The Sceptic

“I’m off swimming with the girls tomorrow in a lake.” Nothing particularly unusual about that statement. Afterall, my wife’s a keen swimmer and she occasionally swam outside. But this was different. It was April in the UK and the water temperature was seriously cold. I honestly thought she’d lost the plot. Not two miles away from home was a perfectly good indoor swimming pool so why would any sane person think that swimming in a cold lake in Spring was a good idea? And I told her so, several times.

The following morning, much to my continued bewilderment, off she set laden with wetsuit, tow buoy, beanie and flask. A couple of hours or so later she returned grinning like a Cheshire cat. Yes, it was cold. And yes, getting in had been hard but once in the sensation was even better than her friends had told her it would be. 10 minutes they lasted on that April morning followed by coffee and cake for reward.

The look on my wife’s face and her energy levels said everything about how good she’d found it but to say I remained sceptical was putting it mildly. Getting changed on a bank on a chilly Spring morning, grappling with your wetsuit and then doing it all in reverse again in merely 10 minutes time seemed like a lot of effort for little return.

As Spring became Summer, trips to the lake became more regular and lasted longer. 10 minutes became 12, 15….30 and each time the effects were obvious. My wife was invigorated, all smiles and energy and it was clear she was a permanent convert.

I remained the sceptic for some time to come until I simply had to see what it was all about. Yes, it’s cold. And yes, getting in was hard. But it’s not supposed to be easy, is it? So many things that are truly worth achieving in life are hard. They require real effort and are often initially uncomfortable but the sense of achievement is palpable.

You can remain as I was and be an eternal sceptic or you can get involved and push your boundaries. I’m not going to kid you that I’m going to be a regular open water swimmer because I’m not but do I enjoy it when I go? You bet I do. And that’s the point for me, whether you’re a daily dipper who can’t do without it or an occasional weekend wallower it doesn’t matter. Don’t be the sceptic, get involved as just never know unless you try.

 

People come to OWS for many reasons – health and fitness, mental well-being or the desire for a new challenge. My journey began with a phone call from Australia challenging me to take part in the Rottnest SwimRun race in November 2019.  

I used to live in Oz and still have many friends in that wonderful country. Since we had not visited for a while and I was happy to have any excuse to travel to Australia, so I accepted the challenge. This was a pairs race, swimming and running around the whole of the fabulous island of Rottnest off the coast of Perth, WA.  

Rottnest SwimRun – check it out, it’s beautiful. 

So, I had to train. This is approximately 4km worth of swimming and about 28km of running, so requires some effort. I am a regular runner and over the years have done some swimming, but always in a pool (and at the beach on holidays, but mostly just a splash and dash). So I joined the local triathlon club so that I could swim/run train with them. It quickly became evident that I would need to do some open water training and living in land-locked Gloucestershire that took some doing. I then discovered Cotswolds Water Park – and so the journey began.  

Taking to the cold waters of Lake 32 and Lake 86 was a revelation. I started in summer so the waters were actually not that cold (I am a bit delicate when it comes to the cold!) but I did wear a wetsuit, as did most other swimmers. There were plenty of skins swimmers about though – good on them, they are far braver than me! And I LOVED it! It was a challenge in the first instance – dark waters, reeds, swans, ducks and all manner of unknowns lurking in the deep, but this did not deter me and I was soon hooked. I looked forward to my weekly sessions down at the lakes (twice a week if I could find the time).  

The lakes closed down for winter at the end of September so the last few weeks of my training were pool only. Off we went to Perth and the race was a great success – even though they had their hottest November day for over 30 years at 38 degrees.  It was a hot one, so each swim leg was delightful!  

I had to wait until the lakes opened again in April before I could get regular OWS in, but I was so happy when I could get back into open water. Then, Lake 32 decided to stay open into winter and cold-water swimming became a real thing. I went with some fabulous ladies from the tri club and we persevered through winter with the swim sessions getting shorter and shorter as the water got colder and colder. But we didn’t care, the sense of well-being you get from cold water immersion is amazing. It’s tricky getting in and letting the water seep down the front of your wetsuit, but once you’ve acclimatised it’s fab!  

Triathlon And Wild Swimming | Lake 32 | Cotswold Water Park (ukwatersports.co.uk) 

I highly recommend giving OWS a go – it’s a special feeling. We swam down to 4 degrees last winter before the lake had to close again due to covid restrictions. We are keeping all fingers and toes crossed that the lakes can remain open all through this coming winter so we can bob around in cold water for a few minutes then warm up in our HUT change robes with coffee and cake and a good old natter with friends.  

More about the HUT story in my next instalment.

If you’re interested in the race results we were team Paddy Taffy and came in around 4 hours 35 mins. Here are a couple of photos at the finish line (please excuse the quality!)… 

And one with my mate who tempted me to take part in the swimrun, but was injured so my partner on the day was her husband!  

Happy days! x

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