100 words for snow

The innuit may have 100 words for snow; we cant be far away with numbers of words for sea! Swimming in the sea is awesome, every day its different, its alive, from easy to fighting for survival, there’s something for everyone!

First comes the flat calm, the glass, the swim through the giant mirror. Doesn’t happen very often but its great, peaceful and tranquil. Does bring the jellies to the surface tho!

Next is just your bog standard sea state, pretty flat, pretty smooth swimming.

Somewhere after this comes the swell. Large rolling mounds of water that move like a giant sine wave, lifing you up one side and down the other. Its fun. All of a sudden its three dimensional swimming; sometimes wish the garmin recorded elevation gain on these days!

After smooth you start getting into the waves, the peelers; easy to duck dive under…but grab your tow float and drag you in to the shore!

The dumpers that land on you like a ton of bricks and pound the breathe out of you!

The spillers, rolling breakers the wind doesnt hold up, messy, cant go over, can go under…until they grab your tow float and roll you around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chop. Yuk. On an easterly wind we tend to get chop. Little rolling waves, breaking in places, solid in places, unpredictable, hard to get into a rhythm, rolling you over and turning you round. Head down crack on! When the wind direction is just quite right, we get an interesting effect of the waves bouncing off the sea wall and the pier and superpose, turning into almost a diamond pattern of peaks and troughs. This is horrible, almost un-swimmable and almost not worth going in for.

 

The washing machine! Big, rough, knarly, waves smashing in from all angles, rocking, rolling; its a fight! This is fun. This makes you get out with a big smile on your face!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The washing machine increase in size and power as the wind comes up, through the forces until you get to storm. Storm starts to get worrying; this is where you need 100% confidence in what you are going to go for. If there’s a doubt; don’t. The bigger in gets the more you get judged from the shore; little do they know how alive it makes you feel, wrestling with an angry sea!

At a point, storm becomes un-swimmable. Mother nature wins, accept it, go home, live to fight another day…or at least run away to an enclosed, sheltered spot…;)

 

Night Swims!

So its winter, the mornings are dark, the evenings are dark. Its not like that would stop you riding a bike or running…so why would it stop you swimming?!

The first time I swam in the dark was an event in a lake, 1500 I think. Every swimmer had a glow stick and the turn buoys were all lit up. Seemed a bit wrong getting into a pitch black lake…but it was awesome! The turn buoys were rubbish; you could barely see them but the night in question had a really bright full moon which made sighting epic!

Night lake swim

Last winter was my first full outdoor winter…and night swimming was a necessity. First time I went in was with Ros; she turned up and swam with a head torch. Not for the first time I thought she was nuts…but it worked! I went for a bike light in the tow float, which lit the whole thing up and was pretty effective. 

Moody early morning swim!

Some of the early morning swims when the sun comes up have really been epic; it is 100% THE best start to a day! Its a different experience from swimming in the light, just head down and swim. Sighting doesn’t really matter, cos you cant see anything, avoiding waves and things in the water doesn’t matter; you can usually hear the breaking waves but you don’t know where they are until they hit you! Even your stroke doesn’t matter too much as you cant gauge speed; its almost irrelevant.

Mention open water swimming to people, they tend to think you’re nuts. Mention you are going in in winter, they think you are crazy. Mention you are going in the winter, skins, in the dark…generally they seem to be horrified and think you are going to die. Comfort zones again…but I don’t see anything wrong with it. These days we always tend to swim with lit up buoys and flashing lights on our goggles to let any boats see us (not that there are any out at that time of day!). Also really important off a beach to put a light next to your clothes bags too to guide you back to your warm towel! Slightly concerned that one day someone will see the tow floats and call the coastguard…but the same worry goes for our big daytime coastal swims too.

Any outdoor swims you have to be confident in what you are doing and your ability; if you aren’t, don’t go in. No exceptions. Big fan of a Plan B…C and D. For every swim, not just the dark ones I carry a phone, an electronic flare and a personal locator beacon in my tow float just in case…

Suit to skins

Two years ago I was a triathlete. Swimming without a wetsuit was a ridiculous notion. Wetsuit is faster and warmer, why wouldn’t you? Now I’m a swimmer. I hate wearing a wetsuit. Ever.

