I’m not sure exactly why I decided that water above 49 degrees was no longer “cold”, and thus any swim 50 or above did not deserve the monicker “cold water swim” so I would not be adding to my log any longer. Ha.
I guess I figured that if I could swim longer then 30 minutes, then it was just regular old swimming. However, what I didn’t know, is that 2 hours at 55 degrees is pretty damn cold, and just as much as a mind fuck (if not more) then 25 minutes at 45.
In training for the Kingdom Swims, I’ve been attempting to put in as many long open water swims as possible. I was sticking with Hagg Lake for about a month, as the temps there were warming faster then the rivers, and it’s a beautiful place to be. We did some hour long 52-55 degree swims without much fuss; Rijl is training for a North Channel swim in June (which will mean 12+ hours in mid 50s – low 60s water), so she’s happy to find others who will venture into the cold water with her.
As she was ramping up her mileage, I joined her on her first 20 miler. She swam 5 four mile laps around Hagg; I joined her on one of them. By then the water had warmed to a balmy high 60s, and not once was I even remotely cold. The air temps were in the 80s and sunny that day, and I took cold feeds instead of hot.
After that, I decided it was now summer and I would no longer have any cold swims for the season. The water would just be magically warm from here on out. I think you can see where this is headed.
Then it rained. A lot.
We went back to Hagg one early morning, there was a slight mist on the top of the water, and it was lightly raining when we got in. I should have known: Rijl had said that the water had “cooled down nicely”. Hmmmm yeah. We didn’t take the temperature, but I’m pretty sure it was somewhere around 53-54. I had never attempted a long swim at those temperatures, and I didn’t really give it much thought. I just didn’t think it was actually that cold, despite my entire body telling me otherwise. Ignorance/blatant disregard for bodyfeel is bliss?
I had wanted to swim two hours, so we went out an hour. There was a lot of stopping and chatting and enjoying–I felt great for quite a while, and the quiet misty beauty of the lake was mesmerizing. But I started getting cold. I started mentally questioning our stops, if I should get going. I probably should have listened to myself, but I just went along with the group (the group consisting of 2 very cold water hearty swimmers). So an hour in, we stopped to turn around, and I was visibly shaking. I started panicking. I didn’t think I could stay in that water another hour.
The swim back was torturous. Not because I was actually that cold, but because I was completely in panic mode. I can’t explain it, but all I wanted to do was get back as quickly as my tired shoulders would get me. I didn’t stop, I hardly looked back, I just swam.
At some point near the end, I did stop to see where the other two were (I figured they were wondering why I was on such a mission), and somewhere, deep in the back of my crazed mind, a little voice said So actually you’re not really cold anymore. But onward I went until I stepped up onto the old boat ramp. Rijl was still in the water and yelled at me to go get dry and not to wait for them, so I ran up to my car. That panic has troubled me since then, and I still don’t know what to do with it. And it wasn’t gone for the season quite yet.
A few weeks later, on my birthday, we decided very last minute to attempt a round trip of Ross Island with Cindy and Sandy, which would be about 8-9k. I guess I thought the water had warmed up a bit since my cold Hagg swim, even though the Willamette is a large river and generally runs a lot colder. And the data showed the firedock at 58. Which reads high. Again, again, I had not given it much thought. I know. We stepped into the water at Sellwood and it was cold. Pretty much the same (53-55?), for what could possibly be a 4 hour swim. Cindy looked at me with a face that said “you really gonna do this?” when we both put our feet in the water. “This is cold,” I said, and dove in.
The first 40 minutes or so was fine. Actually it was lovely, I was having a good time. Cindy was towing a SUP behind her to slow her down and have a way to exit the water. DJ wore a wetsuit so he was warm and just keeping my slow pace. Sandy tossed out hot feeds every 30 minutes from her kayak. But, I got cold pretty quickly. The water temperatures were maddening; it oscillated between comfortably cold and uncomfortably cold constantly, and I would get my hopes up when it got warm and then they were instantly dashed again. I was just focused on making it to the next feed.
At the tip of the island on the north side, we discussed which way to go since I was visibly cold, and I decided we should go all the way around since the inner channel is a nicer, although longer, swim. Every time I took my head out of the water, I was loath to put it back in (it was mid afternoon on a hot, sunny day). My shoulders were starting to hurt from both being tired and from being cold–I hold the tension of coldness in my upper body, and it was getting painful to swim. So after an hour and a half, I called it quits and climbed onto the SUP.
It’s almost embarrassing how not that cold I was when I got out the water. Granted it was a hot day, but I sat in my swim suit without a towel on that paddleboard for the next hour and a half, without being cold. It makes me really question getting out. Was I actually that cold? Or was I just freaking out?
I did another hour long mid 50s swim with Cindy before she left for 20 Bridges, which was fine and without incident. Today I swam almost 2 hours in Horseshoe Lake, where it was actually in the mid-60s. It was SO NICE not having to deal with being cold, being scared I was going to be stuck out somewhere having to swim back while shaking. I want to conquer this weird panic demon!
When I reread everything I just wrote, the obvious disappointment I feel over not being able to swim longer in the 50s, I have to stop and laugh at myself a bit. This winter was the first time I ever even considered swimming in water below 68 degrees without a wetsuit. When I did the 24 hour relay in February, and the water was 53 (salt water), I was only staying in 30 minutes at a time. That was only a few months ago. And here I am, in fresh water, staying in mid-50 degree fresh water for 2 hours. I’m shaking my head at myself. I should be proud. And a little amazed. But it’s all about who you compare yourself to and who you surround yourself with–and I certainly am surrounded by some of the most amazing, courageous (and slightly crazy) swimmers out there.