They’re coming. No, not just the 2023 races, the EPIC races. You know which ones. The first of the year, like 70.3 Oceanside. The iconic, like Escape from Alcatraz or 70.3 St. George. Maybe it’s a local open-water open swim. Perhaps it’s girding up for something wildly epic, like Norseman, or the English Channel crossing. No matter which one, you can bank on one thing: the water is gonna be COLD!!
Getting ready for a cold-water race requires open-water cold-water practices. There’s simply no way around it. But there are a few tips to help you manage the cold, safely. You’ll even have a good time (especially if there’s hot coffee waiting afterward!).
1. Bring Friends
It’s easy to do a solo workout after work in the summer. But let’s face it: misery loves company. Search out members of your local tri club and see who else might be taking on the cold-water race on your radar. Knowing the swimmer next to you is enduring the same skin-stinging cold makes it a bit easier to manage mentally.
2. Protect your Head
Yeah, it's been debunked; you don't lose half your body heat through your head. Still, it's closer to 10 percent for the average adult according to the Cleveland Clinic, which is a not insignificant amount. So, yes, it's still important to keep it warm.
Wearing two swim caps (one right over the top of the other) helps add a layer of insulation to retain that precious heat, and prevent an “ice cream headache.” So when it’s cold… double up!
3. Don’t Dive In
As much as jumping off the dock or rushing into the ocean—just “getting it over with”—seems like a good idea, there’s a physiological reason for not doing this: cold water shock. Anyone that has done Escape from Alcatraz and jumped off the Hornblower knows about it; the shock of the cold water on your body causes your lungs to constrict—to literally “take your breath away” and cause you to gasp for air.
While it’s generally not a major concern, the sensation can be alarming, and really throw off your plan for a nice, steady swim. Instead, ease in. Your body will thank you!
4. Be Seen
In the summer when everyone is splashing around in the water, it’s comforting knowing there are so many sets of eyes out on you on the water. In the winter when the water gets chilly, however, most lakes, beaches, and riverbanks pull their lifeguard watch. At the least, select a nice, bright swim cap for your swim, so anyone along the shore can spot you. A bright swim buoy like the one Quintana Roo has available, also serves as a great visibility beacon. And, again, bring friends to keep an eye out for you.
5. Reduce your Volume
You may be used to regular hour-long open-water swims in the summer, but the body requires extra resources in the water to keep you warm, beyond what the act of swimming burns in calories. So consider reducing the amount of time you’re in the water; you're still putting serious work through your body, even if it's less time in the water.
6. Dry Off and Layer up (afterward)!
There may be some sting in the extremities (the toes and fingers) after a frigid swim. So prepare your post-swim bag not only with some calories and a thermos of warm tea, coffee, or hot chocolate but as well as the basics (a towel), and sandals (to let your toes slowly get warm without shoving your sensationless toes into shoes), wool gloves and a warm beanie.
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