Last Wednesday, my coach called me up at work. “Hey, Chris. The Team needs your help. We have a race this weekend and need a swimmer for a relay team. You don’t have to swim fast or be first out of the water; just make sure you get the chip from the start into T1 and you are done. You in?”
“Sure,” I replied. An open water swim would be awesome. I would be able to work on my sighting skills, get a good workout in, and avoid looking down at the black lane divider for a day. What my coach failed to tell me though was that the water would be 60 degrees!
For some, 60 degrees is nothing; it feels like a warm bath. For me, however, this temperature is far from ideal. With only 123 lbs and very little body fat on my small bony frame, I get cold swimming in anything beyond a hot tub. I even swim with a neoprene swim cap in my 80 degree pool! I am a self labeled wuss but I accept it and deal with it.
Race day morning arrived, and as promised, the water was 60.5 degrees. “Wonderful,” a sarcastic voice said in my mind. “This is going to be fun.”
However, I signed up for this and could not let my teammates down. Without me, the team would be disqualified and the bike and runner would not be able to compete. I had to do the swim.
Everyone around me was complaining. “It’s going to be so cold!” People muttered. I blocked it out and focused on the race. I went though my pre-race warmup (I will go over my best warmup below) and then suited up. As the start time approached we all soldered down to the start line. We slipped and slid across the thin thin layer of icy frost covered the dock.
“Alright boys and girls,” the race director said. “We didn’t wake up this early to mess around in the cold. Get your scrawny butts in there.” (He was an ex Marine so he used different words but the message is the same).
I smiled and hoped in….
I had the race of my life, swimming to a 1 minute personal best! Moreover, the water did not even phase me. It was cold and my toes took four hours to thaw, but I left the water knowing that I had a great swim and could go even faster. While others had to drop out because of the cold or were trucked off to the EMT tent for hypothermia, I felt fine and that is because I was prepared both mentally and physically.
If you are swimming in a late season race, which I highly recommend, chances are that it is going to be cold unless you travel to an exotic place, but do do not let this beat you. Here are some tips on how to race in cold water that helped me heat up my race:
- Dress the part: I swim in a full sleeve wet suit in any temperature below 72, but I also wore a thermal swim cap underneath my race-issued cap. You can also wear neoprene socks and gloves depending on whether they are allowed by the race
- Get warm: Before I got in the water, I did a 2 mile run in my wetsuit then a circuit of pushups, jumping jacks, jumps, squats, and arm swings. Warming up is essential!
- Take a deep breath: When you first get into cold water (getting in is the hardest part), it can take your breath away! Take a deep breath, float on your back, and focus on relaxing will lower your heart rate and get you in a good mindset to race
Racing in the cold may not be pleasant, but with proper preparation, it can be overcome and leave you with a warm feeling of accomplishment that will last longer than the cold.