Bikini weather

The current cold snap is perfect for Winter Championship training. Practising starts, smiling while sprinting face-in, operating numb hands and larking about in a bikini…

Never much good at sports, and never one to take myself seriously, I have finally found a sport where mucking around and laughing actually improves my performance. As the ‘beast from the east’ gusts its way from Siberia bringing snow and freezing winds, my body is being tested like never before, and it’s time to find new coping strategies.

“Force yourself to smile,” said teammate Tom on Sunday. “It makes you believe you’re enjoying it.” Scientists have found that smiling releases the feel-good hormone endorphin, and serotonin that helps regulate mood. Smiling through discomfort or stress can effectively trick you into feeling less pain.

Sometimes the only way to cope with getting into water that’s hovering just under the 1ºC mark is by acting the fool. It takes a lot to even contemplate swimming in water that cold, and going it alone is unthinkable. Brave is a word, but it doesn’t feel brave; it feels foolhardy, and counter intuitive, so eking out the fun is important.

For a start, water this temperature is painful. Last year, I got pain in my hands at 5-6ºC; this year, I felt pain for the first time on Sunday. I’ve also ditched my beloved Aquasphere Vista goggles that cover that sweet spot between your eyes to prevent ice-cream headaches, for tiny, more streamlined racing goggles that don’t. Plus, my sensitive teeth are not impressed by the cold water in my mouth.

The hand pain is the worst. It’s not simple numbness, but actual pain caused by  thermoreceptor nerves in our skin to tell us that we’re at risk of tissue damage (in the same way as burns hurt). Vasoconstriction that closes capillaries in our extremities to protect our core temperature also causes discomfort, numbness and lack of movement in our hands. I set mine into a swimming position like one of those pose-able figures, and need help undoing my swimming costume straps and removing my earplugs afterwards.

The head pain is also caused by sudden exposure to cold water temporarily altering blood flow in your nervous system. And again, it’s a warning shot; stay in the cold water too long and it can start to cause mental confusion, tissue damage and death.

So not swimming solo in this weather isn’t just about help with getting dressed, it’s also a matter of safety. But camaraderie plays a huge part too. Just as smiling helps us believe pain is less, well, painful, swimming with friends increases bravado and confidence and that changes perceptions.

I felt sick to my stomach driving to the marine lake on Sunday and today. There aren’t many occasions where I don’t want to swim, but the horribly low temperatures of air and water had seeped into every fibre of my being. When you’re freezing cold, plunging yourself into ice-cold water is completely illogical.

But camaraderie gets you there. Meeting my fellow South West Seals, most of us training for the World Winter Swimming Championships which take place next week (March 5-11 2018) in Tallinn, Estonia, buoyed my confidence. It’s partly being in it together, but also that we’re incredibly supportive of one another. Camaraderie is the spirit of trust and friendship among humans, and in that team environment, you feel invincible.

Never exactly shy, playing the fool has always boosted my confidence. I like laughing, being childish and uninhibited, so finding a sport where that kind of behaviour actually benefits my performance is wonderful. Prancing into the water in a bikini with my whooping teammates made the impossible possible, and I managed a 300 metre training swim at 1ºC.

Will I be mucking about in a bikini in Estonia? Well, no. Seeing as I’ve changed my goggles to shave a couple of milliseconds off my time, I will actually be taking my races seriously and relying on adrenaline to get me in the water.

But with my team behind me, I’ll be having fun in Estonia too. And if you saw my face under the water as I race, you’d hopefully see that I remembered to smile.

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My Eddie the Eagle moment

Estonia 2018. Flights booked, events entered, stomach flipping somersaults anytime anyone says “Tallinn”, but I’m actually doing it: World Winter Swimming championships, here I come.

It was actually not hard to enter; in fact, I’ve had a much easier time than Eddie the Eagle Edwards, who at least had to record a qualifier. It was just a case of registering for a couple of events, and then finding a flight.

It’s the training and doing that’s the harder bit. Swimming at least twice a week in biting water that electrifies your skin and turns it an alarming shade of pink is challenging enough, but racing in even colder water on the world stage for winter swimming will be quite something else. The water is expected to be under a degree. That’s colder than a G&T with ice.

