It was during my time as a student, probably trying to impress a girl, that I first donated blood and made a startling discovery.
My blood type was the rare and universal O Rhesus Negative and according to some, this meant that I belonged to some ancient and alien reptilian race that populated the earth and dominated those with the Rhesus (monkey) blood type.
Total nonsense. Or so I thought.
Fast forward about 25 years and I am thinking that the conspiracy theorists might be onto something.
For while the UK is basking in sunshine and many open water swimming spots have water temperatures in the 20s, I dipped my toe into Loch Lomond last weekend and thought I was developing frostbite.
Some might argue that I am pathetic and need to toughen up, but I am starting to believe that it is my reptilian ectothermic genes at play.
Whatever the reason, I decided that I need a wetsuit for my upcoming Wee Beastie Triathlon and Simply Swim were on hand to help.
However, there was just one problem. I had no idea about what gear I might need, so I phoned a friend for some advice and that friend was former World Champion and Open Water Swimming coach and legend Keri-Anne Payne.
I asked her what I needed to look for in a wetsuit and I was delighted that her response was more than recommending that it was waterproof.
She encouraged me to consider several key factors. These were comfort, flexibility, warmth, drag and range of movement
I will be swimming 2 miles in the Great Scottish Swim at Loch Lomond where I had recently almost lost (ok, I am possibly slightly exaggerating) a toe, so while I was seriously considering a 500mm thick wetsuit, Keri-Anne had other ideas. She suggested that I would be better with something that was a little less bulky and thinner especially around the wrists and ankles for getting the wetsuit on and off (really important for my triathlon transitions) and around the shoulders which would give me better flexibility and improved efficiency in the water (ever notice how it is always about being a more efficient swimmer?)
Keri-anne then warned that many can feel restricted in a wetsuit and that this could impede breathing. Her recommendation was to consider a wetsuit that did not cover the neck but also one that was not too large as you don’t want water sloshing inside and any excess folds causing drag.
Finding one too large was not going to be a problem for me. Although I have lost 30lbs this year and 120lbs in total, I am still a size XL in most sports clothing and I am no different in wetsuits. I had looked at the fantastic range here on Simply Swim and using the advice from Keri-Anne; sizing guides from Simply Swim and about four hours of reading online reviews, I settled on the Zone 3 Vision wetsuit. An entry level piece that seemed to tick all the right boxes and which wasn’t overly expensive.
On the day it arrived, I was ecstatic. I was one step closer to embarking on my open water swimming adventure and I was eager to try it on.
Only, I couldn’t get it on.
I squeezed, I squirmed and I pulled in every direction to no avail. I was still too big and my heart sunk.
I retreated to my favourite online swimming group (thank you Wild West Swimmers) where I learned that I was not alone in my struggles. That putting on a wetsuit for the first time was a challenge and one that often required more than one set of hands.
So I called upon my girlfriend and together, we managed to get that zip to the top.
It was on!
I didn’t feel too uncomfortable and, again on the advice from the Westies, I performed some stretches and set about wearing the wetsuit for as long as I could or as long as my bladder would allow. Which, being in my mid forties, wasn’t long.
Eventually (I wasn’t allowed in bed with it on) I had to take it off and at this point, one of Keri-Anne’s other pieces of advice came back to haunt me.
The advice from both Keri-Anne and the Zone 3 label was to be careful with fingernails as wetsuits are quite delicate. My nails are trimmed regularly and my partner is a hospital medic with even shorter emails, yet somehow we (I reckon she) managed to tear it in several places.
My open water adventure was going to be cut short because I hadn’t cut my nails short enough. I was devastated and also a bit embarrassed. I had no idea what I was going to do.
Thankfully, Simply Swim came to the rescue and they are going to see if they can repair it for me in time for my first open water triathlon this weekend. I will not give up on my goal of being an open water swimmer and I hope that you will follow how I get on at @howmanymiles_
All advice and encouragement is welcome (don’t forget to use #StephenSimplySwims )
Stephen Morrison - Formerly unhealthy & unhappy at 354lbs, I now enjoy life as a try athlete and physical activity advocate & blogger for various organisations.