April 2017 – The sea waves goodbye to winter

My swimming pool subscription costs me £23.50 a month, which I don’t mind paying.  The swimming pool is definitely the safest place to learn to swim.  It is never too long, nor so wide that you are never more than a few metres away from land and mostly shallow enough to be able to stand on the bottom at most points if you really had to.  Navigation is never an issue in the pool, there are lines painted on the bottom to show you the way from one end to the other.  The water in the pool is often heated to be comfortable enough to swim in and is clear enough to see almost from one end to the other underwater with your goggles on.  The clarity of the water mean that you can see every part of your your stroke and technique and easily spot where you need to improve. There are chemicals in the pool that kill all the dreaded lurgy and viruses that could kill you and lifeguards to keep watch so that should you find yourself in trouble in the water there is someone there to quickly rescue you.  The pool is a safe place to learn to swim, so safe in fact that many swimmers will never swim anywhere other than the pool.  All of that makes it worth my £23.50 a month.  By contrast, the sea is free.

My first sea swim of the month was in the relatively warming, rolling waves off Formby beach in 7’C water and shore safety cover provided by the RNLI lifeguards and the family members from one of the swimming group.  Sea swimming is almost everything that the pool is not, so from the flat surface of the pool of April 1st to the face slapping chop of ocean waves on the 2nd was quite a change.  My techniques that work perfectly in the pool were struggling to find their form in the waves.  The people I was swimming with were very experienced with Ironman triathlons, ice miles and channel swims under their belt – basically watersports endurance athletes.  I felt privileged to be training alongside them.  A year ago I could not have imagined either swimming so far in such cold water or of swimming so competently alongside such people.  This was a good sign that I was making progress towards reaching my goal of the Winter Swimming World Championships in Estonia next year.

Every day in April I made sure that I did some form of exercise, for six days it was swimming and for the other day to give my swimming muscles rest I went for a five mile jog around my home town.  The swims took me all over the country, from lidos in London, lochs in Scotland, docks in Liverpool, tarns in Cumbria and meres near Manchester.  Though the water might be free to get in the petrol to get there was not and I noticed that my car mileage was going up sharply which no doubt will effect my insurance renewal when it comes up.  My car insurance comes with a blackbox tracker and they must think that I must be an amphibian by now as many of my journeys begin and end next to large masses of water!

I posted a lot of pictures from swims on my instagram account @i_swim_and_ice_swim and I noticed that a Swiss bottle company called Sigg were looking for product testers.  I asked if they’d let me loose with one and to my surprise they obliged and sent me a bottle to test (and keep) for free.  Their bottles reminded me of my first encounters with cold water swimming which had been in my teenage years when I got into outdoor sports.  When I was 14 my school had insisted that everyone my age went out and did a work experience placement.  My mum asked someone she knew at the local outdoor sports centre if they’d host me, and they agreed.  Though the placement was only a week long it got me hooked on outdoor sports, particularly watersports, and I volunteered every spare minute I had in the school holidays to work there. Though my interest was in becoming an instructor to earn my training I spent two thirds of my time helping on the housekeeping team, so I quickly learnt the skills of laundry, cooking, cleaning, ironing and washing up.  My mum was so pleased!  When I was 16 I arranged to spend one day a week out of school on ‘work experience’ at the centre and I began gaining the qualifications to become an instructor and all the safety training.  This involved swimming in lakes, scrambling up waterfalls and deliberately capsizing in harbours throughout the winter months and though wetsuited it did feel cold but it was always enormous amounts of fun.  The Sigg bottle was standard kit in that line of work, robust and reliable that could take a beating on the mountains and the seas and would not let you down.  Being tasked to test one of these bottles felt good and the bottle came with me wherever I went (I’ve posted the review here on the sidebar if you are interested).

