So for me, within certain limits, of course, the issue with cold is more my perception of it than the cold itself. The cold isn’t physically disabling, but I do find it uncomfortable and the mental fight to deal with it is tiring. For me, then, the advice that is sometimes given on swimming forums when questions are raised about wetsuits, to “Ditch the rubber and enjoy swimming without it” may have some merit. I’m not yet at the stage of doing as some of my friends and contemplating the 14 mile Bridge to Bridge swim without a wetsuit, but I am at the point of thinking that it would be no bad thing to get more acclimatised and to practice ignoring the monkey mind when it whines “I don’t like this – I’m COLD!!!!!”
However, let us remember that I have about four years of swimming outdoors and in open water, often with a wetsuit, behind me, and that I have also swum through three winters at Tooting Lido (and elsewhere besides). I am, I think I can say now, a pretty competent open water swimmer. I have done lots of long swims and lots of cold swims and I know the challenges and that I can manage them. So for me, whilst an open water swim can be challenging, it is not entirely new territory. I have an idea in advance, depending on water and weather conditions, of whether I am up to it, how long I am likely to be in the water, whether I will find it easy, and how cold I may get. I can decide, in the light of all these things, whether I want to wear a wetsuit or not.
But, going back to my first open water mile, would I have enjoyed it and gone on if I hadn’t been wearing a wetsuit? To be honest, I don’t know. It was a challenging swim, and the wetsuit helped a lot. Had I had to cope without it, I’m sure I would have got round but I don’t know if I’d have enjoyed it enough to want to do more. There are more than enough challenges in open water swimming without having to cope with the cold as well. And add to this the fact that I am lucky to have an all-year-round cold water swimming venue, Tooting Bec Lido, on my doorstep. For those who don’t, who only have indoor pools to swim in, and therefore don’t have a chance to acclimatise, coping with the massive change in temperature between the average indoor pool (28°) and the average summer open water temperature (anything between 16° and 20°, depending on venue, time of year and weather) is more than daunting enough on its own. They probably don’t need the additional challenge of being really really cold as well.