A tropical day at the (very) Cold Water Swimming Champs

Lou Walker enters the Cold Water Swimming Championships... in water of 2C


Before the snow arrived I’d really wanted to get a pic of me on the beach in my swimsuit in the snow. I wanted/still want a photo that graphically shows that I’ve been winter swimming – in the winter – and haven’t cheated by using summer pics and just pretending it’s cold.


When the snow finally came I was snowed in and couldn’t get to the sea. So I did the next best thing and ran around our snowy garden in a swimsuit while 50 miles away four brave Seals got into the sea and emerged with frost on their faces. And I was jealous!

So why have I now posted a photo of me and some friends wearing Hawaiian bikinis and grass skirts in a hot tub in the sun? Definitely not very ice-tastic.  

The photo was taken at last Saturday’s Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido where we swam in water that was a frisky 1-2 degrees – the Championships’ coldest ever.

The south London lido is the biggest man-made swimming pool in the UK. It stays open all winter and responds quickly to the weather so last week’s cold snap had the temperature plummeting the last few degrees to hit zero two days before the Championships. Organisers gleefully posted photos of ice forming on the water.

The day itself was dry, clear and cold but gloriously sunny. Jo Brand opened proceedings before dashing off to judge Splash!. The atmosphere was carnival-like and everyone knew everyone so there was plenty of banter. Half the people there were wrapped up in coats and hats while the other half were in swimsuits and outrageous headwear. Swimming across the 30m course were swans, sharks, polar bears, piles of rocks, fireworks, Incredible Hulks, lighthouses and bosoms (that’s Seal Team Chilly Nips for you).  

The event was spectacularly organised. The comperes made a huge fuss introducing each swimmer in Olympic stylee with waving and cheering. Volunteers carried your kit from the start to the finish so you had it the second you got out, there was a rubber mat to stand on so your feet didn’t get cold poolside and a lovely person gave you hot squash after your race. Competitors got free hot drinks and soup all day. In fact, what’s not to like about post-race hot tubs, a sauna, heated changing rooms and mobile cake stalls?

The racing was competitive but lighthearted. Heads-up breast stroke allowed the more adventurous headwear to be displayed, but most popular was the freestyle and 4-man relays. There were 200 races, yet it all ran like clockwork. The blue riband race was saved for last – the over-subscribed 400m endurance race. The shallow end had heated up to about 3°C but the deep end was still 0.5°C. 400m in those temperatures was brutal and it was compelling viewing. My experienced team-mate, Ali, managed it in fine style but was very cold at the end.

I only did a relay leg but am thrilled to have swum in water as cold as 2°C, even if only for about 30secs. And in full Hawaiian fancy dress, of course. Getting in was fine because of the adrenaline and cheering. But as I splashed across the pool, the cold did its damnedest to work its way into my bones. By the time I hit the other end it was very uncomfortable and I shot out like a greased ferret. I had a few seconds of leaping about and shouting (don’t know why I have to shout when I’m cold) before the laughter set in and the whole team regrouped in the hot tub to warm up. What a blast! 

So, ironically, my coldest swim ever has resulted in yet another photo of me in glorious sunshine looking more tropical than arctic. No one will ever believe winter swimming is tricky…


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.