Cold my Love - Un amour de froid
Handling the cold
The question that comes over and over when I tell people about my pasion for Arctic races: "But how can you stand the cold??" usually followed by "I could never do it" or "Far too cold for me".
Well, I am actually no expert and no more superwoman that any of you! And I used to be over sensitive to the cold.
Growing up in an old house in Switzerland, I remember cold winter mornings when the fire hadn't been started yet and it felt freezing cold inside. I couldn't tell now if it was really that bad but that's how I remember it! (Mum, Dad, correct if I'm wrong please !). Wearing many layers in the house seemed normal and it was only when we had guests timidly complaining (!) that I realised that our house was colder than standard homes.
Yet I was always the one feeling cold even when doing outdoor activities, horseriding, snowshoeing or skiing and couldn't keep my hands and feet warm, ending up with numb fingers and toes...And the worst it gets, the worst it gets!
Still, I loved winter. The snow. The quiet and magical atmosphere. The lights in the dark. And when I was offered my first trip to Finnish Lapland, I was all over the moon! It was one of the best trip of my entire life and I felt completely in love with the place. It was during this short trip that something shifted in my head and in my relationship with Mr Cold. One of the guides told us to relax. The lower the temperatures, the more relaxed you have to be. That day it was minus 30 degrees Celsius. And we were to spend the whole day outside in the woods. And I was already started to freeze... But when he said that, I suddenly realised how tensed I was, my breath was shallow, all my body was in a tensed survival mode. How could possibly any energy, any blood flow through my veins and warm up my body? I relaxed. My shoulders, my back, my arms and legs. I started to breathe more deeply and slowly. And felt much better. My hands and feet were still cold but completely bearable. When we entered the hut for lunch, it was barely zero inside. But it felt very comfortable and we were even able to take off some layers.
It was a true revelation. Don't fight the cold. Welcome it.
A state of mindCold sensation is intrinsically related to our state of mind and perception.
In 2012 we moved into a very old stone house, built in 1789. It's a large open space, quite similar to a loft. A nightmare to any standard home heating. It didn't put us off. Over the years, we made some improvements to limit draught and heat loss. And built a brand-new fireplace in 2016! In winter, during weekdays we now have a comfortable 16 degrees Celsius and even 18 at week-ends or when guests are coming over. The bathroom is still colder and honestly it can be quite challenging to get undressed before rushing into the hot shower! I wouldn't mind a few more degrees in there...
No boasting here. It simply demonstrates how related it is with habits, perception and state of mind. I wouldn't have believed it if I had been told this a few years ago! Me? In a house at 16???? We truly feel good in this house, we love it. We love being in front of the large fireplace when it is raining or snowing outside. We love its coolness in summer when everywhere else is too hot. It really is our home. Home sweet home. We don't feel it as cold. We feel warm. Yes, we do have layers on. Yes, we are very active. But I've noticed that I now wear less layers than a couple of years ago. Sometimes I don't even put socks on. I've also noticed that I am more sensitive to the cold when I'm tired or upset or too static, whatever the actual temperature.
I'm not saying that it isn't nice from time to time to be in plain t-shirt inside or to have a warm bathroom. But the funny thing is that actually Marc and I often find it too hot now in people's houses or in restaurants and we quickly feel this need for fresh air! Moreover, our immune system got much stronger.
Yet I haven't discovered anything new here. Some famous people like Wim Hof or Lewis Pugh have taken the it to a much higher level, casted an entirely new light on body fantastic capacities and turned body thermoregulation and adaptability to the cold into a real life philosophy. They are doing amazing things! I have experienced it. And keep on learning more about how our mind controls our perceptions and sensations. I am not planning to become as extreme and skilled as these guys but I am using it in a way that serves me and suits me. This new way of perceiving the cold tremendously helps me during Arctic events.