My reading this month took me through a few adventures namely: Hell and High Water by Sean Conway, Man vs Ocean by Adam Walker and The man who swam the Amazon by Matthew Mohlke and Martin Strel.  Each of the books are about men who set swimming endurance records and overcame very difficult odds to achieve their feats.  They are good reads but none of them teach you anything about swimming technique.  Interestingly enough Adam Walker’s technique seems to be the Total Immersion method done very well.  The criticisms by SwimSmooth of methods taught in Total Immersion seemed lose validity when I see that they helped a novice swimmer become a record breaker.  Perhaps Roy Castle was right when it came to record breakers, it is not so much technique as dedication, dedication is what you need.  These swimmers were all dedicated to their ambitions and achieved them.  I am dedicated to my ambition to get to Estonia next year, not sure I’ll break any records though.

Having read all these books and swam with channel swimmers I considered myself in good company and as my Sigg flask was coming with me in the car on all my swims one of my swimming friends asked me “Does it float?”  Knowing the reliability of bottle from my younger days my response to simply throw it into the lake to see.  The answer was “yes” as it bobbed horizontally on it’s side and then washed up to shore a few moments later without a scratch and my tea inside just as warm and fresh as ever.  I would have to develop my testing of the bottle further.

By the end of April I felt confident that I had developed my stroke adequately, that I had found the right fix for me regarding swimming caps and ear plugs and increasingly I was no longer shivering when I got out of the water.  I wasn’t consciously suppressing any shivers, I was just not feeling cold in the water or whilst getting out of the water anymore.  My final swim of the month was back at Formby, the water temperature had jumped to 13’C and I was comfortably managing 2km distances and over an hour in the water.  However, on that particular swim I did shiver a lot as the air temperature was only 12’C in the shade and I was stood around waiting for others to finish their swims, which is an occupational hazard with endurance swimmers, they can just keep going and going.  I remember looking out across the bay and a fellow swimmer on the beach in his wetsuit said to me “Did you know that the open water competition season starts next month? ” I looked at him almost in disbelief “You want to get yourself a wetsuit, far too cold to be swimming without one, eh”.  With that he ran off and went into the waves for his swim.  I thought to myself ‘Aye, I guess I can wave goodbye to the winter now’.

Books of the month are:

The man who swam the Amazon by Matthew Mohlke and Martin Strel available from http://www.wordery.com

Man vs Ocean by Adam Walker available from http://www.oceanwalkeruk.com

Hell and Highwater by Sean Conway available from http://www.seanconway.com/



March 2017 – Warming up to the idea

By March the average outdoor water temperature was beginning to creep up again and so it was becoming easier and more pleasant to spend more time in the water, particularly as the days were also beginning to get longer.  Night swimming, like ice swimming, is not recommended but it is fantastic fun and for people who work the normal Monday to Friday in office hours, the only option available.  It’s not something to ever do on your own though.

In the pool I was really coming on leaps and bounds and beginning to hold my own pace wise with people whose technique and speed I had always envied and never been able to emulate.  Of the training programme that I had started in January of four 2km sessions a week in it’s schedule, I could now do the first two weeks of that schedule and all the different drills and exercises it involved.  I looked at week three of the programme and realised that I needed to invest in some swimming equipment such as fins for my feet and paddles for my hands.  Between pool and outdoor sessions was now swimming at least once a day, every day of the week.

My local pool is 25 yards but a couple of miles away there is a 25 metre pool however I experienced a fair bit of aggression and lane rage from other simmers when I trained there.  Predominantly when I have experienced this before it has been from pool only swimmers who have become very territorial over ‘their’ pool and despite the fact that I always follow pool etiquette some people just don’t like newcomers.  These people are very much in the minority and where possible should be ignored and avoided. It’s a shame because they don’t do the sport, the pool or themselves any favours as scaring people away from pools makes them less economic to run so less likely to be able to afford to stay open.  In the lakes, rivers and seas there are no lane markers so lane rage is not such an issue, nor is aggression from other swimmers, other water users perhaps and of course nay-sayers from the shore always have something to say, usually ‘nay’.

