I’m a sporty person. When I’m home I try and do some form of exercise every day. The problem is, I’m not home very often and when I am, it’s for 6-8 weeks at the most. My early years were spent in a pool. I was competing by the age of 7 and swam for my county for many years, finally getting to the National Age Groups at the age of 18, when I eventually gave up competitive swimming. After a brief comeback in my 30’s I have now turned towards open water swimming and have entered several events this year, of varying distance. (1.5 – 4k)
Now, I need to train. Or cross train. And this becomes slightly trickier once I’m away from home and only have 3 hours a day to do something. You might think that’s loads of time, and it is… if I was at home.
Whenever I go away, I scope the area and try to find local pools. When I was in Hong Kong, I was able to join a gym (it was too stifling to do anything outside), but am not able to use many London gyms as they rarely have a day rate.
With this job, I’m based in Chelsea which isn’t far from Holland Park, so have managed to do a few 5k runs. Road running doesn’t do much for my knees, so I try and limit that to 2-3 times a week.
Another option is to hire one of the Santander bikes that are dotted around. They only have 3 gears (but you don’t need many when you are cycling around flat London) and are quite heavy, but it’s better than nothing. I have, on previous jobs, flat packed my bike for cycling round Richmond park if I am working close by.
So I decided to check out the Serpentine. I have joined the facebook page for Outdoor Swimming and there has been a lot of praise for the lido and also Hampstead Heath Ladies Pond.
The Serpentine, a 40-acre recreational lake in Hyde Park, was formed in 1730-1733. Queen Caroline, wife of George II had the idea of providing an ornamental lake to further enhance the park’s beauty. Hyde Park had for centuries been a royal hunting ground and King Charles I opened it to the public in 1637.
The lido at the Serpentine is open all year round to members and weekends, from May, for the rest of the world, but once June hits, it’s open every day until mid-September from 10am to 6pm.
I cycled to it a week ago, so that I could get the basic view of the land and then, bit the bullet and cycled there again at the beginning of the week and have been several times since.
I turned up on the Monday slightly later than anticipated. I had the first world problems of deciding to buy a latte and catching a bus there (15-20 mins) or hiring a bike and cycling there; forgoing my latte for after the swim. As it was, I did neither. I bought the latte, waited for an age at the bus stop, before flagging down a taxi, to be reliably told that no buses were coming along any time soon as a lorry was across the road. My taxi driver was surprised to hear that people swim at the Serpentine and kept up a steady stream of conversation, asking me questions that I didn’t know the answer to. Anyway, I finally got there. Paid my £4.80 and was told that the temperature of the pool was a balmy 19 degrees. I struggled into my wetsuit. *I have since been told the best way to put on a wetsuit, which I shall add at the end 🙂
To get to the pool, you have to walk up some steps and then cross over a small bridge that brings you down to the lido. I could see one other person steadily swimming up and down. I had been told that the length of the pool was 100 metres, so had a vaue plan that I would swim about 10 lengths as time was short.
The lifeguard wandered over and very helpfully zipped up the back of my wetsuit. He told me that the lady in the water had entered a full ironman. High five that lady!
With my nookie wetsuit socks on, I slowly walked down the ramp, letting the water rise higher and higher until, I took a breath, and plunged in.
Cool water covered my head as I slowly started swimming frontcrawl. I had noticed the Ironman lady wasn’t too great at sighting and was weaving along the pool.
The water was murky. I had read that if it rains, the murkiness disappears and the water is clear. As it was, I could see my arms in front, as they alternated in reaching forward, but below me all I could see was a beige, sandy colour. Every now and then, something dark would appear below me, which was probably weeds.
I swam slowly, trying to acclimatise; lifting my head every now again to check my direction and to see how far I had left to swim. To my right a couple of geese bobbed nonchalantly passed; totally used to people playing in their home. To my right I could see the white floats of the bounderies. Coots and moorhens were nesting on various buoys which added to the atmosphere. The steady splash, splash as my arms entered the water hypnotised me. One, two, three, breathe…. One, two, three, breathe and then I was at the end of the length. I stopped, easily floating in my buoyant wetsuit, and looked around.
I saw two more figures in wetsuits entering the water down the far end. From their body shape, I guessed them to be women. I watched them hesitatingly enter the water, inching in from the platform and then they were both in swimming breaststroke.
It was tranquil with just the four of us, steadily swimming up and down the length of the lido. No-one had a race head on. Pond weed sometimes got caught between my fingers which reminded me of long hair floating in the swimming pools (Urgh! Really wish people would tie their long hair back in the water). As I swam along I mused how, nearly two years ago, you wouldn’t have got me swimming in a lake let alone open water. But ever since I swam with SwimTrek in Turkey and saw turtles swimming below me, my fear seems to have disappeared. Still prefer not to be alone, but I’m pretty chuffed with myself.
I finished my 10 lengths and swam to the side. There is a cold shower to rinse yourself down, which felt extremely refreshing. All there was left to do was to peel off the wetsuit, get changed and then cycle back to work. I decided that I could easily do 45 -50 mins swimming here in my break, which would include time to get there and back and also a good lunch, so had finally managed to find somewhere get in some regular exercise whilst at work.
Since that day, summer seems to have arrived and the weather has peaked up to 31 degrees. The next time I went back to the lido it was a completely different place. Children were in the paddling pool and young men were swimming along, showing off their prowess to bikini clad young women. There are moments when I yearn for the quietness but equally, it’s lovely to see so many people enjoying what’s right on their doorstep.
*Apparently, the top tip is to turn your wetsuit inside out and roll it up your legs that way. (Like putting on a duvet cover)Then, there is little chance of you digging your nails into the suit, plus it rolls up easier when you’re hot and sweaty. I have tried this on two very hot days and it was much easier…