Cold is the new Black*
When it comes to Arctic races or any kind of activities in sub-zero temperatures, body thermoregulation is a vital element. The Key Element. The Secret Weapon. For various reasons:
- To prevent hypothermia
- To prevent frostbites on fingers, toes, nose and ears
- To keep your body in perfect condition
- To stay comfortable and enjoy your time out there in the wild!
- To maximise your chances to turn your race or expedition into a success!
To achieve this is constant monitoring:
- Make sure you're eating and drinking enough to give your body sufficient fuel to keep you warm
- Deal with layers to regulate your body temperature and make sure you do not sweat nor get cold. Once cold, it takes extra fuel to warm up again. Unnecessary spoilt energy. If you sweat, you increase the risk of hypothermia due to the increased humidity on your skin. A wet base layer can really be a bombshell. Better defused it asap.
- Be smart enough to stop and rest before you get exhausted and therefore more sensitive to any variations of temperatures. Once exhausted, you cannot think straight and that's when you start doing mistakes. I've experienced it on Rovaniemi 300 when I lost my GPS...
- Never postpone adding on or taking off layers - it is never, NEVER EVER, a waste of time. It can only serves you and saves you from unpleasant experiences.
- Avoid huge temperature variations, as much as possible. Think of it when you enter a room or hut at +15c when the outside temperature is -20c... It's a 35c difference for your body to take in! During an event, if you're feeling poor and need a rest to recover, fine, spend some time inside. But if there is no specific reason, try and spend the shortest time inside before heading back on the trail. Or rest outside. Leave room inside for those who might really need it.
Since I've decided to make friend with the cold, I find it easier not too get tensed or even panic when the insidious freezing cold feeling starts creeping in, reaching for my bones and numbing my fingers... I take it as information: am I dressed properly? do I need to eat? am I tired and need a rest? has the temperatures dropped and I need extra protection? Then I take the required action(s).
Don't over think and act. Put on your jacket. Stop and eat. Open your bag and get your bivy ready for a nap. Don't over think. About how cold it is. About all your gear being frozen. About your fingers getting cold. Take action. Be smart. Focus on the solution. No over thinking. And breathe. Breathe.
*a special nod to Rebecca Campbell's book, Light is the new Black
Monitoring your thoughtsDid you ever notice how your thoughts and mood impact on your health and performances? I always stress this importance of mind preparation ahead of extreme events. To be ready to face any situations. And mainly to be ready to monitor YOURSELF. You can be your best friend, your best support. Or your worst enemy.
What are your current thoughts about yourself? your performances? the other participants? the organisation? your gear? the track conditions?
Any negative or judging thoughts will negatively impact on YOU. And believe it or not, they impact on your body and therefore on your thermoregulation. You can get more easily upset or lack focus. It is a matter of balance. Balanced and positive thoughts. Balanced and healthy body.
Using a mantra
I've found it very useful to have my own "tough time" mantra that I repeat on and on as soon as I catch myself doing my Mrs Grumpy. It's my "anti-Grinch" magic wand. I actually have a few: one when I feel tired or discouraged; one when I need to feel supported and guided, one when I feel cold.
Be playful. Create your own "cold shield" mantra(s). And practice ahead of the race, so it'll become natural and part of your training. It can be an inspirational quote, a song, a positive and powerful sentence.
Visualising yourself warm
I often use some breathing techniques that help warming up. I also regularly use what I've called "an active meditation" to activate the feeling of warmth inside my body. I've been introduced to the Red colour Meditation by Dougall Fraser and adapted it so I can use it and activate it whenever I need it. The idea is to use the colour red that represents warmth, physical energy and blood circulation to emphasize and spread warmth in all area of your body - especially the extremities, at each breath you take. (I might record it for you sometimes soon!).
Now you can use any visualisation or breathing techniques that suit you. The key is to visualise yourself nice and comfy, nice and warm, in any circumstances.
