I don’t know how all my fellow swimmers feel, but as someone who is swimming through winter, nobody seems to want to join me! Winter swimming becomes a lonely cold place, and I have to start relying on my mind to carry me through training sessions. I rely much more on motivations such as food/warmth than simply enjoying a swim. The darker light levels, murky seas and cold weather can make heading out into the ocean a little less appealing at times! That said I always have my best and most memorable swims over the winter season. I thought I would talk about a few things that make winter swimming a little easier, and a little more enjoyable-for me at least!
I think its pretty common to have a ‘usual’ training location for most of us. Mine is my local bay off the coast of Wales. It’s surprisingly sheltered and I can often get a swim in even when it’s a little rough out at sea. From April through to November, I train here during every session, but in winter things have to change. Changing up my swimming location gives me much more motivation, and training in a lake takes the stresses out of tides, weather and jellyfish/sea creatures. It also brings an added excitement of training somewhere new, which I really need when it’s pouring with rain and freezing outside!
Since swimming through the cold weather, I have become much more aware of my body. Learning to notice the difference between ‘I’m cold and want to get out’ and ‘I’m dangerously cold, I need to get out for safety reasons’ is something learned over time. This has allowed me to carry on some of my endurance distances throughout winter-that said; its still doesn’t feel easy of course!
Another thing I like to do to make winter swimming more comfortable, is prepare my kit. The hot water bottle has never been such a useful bit of kit until you start swimming though winter! I wrap my clothes and towel in a hottie, so when I get out, my clothes are toastie. It’s also something I look forward to after training; anything that increases motivation is a useful implement! I sometimes have a flask of hot drink, and will even swig from this during my training (Tip: make sure it is luke warm not hot- its so easy to burn yourself when you are very cold!). Bear in mind, I’m actually a wetsuit swimmer. I swim in the exact same kit all year round (cossie, wetsuit and hat- I’m pathetic in the cold- and have the upmost respect for all you non-wetsuit swimmers out there!).
One aspect of winter swimming I most enjoy is that I go out with a kayak as support much more in winter than summer. Because very few of my fellow swimmers stay training outdoors in the winter it can become lonely so I rope in the help of my (very forgiving) partner to paddle our kayak. I still go out into the bay alone but this is a great way to have a longer swim, with the safety of a boat when the water is so cold, and also the motivation of somebody paddling along side you. We do this in summer as well, but a little less as I often train with a group, so it’s always something I look forward to as we head into winter.
One of the main things I would say about winter swimming is to make it enjoyable and safe. There is no point pushing yourself to swim for hours because somebody else does, or that’s what you do in summer. If you have a short, positive winter swim, you are much more likely to get back in the next time and be successful! It’s amazing how your body can acclimatize and become more tolerable of the cold, so it’s something to peruse and practice, but above all, enjoy!