Here’s a short video of a stunning swim I did in January in the snow at Tansor:
Previous Ice Swimming Posts:
This is a stunning trailer to what promises to be a great film.
Dark Side Of The Lens:
A great short film about the life of a British surf and marine photographer. It really expresses the call of the sea that I feel.
A swim outdoors in the winter is a mysterious beast. It fills you equally with muscle seizing dread and spine tingling excitement. This stays with you no matter if it’s your first winter swim or your thousandth.
Today I’m going to break down the anatomy of a winter swim into it’s parts. These vary from person to person but this is my experience. This is a pretty normal winter swim at Tansor at temperatures below 4C.
Two Hours Before The Swim:
The dread appears. I know I’m going to enjoy it when I’m in and love it afterwards but this is all irrelevant now. The thought of getting in rears it’s ugly head and I try and think of as many different excuses not to get in. Maybe the car wont start? Maybe I’m ill? Maybe the others can’t make it? Maybe there are sharks/snakes/piranhas in the river?
One Hour Before The Swim:
I get my gear ready and pack it into a bag. I try and chill myself down as much as possible so the difference between my skin and the water is as little as possible. This may be psychological but it seems to help when I get in. I check what the weather’s like outside and try and get my head round the fact that there are no (decent) excuses and I that I want to do this.
Half An Hour Before The Swim:
I put my flip flops on, load all my kit in to the car and drive to the swim spot with the heating off and usually the windows down. Loud music helps me distract myself from what’s ahead.
Fifteen Minutes Before The Swim:
I park up and walk down to the river and nervously chat to the others and wait for stragglers.
Five Minutes Before The Swim:
I check the river depth, the current speed and find out the temperature. I try to think of more things to faff about doing but the time for faffage is over. I normally say something like “Well, this river’s not going to swim itself”; and then get changed.
One Minute Before The Swim:
I store my flip flops in their usual position ready for when I get out and walk to edge of the jetty. I look upstream and down stream and swing my arms around my body more to psyche myself up than as any kind of a warm up. I have a mantra that I say in my head before I get in at any swim so I put off saying that for as long as possible as I know I have to go in straight afterwards. I wrap my toes over the edge of the jetty a look upstream and downstream again.
Now is the time.
In my head I say: “Warm like a whale, smooth like a seal, brave like a lion”; and with that I lean forward bend my legs and dive out into the water. (N.B. This is not advised. You should slowly ease yourself into the water allowing your body time to adjust to the temperature).
The first few seconds:
At first there’s nothing. You can’t hear anything underwater and your body hasn’t detected the temperature drop yet. Just as I’m about to surface by skin roars and my body reacts to the icy water. On my first few swims I would panic and my chest would tighten and my breathing would shorten but now I’m used to this and I breathe normally almost enjoying this achingly beautiful pain that is surging through out my body.
The first minute:
I do a few strokes of breastroke arms with butterfly legs just to ease myself in. I don’t do breastroke kick as it hurts my knees and I like to keep my femoral arteries between my legs as warm as possible. They are pretty close to the surface so having my legs together for the whole swim keeps them warm.
I put my head underwater and get into my stroke. It’s important to focus on correct form as the temptation is to splash about to generate as much heat as possible. I try and glide through the water and concentrate on really long strokes.
My body is getting used to the temperature now and has chunted the blood away from the skins surface. My hands ache but nothing too bad.
The First Five Minutes:
I try and sight every few strokes as I swim upstream to the turn around point this is to make sure that I’m in the bit of the river with the least flow but also to avoid scraping myself on the banks as this is agony at these low temperatures. There aren’t too many fishermen around at this time of year so they’re not a big worry.
I can feel the cool water affecting me but can also sense that I’m fighting it and draw upon knowledge that I’ve swum further and at lower temperatures than this to help me through. I pump my hands on the recovery section of every stroke and this helps keep the blood getting to them and keeping them warm.
I get up to the turn around point and cross over to the faster flowing side of the river for the ride home. I usually have a look around at this point to see where everyone else is and check that everyone is okay. You get these stunning frogs eye views of winter from the river that you just don’t get anywhere else.
I usually do some butterfly to get the blood flowing and so that I can see where I’m going as I head back down to the jetty and think about doing another lap. Each lap is just over 400m so I usually do a three or four. Sometimes, depending on who I’m with and the current I’ll head up further. I like to do about a mile each swim and usually try and swim twice a day during winter depending on conditions.
