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Thread: Acclimating to cold water swims

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Acclimating to cold water swims

    Hi folk,

    My goal may be a bit grandiose, but my aim in two years is to do the Boston Light Swim. I'm no star, no speedster, but I did complete the 5.4 mile swim about which I posted a few weeks ago. I'm not sure the water temp for that swim, but just my guess is that it was somewhere in the 70s, maybe high seventies? I didn't wear a wetsuit and never felt the need for one, although I was beginning to feel mildly chilly in the last half mile--nothing really significant. It wasn't to the point of real discomfort, and I wrote it off as a bit of fatigue--but as I was going to finish soon, it didn't bother me all that much.

    I think next year may be too soon to aim for it, since I have a few things in mind that I need to accomplish before I take it on: 1. Improve speed--I did that to some extent to make the 4 hour cut-off for this year's swim, but I'd need to improve more to go under 5 hours for 8 miles. 2. Adapt to cold water. I will say I often have enjoyed cold water--during a hiking trip in NH, there was a swim break in a pond that was quite cold (not sure of temp but everyone gasped when the got in), and I was the only adult female to swim; during an Outward Bound course in Maine, the one thing I most enjoyed doing was taking that jump off the 12 foot pier into Penobscot Bay in late May. In a mile ocean swim I did several years ago, the organizers recommended wetsuits b/c the temp would be in the 60s. I didn't wear one and had no problems w/ the water temp (the breakers, now that was another issue--but water temp was fine). Still, I've become a bit too used to warmer water lately so need to find my way back to some more cold tolerance. Finally, 3. Need to save those pennies--I see it's a more expensive swim than those I've done! (My focus is on no. 2, but feel free if you have any suggestions for no. 3 to toss them into the thread.)

    Okay, so experienced cold water swimmers, your tips? One thing I plan to do during the fall season: I belong to an open water swim group, and we do a river swim once a week (distance is flexible--people do what they feel ready for). I understand this swim could keep being held through October. So I see that as an opportunity to acclimate. I'm thinking of a longish swim next year in a colder environment--I want to still do the same one I did this year only improve the speed, but thinking to add another long one.

    Do you necessarily have to gain much weight to deal with cold water swims? I also run so I don't want to gain if possible, but maybe it's a survival thing too.

    I'm also posting here b/c if I put my plan on the internet, I'm less likely to back down and think, "Am I crazy? That's too long!" (Both true, btw, but that's what I thought of the 5 miler and still did it three times.)

    So this is my way of committing to the plan--or some might say I should be committed, but no comment there!

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    Very Active Member flystorms's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    There's some great information on the Marathon Swimmers forum (www.marathonswimmers.org). Once you get in, the search box is on the right side. Search "cold water" and there are several forum links to cold water acclimatization with great information.
    "If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to meet it." - Jonathan Winters, actor and comedian

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Quote Originally Posted by flystorms View Post
    There's some great information on the Marathon Swimmers forum (www.marathonswimmers.org). Once you get in, the search box is on the right side. Search "cold water" and there are several forum links to cold water acclimatization with great information.
    Thanks for the tip! Also would love to hear of people's experience on this forum preparing for such swims--what you did/wish you had done. Meanwhile, off to check out the marathon swimmers forum as you suggested.

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    Very Active Member beireland's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    I did the Boston Light several years ago. I swim in the Pacific so found the temperature OK. I remember it being pretty close to 60 though so if you don't have access to cool/cold water to train, its challenging. I don't know what the situation is regarding boats--that was the major unexpected expense in my year. Neat swim--going past the islands and then finishing at a historic beach club is fun. When you start and look out past the lighthouse, you feel like the next land is Scotland. I don't know if it is, but it feels like it. I prepared by doing my usual pool interval work but doing regular longer swims. As a confidence builder look for some 10k and 6 mile swims. If you finish those comfortably, then you can stretch it to 8. Good luck.

