I headed back to the car and got ready with Helen. Helen always looks after me. She always know what to do. Before these kinds of things, I can be quite grumpy because I am nervous. Luckily Helen knows how to handle me during these times. We emerged from the car, swim cap on but still rugged up. Ready to plunge.
Wyatt was in his kayak ready for me to enter the water. I figured I should stretch before I swim because I'm certainly not going to warm up in there. A quick stretch and undress and here I go. As I wade into the water, it didn't feel too cold. Certainly warmer than my Chest Freezer! It's now time to dive in and start swimming.
This was the moment I was most afraid of... putting my head under water. I only did it once in the chest freezer and I couldn't control my breathing. And sure enough, straight away, I couldn't control it. My body was going into a kind of panic mode as I did a weird double inhalation. This would have been OK, however, I have never experienced this with my swimming. So by the time the second inhalation came about, my face was back under the water and I gulped icy cold water straight into my lungs. This was not fun! I started to feel like I was drowning. Firstly I was in fresh water and didn't have the normal buoyancy of the ocean, it's freezing bloody cold and I've just taken in icy water into my lungs. We've only just started and I'm starting to struggle.
It took about 50m for the double breath to stop and another 200m to finally stop coughing. Rarely do I swallow water in the ocean but I can swim and cough and breathe at the same time. The first leg was to swim out to where the ice was covering the lake. As I got closer, I was very worried about it as it would be sharp and cut me. Wyatt stopped me and turned me around. This was truly hard.
This out and back course was 450m so was doing this twice and then a short 110m lap to get our 1km done. By the end of the first 450m, my arms were starting to feel like logs. I was losing feeling in them and couldn't feel the water with each stroke. Worse still, my body was stinging and there were big patches of reeds that came right up to the surface. Each time I swam through them, they felt like razor blades slicing down my body. Worse was still to come.
Halfway through the first leg of the second lap, I was suddenly hit by a dizzy spell. Wow. This was not cool and gave me a fright. A couple of breaststroke strokes and it went away. On the second leg of this lap, I was hit twice with these dizzy spells. They lasted longer and scared me more each time. I started to think that I was truly getting closer to dying. I recall Tara Diversi telling me about how she blacked out three times a couple of weeks before in her Ice Mile. I recognised I am now on the edge. My body was feeling very heavy. My mind started running through scenarios of what would happen if I fell unconscious, because I thought this was about to happen. Could Wyatt pull me onto the kayak and then get me back to shore? How long until help would arrive? I had a friend flying the rescue helicopters that weekend out of Canberra and he said that he hoped he wouldn't see me.
I had to use every ounce of my mental strength to complete my second lap. The wind was so strong, there was a chop on the lake that I was now having to contend with. I had just 110m left to go which seemed more like an impossible task. Head down, let's just go for it. I made it to the jetty which was my turnaround and headed straight for the beach which was just 60m away. I wanted this to be over. I went as hard as I could but my body couldn't respond. It was frozen. My arms were now like stone and my hands felt swollen and about to explode.
As I staggered out of the water, Helen and Wyatt grabbed me and whisked me to the car which had been running and being kept warm. I was aware of what was happening around me on this walk to the car, but it turns out I got many of the details wrong as to who did what. I didn't know how wrong I was until later that night which added to some of my greater fears that I'll discuss later.
Warming up was nothing foreign to me. Having sat in my chest freezer on many occasions and been through the rewarming process, I knew what was to come. When I first got into the car, Helen wrapped me up, shoved hot water bottles into my jacket and started feeding me a nice warm coffee. During the first five minutes, there is no shivering. But then it starts. It's uncontrollable, almost violent and very tiring. Shivering is a very good sign as your body knows what it needs to do. This is the most dangerous part of the swim which is called the afterdrop. This is when your body starts to send blood out the the extremities again only to return cold blood. This is when the real hypothermia hits. It feels so cold and is very deep. After 30mins, I recover and I'm ready to head back to Cooma, where we are staying.
Time for the Ice Mile Attempt
After my experience of my 1km qualifier, I was starting to feel a tad terrified. This feeling certainly wasn't helped by Wyatt telling me that a couple of people had died the year before from attempting an Ice Mile. I had the worst night sleep. I was really struggling with so many thoughts going through my head of falling unconscious and dying. Helen could sense how nervous I was but saw a different nervous. Rather than being my grumpy nervous self, I was quiet. It really started to worry her. I was scared. This started to be a very dumb idea. Am I being stupid and really putting myself in a dangerous situation? It certainly was dangerous but I had done the training and plenty of cold water acclimatisation. I was fit and ready. I knew I could do it. I just had to get the negative thoughts out of my head.
