I Achieved A Dream last week.
Yes, Achieving A Dream is exciting. Last week, I achieved one of mine. Today, I’m telling you the story.
This article has been the most enjoyable article I’ve ever written. It is my hope that the words you’re about to read are written in such a way as to achieve the following suggestion from Ben Franklin:Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Click To Tweet
Perhaps, I’ll be fortunate to accomplish both of Mr. Franklin’s objectives in today’s article. The experience is certainly worth writing about, and I trust the words will be worth reading. If so, perhaps this may be considered my first “Epic” post. That’s my goal, and I welcome your feedback in the Comments on whether or not my goal was achieved.
Today, I’m telling the story of achieving a dream.
I tell this story not in a veiled attempt at bravado, but rather in the hopes that you may get motivated by my experience, and decide to pursue your own personal dream. Perhaps, you’ll learn something to apply into your own life. The subject matter of my dream (swimming) doesn’t really matter. The important thing is for you to look for your opportunities to build your own dreams. Then, begin your pursuit. If you’re lucky, you can soon join me in celebrating….
….The Culmination Of A Dream.
I’m excited about achieving a dream, and hope you have as much fun in reading these words as I’ve had in writing them.
I trust you’ll enjoy the story.
The Dream Begins
To appreciate the dream, you need to appreciate just a bit of the history.
Several years ago, I came across an article on The Serpentine Swim Club, which was founded in 1864. I was intrigued by a bunch of Brits who swim year ’round in an outdoor park in downtown London. No wetsuits allowed. Even in December!? Yep, for 150+ years the Club has sponsored a Christmas race. That’s a really long time (our North was, at the time, fighting our South in the Civil War!). What a grand tradition.
I bet these Brits are a hoot!
It caught my interest, a seed was planted, and a dream began.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that article put thoughts in motion. Within the past 6 months, I’ve thought about that article more than usual. I began to wonder how cold could a person swim if they intentionally trained through the Fall Season? A Dream Was Born.Am I Capable Of Swimming In Really, Really Cold Water? Click To Tweet
……My Fierce Competitor, “The Dolphin”, Crushed Me For The Gold.
In September, I realized “The Dolphin” and I would both be in London, at the same time, in November. I began to envision a rematch of The Dolphin and The Old Man, this time in London. This time in cold water.
The Dream Begins To Grow.
A Rematch With “The Dolphin”
As the dream of this rematch with The Dolphin began to unfold, I contacted The Serpentine Swim Club’s Honorable Secretary Brian Thomas to begin working out logistics of a possible November swim.
The Honorable Secretary and I agreed on the details, and schedules began firming up. Timing was coordinated around a busy week of meetings, and The Dolphin was convinced to participate (perhaps against his will, though he’ll now readily admit that he’s glad he accepted the challenge. One of the mutually agreed conditions was that we’d do it for fun, to survive, or both).
I continued my cold water swim training, and kept my weekly streak alive. For those interested, the endurance streak of “Swimming Across Lake Zurich” stands at 10 straight weeks, and is still intact. Not bad for a 53 year old guy, right?! I’ve been entering all of my training activities on a LIVE EXERCISE LOG, have a look if you want to keep tabs on me.
I was even motivated to take advantage of a late October vacation to experience a long distance swim in the Michigan lake of my childhood home (have a look in the LOG, you’ll see the swim).
The Culmination Of The Dream
The day arrives. November 3. London, England. The day I’ll finally swim with the Serpentine Swim Club.
The Dolphin picked me up in the front of my hotel at 6:30 am. Being the Millenial that he is, he used Uber for the ride, and we had a nice chat with the driver en route to a parking lot near the swim club. He thought we were nuts. What’s new?
After a 100 yard walk along the edge of the beautiful Serpentine in Hyde Park, we saw a gentleman sprint across the path in front of us. He was dashing from the water to a nearby shack, then disappeared. “Must be the place”, we thought, and proceeded to walk toward the door through which he had entered.
Arrival At The Serpentine Swim Club
We swung open the door, and walked tentatively inside. I had been warned by the Honorable Secretary that “the facilities are very spartan: cramped changing room, no lockers, no shower facilities, though we permit ourselves the luxury of a kettle for making tea”. The shack was, indeed, “Spartan”. It was small, perhaps 15′ x 15′, with locker room type benches around the walls, a few hooks and shelves overhead, and a table for tea. Of course.
