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Open water swimming: a brand new challenge

Posted: Fri, 26 Mar 2021 14:57

Open water swimming: a brand new challenge

Active Oxfordshire's social media lead Caroline shares her new challenge of open water swimming and how she still managed to take a dip during lockdown:

Standing in my new wetsuit in Queenford Lake, in May 2019, I was so miserable. The lovely coach Annie who was leading our 'Introduction to Open Water Swimming' asked me what was wrong:

"I'm just so cold" I shivered, "I don't like it".

Annie gave me encouragement, but my mind had been made up. I really didn't like swimming anywhere other than a warm, indoor, swimming pool.

I've always enjoyed (pool) swimming. It has been there through life's ups and downs for me, when aches meant any other exercise was too painful, during pregnancy and when I just wanted some peaceful thinking time. This has worked brilliantly for me, until the pools closed in 2020….

Trying hard to maintain good mental health without swimming was tough. I missed it so much. In June, Annie asked if I wanted to try the new outdoor lake at Bicester Performance Centre (open water swimming venues were able to open when pools were closed). I dug out my wetsuit, talked a friend into coming with me and gave it another go.

Not well, unfortunately my wetsuit had shrunk dramatically during Lockdown 1 (or was it all those cakes and takeaways?!) so I couldn't move, let alone swim! With no alternative, we kept trying. I ditched the wetsuit, just wore my costume and got back to swimming properly. I loved it.

It was a glorious summer swimming in our groups of six at Queenford and Bicester. Others dropped out as we kept trying 'just one more week' until October: still in swimming costumes and celebrating swimming in below 10°!

When these venues closed for Lockdown 2, there was no question that we would give swimming a go in public lakes and rivers. It's the best thing I've ever done: it's kept me feeling mentally strong through every lockdown and tier change. We've braved icy frosts, snow, wind and rain for our regular dips (at less than 5° it's officially an ice swim). More importantly, we've challenged ourselves together, laughed, shivered and drunk lots of hot chocolate and cake. I don't think I'll go back to swimming in a pool and can't wait until we can swim in groups again: sharing our new found activity.

Thinking of trying wild swimming? Here's my tips:

  • Wild swimming is potentially dangerous: arm yourself with the best knowledge and information. A course or introductory session will help you stay safe.
  • Know your limits. Swimming with no side to grab, no floor lines, no lifeguard and unknown depth is very different to the pool.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Always get out when you feel you cannot do anymore.
  • Enjoy it!

Would like you like to know more?

You can swim here:

Queenford Lakes

Bicester Performance Centre

Useful resources:

Outdoor Swimming Magazine

Outdoor Swimming Society

Oxfordshire Bluetits

I attended an introductory session and course with Tri Swim Coaching

Tags: Active Body, Healthy Mind