1st challenge down

1st challenge down
1st challenge down

It has been an interesting start to the year and this year, I did things a bit differently and booked a challenge very early on in the year. Yes, I opted to swim at PHISH this year – in the endurance event. Ingredients needed for this:

1- 1 x 61 m pool with a steel lining (optional) – huge psychological shenanigans happening

2 – Fill previously mentioned container with fresh water and keep unheated all year round

3 – Organisers to run such a great event

4 – Helpers willing to give up the whole day standing in 4 degree temperatures.

5 – a lot of mad people who are too tight to afford a wetsuit

Mix it all together and you get PHISH.

With distances ranging from 122m up to the endurance event, the rules are simple; Goggles, Speedos and caps and nothing else. For the endurance event = 10 lengths plus a length for every degree Celsius above freezing. At the start, the temperature was a tropical 2 degrees Celsius (35.6F in American)!  Even while writing this, my fingers have not quite recovered so the keys feel like needles when typing. Strange, it was just over a month ago I was doing 10 km in 31 degrees Celsius (87.8F in American)…  that seems like ages ago.

This week has also been a very trying time on the home front with us losing our lovely little cottage as the landlord wants it back. I have been doing the house hunting thing as we urgently need  a place to live so I now need to decide whether to buy or rent. Buying in 8 weeks seems a very tall order. To say my mind has been elsewhere is a bit of an understatement. So swimming, and focusing on swimming has been put to the back of the priority queue. Another blow to the day was that I would not have the company of my pod of  Hippos. Slimhippo had been relegated to the house hunting detail as I had done it during the week. I really miss my support crew when they are unable to make it as we seem to come as a team and without harry and Slimhippo, I am pretty lost.


With the er, flower thermometer reading 2 degrees and the Pool itself looking oh so inviting, PHISH 2017 began. We were blessed with a wonderful crisp winters day with not a cloud in the sky, the Sun doing its best to warm the obstinate Pool – and failing. The sun stayed out the whole day and at least we had it to keep us warm whilst out of the water.

I woke up early to try and get my head into the zone but it wasn’t happening. I eventually plucked up the courage to get over to the lido but was not feeling the love at all. The only thing that got me going was the fact that there would be some amazing people there so at east if I bailed, I would get to catch up with them.

The drive across was uneventful and soon I was walking into the pool area to sign in and watch some of the smaller events and the relays. I was still not convinced that I had the balls to do this seeing the reactions of some very accomplished swimmers getting out of the water. I put my hand in and yes, it was cold. So to take my mind off of it, I went and busied myself chatting with some of the people from my training group and also some other friends that I knew would be there. It was still about 2 hours to my event. I was in the very last race of the day.

I went and sat in my car, trying to get my head together and listening to the Radio. This did help; after a few minutes of listening to the endless drivel about the Trumps administration. I realised that all I had to do was endure 12 minutes in frigid temperatures. The poor Americans now have to endure 4 years under Trump. I felt much better and more prepared for this event. I went back just in time to watch Eugenie, Carol, Julie and Steve do their relay and they were amazing. They all did so well and the smiles on their faces when they came out convinced me that I was ready to do this. So now it was just a matter of waiting.

Soon it was time for the endurance events – of which there were Two. I was in the last one. The lanes being quite wide, the format is basically that all start together, then swim around the lane as in normal lane swimming when people settle into their respective positions.

Loving the Onsies

Start of my event

We all got in and had to have one hand on the wall. I false started the first time and probably annoyed everyone in the lane – it is not fun in water that temperature and you are not moving. Soon the race was underway and within seconds my goggles started to leak. I had to stop half way down the second length and fix them – albeit briefly. Another thing was the deceptive  shallow end and also the end of the pool, which seemed closer than they were when approaching them. It took a few lengths to get to grips with this. With my goggles being such a pain, it took my mind off what was happening physiologically with my body.

I did not feel the cold at all. It was only towards the end of the race that I started to have the feeling that my hands were becoming cucumbers. After the 5th length, I started to lap the other people in my lane. I started to feel good. Now we were over half way, things became easier as the mental anguish started to melt away – we were on the “home stretch”. I always break up my challenges into bits and each obstacle overcome makes my anguish dissipate. Once over half way on any of my challenges, things seem to become a lot easier with the mental weight subsiding.

