London Tech Swim Club

My weird little London outdoor swimming society

One of my ways to live more intensively every day of my life.

The Tech swimming club is bringing founders and investors to swim in freezing temperatures (or less freezing outside of the cold months ;))

I always loved swimming. As far as I can remember, any time we would be close to a pool, I would spend my whole day jumping in and out with my sisters. Nowadays, whenever I’m close to water, my husband treats me like a puppy “yes Helene, hold on a bit, you can go swimming after the wedding reception. No, not during church”.

Pull ups, and some swimmers in the pond Cold or hot, I love it. I do actually have a slight preference for fresh, even cold — or freezing.

I got into really cold water while living in London.

3 years ago I started increasing my training again. I entered a virtuous spiral with my new friend and coach — we met at a cycling race, and soon I joined the cycling trip from London to Plymouth in 24h (350km). We were increasing our training load, doing long cycles on weekends, and coupling it with swims from our triathlon club Serpentine. His rule though was “sports dehydrates. So we must drink if we train. Alcohol”. No discussion on that.

After that long ride, I had to stop doing long cycles — getting married 4 months later, I wanted to avoid being in crunches or full of scratches, so favoured spinning indoors and swimming.

A lot.

We also signed up to a swim-run, the new fashion at that point — great mix between the trail spirit and my favourite sport.

For anyone lucky enough not to be addicted to lycras, “swimrun” consists of a succession of swims and runs — usually around islots: you swim between the island, then run to cross the 1st island, swim until the 2nd, etc. The one we were to join was in Britany, on the Glenans Islands, a succession of 8 islands.

The cool thing with that sport, is that you can wear anything you want with any help you want. “Great” would you think, I’ll put fins and hand-palms!

Well, yes, but you have to run with it, and change 16 times.

So there’s a whole science around the swimrun optimisation: ok, we’ll run with our trainers on. Ever tried? Well, your legs sink. Ok, I’ll put a pull-boy. Ok, where do you put it when you run? I’ll tie it with an elastic to my leg.

Ah, the water is really cold in Brittany. Ok, I’ll put a wetsuit. Ever ran +20k with a wetsuit? Indeed, not extremely practical. Hum… Ok, let’s cut the legs.

That’s how we ended up training in the Serpentine, the lake in the middle of London in Hyde park, with our shoes on in the water, our wetsuit, hat and googles on, running in the park, tied to each other.

In summer, the “public” area is open from 9:30am to 6:30pm. There are separated changing rooms, you pay 4,50gbp to get in, and can swim in the 100m designated area.

But the “real stuff” is early in the morning.

Sun not yet out, the best moment of the day. London Serpentine Swimming Club, Lido, Hyde Park

All year round, every single day of the year, from 6:30am to 9:30am, the lake is reserved for the mysterious Serpentine Swimming Club — not to be confounded with the Serpentine Triathlon / Running Club — nothing to do with each other, other than the name.

And there are some rules in the club. Wetsuits are badly considered and looked at. In the club, you wear a swimming suit. All your round.

Priority is to people coming from East — as they can’t see if the sun is coming up.

You don’t use soap in the unique outdoors freezing shower.

You change all together, men and women, in the tiny club room.

You can drink tea or coffee to warm up after the swim, but clean after you.

And for the rest, enjoy.

After discovering that small club in summer, I got intrigued when hearing them talking about their winter swims. I always go in the water, wherever, whenever — the coldest I swam to that date (and still until now) being 2 degrees in Iceland in December — but with a dry suit.

Winter in London arrives pretty quickly. By September, it was already below my usual temperature, around 17 degrees.

We never got to do the swimrun race — that’s another whole story — but in short, it got cancelled because they never got the authorisations. We decided to still do it by ourselves, rented a boat and started heading offshore to the far, far islots. Bad, bad idea. After 30mins on the sea, no one out of the port, waves too big to be cute, me being the only person more or less used to open sea and being the captain onboard, our shitty boat cracking at each wave, I started wondering how we would put in place our established plan: 2 swimmers, 2 on the boat, and still do the swimrun. The issue being a) I was the only one knowing how to drive a boat b) A small storm seemed to grow stronger and stronger c) The captaincy wasn’t answering. At that point, I decided to go back “boys, we’re going home”. Surfing and loosing all commands on the way back, I was fairly happy with that decision.

We still went swimming in the cold October Ocean of Brittanny, but by the shore.

And we came back to London. Getting more and more hooked to that little weird club.

The water was getting colder. Nights were getting longer. We started meeting more people going there as well, and we started having our little routine: wake up at 5:45am, jump on the bike, arrive by 6:20am. Lock the bike, run around the pond. Do push ups and, pulls ups. All warmed up, throw the clothes away. Run half naked, straight to the water (rule: do. Not. Think.).

The length being 100m, you can easily choose the distance you want to do. Until 15 degrees, I train my favourite distance, 1,000m. Around 10 degrees, I can do more than 100m. At 4 degrees, I walk to the other end of the length, go in the water and swim back my 100m.