When I wasn’t swimming, I was reading about swimming.  This month I was reading “SwimSmooth” by Adam Young and Paul Newsome. The ‘SwimSmooth’ book is an interesting read and some people who I’d shown my copy to were so impressed that they went out and bought their own.  It lists a lot of gear that you can spend money on that will help you become a better swimmer, it also profiles different body types and what typically makes a good or bad swimmer for people with those types of bodies.  If your swimming style is not broke, SwimSmooth won’t fix it but if your swimming style could benefit from some adjustments it has a few handy suggestions.  Throughout the book there are multiple ‘digs’ and criticisms of techniques taught in the Total Immersion system.  The swimming equipment recommended by SwimSmooth is great if you have the money and you want to spend it, to me I realised that many of my friends would have made the purchases already and I could ask to borrow it if I needed it.  Having done that, I’d say for most of the time people don’t really need all that SwimSmooth tell you that you do.

If I were to produce my own list it would read something like this:






Restube or another type of towfloat

Headtorch, waterproof (if swimming at night)

As my training had stepped up a gear I found that my reputation for swimming was also developing.  The staff and regular evening swimmers in the pool all knew me and would comment on how fast I was going and how much my technique had improved.  Going to lakes and rivers, though there’d be hardly anyone there I would occasionally be asked “Are you Matty?”.

The print and video from the Audi article were now available, the article focused on the #ChesterFrosties group organiser, Di, and had myself and two other swimmers, Emma and Denise, in the background. After seeing the article online I was surprising to learn in a work meeting that one of our contract managers was an Audi owner so had his own copy of the magazine and had seen me in it!  Also, Di had written to the #OutdoorSwimmer magazine and in March we were the featured ‘club of the month’ in issue 1 after it had been re-launched from it’s old title ‘H2Open’.  The photo they used had been taken at the British Ice Swimming Championships near the Ben Lomond bunkhouse we had stayed at with National Trust Scotland.  On the next page they had also featured a photo of one of our swimmers, Emma, taking an evening dip in Loch Lomond.  It looked really beautiful.

Over the months I’d identified what was making me dizzy in races was the effect of wearing a swimming cap and ear plugs as traditionally I had never worn either.  It took a few weeks of trial and error in March, including one almost fatal error, to find the right fit for me.  Outdoors I always swim with a #restube and use it as a tow float so I can be easily seen in the water, but it also can also act as a buoyancy aid.  One time I got very dizzy in the middle of a lake due to one of my ear plugs falling out and having the restube allowed me to rest whilst keeping my head above the surface and regain my balance so I could swim back to shore safely using head up breaststroke.  Without it I know that I would have drowned as I was too dizzy to know up from down and left from right and too far from shore to make it to safety in time.  That incident spurred me on to always carry ear plugs with me (I bought 7 sets just to be sure I had some) and not to wear swimming caps over the ear again.  For most people, having a lucky escape might dissuade them from carrying on with an activity, with me it just inspired me to develop my safety practices to reduce the risk.

As the water was getting warmer and the days longer I was able to push myself further and at the start of the month I achieved my first ever outdoor mile, whilst by the end of the month I was confidently swimming 2km outdoors in lakes and rivers.  The thrill of swim was getting me addicted, I found myself lying awake at night thinking and visualising swimming techniques that I had read about, watched online, read about and tried for myself.  Finding what worked for me, rather than what was easy for me was becoming fun.

