Have you ever watched a group of people doing something that looks a bit fun, but it seems completely out of your comfort zone? Have you ever said the words: I wish I could be like that? And had thoughts like: they are having so much fun, but I haven’t done that before so I don’t know what it’s like, or I’m not that type of person and maybe I’ll just make a fool of myself and people will judge me?
Ultimately justifying to yourself all of the reasons why you couldn’t possibly do that thing, completely talking yourself out of it and then missing out on the experience altogether?
Up until this year that was me with wild swimming. In fact, up until a few years ago that was my internal dialogue for a lot of things! I loved swimming as a child, but I have always associated wild swimming with being mega fit and doing triathlons and races while wearing wetsuits and goggles and therefore, due to various (some ridiculous) insecurities, absolutely not for me.
Then a friend of mine started posting regular photos of her with a group of women of all shapes, sizes and ages who looked extremely happy having just been for a leisurely swim in the local river, in all different weathers. I observed these photos for quite a while, at a safe distance, in my nice warm home. However, something seemed very appealing. I think it was their happy, peaceful smiles and that they were experiencing sunrises and cups of tea sat next to beautiful rivers lined with trees. But where and how to start? On the backburner it went. Maybe one day…when I’m fitter, less busy and more confident.
Then in February, social media told me about a March Challenge to raise money for Cancer Research. A COLD WATER challenge where you had to spend at least 30 seconds in cold water every day in March. So because I’m now a little more familiar with my internal (less than helpful) fear voice and I’m now a lot more comfortable with feelings of discomfort, I dismissed the ‘not good enough to do that’ dialogue and signed up within about 30 seconds. I told the Facebook world to make it official and was immediately messaged by various friends. Some already swam and offered advice or offered themselves up as swim buddies.
Other friends equally wanting to give it a go, also offered to be a swimming companion! I also had messages from friends saying they couldn’t think of anything worse. Most importantly, it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who had been admiring these wild swimmers from afar! Finally, doing it for charity gave me the reason I needed.
March arrived and I found myself at sunset standing by the side of a quiet river in a rather fetching outfit of wetsuit, boots, gloves, swimsuit and a bobble hat. Standing alongside many of those ladies whose swimming experience I’d been coveting from afar. I magically fell instantly in love with wild swimming.
In the beginning it was definitely more of a wild in-and-out as quickly as possible, with lots of just focusing on breathing rather than actually swimming. The water was unbelievably cold at around 7-8 degrees celsius! Other (more experienced) wild swimmers kept saying that I was brave to start in March and since experiencing wild swimming across the different seasons, I understand this!
The big shock for me though (over and above the extreme cold) was a physical feeling that until that day, I had no idea existed. It’s a cold water buzz, tingle, and high that’s completely unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. The feeling afterwards that fills my whole body, is one of feeling alive; a kind of zesty energy that stays with me for hours afterwards. And it’s not just me. This feeling is talked about by everyone who has given it a go! And now, in the summer months with the water at a balmy 18 degrees or above, I’m very much missing the cold winter tingle!
There’s science attached to this that I’ve later found out about. The deep breathing (which is a necessity when you first get in) and the dopamine, serotonin and endorphin release, is an instant mood reset. Also, the release of the short-term stress hormones released as your body asks “what on earth are you doing to me?” is proven to boost immunity. My energy levels for the rest of the day increase massively. Plus all of the other benefits from being part of a community of like-minded women who are all feeling the same kind of thing. Doing something like this together is really special!
So I’d say be safe and go with others, as there’s lots of local groups around. Research what you need to take and remember that it’s important to be visible whilst in the water so I’d recommend a tow float and a bright hat. Be prepared to take the exposure to the cold slowly- there is genuinely no competition to be had. Remember to breathe (you’ll know what I mean when you go the first time!) and have a plan to get warm quickly afterwards. I like to put my socks next to a hot water bottle and have a flask of warm tea on hand. There is plenty of additional advice to be had amongst the online wild swimming groups and the community is incredibly supportive, very kind and very welcoming!
We really are blessed to live where we live in Norfolk, so close to such beautiful rivers and the sea. I have found this to be such a wonderful new way of experiencing them.
So as much as I’m enjoying the warm summer dips with the children, I cannot wait for the cold peaceful mornings again and the physical and mental buzz that comes with a few minutes of cold, wild swimming.
Blog by – Hayley Bedington, The Stable Space