A Convert to Open Water Swimming

 

I’m Lins. A 41 year old, mum of two young children, and I would happily describe myself as a convert to open water swimming. If you had asked me 18 months ago, if I could ever see myself as someone who relishes hopping into a cold lake on a grey day, I would have said absolutely no chance… Who in their right mind would voluntarily do that for fun?! Yet here I am, swimming in the lake every week and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s something that I’ve really grown to love, although it wasn’t that way at first…

  

In at the deep end!

To be completely honest, my first forays into open water swimming were a challenge (to say the least)!

I was turning 40 in 2019 and my twin sister (an accomplished triathlete) convinced me to enter a triathlon with her. I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for nearly 20 years now and, alongside my medication, it is exercise that has the biggest positive effect on my mental health. I’m a runner usually; not someone who would ever break any records, but someone who loves mass participation events, having something to train for, and the promise of a nice shiny medal at the end! 😊

A triathlon was a whole new experience however. We chose a Super Sprint distance, with a swim leg of 400m. Although I’m a strong pool swimmer, I was simply underprepared for what open water would be like. I had swum once in a lake before, but it wasn’t enough. I somehow muddled through those 400m with no finesse or plan whatsoever and, although the swim has been awful, completing the triathlon was a huge personal achievement. 

A baptism of (cold) water

Fast forward one year, and enough time had passed to recall my first triathlon with rose tinted glasses, so much so that entering another event seemed like a good idea. We chose a Sprint distance this time, with a 750m swim leg. This time I diligently swum in OW for a couple of months before hand, to prepare. What I hadn’t planned for though was the cold… The triathlon was at the end of September 2020, and I had been training across the summer months. Not only was the air temperature low, but the water temperature was 13.5 degrees on the day. The swim was shortened to 400m for safety, and due to COVID it was a rolling start, so we entered the lake in 6 second intervals.

Within a minute or so of starting, I realised the cold had completely taken my breath away. I flagged over one of the race marshals and held on to the nose of his canoe. He checked that I was ok, and I took a few minutes to try and steady my breathing. As fate would have it, I realised I could touch the bottom of the lake whilst standing! I completed the remaining 300m ‘on foot’ – albeit sinking knee-deep in sludge with every step.

I was devastated though. I had worked so hard to prepare, and although completing the triathlon was a massive sense of achievement, I felt incredibly disappointed with how the swim had turned out. As a novice, I simply hadn’t anticipated what a leap into the cold water could do to me. With the benefit of hindsight, and some more experience under my belt, getting into the water and moving to one side to take time acclimatising, or even just splashing some lake water on my face first, would have really helped. This would have been far more important than worrying about what the timing chip would say.

Start at the very beginning!

Whilst part of me was ready to admit defeat, and call it a day on open water swimming, this is where being a life-long perfectionist helps! A slightly bigger part was determined not to let the two triathlon experiences get the better of me. The following week I returned to my favourite local lake and got back in the water. This time I kept it simple, with just ONE aim: to be able to swim in open water without panicking. I had my brightly coloured hat on, the safety of my tow float, and the knowledge that I could just walk into the water and take as long as I needed to acclimatise.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing ever since. I swam each week that I could, from September to December 2020, with no agenda or expectation. I just wanted to learn to ENJOY being in the water. I managed to master wearing a swimming hat fully over my ears, without letting the sound of my breathing freak me out, and within a few weeks I was becoming hooked! The lake then closed for the final lockdown, but I was the first customer back when it reopened in March 2021.

By then it was down to 7 degrees, and I just took each swim as it came, building up my time in the water. I usually have an idea of how far I’d like to go, but each trip to the lake is different, and safety is key. It’s so important to consider the water temperature, the surface conditions, and how you’re feeling mentally and physically as the swim progresses.

I’ve come such a long way since last year, and it’s something I genuinely look forward to every weekend. There’s something so calming about swimming outdoors, with no lanes and no pressure, surrounded by beautiful scenery. When the sun glitters on the water, there’s honestly nothing like it. To anyone who is thinking about starting out, I’d say go for it. Ease yourself in gently, and you’ll never look back!

 

You can follow Lins on her Instagram account @lakelife_lins.

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