Training: ‘Cold’ Water 3km Tempo Pool Swim

I know ‘cold’ is an extremely relative term.

I swam 3136 meters continuous, at 14:25 at the PC 32m outdoor pool. Sunny, warm, breezy. The water was 22.5 C. This is the coldest water in which I can recall ever swimming a workout (without wearing a wetsuit).

I did an accelerating tempo set with a TT. Starting at 1.20 then speeding up .02 seconds each 128m (2 laps)- I made my way down to 0.90 seconds and then back up to 1.00 where I then clicked my watch to time the last 512m (8 laps) just for fun to see how I did at that tempo at the end of 3000m.

That morning, before giving sports lessons at the school (in the gated community where this pool is located) I dipped my fingers in to see- yep, it was COLD.  I planned to test it out that afternoon just to see how it would feel and how my body would react. After school I was hot and loose from the activity and ready to take the plunge. Even if I got greatly chilled I could walk into the sports salon and take a hot shower to warm up, before my breezy scooter ride home. It was a safe setup for an experiment.

The pool and deck were completely deserted.  No one comes anymore. (I have the pool all to myself this month- that alone is incentive to adapt to the cold water!) I crouched down at the head of the lane and mentally stoked my internal fire a bit more. The sun was hot on my face in a blunted, Autumn-ish  sort-of-way, while the water was definitely too chilling to touch before I got in. Even soaking the hands could cool me down and tense me up making the swim less successful. So I waited a couple minutes without dipping, and then just plunged in.

I was hot enough in my core that the water was, to my relief, not shockingly cold- I felt more of  a sunburned like heat flush all over my skin. The cold water did seep into my inner ear and make it ache a bit each time I pushed off the wall. But that was it for discomfort.

Today was all about testing how my body would do in lower than comfortable water. Could I make it a whole 5km if I had to? How long could I go in an unacclimated body before freezing up?

I picked this set with the intention at first of going only 500m warmup starting with the tempo set at a slow 1.20 and work down to 1.12 – 500 might be a long enough distance to shoot for if I started shivering right away. (I didn’t want to get sick from this!) But in 500 in was feeling refreshed rather than chilled so I decided to just keep accelerating to 1500m.  The accelerating tempo set working down toward my tempo threshold would keep me moving briskly the whole time. As I sped past 1500 I was pleased to see I was keeping just ahead of the creeping cold. At 2500 I was feeling warm enough, energetic enough and loose, so despite the chasing chill,  I threw in a 512m at 1.00 tempo just to see what time I would come in on.

I could have kept going but I had some tightness in the left shoulder that was being dulled by the cold- I didn’t want to risk inducing extra soreness that might hinder me from swimming tomorrow. I keep having knotting problems in those deeper, smaller shoulder muscles which makes it feel like the joint is achy- but it’s not. The cold water made me feel a bit more pumped than perhaps I would feel in warmer water, which might mask some pain or exhaustion until the body simply gives up, or drops heat in a dramatic way.

Could I make 5km in 22 C water right now in my condition?

I think so… if I kept the intensity up.

I give credit to these keys for helping it be comfortable today instead of chilling:

  • I had eaten breakfast, and then a small snack for lunch a 1.5 hrs before the swim (where as I often swim in the morning without eating).
  • I was heated up and loose already before getting in the water
  • I had sun shining down on me (when it dipped behind a whispy high cloud I felt the chill increase) so the radiation added some heat that the water was taking away
  • I started with a higher tempo and accelerated. When I decreased tempo after reaching threshold, I compensated with more power to each longer stroke.

This was encouraging. 22 C is cold to me but certainly not to other who swim in this regularly. Now I feel I can handle the coldest it might get this month in the sea.  I have a 5km sea race at the end of this month and statistically it is possible for the sea to be that cold by then. In the winter months it could get down to 16 C. There are many old guys down at the coast who do swim year round I hear. And I know from others that acclimating to this is totally possible, but I don’t know how quickly I could do it and what price I would have to pay to get there in time. I am a bit wimpy about being cold.

So, bring it on! (not too much)

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