My post today is a little different to the usual ramblings and musings, but still related to the outdoors.
I’ve witnessed some extraordinary reactions from people, when my swimming exploits in the local lake pop up into conversation. It’s probably quite natural for the other person, to explore the possibility in their mind, that a crazy women is standing before them!
I’ve decided that particular judgement is perhaps due to a lack of understanding, about how to swim in cold water and be safe.
Which brings me to the next section of this post……….
Here are some of my personal tips about swimming in cold water, during the British autumn/winter.
Start swimming regularly from the late spring or early summer onwards, when the water is warming up, this then gives you the opportunity to feel confident and relaxed about being in a large body of open water. Importantly starting at this time of year, usually gives the opportunity to become acclimatised to the dropping temperatures, later in the year.
In my experience the key to getting into cold water is very slow immersion, so the body and in particular heart and lungs, can adjust to the huge change in temperature. The blood will rush away from the extremities to protect the body core, and this can be an initial stress on the system.
I personally swim off slowly, after taking a few moments to adjust to the cold, this is when the water really bites and stings the skin, but is followed by an endorphin rush which is hugely uplifting. Then comes the obvious…….swim, float, swirl, stare at the sky, trees, ducks, swans, bats and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the benefits of wild open water.
The water temperature is the most important consideration, along with whether wearing a wet suit, in determining how long to swim for. It is crucially important to listen to your body, and be aware of how you are reacting to the cold. Any breathing difficulties, signs of cramp or heavy limbs means, get out straight away, don’t delay. Hypothermia usually takes from around 30 minutes to start to affect the body, depending on the water temperature and the individual. Hypothermia is a gradual process of inner core cooling, which is why it is so important to be knowledgeable and understand the signs.
I am not wearing a wet suit, but have resorted to a 200 weight merino short sleeve T-shirt, (as I felt the cold was impacting my heart and sternum area)……..and a pair of merino briefs. There is something so freeing and natural in being a ‘skin swimmer’……it does mean less time in cold water though, unless you are hugely acclimatised and very experienced.
After-care when leaving the water is also absolutely crucial.
As a person with a long history of outdoor and physical activities, after-care in any activity comes as second nature to me. However after scouring Google, I was reminded that many people probably aren’t aware of the fact, that they are still cooling down on leaving the water, and this too is a time of hypothermia risk. Meaning that ones actions and use of clothing on leaving the water, will make an important difference to regaining crucial body warmth.
Emerging from the lake, is crossing a threshold back into the world of earth and solidity, it is tempting to dilly-dally in the dream, because surprisingly the air does not feel cold…….an illusion of course!
Towel dry gently, clothes on…..starting from the top layers, long sleeve merino, quilted insulated top, down gilet, 750 fill down jacket, close-fitting merino hat and merino neck……power stretch thick leggings, short wool socks (long ones too fiddly) and finally insulated Bog boots.
If it is raining, I take a huge umbrella and get changed under that!
Then it’s a quick warm drink from my flask a couple of oatcakes and time to get walking through the beautiful woodland. About two weeks ago I decided to take along my hottie (hot water bottle!), with its furry jacket……what a pleasure to put my feet inside the warm furry cover whilst dressing, and even better I can cuddle up to it on my 10 minute walk back to the car!
On arriving back at the car……heater on full blast.
Another point of safety; it is not recommended to swim solo and many swimmers take along a tow float as an extra safety measure.
Your local swim shop or the Internet are an invaluable source of information.
The Outdoor Swimming Society……..have lots of sensible available information about equipment, safety, groups to join and excellent features about the world of outdoor swimming. The Outdoor Swimmer magazine is also full of great articles, photos and features to tempt you into the water.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me…….and thank you for reading!