Oxygen is overrated – Open Water Swimming Part 1

Oxygen is overrated

Oxygen is overrated….and so is being warm. Learning to swim was all very well but then the realisation hit that I was actually going to have to swim outside. In the sea. Or a lake. Somewhere where you can’t see the bottom and there are other things in there with you. And it’s not heated.

We arranged the date and picked a location (no wild swimming for us, but then who even knew that was even a thing?) an official open water swimming place in a lake about 40mins away. They had wetsuits for hire or buy and were very enthusiastic about us just showing up and getting in.

It didn’t even occur to me to be apprehensive until we were stood in the booking office. Then when I saw people in wetsuits walking up from the lake and leaving the changing rooms about to go out, I started to get very, very, very scared.

The sizing of wetsuits appears to be a mostly arbitrary thing (probably not really given some time and a lack of fear), they have size charts which correlate to height, weight and sometimes waist measurement but the brackets of measurement are sometimes large, sometimes overlap, it’s very confusing. Especially at 8am on a cold Saturday morning with cold dread fear in your stomach. In the end it was easily resolved because they only had 3 of the larger sized wetsuits left so we took those and they all fit fine. It wasn’t as hard to get it on as I thought. There is some pulling and shimmying but it’s not impossible.

Wet suited up, feeling a bit silly but then realising no-one was pointing and laughing at us, we were escorted by a friendly staff member down to the swim-off point (i.e. a pontoon) and given a bit of advice. Some of that advice even remained in my head , I’m sure there was more than these, sorry:

  • Wait for a bit in the water by the pontoon before swimming off and practice breathing out under water until you can breathe normally
  • Purposefully let some water in your wetsuit as soon as possible so your body heat starts to warm it up
  • Don’t worry about distance on your first try just get used to the sensation of swimming with a wetsuit on

There was a choice of going in via the steps or just sliding in off the edge of the pontoon. I chose the latter – I knew once my feet felt the cold they were going to go on strike and there was no way I was getting in otherwise. And before I could give myself the chance to say WTF am I doing here, I got in.

I lost all ability to swim, breathe, speak (apart from some hissed swearing) for a good few seconds. The cold is a physical shock! Then I gradually warmed up, the advice surfaced in my brain and I hyperventilated into the water for a while until I could semi-normally breathe again. My bare feet – Oh Lord. And my ears! Thankfully my hands didn’t feel too bad.

After a few minutes and some giggling, we set off for a buoy, part doggy paddling, part breast stroke, and something that resembled front crawl for very short bursts. The hardest thing with front crawl was persuading myself to put my already very cold face in the water and that the wetsuit makes you so buoyant your bottom keeps boinging up into the air which pushes your face in the water or you have to force your torso to go slightly banana shaped to keep your face out.

And – worse – putting my face in the water meant I got glimpses at what was under the water. It was incredibly clear so you could see all the lake weed and whatnot that was below you (and which occasionally, shudder, also brushed against your bare feet). Every time that happened, I am ashamed to admit I completely forgot how to swim again and doggy paddled/panicked/hyperventilated for a bit until I calmed down.

We swam (or an approximation of) back and forth for a bit then struck out around the lake loop that is marked out. Eventually I got into a rhythm of front crawl for 10 or 15 strokes, then breast stroke for the same. My breathing got more controlled, I decided to close my eyes when I put my face under the water to minimise the “weed-fear” and I remembered how to swim again. I even swam past a moorhen, which was surreal for both of us.

This is definitely going to take some practice. The water was 14 degrees apparently and presumably as its still only Spring, it will only get warmer and easier. Here’s hoping.

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