Wild man’s mini mock epic in 20 min­utes

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BRENDAN O’CONNOR -

THE peo­ple who have just got out tell me that it’s not too bad today. It’s warmer than it was dur­ing the week. The sun was on it yes­ter­day they say, so it’s warmed up. I al­ways tell peo­ple af­ter I get out that it’s not so bad. This is be­cause af­ter you’ve been in it it doesn’t seem so bad. And also, what else are you go­ing to say? They need all the en­cour­age­ment they can get. It is much more daunt­ing be­fore you get in than af­ter­wards, when you have con­quered it. So you can af­ford to be mag­nan­i­mous af­ter­wards, with that sense of achieve­ment in you.

I haven’t been here in a few days. Dur­ing the week you need the right bal­ance be­tween tides, traf­fic and toil to get here. I’ve been in the pool, out­doors but warm, so I am soft. You get soft very quickly. When I come ev­ery day I just walk in with no trep­i­da­tion. But a few days away and it gets un­invit­ing. Today it is cold and grey and in­dif­fer­ent and un­wel­com­ing to me. It looks like a place for seals today. But any­way, get on with it. No point in think­ing.

Walk­ing in is start­ing to feel more like pun­ish­ment th­ese days, just a slight shock when you get in. Tech­ni­cally

‘I en­joy be­ing shoved along... Grad­u­ally I start to feel fan­tas­tic’

I can do much colder than this, but ev­ery­thing is rel­a­tive, and in the here and now, this is get­ting a bit nippy. If you thought now about go­ing right through the win­ter you would think it was im­pos­si­ble. How could you keep go­ing when this gets way colder? But you just take it one swim at a time. And in fact it shouldn’t get too much colder be­tween now and Christ­mas. I still get sur­prised by the fact that the first quar­ter of the year is the worst bit.

Bear in mind too that one or two de­grees can make a huge dif­fer­ence in this game. It’s claim­ing to be 14 de­grees today on some web­site. That’s ac­tu­ally about right for this time of year. And it’s ac­tu­ally not far off the av­er­age for the sum­mer, which is about 15 de­grees. But some­how it bites a bit more. I think the grey cold windy day makes a dif­fer­ence. It’ll get down un­der 10 af­ter Christ­mas. Some peo­ple say it’s not fun any more once you go be­low 10. I’d ar­gue it’s just a dif­fer­ent kind of fun.

I walk in telling my­self it’s all in my head and I get go­ing. Ob­jec­tively it’s ac­tu­ally not that cold. I de­cide I’ll do 20 min­utes. I’m not so into get­ting too cold th­ese days, the old recre­ational hy­pother­mia. It’s a good buzz at the time but I don’t want a snotty nose or sore gums later. So I aim to get out be­fore I will get so cold that I’ll have a shiver in me af­ter­wards. I don’t know what that point is ex­actly, but I know that 20 or 25 min­utes is safe enough. There’ll be time for recre­ational hy­pother­mia later in the year.

As I head down by the coast the small waves are shov­ing me along. I feel like Su­per­man. It vaguely crosses my mind that I will pay for this as­sis­tance on the way back up. But for now I en­joy be­ing shoved along slightly ir­reg­u­larly. It only feels cold for a minute or two re­ally. Then grad­u­ally I start to feel fan­tas­tic. It’s not from the ex­er­tion. I’m not ex­ert­ing my­self much. The pool is a far harder strug­gle. It must be my body re­act­ing a bit to the tem­per­a­ture. Dopamine, en­dor­phins, what­ever it is, it feels good.

I turn around to come back up. And this is where the pissy lit­tle waves start to bother me. Th­ese lit­tle ones are nearly more an­noy­ing. Big ones you know what you’re deal­ing with. But th­ese pissy lit­tle an­noy­ing ones are like a snappy Jack Rus­sell, splash­ing into your face, un­pre­dictable, mak­ing it hard to get a reg­u­lar stroke go­ing. But it’s good too in that it starts to feel like a mock epic bat­tle against th­ese lit­tle tid­dler waves. You have to raise your arms higher and turn your head more be­hind to breathe. It feels dra­matic. And the slip seems very far away. It al­ways feels like you’ll never make it. Bear in mind it’s a few hun­dred yards and I can swim over to shore at any time. But it’s a small chal­lenge. And the nice numb­ness comes at that point too. I get out, slightly elated and get dressed and go and meet my wife in Mead­ows and Byrne to look at a lamp. I stand there smugly among th­ese do­mes­ti­cated hu­mans. As they look at this guy oddly dressed in furry crocs and a puffer and a hat, seem­ing too cold for the day, none of them sus­pect that I am a wild man who has just com­pleted a mini mock epic in 20 min­utes.

Chilly win­ter wa­ter is a slight shock

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