in Swimming

New challenges

For some time, most of my personal goals are athletic, and most of those are around either speed or distance: completing an event at a certain ranking or time, or just racing some distance I’ve never done before. Or in the case of Ironman, both at the same time (because of course you would set time goals for something you’ve never done before…)

After Santa Rosa, I took the summer off from goals and challenges (except the challenges that come with selling and buying homes). So as summer started winding to a close, I was feeling ready to do something with purpose. However, most of the things I do start training in January.

But I wanted something different. Still physical, still in the realm of the same sports. And so I decided somewhat flippantly in August when it was in the 90’s that I would follow in the footsteps of some very brave friends of mine, and give cold water open swimming a whirl.

Let’s get something straight: I hate being cold. Thankfully, I’m not a very cold person, just ask my officemates who are covered in sweaters and blankets while I’m in a t-shirt. I’m also fairly used to being cold, given all the wet winter riding I’ve done year after year, where I got home and was surprised my hands and feet were still connected to my body. Nothing like descending in very little clothing for an hour in 40° rain and considering just jumping off your bike and lying in the ditch to die (the Great Astoria Mistake of 2014).

But despite that and growing up around very cold bodies of water, I was usually the one repeatedly counting to 10 and still not jumping in the water.

And so, last Saturday, my journey began. I met some folks at the Columbia River who all donned full wetsuits, one even booties. It was 8am and cloudy, and water did not look inviting. This is something I will have to get used to, I suppose. Wading into the water I got cold water shock and it took a while for my breathing to stabilize. We swam for about 40 minutes, and afterwards I wasn’t even really cold, although later I saw that my Garmin said it was a not very cold 66 degrees. (for reference, most swimming pools are kept in the low 80s)

On Wednesday I set out with some other swimmers who were also sans wet suit and swam in the Willamette, at 7am. The air temp was in the 40s, which again, not super appealing to jump into cold water when you’re already kind of cold. But jump in (slowly) we did, and swam for an hour. The water temp this time was a hair under 64°. I felt on top of the world!

What I didn’t realize is quite how much cold water swimming takes out of you. I had to bike 7.5 miles to work, work all day, go to an evening event, then ride home at 8pm. I was exhausted. My legs felt like lead on the bike. Lesson learned.

Yesterday I went back to the same spot on the Columbia and swam again for about 50 minutes or so, the water temp again being around 64°. Despite the fact that the winds had picked up, the sky looked questionable on rain, and people on the beach were in heavy coats and looked somewhat miserable, getting in felt much easier. The shock lasted a breath or two, and then I was on my way.

I must admit though, I am pretty nervous about getting under the 60° mark, much less under 50°. I’m really curious about all the interesting physiological adaptations that are supposed to happen when you repeatedly swim in cold water. I like the idea of being able to get in nearly any body of water and feel fine. I don’t know if I’ll work up to doing an ice mile in the future, but maybe I’ll earn my yeti status this year by swimming open water year round.