Cold Water Swimming Championships

DSCF6629-Blue.jpgThe Cold Water Swimming Championships 2019 were held at Tooting Bec Lido in South London, and it only happens once every 2 years. It’s guaranteed to be the most fun you’ll have in cold water. Swimmers from all over the world enter, and I noticed lots of Finnish swimmers were competing alongside me. The swimming races are 90m or 30m, with some relay races too. The water temperature was 3 degrees, so a bit nippy!

As well as the racing, they hand out awards for the ‘Best Hat’ competition and a mass of people jump in the lido in aid of the homeless Charity Crisis. But being more of a serious swimmer, I was mainly interested in the racing.

I have previously competed at the lido in galas before, but none of them felt as special as this event. There was a lively atmosphere with people buzzing, swimmers warming up in steaming hot tubs and sipping warm ribena.

dscf6678I entered the 90m freestyle race. As I stood by my number mark, ready to race, I felt slight stream of nerves. My heart was pounding. The man yelled at everyone to “get in the water, get your shoulders under” and “hold onto the bar” before the horn blew and we were off! I swung my arms over as fast as I could and kicked hard to keep the blood flow to my legs.

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DSCF6701.jpgAfter the swim, I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt the big surge of post-swim glow! My skin had turned a pink salmon colour, as it always does after a cold dip. I’m always happy when I come out of the water, no matter what kind of day I’ve had. I find cold water swimming incredibly healing for both the mind and body.

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Keeper’s Pond, Wales

687E6B7D-6F2D-49AE-9196-617D10381F29The Keeper’s Pond is situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. Situated around Blaenavon, Keeper’s Pond (Pen-fford-goch) is a natural infinity pool with sweeping mountain views. When dipping in the pond, it feels as if you will swim off the edge of the mountain.

7713AB80-4842-43D9-947E-1969E46DEFC1.jpegHistorically, the Pond was built in the 19th century to provide water for the Garnddyrys Forge, which started production in 1817. The Forge was dismantled in the 1860’s and whilst the pond no longer fulfilled an industrial purpose, it became a hidden swimming spot. It’s a hidden gem which only the locals know about. I heard about Keeper’s Pond through a local Welshman, so I decided to dedicate an afternoon of my holiday to finding the pond.

F7051245-3F69-4B04-9B19-540B5CC5F17FI was delighted when I finally found it. I parked in the car park, and braced myself for the cold. The air temperature was about 8 degrees, with a westerly wind. The kind of wind that whipps the heat off your body whilst swimming. I wondered how cold the water would be (perhaps 6 degrees?). I quickly got changed beside the water’s edge, and edged myself in. The water appeared to be a dark red metallic colour, it was like swimming in molten iron. As the light faded, a streaks of blue and yellow swept across the sky.

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Dart 10k

They say that swimming 10k is the equivalent of swimming a marathon. And in some ways that is true. The Dart 10k was the longest swim I have ever completed. But it was also one of the most beautiful.

The Dart 10k is an epic swim which happens in Devon. It follows the ebbs and flows of the river Dart. The swim starts in the town of Totnes, and finishes on a rugged beach in Dittisham.

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Swim Start

I was running late for my swim, oh no! I had missed my swim safety briefing, and I had forgot my timing chip and had to run back to the van to get my rucksack to find it! I rummaged around my rucksack, found my chip and strapped it to my ankle. I ran to the swim start just in time.

We gathered at the water’s edge with the sun beaming down. It was a crisp, sunny morning, and I was grinning. I was surrounded by hundreds of swimmers, all gathered by the water’s edge in their wetsuits, ready to go. I was already sweating in my wetsuit. The lady next to me said: “Good luck, fellow swimmer!” and patted me on the shoulder and we both giggled.

I lowered myself into the river, clenched my jaw and shivered. The icy water creeped up my wetsuit. But once I started swimming, I warmed up within minutes. After a while I felt snug.

As I swam, I looked up at the trees and the green valleys and hills. Art sculptures of mermaids were hanging off the tree branches and keeping me company on the journey. A family of 3 kayakers to my left and the river bank to my right. Paddle boarders glided along and shouted at me to “keep in the middle!”.

