Cold spots

I measured the Guillamenes at 12.5C yesterday, a full 3.5C warmer than a week previously, sun in the sky, and no wind.
However swimming outward past Newtown Cove the temp dropped, and halfway to the Metalman I’d say it was only about 9.5C.

There was no particular sensation of gradually warmer water as I swam from outside the Metalman, just outside the bay, back inward until after a few hundred meters after I passed the Comolene. There were distinct warm patches from there to the pier.
Overall, maybe because of tiredness, I got cold quickly yesterday and had enough at just under 90 minutes.

It’s almost impossible to gauge what the difference between water temperatures once one is in it. Going on experience I usually guess about a 2 degree differential. Yesterday was a bit more I think.

After I returned to the car park I was surprised that I could see multiple cold streams. Out past Newtown cove I could 4 different stream, and in past the Guillamenes, I could see three. Two are easily visible in the picture, with the third slightly visible over and to the right of the other two. I haven’t seen this before.

I’d guess I can remember the main cold and warm spots in most places I’ve swam.

Some other examples:
Clonea is cold once you swim east past the black rocks below the big house even on warm days.
Baile na Gaul has a cold patch at the point before Helvick.
The temperature drops as you swim over the Gainers, the reefs 2/3 of the way across Dungarvan Bay.
Sandycove is cold as you pass the second corner and mostly warm around the third corner.
Clew Bay is intermittently warm as you swim into the Newtown estuary.
Inishcarragh can have cold spots at the far side of the lake.

I remember them because they hurt.

T’were the sprintin’ wot did me in, guv…I swear.

Well, a milestone passed.

6 hour Channel qualification swim:
Open Water:
In under 16 Celsius:

Whether coach will sign off on it is another matter as 5 of the magnificent seven are currently in the bad books, apparently. It’s not like we won’t be doing it again anyway.

6 hours + in Inishcarragh Lake, water about 15C (+ / – about 0.5), sun shining for almost 5 hours and flat water. The photo is from the morning and doesn’t do any justice to the location.

Thanks to Sylvain, Lisa, Liz & John C. for the and Declan for the kayak support. Thanks to Mick and Kay for the barbecue(s) and enough food to feed an army afterwards.

(And I’d like to say, it wasn’t me started the sprinting, but Gábor heading toward the buoy in the fourth hour. I was just unfortunate enough to be involved then and the subsequent ones. As could be witnessed by how I died in the last mile!)

An ordinary spring training day

Coach Eilish (aka, “sadist”, “Himmler”*, “that wagon”) never allows us to be become complacent. Like any good coach she makes sure no two days are ever the same and continuously challenges us.
After 2 years training with her, I now have a “library” of hundreds of her sessions.

But we do go through various stages of the macro season where she may be working something specific.

Today was 10k, the longest session this week (so far), which was once a long session, now not so much. Today’s 10k was an endurance session, comprising long steady sets.

So I have an hour early this morning, due to pool availability. Followed by another hour at lunchtime where the SKC staff decided to paint the pillars with enamel paint thereby choking everyone in the pool. Then off to Tramore Bay and the Guillamenes for the remainder.

TI was fine heading into the third session. Cloudy and cool with a bit of movement in the water, but no whitecaps. Down to Doneraile Head, turn at 30 minutes…and then it got tough.
It was close to a low spring tide, not the best conditions for swimming inward in T-Bay. A large section of seafloor around the pier is covered in the leathery tough types of kelp (dabberlocks, sugar kelp) that reaches the surface and is really unpleasant to swim through. I zig-zagged through it on the way in ok, but after the turn the waves were almost breaking head on and stretching out quite a bit. So I changed direction heading outward rather than normally diagonally back past the pier.

So a mile into rough water, and an adverse current in places. By the time I got back to the Guillamenes it had taken 10 minutes longer on the return journey. Which actually meant my time was spot on for what I wanted to do, but damn I felt every metre on the return journey.

Tomorrow, it’s be something completely different, and yet exactly the same.

*Himmler is something she called herself btw.

