For a while I’ve been wanting a new challenge. It’s 5 years since I hiked Kilimanjaro, and I’ve been itching to find something new to get stuck into. My brief stint of rowing at uni left me disappointed and in pain for too long, renovating a house and planning a wedding these last two years has impeded regular climbing, and my joints take a lot more convincing when it comes to going for a hike. The things that had been great passions were proving physically and mentally trying, and finally being free of back pain for the first time in years has made me wary of doing too much that might bring back the dreaded sciatica. It was through physio and recovery from various injuries that re-introduced me to swimming, and I now push out 1-1.5k pool dips several times a week before work.
It was through this that I started to wonder about outdoor swimming. I love the countryside – it’s why we moved – and it’s the big skies and rolling hills that call to me from my window, always yearning for fresh air. I’m not a runner, and my bike would require an upgrade to be of any use on the undulating cycle paths, so what better way to enjoy the landscape than my newly-discovered love of water. Having come to this revelation in February, needless to say I wasn’t crazy enough (yet!) to hack away at ice in order to dip into 3-degree reservoirs. However, we did uncover the Hathersage Open Air pool, and spend a wonderful hour or so swimming in warm water whilst a blizzard howled around our exposed ears. It was exhilarating, and the blast of frozen air when you run from the pool to the covered changing rooms (not indoors mind!) did make me understand to a small degree why people jump into icy lakes for that hit of adrenaline. I’m not quite there yet…
It was after this dip, when I was timidly still thinking that maybe perhaps in the future I’d get into some real open water, that I popped into a local Alpkit and tried on a wetsuit for the first time in my life. Thanks to helpful sales assistants (who happened to be the same size as me) with plenty of advice, and a husband who wouldn’t take no for an answer, I left that day with the kit and a still slightly hesitant idea that this was going to become something real.
Fast forward a few months (thanks to the relentlessly cold winter) and in early May I had my first foray into open water swimming. In the absolutely stunning Chatsworth estate, one exceptionally hot Saturday as families were picnicking along the riverbank, I squelched into the River Derwent and had a chilly but joyful half hour float. The wetsuit kept most of me warm, my hands and feet went numb, but with the sun beating down I casually kept pace with ducklings and marvelled at finally doing what had been playing on my mind for months.
I’ve since had a second dip, this time complete with swimming cap and goggles. The water was a touch warmer, though still cold enough to make my breathing shallow, and it took a long time to relax enough to get into some sort of rhythm. But I managed to actually swim (not just paddle) for a few hundred timid metres, with hubby on the shoreline carrying my bag and looking increasingly jealous. I keep reminding myself that there’s a big difference between swimming in moving water in a restrictive wetsuit compared to the 20m spa pool I run laps in most mornings. I always strive to achieve, and am very self-critical, so it’s as much of a learning curve cutting myself some slack as it is working out how to take a wetsuit off without falling over in front of dog walkers.
But however tentative a beginning, there’s no going back. Seeing what a large community of swimmers there are in my local area, scouting out the reservoirs slightly closer to home, and uncovering the sheer volume of organised events that occur most weekends during the summer season, it’s safe to say I’m about to be fully submerged by a whole new world. And we’re now getting Simon a wetsuit on the weekend… I don’t think there’s any going back.