The waters around the Isles of Scilly look like the Caribbean but are fresher than that at any time of year. Its one of the challenges swimmers face in the September event. So, upping the anti- going in May..... only a degree or 2 cooler, but what a difference that can make! The hardy winter swimmer is on the rise and as yet there is pretty much only the Cork distance week to set your sights on and that is a gruelling matter of attrition. And a week.
The beauty of the isles and the challenge of tackling channels is a perfect antidote to those who aren't afraid to the cold, who want to test themselves and their resolve. The care and support from the crew of the challenge is second to none, which means that you are free to push yourself even more.
Not wanting to teach grandmothers to suck eggs, but I was thinking about how I would have approached swimming in May, given that I am a confirmed skins swimmer. It is doable- I did my 6hr qualifier last year in 11.4'c water, so here are my top tips.....
It seems obvious, but the excitement of an event, especially a challenging one, tends to raise the heart rate. I start to focus on slowing my breath, deepening my exhalation at least an hour before I am due to get wet. It takes the edge off the adrenaline, which will only serve to tighten muscles, restrict blood flow and so make you feel colder.
On entering the water, breathe out long and hard and start swimming. Lengthen your stroke, focus only on the out breath. The body will be doing the inhale bit - short sharp inhalations. Focus on the opposite to avoid hyperventilation. Long, slow out breaths. Also try and soften your lower abdomen. You store a lot of blood in your legs. Even if you're not using them much with a wetsuit, relaxing your pelvis allows better blood flow through your femoral artery, making you feel looser and helping avoid stiffening up when you get out to walk.
Smile. It's fun, if a little daft, what you are doing. And smiling has far reaching physiological and psychological benefits. Your body will adjust better to the different environment if you are happy and relaxed.
4) Drink warm drink before you start
I find it really helps me to relax if I am warm and fuzzy on the inside. If available have a warm drink; Ovaltine, hot chocolate, even hot water. Caffeine raises the adrenaline so doesn't help points 1-3 so personally I would avoid coffee. The water will wake you up plenty!!
5) Pack carefully
Getting warm and if skins swimming, dry (ish) will help you be ready for the next swim. I swear by Eskeez thermals as they are designed to cope with water and I found on my Scilly challenges that they dont feel wet on the 5th and 6th changeover.
6) Enjoy yourself
Its gonna be great, but one of the best things about the Scilly swim challenge is that it is a personal challenge. More of a group expedition that allows personal endeavour, but very much an expedition rather than a competition. And with the select group you have going this year, I can guarantee you will know everyone by the end of the day. Be open, be honest and have a ball.