I honestly used to hate swimming. Apart from mucking about in swimming pools on holiday, when it came to skill, swimming was not my forte – despite being a sporty kid.
On hitting a big birthday milestone, I was inspired to enter a triathlon but there was one issue – swimming. And swimming in a LAKE.
Fortunately, my boyfriend is a strong swimmer and he persuaded me to purchase my first pair of goggles and give front-crawl a go in an indoor swimming pool. If you can picture the scene, I could barely do one length at the start, without panicking about my breathing and water going up my nose.
But he persevered with his coaching and I got more and more confident. But swimming in a cold, open water lake was still a terrifying thought and one I knew I had to overcome to take part in my triathlon.
Although I am never going to be the most skilful or quickest of swimmers, I did improve. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say I hugely enjoyed swimming lengths in a pool, sometimes it felt more like a chore. And I always felt slower than everyone else, which is always disheartening.
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‘Out of my comfort zone’
As we came out of the first lockdown in 2020, open water swimming was one of the first sports to be allowed by the Government. So I knew I would have to get into the lake sooner rather than later, and with my triathlon on the horizon that September.
My first trip to the lake was in a stunning location at Buckland Park Lake in Reigate, organised by the The Surrey Hills Adventure Company, which is the most perfect first-time lake for any beginners, as it’s not too big and overwhelming.
I was nervous to say the least, being so out of my comfort zone, and I made every excuse under the sun not to go before my mum turned round and told me to “just get on with it.”
Squeezing into my wetsuit and pulling on my swimming cap for the first time was comedy gold.
Taking the plunge into the lake for the first time, your body certainly takes a while to acclimatise to the water temperature, which on average has been around 17 degrees when I’ve been.
But I remember coming out of the lake that first time feeling refreshed and exhilarated, with a sense of achievement.
Having completed my debut triathlon successfully, I am now a regular open water swimmer – during the summer months, I should add. I haven’t braved a winter swim quite yet…
‘A great cleanser for the mind’
Open water swimming is such a great cleanser for the mind. I may not always feel enthused about the concept of getting into a cold lake but it is always so worth it for the feeling afterwards, you cannot fail to feel better in both mind and body – I would recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative form of exercise.
And unlike swimming lengths in a pool, I actually find myself enjoying the moment while I’m swimming in a lake.
A couple of warnings though, be prepared for your body to take a while to warm up and get used to the water temperature, it’s fine once you get going. And be prepared to come across the odd lake weed, and plants wrapping themselves around you during your swim.
Some of the braver folk swim only in a costume/trunks but I always opt for the wetsuit option – not forgetting cap and goggles as essentials.
Top tips for a successful open water swim include making sure you’re a confident enough swimmer in the pool first – but as I have proven you don’t need to be a Michael Phelps. And actually, wetsuits are also a great flotation device.
Adding talcum powder to the inside of your cap helps to get it on and using Vaseline on your neck stops your wetsuit rubbing.
During your swim, get into a good rhythm and stay in-tune mentally, but most importantly enjoy being in the moment and – such a cliché I know – enjoy being at one with nature.
Another absolute game changer is investing in a towel changing robe. It makes getting changed afterwards so much easier. And I promise, you will look like an absolute pro swanning around in one because most open water swimmers have them.
If you’re going to try one new thing this summer, make it open water swimming. You may find yourself with a brilliant new hobby.