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Andrew Wells' account of the Parliament Hill Icy Swim Hootenanny 2018

Along time ago (well just over a week) in a room far far away (currently around 5m) I was enjoying relaxing night of sleep one cool January morning only to be woken by the sound of my alarm. Reaching over, 4am, this can’t be right! But it was, for today wasn’t a usual Saturday with its leisurely 5am alarm, today is PHISH day; that’s Parliament Hill Icy Swimming Hootenanny not the 80’s band or HOWSC’s secret plan to steal the passwords from rival clubs (maybe I’ve said too much).

Even at this time there was only time for a quick bowl of cereal, the short version of my usually multi-hour beauty regime, gather my stuff and off to the top secret HOWSC rendezvous point. After an hour of driving I arrived at my destination. Stepping out at the point indicated by the satnav was a house with the right number but no sign of life except a cat sleeping on the windowsill. I wasn’t quite brave enough to knock on the door of a strange house at 6am so resorted to some good old electronic communications and good thing too as the real house was 100m around the corner.
United, the HOWSC five (Hella, Ella, Sharon, Jeni and myself) set off for central London, some of us to compete and others volunteering in various capacities. At the lido we were joined by Craig from HOWSC’s sister Oxford club, someone who shares my competitive outlook.

Into the Lido, my first time, and it is an impressive sight, 61m of lovely blue water and the metal lining giving it that extra “I’m cold” appearance. The scientific verdict was 4 degrees, cold but not quite in the hand destroying 1’s or 2’s. That can make all the difference for a skins only event; no neoprene, gloves or socks allowed.

For the volunteers Jobs were shared out and Hella, Sharron and Jeni where all being official and acting as timers or maybe just spent the whole day dancing, it depends on when you looked. While Ella was ensuring the Hot tub didn’t claim too many victims.
For the rest of us a bit of time to enjoy the surroundings and watch the locals “enjoying” a refreshing dip. The only real downside so far (and for the rest of the day) was the weather wasn’t really playing its part. Where was the crisp winter sun?!  All we got was drizzle with a bit of grey skies and a little heavier rain for the rest of the day. No problem while in the water but not as fun for volunteers, spectators and generally staying dry between races.

Back to the races and ahead of us was a full program of 4 events, the 122m (aka two lengths), 244m, the mixed relay and endurance. This final event being 610m plus one length per degree over zero of water temperature. Those of you good at maths will have realised this would be 14 lengths or 854m this year, although the official announcement didn’t come until later in the day.
Soon enough, the races started and despite the rather unusual briefing things ran smoothly. Each heat 8 swimmers lined up, on the first whistle were told to enter the water around 10s later control was passed to the starter and it was on your marks before a rather professional sounding beep. Once off the spectators were treated to an enjoyable selection of tunes interspersed with a few stories that had been shared by competitors with the commentary team.

Soon it was my turn and I slid down into the water and dipped down to the bottom of the pool to acclimatize a much as possible; a great view of clear water stretching off into the distance, no lane lines and just the repeated patterns of the metal panels on the floor. Back to the surface, take you position, Beep and off we go. Definitely a couple of fast swimmers in my heat pulling away and others to race. Admittedly I’m not really a sprinter, much more built for longer events so reached the turn around 4th. The races are all strictly touch turns only, no tumbling, but at the shallow end this wouldn’t be an option anyway. Basically, when your arms start touching the bottom it means your almost there, the walls are slightly reflective meaning you have to get that much closer to pinpoint where they are but it gives an illusion of the pool being even bigger. Back to the finish and a solid 3rd in the heat (later finding out 25th overall).

Getting out was a little more fiddly than usual with an angled metal plate around the rim that didn’t look too inviting to kneel on, but on my second attempt I was out (I haven’t seen any photographic evidence of the first attempt, it may exist but no blackmail attempts have been made yet).
Around an hour later I was back for the 244m, always a bit more comfortable the second-time round, I could push that bit harder and despite an early challenge finished first in my heat for an improved position of 9th overall. Having not entered a relay team this left a much longer 3hr gap to recover before the final event of the day and enjoy this festival of swimming.

On hand there was a huge hot tub and a sauna which many swimmers were enjoying, however, I preferred to stick closer to my usual approach of a cold shower before getting changed for the next race. I’m glad I had my dry robe with me to ensure I stayed warm and dry enough to be able to enjoy watching the other races despite the drizzle. In both these shorter races Craig had been in a different heat so I had been able to watch him win both of his races, he was always the only person to line up facing away from the starter so he could hold the wall with his preferred hand (giving away his pool racing background).

During this break I also took the opportunity to get a toasted sandwich from the café after all the food I had brought with me had mysteriously been eaten by this point. A lovely addition to the lido and with a huge range of delicious looking cakes and pastries. I didn’t have one, not sure how that happened, maybe temporary insanity.

Back to poolside and it was now time for the relays, some teams were competitive and others more focussed on the pure enjoyment of the event. Ella had secured a place in a team called “The super fast ever so fast really fast and got to go fast fast swim team”, maybe that was super slow ever so slow… you decide. A team truly working hard at living up to its name and only beaten to that position by two teams. Ella on the anchor leg should have won a prize of best smile of the day.

And so, onto the final event, the endurance. This is more of my type of distance (for winter events) and was the event I wanted to do well in. Admittedly I probably haven’t had the best build up to this event. After last year’s 365km or so of racing I needed a bit of a break, while I had been swimming regularly during November and December and was doing plenty of cold water swimming, I hadn’t been doing much of what could be called serious pool training. I know, super lazy, I sentence myself to a month without pizza. Despite picking things back up at the start of the new year it will take a while to build back the speed and endurance that will be needed when the main summer season comes around, so for the moment I’m not at my best (that’s the advantage of writing up the event, I can get my excuses in before revealing the result).

The endurance swim was set up to end at the shallow end to ease exiting the water, hence it also started there and was run over two heats. In each heat the pool was split into five extra wide lanes (to allow overtaking) with up to six swimmers in each lane. I was very lucky and there were only two in mine despite most others having 4 or 5.  As with all events of this type after the first length or two, where you are focusing on finding your rhythm, it is very hard to tell who is ahead and who is not but for me things felt like they were going well, the cold wasn’t being a problem, and I could increase my effort as the lengths ticked by. Getting out I could see I had done reasonably well and in the end found out I was 5th overall, fourth male. As fourth is nobody’s favourite place lets stick with 5th. Looking at the result in detail the gap to one place up was 5 seconds so maybe with a bit more training or if I had spotted him in the water and known he was the target one place better could have been possible, but the top three where well clear. After managing second place overall in both shorter races Craig achieved his goal of as he put it “showing the least endurance” by winning the endurance race; what a wimp. Although being serious an amazing swim and no jealousy at all from me back in 4th/5th.

So, as the winter gradually thaws, and the heated seats in Jeni’s car helped simulate this feeling, it will soon be time to say “Vera frigus mundi”, that’s “goodbye cold world” to you and me, for another year. But there will be plenty of swimming events, races, socials etc to fill the time before the temperature starts to drop again.

AS YOU'RE HERE: The HOWSC website is maintained and run by HOWSC members and relies on voluntary contribtutions.  Do you have something you'd like to share?  Maybe reflections on a recent swim, tales of adventures in far flung places, an account of your watery accomplishments? Photographs, videos, poetry, prose, art and more will all be gratefully received and published on the website for all to admire.  Contact Mark Reed to discuss or submit your contribution.  We look forward to hearing from you.
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