And I’d be nothing without my team, the South West Seals. We’re motley crew of winter swimmers and chunky dunkers who gather on the side of Clevedon marine lake throughout the winter, faff immensely before tripping off to the water, swimming for a short while, and then faffing some more over warm drinks. Half of us are just in it for the cake.

We’re a growing team. This year, around 75 Seals have signed up to the Facebook group, and a dozen of us are going to Estonia. As winter swimming catches on, with its benefits for health and well-being, the number of feet-stamping, hot-water bottle hugging swimmers at the side of the lake increases too. Sometimes it feels busier than it did in the summer.

And we’re none of us athletes. Most of us are better covered than your average Olympian; I swear more ballast makes us better insulated and more buoyant. Our ages range from mid-twenties to late-fifties; our neoprene wearing from full wetsuit, booties, gloves and bonnet to bikini-only; our technique from quick dunk full of swears, to freestyle loops around the lake.

Estonia requires no neoprene. Other than that, it’s open to anyone with the desire and cold water experience. For the less confident in our group there are untimed events, while our youngest member has entered about six competitive events, and being an athletic, experienced swimmer in an age-category that’ll have the fewest entrants, has a good chance of winning some bling.

And imagine that! While there will be some hardcore northern European competitors for whom winter swimming has been a way of life since childhood, there is a small chance that a couple of us will win a bronze, silver or even gold in our events. Proper world champions!

However we do, the experience will be immense. The absolute joy of winter swimming is that it’s pretty much the only sport where it’s enough to simply be sporting. Other world championship-level sports require an Eddie the Eagle standard of dedication and practise; winter swimming just requires a masters-level of faffing and a penchant for cake.

To follow the South West Seals’ adventures in Tallinn, watch this space…

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Swimming at Clevedon at around 3 degrees centigrade

Wetsuit or no wetsuit?

Wetsuit? Pah! Should be called a sweatsuit! Putting one on should be an event in itself! Swear I burn more calories getting into my wetsuit than swimming 10km! How do you stop yours rubbing? I can’t move my arms! I’m stuck!

In a clammy changing tent just before the Great North Swim, there were about fifty women of every imaginable shape, size and shade squeezing sticky skin into tight, rubber suits. You hear the same conversations, and see the same wild moves: arms raised, legs lunging and squatting, pulling, bending, thrusting like some bizarre swim event dance ritual.

It looks hilarious, but nobody’s really laughing. Pre-event nerves, plus everyone knows how important it is to get your wetsuit on just-so otherwise the neck will rub so that you’ll finish the race looking like you’ve had a love bite from a conger eel.

Of course, you get those who have applied for special permission not to wear a wetsuit. With a look of smug amusement, these swimmers aren’t actually laughing at you (don’t hate them), they’re just thankful that they don’t have to imitate John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks in order to put on a rubber skin, and they’re in skins because they’re insanely experienced and confident.

So are wetsuits really necessary, or are they just another way of coining it from an activity that’s on the rise in popularity? Do you need a ‘swimming’ wetsuit, or can you make do with a cheaper surfer’s model? Do you need to spend big bucks, or will a cheaper one do?

The best way to answer this is to think about what a wetsuit has to offer. It’s primarily for warmth, delaying hypothermia thus increasing the time you might be able to spend in water safely. Secondly, it gives you extra buoyancy, allowing you to swim more efficiently. Thirdly, it makes you more streamlined, and it also protects your skin.

It may not feel it when you put your back out getting the thing on, but wetsuits are ultimately a safety consideration, which is why most events insist on them. It follows, then, that if you’re not experienced at swimming the distance your planning on swimming, or you’re unsure, you should invest in a wetsuit. Some events allow you to ask for special permission to go without, but you have to prove your experience. Even then, they can decide that the temperature’s too low. For example, an experienced winter-swimmer friend of mine has been told that she can only do the Arctic Circle swim without a wetsuit if the temperate is above 16 degrees C.

It also follows that when buying your wetsuit, insulation, buoyancy and streamlinedness (which I’m fairly certain isn’t a technical term, or even a term at all) are on your criteria list. Swimming wetsuits are pretty much geared up to tick all the boxes. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but well-known brands are the most reliable: Zoot (which I have), Orca, TYF, HUUB, Zone3, Blueseventy and Speedo are all go to swimming brands.

