It’s 5.20am in the middle of November, pitch black outside and I’m leaving the house. Until 3 years ago the only thing that would get me up and out at this time would be going to the airport to jet off to somewhere hot! But now every Friday, rain or shine, I get up to go to the beach to meet up with a fab bunch of equally dedicated, some would say crazy, people who don’t let the cold and dark stop us from our sea fix.
It all started in August 2020 when Chris Reeves set up the Win the Morning Win the Day (WTMWTD) group in Gosport to counter the isolation and lethargy created by Lockdown. The concept is very simple – meet at 5.30am, walk and talk for 2 miles and then an optional dip in the sea. The idea caught on and groups soon sprang up, not only around the country, but also around the world – including one in Southsea. It’s that early to give a headstart on the day but it also means that you can go even if you’re working.
The idea of early morning swimming wasn’t new to me – I had friends who used to swim at sunrise throughout the summer. I liked the idea of it but could never quite find the motivation to get up that early. I love swimming in the sea, but I don’t like the cold – it had to be at least 25 degrees before I’d venture in…. So what made me even contemplate Win the Morning?
Curiosity – friends who did it were raving about it, and the idea had been on my radar, I just had to overcome my dislike of early mornings and the cold.
The need to try something different to counter the effects of the winter blues. I’ve read a lot about the benefits of cold water therapy for mental health issues and, with another winter looming, plus the additional stress and privations brought about by a global pandemic, now seemed a good time to finally give it a go.
The first time was daunting as there was a huge group of people – and I’m not great in that environment – however everyone was friendly and welcoming, plus a couple of friends were there for reassurance. I was nervous about going in the sea at that time of the day – it was nowhere near 25 degrees! However, despite there being no pressure, I really wanted to give it a try. It was an incredible experience – yes it was cold and my body forgot how to breathe, and it hurt! It was also exhilarating and made me feel truly alive – there was a real feeling of achievement plus a feeling of euphoria swept over me as I got back in the car to drive home. At this point I had none of the gear – no socks or gloves, or changing robe, so by the time I got home I was frozen. I did all the wrong things – straight into a hot shower and then when I still wasn’t warm, a hot bath which resulted in me feeling worse. I didn’t let it put me off though and I soon learned the best way for me was to let my body warm up in its own time before heading into the shower. Luckily, as I’m retired, I can also get back into bed to warm up and catch up on missed sleep. How my working friends cope, I do not know! I also now have a lot of ‘swimming stuff’ – changing robes and coat, multiple swimming costumes gloves, socks, boots, wetsuit top, oversized fleeces, furry boots… the list goes on but it all helps get me through the winter months. The summer is so much simpler – all I need is cossy and sea shoes – and it doesn’t take so long for things to dry!
Why do I do it? The answer is two-fold:
The sea and the beach are my happy places, no matter the time of day or the season. The coldness of the winter sea adds to the exhilaration and provides a completely different buzz to the pure enjoyment of the summer.
The people. Not only the dedicated band of WTMWTDers – there are about a dozen of us hardy souls who turn up most weeks all year round – our numbers are strangely increased during the summer months though….
Additionally this group has spawned another swimming group – The Tipsy Dippers. We meet every Saturday and Sunday at the more civilised time of 8 or 9am. We swim, we laugh, we chat, we drink coffee and eat breakfast. Not only do we share a deep seated love of the sea and its benefits, we also share our stories and our lives.
For me, cold water therapy, combined with the wonderful friendships I have made, has provided the best antidote to the winter blues anyone could wish for.