First time I swam without, maybe two years ago, was a bit of an eye opener. I didn’t die….but I couldn’t swim. Wetsuit gives you so much extra bouyancy, your body is in a very high position and you are naturally faster…even with poor technique. It makes you lazy, like the triathletes other favourite toy, pull buoy and bouyancy shorts. Numbers were rubbish…but it was strangely exhilarating!

Almost a year ago I signed up for the channel, CSA rules; one pair of speedos, pair of goggle and one hat. The neoprene had to go. I think it probably took me six months effort to loose the pull buoy and floaty pants after becoming a slave to them in the pool. My swimming went to pot. A triathlete relies on numbers; mine were rubbish. 5s per hundred slower probably on average. I stuck with it and as my body learnt how to hold itself in the water, my times started dropping.

Next challenge was the cold. You don’t tend to carry much body fat as an Ironman and I was no exception! Those first few skin swims were short. As the summer went on I built up the time and the distance. Last winter I swam all the way through, no wetsuit. As the temperature drops, the swim length drops and its incredibly important to learn the signs of when its time to get out and how to warm yourself back up afterwards!

Fast forward to today and all but the hardiest triathletes have now ditched open water swimming for the winter. For them there’s no real point, you wont gain anything from ten degrees, they wont be racing in it….which I think is why you get the looks, and the comments! That’s half the fun if I’m honest! The video below got taken the other day; I did have a good laugh at some of the comments posted online! Thing is my body is now pretty well acclimatised and conditioned to it and the temperature at the moment (11 in the sea) really isn’t a problem (for the distances we are swimming).

Yesterday I raced the first cold swim event of the year, 550m in 9 degrees. The event is pretty relaxed and lets people wear whatever they are comfortable in, its just there to promote winter swimming.  I’m a firm believer you need to do what you need to do, forget what everyone else is doing; I started next to a guy in a full wetsuit, gloves, boots and a hood, I was wearing a jazzy new pair of budgies and a hat. Bit of a tingle all over when we got in but nothing to stop me putting my face in the water and swimming hard from the get go, dropped the wetsuiter at the second turn and didn’t look back; really pleased with the pace and I was first out the water! Real sense of achievement in the shed afterwards where everyone had their certificates and medals presented; for some it was their first winter swim, for others it was the same feeling I had after my first swim; happy to still be alive!

First swimmer back to the beach! Water 9.1degs

On the way home we hit up Clevedon marine lake for 2km at ten degrees. The cold was starting to soak in after half an hour and I did have a good shiver afterwards…but nothing too drastic. The real cold is however coming and then the game changes significantly…

Clevedon Marine Lake; water 10.4degs, 2km swum

Off The Slip?

I live in the sleepy Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl on the Bristol Channel. Our house is the last one on solid ground before the sand dunes start. When the tide is right, this is the question that pops up on my phone.

Anyone in for a swim?

yep.

Off the slip?

Yep.

Sun, rain, shine, wind, hail, snow, ice, early late, dark; question is the same…and almost always, so is the answer!

As a kid I swam a lot and had a reputation for shivering and vomiting. By the age of 12 I’d done just about every badge I could and drifted away from swimming. In my early 30’s I took up triathlon, and took swimming back up again! After 3 Ironmans I got injured and started hitting the swimming really, really hard to make up for the lack of bike and run. I discovered I didn’t need a wetsuit, I discovered I could go quite long, and I discovered I really quite enjoyed it!

This year I have swum a 12 mile pool swim, the channel as a relay, and swam for 8 hours (and about 16miles) in Loch Lomond. Its now November and we are still swimming everyday off the slip, in just our speedos.

Next year is the biggy, 24mile pool swim, English Channel solo. The blog is here to record the ups and downs of the next ten months and see where the journey goes!