The coolest cross training ever?

This week we went to Iceland for 4 nights. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and we planned the trip for Feburary hoping to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately the weather was against us and we didn’t see the lights but we did have a great time and saw some fantastic sights all the same.

I had packed all my running gear with the full intention of getting out for a run but the combination of terrible weather – ice cold wind, rain and snow and the fact that it doesn’t get light until 9am meant that I didn’t manage to get out for a run. Not that my legs had a rest, we walked a lot, quite a lot through snow and were generally very active every day.

On Thursday I did what must rank among the coolest cross training ever. We went snorkeling in Silfra, a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It cuts through the Thingvellir National Park of Southwestern Iceland. I’ve only snorkelled once before and that was in Hawaii in warm tropical waters. This couldn’t have been further from that experience!

We were taken to the dive centre of Scuba Iceland where our guide for the morning, Finni, talked us through what we would be doing and then got us kitted out in our thermal ‘base layers’. Mine was a little on the large side!

He then drove us out of Reykjavik to Thingvellir, a 45 minute drive which took us through some amazing, snow covered countryside. After a quick toilet stop at the visitor centre we arrived at Silfra

We walked to the edge of the fissure to the place where we would soon enter the water and Finni took us through exactly what we would do and where we would swim. From the surface it all looked pretty unremarkable, I could see the water was clear but that was about it.

Back at the van we started the difficult process of getting into dry suits. These are large and cumbersome and we all needed assistance from Finni to get into them. It took a group of 4 of us about half an hour in total to get kitted up. I’ve got to say that it’s not the best of looks but with the temperature of the water at around 2 degree celsius I really wasn’t too concerned about asthetics!

After the suit came gloves, a hood and finally the all important mask and snorkel and after that it was off to the edge of the fissure to get into the water. I was brave and volunteered to go in first. After helping me get my fins on and making sure my mask was secure and watertight Finni pushed me off into the water and told me to ‘relax’ and have a look around.

As soon as I put my face in the water I realised what the fuss was about. The water was crystal clear and the visibility was fantastic. There are no fish in the water, just rocks and algae, so you might wonder what there was to look at. Unfortunately we didn’t have an underwater camera so I’ve found some pictures on the net to show you what we saw.

The colour of the water was just amazing. So many different shades of blue and green which changed as the depth of the water changed.

Once everyone was in the water we began to swim along the fissure. My feet were a little bit cold but apart from that I didn’t really think about the fact I was floating in near freezing water – it was so fascinating to see the colours in the water change as we moved along. To begin with there was a bit of a current to help us along but soon that changed and we needed to swim against a different current to move us in the right direction.

The dry suits gave us amazing buoyancy but also made moving around quite difficult so kicking our way along the fissure was actually quite hard work. But so worth the effort

After making our way through areas called the Blue Lagoon and The Cathedral we made a left turn and swam back towards the edge of the fissure to clamber out onto the rocks. We had been in the water for around 35 minutes and my legs were telling me that they’d had a pretty good workout!

Once out of the water we walked back to the bus and got out of the dry suits – a far easier process than getting into them. Finni produced hot chocolate and cookies – just what we needed to warm us up and replace some of our lost energy.

It was a great experience, something I’m really glad I’ve done and although I didn’t manage to run while I was in Iceland I certainly did some very ‘cool’ cross training!

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