A poor fitting wetsuit will pretty much negate every plus point you have, and you may as well swim in chain mail. Wetsuits work by trapping a thin layer of water against the skin which warms to body temperature. The thicker the neoprene, the better insulated you’ll be, but if your suit’s too loose, the water will slosh around inside and stay cold, thus making you cold. Too tight, and you won’t be able to move.

As a general rule, for this country where the summer water is between 11 and 21 degrees C, you’ll need 3-5mm thickness. Swimming wetsuits are made with variable thicknesses to help insulate your torso, free up your shoulders, and lift your legs to give you a good, flat, streamlined body position in the water. This is especially helpful if, like many triathletes, you have muscular legs or ankle stiffness. I’m one of life’s great floaters, and in my wetsuit I feel like a boat. You’d just need to attach an outboard motor and I reckon I could take passengers!

Streamlining is a good advantage too. Muscular, angular bodies get smoothed out, while stuffing a curvy bottom and boobs into a wetsuit reminds me of trying to get your sleeping bag back into its stuff sack; you’re good and smooth, but you know the second you unzip that zipper, it’ll all come tumbling back out. That rubber skin also protects you from snags or scrapes.

Surf wetsuits tend not to have any of that balancing, varied thickness, nor the contouring that gives you more speed. They’re more clunky and less smooth, but also more robust. I went coasteering recently, which was brilliant fun, but it would have wrecked my fragile swimming wetsuit – I was very grateful for the thicker neoprene.

Having established that you need a wetsuit, getting one fitted it the next step. It sounds obvious, but you need to make sure you can swim in it. I have seen so many confident swimmers put on a wetsuit for the first time and have a total panic attack. Even a well fitted swimming wetsuit will try to simultaneously strangle you and compress your chest. Wiggle has a great buying guide, online assistance, good range of suits and a good returns policy. Even better, find a shop with an infinity pool like Bristol Triathlon Shop where you can actually try swimming in it. I got mine there, and while it wasn’t cheap, I’ve swam a comfortable 10km in it, which was worth every penny. Plus the infinity pool is fun!

Getting it on need not be an actual battle. Put your feet in and pull the legs up to well above your ankle. If you have long nails, wear gloves as you pull it up over your knees and thighs and then bottom and hips. Don’t go any further until the crotch is well and truly in your groin rather than hanging down P-Diddy style. Do the same with one arm, and then the other, so the armpit is in your armpit. Whirl your arms, do some thrusts, make sure you can move freely before zipping yourself in. I totally advocate lube for getting your wetsuit on and stopping chaffing. It doesn’t exactly ‘glide’ FYI Bodyglide, but it does help. My favourites are pictured below.

Once you’re in the water, hold open the neck and welcome the cold water in. It warms quickly, and that’s what you want. If you prefer a nice warm pee, go for it, it’s your wetsuit! It’s a good idea to have a hitch, a wiggle, a tug on the arms and legs before you set off just to make sure you’re totally comfy.

So why would you swim without? Ironically, I take mine off for winter swimming, but then I’m in calm water for short bursts with friends. Swimming ‘skins’, as it’s known, is hardcore, but also liberating, and it’s easy to see why you’d not want to go back to contorting yourself to get into a wetsuit. That said, I love mine. For comfort, safety and warmth, it’s worth the struggle to get in on, and I will continue to wear it for long swims and events.

 

The big one! 10km swim

By heck, I did it! Face down, legs flutter kicking, arms pulling through murky water for 3 whole hours. So, what did it take to swim a marathon?

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The pros and cons of swimming a marathon

I have a lot of love for the Outdoor Swimming Society who organises the Dart 10k. It’s quite an event with something like 1200 swimmers over two days, organised to start and with a little festival at the end that offers a hug, a hot chocolate, a hot tub, Dart 10k Sherpa fleece hoodies to buy and snuggle in when you finish. So that joy you feel at finishing lifts to ecstasy by the time you’re warm, dry and fed.

I’m sure this is a cunning ploy to make you do it again. To eclipse the hours of your life you’ve given over to training, the raw patch on your neck where your wetsuit rubbed, the pounding headache you got from a too tight cap/too tight goggles/dehydration/exhaustion* (*circle all that apply).

