The last couple of Sunday morning swims with friends from "Just Swim" at Fisherman's Walk have probably been my coldest sea swims of the winter so far. The PHISH 2016 cold water event at Parliament Hill Lido was the coldest swim at 3ºC but that's an outdoor pool and generally the sea has been much warmer hovering around 7 or 8º this month.
It's been stormy most weekends since the autumn and a turbulent sea stirs up some of the deeper warmer water. Whilst not exactly making it toasty this mixing certainly adds a degree or so. Calm weather and a frost chills the surface making the top few inches really cold first thing in the morning - and this is the bit you're swimming in unless you're doing it wrong!
Waves and stormy seas bring their own unique challenges but swimming in calm cold water is a fantastic feeling. For me the trick is get my breathing under control and get into a steady rhythm. The initial pain caused by the cold subsides and you're off. However I would stress that nobody should attempt to swim in water this cold with or without a wetsuit if they are not used to it - there are risks involved. You need to be acclimatised and know a few things about the body's reaction to being immersed in cold water. I wasn't intending to go into all of that now but if you're interested then Donal Buckley has written an interesting article on the subject.
Both last week and today were fantastic swims with a calm sea and sunshine. The hazy sunshine was just strong enough to penetrate the water with shafts of light and I felt like I was gliding along in my own personal luminous sea-green space.
Sometimes even when conditions are calm there is a groundswell and occasionally you become aware of it when one of the larger sets rolls in towards the shore. As they near the beach they become steeper before breaking and often provide some great opportunities for body surfing fun to finish off a session.
Some of my pool swimming friends question the need for winter swimming, other people think it's just a bit insane. But I'd question the reason not to do it! I don't really do it as part of my Channel training regime but having said that, today I swam 2km at a good pace and further improved my body's cold water acclimatisation to boot.
But above all the reason to swim outdoors in the winter is to feel alive, to exist.
There's no stress, no lane ropes, nobody getting in my way or trying to overtake me, no artificial lights, no rules, no turning around every 25m and no chlorine. And then afterwards theres's lots of warm clothes, a mug of cocoa, the company of great friends and brunch to look forward to. Surely that's what Sunday's are for? Keep them special: go swimming.