Winter is coming... and it's f*@%ing cold. 12 degrees in the sun and 9 degrees in the water today at Pilmuir Quarry, Glasgow. I hate the cold and have Renauds in my hands and feet, so of course I had to go for a dip...
To give you some context, I love swimming and have done a few long-distance events and triathlons, but I always really struggle with the cold. Scotland is so insanely beautiful and a sunny day on the white beaches of the north-west coast can look like the Caribbean, but the water still feels like the Arctic.
The coldest I ever managed was during an iron-distance triathlon - an hour in 12 degrees (wetsuit, hat, gloves, socks) but I was freezing and it took about 3 hours on the bike to feel my legs again (not exaggerating).
But the benefits of cold-water swimming have been researched and discussed for decades (and I love this blog post from my pal Shona at Cool Fit Happy www.coolfitandhappy.com/can-cold-water-really-make-you-happy) and for me I am using it as an excuse to bypass my physio's recommendations: I developed Osteitis Pubis when pregnant, which takes years to heal and the main treatment is rest rest rest, which you can imagine is driving me batty. The other treatment is ice therapy so this must count right??!!
So if you feel like you might be ready to take the plunge and not pack away your wetsuit just yet, where do you start? Luckily for those of us in Glasgow, Scotland's leading open water swim company runs sessions every week through winter at Pilmuir Quarry in Newton Mearns and Bardowie Loch near Milngavie. They have just this week also launched Scotland's first ever Ice Mile in February 2017, which founder and coach Robert Hamilton assures me I will die if I attempt the full, non-wetsuit mile as I'm not used to it yet (but I'm allowed to do the 450m in a wetsuit. Yay?).
So, today I rocked up at one of his sessions to find loads of other sensible, regular people (ie total nutters) out for a paddle. Robert helped settle my nerves (ridiculous considering I've swum there a few times over summer). He warned me to just acclimatise today, paddle a bit if I can to the first buoy (150m) and see how I feel. There's always a kayaker out on the water just in case you do need help and it's so clear in the quarry any swimmer would see you if in trouble.
I nervously got in, swore a bit, and splashed my face to try to get used to the burning sensation as others glided past me effortlessly as if it was the South Pacific. Then I took the plunge. I'm always surprised at how much it burns your face and and exposed skin but you quickly get used to it. I managed the first loop and checked back in with Robert, who gave me the go ahead to try another loop.
This all sounds easy but a bit daft right? The thing is, we're talking about a tiny 150m loop that takes a couple of minutes to swim - I swam 50km once and I'm planning on 10km next summer so really this should be easy. But I was so surprised (despite Robert telling me 45 times) that your body slows right down in these temperatures and you should allow for a drop in your normal swim times if you are not used to it. My arms very quickly became heavy and I knew it was time to get out.
So, there we have it. I survived. I got out and tried to chat to Robert and he hurried me away back to my car to stop a catastrophic drop in body temperature. And I was fine. And I really enjoyed it and I felt super smug to be doing something (anything) on a Sunday morning. Honestly, I have struggled a bit with depression since I got my diagnosis and doctors orders to rest for the foreseeable future, so it felt amazing to be doing something that feels like the old me that would not aggravate my pelvis. Can't wait to go back next week and try for 500m. Who's up for it?
For some really helpful information on cold-water swimming see
To enter Vigour Events Ice Mile in Bardowie, near Glasgow see