Taking the plunge – Why I love wild swimming.
By Fay Preene
It’s funny how your life can change so quickly. How a life that you never knew that you were about to have would be one that you would fall so very deeply in love with. Starting open water swimming has contributed to this largely. As this post will explain, for me, wild swimming is not just an action or an exercise. It touches on my happiness, my job, the environment and my social life. I have always loved water, be that being in it, on it, beside it or listening to it. Moving to the Lake District alone was a big move but one that I was positive about due to spending so much time here throughout my life; it was a home away from home. I don’t really care for the city and I would much rather spend my time outdoors away from the ‘rat race’ culture. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my family on our speedboats on Lake Windermere. We loved nothing more than getting out on the lake water skiing and wakeboarding. I would play in the lake for hours with my cousins, jumping off the jetties until our hands and feet turned crinkled and our lips turned a deep shade of blue. When I reflect back on my life during these memories it makes me realise that I have spent a lot of time in open water, without ever realising that in the future it would play such big part in my day-to- day routine. Maybe it was these childhood years that created the foundation for my love of open water. Even now, the smell of wetsuits drying out brings back such fond memories and it takes me back to those precious moments in time.
Shortly after moving to the Lakes I started open water swimming and that’s where the love story began. I owe a lot to ‘buoy 13 swimming club’ for it is them who have turned me into a wild swimming addict. Whilst I have embraced open water swimming, the group has embraced me and I have made some life-long friends. The group are full of inspiring stories and they have completed some serious challenges. They also bake delicious cakes and give me some much needed motivation at times! We all share the same love for open water swimming and although this is the reason why we all meet, at the heart of this is also the social aspect of going swimming. It’s great to get down to the lake on a morning, rain or shine and to be greeted with big smiles, friendship and lots of chit chat. If you guys are reading this, I am so grateful to have met each and every one of you.
I have so many ideas, thoughts and feelings that it makes starting this post difficult. There are two common ‘one liners’ that people often say to me: 1. Is it cold? It must be freezing! 2. You’re brave! There is no way that you would get me in there. The truth? Yes, yes it is cold and no, no I am not brave and anybody could do it. Don’t think for one minute that every time my alarm goes off that my tired body is always excited to leave a cosy, safe, snuggly bed to jump in a cold lake at 7:30am! There are days when I get to the lake and I’m just not feeling it. It’s as simple as that, my mind is asking me why I’ve dragged myself out of bed to jump into a freezing cold lake in a swimming costume. The little devils voice in my head speaks particularly loud on these mornings which results in me dithering around on the jetty for ages, unfolding and refolding my towel, getting undressed extra slowly and staring at the water. Despite all of this the one stage that I try my hardest not to prolong is the getting in bit. Dragging this bit out only makes the thought of getting in even tougher. I often laugh to myself during this time, part of me wants to get in so badly because I know just how much I love it once I get in, nevertheless the other part of me is telling me that it is so wrong, I’m still half asleep and it’s bloomin’ freezing. After many pointless and unproductive thoughts my strong mind set kicks in and I get in and get on with it.
Despite the tough days it is effortless to say that the days when I’m feeling ready and excited to get in strongly outweigh the tougher days. There is not one day that I have regretted going swimming. It becomes a routine, one that I know so well and my mind is addicted to the feeling that you get after you have been swimming in cold water. The huge natural high is so prominent. I feel as though someone has injected me with happiness, given me five coffees and stuck a smile on my face from ear to ear that lasts for the rest of the day. The cause? Endorphins. I work as a child sexual exploitation practitioner and I have found that heading to work filled with lots of these neurotransmitters allows me to feel energised, level headed and composed in a job which can be greatly emotionally demanding. I think that the release of endorphins also links to the decrease in my stress response. Getting into cold water naturally evokes your body into a mode of stress because it is out of our body’s comfort zone. Our response to any stressful situation is an increased heart rate and blood pressure, hyperventilation and the release of stress hormones. Interestingly, repeated immersions into cold water diminish this response. It highly reduces our response to stress as you are voluntarily shocking your body into this through getting into cold water routinely. Simplistically, cold water swimming can prevent you from overreacting and over-stressing to relatively minor threats that our day to day lives throw at us. I have unquestionably found this to be true and I feel that it allows me to detach from work life a lot better. I am very passionate about my job, like many people are but the nature of what I do means it is important that I leave work at the door.