The Helvick RNLI Swim August 22nd 2010

Those of you local to Waterford will know of the annual Helvick swim fundraiser for the RNLI and many others further afield also know of it. It’s been running for many years and until last year was a closed event with a waiting list. It’s previously been about 2500 metres, with a boat drop start about 500 metres out from Ballinacourty Lighthouse. (It may be longer this year).

Last year was an attempt to open it up to a wider group. This year sees that broadened again, and my friend Clare asked me to write a training plan for locals who have been looking at the Bay for years and wanting to do it.

I put together a 12 week plan, with a basic requirement of being able to swim 800 metres in 40 minutes as the criteria for acceptance. The training plan is being emailed out weekly by the RNLI to those who have requested it.

Someone has asked if they can do 800m in 45 minutes are they eligible?
First, I’m not in charge of admission or even in running the swim in any way. So it’s not up to me.

However I set the entry level for the training plan and I think it should be adhered to.


Well, it’s not that if someone could do 800m in 45 minutes that with training they wouldn’t be able to do the Helvick.

However there has to be an entry criteria from a safety point. The fastest swimmers that I know reading this can swim about 2500m in 40 minutes. And that’s not flat-out sprinting. Someone who is swimming very much more slowly will get cold, even in the “warm” waters of August. (Warm by the standards of people used to open water).

Swimmers should be safe and retain some capacity to enjoy themselves. The point is NOT to get across having used up all your resources to do so. You should be able to swim it comfortably, not flail into Helvick pier like a drowning dog about to go down for the last time.

Most Open Water swims of this distance will have a qualification requirement. Which means that swimmers with experience tend to enter and people who want to achieve this one single goal will not. The entry requirement is actually to help inexperienced people do the swim. Most swimmers will start with a 1k or 2k organised swim.

Endurance sports require planning. If you can’t make the entry criteria, don’t take it a negative but as a target. If you achieve that then you have taken an initial step towards longer swimming. It doesn’t all have to happen this year. Swim for that target anyway, then when you get to it, swim right through it, and by next year you can cruise the Helvick swim and wonder what all the fuss was about.

It’s a fun swim and a good target for starting. Prepare for it and enjoy it.

Last year an reasonably fit pool swimmer about the same speed as me entered. That swimmer disregarded all advice on doing preparatory sea swims and ignored what I said about keeping warm beforehand. After all, they could keep up with me for an hour in the pool…That swimmer was pulled out 15 minutes into the swim because of cramps due to cold and hasn’t swam since. That does no-one good, not the RNLI, not the sport and certainly not the swimmer.

By the way, if you want to do the swim, and it’s your first big swim, if you have any questions or problems, either just leave a comment and I’ll respond to it or email me at at gmail dot com.
( I get enough blog SPAM without linking my email directly).

lanolin and other types of grease and lubrication

Salt-water chafing

When we were in Dover two years ago for our two-way relay swim, one day we were getting ready to go swimming in the harbour. Three guys came over to us and we got talking, as is common in Dover. They had come from New York for a one-way relay.

They wanted to know why we were all rubbing “stuff” on our armpits. We were fairly surprised they didn’t know. Turned out they had never swam in salt water, only fresh or brackish, and were completely unaware of the issue of chafing that all affects all sea-swimmers.

The salt crystals will start to build up immediately between surfaces that are in contact, and after a short period will start to abrade the skin. If you don’t protect against it, it can break the skin, be really painful and take quite a while to heal.

For me I’m ok for about 15 minutes but any longer than that will require skin protection.

There’s a range of solutions.

Body-Glide is a rub-on stick designed with triathletes in mind. Easy to apply and I believe is good for up to an hour.

Petroleum Jelly is very common, easy enough to apply. Messy obviously. Lasts a few hours.

Lanolin is probably favourite for longer distance swimmers. It’s cheap but awfully messy to apply. (I carry toilet wipes to wipe off my fingers after, some apply it using plastic bags). It lasts a long time.

Channel grease is a mix of lanolin & petroleum jelly. Can be bought in Varne Ridge in Dover, apparently Boots Dover no longer supply it.