Soon we were on length 8. It was at this point that I was happy that I was going to finish. Baring something drastic, this was it, I was going to finish. I had to stop again in the shallow end to adjust my goggles again and off we went. I was still swimming fine but I then swallowed some water and it seemed mildly painful with this cold water going into my system.  My fingers felt like cucumbers and my toes had lost feeling about three lengths before that.

11 min and 17 seconds later, the end of the 12th length arrived and I had once again shattered my limiting beliefs by swimming in the coldest water I had ever swum in. 2.2 degrees was the final reading. I managed to drag myself out of the water. It was not the most elegant exit from a pool but with my hand and feet now totally numb from the cold, all form of decorum had left me. I headed for the sauna. Interesting place, a sauna full of open water swimmers who have just stepped out of 2 degree water. Lets just say, what goes on in the sauna, stays in the sauna.  Honestly, I did not think the sauna was even working and I left as I felt happier getting warm outside. This could be due to the fact that I have never had any facilities to warm up so my body has to do it naturally. I did suffer from “after-drop”, The shivers soon arrived but were not terrible, but I was far more comfortable in the sunshine than I was in the sauna. The ladies got me a coffee whilst I got changed. Nudity and Open water/cold water swimmers are a very interesting combination with not much left to the imagination; no matter how hard you try to maintain your dignity, with lack of dexterity in your hands and feet, even changing in a dryrobe can be a challenge.

So. 1st challenge of the year done and I am still recovering after a day of shopping to sort out my life for a new pad in the near future.

Jubilee River Regular swimmers


The steel bottom of the pool

Now to focus on the Future.

Now Phish is over for another year we turn our thoughts to the continuing challenge of 430km by December and also look forward to the 2 Swim 4 Life where I still might have the opportunity to partake in the event as part of a team. Either two or three of us will be swimming 24 miles in 24 hours on the hour. I’ll also just keep my training up for the Jubilee river.

I hope that you enjoy this blog, especially those who are planning on a challenge. I hope my blog serves as a reminder that you do not have to be superhuman or extraordinary to take on a challenge. It is very much a mindset thing and no matter what you want to do, there will always be things that stop or hinder you achieving your goals, but once they are set, you can always find a way. One thing that I have learned over the last couple of years is that our beliefs are self taught and self limiting. This maybe a protection thing but once you start to step out of your comfort zone, surround yourself with the right people and commit to doing a little bit of work, you will surprise yourself.


A day later, Pool totally frozen. with at least an inch of ICE


About the author

Ameteur Endurance athlete and marathon swimmer Having taken up marathon swimmng in 2008 with the challenge of the English Channel, I then continued on to Cycle up Britain, Kayak across Scotland and run a few marathons. None of those held the draw that marathon swimming held so in 2014 I was back in the water to Swim one of Switzerlands iconic endurance swims, lake Zurich. In 2015 I opted to take on my biggest swim to date. SCAR challenge.- 4 lakes in 4 days with distances Ranging from 6 miles to 18 miles.

4 Comments on “1st challenge down

  1. Sue Reply

    love you newsletters. keep them up. they are inspiring. I’ve lost my swimming mojo, but everytime I read your blog, a little flame ignites!

  2. Graeme Schlachter Reply

    Hi there Sue.

    Thank you for the comment. If my blogs inspire just one person to take the plunge back into the water, I am happy with that. I seem to have very little Swim Mojo but I keep going by setting myself small goals and also interacting with the people who do this sport.

    I know quite a few People who operate in the swimming world in South Africa, on many aspects from endurance challenges to cold water swimming and racing. Great bunch of people and very dedicated to their passion. If you want to get in touch with some of them let me know and I will be happy to put you in touch as they are a great bunch albeit a bit mad.

    Keep the flame ignited and keep stoking the fire. As most of us agree, once you get a a few challenges under your belt, it is very often a life changing experience.

    Fondest Regards
    The Zimhippo

  3. Jaimie Reply

    Aww, I missed this one, I know you did it just the week before we saw you! Swims are so much harder without your “team” but hopefully you felt supported by the larger community. I did my first ice mile without Arik this week and it was a big mental challenge (as was dressing myself after, heehee.) Did you guys find a house yet? I hope so!

    1. Graeme Schlachter Reply

      Hi Jaimie,

      Sorry, I missed this one. yes, we have a house to move into and will be starting the move this weekend. then I can get onto more important things like planning a wedding and swimming more

      Please send my regards to Arik and I always look forward to when we will meet again

      Love and best wishes
      the Pod of hippos, including the latest edition Mvuu

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