The last five minutes:
My hands start to sting and I feel the chill creeping into my feet. My core is usually still warm but I check my condition by touching my thumb to my little finger and by trying to say “Peter Piper”. If I fail on either of these then I know it’s probably time to start thinking about getting out.
Getting out and the first 90seconds:
I have got this part down to art form. You have about 90seconds to get dressed before your body releases the cool blood from you extremities and it comes flowing back to your core. This is when the big shivering can happen so it’s key to be changed and ready by then.
I jump out at the jetty and walk quickly up to my kit. I’ve stacked the kit in the order I’ll need it to speed up the process. I take my goggles off, keeping my hat on, and towel dry my top half. I’ve got two t-shirts and a jumper all in one and put them on together. I then put on my hoodie and a waterproof jacket and put a wooly hat over my swimming cap. I then wrap the towel round my waist, take my trunks off, wring them over the side and put them with my goggles. I put on my boxers and then walk down to the waters edge to wash any mud or leaves off my feet before I put my jeans on. I then put my flip flops on and I’m all done. Usually inside a minute.
Keeping your swimming hat on is absolutely key. It’s keeping your head warmer than you think and getting your brain frozen is the worst thing you can do in this situation. Flip flops are great in this situation as you can get them on quickly and it gives you a cushion between the icy ground that’s sucking the heat out of you. Putting on socks and shoes is fiddly and takes up time. I also think that initially they keep your feet cool by trapping the cool in there and not letting them heat up. It works for me but that doesn’t mean that it’ll work for you.
Ten minutes after the swim:
I’m usually pretty well recovered by now depending on how hard I pushed it in the water. I tend not to run about too much as I think this just pumps the cool blood around. I prefer to let my body warm up slowly. I blessed with bioprene so don’t suffer as much as some. Once you’re recovered your body really does buzz and gives you an incredible high.
The guys I swim with and I have invented what we like to call the “Calorie Window”. This has no real scientific backing whatsoever but we say that anything you eat of drink within half an hour of a winter swim doesn’t count towards your daily quota. This has been great as it means we eat heaps of cake and mountains of biscuits and drown down lakes of hot chocolate!
Half an hour after the swim:
The Calorie Window closes and we call go home. I try not to put the heater on and keep the windows open if I can. My thinking behind this is to keep my body conditioned to producing heat. That said I sometimes put a little heat on my feet!
When back at home you get to enjoy one of the great perks of winter swimming. The nap. I usually try and sleep for about half an hour and you wake up feeling incredibly warm and relaxed…and starving! Now’s the time for more bioprene building food so you can have it digested before you start this process all over again in the afternoon!
The key to a successful open water swim is that when you get out, you want to get in and do it again.
Other posts you may like:
This is the fifth in the series on my favourite swims (#MyFaveSwims on Twitter).
This week it’s all about Jersey!
Jersey is a small but amazing island in the English Channel. It’s where I did my first ever swim in the sea back in 2008. It’s home of the now legendary Sal’s Swim Camp. The Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club is really active and they organise swims all year round. In one week at Sal’s Swim Camp I went from being a bit nervous and unsure about waves, the sea and what lies beneath to nailing a three hour swim in 12C water without much bother at all.
The camp is a great mix of levels and abilities and the best part is being welcomed in to the community with open arms. I met some swimmers on that first week that I’ll be friends with for life. There’s something about tackling a challenge together with someone-be it a mountain or a long swim-that bonds you. With swimming there’s not even any talking and yet when you get out you can see it in a look or a smile that we’ve suffered together and are now closer as a result.
They’ve got a great junior section and it’s quite humbling swimming with someone half my weight and half my age who can swim faster and for longer in colder water than me!
My favourite spot to swim in Jersey is at St Catherine’s breakwater. It’s a big stretch of water inbetween the breakwater and a lighthouse opposite and it’s usually quite clear and calm and full of parked up boats and buoys to swim around/over/under! The highlight of swimming there is that Sally is usually waiting on the side with Maxim (energy drink) and jelly babies!
There are two main long distance swims in Jersey-the round Jersey swim and Jersey to France swim. I’d love to do both of these one day but the round Jersey swim would be amazing. It’s tidally assisted so you’ll cover 40+miles in anything from 9-13hours and get an amazing view of the landscape and sights of Jersey (as long as you can breathe to your left!).
