Question directed to the cold water swimmers

My goal is the EC. Last neap tide in Sept. I am a 51 years old woman. My strategy is to handle the cold well, even though the Channel is warmer in Sept. I plan to have a longer swim than most as I can be a slow poke. So dealing with cold is essential to my success.
I have been working on my winter swimming acclimatization since January. With success and joy if I may add-never thought I would enjoy something so brutal. I go into Lake Zurich 4 times a week, 4-6 degrees about 8 to 10 minute so far, usually during lunch. Though I really love it, there are a few side effects that begin to affect my pool time, and I wanted to check this with the experienced swimmers in here.

1) How often and how long should I increase or decrease the winter swims to? Should I try for fewer but longer sessions in the week so I can recover better. I know that I can stay in longer, but I have been being gentle with my poor body. I notice that it really drains me though at the end of the day.
2) I am also now having problems with over heating in the pool. If I do sprints I just have heat waves, and my cheeks are burning hot. I don't wear a swim cap anymore as it holds the heat in. All in all, I feel I am on a good way and I enjoy my training, but I would appreciate to hear your experience. Many thanks!
Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

Comments

  • Cold water training is very tiring (especially for those of us that are 50+). Much easier to swim for longer periods in warmer water and feel less tired at the end of the day. Hopefully your water will warm up soon so you can stay in longer as you will need the distance in water that is not so cold as you have at the moment. I rarely if ever swim in a pool for the very reason you stated - just too hot to get anything out of the pool time.
  • I agree with firebah, cold water training is hard and will tire you out. Much more so than pool swimming. Being tired is not necessarily a bad thing though, just don't beat yourself up over it.

    There is little you can effectively do in water around 5 deg. That temperature is so far removed from what you will find as you exit the water @ Cap Griz Nez (visualisation) that it can't be a part of your main training. There is some mental benefit to being able to say "I swim regularly in water that is 4 deg, 16 deg will be easy". Other than that, even if you lengthen the swims out, because it's that cold, you risk putting yourself in harms way.

    It's in our nature to try to improve. Longer, faster, higher etc and it's hard to resist the temptation to add an extra minute. It's equally important to know your limitations. At low temps, everything is important. Body mass, sleep levels, last hot food, blood alcohol level, wind speed, air temp, sunshine etc etc. Just because you can do 10 mins today, doesn't mean you can do 10 mins tomorrow. Also know that when you are at these temps, when things go wrong, they go badly wrong, and they go badly wrong very quickly. You need to be able to decide when it's time for you to get out. I'd hate to be in the position where I need to get out, but I'm still 200m from safe haven. 200m may not seem like much, but if you're starting to slide into hypothermia, 200m which say normally take you 3 mins, can take you 15+ min when things stop working. You may not have that 15 minutes in you......

    It's much better to wait until the temp goes up to say 10-12 deg and then start to increase your mileage in the water. How long you'll have before the temp gets "too high" in the lake I don't know, but doing multiple hour swims at these kind of temps will set you up nicely for the EC.

    Having said all that, I find it good to swim regularly in cold water, but at this stage in the season, for me it is more for a break from the pool and the cold water swims we mainly do are social events. Also don't forget the physical benefits of a free cryotherapy session.

    Actually, there's another thing. Note I said "swims we mainly do". The important thing there is the word we. Do you swim alone? Likely if its on lunch break. Not ideal. See can you coerce some work colleagues into the water.

    Colm.
  • edited March 2013
    Swimming for ten minutes in these temps is a little pointless apart from getting used to entering the water when you don't want to. By the time you have acclimatised its time to get out. Staying in longer will allow you to train through the changes you experience from the horrid to the comfortably numb, then working through the desire to get out as you begin to freeze again and enduring to the end. Work up to a mile as soon as you can, or ensure the short swims are sprints. Stay close to an exit point at all times and wear a float.

    My ice swimming taught me the need to swim when I really didn't want too. And now I am comfortable getting wet even at zero. I expect to increase by immersion times from 30 minutes to 2 hours very quickly this year. When I first started training years ago, it took months to get comfortable doing two hour swims because of the cold and I fretted just thinking about them. This year I expect to get through them happily and train better.