But actually, those discomforts and challenges at least provide interest. Once eliminated, there’s not much to think about when you’re ploughing on. I’ve blogged before about swimming being mindful, and that is part of its joy for me; and I was listening to Radio 4 programme just this morning about how good it is to let your mind wander from time to time. But it’s hard to appreciate a mindful state of being for 3 hours.

The training is boring, there’s no two ways about it. I found having to complete a certain distance in a session cancelled out most of the joy I take from wild swimming . Finding the time and the grit to stick to a training schedule was probably the tougher than the swim itself.

The swim

We started at 9am on the Sunday; the leisurely wave. I should just point out that leisurely is a misnomer. Swimming 10km isn’t my idea of leisure, and when the medium wave started ploughing past us, it was clear that we were the slow and steady tortoises of the event. I might suggest this new name.

The current was good, helping us downstream (like running a marathon downhill with the wind behind you, as I told my brother), and the first feed station came quickly. I was surprised by the water’s saltiness, and that feed station with its jelly babies and Lucozade was a glorious beacon to which I clung for a bit longer than was decent.

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Feed stations: a beacon of loveliness

The next stretch got saltier still, and the previous day’s heavy run had washed in all kinds of leaves (some very prickly: holly?), debris and, judging by the smell and stomach upsets many of us had afterwards, cow poo.

The second feed station at 7.5km was soon there, and those of us clinging on expressed amazement that we were nearly done. Mistake. We’d been warned that the finish is always further than it seems, and it was. I wasn’t that tired; I felt great physically, like a machine, almost. But after another kilometre or so, I was mentally done. I wanted out.

At one point, I spotted a slipway ahead, and became convinced that my glances through misty goggles between breaths had spotted a crowd. But we still had the last big bend to go.

My fingers touched a gravelly river bed, and I thought I must be right at the back of the pack, and the tide was leaving me behind. It also occurred to me that I could get up and walk, so I steered myself to a deeper bit, and a quick glance round showed that I was still in the middle of the pack.

As corny as it sounds, I imagined my children watching for me to finish, and that gave me that final push. Actually, I imagined how cross my eldest son would be if I finished slowly! Eventually, at last, the finish was there.

Again?

Will I do it again? Perhaps. Not next year, but I will probably do it again at some point. I’ve compared endurance swimming with giving birth before, and I’m convinced that I’ve discovered a new similarity: with time, the negative side of the experience fades in your mind, and only the glory remains. Plus, the hug, the hot chocolate, the hot tub, the Sherpa fleece… They were like the baby; the lovely, warm, gift you get to take home.

 

Injury time

It’s sunny; it’s warming up; it should be time to get out my wetsuit. If only my arm weren’t in a sling… The big question when your injured is, is do I keep form (and sane) when I can’t go swimming?

I’ve been working out like a fiend. My first event on the season is on June 11th; a lovely starter swimming a mile around Windermere as part of the Great North Swim. Last year, I did it in 35 minutes with cramp in both calves. All year I’ve been training with the aim of getting sub-30 minutes. All year. Only thanks to a little wobble on my bike, I now have a fracture in my left elbow.

As I’ve blogged before, swimming is my time out, my escape as well as my exercise. It’s so important to me mentally and physically. So not only do I need to keep sane, I also want to be able to get round the lake in just under eight weeks’ time.

The answer for the exercise part is high impact interval training (HIIT). Following the principles of Jillian Michaels creator of the 30 Day Shred, I’ll be doing a 20 minute workout five days a week that comprise of three minutes strength, two minutes CV and one minute abs. The question is what exercises, and how can I keep my upper body strength?

Cardio and abs are easy; high knees, high feet, jogging on the spot, ropeless skipping, and at the gym static bike and cross trainer. I can also continue with ab curls, crunches, leg lifts and so on. Strength is trickier. Unable to push weights, the focus switches to lunges in all directions, squats, core rotation, some with a dumbell in my good hand to add resistance and keep my upper body strong.

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Squat walking: hardcore!

But trickier still is the mind game. With yoga and swimming on hold, and also being unable to drive or work, the chances of getting bored are very high. Walking has to be a good start. There’s more scope for a wandering mind than when focussing on your stroke while swimming; I’ve been walking since I was 12 months old, so I don’t have to think about form. But at least I’ll be out there in the world.

