Scottish Swimmer

The Peaks and Troughs of 2019: A personal review of a wild swimming year

Just under a year ago I posted an article setting out my swimming ambitions for 2019. Some I accomplished. Others, well, not so. There were also a couple of achievements I hadn’t quite planned. Overall, I’d hoped to be managing longer swims, and more of them. Well, I got halfway there.

In my 2019 manifesto, I said I wanted to average a swim a week. Extracting the data from my Garmin watch, I recorded 68 swims for the past 12 months, which is nae bad. The real total is higher, as not all swims were recorded. I lost my Garmin for a while, and more than a few times it was without charge. Also, over the summer and for the shorter swims I tended to not bother with it. So I’m calling the conservative total to be around 80.

Distance-wise, I’d hoped for some big swims up and beyond the 3k mark. Outside of the pool, they never materialised, although the same report shows I swam a total of 45k for the year (again, that’ll be higher). No big swims but plenty of sea and loch miles, and a few slightly longer ones at Portobello, Wardie, Loch Ard and Loch Lubnaig. 2019’s first sea mile was in June, later than last year, though I got close in May with a 1.4k swim.

As for venues, I didn’t get to Harris. Nor Ardnamurchan. Nor Croatia. But we did swim in Loch Etive, Gladhouse, Henley, as well as the gallus Tyninghame, Gullane and Seahouses beaches. Nor was there any swimming in the Lakes, although I have signed up for the seven-mile Ullswater Chillswim this July.

Bog snorkelling, nighttime dips, sunrise swims, wild waves and icy seas, while the past year has maybe lacked on distance, it’s been superb for variety of location and conditions.

As for achievements, I completed my STA Level 2 in Open Water Coaching, having undertaken the course in Hatfield, Doncaster with Swim your Swim, along with some outstanding swimmers. It was a genuine privilege being in the company of Michelle, Scott, Sarah, Rachel, Lindsay and our tutor Leon Fryer.

I was also invited to contribute a section on wild swimming to the wondrous swimming bestseller, Taking the Plunge, and, following its launch, chair one of the discussion events with my friends Vicky Allan and Anna Deacon at Waterstones in Edinburgh. I also authored the definitive Guide to Wild Swimming on the Isle of Iona.

Last year ended with me on Radio Scotland talking to my old friend Richard Baynes, who I helped encourage into the sea. In fact, my number one wild swimming achievement of the past year has been introducing the sport to new people, some of them I’m sure agreed to it simply to shut me up! And then there were the folk who’d turned up at Wardie and who I perhaps gave a bit of encouragement or advice to, or at the least lent a swimming cap. Getting to know the Wardie regulars has been another fantastic highlight.

As well as folk from work, I also led a chilly pre-season coaching session with the Caledonian Women’s Water Polo team at Portobello. And I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a live training session with the HM Coastguard and Police Scotland.

And it’s been the year where my wife Caroline and I have swum together more often than not. Being able to share all this with my best friend has been indescribably positive and brilliant.

But I think my biggest personal achievement of 2019 has been the physical and mental shift in how I approach the cold water. For the past three winters the cold was an obstacle to be endured, a hardship to be persevered; those fanatics who appeared to enjoy it were a mystery. This year, it’s been significantly easier getting in, to the point where it’s not been an ordeal but instead a delight; something to crave rather than dread. Who knows why this is the case (and to be fair, the water hasn’t gone below 5C) but I’m sure the seasons before have helped, though I should also credit my dabbling with Wim Hof breathing. Ultimately though, I think it’s been a mix of improved resistance combined with a better attitude. The cold is a mirror, Wim says in one of his videos. I completely agree. Go in to the sea with a smile and a sense of excitement, and you’ll emerge thrilled, chilled and glowing.