Official Polar Bear

I did it. Today in a cold lake in Windsor, outside London, with Coach Terry eagerly swimming ahead, I made it 12 minutes in 12 C water. The body was fine, but my ice cream headache was unbearably painful when I submerged the head. Once I got breath under control i could only do 10 strokes then had to do breaststroke to let my forehead pain subside. I made it 3 short loops around the 80 m buoys and could hold my head down for the last 80 meters, but by then I was losing fine motor control so headed out. I was actually content to just tread water a while longer but for the headaches when i put the head in, and I knew I had a warm up process to endure (unavoidable shivers), the harder it would be the longer I stayed in. My head hurt and would not calm down until i had warmed it under a warm shower.

But Terry was as content as a polarbear. He had taken a 35 minute swim in 9 C lake at home in New Paltz a few days ago and claimed he loved it completely.

I was wearing a very thin, .5mm neoprene sleeveless speed suit. It took the edge off the first moment of immersion and no doubt it aided just a bit to the resilience of my core heat. But the headaches were excricuiating and exclipsing any discomfort I might have had in my body. 

So i am extremely encouraged about cold water acclimatization, as anything under 15 c is considered officially ‘cold’ water. And have confidence that I will get my head used to it so the headaches subside after a few swims. My body really did want to keep going, though I had the typical breathless reaction at the beginning (after spending a minute splashing my face before submerging), and while swimming breathing was more rapid. I had to remind myself to breath out under water. It requires a lot of concentration to stay calm but my smooth technique is automatic in all conditions. The displeasure (think body’s alarm bells going off) goes away with familiarity of the experience. The body and mind can really adapt. It’s the warm up process afterward that is crucial to keep in mind, come out at the right time, and have facility to do it.

I look forward to winter swimming in Antalya with great anticipation now. The coldest it tends to get is 16 C in February. But in Antalya my warm shower is a 20 minute drive away. We can compensate for that with a thermos of hot tea. The actual pleasure of the swim and the concentration and the genuine sense of total refreshment afterward make cold water swimming a worthy pursuit. People who do it are not crazy or masocistic- there is a counter intuituve healthfulness unleashed by the practice.

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