Chilly Swimming 2.0: Skins

Paul Ainsworth
Written by Paul Ainsworth

I am standing by the side of the Activities Away lake in Lincoln. I slip off my trainers, peel off my jogging bottoms and put on my neoprene socks. I take off my ‘snoodie,’ replacing it with my bobble hat and gloves. There I am standing in my black speedos. In my mind I’m Daniel Craig but to anybody else I’m just another bald, middle-aged man.

It’s not raining but there is little sun and I slowly walk into the cool water, the water is up to my shins, my thighs, covering my trunks, up to my belly button and then my chest. I pause at this point as my hands and arms have remained above the water and now, I lower them, feeling cold on the inside of my wrists.

I am still not completely committed and I look around at the collection of swimmers at the lake, some in wetsuits and others like me, in skins. I lower myself into the water and begin my military breaststroke. It burns against my neck and I grimace, the discomfort showing in my jawbone. I swim another 50m with my frown still in place and then always at the same point, that second buoy, the second turn, I stop fighting against nature and I no longer feel the chill and I began to enjoy my swim.

I can still feel the bitterness against my skin but it is no longer a discomfort instead it is awareness of all my skin. Soon this feeling disappears and I begin to feel the warm. It is just my fingers and toes that remain chilled.

At this point I have a confession to make, I hate the cold. In my teenage years and early twenties, I played football and rugby. My teammates would laugh at me as I pulled on a t-shirt, a long sleeve t-shirt and even an old woolly jumper before my football or rugby shirt. I was stick thin without an ounce of fat but on the sports field, I gave a good impression of the Michelin man.

Last winter, I swam almost every week, pleased with my investment of a winter wet suit, socks, gloves and an array of hats. Enjoying the camaraderie of the other swimmers at the Activities Away lake in Lincoln. I shared my experiences in a series of three blogs. This year I have a new challenge, skin swimming.

Like many others I watched the Wim Hoff, ‘freeze the fear’ TV programme and since then the shower has only ever been turned halfway to hot and every day, for the last 30seconds of my shower, I turn it cold. Initially that was a challenge to stand there for 10seconds but now I can stand for much longer. I’m also the person who turns the showers at my leisure centre to cold.

When the months turned to May, I put my wetsuit away and have not used it since. In 2021 I always wore my shortie wetsuit even in the height of the summer. This year, they are tucked away deep in my wardrobe.

I am really enjoying the challenge and freedom of swimming. I must admit when I emerged from the water last Sunday by the time I had got changed, I had started to shake and was glad of my porridge to try and replace some heat. I got into my car and turned the blowers up to maximum heat too.

I do not know how long I can keep doing this. Not wearing a wet suit that is. Last week the water was 10.4c and I imagine this week it will drop into single figures and my three laps of the lake will become two but I will keep trying. I will enjoy the endorphins that flood through me as I dry myself, the sense of fulfillment when I get home that I have done another chilly swim and the smiles of looking at other winter swimmers on social media, thinking they are my clan.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, have a look at last year’s winter swimming blogs and why not follow me on Instagram, Theendlessskies.

Winter swimming
Winter swimming: Keeping safe
Seven great reasons for winter swimming

Main photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

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