Training: Can I Handle 19 C Water?

I swam 3072m today, starting at 14:25, at the 32m PC outdoor pool. It was cloudy, warm air, no breeze. The pool was 19.5 C- cold!

I repeated the pattern of the last 2 pool swims here because it keeps me accelerating in the cold water- my only chance to endure. I layed my quickjohn on the deck at the head of the lane just in case.

Today’s objective- to swim 512m repeats (8 laps in this pool), no rest except for clicking the TT, starting the Tempo Trainer at 1.20 and accelerate 0.02 seconds each 128m (2 laps). I wanted to see how long I could endure 19 C without a wetsuit.

repeat tempo SPL (in32m) split
bare 512m 1.20 to 1.14 25 to 27 9:03
bare 512m 1.12 to 1.08 28 to 29 9:21
bare 512m 1.06 to 1.00 29 to 30 9:19
wetsuit 512m 0.98 to 0.92 25 to 27 8:06
wetsuit 512m 0.90 to 0.84 27 to 29 8:10
wetsuit 512m 0.86 to 0.92 29 to 28 8:24

I was hot in the core when I took the first plunge. No stunted breath, but immediately my chest felt like a furnace, while my hands and feet slowly numbed. I was pleasantly surprised to feel warm enough at the beginning, but with the 2 degree difference from last week and the lack of any sunshine to give me some radiant heat from above I felt the cold seeping in much more aggressively today. At 1000m I was starting to shiver and knew I may risk a long unpleasant thaw if I pushed past 1500 without the wetsuit. Even then I wondered if I might be too cold to warm up even in the suit, but I was here to experiment with that.

At 1500 I hopped out, shivering and tried to slip on the wetsuit standing up, but could barely keep my stance from the numb and the shivering. I sat down and snugged it on, then stood and tried to shake some heat into my body expecting to feel immediately warmer with the suit on. But it was not feeling warmer. I stared down the lane for a minute then plunged in. To my relief, as I started stroking along, I immediately felt heat build up under the suit- the cold slightly stiff feet and hands were not uncomfortable, and the bare shoulders were warm and loose enough to feel like pushing to faster and faster tempos, so instead of slowing down at 0.90 I kept speeding up for another 512m.

With that suit on, in contrast to how cold and sluggish I felt when bare, I FLEW through the water, feeling like a slick seal. It was both fun and discouraging: fun in that it feels so nice to slide along that fast, and discouraging because I realized how slow I was going without the suit. Another reason I prefer ‘naked’ swimming- I want the real, authentic satisfaction of bareskin speed, no artificial enhancements! But when the water is too cold, I will quickly choose wetsuit-swimming to no-swimming!

I have not done a switch-from-bare-to-wetsuit swim like this before so the contrast was quite stunning- my hips and legs were shoved to the surface and although I slipped so much easier, I don’t like the ‘bobber’ feeling, however fast it made me. It just messes with the balance, deprives me of so much sensory information, and restricts the legs from initiating the hip thrust. But hey, I was swimming, and able to push into much faster tempos because of it, despite the inconveniences. And that was very helpful since conditioning my body to handle faster tempos is exactly what I was trying to accomplish in this swim, besides adapting to the effects of colder water. Without the suit, I think I would have gotten too sluggish and shivering by the time I got down to 0.90, had I even been able to endure that long in the water.

‘0.84 is the fastest recorded tempo I’ve gone with the TT this year. I need to keep working down to around 0.75 to set things up to reach my 100m sprint goals. Now that I’ve carved a path for this SR, I can gradually build back up the SL and the power to go with it. (I’ll need to write another essay on this conditioning strategy I am experimenting with.)

I was getting quite chilled at 1500, but it wasn’t too distractingly unpleasant- I could have gone on maybe another 512 or so, but for the risk of the price I might pay afterwards. It was the ache in my left ear caused by the cold water flowing in and out (especially when gliding off the wall and water pressure shoved more water in) that was not fun. I think putting in some wax plugs would do the trick on that. I wore 2 silicon hats also, but it wasn’t quite as warm as I hoped. A neoprene cap would be far better, like we would wear surfing on the Oregon Coast.

Speaking of, it was a rare summer day off Oregon’s Pacific Coast when a southern current might force its way up and heat things up to 19 C- that gives me some reference point for what kind of water I was trying to swim in today. They say capsized Oregon Coast fishermen, without a survival suit on, have about 15 minutes before hypothermia shackles their ankles and the ocean starts coaxing them under. Gulp!

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