I felt comfortable and at peace. I pulled through the water, took in the scenery and thought about my friends that I had came with and the friends I had made. I thought about the amazing food at last night’s BBQ, and how Boris and Lorraine had helped to smother ‘glide’ on my neck earlier to prevent the chafing.

The floating feeding station came up fast. I knew I had made it to 6k. It was a giant floating plastic island with people feeding us. I swam up the station, grabbed onto the side and they handed me jelly babies to nibble and a bottle of lucazade. I felt like a bobbing sea lion, with jelly babies being dropped into my mouth. I continued on my swim, brimming with excitement and happy I had some sugar.

swim pic.jpgThen came the Leg cramps. A cramp emerged in my left calf muscle, followed by a cramp in my right calf. My toes felt painful and stiff. It was like having to swim with 2 straight poles as legs. I decided to carry on swimming despite the agonising pain. I was becoming tired and cold. The water was stripping my body of its heat.

My wetsuit sliced into my neck, making my neck bleed. It rubbed and rubbed, making the wound grow deeper. I winced with the pain. I knew that my skin would be red and raw.

For 20 minutes I was swimming completely on my own, without any fellow swimmers or kayakers for company. I wondered if I got lost or strayed off course. I panicked – where is everyone? Then finally I saw a flash of an arm in the distance and realised it was a swimmer! Yay, I wasn’t lost after all.

The last 2k was the hardest part. The river widened and the water became choppy. Boats bobbed on the surface. The water tasted increasingly more salty so I knew I was approaching the sea – not long to go! I decided to dig deep and pick up some speed. I overtook a few red hatted swimmers!

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Swim Finish

Before I knew it, I saw hundreds of people huddled on a beach in the distance. I started sprinting towards the finish. Children were cheering and yelling. I swam towards the beach and stumbled over the sharp rocks, nearly cutting my feet open. Everyone was clapping and cheering. I made it! What a journey. It was all over so fast and I didn’t want it to end. I was beaming and dizzy. I was so dizzy I could hardly stand.

One of the lady swimmers told me that I was one of the first ladies out of the water. I was so pleased. I had completed the swim in just over 2 hours and I couldn’t be happier.

It was not a race, it was a journey of discovery. I loved the wild scenery and the choppy water. I loved the support and cheering, and the positivity from the swimmers. I was so pleased to see my friends after their swim, all laughing and hugging and relieved to have made it. It was a weekend of lovely people and fabulous company.

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DART 11.JPGSharing the experience with good friends from the Serpentine Swimming Club. We all did so well.

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Survival of the Fittest

I competed in the London Triathlon in August 2015. The triathlon is the world’s largest triathlon, and it is held at the Excel Centre in East London. The first section of the triathlon is the swim, which is the best bit! The swim course is 1500m, in the Royal Docks (River Thames).

I started my race at 8:30am in the female only wave. This also happens to be the largest wave of the day, with a huge number of women. In the water it felt overwhelming with so many swimmers around me, all fighting to get ahead.

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It was compulsory to wear a wetsuit for the swim, but this proved to be too hot. I felt too warm in a wetsuit, as the water was like swimming in a warm bath. Given the choice, I would have much rather worn a swimming costume.

At the race start, we perched ourselves on the edge of the floating deck, and slowly lowered ourselves into the water. The water looked green, murky, and bottomless. We then had to gather in a group around the canoeists, and tread water for 5 minutes, and wait for the start. I ensured that I positioned myself near the front, to the side of the group.

The horn was blown, and we were off! Hundreds of swimmers all colliding and limbs frailing. I nearly got swum over a few times, and nearly got banged on the head by another lady’s arm. It was pretty frantic.

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After the first 5 minutes, people started peeling off the back of the group, and I settled into a rythm. People started to swim steadily, and I had more space, so I could start to stretch out and relax with my breathing.

During the swim, I found it was easiest to follow the orange rope that connects the buoys together. Following the orange rope helped me keep in a straight line. ‘Spotting’ also helped me keep on track.

There was a large red inflatable pig bobbing in the middle of the swim course. (See the pig in the photos above!). As I was half way around the swim course, I thought that the pig was at the finish, and I raced towards the pig thinking I was on the final stretch. I then found out that I had only done 50% of the swim and had to carry on. So my energy was rather wasted.

