Embracing the cold

As the 2010 open-water season draws to a close, my thoughts occasionally drift to the future – the blank slate that is 2011. And as I contemplate new goals and challenges, a recurring theme has been… cold water tolerance.

Aside from occasional childhood forays into the ocean off Santa Barbara – where it never rises much beyond the mid-60’s (F) – my cold water experience is pretty limited. Of my races this summer, the coldest was the 6K in Colorado, and that was only 67. When I moved to Chicago at the end of June, the lake was already in the mid-60’s.

So, when a cold front blew in late last week and dropped the lake down to the high-50’s, I figured it was time to take a page from Rob Aquatics‘ book and put up or shut up. The only thing missing was my adventure beard.

Into the lake I went early Sunday morning – certainly kicking, not quite screaming – with a hardy group of Point warriors. My trusty infrared thermometer took a reading of 58F, which was confirmed by two others. My only (ever so slight) concession to the cold: a neoprene cap.

I had no particular plan this morning. But as soon as the initial head rush passed, I actually felt OK – so off to the pier I went. 1 mile and a little under 25 minutes later, I returned to the Point and climbed up the ladder. Somewhat miraculously, I was fine – no shivering, and I could even feel my fingers.

I came back the next morning and did it again. The lake was marginally warmer – about 59F – but unlike the previous morning there was wind and chop. I was still fine when I finished my 1-mile round trip, if somewhat more drained from the chop. I briefly considered a second go-round, but hey – it’s Labor Day.

A small step, but a confidence booster nonetheless.

10 thoughts on “Embracing the cold”

  1. Funny, your title reminded me of an oft-stated phrase among us military guys: ‘Embrace the suck.’ Generally told to newbies to deployed locations when they start b!tching and whining about stuff that is, all things considered, meaningless. “Embrace the suck…” then insert whatever you wanna call the young and junior whiner.

    As for the temp of your lake…when I hit that 60 degree water in Copenhagen I thought my heart, or at least my diaphragm, would stop. 100 meters later I didn’t remember the cold.

    1. “Embrace the suck”… I like it. Another favorite swimming-relevant military saying, which I got from a friend in the Marines: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

  2. “There’s no gain without pain” was (swim coach) Mason Parrish’s favorite saying! As I recall, lots of swimmers were “sucking” when he said this little inspirational.

    1. And it takes a special coach to inspire athletes to truly embrace that attitude. Joe O’Brien was like that – and not surprisingly, those were my best years in swimming. 5:21 in the 500 Free as a 12 year old. I can hardly do that time now!!

  3. Evan, it was nice to read your write-up of that Sunday morning swim last week. I’m glad you decided to swim the mile in that 58 degree water–seeing you head out to the pier gave me the courage to do it too. As for kicking and screaming, the kicking definitely helps, and I find that a loud scream or two does too. It releases the shock to your body, at least a little bit. Congrats again on your Big Shoulders swim. I’m going to aim to do the 5K next year. See you at the Point!

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