How to survive (and thrive!) this winter.
So, it's almost upon us... winter is coming!
Rather than being gloomy and depressed I'm actually really looking forward to the colder months.
Last year, after so many years of seeing September as the end of my swimming for the year, I started doing cold water swimming. And although it sounds horrid and torturous, I've found it's completely the opposite.
Forget sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. If you want to find the ultimate high in life - get in some cold water.
Renowned for it's healing and health benefits, immersing yourself in cold water pushes your body to accept, embrace and absorb the feeling of this challenging environment.
The result? ENDORPHINS.
So many endorphins, flooding your system giving rise to that addictive post-swim high. The feeling of euphoria that you came, saw and conquered that cold.
So how do you start? Here's my top ten tips for wild swimming in the winter:
1. Start NOW.
Yes, literally NOW. The water is just starting to cool down and for beginners or experienced swimmers, it is essential to acclimatise to the cooling water now, to reduce the shock factor when it gets colder.
2. Wear what you need to
I've seen so many posts online with people shaming others for wearing a wetsuit / wetsuit boots / gloves / hat / whatever. IGNORE IT. The most important thing is that you are able to be in the water safely without risking becoming too cold. I personally favour a pair of wetsuit boots as they keep my feet warm and prevent sore feet in my inevitably-so-cool-stumble-to-the-water walk.
Sounds simple right? Nope. Entering cold water is a huge shock to our system. As a result we tend to gasp, scream, squeal and utter some of the most shocking profanities known to man. But, slowing your breathing, taking big gulps of air and pushing them out of your mouth to expand your ribcage, actually helps to reduce our gasp reflex and allows us to adjust to the icy cool a lot quicker. I am the worst gasper, shrieker and can produce a plethora of the most tongue-twisting swear words when I'm cold but the past year I have managed to stop turning the air blue (as much) and edge calmly into the water.
4. Watch the clock
If you're new to cold water swimming, it's so important to not push yourself past your limits. Cold water shock can be awful and lead to hypothermia or worse. I don't want to put anyone off of course but it's important to be aware of your own safety at all times in the water. I would suggest a maximum of 10 minutes in the water on your first attempt so you can acclimatise your body slowly and build up to longer durations.
5. Get a dry robe
Note: not one of the super expensive ones if you don't want to (this is supposed to be a relatively cheap and accessible hobby after all!), but do invest in a warm post-swim garment that will dry you whilst you try to remember which limbs are your own.
6. Ditch the underwear
Yes, I'm serious. Some may look my way in horror but I promise you, post-swim bra-wrestling is not recommended for those who want to keep their sanity. And trying to put pants on after a swim, FORGET IT! Even the biggest Bridget Jones pants can somehow turn into a dental floss thong after a wrestling them up damp, goose-pimply legs. Leave the underwear at home and if you want to change post-swim grab yourself a loose-fitting pair of cosy joggers and a top with a bust support in and you're sorted.
7. Layer it up
One of the best tips I had for swimming was making sure you have lots of layers to put on when you get out. I'm talking fluffy socks, beanie, joggers, tops, jumper coat?? Whatever you need to bring your body temp up. Plus you can always have a contest to see who looks the daftest in your post-swim get up.
8. Slow it down
Getting too toasty after a swim can actually work against you and make you feel worse in the long run. Slowly bringing your body temperature back up prevents chills later on and will feel more satisfying when you eventually get in a warm shower. Take a hot drink to sip slowly after your swim and enjoy the calories in your hot choc knowing you have well and truly earned it!
9. Join a group
One of the best ways I have found to do cold water swimming is by meeting other people who make you feel a little less crazy for participating in this somewhat unusual past time. There is added benefit in socialising, safety in numbers and a squad to watch your back while you dance around getting changed. Explore groups in your area and see what new places you can explore as part of your wild swimming journey.
10. Laugh a lot
It's true. Laugh is the best medicine and it's a welcome side effect of the cold swimming bug. Putting your top on backwards in your haste to get dressed, two people wrestling with that wetsuit boot that just won't come off or an ungainly entry to the water when you slip on that unsuspecting piece of seaweed will all guarantee you walk away with a smile on your face. Making memories is all part of your swimming journey. Track yours and map your progress using a swim planner to see how far you've come and how many memories you've made.
My advice: JUST DO IT.
You'll have a blast.