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Deep and Brown.... Unsettling thoughts from Scottish Waters

If you’ve read previous blogs and posts you’ll know that I love Scotland and will always keep an eye out for a swim opportunity when I’m there…. What I haven’t spent a lot of time pondering in the past is the water colour and clarity and how that does (or doesn’t) affect a swim and the head space that goes with that swim…. Well, that all took an unexpected direction earlier this year!

There are so many variables in the open water that it is no exaggeration to say that every single open water swim is different, even if it is at a location you’ve visited many times before. I am always stunned when people say they get bored swimming long distances or when swimming in very familiar waters, I just cannot fathom how this can be in such a changing environment where even simple things like the light and the shadows dancing on/in/under the water change so much from one swim to the next. Watching raindrops land on the water surface or watching sunlight stream through into the depths beneath you. It’s a different and wonderful picture every time!

I was back in Scotland in June and not surprisingly, there were some new swim spots, and a good few old ones, visited/revisited. The waters were much warmer than I have ever known them (we usually visit in the Autumn when it’s all starting to cool down considerably)… so it was a real treat and it meant that I was able to spend longer in the water than I have done before. I was able to swim further without feeling at all cold and that was where it unexpectedly got interesting….

The brown peaty water of many of the lochs has never bothered me, in fact I’ve never really thought about it too much other than acknowledging that it’s well…. brown and peaty! It’s also generally really soft, clean and clear. Now, I know that sounds odd… how can it be clear and brown? Well, you can often see way down through the brown! Of course that’s not always the case and this time round there were some swims where visibility was fairly limited.

Add limited visibility to a longer swim and for the first time I found myself feeling unsettled in the water as I headed further out away from the shore, unable to see what was going on beneath me. And then as I came across a rock I hadn’t seen poking up in the dark. And then as I felt something soft and leafy brush uninvited against my thigh. For the first time in a very long time I actually let out a little surprised ‘oh my’ (ok.. it was not quite so polite, but you get the idea…!!!) and made a U turn back towards the shallows.

The realisation that I didn’t feel at ease in the water as I normally would was surprising and interesting in and of itself, I’ve been swimming in Open Water about 15 years now so it isn’t a feeling I am accustomed to! As the Summer coaching season was just beginning, it brought a timely reminder of how those new to Open Water might feel as they wade in for the first time. I often meet people who are anxious about heading out to the open water where they can’t see and there’s no black line to follow below you and where you don’t know what might be lurking beneath!

I always know that no matter how much I reassure new swimmers that there are no sharks in Lake 86, their fear remains genuine (Mike the Pike is legendary but I’ve never seen him… that’s probably a subject for a different blog I think!). I know that I am a strong swimmer and yet, like the best of us, I can still be unsettled in the water.

Safe to say this got me thinking about things that might help next time I’m faced with deep and brown and warm enough to stray further afield…

Swimming in familiar spots helps to some extent of course, although a change in conditions or temperature can clearly be enough to throw you, even in familiar waters. I always swim within my limits, and stay where I can be seen by my swim buddy or my spotter (often MBW standing on shore looking anxiously on, wearing my dry robe in the tipping rain!). Swimming parallel to the shore/bank where possible rather than swimming out to the distance certainly helps with the knowledge that you’ve not so far to go to get back to dry land, though it doesn’t always work, depending on the venue and the swim!! I’m not too proud to do some heads up breast stroke if I need to just get my bearings or reset my thoughts and my breathing.

Breath work and swimming are obvious partners, especially in the colder months, but being able to stop and acknowledge how you’re feeling and use a well practiced breathing pattern/technique/routine to help you get back to your happy place is a good tool to have in your OWS tool box!

If the worse comes to the worse, I know I can always do a star float to buy me some time and headspace (as well as admire the view above!).

Swimming with others, particularly if they know the waters you’re exploring, is a super way to get sociable as well as be reassured in the water… Local knowledge is truly invaluable, and I always try to find and take advice from the local swimmers when I travel. For our Scottish adventures I have to thank the amazingly welcoming and friendly Lochaber Loons (sorry I wasn’t able to catch you guys this time around… but we will be back!) and our lovely friends Dani and Cam for all their hints and tips of walks that involve water!

So.. would I recommend deep and brown? Of course I would… by the end of our week in Scotland I was feeling much happier heading out to that buoy in the deep and brown peaty distance! Life gets interesting when you leave your comfort zone!

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