‘It was cold but pleasant. I have bathed so often as to lose my dread of the operation which now gives me nothing but animation and vigour.’ The words of the diarist Fanny Burney of her 6am sea swim in... November 1782.
More recently, I remember being intrigued by a BBC article regarding the potential health benefits of cold water or open water swimming – an improved state of mental health, an improvement in immunity and metabolism, a reduction in stress, and a sense of exhilaration and euphoria.
So when my younger daughter’s swimming club invited squad members to an open water competition, I immediately suggested a practice swim at Milton Country Park. My next thought was whether we’d need wetsuits. While the water temperature in Cambridge’s indoor Parkside Pool is an almost tropical 28°C, the Milton Country Park website confirmed a temperature of 18.2°C, surprisingly warmer than the outdoor Cambridge Lido, where I struggle to jump in on a very hot day in July and where it’s currently 14.5°C. Wetsuits would be essential!
On a glorious Friday evening ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend we ‘braved the cold’ of the lake at Milton. Was it cold? Actually no, thanks to my newly acquired ‘triathlon open water wetsuit’ and a large adrenalin surge. I did however find the sensation of brushing against the odd weed slightly unnerving and my leaking goggles were proving to be a hindrance.
The first 400m circuit was a struggle – more disorientating than exhilarating. Once ‘the swimmer’ suggested her Dad put on the goggles first and then the hat, the experience really improved. By circuit four, I’d worked out the correct breathing technique and understood the pace required to swim in open water. I also began to appreciate my surroundings – the sunlight penetrating the water, and where the water felt warmer or cooler.
After a 50-minute swim, I certainly felt invigorated. I also found I had serious kit envy . The Outdoor Swimming Society web site should take care of that though.
Will I be venturing towards more cold water? Absolutely! I have a rendezvous with the Jesus Green Lido this evening and the North Sea on Sunday.
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