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Plum Pudding Plunge - John C. Kirk

Dec. 5th, 2009

07:40 pm - Plum Pudding Plunge

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#I feel it in my fingers,
#I feel it in my toes.
#My ears are getting numb now,
#There's water up my nose.


As I mentioned last month, today was the Outdoor Swimming Society's "Plum Pudding Plunge" (aka "December Dip"). This involved jumping into the water at Parliament Hill Lido, which is of course unheated. The water temperature was 6°C this morning; putting that in context, I keep my fridge at 3°C!

I was a bit nervous when I arrived, but they had some good speakers to get us all into the mood. One of them mentioned the idea of stepping outside your comfort zone every so often, which is something that sammoore has often said. He also said that something like this isn't exactly going to be fun while you do it, but it will be fun afterwards.

Back in May, I jumped into a lake in Wales, so this was similar. However, the main difference was clothing. Last time I wore swimsuit, boots (so that I wouldn't cut my feet on slate), a lifejacket, and a helmet. This time I just wore my swimsuit and a swimming cap. I had an email from the OSS a couple of days ago, which said: "You won't get thrown out for wearing a wetsuit but you really will miss out: the endorphins just don't get to you that way." In other words, they strongly recommended wearing as little as possible, to maximise exposure.

Looking at the video from last year, everyone jumped in at once, then swam their two widths. However, there were about 200 of us today, so that wasn't really practical. Instead, they got us to do it as a relay: we all paired up, then one person would jump in and do two widths, and the second person would wait until they'd finished. Since I'd gone along on my own, I had to wander around a bit looking for a partner, but I found someone else in a similar situation.

I generously let my buddy go first. When he got back, he said "Are you ready?" My honest answer was "No!", but I jumped in anyway. We were closer to the shallow end than I would have liked, but it worked out for the best: I was able to jump in and completely submerge, but then I was able to stand up and get the water out of my eyes. (I didn't bother with goggles, since I'd be keeping my head out of the water during the widths.) As you'd expect, it was rather cold, but not as bad as I'd feared; I suspect that all my cycling has helped to acclimatise me, since I don't wear many layers for that. In particular, my main worry was that I'd gasp for breath and then inhale cold water, but that didn't happen. Still, I certainly wanted to get over to the other side as quickly as possible. Once I made it across, I started back, and I actually felt a bit warmer at this point, probably because of the exercise. I got out and dried off, and I then felt quite comfortable wandering around in just my swimsuit. At the same time, I was aware of my teeth chattering, so I think I was partly fooled by the relative improvement. I only really felt cold in my toes, and that's probably because I was walking around barefoot on cold ground. (The OSS email advised us to bring sandals or flip-flops, but I forgot.)

I nabbed a mince pie, then had a brief turn in the hot tub. It was nice to sink into the warm water, and the other people in there were friendly, but I didn't stay in for long because I felt guilty about the other people who were shivering outside. Someone pointed a TV camera at us and asked how it was, and we all said "It was great", but I didn't come up with anything that was particularly eloquent beyond that. I certainly noticed that everyone was grinning, so there may be something to this endorphin theory.

After that, I got dressed, then hung around by the side of the pool for a while. I took along a Thermos "food flask" full of soup: this was the first time I'd used it, and it worked well. (There's a snap-together spoon inside the screw cap, so you can eat soup normally rather than drinking it out of the cup.) At the start of the event, Kate Rew said that it would run until 13:00, then people would head over to a nearby pub. We went into the water at 11:00, but I left the lido at 11:30; I'd finished swimming, and I wasn't talking to anyone else, so it didn't seem worth hanging around. That's not a criticism: everyone else seemed quite friendly. It's just that I'm a bit shy, and I didn't want to intrude on a conversation. I might do better at one of the OSS "social swims", where there's a smaller group of people.

This is one of the few lidos that's open to the general public all year round, so I might go back there for another visit. The main issue is that it's a long way to go if I don't stay in the water for long, but if I'm up in central London for some other reason (e.g. going to the comics shop) then it may be practical to do a brief detour.

There are some photos of me on Facebook, although they only show me in the hot tub afterwards rather than actually swimming in the cold water. They won't show up under my name just yet (the photographer has to accept my tagging), but you can view them at this event.
Edit: There's now a YouTube video (I'm at 3:30).

Anyway, I've stoked up my fireplace, so I'm going to settle down in front of that for the rest of the evening.

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