The members realized, obviously, that we were visitors, and soon struck up friendly chatter on what we had in mind. They were encouraging, positive, and amazingly energetic. The average age was ~45 years of age, with a range of 30 – 85, and I’ve no idea what any of them do for a living. It doesn’t matter,
They Are Members Of The Serendipity Swim Club
These folks are my heroes, the guys and gals who inspired me, starting 3 years ago, to a dream. A dream to swim with these very Serendipity Swim Club members. I told them I had followed them for several years, and they had, in fact, encouraged me. I told them they were my heroes, though I also called them crazy Brits who swim year round in a park. They smiled. We, for one brief moment in time, were members of the club.
(PS: After I returned from London, I actually did become an official member of the Serpentine Swimming Club. I thought it appropriate to pay the £20 annual due, and it felt right to become “official”!)
Feeling acceptance, we stripped to our bathing suits, took a quick picture in the lush facilities, and headed for the water.
What’s It Like To Swim In REALLY Cold Water?
One of the biggest questions I had in my mind as this dream evolved was what would it feel like to swim in REALLY cold water. Now, I know, and share it vividly with you….Today, what it's like to swim in REALLY cold water, a first hand account. Click To Tweet
In the event any of you ever entertain such a thought (and, for my personal documentation of the phenomenon), I’ve decided to describe what it’s like in some detail. In addition to my personal observations, I’ve added some medical details on what was happening to me, citing research I’ve done on the phenomenon since my swim.
I hope my words give you just a glimpse into the experience.
Air Temperature: 37 F / 3 C
Water Temperature: 48 F / 9 C
The Dolphin and I walk, hesitantly, along the dock. Preparing to enter the water. It’s cold, really, really cold, and we wonder what we’ve committed to. We enter the water….
0 – 30 Seconds: SHOCK!
The initial blast is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It’s sharp. It’s biting. It draws the breath out of you. Literally. It’s called Cold Shock Response, and is the first of four phases your body goes through when submerged in cold water. Many folks who die when falling through the ice actually die from drowning during cold shock response, which lasts for 60 – 120 seconds. You cannot control your breathing, and the compression of your ribs forces you to inhale, even when underwater. Water is ingested, drowning follows. A word of warning: Keep your head out of the water after your initial plunge. (and don’t do this if you don’t have a strong heart, see your Doctor before initiating any intensive physical activity.)Cold Shock Response hits you like nothing you've ever felt. It's an awesome experience! Click To Tweet
It’s sharp, but you know it’s coming. You’re starting the swim you’ve trained for. You’re not falling through the ice, unprepared. You’ve trained for this. So, you do what you’re here to do, and start swimming. You start with a backstroke, keeping your head up and clear of the water.
30 seconds – 2 Minutes: Hyperventilation
The hyperventilation is incredible. There is no humanly way to control your breathing, as your body works through the initial Cold Shock Response. Your body is adjusting to the shock of the extreme cold on your extremities.
Your arteries constrict, and the bloodflow begins to move away from the extremities, in order to protect “The Core”. Cold water draws the heat away from your body 25 times faster than cold air of the same temperature. Your body goes into “defense mode” to protect against the shock.
As time progresses within this phase, your hyperventilation slows. Eventually, you begin to control your breathing, and you attempt a few freestyle strokes. As you approach the end of this phase, you’re beginning to swim in a “normal freestyle” manner. Your hands and legs become strangely desensitized to the bitter coldness of the water.
2 Minutes – 30 Minutes: Swimmer’s High
Amazingly, after several minutes, your body becomes reasonably comfortable in the water. It’s cold, but tolerable. You settle into the long, steady strokes you’ve used in training , you settle into a your routine. It’s actually enjoyable at this point, as your body has adjusted and you’re settling into your swimming rhythm. Your heart works strongly to push your blood through your restricted arteries (“Vascoconstriction“), but it really feels no different than a “typical” workout. It is at this point that you may get “Swimmer’s High”, a reaction from the endorphin (body’s natural pain killer), dopamine and serotonin (happy gas) that your body releases as a defense against the shock (see “Benefits Of Cold Water Swimming” later in this article). I’ve experienced it once in my swims this Fall, and it’s a great feeling.
200 Yard Breaks: Rather than have a race, The Dolphin and I agreed our only goal in this swim was to have fun and survive, preferably both. This was no competition against each other, but rather us fighting together against the elements. We took it relatively easy during the swim, and took short 30 second breaks each time we completed a 200 yard trip through the swimming course (a full lap is 400 yards). Here’s a diagram from The Dolphin’s iWatch of our actual swim:
The routine continues, quite comfortably, through 30 minutes.
30 Minutes – 40 Minutes: Incapacitation
At 30 minutes, things begin to moderately change. You start noticing the cold a bit more, your arms and legs get heavier. At this point, you’re entering the “Cold Incapacitation” Phase, and your body begins to get less efficient.
