I’ve always had a strong affinity with water. As a youngster I was a keen club swimmer and spent many family holidays splashing around in the sea in Scotland and jumping off piers (the latter being quite an obsession at one stage). I’ve also competed in open-water triathlons and played underwater hockey for a number of years – yes, really – but that’s probably a story for another day! More recently, I’ve enjoyed exploring outdoor swimming spots in and around Sheffield and the Peak District, often planning run routes around “where could I have a dip?”. I’m pretty hardy but until now have reserved outdoor swimming for the temperate months of spring, summer and autumn. Winter for me usually consists of muddy runs, crisp bike rides and dark evenings spent in the pool – and preferably the sauna afterwards! It’s a time when I hang up the neoprene in the wardrobe and dream of longer days until the light returns and the water warms up again in the spring.
However, as we have all experienced in our own ways, this winter has been different. With indoor pools closed due to Covid, seemingly endless bouts of snow and a growing baby bump making running and road cycling somewhat uncomfortable, I’ve joined the many people finding solace in taking chilly dips in the UK’s waters. As the cold water quite literally takes my breath away, it also takes away the feelings of isolation and frustration that I’ve been struggling with. On land, I feel big and uncomfortable, but in the water I feel weightless. When I emerge, I do so with a clear mind and a greater appreciation of what my body is capable of. Just a few minutes of bobbing about resets my head and helps me to focus on everything I can do, and not what I can’t.
Kit-wise, I’ve been wearing the Alpkit Dulsie combined with neoprene gloves and booties. I started off with a woolly hat but have swapped this for a silicone swim cap now the water has warmed up a bit, so I can put my head in if I feel inclined to do so. The Dulsie’s long sleeves and lined front really do add an extra layer of warmth, and it’s quite a head-turner – invariably, every time I wear it, someone asks me where I got it from. But, refreshingly, there’s no “right outfit” for outdoor swimming – it’s up to you what you wear. If you’d be more comfortable in a wetsuit, go for it! I’d probably be wearing mine if only I could still zip it up…
I can’t recommend outdoor swimming enough for both its physical and mental health benefits. If you want to give it a try, it’s worth checking out the advice on the Outdoor Swimming Society website. Always take safety precautions and swim within your own personal limits. And if, like me, you’re swimming for two, have a chat with your GP or midwife before starting a new exercise regime. Every pregnancy is different and it’s about doing what’s right for you.