Thinking Warm Thoughts

A cold morning during the 6 River Run (photograph: Kelvin Trautman)

A cold morning during the 6 River Run (photograph: Kelvin Trautman)

Picture this. It’s just turned 6am. It’s pitch black and outside it’s 4 degrees, but feels closer to zero. Wind careens across the ground, and rain is in the forecast.

I’m at the outdoor pool. The lights cast a dim yellow glow across the water. The heat from the water evaporates and condenses into a mist that hangs close to the surface. It’s so thick that you can’t see past the first set of flags hung across the pool. Today the flags blow in the wind. They’re my litmus test of the temperature and conditions, and they’re telling me that today it’s going to be bad.

It’s eerie and unwelcoming. I’m pulling on a hat, and ear warmers. I’m feeling ridiculous as I watch my fellow swimmers strip down and quickly immerse themselves into the water, ploughing their way up and down the black line.

Today, like most other days this week, I’m pulling on a big foam belt that keeps me upright in the pool, helping me to float so I can run against the resistance of the water.

With a deep breath, I take off my jacket and get into the water. Thank goodness for small mercies as it’s a warm relief after the cold of the bitter air outside. I have an hour of running ahead of me.

I get splashed by the swimmers and slowly my hat starts to get wet. My ear warmers become progressively less functional, and the wind blows straight into my now wet face. I’m cold and miserable.

When I’m training, I have time to think about “stuff”. I think about what I’ve got going on, about plans for the expedition, about people. I think about our planet and the next generation. I think about how to tell stories, and about the stories that have affected me. I think about life and death and everything in between.

"Think warm thoughts," Kelvin said. (photography: Kelvin Trautman)

"Think warm thoughts," Kelvin said. (photography: Kelvin Trautman)

As I trod the water, the wind blistering in my face, my ears and nose feeling like they were becoming icicles, and the forecast rain finally coming down around me, I realised I had a choice.

I could remain miserable. I could continue to feel cold, depressed and sad. I could continue to dream of the things other “normal” people were doing – having coffee somewhere warm and dry, enjoying sleeping in tucked under their doonas….

Or I could find something in the moment to make me smile: the feeling of my legs moving through the water or my  muscles working against the resistance and getting stronger with each stride. The camaraderie of facing the elements with a bunch of other crazies. The fact that nature had given us some precious water to fill our tanks and water our ground.

In Antarctica two years ago, Kelvin – my crazy photographer – told me to “think warm thoughts”.

As I slowly made my way down the pool, arms and legs pumping, raindrops falling from the sky and displacing water from the surface that rebounded into my face, and the wind whistling in my ears, I concentrated on all the good things. I listened to nature. I watched the sky slowly brighten on the dawn of a new day. And I thought about the satisfaction I was going to feel when my run was done.

The rain didn’t stop, the temperature didn’t rise, and the wind didn’t cease its blowing, but in my mind the experience of all of these things shifted. I sang to myself, and put a smile on my face and wondered if Kelvin may have been right, Maybe - just maybe - the temperature around me rose a few degrees.