Numbers issued; nails clipped; hats provided; tattoos applied; and jewellery removed. A crowd gathers to observe as the numbers are recited and the last footsteps on dry land are reluctantly taken. I have been asked to write about why I make time to participate in open water swimming and it is in those very moments before a race when my feet touch the water that I also ask myself the same question. However, the answer is usually found during or after the experience.

With a renewed interest in open water swimming this past season I have found myself swimming in the sea; lakes; and a range of outdoor pools and lidos (both heated and unheated, developing a strong preference for the former).

I find that open water and outdoor swimming provides a space where the world stops and the beauty of the surroundings can be absorbed. Likewise, it offers the personal satisfaction of training for and competing in events.

By entering some races this year, it has also provided me with some much-needed motivation to get back in the water consistently (much like a deadline does!). Whilst admittedly it can be difficult to know what the week has in store professionally when it begins, it has prompted me to try and manage my time so that I can fit in training. This has been helped by the people I have met who share this interest, who have encouraged me to enjoy what this sport has to offer. I am a member of a local swimming club which has members ranging in age from birth to 90 years old! It is a friendly and inclusive community to belong to. In addition to providing training companions, being a member of a club has also provided access to invaluable knowledge and advice on how to swim safely in the cold water. I have such admiration for those who manage to ‘swim skins’ (without a wetsuit) throughout the year!

Aside from being a fun activity, cold water swimming in particular is said to have benefits for cardiovascular and mental health. I can’t say that I was particularly convinced jumping into cold water in early May would be beneficial! However, once I have warmed up I always feel better after having gone for a swim. Over time I have found that my body has ‘acclimatised’ to the colder temperatures.

Where to swim

In terms of the best places to swim, it would be impossible to summarise all that are available nationally. However, I believe there are nine lidos in the Capital, for example the Serpentine, Parliament Hill and London Fields Lido. There are also a number of other open-air pools and ponds (Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds in particular is recommended). In terms of open water venues, I’m always surprised by what is available nearby. Members of local swimming or triathlon clubs usually are the best guides for recommendations. Please note that for most mortals open water swimming is a seasonal sport undertaken between the spring and the late summer so some venues are only open for swimming during this period.

Fundraising memorial swim

This December saw a group of 40 open water swimmers from around the UK, myself included, gather for the Steve Wand Invitational Memorial Swim 2019. The swim was to remember Steve, who was an impressive age-group athlete. It involved swimming 100 repetitions of 100 metres (10km in total) where we were afforded two minutes (or less) to complete each repetition and recover. We were raising money for the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance Trust. If you would like to know more about this event, the link is here: Any support would be greatly appreciated.