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.