The #OutdoorSwimmer magazine is an interesting and diverse read covering all aspects of the sport including technique, training, travel and competitions.  The events listings are at the end of the magazine and having made as much progress as I had I now wanted to put it to the test. I keenly went through it with a marker pen and highlighted all the events I wanted to do aiming for at least one event a month, only to find I could not find an event within reasonable travelling distance in April.  The first event I found was organised by USwim in Manchester towards the end of May, then a week later there was an event in June near Warrington. I managed to find a race in every month through to the end of September and then their listings went a bit dry.  None of the events were particularly long, up to 2 miles maximum and none of them very high profile but they enough to get me in the water and create opportunity to check my progress from where I had been in February.  When I had reached the end of finding all the events I could enter through the #OutdoorSwimmer magazine, I noticed that the International Winter Swimming Association had put their fixture list up for next winter, these are the events that will lead me to get to Estonia in March 2018 for the World Championships.  Looking at the fixture list I realised that even if I attended only the ‘World Cup’ series of events I would have to take a lot of time off work and travel more than I have ever travelled before.  I might even have to get a new job to pay for it all!  There are events all over the globe from Vladivostok at the far East of Russia, New York in America as well as across Northern and Eastern Europe and little old Britain is hosting an event in Windermere again.  Looking at all these events and looking at my bank balance I realised that it would only be possible to get to a few of them as I really am not a rich man.  The key thing was that it was possible to do it, the thought that it was possible put a fire in my heart much warmer than Wim Hof’s ice mantra ‘the cold is my warm friend’.

At the end of March the clocks changed to British Summer Time which meant that I would have more time in the evenings to swim and that it would be easier to fit in 2 swims a day!  I just needed to become a morning person to get a swim in before work.  British Summer Time also meant that the water should be getting warmer too.

Book of the month :”SwimSmooth” by Adam Young and Paul Newsome, available direct from http://www.swimsmooth.com/swim-smooth-book.html



February 2017 – No time to get cold feet

With a month of solid swimming training under my belt I had developed a slightly better swimming technique and could cope with being in very cold water (+2’C) for a decent length of time (20 minutes) without suffering greatly for it.  Any exposure to very cold water will cause your body to react and prolonged exposure can be painful, even lethal, so always take precautions and always have company when practising.

In early February I was back in the water in competition for the British Ice Swimming Championships in Loch Lomond, Scotland.  My friends in the #ChesterFrosties group had the event long in the planning and I’d helped book the accommodation and arrange transport, little knowing what I was letting myself in for.  Arriving at a remote bunkhouse on the shores of the loch the evening before the competition started, someone suggested that we went for a late night swim.  It was cold, clear and calm, so why not?  The temperature at the top of the local mountain Ben Lomond was forecast to be -12’C and the snow line was well below the summits.  A group of us went down to the shore in our overcoats, stripped down to our trunks and then got in!  Whatever pain and trepidation may have been present was almost immediately surpassed by the tranquil beauty of the moment.  The water, though the thermometer said it was barely even 4’C, felt warm and silky, everything was lit up under the clear blue moonlight and the temptation to swim further out into the darkness was too much for me to resist.  The further I got from shore the more of the mountain skyline I could see and the more tranquil the lake seemed.  Thankfully my friends on the shore were keeping watch and shouted to us all to go back before the cold tricked us into hypothermia.  Once we’d wrapped up in towels and thermal overcoats and walked briskly back to the bunkhouse to get the blood flowing, we allowed ourselves a ‘wee dram’ of whiskey in the warmth of the house.  A few hours later we’d be in the water again for the competition – there really was no time to get cold feet.

After a warm and cosy nights sleep in the bunkhouse, we rose early, had our porridge and went down to the race venue.  As the coffee seeped into our bloodstreams on the minibus journey from the bunkhouse and started to wake us up beyond mere consciousness to alertness we noticed that the weather had changed.  The calm, quiet stillness of the night before was gone and had been replaced by howling winds and lashing rain.  There were waves crashing on the shore, not lapping gently but crashing!  After registering for our respective events those who were taking part in the endurance races (1km and 500m) had to go and have medical checks as these races were the first in the day, shorter races would take place in the afternoon.  The water temperature was a low 4’C, the air slightly cooler.  I’d booked in for the 200m Freestyle, 100m Freestyle and 4 x 100 metre relay so I had plenty of time to cheer my friends on in the morning in their races.  However, with the deterioration in the weather the organisers safety vigilance stepped up and some of my friends who’d started their endurance events were pulled out midway through.  The time allowed for events also slipped as people were taking longer than expected to sometimes physically have to fight their way through the waves.  This slippage allowed me to slip off site to the nearest town, Balloch, and get some lunch.