I’m also going to try meditation and maybe dig out my old sketch book. Perhaps by viewing this as an opportunity to try things I don’t do normally, I won’t lose the plot!

Of course the moment I can, I’ll be back in the pool and lake. Swimming is wonderful for rehabilitation after injury, and is recommended by physiotherapists. My trouble, I know, is that I’ll push it. Starting with water walking with gentle pulling, I’ll progress to a one-armed stroke, and then a gentle stroke.

I’ve been very lucky that my radial head fracture (a crack in the nobbly bit at the end of the radius that sits in the elbow) is stable, and that means it can be exercised as the pain allows. I hope that by June 11th, I’ll be strong enough for a gentle swim around Lake Windermere.

Armless 20 min HIIT Circuit*

  • Warm-up (2 mins)
    • 30 secs running on the spot
    • 30 secs high knees
    • 15 secs neck rolls
    • 15 secs shoulder rolls
    • 30 secs high knees
  • Set 1
    • Strength: 45 secs static squat with abdo twist, 45 secs side lunges – repeat
    • Cardio: 30 secs butt kicks, 30 secs jumping jacks – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs sit ups
  • Set 2
    • Strength: 45 secs lift left leg and raise dumbell with good arm, 45 secs squat walking, 45 secs lift right leg and raise dumbell with good arm, 45 secs squat walking.
    • Cardio: 30 secs high knees, 30 secs ropeless skipping – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs ankle taps (with good arm – lean towards you ankle on the other side)
  • Set 3
    • Strength: 45 secs lunge with good arm bicep curl, 45 secs step through lunge – repeat
    • Cardio: 30 secs grapevine with abdo twist, 30 secs lunge jump – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs full crunch – lifting legs as you sit up.
  • Cool down and stretch

*I’m neither a medically trained physio nor a qualified trainer – please check with your medical practitioners before exercising.

 

Strong is the new skinny

The prospect of not hearing about desirable thigh-gaps, bikini bodies and waifs is good news, no doubt. But the real progress is a) who’s driving this movement b) who moves up the ratings as an idol and c) what it means for our mental and physical health.

The 90s have my heart. Brit pop, trip hop, jungle, Adidas Gazelles, parkas, Courtney Love and Kate Moss. I emulated Heroin chic: smudged eyeliner, blood-red lips, grimy hair and short skirts. Only I really loved the college canteen’s chips with beans and cheese, and the local pub’s pound-a-pint night could only be cancelled out with cheese pasties.

Fast-forward to now, and Beyonce is up front with her thighs, booty and glossy Amazonian goddessness. This is A Good Thing for us women who choose food over hard drugs. It’s good for anyone who has a naturally athletic figure, who enjoys working out, who isn’t a pubescent white girl.

But where has this come from? As far as I remember, we were complaining about heroin-chic in 1997 while watching Trainspotting, shopping in Miss Selfridge and applying our Rimmel eye-liner. We wondered how it happened, how the curvy 50s figure had been usurped while our friends were pulling us across the floor of the fitting room in New Look by the leg hole of the hot-pants in which we’d got stuck (maybe that was just me).

Back then, Heroin chic was the new 1950s hourglass. And that ubiquitous phrasing favoured by lazy journalists everywhere sums up perfectly the driving force behind all fads and fashions before now. Blah is the new blah: the formula for the consumer market where one fad is replaced by another.

These trends, derived by whoever, pushed on (mainly) women by the world’s media, seep into our conciousness. I’m a savvy consumer: I like what I like. And yet I have four jumpsuits (they’re the new LBD), work the bronzer and highlighter (contouring, Rupaul), and have at least one Hemsley & Hemsley style cookbook (clean eating, not dieting). In other words, I’m as much of a consumer capitalist sucker as the next person.

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Contouring like Rupaul

And yet this strong woman movement seems to have emerged from somewhere else. I may believe this to be the case because at last, 20 years on, I’ve accepted that I’ll never look like Kate Moss, and decided to suck it up, and I got there before it started trending.

But I like to think that social media has allowed women to dictate how we want to look; a trend that has been started by real people and the market has answered our actual needs rather than creating them.

It may also be that, finally, health is taking the top line. That we’ve realised that being strong and fit is so, so much more desirable than looking like we’re injecting between our toes – and it’s better for our mental health, too.

