This post is an index with a very brief explanation of each of the specifically cold swimming related articles I’ve written, so one can scan the entire list for what is most relevant for their question or area of specific interest.
I was a bit surprised to see just how many I’ve written.
Articles sometimes tackle a similar area from a different angle, some focus on one small aspect of the cold-water swimming experience. This is a body of articles with which I’m quite happy.
If I could impart one simple message, it’s this:
Cold water swimming is dangerous, difficult and requires repetition to improve. No-one does it naturally or easily and knowledge is your ally.
By exploring the many aspects of cold; environmental, physiological and psychological, I hope to help you understand cold better and therefore become a more confident cold water swimmer. These articles therefore are intended to help swimmers adapt to cold water swimming.
It is really important to repeat that most of us are not naturally good at tolerating cold. (I certainly am not). Cold should be seen as something you train for, the same as any other aspect of your swimming.
“I just can’t handle the cold“. Part 1, Part 2 (What is the Vagus nerve and why is it important?), Part 3 (Fear). This is a phrase I hear a lot. Why this belief is irrelevant and why you, or I, are not special when it comes to cold.
Extreme Cold Water Adaptation in Humans. A five-part series trying to tease out all the various factors of cold adaptation: Part 1 Asking the questions about individual variability, Part 2 (habituation and acclimatization), Part 3 (metabolic responses), Part 4 (further physiological responses), Part 5 (conclusion).
2:25 p.m. I’m just in home within the last few minutes. It’s one hour and 13 minutes since I got out of the water at the Guillamene.
8 a.m. I weigh 75.5 kg. I have dropped 2.5 kg since I resumed pool training seven weeks ago. I forgot to check my pulse after I woke, (yet again). Last time I checked about a week ago, it was 53 BPM. It’s Day 6 of my week, tomorrow is the rest day. I was more tired this week than I expected and not swimming well.
9 a.m. It’s the weekend so I allow myself a coffee and continuing read One Hell Of a Gamble, the inside story of the Cuban missile crisis that is based on US and Russian official documents.
10 a.m. I have fried rashers, black pudding, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms on wholemeal toast for breakfast, along with another coffee. I heard yesterday on the radio about a bacon jam that I’d love to try.
20,000 years ago. Ireland is covered in ice sheet.
November 2011: Ireland has its mildest November in 150 years.
10.45 a.m. Put a towel in the swim box in the car, make a flask of hot chocolate, put the dogs in the car. Make sure I have my camera as always.
Two weeks ago: Winter arrived. The average daily temperature is about 4 degrees Celsius.
11.45 a.m. Get to the Guillamene car park. The car thermometer says the air temperature is 6 degrees Celsius (43 F.). There’s only one other car present and no people around. Let the dogs play around for a while and take some photos. The sky is cloudless and a watery blue. There is a bitter north-westerly wind. My hands are already cold, as I am not wearing gloves.
12:10 to 12:08 p.m. Dogs back in the car, I head down to the platform. Two of the Newtown & Guillamene Swimming Club Polar Bears have arrived at the same time and we chat while changing. I check the water temperature with my infrared thermometer but it’s sill reading incorrectly. It’s certainly not the 12C it reads. It’s been inaccurate for weeks despite opening it up and drying out the electronics. Time for a new one.
16,000 years ago: The ice sheets retreat and Ireland start to recover. The ice scoured the land and the clearing of the flora and fauna means Ireland will have a very low species biodiversity in the future. The eliminated weight of the glaciers means Ireland will gradually rebound from the sea, even as the sea-levels rise. Ireland becomes separated from Great Britain and the Continental land bridge. The thermohaline circulation system and the Gulf Stream will dictate Ireland’s year’s weather pattern.
12:09 p.m. I’d forgotten my main togs, and only had a horrible pair of Slazenger backup togs, they are too narrow at the waist and quite thong-like, and the string had slipped back into the waist holes and I only realised this after getting ready. I wasted two minutes trying to extract it while I got colder. By the time I was ready to swim the other two guys had already finished their three-minute dips and were back out. I wore two silicon caps, ear plugs, and greased under my arms and behind my neck, an area that recently has again started to chaff more. The concrete was very cold, I put on my deck sandals for the 10 metre water to the steps.
12:20 p.m. With the sun in the sky, although cold, it’s easier to get in the water. Having left the sandals at the top of the steps, I walked down to the water and stood waist deep. The water was fairly flat, but there is a low amplitude but long period groundswell coming in, which meant the waves will not break high but would be powerful. I splashed water on my face, gave my ear plugs a final push in and dove in.
12:20 to 12:22 p.m. The water was cold of course but I didn’t experience the cold associated with 5 Celsius degree water, and I’ve been doing this for a while. I took the first two minutes to adjust easily while I swam out of the tiny cove but my breathing was fine and there wasn’t much cold shock. After two minutes I could start to really compare to my last swim seven days ago.
12:22 p.m. The water was colder than last week. I was feeling the wind on my shoulders and upper back, but the sky was clear and the water was calm. Off to the pier. Concentrating on the technique I’d been doing (re-doing) for the past seven weeks.
12:40 p.m. Approaching the pier, I decided to go past the harbour entrance, down another 100 metres then turn.
12:42 p.m. I turned back into the swell. Sun was directly ahead.
12:52 p.m. At thirty minutes I started to feel the soles of my feet cold and sore. Unusual.
12:55 p.m. I realised I would be back before 45 mins had elapsed so as I passed the Colomene rocks, I angled outwards in order to add a few minutes.
13:02 p.m. A few hundred metres to go, the steps and metal railings caught and reflected the sun as I angled in. My hands were starting to claw. I opened it up and sprinted in, switching to mainly right side breathing.