There are many cultural traditions in Scotland, such as wearing kilts, drinking scotch, eating haggis, playing bagpipes, highland games and folk dancing.  There’s some cultural experiences too that ought to be had, the deep fried Mars bar is one of these, as I found out at the chip shop in Balloch, deep fried pizza or ‘Crunchie’ is another.  Finding myself at a nation ice swimming championships with an international field of athletes and knowing I would be competing in some very cold sprint events in an hour or so, I did contemplate the wisdom of indulging in these cultural experiences. Aye…

Due to the weather the 200m Freestyle event was cancelled and competitors were offered the chance to compete in the 100m Freestyle instead.  The 100m Freestyle similarly became the 50m Freestyle and the relay, well a relay took place.  The records show that I came 12th in the 100m (2nd in my age group) which is probably right and they also show that I came 1st overall in the 50m event (1st in my age group too).  My recollection of the actual results was different but given the intensity of the waves I was genuinely thankful to have finished each event and got out of the water safely.  Every one who took part that day deserved a medal for having got in the water, let alone finishing their events.  My swimming style was still messy and I had to be helped out from the water at the end of each race, thankfully I had friends there with me who looked after me as even though I felt fine in myself I am wise enough to listen when they told me ‘you don’t look fine’.  They whisked me off to the heated recovery tent and I sipped hot Ribena between each event.  In retrospect, swimming three ice races in half an hour was over ambitious but I hadn’t planned it that way.

There are plenty of books out there to read about swimming, not so many about outdoor swimming and even less about ice swimming.  Back at the bunkhouse after the races I read Wim Hof’s “Becoming The Iceman”.  It is incredibly poorly written and does not offer a great deal of insight into what is now known as the ‘Wim Hof Method’.  If you want a fairly comfortable introduction to cold water experiences and exposure then his methods are good in my opinion.  He is not and does not claim to be a competitive cold water swimmer and I don’t think his method would work for competition.

When we got home from the event I went back in the pool and worked on my training programme.  Bearing in mind it was a four days a week programme for four weeks, I had only progressed to day two, week two due to repeating cycles until I felt comfortable and confident enough with them.  I had also been working my way through Terry Laughlin’s book ‘Total Immersion’ which I had bought in 1996 but never actually read due to the fact that I did not get on with his writing style.  It had been sitting on my shelf for 20 years gathering dust and now that I’d decided I actually wanted to learn to swim it was proving quite useful if equally unreadable.  I was now swimming five days a week, usually three days in the pool and two days outdoors, whatever the weather or time of day.  I had cracked bilateral breathing and also managed to keep my face immersed in the water whilst doing freestyle swimming in icy water.  Both of these things were breakthroughs for me.  I’d also worked out that it was having to wear a swimming cap and ear plugs that had been making dizzy me in the races in Windermere and Scotland.  I just was not used to wearing either.

Almost everybody has their own way of getting into freezing cold water, some brave and well conditioned souls like to jump or dive in.  This  method of entry is not recommended.  Some walk in and as soon as it is deep enough sink their shoulders in, take a breath and go straight into a swimming stroke.  Other walk in a little way, splash their faces, chest, arms etc and then move in a little deeper before they summon up the courage to swim.  Many never actually make it to swimming in the cold water, they get in up to their ankles, feel the cold and think better of it, literally getting cold feet.  I’ve deliberately put myself in situations where there is a social expectation that I will just get in and get on with the swim so that I would not have too much time if any to feel the cold first.  If you find something that works for you and gets you in the water, go for it!

Late in February, the organiser of #ChesterFrosties asked if anyone was available to appear in a feature being written for Audi magazine, she needed people who were willing to be photographed swimming but did not necessarily have to talk to the interviewers.  Naturally I offered to help and so on the day and arranged to take a long lunch from work to drive down to the lake, swim and then get back to the office without taking too much time.  There were four of us who went, and the interviewer had a camera crew with her as she was going to make a video too.  I was one of the first on the water and admittedly one of the first out too!  But the camera crew seemed to like me and followed me as I swam.  I was very aware that they might publish shots of me so despite the fact that I had only just cracked bilateral breathing and full face immersion in the water, I gave it my best.  It was there and then in those moments that I had my own breakthrough, not only in bilateral breathing but in face down, freezing water, freestyle swimming.  I have not looked back since.