My contract with Nature
When I'm out there, I am part of Nature. And Nature is part of me and yet much bigger than me. I am fully present and fully aware of what's going on inside and outside me. Nature is like a very old friend that deserves love and respect. I try and always remember to stay humble and never to pretend that I know it all. I am ready to listen to my own limits or the limits the elements might set for me. Cold conditions can be one and we, as crazy as Arctic races participants can be (in a nice way!), should always remember it. Don't fight nature. Do, talk, accept, deal with it. But don't fight it. It's a lost battle.
This is my contract with Nature. And so far it has served me well. 😊
Un état d'esprit
Notre relation au froid est étroitement liée à notre perception de celui-ci et à notre état d’esprit.
Le froid, c'est tendance! *
Contrôler ses pensées
N'avez-vous jamais remarqué l'impact de vos pensées et de votre humeur si vos performances et votre santé? J'insiste toujours sur l'importance de la préparation mentale dans ce type d'événements extrêmes. Pour être prêt à faire face à toute situation. Et surtout pour être prêt à devoir se gérer soi-même. Vous pouvez être votre meilleur ami, votre meilleur soutien. Or juste votre pire ennemi.
Quelles sont vos pensées là tout de suite? A votre sujet? sur vos performances? les autres participants? l'organisation? Le matériel embarqué? les conditions du parcours?
Toute pensée négative, jugeante ou dépréciative aura un impact sur VOUS. Croyez-le ou non, cela se ressentira sur votre corps et aura des incidences sur votre thermorégulation. Quand on perd la concentration, quand on s'agace, se perturbe, il y a fuite d'énergie, inutilement...l'équilibre se perd. Des pensées harmonieuses et positives pour un corps équilibré, où l'énergie circule fluidement.
Les phrases choc
Un petit truc que je trouve très utile durant les passages et moments difficiles est l'usage de phrases motivantes ou mantras. Dès que je réalise que je suis en train de râler intérieurement et que mes pensées tournent négativnement en rond, je me répète en boucle mes phrases magiques. Des talismans anti-bougonnerie, anti-fatigue, anti-froid. Un condensé de Redbull verbal.
Amusez-vous à vous créer vos propres phrases boucliers anti-froid. Et pratiquez-les lors de vos entraînements, partout quand vous y pensez, pour que cela devienne une seconde nature et les ancrer pour le jour J. Cela peut être une phrase qui vous inspire, un compliment, une chanson, etc. Inspirant et puissant.
J'utilise passablement des techniques de respiration qui me permettent d'activer le "radiateur intérieur". Je pratique aussi une méditation ue j'ai appelée "active" pour réveiller la sensation de chaleur et la diffuser à chaque expiration dans tout mon corps, et surtout les extrémités. Je me suis inspirée de la Méditation sur la Couleur Rouge d'un certain Dougall Fraser et l'ai adaptée pour pouvoir la pratiquer en mouvement, partout.(Peut-être que je pourrais l'enregistrer à l'occasion..)
Vous pouvez utiliser toute technique qui vous parle et vous convient. Le but étant de vous visualiser bien au chaud, agréablement bien, en toutes circomstances.
Mon contrat Nature
Quand je suis perdue au mileu de ces forêts et grands espaces blancs, je fais partie du décor. Je suis la Nature et la Nature est en moi. Et bien au-delà. Je suis très consciente de ce qui se passe en moi et à l'extérieur. Tout se qui m'entoure est comme un très vieil ami, que j'aime et respecte énormément. J'esaie de toujours me rappeler de rester humble face à lui, ne jamais tomber dans le piège de croire que j'en sais suffisamment. J'essaie de rester à l'écoute de mes limites et de celles que m'imposent les éléments. Le froid peut être une de ces limites, et nous, les participants aux expéditions et courses polaires devrions toujours s'en souvenir. On ne se bat pas contre la Nature. On l'écoute, on discute, on fait avec, on accepte, mais se battre est vain et perdu d'avance.
C'est le contrat que j'ai passé avec mon amie la Nature. Et jusqu'à présent, cela m'a réussit. 😊