Fellow swimmers will understand how tough the last 3 months have been. Of course lockdown has thrown up many challenges and it’s been difficult for us all, but for those of us who use swimming as not only their main way of keeping fit, but who also rely on swimming to help maintain their mental health, lockdown and having no access to swimming pools has made things exceptionally difficult with no at-home alternative to turn to.
I missed the water so much that I found I was dreaming about swimming. On nights when I struggled to sleep, I’d find myself imagining I was in the pool at my gym or just floating on my back in the sea.
To say that I’ve missed swimming would be an understatement. Both physically and mentally, swimming is something that I see as being critical for my wellbeing. Those of you that know me, will already know that swimming played a huge role in my rehabilitation after my accident and it continues to play a key role in helping to keep my mood stable.
Although I’ve wild swum in a few places; in the sea when camping on the coast, in a lake when camping in the Lake District, I’m absolutely not a wild swimmer. The thought of doing it alone scares me and I don’t have the confidence to just tip up and jump into a river or lake – I need to know that a body of water is safe and also that it’s legal for me to do it, so whilst I’ve walked along countless rivers and lakes during lockdown and the temptation to swim has been strong, it’s just not something I feel safe doing.
Discovering Uswim open water swimming
My time away from water eventually got too great for me to deal with, so just over a week ago, I found myself Googling open water swimming and came across Uswim who do organised open water swimming sessions here in the North West, at Salford Quays and Boundary Water Park in Cheshire.
Boundary Water Park just happens to be less than a 15 minute drive away from where I live, on a lake I had no idea existed until now so when I saw they had a beginners coaching session coming up, I booked it without hesitation.
The day before my morning coaching session I ventured up into the attic to retrieve my wet suit and dry bags and gathered together my changing robe, swimming cap and goggles, beyond excited that soon my body would get to remember what swimming felt like.
I arrived 15 minutes before the session was due to start to give me time to change into my wetsuit beside my car before making my way to where everyone seemed to be congregating. I was ticked off a list and told where to find the rest of the workshop group.
Everyone was lovely and friendly, and our instructor spent time with us on land taking us through some basics, including some great advice on technique which I found really helpful.
It wasn’t long before I was heading into the water and I was surprised by the temperature of it. In my wetsuit, walking straight in felt fine and I didn’t feel cold at all during my time in the water.
We were directed off to one side of the main course, out of the way of the more competent (and I’ve got to be honest, a little intimidating!) swimmers and swam out a little way, before swimming back, into the shallows, helping us get our confidence up little by little.
After a few confidence-building short swims, we were given the option of getting out, swimming the entire course, or swimming a smaller part of it. Most of us opted to stay in and swim to and from the first buoy, a distance of just 400metres and much less than I’d do after 60 lengths in the pool, but it was such a different experience and I’m very glad that first time around I didn’t attempt to do the entire course.
Having not swum for more than 3 months, initially, it felt hard going. I was breathing hard, and couldn’t decide whether to keep my head under for the usual 3 arm pulls I’d do in a pool or to do less.
I ended up swimming with my head under for 2 arm pulls, but found being unable to see much with my head under a little disconcerting, so I ended up doing a fair bit of it with my head out of the water, which was weird!
I’ve not swum with my head sticking out of the water for a good couple of years now, but open water swimming felt surprisingly different and more challenging and I wanted to focus on tackling the mental side of what was going on in my head first and foremost before thinking too much about speed or technique.
A more mental than purely physical challenge
Halfway out to the very first buoy my brain did a sabotage thing I’m quite familiar with as a sufferer of anxiety. It tried to make me panic. There was a little voice telling me “you’ll be too tired to get back, you can’t touch the floor, you can’t do this, turn back.”
Luckily I had a bigger and more stubborn voice of reason telling me “you can swim way further than this, you can do this easily, just slow down and focus, you’ve got this!”
I listened to the voice of reason and kept swimming, focusing on mastering my brain and ignoring the panic that wanted to take over, trusting in the ability of my body keep on swimming. When I got back, I felt a real sense of accomplishment.
After the session and feeling snug in my changing robe, I grabbed my flask from the car and sat beside the water for a 15-minute breather before setting off home, my happy meter well and truly topped up.
Open water swimming is very different to my experience of pool swimming and whilst I’m not sure I’m a true convert, as soon as I got home I decided to sign up to become a Uswim member, I’ve already booked another open water swim for next weekend and I’m already looking forward to challenging myself to swim out further.
Fancy having a go yourself?
The beginners open water workshop that I did cost £35, including wetsuit hire, swimming cap, bag and tuition. Annual membership starts at £10 and each swim thereafter costs from £6 for an hour.
You can find out more about Uswim open water swimming here.