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Quote Originally Posted by beireland View Post
    I did the Boston Light several years ago. I swim in the Pacific so found the temperature OK. I remember it being pretty close to 60 though so if you don't have access to cool/cold water to train, its challenging. I don't know what the situation is regarding boats--that was the major unexpected expense in my year. Neat swim--going past the islands and then finishing at a historic beach club is fun. When you start and look out past the lighthouse, you feel like the next land is Scotland. I don't know if it is, but it feels like it. I prepared by doing my usual pool interval work but doing regular longer swims. As a confidence builder look for some 10k and 6 mile swims. If you finish those comfortably, then you can stretch it to 8. Good luck.
    Thanks for the comments! In my recent bay swim, I sometimes had that feeling about the next land, but I found myself needing to focus on just the present: as in Finding Nemo, just keep swimming.

    Training for the 5.4 mile swim, I maxed in the pool at 10,000 yards. Also did 3 point something miles in the pool and the very next day took another 3 plus mile open water swim with my coach kayaking and giving feedback.

    The water temp wasn't cold--maybe in the high 70s?--so that was never an issue, except late in the swim when I began feeling mildly chilly--but by then I didn't see it as any big deal since I knew I'd be finished relatively soon. And too, I just figured, keep swimming and you'll finish and get warm--and enjoy the post-race FOOD. (Actually once finished, I was all over the ice cream, so I guess I wasn't that cold.)

    My coach is recommending a 10k swim next year by way of an intermediate distance so in 2 years I can be good for 8 miles--anyone know of cool/cold-water 10k's in the Northeast next year? (Horsetooth comes to mind, but as it's in CO, that could be a chunk of airfare.)

    Other thought: cool/cold water 5k plus 10k not necessarily in cold water.

    Any thoughts on Little Red Lighthouse? It seems like a pretty strong current assist which might not give me a true indication of what I could do over a longer distance. Not doing it this year, but looking at next year. (And the Hudson makes me a bit nervous but I won't let that stop me if the positives outstrip the negatives--actually if something makes me nervous it's part of the attraction, but I'm sick like that.)

    The more I put this online, the more I make it real. So there it is! And that makes me nervous too, but I've already waded into this, figuratively at the moment, if not literally.

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    Very Active Member ViveBene's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Sent you a PM. I think you will find lots of help on the Marathon Swimmers Forum for New York through New England swims.
    Good luck! Great goal!

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Thanks! I replied to your PM--much appreciate the info! I don't live up that way but I do visit from time to time (LOVE New England--born there... and my mom was 8 months pregnant with me while at the top of Mt. Washington--must be in my blood!)

    Schuylkill River is getting colder and there will be o.w. swims there Wed. evenings as long as there's interest (and presumably daylight, although last time I swam there, it was getting dark already when I was completing my last lap--thought that was pretty cool, seeing the moonlight on the water--had the feel of an Henri Rousseau painting).

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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Cold water training / acclimating in Arizona in the middle of summer. The only answer: a horse trough and 70 lbs. of ice. At least twice a week for 2 months. It worked.

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Quote Originally Posted by knicholas View Post
    Cold water training / acclimating in Arizona in the middle of summer. The only answer: a horse trough and 70 lbs. of ice. At least twice a week for 2 months. It worked.
    In chilly Philly now--I think I only need to go outdoors. Of course, at my Y, the pool might as well have been in AZ. I'm guessing it must have been close to 90 degrees! Thinking I might need to consider some outdoor swims; predicted low tonight 30 degrees--might help if the only nearby open water, a stream through a nearby park, wasn't, say, 2 feet deep. Fortunately, my Thurs. evening group doesn't swim in bath water, and I mostly use the public high school pool that's also kept at a temp that won't put one to sleep.

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Quote Originally Posted by angelinamike View Post
    Training for the 6 mile swim, I maxed in the pool at 15,000 yards. I also did 3 point something miles in the pool and the very next day took another 5 plus mile open water swim with my coach kayaking and giving feedback.
    Interesting you should mention that. For the 5.4 mile swim, I maxed at 10 thousand yards in the pool about a week before the coach had me do a 3 mile swim on a Thurs. and the very next day a 3 hour open water swim (he kayaked and gave feedback). Less than what you did but a similar pattern--maybe we have the same coach!

    I hadn't thought of myself as much of a distance swimmer, yet the "still, small voice" keeps saying "yes" to swims I at first tell myself are out of my league. They say if a goal doesn't scare you a bit, you're aiming too low. And my coach likes to quote Yoda, "There is no 'try,' only 'do.'"

