Champions this year went off pretty much the same as my ’14 debut: Leg cramps dominated the five-miler. Disorientation saw me collapsed on the beach eight miles in. Entering the sea for the final mile I was frozen to the core and chaffing would be a ‘going home present’ despite the precautions taken.
To top things off I finished the 9 mile series in the same time as in 2014. TO THE MINUTE. Rather than reprimand me for ‘null progress’, Residing BLDSA President Jean Wilkin-Oxley (English Channel Conqueress of 1972), suggested that I hold the gift of ‘Consistency’. I’ll take that as a compliment from one of such pedigree. Six hours 11 minutes and 39 seconds versus my record of six hours 11 minutes and 41. It would hardly make for an interesting blog to brag about a ‘back of the pack’ two second PB so I’m going to spend my word-count wisely, exploring the statement ‘Entering the sea for the final mile I was frozen to the core’
Sure a warm mug was appreciated between swims. Yes me and my dry robe were the best of friends. I freely admit to having had the shivers, blue tinged extremities and lack of dexterity that come with prolonged exposure to cold water. But ‘frozen to the core’? Nope. And that’s scientifically proven…..
A couple of hours before the five-miler I’d swallowed a magic bean. Not one received in exchange for a post-partum cow. Alas not even one that would keep me warm or indeed help me swim faster. This magic bean operated on a pre-set radio frequency through which it would relay information about deep body temperature whenever it’s transmitter and sensor came into proximity. Interesting to its ‘ingestees’ and of great value in the broader context of open water swimming health & safety and emergency search & rescue. SWIG. Down went the pill to begin it’s journey along my gastro-intestinal tract……
Readings were taken before and immediately after each leg of the swim series, with a final check after the nine mile ordeal was done and dusted. The researcher was Jane Hall, a PhD student from the University of Portsmouth Department of Sport and Exercise Science (Extreme Environmental Medicine and Science). In line with all properly conducted research subjects took part voluntarily and with informed consent. The greatest risk from participation came from our sport itself. Drowning, hypothermia. Shut up and swim…… Harking back to my own Master of Osteopathy research, which all those moons ago also involved human subjects, I applaud Jane for the work which must have gone before reaching this ‘data collection’ phase. Funding applications. The general hoo-har of ethics committee approval [breaks out into a cold sweat before promptly burying memories of pedantic arguments, rejections, grovelling resubmissions etc]…
The temperature pill itself was inert and perfectly safe to ingest. Coming into contact with strong magnets would, however, cause serious problems (guts ripped out etc…..), so we were all given a medical bracelet to wear until we’d caught sight of it. Erm, you know ‘in the bowl’…… We could also set off the alarms at airport security. I’m not sure if the same applies to anti-theft scanners in shops. I guess the ethics committee didn’t much care whether we were given that information. Perhaps a trip ‘up town’ later on to see how much of a nuisance I can make (note to self: no shoplifting for the next couple of days……)
As well as scanning our abdomens for the temperature readings, Jane and University of Portsmouth Lecturer Heather Massey needed to collect additional data from us to control for individual variables. Height, weight and skin fold thickness would establish our body fat percentage (if you can pinch more than an inch,,,,,,,). Swimming experience would give an insight into acclimatisation, a relevant factor in our ability to cope with prolonged cold exposure.
Having ‘double dipped’ for a total of eight miles, with five and a half hours swim time on the clock and just a mile to go, I was feeling pretty nippy when my turn for measurement came around. I’d and layered up to conserve body heat for the final push but they needed access to my biceps, triceps, hip and calf. So off came the clothes and up went the shivering. The job was done rapidly and efficiently (thanks girls) and it was back on with the layers just in time to be asked ‘Can you take your top off again please? We need to repeat the measurements’. I actually thought they were having me on. Yeah ha ha funny. But no!!! The measurements were to be repeated because using the calipers first time around squeezes water out of the tissues so a second reading is more accurate. Quick grimace, off with the layers, on with the pinchey contraption, ouch, ouch, yikes and back on with the clothes again. Just in time to have to take them off and venture back into the waters for the final mile……
Oh what a teasing merry-go-round Champion of Champions is. And how I longed for that finishing line, dreamed of sipping a hot beena and looked forward to donning every item of clothing in my kit bag…….. The water temperature was 14 point something. A couple of degrees cooler than in 2014 and about one degree warmer than the previous two weekends in Dover Harbour when I’d slogged out four, five and six hour sessions with Freda Streeter’s Channel Swimming Posse. With ‘normal’ body temperature in the region of 37 degrees, and taking the physical laws of heat transfer into account, there was certainly scope for observing a drop.
BUT (drum roll)…….
Throughout the whole series of swims Jane & Heather never ONCE recorded a reduction in my temperature!!!!! I stayed a consistent 37 point something degrees throughout.
Perhaps the cold was prevented from sinking too deeply through a combination of my ‘bioprene layer’, cold water acclimatisation, warm feeds and shivering thermogenesis between swims. Maybe peripheral vasoconstriction and the body heat generated by keeping those legs kicking and arms turning over for my six plus hour extravaganza in the water off-set thermic losses. Whatever the answer, my thermoregulatory systems served me well. Thank you love handles, thank you winter swimming, hot beena, maxim, stroke rate, silicon cap…….
If anyone is interested in taking part in this fascinating study then Jane and Heather will be at the Henley Mile swim on July 12th and are looking for more volunteers. It’s not just skins swimmers they are after. Information from suited participants is also needed for comparison. If you are up for it then please do contact Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org
Well done to the BLDSA and to Swim Secretary Mark Sheridan for a seamless execution of the Championships. Huge thank you to land and sea-based support: kayakers, safety rib-crew, timekeepers, lap counters, jelly baby throwers, kettle boilers, first aiders. The list goes on. We just could not go ahead without you. And congratulations to everyone completing or attempting the event. It’s a toughie but worth it. Everyone comes out a Champion 🙂
I wait with much excitement for the temperature study research to be published. But for now I’ve got a Gillian McKeith job on my hands: To wait with even greater anticipation to catch sight of that little capsule. Plopping through a sieve, poking at my number two’s with a sharp object or taking a magnet to the lavvy. By hook or by crook and sooner rather than later that ‘No MRI’ bracelet will be snipped off. I’ll keep you posted…..