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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Testing the Water

Over the summer I've started Open Water Swimming (OWS) - currently without a wet suit. As a kid I'd have said swimming in the sea, but with the increasing interest in Triathlons swimming outside has taken on a new lease of life for adults along with getting a new name - OWS or Wild Swimming.

The temperature of the sea water here in Scotland over the last few weeks has been about 12 degrees (c53 degrees Fahrenheit). The phrase testing the water has therefore real meaning to me at the moment.

As I have many times before on sayings we use to describe situations in our lives, I wondered what we could learn from nature about testing the water.

Before reading my suggestions you might want to think about a situation where testing the water might be something you're considering doing - that way you can apply these insights to that real life challenge.

Here's what I've discovered:
  • We need to be clear what we're testing the water for - cold, depth, cleanliness, clarity, sandy bottom and/or beasties.
  • You can't tell the temperature by looking at the water - the only way is to get wet.
  • You can tell if there are numerous jellyfish about by looking - although the odd one can and does often just emerge out of the depths just where you're swimming. 
  • Asking other people for their opinion isn't as easy as you think - we all have different tolerances for cold - in the same way we do for warm temperatures. 
  • After the initial cold-shock the body will adapt and it won't feel as cold.
  • Moving about reduces the impact of the cold.
  • You may not notice when your body has had enough of the cold - ie as weird as it sounds it's easy to stay in too long especially once hypothermia has taken hold and is playing games with your mind and body!
  • Starting slowly and building up is a healthier and safer strategy than just jumping in and going for it.
  • Your body temperature can continue to drop after you've left the water so don't over do time in the water until you're more acclimatised to it. 
  • Going in when the sun is shining is certainly better in the initial acclimatisation stages.
  • There's plenty of equipment available to help us more comfortably exist in the watery environment - wet suits, goggles, caps, gloves, shoes etc.
  • Warm drinks and food, and lots of layers to put on help with warming up afterwards. 
  • Tide tables help in determining the height of the tide and therefore how far we can swim and not get out of our depth.
  • Continued immersion over a few weeks will increase your habituation to the cold water.
  • The people who think you're mad have never done it themselves - other open water swimmers are full of enthusiasm and support for you to continue. "As long as you're still enjoying it" said Iona, one of the local lifeguards. 
  • The benefits are certainly worth it - swimmer's high, higher rate of calorie burn, improved blood flow, & boosted immune system.
Did any of these help you see the situation you're needing to test the water about differently? 

For me the biggest insight was about not listening to those who have not even tried doing what you want to do - take advice from experts who have been on the same journey you're just starting. Another insight was about not taking your initial reaction as the long term forecast for how it's going to be forever - habituation/acclimatisation can take place very quickly.

After 3 weeks and 9 swims I'd say "What are you waiting for, go for it and you'll be pleasantly surprised with all the positive benefits!"



Alison Smith
Landscaping your Life
Using unconventional tools to unlock your potential