As I awoke on the Sunday, the first thing I did was to check the weather forecast for Crackenback. The winds were going to be much less but it was going to be colder. Much colder. It was hitting a high of 3degs and it was snowing. As we drove from Cooma to Crackenback, it was an eerily silent trip. Even with four kids in the back of the car, everyone could sense the magnitude of what was about to happen. We arrived at Lake Crackenback just before 10am. The sun was trying to shine through, the winds were light but it was snowing. What a stupid idea to swim in the snow! The snowline was just 50m above us. The rain overnight had melted the ice covering but had also cooled the lake making it just 3.9degs.
Let's just get this done. I hopped back in the car to prepare myself. This felt stupid. Why am I doing this? But as the saying goes, "Nothing great is ever easy". And this certainly was something great. I emerge from the car and strided to the beach. This time we had quite an entourage with several friends making the journey from Canberra and Sydney to see this. This made me feel a little better because if I did get into trouble, there were people there to help me. Although, not one of them actually felt the water. It could have been a balmy 30degs for all they know.
Time to do this. Strip off and enter the water. It didn't feel cold, just like the day before. This time I splashed water on my face and body so I wouldn't get that weird double breath thing like the day before. This shocked a few of the onlookers who couldn't believe I was casually splashing icy water on myself. I was ready. Time to plunge.
Sure enough, as soon as I dived in, the double breath thing happened and after my third stroke I took another massive gulp of icy water straight into my lungs. I'm obviously a slow learner. How dumb can I be? I told myself off as I swam my first leg, coughing and spluttering all the way.
One leg done and now on to my second. It was at this stage that I realised I didn't have my safety belt on so that Wyatt could grab me if something went wrong. The negative thoughts started to enter my head. Every breath I could see my safety team shadowing me on the bank, ready to pounce if they needed. It was at this stage the day before that I started to get dizzy. But not this time! Although it was colder, I was feeling so much stronger. I actually felt like a swimmer and my stroke felt like it was holding. It was cold, but I wasn't being affected as much. My arms were numb but not too bad. My body was stinging and the reeds still felt like razor blades, but I was ready for it. My face was numb, my jaw was frozen and my tongue was starting to freeze, but I felt so much more aware. The small gusts of wind that came across the lake weren't bothering me so much. I've got this.
I turned for my last 60m to the shore and sprinted. I felt great. I felt like my pace had held from the start to the finish. It's so hard to gauge how hard to go as you can't feel anything. It's difficult to tell if you are breathing hard and getting puffed. And you certainly can't gauge any muscle fatigue or pain.
And I'm done! I'm now an Ice Swimmer! Now to warm up. I stumbled out of the water. A little uneasy on my feet but this was kind of to be expected. My team surrounded me to get me ready to take me to the car and start the warm up process again. This is really where the Ice Mile starts. After 30mins, my shivering had become less violent so Helen decided now was the time to take some video. I am so grateful I have her to look after me. She is truly amazing and knows exactly what to do. It took a whole hour to stop shivering. The entire time I felt in control. I didn't have any moments where I felt it could have gone the wrong way. My Mile seemed easier than the day before. My body was obviously far colder based on how long it took me to warm up. Two hours after my swim, we were up in the snow with the kids having a beer and lunch at Thredbo. What a truly bizarre day. Because there were no after effects, it started to feel more like another race. Job done. Move on.
I am very proud of what I achieved with my Ice Mile Swim. I was the 6th Australian to have completed it, 325 in the World and about 12th fastest in the World to date. Would I do it again? Part of me says never. But then there is a part that has an idea to do it again but without the pressure of it being "my first". I have an idea in my head...
Trying to get some cold water acclimatisation for my Ice Mile swim made me think of an idea. How about I convert a chest freezer into a bloody cold plunge pool. If you know me, I take things seriously but you still need to have some fun. So I have created "Chats from the Chest Freezer". People have been writing in with their questions. Here are the first four in the series.
The video with my swim cap on is perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever undertaken. It was SO HARD!