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XX Notes: Wild Swimming Makes A Splash

Published on: 10 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 13 Apr, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational column from a woman’s perspective…

A Dip In Cold Water Is Good For Your Health, But Sshh, Here’s Top 10 Secret Spots To Wild Swim.

With the closure of pools, a pandemic and the “exercise outdoors” rule, headlines like these reflect the huge upsurge of interest in swimming outdoors in cold water.

With the large area of water surrounding Guildford, who could blame your doughty columnist for taking the plunge? Well, I haven’t. Or, that was until Guildford Lido opened last week.

Purists will say a municipal lido is not really open-water swimming: it’s heated, it’s chlorinated, you pay to go in, and all those other people…

Maria prepares for a chilly change into her swimsuit.

But I would argue that getting undressed in the open air, plunging into water that was definitely on the lower scale of the advertised 16-22 degrees and thrashing about in a 50m pool with a bunch of others making similar waves was at least equal to the currents in the Wey (in a safe spot). And who wants ecoli?

Before the comments start pinging in, I’m reliably informed that the water quality in the St Catherine’s area was tested in 2019 and found to be good, which will be reassuring for those brave enough to have been swimming there throughout the icy winter months but there are occasional discharges of sewage in periods of high rainfall so I just don’t fancy it.

But I have been interested enough in wild swimming/cold-water swimming (in Cornwall we just used to call it swimming) to join a Whatsapp group, where most crazy adventures begin these days, and find out a bit more about it. And there’s plenty to find out.

While the headlines proclaim the health benefits of swimming in cold water, the small print ALWAYS suggests you get a health check if you have any concerns before you start.

Getting in the doors of the doctor’s surgery is hard enough if you are ill these days so gradual preparation is definitely recommended if you have even the slightest doubt about your physical condition.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this excuse for not taking the plunge, having had a comprehensive heart check just recently. With the water quality excuse being debunked, my only other excuse was wanting to avoid hyperthermia. This is where the prep comes in.

A friend of a friend, who swims year-round, agreed to a Zoom chat with our Whatsapp group and gave us some tips. Much interest and note-taking surrounded the shopping opportunities, cool changing robes, silver hats, neoprene socks and gloves, harimakis (more on these later) and also what to eat when you get out: yummy cake and chai tea.

Less enthusiastic attention was given to the body-conditioning advice. Our wild swimming guru explained the necessity of a two-minute cold shower, best done after your warm shower.

She also recommended yoga breathing to avoid the gasp reflex of cold-water shock and especially to exhale when you first immerse. There’s also the Wim Hof method, which is more of a psyching-up for ice swimming, but that’s one for next year.

Another top tip was to think of something warm when you enter the cold water. I forgot all about hot chocolate and tropical beaches at the Lido, being more worried about the etiquette of the swimming lanes, very slow, fast and Olympic medallist.

I’ve now been three times since Guildford Lido reopened so feel I’m qualified to pass on my own advice:

Follow this link [link to] to book, as the website is tricky to navigate. Choose classes rather than activities, because cold-water swimming is under group classes.

As I said, the water is 16-22 degrees. I found it OK without a wetsuit but I do swim without one in Cornwall in the summer and I’ve been doing the cold-water shower-conditioning.

The Lido recommend wearing a wetsuit for length swimming but there are a couple of drawbacks. One friend found it hard to swim in the wetsuit. They also take time to remove and this leads me to my next tip.

The Lido, Tuesday, April 6, the day that it snowed! Wish you were there? Image Gabrielle Morgan

Get ready to get out before you get in. I swam on Tuesday, dodging the snow flurries. The water felt bath-like compared to the outside air. Changing rooms are closed just now and you want to spend as little time wet out of the water as possible.

My advice is to towel down, pull over a changing robe or extra big towel and pull up your harimaki. This is a wide, stretchy woollen belt. It’s warm and easy to pull on with frozen fingers, and covers your modesty while you are fumbling with trouser legs and armholes.

Once your top half is covered, you can pull it over your belly and kidneys where it will continue to warm you all evening. Have these clothes easily accessible on top of your bag.

Body temperature continues to fall for at least 10 minutes after leaving the water so get out before you feel cold. I also felt panicky when I got to the middle of the (very long) pool and put this down to being out of condition for swimming crawl. Apparently, cold water can cause these feelings, so it’s good to be aware if you haven’t been in the water for a while.

Now I’ve dipped my toe in the open water I’m looking for a new challenge. Another swimming friend shared a link to the Outdoor Swimming Society. They have devised a stepped plan for swimmers modelled on the runners’ couch to 5k app. Maybe I will make it to the Wey.

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Responses to XX Notes: Wild Swimming Makes A Splash

  1. D Henigan Reply

    April 23, 2021 at 8:41 am

    Thank you for this article and the intelligence on core warmers! I go to the lido (paid up for the season) and this idea of a kidney warmer sounds soooo useful. Have ordered one already. You should get shares in the industry!

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