So far this week I’m swum outdoors once, and been followed by two different liposuction companies on twitter. When I glanced at twitter and saw that @southportlipo was a new follower I thought ‘brilliant, a new lido to add to my list to swim in next year.’ Then I looked again. ‘What? Is this a hint?’ I’m really not into liposuction. I’m all for #ThisGirlCan, whatever shape she is, and the idea of sucking stuff out just doesn’t appeal at all. If I was to emerge sylph like from a spot of liposuction perhaps I might not be able to swim so happily in colder water.
Later on today I noticed I’ve been followed by @Leeds_Lipo too. I think I’d better either get back in the pool quick, so I’m in less need of lipo, or gently explain I’m keener on swimming than surgical procedures.
Just after the launch of the #ThisGirlCan campaign some research was published about women abandoning swimming. The figures were dramatic, with three times as many women as men giving up swimming in the previous year (you can read more here). If you’re intrigued by #ThisGirlCan hop over to read more – I hope there’ll be a second wave to the campaign next year, just as I hope the Amateur Swimming Association has more positive news to report on a year on in January. Is it body image or is it something else?
Other forms of exercise are that much more ‘get up and go’ aren’t they, bung your trainers on and off you trot / stumble / sprint, but swimming takes a bit more planning, and when you go first thing or after work the pool can be offputtingly busy. I’d love to swim more often but home / work / family / chauffeuring duties mean I’m a solid 3x a week at the moment. But when I do go I get to experience the joy of a giant pool, with no one’s bubbles to swim behind or collide with. On Friday I had a funny chat with a fellow swimmer. I was clad in costume, booties and gloves, wandering about purposely in the shallow end. He was on the side, looked across and said something. I replied ‘it’s fine’, “yes” he replied, “a solid 9”. I hope whatever you’re up to for the rest of the weekend you can rate it a solid 9 – and if you’re swimming outside it’s 9’C or over!
This time of year can be a bit overwhelming, can’t it. Please don’t shake your head, I know I’m not the only one. There are lists galore in my head, lists half way out of my head being forgotten, lists in my work book, lists on the cupboards. I am fortunate not to work on Fridays so I get to use the last day of the week for playing catch up, swimming and doing household stuff.
Here is today’s typical Friday list. Things have to be achieved before the kids get home. Quick quick!!
Pastry – what’s that all about? I’m Making an Effort as we’ve an extra child staying tonight so I thought it’d be nice to have proper jam tarts made with our jam. Am I mad? Can nip down the road and just buy some pastry? Would I be letting anyone down if I did? No. But I do love baking and I’m not finding much time to do it right now.
I am all about lists, but I think after 12 or so items they risk becoming a bit overwhelming in themselves. I did read about having priority to do lists with just five items on, as you tick one you add a new one. Surely better than just turning a page in your notebook and rewriting a long task list neatly at the beginning of a new week….
I am not nearly there with my Christmas shopping. Well done to those who are, but please could you keep quiet about it. I’m struggling with the ideas. Christmas hasn’t quite started waking me up in the night, as other things are busy doing that. We will be hosting Christmas, which will be magical. There’s nothing like watching the kids open their stockings in our bed and going downstairs to turn the lights on the tree. The lovely very well meaning in-laws we’re hosting keep emailing to ask how they can help, or what they can bring. This is so generous, and I should be celebrating that, rather than panicking that I just don’t know as I haven’t got to thinking about cooking and eating yet and whether it’s ok to ask for something you might not eat when they’re with you.
So with all this going on, how about celebrating the little things we’ve done. Everyone’s achieved something today, be it clearing up the breakfast stuff, emptying the washing machine, making an overdue phone call or being nice to someone else. My personal pat on the back comes from dashing off to the lido to fit in a swim under a cloudless blue sky. Clad in swimming costume, funny bootees and gloves (which feel like you’re wearing buoyant rubber gloves) I clocked up an 11 length swim in 9’C. Never dreamed I’d manage that!
How was Black Friday for you? Were you seduced by the offers? Did you click on the emails as they poured into your inbox? Did you venture out onto the high street? Or did you just steer well clear, waiting for the dawn of Civilised Saturday?
Friday without a swim is not a good way to end the week. But Christmas hosted by someone who has done no Christmas shopping is not an option, so I had to combine the two.