Clearly we haven’t moved on enough to stop analysing the figures of women, like this excellent piece of journalism by the Mirror, but if the media inspires women to go out for a run rather than stop eating, then perhaps it’s progress. Maybe if people from ethnic minority backgrounds or with fuzzy gender boundaries become inspiring idols, then it’s progress. If we’ve, through the power of social media, picked our own idols, then it’s progress.

But the biggest bit of progress is just starting to creep into our collective conciousness. Not just that it’s ok to have big quadriceps that don’t fit into hot pants, but that exercise makes us feel better about ourselves on many levels.

When I started this blog, I wrote about the mindful, almost meditative state I enjoy when I’m swimming. But I could go further and say that I have never in my life felt so good, and so at ease with my body. Now! When there are a thousand baby-stretched, greying, random-pube sprouting reasons not to love my body, I am actually ok about how I look.

Back to Bey, and I do like to draw parallels between myself and Ms Knowles, and her video for her new Ivy Park activewear collection. Yes, it’s beautifully produced, and so is she, but it’s the fact that she talks not about she came to look so amazing, or what she weighs, or how many minutes it takes to run a mile, but the spiritual, emotional benefits of exercise. It’s the focus on how it makes you feel good, not what it does to your body.

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Beyonce launches her new Ivy Park range. Yes, it’s consumerism, but it’s spiritual, yeah?

The narrative is finally shifting, or so it feels, from how we look to how we feel; to our health, physical and mental. My weighing scale is currently buried under some decorating sheets, and long may it stay. While I cut through the water I feel stronger and more at peace than ever before. It doesn’t matter how old I am, what colour I am, even that I’m a woman, and to me, that’s a blissful state. Maybe at last, my heart can move on from the 90s.

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Just like Beyonce, see?

For the love of skin part II #guestblog

In the same way that it’s important to look after your fitness between swims, it’s important to look after your skin and well-being too. Last week, guest beauty blogger Gilded Magpie gave some recommendations for products to keep in your kit bag to use after a session. This week, she explores products to use at home.

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Hi all! Gilded Magpie back again with some more skin care recommendations to help you keep your swimmer’s skin looking distinctly un-swimmery. Last week  I suggested some lovely products to keep in your kit bag, today I am going to recommend a few bits to keep in your bathroom.

All products are suitable for women and men, except those marked with a * which smell a bit feminine.

Firstly: body products.

I know from experience that chlorine wreaks havoc with the skin on your upper arms particularly. Little patches of dry, tight skin abound and any existing skin conditions can be exacerbated. Moisturiser is a must and, if you get on with a bog standard body lotion then more power to you. Sometimes my skin needs a bit of a boost above and beyond the in-shower moisturisers I mentioned last week. For this I like to use a smoothing body lotion – these are moisturising but also contain alpha and beta hydroxy acids which gently exfoliate. Dry skin patches and chicken skin begone! Palmers do a really good priced version called the Anti-Ageing Smoothing Lotion* (£4.39  here) but I simply cannot stick the smell of the stuff. I have been testing Clarins Renew Plus Body Serum* (£40 for 200ml here) and Ameliorate Skin Smoothing Body Lotion (from £17.50 for 100ml here). Clarins to the left of me, Ameliorate to the right (thanks to Stealers Wheel for the memory trick) and I have to conclude that they are about equal in terms of skin smoothing and chicken skin busting. The Clarins smells infinitely better however – Ameliorate has an odd, jarring chemical smell that hangs around all day. It isn’t over powering and I doubt any one would notice but Clarins edges it for me for that reason.

Secondly: the face.

