Be nice to the over-dressed bag lady…
… she might be a winter sea swimmer. Lou Walker gives her proven tips on how to recover fast from winter sea swimming
Despite the discomfort of getting in, swimming in the sea in winter without a wetsuit has its glorious moments. But then you have to deal with what happens after you get out.
Actually, often the first thing I do is get back in – to wash off my sea beard. I have no idea if ‘sea beard’ is a technical term or just Seabrook Seal slang but it describes a grey brown film of whatever is floating in the sea that attaches itself to your chops. Apparently it isn’t anything nasty...
When I get out of the water I feel amazing. Happy, buzzing, tingly – possibly slightly hysterical. I don’t feel the cold air at all – endorphins are superbly protective. But I know I have about five minutes before I do start to shiver and getting dressed becomes a mighty challenge. So I belt up the beach to get as many layers on as I can before the shivering starts.
I mentioned ‘after drop’ at the end of my last blog. I now understand that, technically, it may be the wrong term to use for the normal onset of coldness and shivering after a cold swim. When you’re in cold water your body restricts blood flow to your extremities to keep warm blood around your vital organs therefore the blood in your arms, legs and skin gets relatively cold.
If you are hypothermic and that cold blood gets sluiced back into general circulation too rapidly, your core can cool further. That’s true after drop and it’s dangerous. To avoid it you warm up slowly so that the cold blood is introduced gradually back into general circulation... but even this makes you feel deep down cold. Your body tries to warm up by shivering and shivering makes getting dressed stupidly hard.
This is a typical post-swim scenario: I’m huffing from sprinting up the beach, huffing from the cold, then just huffing as fingers turn into sausages, I’m shaking from top to toe and I seem to lose some strength in my limbs. Getting dressed takes ages. I’ve given up with anything vaguely body hugging, even if it’s thermal, because it’s just too bloody hard to get on a) because I’m damp and b) my limbs don’t work.
My poor friends have been subjected to some terrible flashing. I pile on layers of thin tops, a fleece, a fleece gilet and hoody, then top it off with a fetching set of sailing middle layer salopettes and jacket. And ski socks, furry boots, polar buff, gloves and hat (over the top of my swimming hat that stays on to keep heat in). It’s such a good look.
By now the endorphins are weaving their magic and we’re all high from the swim so it can be noisy with all the shrieking and laughing. And that’s just the blokes.
The next priority is to get some hot liquid inside you – good for warming you from the inside – if you can find some lovely person to get the lid off your thermos and pour some into a cup because you’ll be shaking too much. Even then getting it up to your face and into your mouth isn’t a foregone conclusion. I’m going to have to buy a toddler cup with a lid on it. Not joking.
I then feel I just have to move. Jogging along the prom seems to help – you learn to ignore the looks from normal people. There’s a good steep walk up the cliff to get back to the car, which is good but I still often have to walk around before I’m warm enough for my hour’s drive home with the heaters on full blast. I just have to hope I don’t need to stop off at Tesco on the way home where people might actually recognise me...
Mother-of-two Lou Walker, 50, is a sports massage therapist with three iron-distance tris and half a dozen marathons under her belt. She’s an endurance coach at Winchester & District AC. You can follow her on Twitter: @LouArtfulHen or at www.louwalker.com.