I dropped the Super Fast 11 year old Swimmer off at the train station, left the car at home, sped off to the Post Office sorting office to collect a parcel on my bike, returned home, packed my kit and set off to shop and swim. The plan was to Beat the Crowds and get to John Lewis for 9.30am. Hmph, a 4 person deep crowd on the Victoria line platform at Highbury derailed the schedule a bit as I waited for 3 tubes to pass and boarded the 4th… With my husband’s words ‘John Lewis, on Black Friday? Are you insane?’ in my head I marched down the road and into the shop. Where were the crowds? Not in the entrance foyer and glamorous make-up bit and definitely not further back in the menswear area. There the customer to staff ratio was 2:1 with lots of helpful partners in black and lace dresses and others in leggings poised to run around and be very helpful. This bode very well for my trip. Tick, tick on the list. Up to childrenswear, where the staff outnumbered customers 2:1. A slightly bewildered staff member asked me where everyone was, ‘is it madness downstairs?’ No. But perhaps it was later. The shop opens from 8am – 10pm….
Swiftly out down the back stairs and on to Gap. Many even more helpful staff members greeting the large handful of customers with a cheerful ‘it’s 50% off everything instore today’. The problem about messages like this is you then start thinking off list and about yourself, which of these tops, jumpers, coats, and scarves do I want? I was side-tracked, trying on this, trying on that. ‘Get back on list’ shouted the Christmas Voice in my head.
The whole Black Friday Bonanza made me feel a bit guilty, what on earth was I doing, looking for things for me? ‘If we don’t have your size buy it anyway and you can exchange it another day, don’t you deserve a treat?’ asked one assistant. Argh no I don’t want to come back here and do this shopping all over again, and no I don’t deserve (another) treat. There is a limit, isn’t there?
Armed with more bags and more goodies than I intended I pounded down the pavement for my reward: a swim. I’ve talked before about The Oasis Leisure centre in Covent Garden. It has 2 pools, one outdoor heated and one indoor. There were no special offers, and the place wasn’t marketing itself as the perfect antidote to Black Friday. Instead the indoor pool was shut, and everyone was ploughing up and down in the outdoor pool. At 27’C it was balmy, far too warm, and just full, full, full of people. There were no fun swimming hats, like the ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ one I look out for at Parliament Hill lido. My red reindeer one was by far the best. The pool looked tiny, like a paddling pool. At 27.5m it’s a standardish size, but if you’re used to a 60m length it’s small. There’s none of the sense of achievement at reaching the end of the length that I get in the lido. Instead the wall comes up too fast. I was forever swimming in someone else’s bubbles or wake. I found it hard to settle into a rhythm. There was no chance to lie on my back at the end and gaze up at the patch of blue sky surrounded by grey, as I normally like to. But on the flipside how amazing to be able to swim outside, under London’s sky, looking up at London’s sky just 10 minutes from Oxford Street. Instead of fretting about things not being perfect I flipped from freestyle to breaststroke to backstroke.
So for me Black Friday did involve hopping, but also a swim, brownies and burgers with a very good friend, returning home in time to greet the Super Fast Swimmer after her day at school, and deleting all the discount emails. There’s a proper recipe for a Black Friday.
As to my next swim, it’ll be a challenging one. A lido buddy said to me ‘there’s a nice icy edge to 11’C’. I’m not sure which words will spring to mind to describe the current water temperature at Parliament Hill. It’s hovering between 5-8’C.
So I’m four full weeks into the challenge to keep on swimming outside as long as I’m enjoying it. I’ve I have swum under the London sky 14 times since 23 September. The experience has changed massively. When I started the water temperature at the lido was 14’C and now it’s hovering around 11-12’C. In wetsuit wearing days I thought there was a big gap between 15′ and 16’C, now I know there’s a chasm between 14′ and 11’C. But hey, it’s fine, and I’m now almost feeling like a bit of a pro.
I’ve come across some words of wisdom from the team at H2Open Magazine who say ‘plunging into cold water can give you an endorphin rush that can set you up nicely for the day’. Couldn’t agree more.
