So! Rhona asked me if I wanted to talk about my new-found love for open water swimming, and I totally do! I’ve been rowing for 13 years now and although I am still completely in love with the sport, I felt I wanted to try something else.
Last September, my rowing pair’s partner told me about this race that is just open water swimming and some running in-between. Beautiful Loch Lomond in early September. Ideal. We entered, and then the reality of the situation hit me: shit, I need to learn how to open water swim. I started to swim 3 times a week, building up distance and endurance, and throwing in some drills. Winter turned to spring, which turned to late spring and I started looking for some open water swimming clubs; the pool was boring me and the race was starting to get a bit too close for comfort. I found two clubs, one a little far away (at the time I didn’t have a car) and one where you don’t wear a wetsuit. I’d like to point out, I live in Dundee and it’s the NORTH SEA. Nonetheless I decided to give it a go. The members were extremely welcoming and super super helpful. This however, did not stop me from getting hypothermia.
The first time I made it 5 minutes. I couldn’t move my arms, and stayed near the ladder the entire time. The second time, I swam about 100m in total, and stayed less than 10mins. I decided that open water swimming, in Scotland and without a wetsuit was not for me.
This didn’t put me off though. In fact, quite the opposite, so I donned my wetsuit, grabbed my obliging fiancé and went to the beach.
First swim in a wetsuit – read if you want a giggle:
Format: Buoyed swimming area about 50m wide, 100m long. Myself, my fiancé Eoin and our friend Chris who is training for a triathlon. Equipment needed: a wetsuit, some goggles and a swimming cap.
Wading in – “Ah this isn’t so bad, I mean it’s a lot warmer with a wetsuit.” “Hmmm it’s at my knees, okay this is manageable.” Up to the torso. “Still ok….” Mid back “Breach! Breach! Breach! Curse you, zip!! My hands are quite numb…. Hmmm didn’t think this through”. Neck “oh my goodness, it’s like ice!! Move. Move. Keep moving! Why is it so cold! It’s JUNE! I’m in a WETSUIT. Okay, keep moving, doggy paddle, front crawl, anything!!” Putting face in “oh my goodness, holy c*** I have brain freeze! WHY on earth do I have brain freeze!?!?!”
Swimming – “I’m breathing, I’m swimming, this is good. It’s quite nice actually. ARGGGG SOMETHING TOUCHED MY HAND! Oh, it’s seaweed ok, that’s fine. Keep cool (haha I’m so cold), keep swimming.”
Breathing – “okay let’s breathe every five. One, two, three, four, five” -breath- “good that wasn’t so bad, one, two, three, four, five” -breath- cough, splutter, inhale sea water “f***ing waves!! Right I should be aware of waves, good to know. So I’ll breathe every four, then”.
“My legs are useless and floaty but that’s ok. Arms are feeling strong. AHHHH SOMETHING TOUCHED MY FACE, WHY ARE THERE ALL OF A SUDDEN SO MANY JELLYFISH?!?!” Panic over, check the watch; 100m. “Is that it??? I’m supposed to be swimming 2k. Errrr, this is hard. Ok, let’s aim for 500m and then have a rest. Where on earth has Eoin gone?!?! And Chris? OOH I’m ahead of them. Nice, I’m winning! This is cool”.
Turning – “Oooh, there’s quite a current and tide this way. This is really hard. Let’s push a little harder, Clo. Just treat this as resistance training. Yeah this feels good, right look up and sight where you are……have I moved??? Barely. Ok, let’s push this. I’m knackered. Shut up, just get to the buoy and you can have a break. COME ONE. I’m so tired. DONE! Okay, I’ll do another loop and see how I feel”.
Finished session – “THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!” “I’ve swallowed so much sea water but I’m buzzing. Now where can I get my hands on some food…”
Stuff I’ve learned:
- Keep an eye out on how far you are going. It’s so so easy to get swept out.
- Know where the waves are coming from, and adjust your breathing.
- Only go as far as you are comfortable with. Better to swim shorter laps than being too far out when you get tired. Swimming parallel to the shore is a good idea.
- Wear a bright coloured swimming hat, or take an inflatable buoy with you – it helps to be seen.
- Don’t have a hot drink or a shower straight after. Warm up slowly with layers.
- DON’T GO OUT ON YOUR OWN.
- Please please please if you are considering trying open water swimming, find a club, or at least a training buddy. Being a confident pool swimmer helps, too.
- Being scared of open water doesn’t mean you can’t have a go!
- I’m scared of open water, I don’t enjoy not seeing the bottom. What I try to do is ignore myself and then when it gets too bad, turn around and head back to shore. Another person is quite handy as a distraction/ to support you. I know I can train a lot harder and better if I have someone that I do not want to let down.
- Stay safe
- Tell people where you’re going, what you’re doing and how long you expect to be there.
- Know the water that you are swimming in. If you don’t, ask someone who does.
- Rip currents and tides are dangerous, so understand how to deal with them. You never know when you’ll get caught in one (speaking from experience, here!)
- Training buddies rock. It’s nice to have someone else there. I have a Stand Up Paddle board which my friend Helen uses to keep me company. It’s a nice safety net and it’s really fun to have a race. (I lose EVERY time). Put a plea out on facebook, you’ll be surprised who gets back to you.
- The importance of having a buddy is also, if god forbid you get into trouble, there is someone there with you.
I hope this helps you get out there if you are toying with the idea. It’s one of my favourite discoveries, being able to swim for as long as you want, not have to worry about overtaking slow people, or being in the way is very liberating and you don’t notice the mileage you’re putting in. It’s not a chore at this level, but a genuine pleasure.
Thanks so much to our guest blogger Clo for this great post- Let’s hope we can pursuade her to come back for more 🙂