By: Blonde Two

In the winter the phrases ‘outdoor swimming’ and ‘wild swimming’, which apparently each have different connotations whose nuances I am yet to comprehend, can both be hastily bundled into the single phrase, ‘cold water swimming’. Whether your preference is to wade into the waves, rush into a river or plunge into a pool, the chances are, unless you are at one of the UK’s heated lidos, that the water is going to be cold.

‘Cold’ is obviously a relative term. When my swimming friends and I emerge, glowing, from the sea, the question we are most often asked by bewildered onlookers is, ‘Was it cold?’ The answer is, perhaps, obvious, but the truth is that it is sometimes leaving the sea that feels the coldest. Here is my Blonde (and not at all scientific) 6 stages of cold water swimming.

1. Entering Cold Water
No matter how much you are looking forward to your swim, the entry of your warm (and previously well-wrapped) body into cold water will leave you gasping (that is science) and (if you are me) uttering a few gentle expletives. I recently conducted a little experiment (not science) and discovered that I don’t swear upon entry when I swim alone. This must be related to the tree/fall/sound/nobody/there/woods thing.

2. Arm Flapping
After immersion in cold water, you are supposed to give your body a moment or two to adjust before you actually start swimming. My body doesn’t do this very well and, almost as soon as I enter the water, begins a strange maniacal arm stroke, something akin to breast stroke but with the elbows tucked in. It does this even if I am standing up and must look quite peculiar.

3. Head Up Swimming
Once your brain has adjusted to the fact that you are,
a) In very cold water
b) Not in danger of dying
You can start to do some actual swimming. For me, this is usually head-well-up breast stroke, which gains me some amount of distance and allows me to chat to other people (and therefore convince myself that what I am doing is normal) but doesn’t feel comfortable or efficient.

4. Head In Swimming
This starts gradually. Your first dip of the head is usually brief and resultant in the dreaded pain ‘ice-cream head’. If you are wearing a neoprene hat and persist with putting your head in the water, the hat eventually does its job and the ice-cream head goes away (I imagine it melts). Once you have got used to it, swimming with your head under cold water is a joy. You can zip along and almost all of your body is out of the wind.

5. The Ready Brek Glow
You have to be a certain age to remember the Ready Brek glow adverts in which the children develop a warm, fuzzy orange aura around them upon eating the correct breakfast cereal. Well our mums’ could all have saved their money because if you stay in cold water long enough you get exactly the same glow, your body becomes oddly warm, as though there is a layer of heat travelling with you as you swim. There isn’t, you are not warm, you are too cold and, sadly, it is time to get out.

6. Exiting Cold Water
You would imagine that finishing your outdoor swim and emerging from the water would be something of a relief. You are refreshed, glowing and ready to face the day. Except that the instant any part of your skin departs the watery realm and enters the airy one, you realise that the combined effect of winter air and winter wind are far colder on your wet skin than the water itself. The trick is to stay under the water as long as possible, even if this means dragging yourself along the sand with your arms. Cold concrete, at this point, is your enemy and you will need a mat to stand on.