Cold Water Swimming,  FEATURES

Anatomy of a winter swim

Winter swimming has the capacity to absorb an enormous amount of time for very little actual swimming. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here’s a brief look at one of my recent morning swims.

6:30 – Alarm. Lie in bed for 15 minutes contemplating the rationality of leaving the warmth of my duvet and plunging into a cold river.

6:45 – Get up. Make a cup of tea. Assemble the vast amount of kit needed for warming up after a winter swim. Prepare hot water bottle and flask with second tea.

7:15 – Leave house and walk to river. I’m spoilt here as this takes me less than 2 minutes, but I know some people travel for up to an hour for their morning dip.

7:17 – Measure water temperature, discuss the conditions, take some pictures, question our sanity and ask each other why we do this.

7:30 – Undress ready for swimming, enter the water with trepidation, screech and yell about the cold, start swimming head-up breaststroke.

7:32 – Initial shock has worn off. Pause to take a few pictures of the sunrise if lucky enough to see one.

7:35 – Attempt to put face in water and swim front crawl. Give up after 10 strokes and revert to head-up breaststroke.

7:37 – Second attempt to put face in water and manage 20 strokes.

7:38 – Starting to feel comfortable in the water. Decide that head-up breaststroke and chatting is better than front crawl.

7:40 – Exit the water and start the scramble to get dried and dressed.

7:45 – Shivers start and fingers have gone numb, slowing the dressing process.

7:50 – Pull shoes onto feet to complete dressing. Stick hot water bottle between legs, start drinking tea. Discuss how wonderful the swim was, laugh at each other’s shivers, eat cake and plan the next swim.

8:10 – Shivers stop. Head back home, unpack bags, hang up wet kit. Shower.

8:30 – Breakfast.

Please don’t think these timings are precise or a rigid timetable to be followed. They’re just rough estimates. They also vary with when sunrise happens, and time in the water may be slightly shorter or longer depending on the conditions and temperature.

Nevertheless, as you can see, a morning winter swim can easily fill two hours (or more if you have to travel) for a mere 10 minutes or less in the water. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on what you want. The fitness benefit is minimal but if it gives your mental health and general wellbeing a boost, then it’s absolutely time well spent. It’s easy to spend our lives rushing from one activity to the next. The need to allow time to recover after a cold water dip forces you to slow down, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.