Approaching the water I know it’s all about thinking positive. I don’t have the words ‘ooooh it’s going to be freezing’ anywhere near my head, instead I firmly plant ‘I CAN do this, I LOVE doing this’ in there instead. For some reason one Friday I had Shirley Hughes’s words from her picture book about opposites ‘bathwater’s hot, seawater’s cold’ in my mind, I think the temperature gauge must have set me off, so I added another phrase ‘lido water’s not’.
I wade around in the shallow end, put my hat and goggles on, take my goggles off again and unsteam them, and then park all issues and problems and thoughts poolside and just get going. I pick a mantra to chant, perhaps ‘This Is Amazing’ or count stroke sets ‘1, 2, 3, 4’, until I reach the end of the first length. It’s all about getting through that transition phase from poolside to underwater at the end of the first length. By then it’s not remotely uncomfortable. I know if I stick at it, chipping away stroke by stroke, I’ll be fine. I stay in til I’ve done 1.32k = 22 lengths and completed my mission of the moment. It’s not a long way but this isn’t about distance, more mind over matter and gritty determination.
I think success so far has been all about choosing the right attitude. I once watched an amazing motivational video called Fish Philosophy about fishmongers in an American market, who could track their sales down to the experience they gave all of their customers. They knew if they chose to smile, crack a joke, juggle with a fish, and entertain their customers and possible customers they’d succeed in selling more fish to more people. It all boils down to you and the choice you make. So if I want this challenge of mine to work I’ve got to borrow their can do attitude and choose to make it work.
I can’t give up. I’ve embarked on this challenge and I’m not quitting!
#THISGIRLCAN … even if she might perhaps soon need to add boots, gloves and rash vest into the mix
Finally thought I’d share this infographic which the guys at H2Open Magazine have produced which is full of sensible advice – NB note the mention of tea and cake
My routine is changing big time on Monday and there will be no more day time swims Monday – Thursday, so I’m packing in as many outdoor ones as I can right now. My kit’s changed as you can see the Red Reindeer Hat has been joined by a thermos, woolly hat and extra layer for afterwards.
There’s been a trip to the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath – the forecast seemed good enough to challenge another mum to a dip. I texted her ‘wear a hat’, so she brought a woolly one – if you’re not diving in it really doesn’t matter as long as it keeps you warm. We met at 8.50am. It was not warm. It was not sunny. Undaunted we marched the couple of miles to the leafy mecca that is the Ladies Pond. I saw 59’/15′ etched up on the blackboard, telling us the water temperature. No chance to chicken out. But oh what bliss, oh what a wonderful thing to do because as we swam semi gracefully around the pond the sun came out, warm enough to really feel it on our shoulders. Well worth every penny of the £2 entry – and yes we did dash off for hot chocolate and toast.
I’ve swum at the Parliament Hill Lido three times this week. Yesterday swimmers were joined by a large film crew which was slightly disconcerting as they lugged their equipment and hung around waiting for us to leave the pool. It was pouring with rain, but not cold, so 15′ in the water, 12′ out. Lying on my back in the shallow end I looked up at the grey sky with the rain falling on my face. Such a soft and magical sensation. Reward was some rather good granola from The Spoke on the Holloway Road. Hurray for the sun and blue above today and the chance for a longer business-like swim.
I know it’s fully possible to swim through the winter in very cold temperatures but the advice is to do it at least 3 times a week to avoid frostbite, and I’ve not managed that. Yet. I used to winter swim til it got down to 10’C, kitted out in a full wetsuit, boots and gloves. I swam 600m in 6’C and it took over an hour to warm up, it hurt, really hurt and it wasn’t really exercise, rather endurance.
It is a very different swim encased in neoprene, for a start you’re ridiculously buoyant. Although it lets you swim for longer and later in the season you miss the euphoria of immersion in chilly water. I could also mention in small print that wetsuits are very unforgiving. They’re designed to fit like a glove, so they notice when you’ve gained a pound, and I have no desire to don the wetsuit and not be able to do up the zip!!!!
The plan for the season is to swim at least twice a week, outside, sporting a ‘rash vest’, for as long as I’m enjoying it. The vest is meant to keep you a bit warmer and more comfortable, rather than give you a skin condition.
