Preparing for the Great North Swim

Denham Lake open water swimming

Today I completed my first (ever) 2 mile open water swim. I am going to let this one sink in for a bit … because my arms and upper torso hurt and I am not sure how much typing I will be able to do without stopping… 2 miles does not sound that far (if you are walking), but it is, it takes me an hour and a half, stopping just once to adjust my goggles. Todays’ swim is part of my overall training for another 2 mile swim, in Windermere this time, next week in fact.

How did I end up doing this at 6.30am on Saturday mornings, every Saturday nearly for the past month and a half. There had been too many articles about the mental health benefits of open water swimming to ignore it. The evidence is still anecdotal, and also mainly talks about cold dips. And this is how I started. On the Devon retreat I went to, I went swimming in the sea with Annabel and Lauren, and I was hooked. I went a couple of times to the Ladies Pond in Hampstead Heath, braving the really cold temperatures. I did not know it, but it was my acclimatisation for swimming now – getting ready for the swimming in the lakes, and without a wetsuit.

Fast forward to April, and the managed lakes around me had finally opened, starting with Denham. The temperatures were higher, 13C and my first swim absolutely crap. I swan through the lake to come back to shore (on the pontoon shown above) after half a km, doing doggy paddle. It was pathetic. It was a wake up call to how much training needed to be done. I did not get the endorphins hit that I experienced in the Pond, it was a disaster if I am honest.

It became clear quickly that the wetsuit was an issue, I was panicking, could not find my breath (it was easier to find my breath when the water was at 6C, without a wetsuit). Unfortunately managed lakes have temperatures below which a wetsuit is compulsory. In Hertfordshire I had to wear my wetsuit twice since the opened. Today the water was at 20C, soon you will not be able to wear a wetsuit (above 22C) which means less gliding in the water.

The effects of cold dips in the winter have been reported a lot in the press lately. I would encourage anyone who has been tempted to go for a wild swim or a cold dip when the colder months come and experience it. I cannot describe how incredibly empowering it is. The first time I went to the Ladies Pond in Hampstead Heath, I felt invincible. I had not felt like that for a long time. It felt like there would be a way out, that it would and can get better.

 By the Sea – The therapeutic benefits of being in, on and by the water, by Dr Deborah Cracknell is the first (only) book that looks scientifically at the impact of being in water. She refers to the ‘biophilia hypothesis’, the ‘love of life or living systems’, popularised by American biologist Edward Wilson in his 1984 book Biophilia. Wilson’s hypothesis proposes that throughout millions of years of evolution, humans have been inextricably linked to the natural environment and we are therefore genetically programmed to respond positively to elements of nature that support success and survival, and negatively to elements of nature that may harm us or hinder survival and wellbeing in some way. Furthermore, it is suggested that our inherent emotional connection to other living organisms is a basic human need, rather than just a cultural amenity or individual preference, and if we don’t maintain contact with natural systems and processes, our physical and mental wellbeing will suffer. It reminds me of the Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell who found solace in observing seasonal shift in nature.

Box End Park open water swimming

People meditate, I go for long swims. My swims include several stages. For the first couple of minutes, you will find me breathe deeply to get acclimatised, my mind will be going through all the excuses on why I should stop quickly within the first half km. The second stage is the angry stage, anything that annoyed me during the day or week, I go through them all. My mind will race through my issues, and by the first kilometre I will be in my flow and find my rhythm, and forgotten all about speed and techniques, I am just there in the water. A kilometre takes me half an hour. I get hungry after an hour, for one lap. My flow does not come quickly.

Longer distances training made me realise a lot about the way I need to approach my own workflow, how I write reports, articles for work, creative projects, blog posts. I probably need to work in batches, if it is possible, to really go deep into an activity.

I also had some help during my training from my osteopath at Body Mechanix in Harpenden. They are offering a 10% discount for the month of June to support me in my training. Use the code SWIM10.


For those who fancy trying open water swimming, start by finding a coach. I went to Heather’s classes (Amanzi),  she has a few weekend classes at the lakes.  Then you will be ready to go on your own – I do go with friends, but I am equally happy to go on my own (you are never on your own) – the pictures in this post, follows the order of the list. 

I like Denham near Maple Cross a lot (off the M25), it feels less ‘managed’ than Stanborough, it is a bigger loop (1km compared to 400m). And the cafe/bar is opened after your swim. The changing rooms are on the small size. It is a popular lake. 

My nearest lake is Stanborough in Welwyn GC, it is opened on Monday, Wednesday evenings, and Saturday mornings. You will find me there on Wednesdays and Saturdays usually. It feels really safe when you go on your own. 

I also went to Box End Park. It is pretty snazzy. we have friends around there, and we meet up for a swim whilst the kids (with our other halves) play. You can spot team GB Cable Wakeboard team. I will say no more. Also we lost a football in the lake, if you find it, let me know! 

I have not been but Merchant Taylors lake is open for open water swimming on Sundays. I need to go really as my in-laws are next door, and I could get them to look after the kids. 

There is Redricks Lake. You need to do an induction with them before you are able to go in.

For a wild swim, I went to Hertford to Hartham Common, once with Heather and then on my own. I might go there soon. It is another experience altogether.


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