Be careful. You don’t want to get any of these on your goggles…

Runners World people visiting:  I found the comment below in your discussion hilarious. I’ve never known a Channel swimmer say this. (And I know quite a few Channel & marathon swimmers). It’s even better when you notice the misspelling.

I know all the old channel swimmers used it. But…I spoke to a fellow long distance open water swimmer once who said lanolin is probably not the best substance to use for chaffing (not in salt water anyway). Not because it doesn’t work, but because it is a fatty oil derived from wool-bearing animals (i.e. it’s a protein). It’s been known to attack sharks. 

The cumulative effects of cold water?

I’m right in the middle of a painful learning experience, and that is the cumulative effects of daily swimming “into” cold or very cold.

I’m tired this week as a consequence partly of last Friday’s nine and a half hour swim. But last Sunday I also started to sea swim daily.

I’ve swum through the past two winters, without a wetsuit, usually once a week, occasionally missing a week. I’ve gotten better at cold and all the related swimming aspects. I’ve been mildly hyptothermic. But back when I was training for the Double English Channel relay, daily sea-swimming didn’t occur until the end of May.

For six days I’ve been in the sea for anywhere from 45 minutes (today, short, cold wind, rough water & I’m very tired) to one hour and twenty minutes two day ago, averaging about an hour.

And I’ve noticed that the effects of spending two to three hours rewarming every day are far more significant than I was expecting. I am very tired, physically and mentally and don’t think I can ascribe it all to the nine hour swim, even though my mileage has dropped right off this week. I am also extraordinarily hungry for the past few days, in the evening after the recovering from the swim. On Wednesday I finished my dinner, put down the plate and went immediately to make sandwiches as the dinner hadn’t touched the hunger. I continued eating like that for the night.

Right now, I need more data. Some of the other Magnificent Seven that I’ve talked to are reporting the same symptoms but we are all a week after a long swim.

“What temperature of water is too cold to swim in?”

Sea surface tempreatures during the 2005 Atlan...
Image via Wikipedia

Edit: this post, the site’s most popular, has an updated version.

This post is courtesy of searches on the site as a few variations of this question have cropped up.

I guess one could divide thoughts on lowest possible water temperature in which to swim into three camps.

  • 1 degree WARMER than it is now
  • What it is now
  • 1 degree COLDER than it is now

Substitute any temperature reading into the above sentences…because cold is fairly subjective, (up to a certain point). I used to be in the first category, moved to the second, and am probably now is the third. (All this means is I’ve swam in 5 C. which makes me think it’s possible for me to swim in 4 C. It’s a moving target).

I’ve pointed out before some of the things that affect your ability to deal with cold. Let’s try and make a more comprehensive list.

  • Will you be wearing a wetsuit?
  • Are you wearing a swim-cap?
  • What height are you?
  • What weight are you?
  • What shape are you?
  • How did you sleep last night?
  • Are you tired just before you swim?
  • Have you drank alcohol in the last 24 hours?
  • Have you eaten (properly) today?
  • Are you well or ill?
  • Or have you been ill recently?
  • Have you swam in similar temperatures before?
  • If so, for how long?
  • If so, how often?
  • Does Open Water scare you (just be honest with yourself)?
  • How well do you know the location?
  • Are you cold before you swim?
  • Is it sunny or cloudy?
  • What’s the air temperature?
  • What’s the wind direction?
  • What’s the wind speed?
  • Is it choppy or calm?

