How much do we actually swim?

People sometimes comment that I must be super fit given all the swimming I do. Hmm, I often say, you must be assuming all that time I spend around cold water is spent actually swimming.

Winter swimming is cold. You really can’t spend that long in the water. Even with many, many layers of neoprene we don’t last more than 20 minutes before the hand and feet pain puts a stop to any more adventurous plans.

So, if we’re not swimming loads when we go outside what are we actually doing with that time?

Talk to most open water swimmers and they’ll talk about the “faff”. That bit of extra time that needs to be spent both pre and post swim fiddling with kit, making sure you’ve got everything, making sure everyone else is OK. It can be a lengthy process. The Short One and I are no different and, for me, it’s an important part of any swim.

On Saturday I started the Swim England Level 2 Open Water Swimming Coaching course. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and, if I’m perfectly honest was the big reason I trained as a swimming teacher originally.

As part of the assessment process I have to provide a series of very detailed session plans. These include what happens in the session as well as a few other useful bits of info. We’ve been given a pro-forma to complete.

However, the session plan pro-formas are based on what you would use in a pool environment and suggest you would spend your entire one hour swim session in the water. For a novice open water swimmer I probably wouldn’t expect them to spend the whole hour in the water, even in summer they might get a bit tired and cold for a whole hour. There’d be other stuff I’d do with a complete novice around the swimmy bit to get them ready and learn how to deal with open water. So, in order to accommodate this I’m going to have to shoe-horn such a session into the format we’ve been given.

I need to practice doing just that so I figured I’d try and manipulate The Short One and I’s pretty typical swim this morning into it. We “swam” for an hour but how much swimming actually occurred in that hour? Below is a summary. Apologies for the format!

Name of Venue: Reser Swim Area: Big, it’s a reservoir
Start Time: 06:00 (maybe more like 10 past) End Time: 07:00
Depth: Deep Water Temperature: Cold enough to make stuff go numb
Kit required: Wetsuit, gloves, socks, crocs, gimp mask, goggles, ear plugs, nose clip, hot drink, dryrobe, post swim gloves, hat, car keys, thermometer, any other crap that happens to be in the pocket of dryrobe


Session Aim:
Improve general mental wellbeing
Specific Objectives:

Get smacked in the face by waves

Lose all feeling in hands

Swim about 400m without drowning/getting hypothermia

  Duration Activities/Practices    
Entry & Acclimatisation 5-15 depending on lateness of participants
  • Participant 1 to enter participant 2’s car.
  • Say good morning
  • Ensure heated seat is turned on.


Warm Up 25
  • Make sure you’re comfy, this may take a while
  • Chat
  • Put world to rights
  • Discuss events from past day/week/month
  • Discuss planned events for next day/week/month
  • Drink tea/coffee without burning mouth/spilling down front
  • Wait for heated seat to fully penetrate a layer of neoprene and a Dryrobe
  • Do not leave car until fully warmed by heated seats.
  • Say “we really should get out and swim” a minimum of 3 times
Main Set 5
  • Exit car
  • Ask “do you have everything” at least twice
  • Offer advice/sarcasm as needed
  • Check all stuff is in pockets of dryrobe
  • Walk to get-in
  • Finish putting wetsuit on
  • Add gimp mask, goggles, gloves, garmin in correct order
  • Run back to car upon realising an item of kit is missing
  • Sack off missing item of kit & concede it’s at home – swear a bit
  • Ensure Dryrobes won’t blow away
  • Hoik wetsuits
Sub Set 15
  • Enter water – slowly
  • Acclimatise
  • Allow water to trickle painfully down front/back of wetsuit
  • Squeal/whoop/swear as needed
  • Discuss which parts of body are coldest today
  • Swim with hands out of water for as long as possible due to forgotten gloves before conceding that’s not going to work
  • Gradually dip face to cool it down and allow ice cream head to clear
  • Commence head in front crawl
  • Pause for breath/to allow ice cream head to clear again
  • Swim
  • Get battered by waves
  • Stop a couple more times to enjoy the view/check on each other
  • Swim back
  • Attempt to draft off other swimmer – get kicked in face and decide that’s a bad idea
Recovery 2.5
  • Exit water
  • Relish the gush of water flooding down the inside of your wetsuit on exit
  • In as rapid succession as possible get crocs, dryrobes and mittens on
Exit 2.5
  • Leg it back to car
  • Unlock car
  • Provide assistance to unlock car if other participant’s hands have stopped working
  • Ensure both cars are functioning and accessible before one of you drives off and leaves the other one stuck to walk home wet
  • Say goodbye, plan for next swim
  • Drive home as quickly and safely as possible
  • Swear about how much your hands hurt on drive home

As you can see we faff………..a lot. Our swims are the only chance The Short One and I get to catch up and they’re as much about that as the actual swimming itself. We could just go for a coffee but there’s something rather freeing about chatting in a car at dawn that puts me more at ease than sitting in a cafe where other people can overhear and judge.

As the water warms up we’ll want to swim a bit further so we’ll have to put paid to this amount of faffing. I’m looking forward to longer swims but I’m going to miss our early morning catch ups and the Short One’s heated seats. Of course, we could just set the alarms a bit earlier!

3 Replies to “How much do we actually swim?”

  1. I have an image in my head of two disembodied sweary gimp masks floating round a reservoir, very disturbing.

    Assuming these are optional (I don’t like getting mine wet), you should do a lesson on all the adults at the next camping trip!


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