Low Wood Bay, on the shores of Lake Windermere is the home of open water swimming. The Lake District Hotel has hosted The Great North Swim, the UK’s biggest open water swimming event, since 2008 and the The Big Chill Swim, possibly the UK’s coldest winter open water swim event, since 2012 – the water temperature was 5 degrees this year!
You will be pleased to know that the water temperature in Lake Windermere will be a little warmer in the summer months. We expect it to be around 15 degrees in June for the Great North Swim.
Open Water Swimming Training
Many people make the successful move from swimming in the pool to open water swimming. A good training plan is essential to make the transition and this will usually include pool time as open water is not accessible year round to most folk. However, even with meticulous training and techniques, there is eventually only one way to truly master the anxiety, adventure and elation of the open water – jump right in!
There are some important differences which need consideration. As you will be swimming in a relatively uncontrolled environment, you need to be ready to adapt to changing circumstances. The main differences between open water swimming and pool swimming are water temperature, visibility and weather conditions.
The water in Windermere for The Great North Swim is generally between 15-16 degrees C, much colder than the average swimming pool. It is important to acclimatise your body to the cooler temperature over some time, getting into colder water and building up the time spent in the water, starting with as little as 5 minutes and adding a few minutes each time. If you can’t get to open water for this, try reducing the temperature of bath-time! Your body will become more effective at moving the blood away from skin and limbs and keep it where it’s most needed in the central organs and brain.
2. Dress Right
A high proportion of your body heat is lost through your head. A simple way to tackle the cold is to wear a good quality silicone or neoprene swim cap. This should be brightly coloured and easy to see in open water conditions. The popularity of open water swimming has prompted a revolution in the design of swimming specific wetsuits and there is now quite a choice on the market. An added benefit for beginners is that the wetsuit provides extra buoyancy and makes resting easier. It can even increase your swimming speeds.
3. Warm up
A warm-up prepares your body physically and mentally for the race, decreases your risk for injury or illness by increasing circulation (oxygen-rich blood) to the muscles. Cold muscles do not respond well to rapid movement. If you cannot warm-up in open water on race day, do a light jog to get the blood flowing.
4. Getting In
Sudden temperature difference between air and water can cause you to gasp for air. Wetting your hands and face will help acclimatise your body. Don’t exert yourself straight away as this can cause breathing problems. Swim easy and relaxed to begin with and build up your speed gradually.
If you are used to the roped off lane of a swimming pool, you may be surprised at how disorientated you might feel at first in open water. Sighting is a skill necessary to keep you on track. There are various methods to choose from which might require you to adjust your stroke slightly. How often you sight depends on the conditions, how accurate you need to be for your target, whether you are on shoreline or open water and how confident you are about swimming in a straight line.
6. Weather Conditions
Two similar swims can be rendered completely different due to weather conditions. All weather conditions carry a hazard:
- Sun – affects visibility and increased risk of sunburn/sunstroke.
- Fog – reduced visibility and muffling of sound
- Wind – can cause choppy conditions and waves. Also possibility of blowing you away from your course.
- Rain – may cause increased water flow and flooding
- Thunder/Lightning – obvious danger to anybody out in the open
Always get an accurate weather forecast and don’t swim in conditions beyond your skill level. Know how long you intend to be in the water and make sure you have the correct support for the conditions. If in doubt – stay out!
7. Make Time to Play
Time spent playing and just enjoying being in water will always have a positive effect; both on your ability in the water and on your confidence levels. Enjoy being in the water and you can’t help but improve!
Even excellent swimmers should have support in place before they swim. Challenges such as cramp, hypothermia, anxiety and tiredness may need assistance. This support could include training companions, a coach, safety boat or kayak, lifeguards.
9. Getting Out
Dry yourself immediately, remove wet costume and put on warm clothes. A hat is a good way of warming up effectively – alternatively leave on your swimming cap. Shivering is the body’s natural way of warming up your muscles. Have a warm drink as soon as possible. Beware of very hot drinks as it may be difficult to sense extremes of heat soon after leaving the water.
10. Join the Experts at a Training Day
Whatever your ability – beginner, intermediate or advanced – why not join a training session tailored to your skill level. The Great Swim training day will take place on Saturday 7 June 2014 and provide the perfect opportunity to join like-minded swimmers, whether in preparation for the Great North Swim or just to give you confidence to experience the thrill of open water swimming for the first time.
Open Water Swimming not for you?
No problem… At Low Wood Bay the onsite leisure club offers English Lakes guests an unsurpassed range of facilities under one roof (in the warmth!). The Low Wood Club offers a 50-foot exercise pool for both fun-lovers and the serious swimmers and once you are done be sure to relax in the club’s outdoor hot tub.
4 thoughts on “10 Open Water Swimming Tips ahead of the Great North Swim”
There may be a revolution in swimming wetsuits but it’s very difficult to get proper information on what thickness is best for open water swimming, some say entry level some maximum thickness, especially those of us doing this for the first time and not wanting to spend hundreds of pounds
I agree. It’s my first time too and having difficulty finding my size (cl) is a problem as well.glad there’s advice re training but info on great North swim seems out of date re dates etc.
Hi Fiona and Claire, I’ve contacted Paul Brown at our Watersports Centre and put your query regarding wetsuits to him. He said that it depends on a number of of different things, i.e. time of year, water temperature, length of time in water, capabilities of the swimmer, speed of swimmer, do they get warm swimming, size and shape, personal preference. He said that a wetsuit supplier should be able to recommend something suitable for each person, given the answer to some or all of these questions. One of the rental companies that provide suits for the GNS should be able to hire a suit to try, and may also sell off second-hand equipment at good prices.
Paul is more than happy to chat this through with you further. His number is 015394 39441.
Wishing you all the best with the swim.
I think it should be empasised that if you’re buying a wet suit for an open water swim, make sure you practice with it on plenty of times beforehand. I’ve had some experience swimming in cold water (training for and then swimming in a Channel relay 4 years ago) but very little with a wet suit. Taking it out in an open air Lido this past month (11 – 12.5 C) I found that the higher body position that the suit put me in put a strain on my neck the first couple of times out. I’ve since learned how to relax myself so as to keep my neck muscles looser, but it’s definitely a skill that I’ve needed to practice.