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    Very Active Member Swimalison's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Great swim I did last year. I live in Maryland so.we don't have the colder water to train in in summer months. I took.daily ice baths for about 3 weeks prior to the swim. Also swam in the 1 mile Doty swim the month prior.to.BLS to get a feel for the water. The water was at 60 on race day and I.felt fine. Sunny day which helped. Water is very salty. I trained a lot in open water to about 5 miles. Highly recommended this swim. It's a lottery process. Good luck!!

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Quote Originally Posted by Swimalison View Post
    Great swim I did last year. I live in Maryland so.we don't have the colder water to train in in summer months. I took.daily ice baths for about 3 weeks prior to the swim. Also swam in the 1 mile Doty swim the month prior.to.BLS to get a feel for the water. The water was at 60 on race day and I.felt fine. Sunny day which helped. Water is very salty. I trained a lot in open water to about 5 miles. Highly recommended this swim. It's a lottery process. Good luck!!
    Thanks much! I'm thinking I need another year of prep before I jump into the lottery--but might actually go crazy and try for it this year--travel budget could be the issue as I'm planning to attend a wedding in LA in June and my favorite Great South Bay Swim in July (good test, in that it's longish, 5.4 miles, and I never do it in a wetsuit--so far, don't even own a wetsuit).

    Another option I'm considering--a relay this year (depending on a couple friends) and lottery next year. Definitely on my list!

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    Moderator Rob Copeland's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Interesting story in USA Today about Lewis Pugh; arguably the greatest male cold water swimmer. Water temp 29-30F air temp -35F. Now thatís cold water acclimation.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/w...tica/26941331/
    The opinions expressed in the above post are mine and not those of U.S. Masters Swimming.

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    Very Active Member FindingMyInnerFish's Avatar
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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Copeland View Post
    Interesting story in USA Today about Lewis Pugh; arguably the greatest male cold water swimmer. Water temp 29-30F air temp -35F. Now that’s cold water acclimation.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/w...tica/26941331/
    He's amazing! I read his books, 21 Yaks and a Speedo and Achieving the Impossible. But that video REALLY drives home what he's facing. Besides a polar plunge (in cold water for a few nanoseconds, and ducked under, then came out), I've not been in anything cooler than high 50s. Even that felt pretty cold. Huge respect for this guy!

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    Re: Acclimating to cold water swims

    I typically swim in 54-57 degree open waters in Monterey Bay, CA, year around without a wetsuit. Following are my experiences:

    1. Get used to summer water and keep swimming into winter. Make your transition to cold water gradual.
    2. When entering the water take a few breaststrokes and use this brief time to get your breathing under control. Concentrate on relaxing; your body and your breathing may want you to do otherwise. Breathing is very important.
    3. Start swimming slowly at first and gradually work into your normal stroke rate and pace being mindful to relax and breath properly. Very important to use this time to settle down and find your "normal". Relax.
    4. Depending on the water temperature be aware of your hand and leg tolerance to the cold. Your limbs are furthest from your heart and are prone to getting cold first. You may find it difficult to "cup" your hand as your fingers get cold.
    5. Don't push your distance from shore so that you can't comfortably return. With time, experience, and water temperature differences your body will tell you what your limits are.
    6. Check the National Data Bouy Center for a marine bouy near where you swim. This data is consistent and objective as opposed to "It's cold today". In additional to near real time water temperatures it may also provide important wind direction, wave, and tidal information; all are important for open water swimming and can help you decide if a trip to the beach is worth it.
    7. I always bring a one-gallon insulated container of warm water for a rinse after my swim. It feels like a million bucks and will take the edge off the cold. Change quickly into dry warm clothing otherwise you will still be losing body heat. During the winter I always bring gloves, socks and boots. Dry layered clothing is important.
    8. Bring an insulated hot beverage/soup to help restore body heat. It really works! A brisk walk also helps.
    9. Learn the signs of hypothermia and be sure to swim with someone who knows them also.

    Enjoy the freedom of swimming without a wetsuit. After a while you will learn to embrace the cold, feel more invigorated, and be more connected with your marine environment. You will swim slower and your are at a bit of a disadvantage compared to your wetsuit friends because of the lost buoyancy. But who cares?

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