As you cross 35 minutes, your “arm swing” begins to feel a bit unnatural and clunky. The best way to describe it would be to think of swinging a 10 pound sledgehammer, with a sloppy stroke and a feeling of fatigue. You plow on for the final lap, and are pleased when you reach the pre-agreed 40 minute target and exit the water.
Final Result: 40 Minutes 46 Seconds. (I lost track of how many loops we’d swum, but estimate the distance at approximately one mile).
You Gotta Get Pics
Knowing I absolutely HAD to have pictures of The Dolphin and I at the swim, we realized I’d have to make a run for the shed to get my iPhone camera, then sprint back into the water for the pic. The Dolphin didn’t fare much better, as he had to wait in the water for the “camera sprint”.
We earned this picture, in more ways than one. I’m proud of it, and will treasure it always (at least the original pic, which wasn’t modified!).
If I hadn’t of earned my own picture, I’d have been relegating to use the picture below, generously shared with me from my new friends on RockStar Finance’s Awesome New Forum, (thanks Steve@ThinkSaveRetire and Doc over at PhysicianOnFire, I consider you both friends in this virtual world of financial bloggers! Hey Doc, I told you you’d like the med stuff, was I right?!):
The Serpentine Swim Club – The Return
Upon our return into the “clubhouse”, the mood from the members was electric. The members were excited about our swim (they seemed a bit impressed that we had gone for 40 minutes, far beyond a “typical” Serpentine cold water swim!). We had the honor of meeting the Honorable President, Robin Hunter-Coddington, who was just heading out for his swim as we returned.
Let me tell you, this guy’s a HOOT! On his 70th Birthday, the Honorable President celebrated by swimming across the English Channel. “I left England when I was 69, and arrived in France when I was 70”. How cool is that!! He maintains his humility, however, by adding, “Yeah, but I was just part of a relay”. Just to show you a bit of his character, I’ve really no choice but to include this shot of his swimsuit (yes, I’ll proudly admit this is the first time I’ve taken a picture of another man’s bum):
After a few celebratory minutes, the club members started getting a bit more urgent in their tone.
“Take off your trunks, now. Get dried quickly. Get Into your sweats and jackets. Hurry, you’re almost out of time.”
We figured they knew what they were talking about, though we weren’t sure what they meant, and quickly changed into dry, warm clothes.
Of course, the club members were correct. In a few minutes, our bodies suddenly broke into violent shakes. I wouldn’t call them shivers, they were too severe. Convulsions, possibly? Perhaps, but probably a bit over dramatic. I think I’ll just call them….
Your entire body shakes in severe shivers from head to toe. Talking becomes a stuttering jumble through uncontrollable quivering lips. If your clothes aren’t on by now, it gets much more difficult to finish the job. Filling out the guest paperwork we had omitted at our arrival? Impossible. (“I’ll fill it out online when I get home”, I promised through quivering lips. I’m not sure that they understood what I was saying, but my intent was good).
Basically, the blood that had been restricted from your extremities to protect the core is now starting to flow again. As the blood enters the cold extremities, the blood cools, and returns to the core. Your body temperature begins to drop, and your body shakes in a natural attempt to warm yourself. It’s a natural reaction, and outside of your control. It’s quite unpleasant, to say the least, and the biggest “negative surprise” of the entire swim. Brutal, this.
I’ve experienced The Shivers 3 times as I write these words, and none of them have been pleasant.
“Drink Some Tea”
Drink some tea, quickly, they encourage. Ah, there was a real reason for that tea pot! The warm liquid helps warm your core, and decreases the duration of The Shivers. We all have a good laugh as they talk about the first time they experienced The Shivers. They knew this was coming when they greeted us this morning, and they all smiled at appreciation of our unofficial initiation into The Polar Bear Club. I’ve adopted the learning, and now drink hot water after my swims in Georgia. Sounds REALLY weird, but it’s strangely quenching, exactly what your body needs.
As our Uber driver picked us up, he knew immediately what we had been doing. I’m not sure if it was the wet hair that gave us away, or The Shivers. “Are You Crazy”, he asked (seems I’ve been getting asked that a lot, lately, and always in conjunction with The Swim). We laughed. Kindly, he cranked up the heat as high as it would go, and within 5 minutes the shivers were fading. I exited at my hotel, The Dolphin continued on to his.
The official event was over, but the impact had just begin.
Nov 9: Final edit in this section, to give the latest update. Tonight, Nov 9, (just 24 hours after Trump won POTUS, to put it in perspective), I swam for 40 nonstop minutes FOR THE THIRD TIME IN THE PAST WEEK!