What are your favourite swims? I’m always keen to find new stunning swim spots. Drop a message in the comments below of tweet me here using #myfaveswims.
Previous Favourite Swims:
This is the fourth in the series on my favourite swims (#MyFaveSwims on Twitter).
This week it’s Wadenhoe, Northamptonshire.
This is another one of my local swims. Tansor is great for training but Wadenhoe is where we go on nice days or full moon swims. It’s one of the most beautiful stretches of the river as the meander has cut into a forested hill with a church on the top. The water is usually clear here and there’s two or three places to get in. My favourite spot to get in is bizarrely right next to a pub!
There’s usually some red kites soaring above the tree tops and kingfishers darting about. Both sides of the river are protected parks and the western bank has long horned highland cattle roaming around. It was just downstream of here that we saw a massive ghost Koi Carp.
About a kilometre upstream from where we get in is the best jump tree on the whole river. It hangs out about 3metres above the river and is easy to climb.
I don’t like training here as it’s too nice to paddle about taking in all the sights.
What are your favourite swims? I’m always keen to find new stunning swim spots. Drop a message in the comments below of tweet me here using #myfaveswims.
Previous Favourite Swims:
Today is the start of a new weekly feature on the website called My Favourite Swims (#MyFaveSwims on Twitter). I’m hoping it’ll inspire a few more people to dip their toes in some of the amazing rivers, lakes and seas that I’ve been lucky enough to dunk myself into!
First up is my favourite swimming spot in the world, Tansor.
The stretch of the River Nene between Cotterstock and Tansor.
Tansor (PE8 5HN) is a small village in Northamptonshire near Oundle-just off the A605. The best place to get in and out is at the rowing club right in the middle of the village. It’s accessed thanks to the good grace of Oundle School so please don’t drop and litter or cause any nuisance!
Cotterstock (PE8 5HH) is just up river of Tansor. Park on the roadside inbetween the two river channels and walk across the little triangle of parkland towards the lock and the jetty is downstream of the lock.
It’s only a couple of miles from my house and I swim here nearly every day. The concrete jetty makes it easy to get in and out and you don’t have to scramble up any muddy banks.
It’s great for all levels and abilities. If you just want a dip then it’s a perfect spot for floating about.
If you want to go slightly further then get changed at Tansor and drive up to Cotterstock, get in at the jetty below the lock and swim/float/drift down the 1200metres to Tansor. After 200metres you’ll pass under the bridge and if you’re there at the right time there are some blackberries to be picked on the left side. A few hundred metres later you’ll come across the whirlpool of death-so called as it’s not a whirlpool and noone has ever died there. From here there’s a nice wooded straight on your left and fields on your right often with cattle and horses who’ll pop down to see what you’re doing in their drinking hole. Two more corners and you cross under the telephone lines, past the boat and under the willow tree back down to Tansor in time to dry off, warm up and eat as much cake as you can! Just perfect.
If you want some thing a bit more strenuous then swimming up from Tansor to Cotterstock and back down is a great swim.
And if you’re training for something longer then it’s exactly 1500metres downstream to the lock at Perio Mill-I usually swim up to Cotterstock, down to Perio and back up to Tansor twice which comes in at just over 10kms.
It’s stunning in all four seasons and we swim here year round. In midwinter it’s only a couple of hundred metres up to the bend and back though!
Why are your favourite swims? I’m always keen to find new stunning swim spots. Drop a message in the comments below of tweet me here using #myfaveswims.
Swimming to the Edge
This week’s Thursday Thriller is all about people taking swimming up a notch. I’ve chosen three people who’s stories have helped me alot and all three have them have made the seemingly impossible, possible. The first has swum down some of the mightiest rivers on earth, the second has swum a kilometre at the North Pole and is currently on Everest swimming in the highest lake on earth and the third is a real pioneer in cold water swimming who swam from Russia to the USA during the Cold War and who swam to Antarctica. Heroes all of them.
I read this article on Martin Strel while I was home from University and was meant to be studying. Obviously my first reaction was the same as everyone elses-this man is nuts. The story stuck in my head for years, sadly I think this was more because people used to run out on the street and give him cakes rather than the epicness of his achievements! Already by 2003 he had swum the 2360miles of the Mississippi in 68days averaging over 14 and a half hours swimming each day, the Danube and was about to set off down the Yangtse. To say this man was the best at what he does is an understatement and since then he’s recently added swimming the Amazon to his list of records and achievements. The clip below is from the documentary on his Amazon swim.
