The Cold Water Swimming Championships

Posted: March 6, 2015 in Swimming
South London Swimming Club - that's what it stands for

I wonder what’s happening here today

I’m really not too sure how I ended up committing myself to take part in this event. It didn’t involve alcohol, I’m sure of that. It was a sort of insidious thing. In part it was due to Guildford Lido offering cold water swimming sessions on a Saturday morning. When they say cold water what they mean is maintaining the temperature at 10 degrees, which really is cold enough. They are quite happy for people to swim in wetsuits and those that want to keep a certain level of warmth do. I decided early on that I would do it without the aid of neoprene. It must have been a bout of male ego or idiocy, or indeed both. I persevered and did all the sessions in my colourful swimming trunks. I’m not sure at what point the acclimatisation is meant to kick in, it never got easier to enter the water and I chilled at the same rate over the duration of the swim. It was kind of exhilarating though.

Someone at the Lido must have alerted me to the cold water championships, so one night I entered both the crawl and head-up breast stroke events. My rational being that if I was only going to do it once, I might as well do everything. This is exactly the attitude that saw me saying yes to joining a relay team as well. All I had to do was turn up at Tooting Lido on the correct day.

My mum learnt to swim here

Come on in the water’s…. FFFFFFFreezing

Travelling by train at the weekend is always fraught with difficulties. This Saturday was no different. The words “over running engineering works” spelt doom to my carefully timed journey that would have got me to the Lido with plenty of time to spare. Instead I ended up getting off at a different station and making my way through back streets with the aid of my phone Sat Nav. I got there with minutes to spare and a long wait in the queue to register. Cards in hand I was ready. The sign saying that the water was 3.5 degrees was no comfort.

Brass monkeys beware

That’s proper cold that is

The event opened with a song, a choir of sorts stood in the pavilion and sung a water based song. I was far too far away to hear it clearly but I’m sure it was very good. At the end of the singing someone swam across the pool and the event was open for business.

Splish splash, splish splash

A bit of a sing song to start

I had no idea how things worked, it would have been a good idea to read the back of the card where it was all clearly explained, but that would have been cheating. Instead I used the time honored technique of carefully watching what other people were doing. There were a lot of other people. It all seemed really efficient, the race number came up on a board, people were gathered and herded round the pool. They did their race and then were skilfully guided away from the pool with a hot drink.

I was really impressed with the organisation, we were gathered, moved to the briefing area, briefed, pointed at a changing room, given a plastic bag for our cloths, given seconds to get changed, moved to the start, handed our clothes to a marshal. Then it was time.

At the briefing we were told, slip into the water, shoulders under the water and then the race would start. All good in theory but the water was cold, very cold. Usually I take some time to get into cold water but this was to be done quickly. The first timers nerves didn’t help. What would superman do in this situation I wondered, well he probably wouldn’t be returned to a pre-pubescence state as he slipped into the water, nor would he whimper slightly as he put his shoulders under the water. That water was cold, some swimming trunks and two latex hats were not going to disguise that. Then the starter said go and we were off, my usual controlled front crawl replaced by something that resembled those wind up bath toys. 30 meters later and it was over far too quickly. I leapt out the water and was handed my clothes. The race had been so quick that I hadn’t had time to really feel the cold, but now I felt it, like small icy knives over my skin. The hot drink helped but the dip in the hot tub returned vital functions to normal before getting changed in the warm changing rooms.

So, so cold

Waiting to start

I loved it! I was now looking forward to the next race, but with about an hour to kill I had time to look round the various trade stands and more importantly the food stalls. My post-race fueling strategy left a lot to be desired but hog roast followed by homemade cakes and a large mug of tea ticked all the boxes I was concerned about. I even managed to decipher the results. I’d done reasonably well, in the top 20 for my age group, but not well enough to be in the final. This was good, it’s one thing swimming in cold water but quite another swimming further than expected.

The next race was the head-up breaststroke. I was a lot more relaxed about the whole procedure now. It felt comfortable and right. What I really hadn’t appreciated was the hat aspect of the head-up breast stroke. Participants were encouraged to wear weird and wonderful hats. I hadn’t really paid this much attention until now. The hats were brilliant! In my heat I was placed between someone with a Darlek on his head and someone with a dragon, complete with smoke. Ours was the slowest heat as the rest of us just had to watch these two guys start. Now breast stroke is not my best stroke, or even my second best, which goes a long way to answering why I came nearly last in my age group. Giggling at the silliness of the event whilst trying the swim didn’t help either.

is that a Darlek on your head or are you just pleased to see me?

A man, with a Darlek hat

Another long wait and equally diverse fueling strategy followed. Our relay team slowly gathered. The others were only doing the relay so were a bit nervous, just like I was at the beginning, they employed the age old technique of asking the slightly more experienced (by 60 meters) person any and every question.

The relay was fun. We were up against the “East German Ladies Swim Team” a bunch of hairy blokes whose wives told them that they looked like the East German Ladies Olympic team. On the other side we had a team in bright blue 50’s style women’s swim suits, gaudy flower covered hats and blue lipstick. Passable on a woman but somewhat disturbing when sported by a hairy chested man. I was second in the water, this time it seemed to be a long way. About 2/3rds of the way across it was starting to get hard and by the end I was feeling cold. Maybe my fueling and recovery strategy was sub optimal, maybe 90 meters is my limit in water this cold. I really didn’t care. It was fun. We came “not quite last” which is always a good place to finish.

3 Women of a certain age and a bloke

The almost all conquering and slightly victorious relay team

The next championships is in two years’ time, There is a strong possibility that I’ll be there.


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