º C. on the same weekend last year. And the year before that, and the year before that and I didn’t check back any further. We’re over the precipice of 8º C and not much further to fall, only four to five weeks to winter’s cold water nadir.

A man I don’t know arrives for a dip. We get chatting. He’s not a local. In one of those many many coincidences in open water swimming, he mentions he has a sister in Boston who is swimming the Channel in 2015. “Her name wouldn’t be Maura M., would it“? I ask. And of course, it is. The world contracts. Another coincidence to add the long list that have happened around open water swim. Is it because there are so few of us relative to rest of the world? We go to the same places, cross paths and swim tracks with each other, and our small global community makes another neuronic connection.

Procrastination aside, I still wanted to swim. I needed a cold water boost, needed to return to the sea, my brain was drying out. There was just a dichotomy between my need and the grey reality.

Start the stopwatch, splash my face, then dive from waist deep forward into the water. Sharp water, a controlled response, borne of years of cold water experience. Out fast, driven by the first three minutes reflex. Passing Newtown Cove 200 metres later, the sprint desire sharply attenuates and I relax. Out to The Chair, the water impenetrable with silt from the wind, loop and back. High tide aids my exit at the top of the steps, always easier than climbing a ladder from four metres down at low tide just to reach the steps.

Not a long swim, maybe 1200 metres, I am still a bright lobster pink. The gentleman I’d met earlier had swam longer than he should for a beginner, using size as a substitute for experience. He was still struggling to get dressed but I could see he would be fine. I was dressed before him, the stopwatch showed it took me seven and half minutes from water exit to be fully dressed. I was walking up the steps when the shivering of Afterdrop arrived.

Cold Turkey from lack of open water swimming earlier, now I was indeed a Cold Turkey.

It was good to be back.


25 thoughts on “Cold Turkey

  1. Hi Donal,

    We’ll need to meet one day. I’m here in SF, and the water is 54/12 degrees (in mid-Feb). Half of me is jealous after reading this thread, and seeing you swimming in water there that is actually cold…wishing I could be there. The other half of me secretly very content by the easiness and warmth that El Nino has wrapped us in this year. Like you, I swim in the pool (I’m an hour plus from the South End Club) so I can swim better in cold water, and there is a great deal of comradarie in talking to people of all abilities who swim in cold water (5-15 degrees) with only a natual layer of warmth surrounding them. I do like my pool swimming friends, too, but they’ll never understand that winning takes on a whole different meaning when you are not swimming against anyone else.


    • Thanks you Steve. Coldest week of the year in the water here. I have to admit on Saturday when I was at the coast, the wind was so cold that I just decided not to swim and spent a few hours shooting photographs instead. And it seems funny I should have communicated with so many SERC & Dolphin members over the years, and even met a couple!


  2. I like your comment about going “cold turkey”, it shows how addictive swimming is, whether it is open water or “in the chlorine box” – how can anybody ask a swimmer to stop swimming?


    • Honestly, there are so many shite-talking bullshitters out there. There are two swimmers in Ireland who have self-promoted themselves using DNOWS and Ice Mile swimming and neither has actually accomplished anything.


  3. Beautiful picture (as always) and a good read too. It is all too true what you say about the internet and all the amazing swimmers you read about – well, none of them swim in the pools that I go to anyway!


  4. I read this post as I was having a massive struggle getting back into the water after a 5 day lay-off. It gave me the push I needed to get back in, which (though agonising), was well worth it. So thanks!


  5. It’s the icecream headache time of year and I have psyched myself out of swimming and even taken up boxing in the belief it will improve something. My last open water swim was the 1st January 2015.


    • Boxing. Boxing? That’s the one sport I rate as the most alien and what I’d be most apprehensive to try. Pretty impressive IMO! Honestly I increasingly don’t think a lot is missed by missing January to March.


      • I know boxing I didn’t see that one coming honestly its a great conditioning tool. A punch delivered correctly is all about the core and footwork so rhythm and coordination.


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