Book of the month : Becoming the Iceman by Wim Hof and Justin Rosales available from http://www.wimhofmethod.com




January 2017 – In at the shallow end

At the start of the year everyone makes new year resolutions.  Most resolutions are to lose weight or stop doing something like smoking or to start exercising everyday or read a book a week or something for a whole year.  Many resolutions have often lapsed by the end of the month and the written commitments end up in the same recycling bins as the Christmas wrapping paper.

For me, my resolution was slightly different in that it was not to start or stop anything or to complete a certain task by the end of the year.  My resolution was simply to get to the Winter Swimming World Championships in Estonia in March 2018.  Whether I got there as a competitor or spectator didn’t matter too much to me.  I’d never been to Estonia or to a swimming World Championships, especially not in Winter.

My interest in competitive swimming had never really existed.  The last swimming lesson I had ever had I was aged 12 and at high school, where the instructors just made sure that you could splash your way through a 25 metre pool length.  A year later the school held a swimming gala and I came sixth in the 25 metre freesytle event.

Over the years I had grown to love swimming, especially outdoors, but my technique was very unique, splashy and powered by determination rather than knowledge and I saw it very much as something I did for myself so until mid 2016 I had never joined a swimming club.  Even when I did join a swimming ‘club’ it was more a social group than a club #ChesterFrosties and it was these people who set me on my ambition to get to a World Championship swimming event in 2018!

#ChesterFrosties are a social swimming site on Facebook for people who enjoy swimming outdoors, year round in the Chester area of the UK.  People who’d seen me swimming would often tell me to join up with them as they were fun people to be with.  So I joined up on Facebook and my first swim with them was actually for a TV advert for the Co-Op which was screen over the Christmas period.  The swim itself was short dip in the sea off Blackpool beach with a bunch of extras and swimmers and my day ended with an invitation to join the Frosties at an event called ‘ChillSwim’ in December at Lake Windermere.  They’d be having different races including a fancy dress event and having already dressed up once for the TV advert, it would be nothing worse than I’d already done.  ‘Why not?’ I thought to myself.

I entered the 120 metres, 240 metres, and a 4 x 30 metre fancy dress relay.  The races I’d entered were quite short and if I felt it was too cold I could just stick to the fancy dress event and at least the outfit could keep me warm.  On the day itself, I went for a morning dip in the lake to acclimatise a little and I realised it was really quite cold (that’s classic British understatement, in reality it felt like ‘Oh My Goodness I’m going to die if I do this’).  Nonetheless as I was there with the ‘club’ I felt duty bound to do my races.  The organisers had built a 30 metre long pontoon on the lake in a small marina and I knew that at least every lap I could get out if I got too cold and they also had safety divers on the pool side to rescue anyone who didn’t quite make it to the end of a lap.  I swam my races in a messy, splashy and determined style and then the relay I was dressed in a full body roast turkey suit, with bacofoil wrap as I entered the water, I was dressed as a big wet blob when I left the water.

After recovering from the cold and thinking nothing of my times, positions or performance as it had been my first race since I was 13, someone told me it was actually a World Cup event!  Looking around there were people from all over the world, literally Chileans, Americans, Russians, Latvians, Australians even French people and many more each wearing their national flags on their costumes and swim hats.  I was intrigued!  Why had I not seen this before?  I went over to the results board to see just how fast the elite people from all over the world were going.  They were going much, much faster than me.  I was impressed.  Then I was shocked.  The organisers had broken the listings down into age groups and there to my disbelief, it showed that I had come third in the 120 metres for my age group and second in the 240 metres.  I was now a World Cup medallist!

