This year I’m embracing “taking the leap” to do the things that scare me but will bring me joy. One thing that’s always scared me is open water swimming. I am not a strong swimmer at all, and despite my veterinary credentials, I’m petrified of water creatures. And swans, and tangly reeds, of putting my feet down and of not being able to put my feet down. Oh and drowning.
This list of perfectly rational fears has so far put me off open water swimming, and therefore limited my triathlons to being pool based. But the more active stuff I do, and the more amazing people I meet through it, the less comfortable I’m becoming with limiting myself. I am starting to question all the things that at some point I’ve decided I can’t do. Why will I never run a sub-25 5k, be brave enough to use the weight section at the gym, or do an open water swim? Plenty of other people do!
It seems like this summer fate intervened, and the new RG Active Holme Pierrpont Open Water Swimming lake opened-up less than 2 miles from my front door. And I made a new friend who is constantly inspiring me to challenge my self beliefs and try new things. Like dragging me to a lake at 7am on a Sunday morning.
I’ll be honest, I was petrified. But the RG Active team were super, showing me how to get into my QSW Genesis swim-specific wet-suit (which they have available to hire) and answering all my silly questions. like all the other active communities I’ve met, it felt like the staff and other swimmers were excited to encourage a new face into a sport they love. The lake has been specially prepared for swimming, with the tangly reeds cleared, and there were big orange buoys marking out a 400 and 750m loop. Reassuringly, there was a lifeguard on a SUP to follow us!
As we stood on the edge of the grass I felt really daunted, I didn’t really know how I would feel or react when I hit the cold water. But I also felt completely liberated by the fact that I’d told my inner “you can’t do this voice” to shut up, and was here in this beautiful place, in the sunshine, with new friends, about to face a fear.
And then we got in!
The water was very cold, but the wetsuit was amazing: I felt completely warm inside it. I’d been a bit of a wimp and decided to wear also wear some wetsuit shoes. I figured it would be better to put my feet down rather than risk drowning in 3 feet of water! This is something I’d highly recommend for your first time if you are anxious about the sludge at the bottom or water creatures, like me. You can’t usually wear them at events, but if it helps you get in that first time and find your confidence then I think that can only be a good thing.
We managed to do pretty much a whole 400m loop, in various strokes and styles! The thing I found the hardest was by breathing. The nerves and the cold meant I already felt pretty breathless when we set off, and this obviously got worse once we started swimming. I’m used to take a good old pause every 25m in the pool, touching the side and catching my breath, so I found it quite frightening having to swim continuously.
It took me ages to build up my nerve to put my face in. When I finally did I was most alarmed to find that you can’t see a thing! It is just brown. It’s like trying something scary and also going blind at the same time. But I got the hang of it!
The best thing we did was get out after our first loop, have a celebration about how brave we’d been, and then get back in. I felt so much more at home when I entered the water the second time. My breathing was much better and that helped reduce my anxiety too.
If it is your first time I would definitely recommend hiring a swim-specific wetsuit. The QSW ones we wore so comfortable, and definitely reduced the shock of the cold water! I’ve heard people say it is easier swimming in a wetsuit because they given you buoyancy but I didn’t really believe it would make any difference to me. Well it’s definitely true, I really felt it lift the lower half of my body and my crawl technique was quite a bit better. The extra buoyancy also meant it was quite easy to stop and tread water (I’m rubbish at this usually), so we could break it down into small sections and get our breath back.
Second time in I had the mental space to look around me and appreciate just how amazing it was. It’s so important to take the time to feel present in new experiences – often they’re so overwhelming that we forget! The sun was beaming down on us and the lake looked absolutely stunning. I love being surrounded by other people who have all got up and got out to do something that brings them joy. I could see all their coloured little hats bobbing around at various points in the lake, and it made me feel so happy to be in there too with them.
I can’t describe how empowering it is do throw yourself (quite literally) into something you were scared of and come out grinning from ear to ear. To chuck out all the random limits you’ve placed on yourself. What I love about all these active challenges is that they have totally changed my attitude to life. I know that finishing a marathon or tackling an open water swim doesn’t seem like it has direct effects on the other parts of your life. But it changes you inside. As crazy as it sounds, exceeding my expectations of myself in a lake has a direct effect on how I feel approaching a big emergency surgery at work.
So pick one thing this month that scares you, but that you’ve always wanted to try. Whether that’s going to your first parkrun, stepping into the weight section at the gym, joining a club, or even trying outdoor water swimming. Challenge the limitations you’ve placed on yourself and realise how ridiculous they were and how amazing you are.