The water was 13’C, calm and still on the surface, the sun had broken over the mountain and I was in the finishing straight of the Tal-y-llyn BIG 10km swim, not even feeling the chill of the water. To me it was confirmation that I was a winter swimmer and validation of everything I had done in swimming in the past three years. I claimed skins first place in the toughest race I had ever faced.

After the heights of summer and the Thames Marathon, I linked up with fellow #TeamSelkie swimmer Sam McNair on his tour of UK from USA. We had planned to meet up for a GIANT 10 mile swim in Tal-y-llyn near Tywyn in North Wales. He would swim and I sensibly would cheer from the sidelines and congratulate him on the finish lines. However, after a moonlit dip in the lake the night before the event, Sam had already scaled his ambition down to doing the 10km due to the significant temperature jump from his home lake in Tennessee and I felt the water calling to me to join him. So it was and we both found ourselves as water spirit brothers in arms at the start line, Sam in his Selkie Tekniikka Wraith wetsuit (which I was slightly envious of) and me in my Selkie swimsuit. Unlike my previous Selkie blog of suits vs. skins, this was a chance for Selkie suits and skins to swim together.

Matthew and Sam in their Selkie suits and skins

The last time me and Sam had met, last summer, had been another of those Selkie suits and skins moments, as he swam the Thames Marathon in just a swimsuit and I did it in the Spirit wetsuit. Then, as now, he swam faster than me but the 14km event had been assisted slightly by the current of the river.

Winter is coming - image 2

The Tal-y-llyn 10km had no current to help the swimmer. Instead it had dense green vegetation lying just beneath the surface that was just as bountiful and lush as the green grass on the mountains that shaped the valley on either side. Sam had gone for a straight 10km swim as he has a much stronger endurance record than me, I however had decided that as I was skins I would use the feeding station every 2km for a warm drink and some jelly babies (6 per lap). I knew that I did not have the fuel in the tanks to tackle 10km in 13’C water without topping up, besides I really like jelly babies! Sam had glided through the weeds and reeds like a fish through water thanks to his wetsuit, I’d been more like a tourist stopping every now and again, not to take photos of the beautiful Welsh landscape, but to disentangle myself and my tow-float from the vegetation.

I don’t know exactly when Sam got to the finish line, only that he was ahead of me and that when I did reach the end of the race I did not immediately see him. Once I crossed the line, I got out, got dry and changed quickly into warm dry clothes and poured myself a hot chocolate from my flask. Once I felt warm enough I went looking for Sam and I found him in the lounge of the Ty’n Y Cornel (The Corner House) hotel, drinking coffee and monopolising the radiator which was fully on. He was still shivering. He looked at me in disbelief:  how was I not shivering? I had done the whole distance in less clothes than I wear in bed and yet I seemed warmer than he was even though he’d been insulated by his wetsuit the whole way round. Truth be told, I was still shivering on the inside but Sam didn’t seem to notice it. The difference seemed to have been in our acclimatisation to the cold before the swim and recovery after the swim. I’d acclimatised to really cold water last winter and have been keen to keep onto it, so I have always sought out the cooler, shaded water whether  in the pool or outdoors and have kept cold showers as a constant. Sam hasn’t had that opportunity, nor had he had the practice of recovering from the cold in the British way.

The British way can also be called the ‘organic’ way, where most of the recovery heat/energy comes from within the person’s body rather than an external source such as a sauna or hot tub. In Scandinavian countries, going into a hot tub at 38’C means that blood pumped out from the heart flows back back to the heart at the same temperature so there is no risk of hypothermia or going into a sauna of say 70’C again immerses the body in an environment where it can only get hotter and by breathing in the hot air the heart and lungs get that warmth immediately. The British way is basically to insulate yourself from the cold as soon as possible, wrap up in as many layers as possible and keep moving to keep the blood circulating, as there are not typically saunas or hot tubs by the waterside. (Note that in long distance and organised cold water swims both recovery methods should be available and utilised and as swimmers, we should always follow the advice of safety/support crew)

Having spoken with my friends at Selkie about this, much of their current range is all about layering up, t-shirts at base layer, the amazingly warm sherpa hoodies as a mid layer and/or the gilet to keep the heat in and the field jacket to keep the winter elements out. Protecting the core and vital organs is essential in recovery from the cold this winter. Even though the water at Tal-y-llyn was 13’C the principles of keeping warm apply just as much in 3’C water. Be prepared, winter is coming.

Our full range of swim, neoprene, clothing and outerwear can be found here.

Winter is coming image 2 - featured products