Ten reasons why the Cold Water Swimming Championships 2011 were brilliant

1 - It was cold. We’d probably all have liked a bit more sunshine. Snow and ice would have been good for the photographers. Yet there was something authentic about having the championships on a run-of-the-mill steely cold British January day. At about 3.5°C, the water was sharp, and chilly enough to make the endurance swim a really heroic feat, but not a problem if you had to go in for more than one race. And at least there was no repeat of the sunburn that some of us with bald pates succumbed to three years ago.

2 - They were at Tooting Bec Lido. Of course, you love the Lido. But maybe you take it for granted just a little bit. It can feel pretty much the same from week to week, and the races get to be a habit. But then something like the CWSCs comes along and you fall in love with the place all over again – the setting, the trees, the colours, the lifeguards, the sense of community and, most of all, that perfect expanse of crisp, clear blue.

Carl at CWSC

3 - You won’t get a better chance to feel like a champion. What other event gives your average Joe Public borderline couch potato the opportunity to be one of the nation’s finest? Even if you don’t make it onto the winner’s podium, you get the warm feeling of being able to say you were “just outside the medals”.

4 - The organisation was phenomenal. The CWSCs now run so smoothly they almost seem to happen spontaneously, as if they have a mind of their own, without any help from a higher power. But we all know that there is a guiding hand or two putting in months (if not years) of work behind the scenes to make it all take shape. A few significant names: Margy Sullivan, as the organiser in chief, ably assisted by Sue Rentoul and Nancy Shaw, with Clare McRobbie on sponsorship, Chris Gore on entries and results, and Sarah Giles and Julie Brand marshalling a whole army of volunteers.

5 - You could compete as well as volunteer. One of the great things about the way the CWSCs are organised is that it’s no problem to volunteer as a marshal, lane runner, scorer, barman, soup server, cup cake vendor or whatever, and then nip off for a while to take part in your next race. Will London 2012 be able manage such a feat? I don’t think so. No one turning up at the aquatics centre in Stratford is going to have Rebecca Adlington telling them where to park. Olympics 0 CWSCs 1!

6 - There were two glorious pockets of warmth. After each successive race it got harder to warm up, so the sauna and the hot tub were real godsends. Many, many thanks to Honka and the Outdoor Swimming Society respectively.

7 - The funny hats were wilder than ever. As the head-up breaststroke races began, the funny hats emerged from the cubicles and took boldly to the water. Animals were a popular theme, with a polar bear, a couple of squirrels and a perky little duck pulling along a string of ducklings. And Brighton Pier made an unexpected move to the Lido for a day. First prize went to Adam Stocks, who admitted that the intricate greenhouse on his head, complete with cherry tomatoes, had become a bit of an obsession.

8 - There was no chance of going hungry. I can’t think of any other outdoor sporting event that has had such fantastic catering. Enormous helpings of hog roast with fennel and rocket. Warming crepes, fresh from the griddle and filled with chocolate and nuts. Nice coffee. And, of course, the Barkers’ energising ale stand. On top of all that, I must have had at least five different flavours of soup – all delicious (mere spectators must have been gutted that they couldn’t sample it). Finally, there was the amazing cup cake stand, organised by Donna Simpson. Early on, it looked like a serious case of over-catering, with literally hundreds of cakes, plain and fancy, bit-size and whoppers, in every colour of the rainbow. But Donna pulled out all the stops, recruited a junior sales team and eventually sold every single cake – raising £450 in the process.

9 - There was plenty to do apart from swimming. For starters, you could just sit there and listen to Egg Sullivan and Chris Stanton keeping up a lively commentary. Or if you wandered into the main tent, there was a good range of swimming-related stalls. A personal favourite was the display of water colours showing outdoor swimmers preparing to take the plunge. And who will ever forget the cycling cinema? A great way to warm up and the sort of thing that makes you think, “I can’t imagine this happening anywhere else.”

10 - You could round it all off with a good dance. Personally I was too tired to open my front door by 7pm, let alone drag my weary bones down to Tooting. But those with a bit more stamina brought the CWSCs to a rip-roaring close with the Barn Dance at the Classic Club. Great fun, from what I hear – good music and a tasty spread. Enough to make me wish I’d gone – next time, perhaps, next time…

by Andrew Ingamells