Ultimate solution for my cold water swimming – a humungous Dryrobe

Swimming in Crete the water was I think a steady 22’C. Back in reality in London the temperature at the lido is hovering around 11-12’C. Swimming in unheated waters under blue skies gives the biggest high, the rosiest glow and the most euphoric feelings, but it also heralds cold hands, even colder feet and the battle to get warm and get dressed as fast as possible. There comes a time when visits to the lido cease to be proper exercise and the value switches to a pure mental kick; I go there now solely endorphin rush. And because I can.

Sunday was a dull dank day. A post holiday in the sun kind of damp day with wispy bits of fog in the air. Not one of those glorious autumn days with sun streaming through the leaves. The water did not look enticing. Temperature was a steady 12’C. All the better then for trying out my new secret weapon against the cold – a giant Dryrobe. This is a piece of clothing, a hooded cloak, with a fleecey, wool-like lining which you put on the minute you get out.

I rolled the robe up and shoved it into a rucksack. A decent sized rucksack, so much so it looked a bit like I was embarking on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, complete of course with thermos and mug.

There’s nothing discrete about this as an item of clothing, it’s enormous, big enough to keep on and change underneath. I felt a bit of a wuss as I walked past the 20 or so swimmers – none of whom were sporting wetsuits – clutching my enormous robe.

I did my 20 lengths, got out of the water, as ever a bit wobbly slipping my feet into flipflops and then oh golly, I put it on and was completely enveloped by it. I realised as I put my trousers on that my back and shoulders were warm. No more avoiding the man spreaders in the sauna, clearly all I need is my trusty new piece of kit to warm me up.

The difference between my last two lido swims – and the past half dozen – is that when I left the lido building I was warm. No need for a jog, and no sign of chattering teeth. I left with such a spring in my step I started thinking of swimming through to December, into the New Year and beyond, safe in the knowledge my waterproof duvet would be waiting to envelope me poolside…

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The scene at lunchtime today – taken whilst sporting my new kit

 

The DryRobe was given to me very kindly by Simply Swim UK. They’d spotted I’m doing the Aspire Channel Swim and offered me a piece of kit to test drive. I’m particularly grateful to them for it as I embark on the last few miles – and lengths – of my challenge.

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Scores on the doors are heading South

 

19.5 miles on the milometer for my outdoors Aspire Channel Swim

11’C down goes the temperature and up goes the distance I’ve swum. 19.5 miles! So that leaves a mere 2.5 miles to swim in the unheated waters of Parliament Hill Lido.

I have embraced a new technique:

  1. Swim
  2. 3 minute sauna (during which my face starts to swell, I suppose a classic reaction to being immersed in cold and then seriously hot environments, it’s a bit disconcerting as lips come back to life but it does the trick in just 3 minutes)
  3. Fumbling change and cup of tea in the changing room
  4. Stumble / jog up and down and around the Heath for 20 minutes

    Parliament Hill Lido on Thursday
    Parliament Hill Lido on Thursday

During the jog feeling returns to my feet. On Thursday this all went very smoothly, and I felt rather smug as I got home fully warm and ready for the next part of the day. Yesterday, Friday, the air temperature was 11’C, not 15′ as the day before, and I felt a brand new sensation as I started off on my jog. My teeth were chattering, chatter chatter plod plod chatter chatter plod plod. I was wearing FOUR long sleeved layers, my woolly hat and gloves. I didn’t take a single layer off til I got home.

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But I felt AMAZING ALL DAY LONG and hey that was worth half a length trying to conquer the loud chimp in my head shouting ‘OMG IT’S COLD OMG YOU’RE MAD OMG THIS IS YOUR LAST TIME’.

I’m definitely going to crack this, it’s going to take more trips swimming shorter distances and longer and faster jogs to warm up afterwards. It’s going to be more of a challenge as I’ve a break from the lido, and then a change in working patterns, but hey I’ve the whole of November and a week of December to nail this.

I’d you’d like to sponsor me, perhaps £11 to match the temperature I’d be so grateful. I’m taking part in the Aspire charity swim to swim the distance across the English Channel in support of the work they do to help stroke victims. Thank you very much.

