Aminute’s silence – a chance to listen to the wind and the waves crashing on to shingle, and look across the Solent to the lights of a cruise ship in the distance – and then we charge into the water, although some of us (me) are more tentative. There are shrieks and gasps from the shock of the cold; grimacing, grinning faces lit up by a portable floodlight.
It is barely 6am, and still dark. It’s also the windiest, rainiest weather this group has ventured out in, but an impressively hardy 12 have turned up. On a good day, about 30 meet each Friday at 5.30am in Gosport, Hampshire, for a two-mile walk along Stokes Bay, followed by a dip in the sea. “It has changed my life,” says one man, who has been coming since the group started last year. He says meeting strangers, and the welcoming atmosphere, has allowed him to open up about his mental health and seek some help. Kerry started coming in October last year and says the weekly meet has helped relieve the seasonal affective disorder she usually suffers from at this time of year. “I used to sleep for 10, 11 hours,” she says. “If you had told me last year I’d be getting up at this time each week to do this, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
The group – Win the Morning, Win the Day – was set up in August last year by Chris Reeves, a physical training instructor in the Royal Navy. He had struggled with isolation and lack of structure to his days throughout the first lockdown, and knew others must be feeling the same. After hearing a podcast with the mixed martial arts fighter Mark Scanlon, talking about the 5.30am circuit training sessions and sea swims he was running in Liverpool, Reeves decided to create his own. Scanlon used the phrase “win the morning, win the day”, which is what Reeves decided to call the group. It’s a mantra popularised by the US entrepreneur and productivity guru Tim Ferriss, which has become popular in motivational circles. Ferriss interviewed a wealth of high-achieving people about their morning routine, with the idea that if you get your morning right (if you “win” it), it’s a good start to the rest of the day. His own morning rituals include making his bed and journaling; for the Gosport group, it’s more about walking, talking, stripping off, going for a quick dip, then having coffee and more chat afterwards.
In the first week, just over a year ago, 60 people turned up to join Reeves. His group has since spawned others in Surrey, Kent, Preston, Cumbria, Manchester, and Southsea, across the water in Portsmouth. There’s one in Gibraltar, he says, and another in South Africa. Two people have been in touch with Reeves this week to talk about setting up groups. It’s a little like parkrun, the 5km run that takes place in parks around the world every weekend – a simple idea, organised by enthusiastic volunteers.