Guest post: Dr Karen Throsby on open-water swimming

Today’s guest post is from Dr Karen Throsby, Channel swimmer and academic who is currently immersed in a sociological study of channel swimmers’ bodies. You can read about the time she interviewed me here (and here on her own blog). I asked Karen to write a post about what open-water (sea) swimming means to her. Her response, below, is beautiful. I think it will resonate with any of you out there who have ever swum in open water (and enjoyed it!) and will perhaps intrigue and delight those of you who have never known the joy of slipping into cold water and entering that quiet world…

Without further ado I give you Karen Throsby.

What I miss about open water swimming…

(Karen calls this her “happy swimming” photo and says she has it on her phone to remind her what open-water swimming feels like at its very best. The photo is from her round-Jersey swim).

How lovely to have been invited to write a guest post on Nicola’s fab blog. Unlike Nicola, who is an accomplished mistress of many fitness activities, I am rather more one-dimensional, sticking mainly to swimming, with the occasional gym visit (although more out of duty than love). In the absence of another sport that really grabs my enthusiasm, and even though I quite enjoy pool swimming, I’ve now reached that point in the year when I really start to long for the open water swimming season to start….

I miss the calm of it. I like nothing more than swimming along for hours at a time, not thinking about work and the burgeoning to-do list on my laptop, or about the political or current affairs that have me ranting at the radio over breakfast. Sometimes, I fill an entire hour between feeds just thinking about a single green jelly baby, or by counting repeatedly from one to four. There is a special pleasure in knowing that for those few hours, I have to do nothing but swim, away from the distractions and demands of the everyday (and without having change direction every 25 seconds).

I miss feeling strong and physically competent. I am, in my everyday life, quite clumsy and physically awkward. I have terrible hand-eye co-ordination, a bafflingly inadequate spatial sense, and very slow reactions. Imagine what an unappealing prospect I was at school when the time came to pick teams in PE and how those years taught me to dread sport. But in the water, I am strong, capable, co-ordinated…even graceful (or at least, that’s how I feel). If you had told me this while I was at school, as I lined up, full of shame, waiting to be picked last for another hour of ordeal-by-netball, I would never have believed you. It is a liberation that I can’t even find the words for; it’s how I imagine flying would be.

I miss the tingle and burn of the cold water on my back, even though I hate it at the time; I miss having a swimming suntan, even if it is absurdly uneven and probably quite unhealthy. I miss the sounds of swimming – the breathing, bubbling, and splashing; the wind, and the slap of the water. I miss the delicious tiredness at the end of a long open water swim, and the voracious post-swim hunger. I just miss the sheer pleasure of it.

Roll on May.

Thank you Karen for these lovely words. They’re enough to make me miss open-water swimming, too! All the very best with your training this year (Karen is due to swim the Catalina Channel this summer).

Guest post: Dr Karen Throsby on open-water swimming is a post from The Fit Writer blog.


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