I’ve learned the difference between 13*C and 15*C. It’s a big 2 degrees.
My first outdoor swim of the year (not counting the lovely London Fields Lido) was at Hampstead’s Kenwood Ladies Pond with Josie, Laura, and Helen. It was 13*C (even though the lifeguard assured us it was pretty close to 13.5). As we got in my feet stung and my hands were numb with pain. The wetsuit did its job, until I did the dreaded – let water in through your neck – thing and then was so cold there was nothing to do but swim around to keep warm.
The next weekend Helen and I ventured back to the pond and was greeted with a solid 13.5*C. Getting in wasn’t so bad and since the sun was out the top few cm of the water actually felt warm. It did wonders for my body position while swimming as my legs were doing their best to keep up and not sink.
The pond dips were in preparation for my first Open Water race of the year at the Capital Tri Splash #1. Never one to pass up a deal, I signed up for the heavily discounted early bird entry 3 Splash race season. Splash 1 = 750m, Splash 2 = 1500m, Splash 3 = 3000m. My winter pool brain thought this sounded like a great idea and my 2.5k swimathon medal was looking at me saying, “3k? No biggie!”
Last year I did the Splash & Dash and had a pretty bad time. I hadn’t been back to the Stoke Newington West Reservoir since, but had become much more comfortable swimming, in my wetsuit, and even in open water. I wouldn’t say I was confident heading into this race, but much calmer.
We arrived at the reservoir to be registered and wiggle into our wetsuits, it was such a beautiful morning that almost everyone who signed up showed up so it was a bit busier than usual. Alex, Laura and I were in the last wave of swimmers so we waited on the deck in the sun watching the red swimcaps bobbing around discussing our sighting strategies.
After a quick briefing (swim counter clockwise, roll on your back if you need a break or any help) we were told we had 2 minutes before the start so we could get in and get warm! I lowered myself in and after 45 minutes of dreading it, it wasn’t that cold. 2 degrees does makes all the difference. After a few quick face dips & a the letting in of the water through my neck thing it was time to go. I was most fussed with not getting too caught up in people racing as I panic a bit when I swim too fast and can’t breathe as much as I want too. I hung back for a second then started to swim. I had a few knocks on my legs from people passing me, which was more of a relief than anything as I wasn’t sure how I’d handle people swimming so close. I kept swimming and sighting to the first buoy and then on my way to the second got really tired. I never really enjoy the first few hundred meters of any swim and know my body takes a while to get into the groove, I stopped to tread water for a bit taking some deep breaths in and out until I felt ready to get back going. The nice kayak man came over to ask if I was OK, and I gave him the thumbs up and kept going.
As we rounded the top of the course and started to head back to the docks I started to feel good and strong and didn’t have to look up to sight as much. I think the wind was behind me too (anything that helps mentally) so was enjoying it for a few hundred metres. The last buoy felt like it took forever to get too, and it was a smaller buoy the same colour as our swim caps so harder to sight and stay in line with.
At the finish I got myself up and out of the water with a few Frankenstein steps and wandered over to grab my finishers bag of treats and see Laura & Alex who had already finished. As we hung around in the sun eating our Mars bars and drying off we all reviewed our races and were all happy with how we finished, no crazy records set but all happy with the morning in the water.
After changing and cueing up for a warm shower we went back out to the cafe deck for a quick coffee and watched the awards for the day being given out. Laura and I were watching the guy finishing his 3,000m race all done butterfly without a wetsuit when they announced the men’s winner of the 750m race was Alex Stewart! I was shocked as Alex and I are about as competitive as house mice, and super proud of Alex’s first race win!
We obviously celebrated with massive sandwiches and pints for lunch, and set our sights on getting in the reservoir a few more times before our next race on 12th July.
Stoke Newington West Reservoir is open for open water swimming, you just have to call ahead to book in an induction on a Saturday morning. Hampstead Heath Kenwood Ladies Pond is open every day until about 8:30pm (depending on the sunset) and is £2 per swim.