In the early morning of October 24th, Jane Kennedy and myself met with Simon Murie and John Coningham-Rolls from Swim Trek for the first proper meeting de-brief for the Maltese Islands charity swim next May.
As Swim Trek is also organising the fifth World Cold Water Swimming Championships in February 2008 at Tooting Bec Lido, it seemed only appropriate that we met there.
Aside from discussing trip logistics, a dip was also on the cards. Not surprisingly, very few other swimmers were at the pool and gingerly the four of us entered the water of only ten degrees centigrade, in an air temperature of nine degrees centigrade. To give you a comparative analysis, most indoor pools would be around 28 degrees and when the Titanic sank, the water temperature was an horrific 1.6 degrees centigrade.
To say that this was a pleasurable experience would be a tad off the mark. The pain that numbing cold water inflicts is quite remarkable - a combination of being stabbed with knitting needles whilst simultaneously being immersed in acid would probably be a fair perceptual description.
The feet are the first to succumb to anaemic drunkeness and then it's your bits as they go under too. Next is the chest and arms as you literally gasp for breath from constricting lungs and then comes the dolphin dive and under you go - ice cream head is excruciatingly painful and we're now swimming the 91 metre length towards the deep end.
Will the heart weather the storm? Will cramp attack without warning? Will we swallow any of these autumnal leaves?
The fact is that the longer you stay in, the warmer it feels as your body slowly shuts down - and then it's the return leg and back to the shallow end. We stand up for immediate relief as the cold October air actually feels warm. This is how hypothermia catches the unwary. Then it's a quick photograph for this accompanying blog and a sprint into the hot showers.
Regrettably, however, the intended sprint is a rather mundane hobble as none of us can feel our feet! Indeed, was another three hours before I could feel mine.
John and Simon would not allow us to loiter for too long under the hot water for fear of chillblains and then it was straight into the lido cafe for a well deserved and medicinally needed DIY hot coffee. It was another 40 minutes before I stopped shivering, throwing most of the coffee over myself and my hosts, whilst also jibbering away with a mouth that wouldn't work.
As for Jane, her Irn Bru upbringing in Dundee means she is made of sterner stuff - an exemplary performance for a first effort in cold water and one which even impressed the guys from Swim Trek. That said, both Jane and I succumbed to the same nasty chill in the old internals later in the day and, without going into detail, an early morning swim in such cold water is an excellent way to shed a few pounds.
Our next swim was on Saturday November 3rd at Hampton Open Air Pool. This time, however, it was heated.