The temperature of the muscles in the arms and legs starts to cool down first - That is our priority area for swim failure. In Ice and cold water this can occur rapidly -muscles can lose up to 3% of it's maximum power per 1 deg loss of muscle temperature according to Golden and Tipton (2006). We see this loss of power so clearly defined and visible with swimmer's arms moving badly, and not able to maintain the full push or pull of the stroke.
It is at this point that the risk increases exponentially.
Should Ice and Cold Water Swimmers determine their own personal limits or their own ability to continue in the water-can they act in their own best interest or should the outcome of the swim depend more on the work of qualified teams? Sometimes do we need to intervene earlier?
Teams and crews should understand that the swimmer or the athlete is not the person to decide how they feel-they are vested in the outcome-being a team member is a huge responsibility in Ice and Cold water swimming and it is the emerging of so many swims which once would have been 'expedition team rescue cover' to now a minimal rescue cover if any and sometimes little experience in the monitoring of the unit. For me we have to always manage the swim based on the risks to life.
Not so many years ago our perception of life and performance was different. Some people would leave a pub after drinking 10 pints of beer and get in the car and drive home-we believed them to be great drivers, amazing that they could control a car under the influence.
it does not mean what we are doing is safe-it does not mean that the person is in control of their actions and it certainly does not mean that that swimmer can in any way be responsible for their recovery or outcome, and the moment they finish their swim they may not have enough reserves to recover.
Information and experience now shows us that the swimmer can continue past the cognitive control.
Decision making processes at this point by us swimmers and these individuals is not only flawed and dangerous but in many cases it's justified and defended.
It is the role of teams and swimmers to understand the risk, recovery, recognition and safety planning of the entire individual event-your job as a crew is to plan for the ‘unlikely event’ and all outcomes, not just to 'be there'.
Being able to risk assess as the swim progresses is vital.
If you never use your safety plan-that is not a problem.
The amount of time before that ‘failure’ will take to impact the individual performance of the swimmer depends on so many variables.
I was present at the 2,400m@0 deg, 2,150m @ 0 deg 2km plus @ 0 deg and multiples 1,650m @ 0 deg all at up to - 30 deg air temperatures. I was also present for some very scary recoveries both in channel and Ice swimming.
I can say confidently that very few swimmers would have been able to manage their own recovery at the end of the swim - so many outcomes without doubt may not have been successful with a lesser qualified team.
Would I want swimmers to go to these limits again with the information I now have ?
How far do we allow that swimmer to swim so as to ensure they are strong enough to make that recovery with the location you are in?
The athlete is now taking on distance open water swims 'unsupported' in difficult conditions which previously would have been swims considered with the assistance of an expedition team/or a qualified boat crew.
|Full teams are vital for safety-our first Ice Mile |
attempt in 2011
Why are we changing our model of preparation? Why are we assuming less risk?Why is a swim that scared some very experienced swimmers a few years ago not ruffling a feather now?
Why were a full crew required to ensure the safety a swimmer a few years back now not required and why are risks being absorbed in many swims as if these risks are no longer an issue?
Today is a different environment
Fear of failure-etc are all areas that we are driven into.
Finishing at all costs seems to be acceptable drive, but that is an easy statement when you don't know the cost both to yourself and the people who are left to manage the outcome.
There is a crucial difference difference between fighting and recovering from fatigue V. fighting and recovering from fatigue with hypothermia.
One of the obvious answers is when a body does a task over and over and over again..Repeat, repeat, repeat to the point that the body can work automated. That accepted pain and that same swim route is not a challenge to the body when all things remain equal-it's like walking home drunk.
We train to tolerate the greatest of pain in swimming. We can swim blind, we can sleep walk, we can over ride all risks when we are so familiar with the risks and with the journey.
Many people can now walk out of a mile at 3/4 deg as if there is not one challenge internally.
So for 40 mins at sub 5 deg, if the swimmer does this route over and over, once the swimmer understands the journey-we only have to complete the journey-or so it seems-the body keeps moving-it learns to manage the challenges.
But the moment all things change and the risk becomes greater is when the mechanics of the body fails. When the body is challenged with decision making.. that’s the chink in the armour that is when the swimmer is exposed-the moment you interrupt their system, the moment you stop the automation of the arms moving, the moment the athlete is faced with a decision that focuses them to think- the weakness or semi conscious is exposed-on their own the swimmers act in a cocoon type, foetal like action where all work is being done on the inside. The risk here is huge for uninformed, inexperienced teams.
Many Ice swimming/cold water swimmer's ability to finish the distance results only to collapse in recovery.
Trying to work hard as a team member for a large event in recovery when you don't know the swimmer is an emotionally charged task. If you don't know the swimmer, you don't know the triggers and you don't know the limits and you don't know their ability to recover.
Many swimmers now appear to arrive at events without a safety plan-There should never exist that our personal responsibility to take on any swim of any distance of 450m onwards in any event without a safety /recovery plan.
Why is passing that point in cold water swimming more dangerous than other mainstream sports like running?
The athlete’s response in cold water is measured by how cold the athlete is on the inside and the outside, a runner, cyclist can despite the cool temperatures can increase clothing and increase heat in a way that a swimmer cannot. -The runner can collapse over the finish line but the body is rarely in an acute hypothermic state.
When the swimmer slows down over a period of time and loses power to the cold muscles and the inability to use their arms and legs at the same function-the body position drops lower, the drag increases with legs falling, the swimmer can start to swallow water maybe even sink. The risks are much greater.
|A solid team is vital|
Being able to recognise the signs of Swim Failure and Swim Incapacitation as it approaches are the basic tools to create the limits for our sport. So how do we do that?
How is the swimmer physical output impacted by cold?
So what about 10-15 mins at 0 deg?
There is no reason swimmers competing over 10-15 mins with adequate training would have any loss of power which would lead to swim failure but the experiences we have seen show us that past 20 mins @ 0 deg there begins a power drop for some swimmer and past 30 mins sub 5 deg shows some power reduction to potential risk to some swimmers.
The Major Risks are:
Know who and how you are going to be recovered-manage your exit from the water -you are not someone else's problem.