Light sifting through the trees on the way to the top of Parliament Hill
Light sifting through the trees on the way to the top of Parliament Hill

Man spreading in the lido sauna, giggling and clocking up metres on my Aspire Channel Swim

Tonight it is pouring, absolutely pouring with rain. But yesterday I went swimming with my friend. It’s the first time I’ve swum with a buddy at Parliament Hill during my Aspire Channel Swim and it was the best fun in ages. We were at uni together, where she played hockey to a very high standard and I rowed to a very low standard. Any swimming was confined to the City Baths, which were periodically flooded by the River Wear, or the pool at Durham School.

We arranged to meet at Parliament Hill Lido. She had travelled half way across London and I had 2 miles to cycle and was late (slow puncture + phone call + pedestrian speed cycling = poor excuses). I found her in the shower area, clad in swim suit, 2 swim hats, gazing up at the small radiant heater. Cue some giggling and a very quick change on my behalf, me thinking, it’s completely crazy to subject someone else to this but I can see we are going to have a very good morning.

She’d brought her wetsuit. So to suit-up or to ‘skins’ it? I lowered myself in, acknowledging and accepting and getting on with the cool temperature, and left her to make her own decision. In she got, out she got. Over she went to put her wetsuit on. Back she came, without wetsuit, and off we set together. We’d had a brief chat about it being a bit nippy, and agreed to get out if it started feeling warm. She is a Very Fit Athlete (ie hill running rather than pavement plodding). I am not. But I have added insulation, which she does not. We’d originally said we’d do a mile together, but with the water temperature at a notsohotso 12’C agreed we’d just see how we got on. We also agreed the swim would involve:

swim + sauna + cuppa tea in changing room + hot lunch in cafe

After a bit she said she was feeling a tad wobbly, so got out and went straight to the sauna. I swam a bit more, then started panicking about a) etiquette – is it ok to ditch your mate in the sauna whilst you swim, and not check they’re ok? b) distance still to be covered.

So I clocked up 16 lengths and jumped out and into the sauna. I have never set foot in the funny wooden structure by the water’s edge – more fool me eh. I opened the door and was met by a fine array of man spreaders, OMG, honestly! Much much worse than the tube I promise. And there right in the corner was my lovely friend. I took one look at her, another at the man spreaders, and started giggling, very loudly. She started talking, and giggling, about 19 to the dozen. I do not know what the man spreaders thought. I just thought they could have given us a bit more space so that my chilly thighs didn’t have to stick to her hot ones. After a lot more loud giggling I realised my neck was on fire, so we shot off to have our cuppa teas from my thermos.

If I’ve made you chortle at all please do think of donating – perhaps your #FirstFiver – to my challenge, thank you very much.

I’ve included the two short but very memorable swims at Clevedon Marine Lake and Portishead Lido in my Aspire Channel Swim total. Both of those involved giggling, mainly as we tried to execute some legs-in-the-air-like-we-don’t-care synchro swimming moves…

17.4 miles down – 4.6 to go!

Let me know if you know anyone doing their entire Aspire swim outdoors, so far I’ve discovered one lady who’s doing as much as she can outside

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Post swim reading on a sunny day last month with my 2 toning swim caps

Conquering 13’C and losing all feeling in my toes – swimming outside for Aspire

So today I took on Cold Water Swimming for the next stage of my Aspire Channel Swim Challenge. There’s a very big difference between swimming a mile or two in water that’s a balmy 21’C (1st September), 16′ (1st October) and water that’s hovering around 13’C, as it was today, but hey France is almost in sight.

Mid way through this challenge to swim the length of the Channel I decided to do it all outside. Before half term. Hmmm. That was when it was a bit warmer, when we were basking in our Indian Summer. Now the idea of doing a mile in rapidly cooling water 4 times a week is not quite so achievable, feasible or sensible.

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You have to pack a load more gear in your cycle swim pannier, and a whole different attitude when embracing water under 14’C. Cue adding an old favourite to my Winter Season Hat Collection. Yes, it’s a knitted number which my mum made for me to take on a Geography field trip some several decades ago. I asked for one which would show up if I attempted to climb Snowdon, and red was my favourite colour. I think I should dedicate this post to the football coach who clocked me with said hat + cycle helmet wedged onto my wet hair, and then looked a second time as he couldn’t quite believe someone could wear a hat like that, under a helmet… perhaps I should have asked him to sponsor me. Into the pannier goes the mug, tea bag, tiny milk jar and thermos for the essential post swim cuppa. In too goes the rash vest. I lost last year’s – durr – and the new one has the kind of snug fit you’d opt for if you wanted to minimise your bust. It does a good job at both warming me up and flattening my chest.

