Michelle Walker, our Deputy Technical Director, is currently in the midst of training for the Wild Dart swim. Follow Michelle's journey in this new blog series, written by her as she braves the cold water in preparation for this mammoth wild swim.
As if she doesn’t already do enough for The Rivers Trust, Michelle has decided to fundraise for us in the lead-up to the event on the 26th of June. Click here to donate to Michelle’s fundraiser for cleaner, healthier rivers.
"I have been swimming outdoors without a wetsuit through the last seven winters, so I am very familiar with the gasp reflex when your body and face first hit cold water. This gasp is automatic and even seasoned winter swimmers can’t prevent it, so it’s really important not to jump or dive into cold water, but to enter in a controlled way. I find it useful to huff and puff my way in, even squealing or issuing a few comforting expletives when the temperature drops into single figures!
Ironically now that the temperatures are warming up (a ‘balmy’ 12 degrees in Clevedon’s marine lake last week), I have dusted off my wetsuit and started training with a layer of neoprene insulating me from the cold. Whilst I am confident that my body can cope with very cold temperatures for short distances, the 5km distance of the Wild Dart swim may take me up to 1.5 hours to swim, and the river temperature is likely to be around 12-15 degrees in June, so I don’t feel confident that I can swim that long without a wetsuit, or ‘skins’ as it’s called by regular outdoor swimmers.
Swimming wetsuits are thinner but also tighter than your average surfing wetsuit. They really are like a second skin and are sleek, which helps with keeping streamlined, but that tightness also changes the way I move and breathe. Even without a wetsuit, I always take some time to get into a good rhythm and for my breathing to settle and any anxiety to ease. This week I am starting to build the distance up, so was aiming for a kilometre which at my currently slow pace means being in the water for around half an hour.
The first 10-20 mins of any swim is a mind game for me - trying not to let negative thoughts about the temperature or my fitness develop into anxiety which then affects my breathing. Experience has taught me that after a while my body finds a rhythm and I start to feel more at home, like I truly belong in the water. The mindfulness of steadying my breathe during a swim is the closest my restless brain ever gets to meditation, and combined with the many other mental health benefits of outdoor swimming, this really helps my overall mental health. I really notice that on the days that I manage a morning swim, I’m always much more positive and able to cope with pressure. It can be hard to fit swim training in to a busy week, but I know that dragging myself out of a warm bed and getting an early swim in before work will really help me get more done, which is just as well because I’ll need to do a lot of that over the coming weeks."
Keep your eyes peeled for Michelle's next blog, and cheer her on with a donation if you're able to!