During the moments that I am in the lake it is an escape. An escape from anything that it going on in my life, be that good or bad. I am in the moment alone with my feelings. I’m not racing around at work, not checking my phone, not keeping on top of daily tasks and not overthinking. In the water my body is weightless and I feel detached from what is going on in my life. It forces you out of the state that you are in and it puts you in the present moment. I feel relaxed and calm, more at ease than anywhere else. You can watch the world go by in slow motion and it gives you time for yourself, which is important in a busy lifestyle. Our lives are consumed with technology and we live in a generation where it is at our finger tips constantly. When you swim outside it brings your attention back to the things that are going on around us. It’s nice to just slip away from the modern day vacuum and feel alive, I’m there, in the present. I’m spending time outdoors, in the weather, throughout the seasons and in this beautiful place that we all call home.
Whenever I wild swim, be that in a lake, tarn, river or in the sea it makes me truly appreciate the magnitude of the world, and our environment, and how we are such small beings lucky enough to embrace this planet. I’m part of something that is much bigger than me, I’m something so tiny in such a big mass of water. It certainly puts things into perspective and it is a way of being in the moment, among the huge vastness which reduces the scale of any problems that i may have. I sometimes like to just stop and float or tread water and appreciate everything around me. I get to the lake on a morning and no matter what the weather is like it is both magical and therapeutic. I like swimming in all different types of weather, the weather is part of the whole experience. Morning’s which are predominantly special are the ones when you catch the sunrise, you are drenched in beauty. Some mornings the lake can be calm, without a ripple on its silky surface with all of the trees reflecting onto its glistering exterior. It can also be wild, you can get to the shoreline and all you can see is a grey angry mass with waves crushing onto its surface. The mornings that are windy and choppy have to be my least favoured but then without these mornings I wouldn’t appreciate the calm and still ones. Swimming in the pouring rain when the lake is flat and the raindrops are bouncing off the surface has to be a particular favourite. The stormy weather yet calm lake is enticing, you feel so small and insignificant. In all these conditions, and with all my emotions, the open water acts like a big pool of liquid medicine.
Wild swimming gives us contact with nature and unless you have that connection when you are outside you are probably reading this thinking that I’m a mad tree hugging lady. I’ve always loved the outdoors and this was magnified a few years ago when I trekked to Everest Base Camp. Our lives can be stressful and when you step away from this and you step into nature you get a shift; our brains and bodies change both physically and mentally, you relax and the quality of our thoughts change. There is lots of research surrounding this, especially ‘green and blue therapy’ which looks at the connections between mental health and spending time outdoors. Being in water is my happy place. It’s interesting when I tune into to how I feel when I’m in the lake. When I’m having a shower, swimming lengths in the pool, relaxing beside the sea on holiday or even when I’m just near water. I feel calm, quiet and tranquil, it’s pretty interesting. I have also felt the complete opposite in water. I will always remember my first ‘solo swim’ at the lake. All of a sudden a weed touching my leg could have been a great white shark. Not being able to see the bottom meant that the lake sunk deep into the earth’s surface and not getting back to the shoreline was a high possibility if I didn’t swim faster. I’m not sure why our minds can make us feel like this, I’m a competent swimmer with confidence in my ability. It’s interesting how my happy place can also make me feel like a child that’s scared of the dark when I swim on my own. Swimming with Buoy 13 swimming club gives me subconscious security, along with a social injection. Fear is individual to everyone and maybe in the future swimming alone will become less of a panic and I can maybe start to see the peaceful side to this.
I hate to be stuck indoors and I hate not doing anything. This isn’t always a good thing and as my family would say, I need to learn to chill out more. The feeling that I hate the most? Feeling like I’ve wasted the day. That is why I love my early morning swims, I do something for myself before my working day has even begun. I need that little dose of craziness. I wouldn’t be satisfied at the end of the day if got up, went to work and then just came home and spent the night in. I want to get up early and get outside and enjoy my evenings doing things. There will always be reasons not to do something and you will always find excuses to rationalise why you aren’t doing something. But just do it. Life is happening despite the plans we are making and sometimes sadly, not making. We live in a world where people work all week to have 2 days off. People sit at a desk just wishing that home time would come quicker. You then finish work and spend your evening thinking about work the next day. I never want to live my life like that. It is so easy to get caught up making a living that you forget to make a life. We are rooted to our routines. I’m no career expert and I can only share how I feel. My opinion about work and life won’t necessarily be how other people feel about it. I guess that is the beauty in living life, we are constantly learning, experiencing and growing. We are on this planet to live and wild swimming is my little piece of bliss.
Love, Fay Preene x