Lewis Gordon Pugh is incredible. He’s swum pretty much every major ocean swim there is and he’s swim at the North Pole. Let me just say that again, he’s swum at the NORTH POLE! He swam a kilometre at the pole to highlight climate change, swimming at minus 2 celcius for more that 20minutes. At the moment he’s in the Himalayas attempting to swim in the worlds highest lake just below Everest. I love what he does and the way he does it, he’s a true inspiration. You need to follow his latest expedition on twitter here and on his website here.
Lynne’s book Swimming To Antarctica, is a must read for any open water swimmer. It talks about her childhood and her two record breaking attempts on the English Channel it talks about the build up and execution of her swim from Russia to the US during the cold war and it talks about her swimming a mile in Antarctica. This lady is a phenomenon.
If these clips have inspired you to get outdoors and get swimming then the Outdoor Swimming Society is a great place to start and swim with like minded people.
Three Moments That Changed My Outdoor Swimming Life:
1) Cold water is not a ticket for certain death.
I did my first ever real open water swim in May 2009 in the River Ouse with a friend of mine called Bryn. The water was cold and the mental process of trying to tell myself to get in was torturous. The get in point was just by a bridge and we were going to swim up stream for about ten minutes and then cruise back down. As I slid the first few inches of my leg into the water I could feel the panic coming on-there are no lifeguards! I can’t see the bottom! There are no lane ropes or line markings on the bottom! My brain cracked the whip and a few seconds later I was in and panic swimming for my life, I got under the bridge and all of a sudden realised that something strange had occured-I wasn’t dead. I felt my skin cool and my blood retreat back into my core but I also felt that I had this store of heat ready to help me out when I needed it. From that point on the swim was amazing, stunning scenery, so calm and relaxing. I was hooked. I got out and expected to be a mess, shivering and near death. I got out slowly and found out I was okay, I had lived! Mentally I tried to tell my body to warm up slowly and not to shiver and it worked. I drove back home with one demon laid to rest but with a couple more still nagging at me.
2) Humans float.
I know this sounds daft and I also know hundreds of people who insist they’re sinkers. The fact is, lying on your back with a full breath of air in your lungs and everyone floats. I was a step better off with some extra flotation pounds specially gained to help me float.
10days after my first outdoor swim I was in Jersey at an amazing swimming camp organised by Sally Minty-Gravett I’d stayed the night with a mate and got dropped off at the seafront in St Helier and saw a group of fellow loons getting ready to swim in the harbour. Now in the river I was okay, it was about 2-3metres deep and the side was only ever a few metres away. This was the sea, this is different-I’d filled my head with stories of being swept out to sea and dragged under, I’d never swam in water I couldn’t see the bottom of and was again in a bit of a panic. Annoyingly most of the people I was swimming with were young girls and they didn’t seem to have any problem-I forced myself in and swam out of my depth. Again something strange was happening-I was floating. The bottom was five metres down but could have been a hundred-it didn’t matter, I could float and I could survive the cold.
3) Waves don’t sink you like they do in the movies.
I’d had a great time in the harbours and bays around Jersey and really felt confident with my stroke and with the cold. I still struggled with sighting while I was swimming but was working on it. One thing I hadn’t done was swim in rough water or big waves. This is where swimming camp number 2 came in. I flew to Cork to join Ned Denisons Channel Swimming Camp. I met some amazing people all with solo channel swims in mind and one girl-Lisa Cummins, who’d planned to do a two way. We all trained pretty hard and Ned organised swims in loads of different places and locations. The favourite was Sandy Cove near Kinsale and it was here that Lisa was doing most of her swims. We all tried to make time to swim with her for a few hours while she was doing her 10-14hour training swims and it was during one of these a bit of a storm blew in. At Sandy Cove we swim round and round Goat Island, the near side is pretty sheltered and the far side more exposed. It was swimming on the far side when I first swam in relatively big waves and it was amazing. It took two or three strokes to climb up them, one or two on top and then one or two down the far side-it was a real joy to feel yourself being lifted up and down by these waves and not being pushed to the bottom of the ocean! Since then I’ve manage to swim in some 5-6metre waves-now that’s pretty scary but I float, I can handle the cold and the waves out at sea don’t push you under.
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