One of coldest morning I went to, the water was announced at 3 degrees.

Other group of morning swimmers, November 2017

November 2016, the park is frozen, covered with this beautiful and fragile white powder of frost. I arrive there and meet Olly, a polar explorer who’s currently organising his round-the-world trip rowing solo, and Julia, used to climb mountains and not afraid by a new experience. It’s still very dark in the middle of the park. We do our run, our push and pull ups.

You go to the small room, throw your clothes. You run to the other end, go in, start having electric chocs in weird places on your body, your legs, arms, stomach.

I wear a neoprene hat I learned to love (my style is really from another world though..), so my head is fine.

My hands freeze, my face loves it. The water is deliciously fresh. You’re not too sure you’ll survive the distance, but you see older ladies going back and forth, and your friends continuing. Surely you can do it as well.

The swim is really slow. It’s absolutely not about performance nor distance. We breast stroke, slowly like old grannies. Fast enough though not to sink.

And here it comes: the end. You pull yourself out. The air is hot. Your body is full of little stings, it’s between pain and total loss of sensations.

The floor which was frozen on the way in now seem warm. But you have to go in the over-heated room. The trick now is not to get cold.

It’s warm and cozy in there, hot water boiling waiting for your morning tea, you always see a piece of bum or boobie here and there although people don’t deliberately show their bodies.

Conversations are around the tempature felt, the actual temperature. You hear “so Harriet, how much did you do today?”, “400m and I was done!”; “I couldn’t come yesterday, I’m so glad I’m here! Never again shall I miss it!” — I’m happy and proud with my 100m, but you can tell the difference between the newbies like me and the veterans, coming every single day.

I dress up very quickly, put large and warm clothes, drink my English tea over-sugared. It feels so good.

The sun is now much higher. It’s 7:45am, just time to get back on my bike, cycle home, get into the luxury of a warm shower and go to work.

That was when I was working 10mins walk from home. Now I would do as anyone else at the club: go straight to work.

Another swim, 30th November 2016, frozen park, for Will’s birthday (it’s one of my favourite birthday presents)

There are some extraordinary benefits from swimming in cold water.

I know, whenever you read this, haven’t experienced it yourself, you think “yeah, for sure. Why would you try to force me into that horrible idea, no straight mind can actually enjoy that”.

But it’s true. It’s also scientifically proven, as I did my research on.

You don’t feel the London winter the same way. At all. Your body suddenly can get any temperature without feeling it. You also don’t get sick. Those morning electric shocks kills any germs you could have turning around you, washing you from all impurities hidden in your throat or stomach.

And you get to see London like very few of us see her and appreciate her: in the full dark, with some beautiful foxes errant slowly in the street, the park for yourself, some half-naked bodies emerging from the lake, the occasional extra-early jogger (that population tends to fill the park at least 1 or 2 hours later).

I managed to bring some “normal” people in my trip as well. Being so enthusiastic about it, it seemed to have had an impact on some of my friends.

It’s now one of my favourite birthday present: I would tell them I’ll bring them to the “most extraordinary experience you’ll have. Do you trust me? Ok, see you on Wednesday at 6:30am at the pond”. Will kindly accepted my brilliant idea — I also told him that he would have stories for years to tell, just by coming once “you know what I got for my birthday this morning? Swimming in the 4degrees serpentine in November”.

I also brought Julien, my coach and friend, on the 16th December. Not that he needed my push to go there, but we went, swam, followed by a breakfast at the Lido coffee just next to it.

One evening, with females in venture capital, I managed to convince 9 of them to come. The evening before, every 30mins, I received a message: 10pm “ah, I’m stuck at work, I’ll work all night”; 11pm: “I need to get to work really early, won’t make it…” 3am: “I’m sick and can’t sleep” ,etc — except one warrior, Julia, who came.

Another time, I was out at a “team fun” with my office, organised by Alex. As an English man (exotic in London!), he of course knew some hidden gems in London: pubs and restaurants I’ve been never to, although in my neighbourhood — as us, “Euro’s” are too busy going to The Westbourne or the Angelsea. Impressed by his knowledge of beuverie locations, and willing to “give back” I suggested to organise, in return a “team fun”.

All too happy to nominate me to that role, I soon organised my version of having fun: meeting at 6:30am at the pond. 3 of them actually came, Alex even bringing his flatmate — Julia as a roumanian-canadian not too impressed by the cold, and Titas from Lithuania, equally not too impressed. Titas really got hooked, Alex slightly as well.

Now that winter is back, I’ve opened back the season. The winter, the very long and dark mornings, on the bike, run around, jump in the freezing water… our mini reversed triathlon, our fabulous little weird society of shadows moving in the misty mornings while the the big smoke London is asleep.

I’m advocating to go there, as a massive addict. If you wonder how to join the club or want to try it out, don’t hesitate to reach out

And sign up to