“Am I too old to start open water swimming?”
Swimming coach and Olympic marathon swimmer Cassie Patten has advice for a 71-year-old reader who’s considering trying open water swimming for the first time.
“I am nearly 71 – am I too old to start outdoor swimming? My feet get particularly cold, but other than that I have no particular ailments. I have always felt relaxed in the water but am not a particularly strong swimmer. Advice please! Please be honest and tell me if I am being stupid even considering this.”
Sarah, I do not think you are being stupid at all for wanting to join the outdoor swimming family! It is such a great way to stay fit and meet new like-minded people. Obviously there are safety considerations to take into account. Just to err on the side of caution I would check with your doctor before jumping straight in. It’s more of a precautionary measure that I would recommend before anyone starts a new sport.
Swimming in a natural environment is always going to be more risky than in a chlorinated indoor pool, so you need to manage those risks so you can take to the water in the safest way possible. Never swim alone and if possible join a group so you have the benefit of their experience (plus is always a good way to make new friends!), always check your entry and exit points, be aware of the water temperature and think about what kit you need (both for swimming and for getting warm afterwards). Will you wear a wetsuit or just a swimming costume? As for keeping your feet warm, I would invest in a pair of swimming neoprene boots. Finally, buy a tow float as they are great both for visibility and if you need a quick rest in the water.
A safe way to get started is to swim at a supervised lake where there are lifeguards. A supervised lake gives you the natural experience of swimming outdoors with the peace of mind of safety cover and lifeguards. I would really highly recommend going on an introductory open water session at your local lake. In the session you would cover how to acclimatise to cold water, the basic techniques involved in sighting and drafting. These sessions are always run in a safe and secure environment, with lifeguards present.
You say you are not a strong swimmer, so a good idea would be to take some adult swimming lessons or see an open water coach for some advice to improve your stroke. As well as making it safer for you, a more efficient stroke will allow you to swim further with less effort. And learning something new is always a good thing!
Finally, I would say that swimming is a great way to keep fit as we get older – plus open water swimming outdoors gives you the extra benefits to better mental health that all kinds of outdoor exercise give us. I hope to get an update from you to see how much you are loving outdoor swimming.
Cassie Patten won bronze in the first ever Olympic 10km marathon swim, in the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Cassie now coaches and is a commentator at open water events. Find out more about Cassie’s one-to-one coaching at WaveCrest Swimming. Read more Q&As with Cassie. This is an extract from the May 2021 edition of Outdoor Swimmer. Browse our back issues.