PS I know that for winter swimmers and many outdoor swimmers 15′ is positively balmy
Around the nation people are attempting to tighten their belts around their festive paunches. In this household we’re preparing to let them out another notch for today is the Footballer and Super Fast Swimmer’s 11th birthday and there will be cake for tea. Early Jan is a pretty dire time for a birthday, but at the time back in 2004 I didn’t fancy hanging onto them inside any longer and I was very proud of how long their gestation was. So there’s been more cake baking and icing. They share a cake on their birthday – and have separate ones for their parties. For the second year running we’ve gone down the separate children separate icing route…
Today I had a long list of things to get done, with baking a reward for achieving some of the bigger and less appetising looking tasks. There was no time for messing around, coffees or chats at the school gates, so instead straight up to my desk, fingerless mittens on and flask of hot tea at my side. This thermos business is a winner – it means no excuses for ‘just popping to make a cup of tea’ as I have a ready supply of piping hot tea inside it.
This new sense of urgency that’s arrived with the kids’ return to school has really taken hold, and it’s very exciting. I’ve workbooks filling with to do lists. Some of the tasks I’d rather not do, or am apt to dodge, but thanks to the 10 minute rule (set a timer, work on the less attractive job, and by the time the pinger goes you’ll be so into it you’ll complete it) I’m on track.
There was no prevarication either on New Year’s Day when me (donning 2 swimming hats and a costume), a friend and 3 children took to the North Sea for a quick dip. The adults had a proper swim, the kids a swifter immersion. It was beyond invigorating, it was BLISSFUL and BRACING. I can’t remember it being cold, but I do remember wanting to go straight back in afterwards. Here I am post swim with my brilliantly supportive and towel holding husband and a devilish glint in my eyes.
There was a smashing opinion piece in The Telegraph about cold water swimming recently which pretty much sums up all that’s good about it, and talks specifically of the hit you get going swimming in cold water. Addicts like me rave about the wonders of it, how high the cold makes you feel, and how alive you are afterwards, but now Dr Mark Harper a consultant anaesthetist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (and expert advisor to the Outdoor Swimming Society) has researched the impact of cold water swimming on the body and says, in the Telegraph piece, ‘The benefits of exercise and cold-adaptation include better mood and better metabolism (especially with regard to the way the body handles sugar). There is even evidence to support the theory that cold adaptation –which can be achieved through open-water swimming – may actually reduce the overall risk of a heart attack.’
So when I got to Kentish Town Baths and saw this sign I ignored the groans and complaints from the ladies in the changing rooms, made some (probably annoying) very positive remarks, just thought ‘go for it’ and went for it, so a swim in cool water, followed by a properly cold shower. Crazy? Probably. But boy I didn’t suffer from any kind of afternoon slump today, and I’m well awake and raring to welcome home my just turned 11 year olds.
‘Mummy’ said my ten year old daughter (aka the Speedy Swimmer) ‘you need to get a job as otherwise you might lose your work self.’
Next week marks 7 months since I was made redundant, and four since I started the blog. It’s the perfect time to take stock. The Speedy Swimmer is absolutely right. I am itching to get going and get back into the workplace. The last ten days have been focused on contacting people, arranging meetings, booking onto courses and sending off applications. I am positively looking forward to January.
So whilst I might sometimes feel nostalgic for the job and the things I loved about it (and grrr every now and then still be a bit cross) I am channelling my enthusiasm for swimming, books, baking, people and communicating into making a new working life. I have been in limbo and now I am moving on. Rather than missing and wondering about the people I worked with I’m jolly well going to get in touch with them. I need to make new networks and new connections rather than harking on to myself about the old life.
The sun was shining, which pool to choose? Good intentions buzzing in my brain I caught the train mid-morning to London Fields to the glorious 50m lido there. There were 4 wide lanes in operation which means there’s plenty of room to overtake without bashing into other swimmers. I like the fact that the Very Fast Lane (their underlining) states no breaststroke. It was glorious. Proper sunshine glinting on the water and a nice temperature of c21’C found some swimmers in their bikinis.
Longer pools mean better rhythm. I find it much easier to lock into a rhythm in a big pool. Every time I get into a pool I turn my swimming engine on, but I sometimes struggle to keep in gear and end up ploughing through the water. Today, with a six strokes per breath cycle I quickly got into my stride gliding through the water.