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Now to attitude. I know it’s going to be cold. I’m not stupid. But I also know I can manage this. Last winter I swam through in skins – so no wet suit, boots or gloves – til 6’C. I know I need to recognise the signs of hypothermia (slowing down, starting to feel nice and warm) and head out very sharply if they appear. So it’s a case of acknowledging, accepting, and getting on with it. It’s very much what Prof Steve Peters talks about in his book The Chimp Paradox.

I clocked up 20 lengths = 1.2km, not a mile, but a fair decent swim. I’ve ditched the post swim shower as warm ones make me cold, and cold ones don’t seem worth the effort, so it’s a swift stumble along to the cubicle to fumble with the thermos and my clothes. And then the reward of a post swim catch with fellow hardy swimmers under the glow of the electric heater.

I regained the feeling in my toes about an hour later, otherwise all was fine and I’m now up to 16.8 miles – every yard and metre of which has been swum outside – at Parliament Hill Lido – with guest swims at Portishead Lido and Clevedon Marine Lake.

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12 noon at Parliament Hill Lido, Hampstead Heath

 

 

I’ve signed up to swim the length of the English Channel 22 miles in aid of Aspire. Why?

So why have I signed up to swim the length of the English Channel, 22 miles, in 12 weeks?

It’s a new challenge – and I like challenges

This one really caught my eye. I LOVE SWIMMING.

Aspire is a very special charity – it helps people paralysed by spinal cord injury. It gives them practical assistance, advice and support from injury to independence. There is currently no cure for spinal injury.

And they even filmed part of their enticing video at Parliament Hill Lido.

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Parliament Hill Lido – where I’m hoping to swim much of my 22 miles

The Paralympics have just opened in Rio – and I’m being reminded how awesome our Paralympians are, and how many of the athletes have come back from terrible life changing injuries or paralysis and put their determination and talents to amazing use.

I’d like to achieve something big in the pool this year and have extra impetus to swim regularly through the winter

I will never, ever, swim the English Channel* 

I want to get into shape and look and feel on top form

I am a very lucky person, and sometimes that needs to be celebrated with a marker and a milestone – I can swim, I live close to London’s most beautiful shiny bottomed Parliament Hill Lido and a host of other pools, I am able bodied, I have the most motivating and supportive of husbands and 12 year old twins egging me on, and a flexible-ish work schedule – plus the desire to do this.

For my daddy – Some years ago my daddy was struck very low by a very serious illness. Part of his rehabilitation, which involved learning to walk again, also entailed water and access to special swimming sessions. So I am also doing this in recognition, and thanks, for the teams of medics at The Royal Berks Hospital intensive care unit who gave him back to us, the physios and carers at Linden Hill who run such brilliant water therapy sessions, and the lifeguards and staff at Wantage Rec Centre where he and mummy swam on Monday nights. This challenge from Aspire has reminded me how fortunate we were all those years ago.

*I have promised my 12 year old daughter I won’t. So I won’t. For now. And probably not for ever.

If you’d like to support Aspire and my challenge please may I ask you to head over to my Just Giving page. Or if you fancy taking on this quest to swim the English Channel in your local pool sign up here.

Thank you as ever for reading.

 

So how was the 5.25am start for you? Feeding the 12 year old swimmer.

The alarm went at 5.25am. When it was dark. It was almost the middle of the night. I jumped out of bed, careful – just – not to fall over in that semi crazed comatose post-alarm-I-must-leap-up-straight-away state. I donned clothes, dashed up to check the swimmer was awake and down to make tea and toast. Not much thought , I must admit, went into how to fuel the 12 year old swimmer before her first ever early morning training session – that’s 6am – 7.30am, but I thought brown toast and a lot of jam with a glass of water could do the trick. It’s hard at that time, none of us really want to eat when we’re pretty much asleep.

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7.01am at Parliament Hill Fields Lido

We left the house and got to the pool at 5.50. By now both of us were strangely quite excited, perhaps at the newness of the situation; it may well not feel such a game in January. I drove back home, slid back into bed fully clothed and wondered what to do. 15 minutes later I was out again, and on my bike to Parliament Hill Fields lido on Hampstead Heath. If she was getting her exercise in, surely that’s what I should be doing too.

In the early mornings the lido is for width swimming only; it’s busy with swimmers ploughing up and down motorway style. But oh, you glance to the east and are rewarded with the sun emerging above the mansion block and its light glinting on the water. At bang on 7.30am the lane rope is tied onto the deck and everyone switches to swimming lengths.

