Midwinter

Today is the shortest day, the winter solstice, the astronomical start of winter. The peak of the dark nights. The point at which I feel I can start looking towards lighter mornings and evenings. The joy of very early morning dips are still a few months away but now we’ve passed the shortest day I feel like they’re in sight again.

For the summer solstice this year we had a double dip day. We swam at sunrise (4:39am) and sunset (9:41pm).  It was a cloudy day so we didn’t witness sunrise and sunset but it was beautiful all the same. Meeting my swim buddies at 4:30 in the morning was even more bonkers than usual and we all went back to bed for a cheeky snooze before starting our normal days. In the evening we toasted the sunset with a glass of Pimms. I was in the midst of a pretty nasty chest infection at the time but I refused to let it stop me. Nothing was getting in the way of celebrating the peak of the open water season. What does amuse me now though is that I was firmly in my wetsuit for our sunrise dip!

This morning we went for our Winter Solstice dip. We couldn’t witness sunrise, it’s too late in the day at the moment to work it around the kids and it wasn’t quite as leisurely, long or warm as our summer version but it was special just the same. The bestest swim buddy and I met at 7am in the fog at our usual spot. It’s warmed up a bit this week so it’s not so cold getting changed but the water’s still bloody cold. We did our usual amount of huffing and swearing but managed a good 200m in our cozzies and woolly hats. The usual pleasantries of “is it cold in there” were had with a slightly shocked dog walker. And we toasted a great year of swimming with a brew and a mince pie.

I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, for many reasons, so I thought midwinter seemed like a good time for me to look back on 2017.

At the beginning of the year I knew I wanted to do more swimming outside. I was really missing it by January and needed some goals in my head to work towards. I can’t really remember what my aims were, I really should write this stuff down, but I think they were: overcome my fear of sea swimming; skins swimming; swim in new places; complete a 5km and maybe a 10km event.

I’m pleased, and slightly surprised to say I managed it all in various ways. The sea swimming was always going to be limited, we live slap bang in the middle of the UK. The nearest beach is more than two hours away. But I managed to swim in the sea in North and South Wales and Whitby. I’d swum a little bit in the sea in 2016 but never felt that comfortable, always scared of the monsters that might be lurking in the depths and the force of tides and waves. I managed to overcome some of that this year. I swam on my own in Whitby (always close to the beach) and managed not to freak out. I swam in some serious waves in North Wales with some friends. I found, and fell in love with, a new dimension of open water swimming in the sea. I learned that I could cope with the occasional faceful of water and found a beautiful rhythm in swimming with the swell.

The skins swimming came fairly late in the year. I’d done a couple of skins dips in the summer when it was really warm (22C water temperature!) but hadn’t carried on with it. After my chest infection at midsummer I was paranoid about making my chest worse and kept to the safety of my wetsuit. Then autumn came and the bestest swim buddy started shedding her wetsuit. Now skins has become more regular than wetsuits! Because it’s so cold the swims are never for long – 10 minutes maximum – but I’m hopeful that, once things warm up again, our winter acclimatisation will make skins swimming easier next year.

I didn’t think I’d ticked that many new swim locations off this year but once I started thinking about it I’ve not done too badly. There have been two more reservoirs, one lake, two rivers, two waterfalls and two new beaches added to the list. I’ll take that. Hopefully next year I’ll tick a few more off.

My events happened too. Only two, but I managed a 5km and a 10km. The 5km (Salford) was boring. From that, I learned I need nice things to look at when I’m swimming for that long. The 10km (Hurly Burly) exceeded all of my expectations. Part of me still feels like the Hurly Burly was a bit of a cheaty 10km though. I didn’t actually propel myself 10km thanks to the epic spring tide so next year I want to do a flat one with no tide or current assist – Buttermere is in the diary. Despite that it’s still the best event I’ve ever done. It was more of an adventure than an event which is exactly what open water swimming is about for me.

On top of that I trained to be a swimming teacher. Something that was in the back of my mind but I wasn’t sure I was going to do just yet. I’m pleased I took the plunge and I’m looking forward to more in 2018.

I’ve just been through my diary for next year and it’s starting to fill up already. The definite event is the swim leg of an Ironman triathlon in June. The bestest swim buddy is doing the bike leg and another very good friend is doing the run. An all girls team! I’m thoroughly looking forward to it, not least because my bit’s by far and away the easiest. I’ll be done in less than 1 hour 20 minutes, the others have about 7 and 4 hours respectively to do!

Quite fittingly the bestest swim buddy and I started hatching a plan for for the summer solstice 2018 last night. The next six months will prove whether we can pull it off or not!

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