I like to use different cleansers in the morning and evening. I like to be refreshed and woken up in the morning and nurtured and cosseted in the evening. Swimming regularly adds another dimension to this in that your skin needs to be cosseted and nurtured whatever time of day it is. For this reason I would chose Ultimelt by Soap and Glory (£10 here) for the morning. This is a beautifully unctuous cream cleanser with oils and skin treating ingredients but it rinses really well and has a tiny bit of a tingle to it. Skin is left soft and supple feeling, perfectly cleansed and balanced for serum and moisturiser. In the evening thicker balms are the order of the day. Make up needs to be destroyed, skin needs to be pummelled and nourishing oils need to be introduced. Boots Botanicals do an excellent Hot Cloth Cleansing Balm (on offer at a bargainous £5.99 here) which is thick and effective. Even quite heavy make up is removed easily but it feels really nourishing and rich on the skin below. For something a touch lighter but still emphatically balmy Lush’s Ultrabland* is for you (from £7.50 for 45g here). Slightly creamier than the Botanicals balm this is still very luxurious feeling and smells deliciously of honey. Both these products will need to be removed with a flannel. The Boots one comes with a muslin but I find these a bit mimsy – flannels feel much more like you are having a bit of a facial and are more effective at removing all the product/end-of-day-face-grub.

For faces suffering the wrath of the elements/overexposure to chorine a bit of exfoliation is probably a good thing. I like to exfoliate with acids, as with the body lotions mentioned above, rather than scrubs but each to their own. A gentle acid tone, after cleansing 4+ (depending on your skin type – build up) nights per week can do wonders for dry, flaky and irritated bits of skin. I use a plethora of different acids but I would say that Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme (on offer for £9.97 here – I need to get me to Boots!) are a good and well priced all rounder. Do not be fooled by the ‘Extreme’ labelling, these have less alcohol and dryness-causing ingredients than their ‘gentle’ version but they also contain more types of acid to work at different levels on the skin. They smell deliciously grapefruity too.

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I love a facial oil and feel that, particularly for faces that have had nourishment sucked from them for whatever reason (and swimming would be one such reason) you get the best bang for your buck in terms of skin improvements with them. Generally they aren’t cheap but they last ages so offer reasonable value for money. I know people with oily skin baulk at adding oil but, counter intuitively, it can help to balance the skin’s oil production and keep the complexion more even. Boots Botanicals have a really good version for an amazing price (on offer at £6.66 here). This is quite oily so you’ll only need 5-6 drops per application but it smells delicious, has a good range of oils and is 100% organic. A dryer oil, and one of my personal favourites, Caudalie’s Polyphenol C15 overnight detox oil (£29 here) is a superb fix for combination skin and uneven skin tone. I try to ignore the ‘detox’ in the title because that means little to me and focus on the benefits I see in the mirror – brighter, softer and more even skin. 6 drops of this natural, plant derived oil are all that you need for a thorough massage and it lasts for ages. I have just bought a new one after over a year of regular use.

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Finally for facial products: night creams. I am a big fan of Eucerin Hyaluron Filler Night Cream – I am on my 563rd (approx) pot and I always return to it with guilt for ever doubting its efficacy after trying alternatives. It is a delicious blanket that keeps all of my other night skin care in place. It contains the all important hyaluronic acid which is superb for treating dehydration and it helps to plump and soften the skin. I love it and for £19.50 (admittedly on offer but it often is) here it is hard to beat. Every now and then I do break out of the usual routine to give my skin a more intensive hydrating treatment. For that I have BioEssence Hydra Tri-Action Aqua Droplet Mask (£29  here). This stuff is watery but in a way that is accessible to your skin. Droplets form on massaging which you then pat into your skin to super-hydrate it. Leave on overnight for beautifully hydrated morning skin.

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Thirdly: treats.

The following products will not necessarily help your skin but they most certainly will help your mind, body and spirit. A few weeks ago Rowan wrote a post about how knackering swimming can be. Your limbs feel heavy and you seek comfort. Well look no further: bath products are the tops for providing relaxation and restoration by the bucket load. I love the Mandara Spa range, developed by the team behind Elemis but budget friendly and available in Sainsburys the Bali Santi is my favourite scent. The Island Paradise fragrance which is fresher and more citrusy runs it a close second and the bath soak is pleasingly bubbly and luxurious (£10 here). For bigger budgets/gift lists everywhere Laura Mercier Creme Brulee Honey Bath* (£33 here) smells like heaven and is skin softening and mind transporting in equal measure. For aching muscles and frazzled minds Therapie Himalayan Detox Salts will ensure a sound nights sleep and restored muscles so you are ready to face the water again the next day.

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Again, I will haunt the comments section for questions. I hope there are some recommendations above that can be incorporated into your routines and will really help with nourishing and hydrating your skin.

Enjoy, Gilded Magpie XOXO