Brass Monkeys Challenge – by Marika
After a long summer of COVID and lockdown I realised that my strength, patience and wellbeing came from meeting in the river with 2, 4 or 6 fellow open water swimmers, whichever the COVID rules allowed at the time. So at the end of October 2020, when the Brass Monkeys Challenge was presented, I did not think twice to enter the challenge, that forced me into the open water over the next 6 winter months. I knew these months would be tricky, in a pandemic, where friends lost loved ones and we felt confused as to how, when and if, we could meet up with our families over Christmas.
Some of us decided to take on the challenge, we could choose from Plucky-Brazen- Bold- Daring or Intrepid, there would be a woven badge to sew onto our dry robes at the end. In true fashion we decided to attack at the highest level ‘Intrepid’, this meant regular freezing cold water swims, with Intrepid’s most difficult challenge requiring a 1500m swim in water under 6’C.
So From October till March, with booties, beanies, breastroke and barely covered bodies we braved the biting, aching cold (on occasion, water temp 0’C, outdoor temp -4’C). With ginger teas and the occasional shots of ‘Amarula’ (particularly pre and post obligatory birthday swims) at the ready, to try and bring our bodies back to normal function. My body always lost its way in my towelling robe post swims! (see video below).
Naturally we smashed the requirements of the challenge, with 3 to 4 weekly swims throughout the winter. Grateful, that unlike many, we had a stretch of The River Thames in lockdown reach.
Fearless Brave and Adventurous, is the definition of the word INTREPID, but for me it will always mean, the laughter, friendship, love and care of a MARVELLOUS group of friends.
Polar Bear Challenge Report – by E(Liz)
You know something odd is going on when your team-mates suggest you take part in a Polar Bear Challenge! This is what happened on our Marvels chat group back in September 2020. If you want to attempt an official channel relay crossing you need to acclimatise to the equivalent conditions. The qualifying swim is 1.5 hrs, 1-1.5 hours break and then another 1 hr swim, all in water of 16 degrees C or less.
Whilst 16 C isn’t too cold for a quick dip on a summers day, it’s not a comfortable temperature to swim in for hours at a time….unless you’ve conditioned yourself to it by gradual, repeated, cold water exposure. So V, E & L accepted the Polar Bear Challenge and got stuck in.
The challenge details vary depending on the level you are aiming at, but Arctic and Gold both require 2 swims of a minimum of 250m each month, plus a monthly total meterage, from November to March – whatever the weather! This may not sound like much, but when temperatures drop below 5 degrees and you are only in for a few minutes it’s definitely quite a challenge – especially if it’s your first year of winter swimming in ‘skins’. Big thanks to Moma Bear for organising the event every year.
So thermometers were purchased, loins girded and the challenge met – with many swims below 5 degrees and the coldest recorded by Vicky at an alarming zero degrees on the 11th and 12th February (yes she even went back a 2nd time!). Wow Vicky – that’s definitely Super Cool!
Swimming the Virtual Channel – by Vicky
To keep us motivated to continue training outdoors in skins throughout winter we eagerly agreed to join fellow Henley swim club members in a virtual Chilly Thames Channel Challenge. This involved trying to clock up the equivalent mileage of swimming the English Channel to France, but in the Thames between December 21st and March 21st.
Despite a national lockdown, flooding, injured and absent team mates and cold temperatures (both in and out of the water) we managed to cover almost 90 km in total, which equates to swimming to France, back to the England and almost back to France again!