    I expect the cold experienced through long immersion times to be a different battle than the cold through swimming in freezing waters though. I fear that acclimatising to freezing waters may not actually help resisting hypothermia but simply toughen you up and you still get hypothermia but are able to ignore it. Until it bites you. Hopefully by then, the swim is over and the cold will have felt less horrid and therefore a more efficient or less gruelling swim.
  • Thank you all for answering. It is food for thought. I hear Colm's caution and Haydn encouraging to go further and beyond. Haydn, what temperature are you talking about here?
    My short swims are not completely pointless, as I do stay in each time longer, and it is somehow changing me in positive ways that I cannot number. It is hard though to face the chlorine some days, but pool time is a mandatory. Thanks again for your feedback. I did watch your vid Haydn where you are swimming on a harness in your frozen pool. Was fun to watch.
    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.
  • I guess we will be sharing a tide in Sept. My date is around 12th.

    You will never find the lake is too warm to train in. You will always find the pool is too warm. At the moment, the value of training in 5 degrees is limited to testing your resolve to actually getting wet, the swimming you do in ten minutes only is not the helpful part. You will learn a lot about resolve, staying in when you want to get out, the strange (scary) sensations that happen as you stay in past 20 minutes. How horrid getting warm afterwards is.

    I suggest you keep doing three 5 degree sessions a week, and gradually get up to 30 minutes. By the time you get there(in a couple weeks) the temp will be 6. Keep working the 30 minutes until they become comfortable, even if it gets warmer to 6 or 7. Don't get tempted to lengthen the immersion time, until you can work hard and happily throughout the 30 minutes.

    Then when it gets 'easy', try a one hour session, then back down to 30. Then in another week try a 2 hour, then back down to 1 hour sessions. By may, you should be up to two hours every session. And trying a three. Try to get a ten by July and a fifteen by August.

    If you struggle at two, that's ok, and why you drop down to one , but you will find the resolve comes to try a three, and then twos seem easy. One day you will try a four, miss out fives, and try a six in June. You will try an 8, missing out 7, and in between you will be doing 4s. You will be doing an 8 and maybe argue with yourself to not stop at 8 and carry on to 10, just to get it in the bag, rather than start all over in a couple weeks.

    The hurting cold now, will turn into a slow deepening chill as the water warms up and the immersion time increases. It takes a different type of resolve to deal with. It is resolve you are training for now. Getting in regularly. If you lack the resolve now, it will be hard to have developed it when the swimming training really counts as the hours build.

    You will be looking for best times, judged by immersion hours, not speed or distance. When it is time to do a best time, don't settle for just 10 minutes more, look for an hour or two increments. Even doubling your previous best.

    Training will be tougher than the day of the swim. That's why it is called training and not play.

    Follow my blog www.haydnwelch.co.uk
  • Are there any floats you can recommend @Haydn?
  • Chillswim have a nice float, great for good days but all are too light in windy conditions and can get blown into your arm pull. The best is a small raft which you can tow and rest on, or have a troubled swimmer rest on while you swim them ashore. They don't get blown about and can hold camera and feeds etc. these are also used by spear fishers for their equipment and catch. They fin them out to the dive site and then fin them back ashore.
  • @Haydn, Great post on March 31. I've been struggling with increasing my cold water (53-60F / 11.7-15.6C) swimming times past 2 hours. I REALLY like the sound of this approach. I'm going to try it as soon as the ice clears from my lake! Thank you very much for sharing this!
  • My goal is the EC. Last neap tide in Sept. I am a 51 years old woman. My strategy is to handle the cold well, even though the Channel is warmer in Sept. I plan to have a longer swim than most as I can be a slow poke. So dealing with cold is essential to my success.
    I have been working on my winter swimming acclimatization since January. With success and joy if I may add-never thought I would enjoy something so brutal. I go into Lake Zurich 4 times a week, 4-6 degrees about 8 to 10 minute so far, usually during lunch. Though I really love it, there are a few side effects that begin to affect my pool time, and I wanted to check this with the experienced swimmers in here.

    1) How often and how long should I increase or decrease the winter swims to? Should I try for fewer but longer sessions in the week so I can recover better. I know that I can stay in longer, but I have been being gentle with my poor body. I notice that it really drains me though at the end of the day.
    2) I am also now having problems with over heating in the pool. If I do sprints I just have heat waves, and my cheeks are burning hot. I don't wear a swim cap anymore as it holds the heat in. All in all, I feel I am on a good way and I enjoy my training, but I would appreciate to hear your experience. Many thanks!

