January has been and gone.

I had thought it would be a time of celebration, of relief that I was no longer bound, admittedly fully arbitrarily, to the daily challenge of swimming in the Firth of Forth.

But it is not. Yesterday I did not go swimming. It feels like something is missing. My head feels more scrambled, my body more restless.

With the January challenge of swimming in the sea every day, there was a focus, a target, something other than work or study that had to be done. It was always demanding leaving the warmth of the flat and cycling, running or (admittedly most often) driving down to Wardie or Portobello, but it never failed to invigorate.

Keeping us on track. Two waves - Sofie and I both went swimming. One wave - just me.

Against the backdrop of an ever-increasing amount of time at the screen spent studying and working, the fresh salty water seemed to shock the mind and body into a subsequent state of calm.

Looking into the benefits in more detail, there seems to be no end to the good that sea swimming can do. Blue Health, a research initiative aimed at exploring the links between 'blue spaces', climate and health, list some of these, (all supported by research):

That's not to say it's without challenge, but it's incredible how the mind has the power to romanticise hardship.

I now fondly reminisce the time when I got home and paced around the flat for minutes with the most intense hot aches in my hands and feet I've ever felt, as the blood slowly seeped its way back to my extremities. Or the time I accidentally got a mouthful of muck when I put my head under in choppy seaweed-ridden water, and my stomach churned for the rest of the evening.

But those were all part of the challenge, and it's the hard times that make the good times, sipping tea on the beach in the sunshine, all that more enjoyable.

Arbitrary challenges

Having set challenges can sometimes seem unnecessarily rigid (why the need to impose more obligations in a life already full of commitments?), but against the backdrop of so much screen time spent inside, any ticket out, no matter how arbitrary, is to be savoured.

So now it's onto the next one: marathon training, the epitome of arbitrariness. It ticks all the boxes: all-consuming, outside, physical, covid-considered.