If ever I have grandchildren, I can sit them on my knee and tell them grand (and mostly made up) stories about how I came to win all my swimming World Cup medals, even if I never swam again I’d have something to brag about.

But winning the medals felt hollow. I hadn’t won them.  There’d only been five people of my age group in the 120 metre race and the silver was given to me by default in the 240 metres as there were only two of us in our age group swimming it.  If I got the medals mixed up it might look like I came third in a two man race!  One of my new swimming friends from #ChesterFrosties saw through both my happiness and disappointment and said to me “It’s grand that you’ve got your medals, but your swimmings all over the place.  Learn to swim properly and next year you can win them properly”.  His words rang true and that is when I made my resolution, not just to get to the next World Cup event but to earn my way through to the World Championships.

It was true, my swimming technique was awful, utterly awful.  I could plough a mile or two in the pool, even a kilometre in the water but every few strokes I would lift my head out of the water completely, breathe out, breathe in again and put my head back under until I ran out of breath again. Knowing where I was going was quite easy because I could always see where I was everytime I took a breath but it was irregular, unco-ordinated and messy and for the amount of energy I put in it was very slow.  My friend had told me to buy some swimming textbooks, watch some youtube videos and start learning to swim again from scratch, literally forget everything I knew and start again.  So, after a cold midnight swim in a lake on 31 December 2016 I decided to get back into the shallow end of swimming and learn everything again from scratch.

I’d picked up a basic training plan online and then youtubed all the techniques.  Each swim was at least 2km but had plenty of rest breaks in the pool so I would build up technique and stamina and possibly speed by following these programmes.  My plan was to follow each week’s programme until it became comfortable to do before moving on to the next week.  My reality was that the first week was so hard that I had to spread the days out into two weeks.  I also began reading my copy of #totalimmersion that I had bought in 1996 but never actually bothered to read from start to finish.

The first laps were warm ups 25 metres in each different stroke, nothing new, nothing heavy.  The second set of laps were swimming without my arms, three seconds on my left side, three seconds on my front, three seconds on my right side.  Even though it was only a 25 metre pool it felt like these laps would kill me. The third set were called a catch up drill where before my I could release one hand to do the next stroke, I had to swim with them together for three seconds so I was long and thin through the water.  Then the programme said to these sets four times with a two minute breather between each set before warming down with 200 metres.  I think I swallowed more of the pool than I swam through but at the end of the session I could feel something had improved.

Two days later, I was back in the shallow going through the programme ‘day 2’, similarly it worked on my arms and my balance in the water and it needed me to kick more than I had kicked in a long time.  A week later I went back and did ‘day 3’.

Each week I reckoned on doing at least two pool swims and at least two open water swims so I could get used to the cold.  The pool swims were easy to fit in as they were indoors, in heated water and well lit.  The outdoor swims were more of a challenge as I could not easily get out of work in daylight so outdoor swimming soon became night time swimming.  Though a one night stay for a work meeting in London boosted my morale, London Fields Lido is an outdoor pool. in which I did one of my now regular 2km training sessions in.  It is also heated to well over 20’C and floodlit.  If you ever get chance I do recommend it regardless of whether you consider yourself to be an outdoor swimmer or not.  Brockwell Lido the next morning was a different experience, the lifeguards told us to avoid the middle lanes because of the ice and the grab rails round the edge of the pool all had icicles hanging from them.  It was cold, beautiful, serene, safe with the lifeguards and the sauna on hand, but it was cold.  A lady remarked to me that “it’ll put hairs on your chest” to which I replied “it’ll snap hairs off my chest”.

Developing technique and cold exposure was only part of my plan to get to Estonia, I also needed to enter races, so buoyed by my success at ChillSwim I decided to enter the British Ice Swimming championships which were being held in early February.  Not only that but I entered a whole host of other races too and rather optimistically registered for the Winter Swimming World Championships in March 2018.  All I had to do now was work out how to get there.

Book of the month : Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin and John Delves available from http://www.totalimmersion.co.uk