Monday, January 23, 2012

Resisting the chill

Last winter I posted a clip about the legendary Iceman Vim Hoff who was able to resist getting cold and spent a lot of time chillin in ice buckets setting world records etc. Click here for that post.

Recently I borrowed a book from Fanus Gerber a colleague who represented SA in the Iron Man World champs in Hawai last year. The book is about a local lad (British borne, but spent most of his childhood in SA). The book is titled Achieving the Impossible by Lewis Pugh. Lewis also like to chill - but he does it a bit differently to Vim Hoff - he swims in cold water.

Now I consider swimming in 13 degrees bloody cold and I much prefer my wetsuit - but an occasional splash in such seemingly frigid water is refreshing and invigorating - I feel like my dog s behave after a swim - energised. The coldest water I have been in is 8-9 deg but that was with a suit on - my exposed hands got "bitten " by the chill.

Lewis on the other hand would say that 9 deg is warm and he would not bother with such insulation as a wetsuit or hood - No he just hops in with a speedo and goggles. He has done swim in Cape town as long as 10 km in 8-10 deg water with no suit. Not at first I understood why he called his book Achieving the Impossible. But there is more - he took on other crazy swims to Fjords (especially where the meltwater enters!!!!). Later he went on to swim at / near each pole (yes, North and South poles - where polar bears are a possible risk). Seems he still did not need a wetsuit. One swim he did at the North pole, 1000 m, was in water that was minus 1.7 deg C!  Batty!
Let me digress a tad, I have an idea how cold that is - I used to dissolve ammonium nitrate fertilizer to purify it in water - the more you add the colder it gets. I used to stir the fertilizer into water by hand eventually the temperature went down to minus 2 deg. It was so cold that my hand and arm could not tolerate it for 10-20 sec - an excruciating pain would engulf my submerged hand - the like of which I cannot explain - I used a stick instead at a later stage.  The thought of willing full body immersion is off the chart. I think it would make and excellent form of torture!

Anyway, so Lewis dumped his whole body in that sort of temperature for about 1/3 of an hour and was able to complete his goal of 1000m of swimming with a speedo, goggles and a cap! Oh yes!, and the water there is about 4 km deep - that too is a challenge, not to mention the fluffy white teddy bears out there. His objective was to make a statement about global warming and the melting of ice at the N Pole where there should be ice but now one person can swim there.

He also did a swim on Mt Everest

In reading the book you can see how he pulled it off with appropriate physical and of course mental conditioning and training.

Check out his clip of the swim:

Doing these seemingly impossible things requires a bit reality shift - you have to change what you believe is possible. I think back on my pb breathhold of 7 min and 2 seconds last winter - it was off the radar for me but only at around 6 minutes during that hold did it creep in as a possibility. In retrospect now that I am not so fit it has faded back to the edge of the radar. Let's see if 8 min will crumble before I exhale this year - one way I can help myself proceed is to think of Lewis's 1 km swim in minus 1.7 deg - that will definitely help - perhaps before the breath hold I must stir a fertilizer mix just to feel that freezing crushing pain again and it will become easier. Interestingly being cold helped my breathholds in a big way.

Us spearos and swimmers like Lewis both have to consider the same adversary - the great white shark - he did a lot of swims in the Cape in sharky waters and even one swim here in PE where the greath whites are not so rare any more. On occasion he had a POD strapped to the boat and on occasion the POD was lost. There is nothing like a great white charging you at full speed - or the thought of it....!!!!! (read an encounter I had)

Do go and have a look at Lewis's blog - it may help in times where you are attempting tough stuff.
His website is

I have become a bit of a wimp with my solar heated pool and jacuzzi - but in the back of my mind I have always wanted a plunge tub to chill off in for short periods - perhaps I will add some ice one day just for shocks - that way I can briefly experience what Lewis did while training.

Every now and then we see something that helps us wake up and look at the world a little differently - thanks Lewis!
Here is a dare - for the average person - switch off your electric geyser for a few days and have a cold shower! Hmm! I'l be divorced by winter...

1 comment:

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