Winter Swimming

Woman swimming in cold water
Paul Ainsworth
Written by Paul Ainsworth

We have now passed the Winter Solstice and as the days get imperceptibly longer and nights shorter, I begin to long for some summer sunshine. When I think back to the curious summer we had last year, with no trips to foreign climes, my highlights were definitely spending time on a paddleboard practicing my own yoga or teaching others the joys of SUP Yoga.

Last winter, I missed time in and around the water. I am no longer a member of a health club so don’t have a pool to enjoy on the dark winter evenings. In fact, it’s eighteen months since I last swam in a pool. However, this winter, I have found the pleasure of swimming in a lake.

When I tell my friends, family, and colleagues, they think I’m having a mid-life crisis. Equally before you think I’m a super person or have studied Wim Hoff, I do have a confession to make, I do not like the cold at all. In the summer, the hotter the better is my motto. So, you might ask how do I do it? How did I just complete my morning swim when the air temperature was 3.5C and the water a balmy 4.6C? It was literally just above freezing.

In the Autumn, I treated myself to a long legged and long armed wetsuit. In addition, I have some neoprene socks and gloves. So, before I make my way into the water, I carefully tuck the wetsuit legs into my socks and the arms into my gloves. There is not a centimetre of flesh open to the water and this is all topped with a very attractive bobble hat.

Winter swimming in a lake
All kitted out for my winter swim

I cautiously walk into the lake and yes it does feel cold as my body slowly submerges but not freezing. The one place where the water touches my skin is at my neck and for the first 50m, my skin feels as though it’s burning but at the same point of my weekly swim, this sensation decreases, and I can concentrate on my head up breast-stroke.

The ‘Activities Away’ lake in Lincoln,has a small marked circuit which is about 200m long and until Christmas, I was completing three laps. For the last three weeks, I have reduced this to two as my fingers were becoming very chilly and I was struggling with removing my swimming apparel when I emerged from the water.

I am very lucky, the lake where I teach SUP Yoga has organised swimming sessions with life guards present and a café open for some warming drinks afterwards. Before starting to swim they insist that a cold-water swimming induction session is completed, covering a range of health and safety advice as well as a monitored swim.

There is a camaraderie amongst the swimmers, warm smiles and friendly greetings are passed to me from people who I do not know the names of. There are two camps of water babies, those, who like me, swim in a wetsuit and those who choose ‘skins’, and even in the winter are still entering the water in their costume or trunks. Interestingly most of these swimmer still wear socks and gloves.

The lake continues to be my happy place and whilst I am longing for the days when I can practice ‘Warrior 2’ on my floating yoga mat in the sunshine, clad in shorts and a vest. I am certain that my winter swimming practice adds to my well-being whilst the days are short and the nights are long.


Main photo by Luka Reedy on Unsplash