So, I probably should draw this set of posts to a close, as I feel I’m going round in circles a bit (and I suspect the audience may be becoming restive 😉). But I do nevertheless continue to feel a bit puzzled about the divide that, at least judging by some of the reactions I’ve had, still exists between Skins Swimmers and Wetsuit Swimmers (that’s ironic capitalisation, folks!). Skins swimmers still insist on the joys of swimming more or less as nature intended, and yet wetsuit swimmers still seem to want to stick to their neoprene, despite all the issues around rubbing and other discomforts.
And the main reason for this determined love of wetsuits is fairly straightforward – the cold. Cold is a real problem for most people. The vast majority of people doing the three big swims of last weekend (the Dart 10k, Coniston and the Scillies Challenge) wore wetsuits, not to improve their swimming, but to allow them to do the swims at all. The starting temperature for the Dart was 13°, far too cold for most people to even contemplate a long swim. As a comparator, I did a mile in April 2014 at 12° and was mildly hypothermic when I got out; if I had stayed in longer I would have been putting myself in danger. My friend swimming Coniston skins in 16° was likewise mildly hypothermic on exit, and had struggled to finish. Both of us are decent, acclimatised cold water swimmers but the distance and the temperature put long swims without a wetsuit in territory where we are outside our safe limits.
And aside from the physical thing, there is the mental thing. I’ve experienced long cold swims with a wetsuit and without, and I can tell you I’d much, much rather put up with even the worst neck rub from a wetsuit than with the misery of being cold and colder for hours on end. Maybe this makes me a wuss, maybe it makes me unworthy, maybe it shows that I’m deficient in being at one with my body and the changing environment of cold water swimming, but there it is. Being cold is grim. I’ve never dreaded a swim as I dreaded doing Brownsea skins, and while it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d anticipated, it certainly took a lot of the fun out of it and stopped me from enjoying the swim as much as I would otherwise have done.
The long and the short of it is that I don’t enjoy being cold, and when I am cold, it detracts from all the other lovely things about the swim. I don’t enjoy the comradeship so much, or the sense of a challenge being met and overcome, or being in a beautiful natural environment, or just the experience of being in my body, swimming, when all I can think about is how cold I am, and whether it’s too cold, and whether I’m going to get to the end before I get too cold to keep going. It’s boring and annoying, but I just cannot overcome my monkey mind.
And maybe that makes me less of a Zen swimming master, but you know what? I don’t care! And furthermore, it’s not like I’m stealing any glory from faster swimmers – I’m always in the bottom third of the results table, even with a wetsuit. And if any faster skins swimmers think I’m cheating because wearing my wetsuit means I only have to keep my arms turning over for half an hour more than them rather than a full hour, I don’t care about that either! Pooh to them!
You know what? There is one more post in this. Sorry, Fiona. But I will write about something different next week, I promise! More tomorrow….