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As I reached the swim finish, I swam towards the floating platform and clambered up the slope. A tall guy helped me out of the water. People were taking photographs and cheering, and I felt giddy with happiness. I ran through the spray and quickly tried to strip off my wetsuit. I was so dissy from the impact of the choppy water, and could hardly get my wetsuit off! But I felt elated at the same time, after having completed the mile swim in 28 minutes.

I love the swim section of triathlons, and always feel that the swim section is not long enough. In my heart I never want to get out of the water, and want to do a few more laps. I’m looking forward to my next event.

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Wild Lakes of Finland

Finland is mainly made up of seas and lakes. If you see Finland on a map, it looks like a collection of islands, lakes, and rivers that carve through the land. Finland is a watery paradise where secret beaches, private lakes and the best swimming spots can be found.

DSC02629Finnish people love saunas and wild swimming. My cousin Christina lives on a small Finnish island called Hanko, and she swims in the sea 3 times a day: once before breakfast, once in the afternoon, and an evening swim under the stars. Sometimes she will have a hot sauna in her house, and then jumps in the cold sea.

In the winter, Finnish people like to carve a circular hole in the ice and jump into the freezing sea. They say it’s good for you and it strengthens your heart. Finnish people spend a lot of time with nature, and wild swimming and saunas are a way of life.

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DSC02529In August 2014, I visited my Finnish family in Hanko. Each day I went cycling around the island, hiking in the forests, and beach-hopping. Best of all, I loved swimming in the seas and wild lakes.

 

 

 

Tidal Thames swim

In July 2015, I embarked on an evening swim in the Thames in Hammersmith. I joined a lovely group of local swimmers for an evening dip. The swimmers were very welcoming and friendly. I felt so happy to meet fellow swimmers, and people who love swimming as much as I do.

We climbed down the steps into the water by ‘The Black Lion’ pub and giggled with delight. The water felt surprisingly warm. Once we were in the water, the Thames looked deep, brown, and enormously wide. As we were swimming, it felt like we were situated below the paths, roads and buildings of London.

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As we swam, we chatted to each other and peered into people’s back gardens. The evening sun bounced off the whole expanse of water. I could see the back of Chiswick Brewery, and the back of old Victorian buildings. On Chiswick Eyot to my right, I looked at the reeds and trees. Once we reached the green pole at the end of the eyot, we waited there for a few minutes and chatted, before swimmming back.

As I swam, I imagined the women who used to swim in the Thames in the Victorian times. In the Victorian era, girls and women used to swim through oil and sewage in the Thames. They used to race competitively too. I wondered what kind of swimming costume a woman from the Victorian times would wear.

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Once we reached the end of the swim, I slowly climbed out of the water, and up the steps. I was buzzing and smiling from the adventure. After swimming, I always feel like a new born baby, like I have been born again. I love feeling the post-swim glow. After the swim, we put on some warm clothes and headed to the pub to warm up and have a drink.

During the evening swim, we had a journalist called Charlie from the Evening Standard come along. He was writing an article about wild swimming in London, and he interviewed me about swimming. The article can be read here: www.standard.co.uk/goingout/londons-best-wild-swimming-locations-a2323931.html

I have always fancied going swimming in the Thames, but have never wanted to do it on my own. I thought that if I went swimming on my own, it would be risky because the boats, skulls and rowing boats would not see me, even with a brightly coloured swimming cap. I was so happy to find a local group of people to share a swim with. I loved the swim, and can’t wait for the next tidal Thames swim.

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Swimathon at London Fields Lido

 

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In March 2014, I competed in the Swimathon, in aid of Sainsbury’s Sports Relief. I swam 5k in just under 2 hours at London Fields Lido. It felt like an achievement just to complete the distance. In the competition you can swim any stroke you like, so I swam a mixture of breast stroke and freestyle. Lots of people gathered by the poolside to cheer us on, so there was a lively atmosphere. I’d definitely take part in the Swimathon again next year.

London Fields Lido is a 50m outdoor pool in Hackney, and is a real hidden gem. It’s always been one of my favourite hidden outdoor pools. I love the colourful lockers around the pool, the friendly lifeguards, and swimming under the trees. It’s fun doing backstroke and watching blackbirds swooping in the sky. There is no pool quite like it.

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