Today, I got back home to be able to greet the swimmer with a pile of toast and a large banana milkshake. Next Friday will be that much more complicated, with school uniform needing to be crammed into her kit bag, a full breakfast on wheels catering service to fuel her through til lunchtime to be provided and then a dash to catch the 0811 from Finsbury Park.

The swimmer and I have been thinking about nutrition. Boy do you have to tread carefully, I really do want to do my best to give her the right things at the right time but it’s not straightforward. She needs to eat. She has wanted to eat yummy sweet things. I don’t want to over-egg the situation and tell her not to eat things or to eat other things.

But after a year of munching a cereal bar in the car and eating sweet things (cake, gutsy carb loaded puddings and banana milkshakes) when she gets back from her evening swims she’s asked for something healthier. By the time she gets back from the pool (normally 9.45pm ish) I want to go to bed not conjure up chicken breasts and broccoli (not that I think she’d go for that combo at 9.45pm).

I don’t like cereal bars, I think they’re just sweet chewy cardboard, but we should have shares in them we’ve got through so many. I’m invested instead in a heap of new ingredients and am poised to bake Nigella Lawson’s breakfast bars I’m also going to try the granola bars over on Smitten Kitchen – with thanks to my friends Vicky and Stephanie for the suggestions.

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What I’m not so sure about though is making sure she gets enough carbs after school, and protein after training. Please lovely blog readers do share your secrets and tips of how to fill a growing 12 year old – and her growing footballing and running 12 year old twin brother – with the right foods at the right time whilst holding down a job (and a life). Send me a tweet or post a reply, I’d be so grateful. Thanks for reading.

First challenge of the year; join me swimming to Pells Pool in Lewes?

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Floaty jellyfish like installation above Oxford Street

 

I have been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on this year. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. Back in September I set myself the goal of swimming outside at the lido, without a wetsuit, for as long as I could into the winter. I thought I’d don a rash vest, but I didn’t. We were blessed with a bizarrely warm end to the year, which helped no end, and it was really exhilarating to enjoy swims on both Christmas Eve (10’C water) and New Year’s Day (8’C water). The video is proof of my 1.1.2016 swim 

The temperatures are now back at more seasonal level, so water around 4-5’C and I am just not sure about that, so for now I’ve moved inside to Kentish Town. It’s a beautiful Victorian pool, 30m long, with windows on the sloping roof through which you can see blue sky and sometimes vapour trails. They keep it cool, and when possible it’s lit just by natural light. It’s not a patch on a lido though… today the pool was evacuated for a false alarm, someone dropped their lunchtime soup in the changing room, splat, and rather than clear it up themselves left it there, and the chemical cocktail in the water gave me a very ruddy, stingy face. But I clocked up 1.2km.

Since the new year I’ve been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. My uber sporty friend suggested a race; knowing I’m a solitary swimmer she thought a distance challenge might work. So, something like swimming the Channel (21 miles according to the Channel Swimming Association), or swimming across the Solent (mile and a quarter), and asking others if they’d like to join me with us regularly clocking in to update distances swum to date. I then got carried away. Pells Pool in Lewes is top of my list of lidos I’d like to swim in this year. I checked out the route on the AA Route Planner. It’s 94.9 miles / 152.7km away from my home! Imagine, though, I could swim the distance there AND swim in it too. That’s the equivalent of 5090 lengths of the pool at Kentish Town. Here’s Pells – doesn’t it look gorgeous? (Photo credit @PellsPool)

Pells Lido 2015

Is there a pool you’d like to swim to this season – and then swim in? Please do let me know if you’d like to join the challenge. I’m going to get drawing and do a lido-ometer with some other distances-to-lidos marked up along the way. If I do this metaphorically I can first swim to London Fields Lido, on to Hampton lido, out to Charlton Lido, perhaps with an honourable diversion inside to the London Aquatics Centre as it’s such a special pool to visit, and then it’ll be smooth journey south to Pells. Once I’m there I could head north out of London up the A1 to Ilkley Lido – scene of a top 2015 family day out – that’d be a total of 11,206 30m lengths.

I’ve always been a bit envious of some of the swimming hats at the lido – particularly the pink one with ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ on it. Mind boggling, I think the lady is a Channel swimmer. So perhaps through this I can earn myself a special ‘I’ve swum to Pells Pool’ hat…

Will you join me on my challenge? Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @loveswimming

(Pells 5090 – 40 = 5050 to go!)