So, as you can see, there are lots of variations just with these parameters. Some, like illness, are less likely but you really need to be aware of your own experience and take it incrementally.
One can’t reasonably expect to go from pool swimming to doing an hour in 7C / 45 F without a wetsuit, based on desire to swim alone. Granted, this isn’t likely to occur, but I’m trying to illustrate a point.
Ability to handle COLD is again a matter of a few factors more important than others (all other things like alcohol, food, illness, sleep being equal): namely, experience and weight.
People with plenty of experience of cold can swim in very cold water. I can swim for 20 minutes in 5 C / 40 F water, because I’ve gotten used to it. But I certainly don’t recommend it and I won’t claim it’s fun. And the bigger and heavier you are the more you can handle with less training. Fat is an insulator. Just having plenty of fat alone makes cold easier to deal with. But fat does not lessen the pain of the initial shock for example.
Finbarr makes a comment that is highly relevant also, that I should have included and that is the effect of wind. Any Northerly wind in Ireland is inevitably cold. Heat will be stripped from your body faster while swimming and while trying to get dressed. (Easterly winds may also be cold). Any wind will generally cool you faster. And there is no thinking your way out of it. A similar effect is whether there is sunshine or not. The day of the Guillamenes video below was flat calm, no wind, warm air and sunny. I think I swam about 50 minutes that day, and even thought the water was no warmer than now, I felt much more comfortable, due to the lack of wind combined with direct sunshine and calm water. I’ve said before, wind is the swimmer’s enemy.

I can also tell you, without any embellishment, that my reactions to various temperatures are entirely different now than they were two years ago. I wrote a chart for myself of my reactions and estimated comfortable swim times at decreasing temperatures below 12 Celsius. That chart is now entirely useless as a current indicator, but is interesting to me as an measurement of how my ability to handle cold has improved.

Being a man, I’m completely unqualified to comment on the effects of cold on pregnant women, sorry. Normal “seek appropriate medical advice” caveats and warnings apply.

I have done some reading on regular cold water immersion. It seems the evidence says regular immersion in water temperatures of less than 10 Celsius is very beneficial for health, in a few different areas; improved respiration and circulation, lessened chances of infection and heart attack. However once the time goes over 10 minutes some of those benefits tend to reverse, especially hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia.

Just another long pool swim

(WordPress somehow chewed the original of this post, which had followed the Socrates quote, so below is a quick and lazy rewrite).

Last Friday we (2010 Channel aspirants) met for a 10 hour pool swim.

I had only approximately 4 hours sleep the previous night and was feeling tired but expecting the worst after the few previous swims, which had started poorly. And indeed I did feel tired for the first few hours, but certainly not with the same level of discomfort or even pain of the previous two long swims.

Coach Eilís set a steadier pace for us this time, with very short breaks and we were all doing well by the six hour food break. More feeding strategies were tried, I again went with chicken sandwiches but this time with added coffee and tomato & pasta soup for the main food break.

Consequently the two hours after the food, everyone suffered, feeling very uncomfortable, heavy and bloated. But we all prevailed and made it to just under 9 hours, when we abandoned the pool for a half hour sea swim to ease out the muscles, bringing the total to just under nine and half hours, short of the ten hours, but to be honest, this was only due to available time, rather than capability.

The effects of training are obvious on everyone, with us all looking much better after the swim. We finished with 400 I.M. by the way, you know, just for the hell of it!

Merino Wool

Winds shifted North again over the weekend and look likely to stay that way for a while. :-(

By today water temperature had dropped down to 7 Celsius (from 8.8 C.), i.e. mid-January and mid-March temperatures. 1 hour and 15 mins on Sunday dropped to 1 hour today. Hands “gone” by 45 minutes and the full claw had developed by the time I got out.

The only positive about today I can see is: On Sunday I was in such shock and panic after seeing our remaining training schedule that I completely forgot my normal preparation and recovery, so after the swim I didn’t put on all the gear I normally wear, because I forgot to bring it with. Consequently recovery was more difficult. But today I was at least back to normal post-swim routine.

After today’s swim I put on my normal “really cold” post-swim clothing:

  • Wool hat
  • Merino ski socks
  • 1 Merino base layer
  • 2 Merino mid-layers
  • 1 Merino outer-layer
  • 1 artificial thermal outer-layer
  • 1 heavy jumper
  • Merino long-johns
  • Pants
  • Leather gloves
  • Heavy coat

I then went for a 15 minute “walk”, which was actually a mix of stumble and “jogging” attempts.

“No man…”

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”


* I’m obviously not responsible for the inherent misogyny of two and a half thousand years ago…