Image: Team Outdoor Swimmer at the Cold Water Swimming Championships
There is something about putting on a superhero cape that gives you a sense of invincibility. You stand taller, breathe deeper and stride forth with a confident swagger, while your cape billows photogenically behind you. I found this out for myself, when I and three other members of the Outdoor Swimmer team (Jonathan, Alice and Joanne) dressed up in Batman costumes to take part in a relay at the brilliant but bonkers bi-annual Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido. I needed the confidence boost as, unlike the others, I am not a regular cold water swimmer. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been in water below 13 degrees for more than two years, and I was unreasonably worried about it.
The Batman factor
It was while getting changed that the nerves really kicked in. Why on earth did I sign up to swim 30m in 3-degree water while wearing Batman trunks, hat, mask and cape? But strangely, my nerves eased as I stepped onto the pool deck with my mask on and the wind lifting my cape. I almost felt I could fly. And this being a cold water event, grown-ups dressing up in ridiculous costumes seemed a perfectly obvious and normal thing to do. Other swimmers nodded their approval while some had on even more outrageous outfits.
Despite my lack of cold water preparation, my costume had given me a mental boost. I was a superhero, and what superhero couldn’t cope with a little bit of cold water?
When it was my turn, I slid purposefully into the water, dunked my shoulders and started to swim. While I can assure you that a Batman costume does absolutely nothing to protect you from the cold or enhance your swimming ability, everything was going well until about half way across, the point where it suddenly struck me how effing cold it was. How had I swum 15m without really noticing the temperature? I can only assume it was the Batman factor.
Into a vortex
Despite the crushing cold, my mind still had space for a scary random thought. I suddenly remembered that Edna Mode, the costume designer for The Incredibles pointedly refused to give the superhero family the capes they wanted. Meanwhile, the villain of the film, Syndrome, did have one – but it was the cause of his death when it dragged him into a jet engine. Was wearing a cape for swimming actually a really dangerous thing to do? Might I get dragged down a drainage plug hole? Was I more super-villain than superhero? Luckily, those thoughts kept me occupied through the second half of the width. I finished without being sucked into a vortex, climbed out and felt like a superhero once again, despite my cape now being wet and limp and no longer billowing proudly in the breeze. Winter swimming does that to you.
Imaginary cape and mask
While I wouldn’t recommend wearing a superhero outfit for swimming normally, I wonder if tapping in to your inner superhero might be a good mental strategy to help prepare for other occasions where nerves might be getting to you? Put on an imaginary cape and mask before your next swimming challenge and see if it helps. You probably won’t save the world, but you might improve your chances of conquering your swim. And remember to send us an email to let us know if this strategy works