London was the first, and I’ve followed it with two more “Swims Across Lake Zurich”, 40 minutes in duration, in 3 of the past 6. days. In water temperatures from 48 to 55 degrees. Yes, cold water. 3 Times. 6 Days. I think I might be hooked…..Yes, 40 mins of cold water swimming, in 3 of the last 6 days. Water temp: 48-55. I Love It! Click To Tweet
To keep tabs on how my my training continues from here, have a look at my Live Exercise Log, which shows every swim since May 2016 through November 2016, and will continue to be updated.
The Benefits Of Cold Water Swimming
As a newfound member of the Serpentine Swim Club, I felt it appropriate to do some research on the benefits of cold water swimming. I’ve found evidence that there are clear health benefits to swimming in cold water. It turns out that “shocking” of your body with cold water actually increases your white blood cell count, and improves your immunity system. Endorphin release is also high with cold water swimming, creating a “swimmer’s high” as your body’s natural pain killers get released in response to the cold water shock. Dopamine and serotonin releases are also triggered, which are proven to be stimulants of happiness (low levels are commonly associated with depression). Finally, due to your artery constriction, your body works twice as hard during a cold water swim as during a warm one. Caloric burn goes up, and metabolism increases. According to The Dolphin’s iWatch, we burned 907 calories during our Serpentine swim.
Great exercise, this!
Turns out, there are some real benefits to my newfound passion. Who knew!?
The Bigger Impact Of A Dream
Achieving a dream can have big impacts in your life. For me, by establishing and conquering a dream, I’ve developed a new hobby which will serve me well in my retirement years. I smile at the thought of swimming in various campgrounds around the country as we travel in our RV after retirement. The satisfaction that comes from achieving a long-sought goal can go a long way in replacing the objectives you’d previously tackled at work.
I’ve learned that I love cold water swimming, and I’m planning on continuing my quest of keeping “The Streak” alive. Tonight, as I type these words, I just completed my 3rd swim in 6 days, as mentioned above. Water temp 48 – 55. Outside, in mid-November.
My “balmy” 55 F (13 C) apartment pool water feels GREAT compared to London, and I felt stronger than I’ve felt all summer. 10 Weeks In A Row now, how long can this last? The Bigger Impact Of A Dream.
Over time, dreams that focus on fitness will increase your long term health. You’ll increase your active years, and you’ll reduce the odds of a major medical expense due to health related illness. While you can’t control Obamacare or whatever it becomes, you can control your personal health to a large extent. Focus on what you can control, and develop a dream which challenges you.
Make a dream, with a focus on something physical. Use it as motivation to get yourself into better shape. Your body will thank you for it.
You need a challenge in retirement. Heck, you need a challenge while you’re working. Find a dream that you’re striving to achieve, it’ll provide tremendous value to your life. It provides purpose. It encourages you to get out and do what you need to do in order to accomplish the dream. Find something that pushes you. There’s NO way I would have been out swimming in my pool the past few weeks without the dream of swimming with the Serpentine Swim Club. I wouldn’t have taken the time to swim in Michigan. That’s now a cherished memory, and available only because I created a dream.
Create your dream.
Risk A Bigger Dream
Take some time to consider, what would it take for you to risk a bigger dream. Consider this….
How Often Do People Ask You, “Are You Crazy?”
I’ve been asked that question many times over the past few weeks. Folks in my apartment complex would see me swimming in Oct. “Are you crazy?”, they’d ask. I went home to Michigan, and told my family I’d like to swim in my childhood lake. Late October. “Are you crazy?” Uber driver en route to the lake…“Are you crazy?” Etc. Etc.
Risk a dream big enough for folks to ask “Are You Crazy?” Strive to capture as many “Are You Crazy” questions as you can over the next few months.
Then, capture the dream.
Achieving a dream is exhilarating. Find a dream. Risk a bigger dream. One that will force people to ask “Are You Crazy?”. The choice is yours. No one will do it for you, but I assure you that you’ll benefit from the effort. Take some time, and think. Find something that will motivate you over the coming months. Nothing crazy or too long term, but something you can actually do, in a reasonable amount of time, with a stretch. Something that intrigues you, something that has tweaked your curiosity.
Something for you.
My wife brought home a foster dog a week ago, the 5th dog in our home. She also volunteered to write a monthly newsletter for the dog rescue charity where we volunteer in our retirement town. “Are you crazy?”, friends ask, when they hear we have 5 dogs, and she’s volunteering to take on a major role. That’s a great dream, and it qualifies. (See her first killer newsletter here, Puppy Pals).
Your Dream Can Be Anything You Decide To Strive For.
Find a way to make an impact, on yourself, or on your community.
Build a dream.
Work toward it.