Enjoy cold water? Seems impossible. Especially for a heat-loving desert flower such as myself.
I kicked off my 2012 open water season with a quick dip on February 28th. I spent less than 10 minutes in 55-degree water (13°C). Since then, I've braved the cold water 3 more times.
This time the water was up to 57°F (14°C). The air temperature was about 60°F (16°C), and we had some sunshine. I stayed in the water for about 30 minutes, treading water and chatting with my friends. I hadn't seen those girls all winter, and hanging out with them in that beautiful spot felt like a party.
Back at the shore, a flock of birds landed on my swim bag. I knew from experience that couldn't end well. The cold water must have frozen my brain-to-mouth filter because I shouted something unprintable at those birds. Amazingly, they flew away without defiling anything.
I felt perfectly comfortable hanging out in the water, but I didn't feel like swimming. At the end, I manned up enough to swim about 25 yards of decent freestyle.
When I got home, I decided that next time I would push myself to do a real swim. I would just go ahead and do it whether I felt like it or not.
We'd had a week of warm weather, so the lake temperature was up to 62°F (17°C). It was a sunny afternoon and the air temperature was in the 80s (28°C).
This time, I was swimming with a friend who was there to train. I knew he wouldn't put up with much lollygagging. We both eased our way into the water. Like all of my cold water swim buddies, he was wearing a full wetsuit, neoprene booties and a neoprene cap. He was ready to start swimming after about 3 minutes. He asked if I wanted to swim out to the buoy. I hadn't even gotten my head wet. I told him to swim out and back while I finished acclimating. Once he got to the buoy, I knew I had to wet my head. I went under a few times and then started swimming toward him.
When I got out there, I asked him to tell me I was doing a good job. I always feel like a big wimp in cold water. It takes me so long to get going, and I get scared. I think it should be easy by now, but it's not. So I needed a quick little, "Good job, K". He said a whole bunch of nice things about what a great job I was doing. That made a big difference.
We swam back and forth between the buoys for .8 miles. After 10 minutes, I started feeling really warm. That sensation used to scare the heck out of me, but this time it just felt weird. After another 10 minutes, my thighs started feeling cold. I told him I felt cold, but I shouldn't feel cold. He told me to get moving. We swam for another 10 minutes, and then swam in.
I was cold in the car on the way back. I wouldn't let him turn on the A/C, and he wouldn't let me turn on the heat. I cranked it up once I got back to my own car, though.
Finally, it started to click.
It had been a cold week. The air temperature was 44°F (7°C), and the water temperature had dropped. I took one reading at 58°F and another at 56°F (13°C). Getting in wasn't fun. I was with a different friend this time, so I told him the rule about telling me I'm doing a good job. He said a bunch of nice things that helped me relax.
He swam out to the buoy while I finished acclimating, and then I breaststroked my way out toward him. After about 25 yards, I switched to freestyle. He could see what a hard time I had at the beginning, so he was worried about me. But once I started swimming, I felt fine.
After about 10 minutes, I started feeling great. This is exhilarating. My body is warm, and the water feels like a cool, crisp adventure. We swam for another 10 minutes, and then my friend wanted to swim back in. When we got halfway in, he stopped and said that he'd forgotten how much he liked it out there. He didn't want to go in after all. He hung out while I did another loop and a half of the buoys. I came back in at the end of 30 minutes so he could get back to civilization. But I would have loved to stay in for another 10 minutes.
He said my lips were blue, but blue is a good color for me so I'm sure I looked great. I was shivering a little, and it took me awhile to warm up in the car. Good thing I drove by myself--I got to crank the heat all the way up.
I spent last Spring and Fall struggling with cold water. I froze in water as warm as 70°F and as cold as 60°F. I kept at it. I swam in cold water 15 times in 2011. By cold, I mean whatever felt cold to me at the time. I always had fun on those swims, but I never understood the idea of liking the cold. Here's what changed by the 19th cold swim:
Swimming in cold water is a strange feeling. For a long time, my brain has interpreted those odd sensations as a sign of danger. With enough practice, encouragement, and education, that stopped happening. I was amazed and exhilarated to feel how my body could warm itself. The human body is a miracle. It's a joy to be living in one.
Have you had a breakthrough moment? Are you waiting for one?