As the year draws to a close, we asked the Outdoor Swimmer team, readers and followers to reflect on what they have discovered in 2023.
What have you discovered in 2023, which you didn’t know before? Perhaps you’ve unlocked a new capacity within yourself, or adapted an aspect of how you train, or bought a new piece of kit that has opened up new opportunities or distances. Or perhaps you’ve discovered a new venue or community, or tried something for the first time that feels really significant. We asked our team, readers and followers to share their reflections on the past year.
“I rediscovered the absurdity, silliness and community of winter swimming”
“This year, I made the really difficult decision not to coach winter swimming. For the past five years, I’ve run a winter swimming wellbeing group called Winter Warriors at Clevedon Marine Lake, which has been an absolute joy. But, I realised that it turned my own winter swimming into my job, my swim spot into my workplace.
So, this year, my eighth as a cold water swimmer, it’s all about fun and rediscovering the absurdity, silliness and community around winter swimming. And, while I miss coaching, getting into the freezing cold lake in winter is now doing what it used to do – it makes me feel all the feels and that makes winter bearable.”
Rowan Clarke, Writer for Outdoor Swimmer and outdoor swim coach
“How much confidence learning a new stroke can give you”
“I think doing my first open water mile in my local lake has really opened up my swimming world this year. There were lots of troughs in my confidence throughout my training (I just couldn’t get front-crawl breathing!) – then I discovered head-down breaststroke and something just clicked from there, and I ploughed through the mile with relative ease. While I love head-down breaststroke, I’d like to try to get the hang of front crawl – especially as I have a 4-mile river swim planned for next September!
A wonderful aspect of preparing for the mile-swim was forming friendships with other women in the group, led by swimming guide Ray Farr. A few of us still meet up for regular dips, and we had a weekend trip in Snowdonia. Ooh and we’re very excited for Ray’s new venture for next year – synchronised swimming classes. I’m DEFINITELY up for that!”
Abi Whyte, Digital Journalist, Outdoor Swimmer
“How other swimmers are always the best teachers”
“What a difficult question to answer! One of the best things about this job is that I am always learning, discovering and meeting more and more swimmers! I have been so lucky this year to spend some quality time with swimmers on trips and weekends away which have enabled me to really get to know people.
It has been great to be reminded of the nervous, new to open water swimmers and also be inspired by those who are stretching themselves and achieving. From coaching a swimmer in a really bouncy sea to ensure they got in and out of the water safely to sitting on stage with our Olympic open water hopeful and hearing about coming back from failing to finish a swim on a global stage – each and every swimmer I meet gives me something to think about.
I am so grateful for all those who swim alongside me in some way or another. If you are ever at a loss of where to next go swimming or how to develop your swimming, seek out other swimmers – they are the best teachers, no matter what stage they are at. There is literally something to learn in the water from everyone.”
Ella Foote, Editor, Outdoor Swimmer
“I am capable of more than I realise”
“This year I did my first marathon distance swim – a 10km swim from Orlock to Helens Bay in County Down. For the first hour and a half, we barely covered any distance as we were swimming in strong currents against the tide. In hindsight, our swim should have started later, after the tide had turned.
I had anticipated the swim taking approximately 3 to 3 1/2 hours; 6 hours later we were just making it to the final 1km. 3 1/2hours is what I had physically and mentally prepared myself for. To finish a swim that is estimated to have been the equivalent to 15km due to the currents and that duration, has shown that I’m capable of more than I know. I had to dig deep, telling myself that this is temporary. The physical pain, fighting the fatigue and yet being determined to keep moving until my feet touched the sand at Helens Bay.
This was the toughest endurance challenge I’ve ever taken on. More challenging that climbing Mt Kilimanjaro! The mental resilience it takes to be a long distance open water swimmer is phenomenal. I’ve so much respect for you all! Especially swimmers who take on ice miles, Channel swims and even longer marathon swims. Enough time has passed since the swim in summer, my brain has done that wonderful thing of dulling the negative memories, focusing on how good it felt to finish, so now I can start thinking, “What’s next?”
Helen Armstrong, The Wandering Selkie
“That old swim habits are hard to change”
“I’ve known for a long time that I have a tendency to ‘lean’ on my right arm when I take a breath to my left. Instead of moving my hand into a nice position to begin the pull, it slides out to the right and presses down instead of tilting and pressing back. I know this and I’ve consciously tried to change it yet the habit persists. It’s bad because it puts unnecessary strain on my shoulder, risking injury, and it slows me down.
To fix this, Ray Gibbs from Swim Canary Wharf prescribed torpedo drill (among other things). In torpedo drill, you swim with both arms by your side using only your legs. To breathe you rotate your body to about 45 degrees, and then turn your head just enough to sip some air. I was puzzled how a drill that doesn’t use the arms could help fix a problem involving your arms.
Ray explained it roughly as follows. When we swim, we have an instinctive, subconscious anxiety about not being able to breathe. We therefore tend to lift our heads higher from the water than we need andor automatically try to support the breathing action by pressing down on the water. The torpedo drill trains our subconscious mind that there is no need to press down on the water to breathe and therefore makes it easier to change this habit.
So, in summary, what I’ve discovered in 2023 is… I still have an old bad habit of leaning on my left arm; some habits are hard to change directly; and that the torpedo drill helps you improve your catch even though you don’t use your arms.”
Simon Griffiths, Founder & Publisher, Outdoor Swimmer
“That winter swimming is infinitely better than in the summer”
“What I’ve discovered is that I much prefer winter swimming to summer. After some 10 years of sea swimming I’ve realised that there’s nothing better than claiming a deserted beach all to myself. It feels like a total luxury to have an entire bay to myself to mark as my own, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. I love not having to take anyone into account; not having to decide where to set up camp (I’m one of those lone swimmers who revels in her own company).
Another joy is the challenge to be an all-year-round skins swimmer. The air versus sea temperature becomes more marked as winter progresses meaning that it’s often warmer in the sea than on the shore. It takes grit and determination to strip off while being sand blasted as your bundle gear together so that it doesn’t get blown away. And the walk to the water’s edge whole grappling with unobliging goggles can be tricky, but the reward – the striking out, the settling on the breath, the glimpses of the bay on the horizon and ultimately the buzz of the afterglow – are always worth it.”
Anna, a reader on Tresco, the Isles of Scilly
“The utter joy of sharing outdoor swimming with the next generation”
“I feel like I’ve learnt so much this year, but two things particularly stand out… First, just how much easier entering cold water feels now that I do it more regularly. Since becoming Outdoor Swimmer’s Gear Editor in October, I’ve had no excuse to miss a chilly dip as I’ve had kit to test. Trying out various swimming gear has also meant that I’ve delayed wearing a wetsuit until much later in the season. Getting in the water more regularly, and noting how much easier those first few minutes in the water feel, has brought a new level of confidence to cold water swimming that I wasn’t expecting.
Another lovely discovery has been the utter joy of being able to share outdoor swimming with my daughter, who’s three. Watching her do an arm-band length of the Thames lido at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival, when she was only two, or seeing her run towards a Scottish loch for a dip in the rain fills me with such delight.”
Jo Tinsley, Gear Editor, Outdoor Swimmer