David joined The Swimmer II and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. This was David's first cold swim but despite the photo, he enjoyed it all. Read David's account of his virgin voyage with The Swimmer below.
Despite having grown up in North London I had never been to the Hampstead Pools, nor the Parliament Hill Lido. So when a friend showed metheswimmer.org, I jumped at the chance. I run, I swim, and the distance is manageable. Admittedly the only open water swimming I've ever done was a couple of lakes during Triathlons wearing a wetsuit, and for this event it appeared swimming costumes was the apparel of choice. Then again it was also clear that the swims would be very short.
How hard could it be?
Will had helpfully sent through some tips on open cold water swimming. Dear reader, let me share a secret. Tips are useless when you first immerse yourself in what feels like sub-zero temperatures and yet the chalk board by the pool claimed was 8 degrees. Suddenly, something that you take for granted, namely breathing, becomes extremely difficult. Will was watching as I clung to the pontoon, concern written all over his face. “Long slow deep breaths, David” he reminded me. Whilst I wasn't so seized up that I'd forgotten that particular tip, actually following it proved impossible. So I pushed off anyway, swam 2 strokes, decided that a coronary during the first dip was a daft way to end the day, so went back to the ladder, and exited.
A group photo was called for on the next, higher, pontoon, after which we were all supposed to jump in. I did not.
The short run to Parliament Lido got me warmed up nicely, so I decided to brave the pool waters again in a swimming costume only. Same result as before. Oh well. At least I got to see this pool with its stunning stainless steel base.
So again I exited the pool, dried off, and left the changing rooms with deep admiration for the proper swimmers who seemed, amazingly, to actually enjoy the feeling of nether regions disappearing.
Next up was the group run to the Serpentine. It was excellent, and the view from the top of Primrose Hill made the dunkings worth it. A brief halt for the obligatory photos and then the run proper started.
The route was lovely, and the 15 runners split into 2 groups. During that run, whilst admiring the scenery, I made a decision – at the Serpentine the wetsuit would be worn.
And indeed it was, to the barely concealed scorn of the regular Serpentine swimmers. One in particular helpfully suggested to me as I was dragging it on that “you should try it without sometime”. So of course I had to reply, saying that that morning I'd already tried two open water swims and that I couldn't face a third. That mollified her slightly, but I was glad I didn't reveal the full extent of what I was describing as 'swum already at two pools'.
This time the swim went a little better. The cold was far easier to cope with. What wasn't easy to cope with was the taste of the Serpentine. I won't describe it, other than to say it had an........earthy feel to it. Yes, earthy will do. Mixed with duck.
Then I had to make a decision – do I run with the fast group to Brockwell Lido, or stop and have a cup of tea with the second, presumably slower group. Figuring that if I sat down for an extended time at that point I may not get going again, I joined in with the fast group. Would I keep up for the 6 miles, or would this North London boy get dropped in deepest darkest Sarf London? I'd be running through places that, I'm ashamed to say, I'd never visited despite having lived in London for close to 50 years. Well, yes, I did manage to keep up.
Being honest, though, that was probably mainly due to the kindness of Jonathan and Chris who looked to be running well within their limits. But towards the end I came to curse traffic lights. Stopping running at that point did mean there was a high risk of not being able to start again. I could feel the cramping beginning as we turned into Brockwell Park, but at that point I knew I was going to finish this thing.
Brockwell Lido looks amazing. Not going for a swim was simply not an option, so the wetsuit was donned again, and I entered the pool. I'd been told during the run by Katie, a devotee of open water swimming sans wetsuit, that my mental attitude was key to coping. I had to “embrace the cold”. So embrace it I did, and swam to the other end.
And still it hurt, my forehead of all things complaining bitterly. Still, it was better, the water was clean, so I asked Chris to take a few pictures with my camera. Then I asked him to take a short video of me swimming as I've never seen what I look like. All I know is that I seem to make a lot of effort without much speed.
But it was just as I finished doing my swim past that I realised that for the first time nothing was really hurting, nothing was telling me, no, screaming at me, to get out of the pool and to get dry. And I'll confess that did feel good.
The group then all got together in the Lido's cafe, where coffee, bacon rolls and assorted breakfasts were devoured. All had the satisfied glow of a challenge successfully completed. And yes, I call it a success despite my somewhat limited swims at the first two pools.
Hopefully there will be a next time, and who knows, I may actually “embrace the cold” properly. Or just start with a wetsuit.