My swim kit for today’s swim on a nearby bench. NB I was wearing a costume too, and the hat was much needed afterwards. Flip flops are essential, however strong the winter sun it never warms the pool surround and your feet get cold walking to and fro the changing rooms. Actually although the water was warm, and the poolside showers scorching hot, my hands stayed chilled for a couple of hours.
Today’s swim reminded me what a friendly sport outdoor swimming is. For some reason people are much chattier. I don’t mean in a standing around clogging up the shallow end gossiping way but in a smiling at people in the shower way and comparing notes on swims way. You’re pretty unlikely to strike up a conversation with the person next to you in an indoor changing room, whereas it’s a different story out of doors.
I got talking to one lady about her swimming hat, it was bright blue, with ‘WORLD’S BEST SWIMMER’ on it in white writing, with a line above saying ‘it’s not easy being the’…. and underneath ‘so let them enjoy it’. Cool present for a proper swimmer eh. Someone else was sporting a yellow ‘Dart 10k’ cap. I’ve met two other Dart 10k swimmers who run the consultancy Tinder Box and am slightly, actually no a lot, in awe of their swimming prowess.
I still think my ‘home’ lido at Parliament Hill has the edge for its shiny stainless steel casing, extra size, absence of rules and location, but after today’s swim this comes a close second in London. Both pools feature in Jenny Landreth’s excellent book about swimming in the capital ‘Swimming London’ – and she’s blogged about winter swimming events too.
I love, love, love swimming. I’ve been a fan of Gospel Oak lido for years – it’s a stainless steel-lined 60m x 27m temple to swimming. It’s walking or cycling distance from home, so when I left work the lido – and the sport – were the obvious things to focus my day on. I’ve swum in new places and made new friends – and swimming has been a fantastic way to shed the stress of being made redundant.
The photo above was take on day one – 14th May 2014. I shed the wetsuit 2 days later.
This year my outdoor swimming season spanned May to November, last week I reluctantly wimped out and moved indoors. I’ve packed away my essential lido bag of wetsuit, neoprene booties and gloves, thick hat, googles, thermos and tea kit. When the water temperature – it’s unheated – dips below 10’C I find I can’t swim for long or far enough for it to count as proper exercise. I’ve swum elsewhere too, and here are my top 5 outdoor swims of the season. I’d love to know yours as well! Another time I’ll dip into my favourite swimming books.
Gospel Oak Lido
I really used my membership to its max this summer – with 21 swims in June alone. The water temp maxed out at 24’C when the air was 29’C – it might have gone higher later but by that stage you can’t see the water let alone find space to spread a towel to sit on. Our ten year old twin daughter loves the water as much as me. She has grace, speed and superb technique – I don’t. My best swim of the year was without a doubt matching her stroke for stroke as we ploughed up and down side by side in September, her in a brand new long-sleeved wetsuit me just in my swimsuit.
I arrived in Fort William one July morning via the sleeper train from London Euston. With 2 hours to kill before the Fort William to Mallaig train departed what could I do? I took a wander along the shores of the loch. How inviting the water looked; crystal clear and fresh. Did I have a towel on me? No. Did I have my costume? Yes. What was stopping me from having a quick dip? Nothing. So in I went, for my first Scottish swim of the decade. Bliss.
Isle of Eigg
I spent 2 nights with a friend on the Isle of Eigg. We stayed in a B&B www.lageorna.co.uk run by the extremely good cook, and very hospitable Sue Kirk, half a mile from a beautiful beach. I swam before breakfast and supper – and if I could’ve swum more I would have. The water was warm, almost balmy, thanks to the Gulf Stream. The sun was so slow to set and cast a silvery spell over the water. On my last evening swim I went back in three times, loath to leave its magic.
River Thames, Pangbourne
Three adults, four children and one enthusiastic black Labrador got the urge to swim. So off we went, OS map in hand, to find the perfect spot. We tentatively waded in and swam back and forth across the balmy water, chatting to various boat owners or captains who invariably raised their glasses and told us we were mad. Such fun, and a real highlight of our summer.
I’m not revealing the exact location of this beach, but it’s near Sewerby which is a couple of miles from Bridlington. Fine golden sand is exposed at low tide, whilst at high tide you step over milky white pieces of chalky rock. The water has always been calm in August, and you swim out to the headland then dash back in time to pick up fish and chips. Perfect.