open water swimming see and do

It’s Women’s Sport Week (#WSW2015) here in the UK and there are a lot of people getting the word out about women in sport which is inspiring to see. Better than all that rubbish bikini body marketing.

In the spirit of  see & do, my contribution to Women’s Sport Week is going to be sharing some of the sporty things I’ve been doing lately and getting the word out about opportunities to be active here in London.

I was up before 6am on Saturday to go to the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington for my Open Water induction.  To swim at the reservoir you must be registered in an event (Capital Tri run these), doing a training session with RG Active, or have completed an induction and earned your orange swim cap. Getting a spot in an induction involves an endurance event of it’s own as you have to wait until the season starts and the website is updated with the dates the inductions will run. After checking the website for the better part of a month you then have to call and reserve a spot in one of the two induction classes held each week. With only 15 spots per class they get booked up fast.  Wait too long into the season and you risk the dreaded algae closure when the reservoir is sometimes shut due to blooming algae in the water.

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Last year I wasn’t quick enough off the mark and missed out. This year I completed the ultra induction waiting event and found myself sitting in a classroom on Saturday morning with about 20 other swimmers all with different parts of their wetsuit on.

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The instructor gave us a good 10 minute introduction to the reservoir and the rules. It was a good reminder of the rules of open water swimming and that things can go bad quickly if you aren’t careful.  There are wonderful water safety staff at the reservoir who are there to help but don’t be stupid and waste their valuable resources.

After that we were into our wetsuits and in the water for some practical induction time. We had to get into the water and flush our wetsuits and then tread water for about 10 minutes while the various courses in the reservoir were explained to us.  He then had us sink down to the bottom of the reservoir and touch the “bottom”.  We were in the shallow part near the pontoons, but it was still almost 2-3m deep so was a good exercise to get used to going under dark water. The bottom was an interesting texture and as soon as my toe touched I shot right back up to the surface having enough of that squishy sludge. Unfortunately, at the top we were told to go right back down and grab a handful of the bottom sludge to present to the instructor and then pass our induction.  I went under and tried to grab some but only got a little bit on my finger to present and luckily not enough to “swipe across my face” like he suggested we do to truly become a part of the reservoir. Blargh.

After a quick 10m pack swim we were all deemed to pass and were able to enjoy the reservoir for the rest of the morning if we wanted. It’s important to note the induction isn’t a lesson and if it’s your first time in Open Water you might want to think about taking one of the RG Active or Capital Tri training sessions first. Alex and I did the 400m course which was enough for the morning and then met my friend Helen for some coffee at the Reservoir cafe.

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Open Water swimming is an interesting one for me. I find it really tough and haven’t yet had an entirely comfortable experience. I love the challenge of it but there are some pretty tough moments any time I’m out in the waters. It’s so mental though as I know I’m wearing a buoyant wetsuit and not scared of the dark water or the weeds that float around you (so many weeds on the 400m reservoir course! Was almost like hiking through the water at some points) but there is something about the breathing and the sighting that makes it so much more difficult than pool swimming for me.  That said, once I’m out I forget all the difficulties and the huge rush of adrenaline almost always results in a super swim selfie.

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There were a lot of women out on Saturday morning and my unscientific count yielded about a 50/50 spread between the genders.  At our Splash race 2 weeks ago the overall winner of the 750m race was a woman (Alex was the fastest man, but not fastest overall!) There are a lot of women donning goggles and wetsuits so let’s see you all out there.

West Reservoir Open Water Swimming
Website: Better.org.uk
Open for Open Water Swimming: Saturday & Sunday: 7.30am to 9.30am until October, plus Thursday nights starting in June/July.
Inductions: Call 020 8442 8116 to book your induction and bring £15 to the induction.
Cost: £10 or £5 if you’re a Better Swim Member
Wetsuits: Mandatory and can be hired at the centre for a one-off or to try.
Amenities: Hot showers, cafe (great coffee and massive looking sandwiches!)
Notes: Once completed your induction is valid for 3 years but you have to collect a new colour swim cap each year.

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