13:07 p.m. I had difficulty getting out even though the water was calm because the long period swell power pushed me past railing for a few seconds and I had to make a second pass to grab on. Very unusual.
13:07:30 p.m. Holding the railing I moved up the steps. The wind was really cold blowing across my wet skin. A silhouette was talking down to me from in front of the low sun. I awkwardly removed my ear plugs to hear what they were saying as I put my sandals on and walked immediate to my box. Something about “how long was I in”? I gave a swimmer’s answer, in distance terms, and got it completely wrong. The two important things were the difficulty I had in moving my jaws and the simple mistake I make, which I then corrected. My feet were really really painful from the cold and from the upturned plastic knobs in my sandals. I need new cheap flat, easy to slip on sandals for winter, I reminded myself. Again. Nuala Muir-Cochrane has suggested Crocs, but can my image stand the damage?
13:08 to 13:12 p.m. Standing on a cheap €2 rubber car mat, I tried to get dressed as quickly as possible.
This is the most critical time, I was now racing Afterdrop, when the cold blood in my periphery moves back into my core and I get very cold. It would take 10 minutes or so for this to take full effect.
It was very cold on my hands, head and legs and feet. I gave my hair a peremptory single towel run , same for my torso, and pulled on a merino wool t-shirt. I was still half damp, but since it’s Merino, the damp didn’t matter. Next were two merino wool long-sleeved base layers, medium wool weight. Then was a jumper (Irish name for sweater). Next was my English Channel woolly hat. I was alone by now on the platform. My co-ordination is not the Mae West. My top clothes were not put on smoothly and were bunched. I rubbed my legs with the towel, took off my togs, realised that even thought there was no one around I better drape a towel around me. I would never have done this if I was warmer. I got my underwear on, and dried my legs a bit better, but with no vigourous rubbing. With difficulty, I pulled a pair of merino wool long-johns on (thanks Aldi). Then pants. I couldn’t close any buttons except at the waist as my dexterity was poor, but I learned long ago to wear a belt. I pulled on a coat and then turned to the final but most difficult task of getting my socks and Dr. Marten’s boots on. My feet were more painful, and I had difficulty opening up the laces more to get my feet in but finally did. I didn’t even bother trying the tie up the laces. As I finally pulled on gloves, one of the gents came back down, he was keeping an eye on me, and told me that Polar Bear Joe had been down for a swim and already left while I was in, and had measured the water at 43.5 Fahrenheit, (under 6.4 Celsius). All the older members think in Fahrenheit, I think in Celsius. We agreed that seemed maybe a degree low and I know Joe’s measurements were previously about a degree Fahrenheit lower than mine, so the temperature was probably between 7 C and 7.5 C, definitely colder than last weekend.
It’s now 15:15: Thirty-five minutes since I started writing this, just over two hours since I emerged. I feel fine, I am still wearing everything except coat, hat and gloves. I realise I forgot to turn on the heating so the house is cold. My hands are fine but the back of them feel very cold as I press them against my face.
13:32 p.m. I got back to the car and opened the Keypod, and put my stuff inside. I didn’t let the dogs out. I sat into the car and the Afterdrop was coming on hard. I poured a cup of hot chocolate outside the car in case the shakes caused me to spill it inside. I left it on the dash for a minute. I turned on the engine, and switched the heating to max. I should really have gone for a walk for a better warm up, but the cold wind and Afterdrop made me decide to do other than the best thing. I started to hunch over without thinking about it and started to drink the hot chocolate, only able to hold the cup in both hands to calm the shaking.
13:42 p.m. Since I’d driven down, the car heated up quickly. Thirty five minutes after I’d emerged from the water, the shakes passed and I was able to drive safely. I drank two cups of hot chocolate. Their benefit was twofold. The volume and heat difference of a hot drink make little difference to heating up a body, the thermodynamic equation is too unmatched, because the volume of the human body is too great beside a cup of hot chocolate. But there are benefits: First, psychological; drinking something hot just makes you feel better. Second, it defers the raging Zombie-like hunger I would otherwise encounter on the way home, when I would have to pull over and scour the car for anything to eat.
13:47p.m. I arrived at Tesco Supermarket, but after five minutes I decided I didn’t need anything urgently, and it was cold, though I knew it really wasn’t and I also knew I needed to buy something for dinner. I went back to the car and headed home.
14:01 p.m. Almost an hour out, as I passed the Waterford & Suir Heritage small-gauge steam railway, I saw they were opened for a holiday Santa run and I realised my jaws were starting to relax, without having previously noticed how tightly clamped they were.
14:12 p.m. I was about five of minutes from home, and I realised that my jaws didn’t actually relax previously but they were now. At the same time I became aware I am sitting on two lump of cold meat, as my arse-cheeks were the slowest to recover.
15:35 p.m. I am out of the water slightly over two and a half hours as I finish this up. Time for a warm shower and ready to be productive again. I wanted to write this while it was fresh.
Despite all the times I’ve done this, I made small simple mistakes; I forgot my preferred swim togs, I didn’t check the backup pair was ready before I got undressed, I wore boots instead of shoes, (more difficult to put on when you have lost dexterity). None of them had a huge effect.
I could have swum further, but we always can in these conditions, that is the danger of cold and hypothermia, it lures you into a sense of calm. Swimming five minutes further wouldn’t have had much effect but I think ten minutes would have made a significant difference.
On this weekend last year, the temperature was 4.8 degrees Celsius and I swam for 14 minutes. At equivalent temperatures to now last winter, I was swimming half the time I am this year, between 20 to 25 minutes whereas I am still swimming around 50 minutes. Though I could easily have gone further last year, I didn’t have the drive to do so that I have this year.
Every year there are improvements. We can all get better.
Anyway, I hope there’s something of interest here. I wanted to try to take you inside my head for a normal December swim.