    Cold isn't the only risk for a slower swimmer. There's also a risk of not finishing if you aren't fast enough to beat the tides.

    If you can follow @Haydn's advice for cold training without jeopardizing your speed work at the pool, I think that's great. If not, I think I would prioritize the speed work. Without it, you might actually slow down between now and September.
  • I am not so sure about speed work. If you are slow, your best bet is being able to do 15 to 17 hours. If this is you, i would suggest concentrating on speed work to get across snd try to get across significantly faster would suggest you aim for a 14 to 15 hour swim. This means 15 hours all faster than normal.

    If you swim at 1.5 miles per hour, you will have to speed up to say 2 miles an hour and be able to maintain that pace for the whole swim. I don't believe a swimmer can be 25 percent faster for a continuous 15 hours.

    I would aim for long training swims ( which does imply they may not be fast swims), but I would try to work hard every 45 minutes and follow with a normal 45 minutes. Maybe try to work really hard for 3 hours and when the day of the swim arrives, you save this hard work in reserve for the last 3 hours.

    As long as you can swim the hours, and get lucky with the weather, you can get across even if it takes 20 hours. One thing I know is that you will be really exhausted and once you get that tired, you won't recover. You can't swim slow in order to rest, once you are exhausted. So if you swim too fast, too soon , you will have 10 hours of total exhaustion. Far better to swim gently for 10 hours at the start. Then on the 11th hour you will realise you can't speed up anyway, but at least have plenty of swimming left in your body. Any spare energy is reserved for battling heavier seas or maintaining resolve.

    The toughest part of a Channel swim is half way, once you are exhausted and still have 7 hours to swim. It seems impossible you will be able to make it. Especially if you have tried to swim fast. Any success will be based on the next 4 hours as you maintain the effort and then realise its only 4 hours to go. This is when you start to believe again, and use the energy you hAve saved by not relying on speed.

    Having said all that, I wouldn't ignore speed work. It can come in handy if you are a mile behind schedule. But to catch up a mile will mean extra speed for about 3 hours.
  • You people are so amazing and helpful. I appreciate the wisdom and knowledge you share. I solved the over heating for now with a cold pack that I can stick in my swim cap. I will take your advice to heart. I know that I will not be able to improve my speed significantly at this point. This takes years. I am however getting a quicker (slightly) and less tiered, and my aim is to get more efficient. Thank you again!
    May I ask another question about cold water swimming?

    Is it common that it takes the body time to adjust its thermostat to the intense temperature differences it is exposed to e.g. Have you had any reactions like heat waves or rashes or hives, cold chills or cold sweats in the night during the beginning of your acclimatization process?
    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.
  • Hi @Dawn_Treader - it's true that you probably can't increase your steady pace by a significant amount at this stage. But the speed work is still worth it no matter what you pace, not so much to increase your overall speed as having something to pull out of the bag if you need it. Like many people, I was asked (by which I mean, emphatically ordered) by my pilot to put in max effort about 13 hours into my Channel swim to beat the tide turn. The two hours that followed were bewilderingly unpleasant and painful, but the few minutes I snatched back in that time probably saved me 4-5 hours in the long run. Time in the Channel doesn't work like normal time. So don't feel disheartened about the speed issue....but maybe work on having some different speed registers to draw on. I didn't do enough of this for my 2010 swim, but the hard speed sessions that I had done gave me a point of reference to work with. This year, I've done lots of progressive / regressive sets ( 5 x 100, with each 5 secs faster than the next, then back down) to try and develop this some more. Start slow; number 5 should be your full welly sprint. It's a good way to learn to get a feel for pace and to have those different registers ready to draw on.

    As for the cold water - rather you than me! I stay in the pool until it's at least 10 degrees. I am full of awe that you can tolerate it.

  • Yep, Karen said it best. As for your other question, I find that heating up after a long cold swim gets you warm eventually, but the thermostat doesn't switch off . I often keep warming up and then overheat . It may be a matter of how long it takes to get cold and trying to get warm in the same amount of time. Ie a 30 minute swim, try to get warm in 30 minutes. A 4 hour swim try to get warm in 4 hours. I guess, on 4 hours, you do nothing to try to warm up, splu get dressed in light clothes and let your body do the work by itself. This way you stay cold for a longer while after the swim but this is still training. My coach bans me from using the car heater for the journey home. Hot flushes? Maybe menopause at the same time and really messing you about?
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