I should start off by saying that I like swimming. I like it quite a lot.
I’ve swum (swam? swimmed?) regularly since childhood, and – even though I say it myself – I’m not bad at it.
That doesn’t mean I’m good either though. Whilst I have a pretty strong stroke and can happily swim for hours, I also have a swimming style that has been likened to that of penguin – all in the flippers, with zero action in the leg department. I just can’t kick. Or rather, I can kick, but my ankles end up aching and I lose all upper-body co-ordination.
Unlike a penguin though, I can’t do this.
Seriously though, how cool would that be?! After a few lengths down at the local swimming pool – boing!
I digress. Back to the swimming.
Swimming is fun! I can swim for hours – literally!
But pool swimming being what it is – rather mundane (not that mundane is a bad thing. I quite like munande :) ) last year I decided to spice things up a little and take to open water.
Open water swimming is a very different beast to pool swimming. For a start, you’re out in the open. Which means that, unlike the nice temperature controlled environment of a swimming pool, there’s weather. Rain, wind, sun – whatever it is, there’s no hiding from it when you’re in a lake.
Which brings me to the next point, and sticking with the theme of environmental conditions – water temperature.
The temperature of a lake/reservoir/river/sea is never going to be as balmy as your local swimming baths. There’s no thermostat you see. You can’t dip your toe in, think ‘Ooh, that’s a bit nippy’ and turn the heat up. Swimming pools are typically kept in the region of ~27-28C. Open water swimming season in my neck of the woods starts as soon as the water temperature reaches 14C. Just a slight difference there… And so there’s the wetsuit.
Ah, the wetsuit. How I loathe you.
Some people like swimming in a wetsuit. You’re far less likely to drown whilst wearing one as it gives you extra buoyancy in the water. Unfortunately, I have my own flotation aid, also known as my bum. Or, to be scientific and anatomical – I have a female pattern of fat deposition. So whilst men, with their non-existent derrières, benefit from the buoyancy, I find that the wetsuit has a habit of raising my backside aloft and attempting to fold me in half in an uncanny semblance of this torturous looking yoga position.
Not being a Yogi of even the lowest order, any attempt at the above results in something akin to pain. A lot of pain. But being a big girl’s blouse (answers on a postcard if you find the definitive origins of that phrase!) I don’t dare get in a lake without a wetsuit and the addition of several swim hats to keep my bonce warm.
Next up – sighting. This isn’t a problem in a pool. You get it, get your head down in the water, and there are conveniently placed lines for you to follow to maintain a straight line. No such thing in open water – more often than not you can’t even see the bottom. It’s dark, murky and seeing your hands in front of your face is an achievement. If you’re really lucky, it might not be that deep. In which case you’re usually treated to the sight of various aquatic plants. Or rubbish. Crisp packets, lager cans, carrier bags – decaying slowly in a watery grave. If you’re really, really lucky, you might even manage to brush yourself up in said weed/rubbish (and every so often fish!) whilst swimming. The feel of something brushing against you in the dark water – there’s nothing like it to generate a sudden burst of speed.
Back to sighting.
So you’re in the water, head down and swimming away. You decide to take a peek, just to make sure you’re heading towards the pink buoy that marks out the swim course. Your eyes break the water level and there’s no pink buoy in sight. There is, however, a boat. Or a jetty. Or sometimes a yellow buoy. Whatever it is, it’s not what you were expecting. And that’s the problem with swimming in open water – you tend to zigzag a bit. So the 500 metre course suddenly becomes 700 metres with all of the back-tracking you end up having to do to stay on track.
Open water swimming isn’t really the ugly sister of pool swimming. It’s just different. It’s invigorating and exciting – there’s an element of madness about it that seems to generate a rush of endorphins you never get in a swimming pool. Why would anyone in their right mind want to squeeze themselves into a wetsuit (that’s another thing about wetsuits – all that rubber clinging to every bulge and wobbly bit – they’re just so flattering) and jump into a cold lake and swim with various detritus and fish? There’s something about it that just feels wrong – naughty almost – and dammit, it’s a good feeling.