Riding the Temperature Down to Cold-Water Swims

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I haven’t swum as much as I usually do this summer, and now fall is here, with colder air and water temperatures. My little group of cold-water enthusiasts has shrunk, and we have all been pretty busy. Still, we did get together a couple of weeks ago, which was lovely.

Aimee, Vicki and me in the water under a brilliant blue sky. Vicki wears a wetsuit, but Aimee and I just wear bathing suits and caps.

It may have been our last group swim until spring, unless we can get coordinated for a Vampire Swim. We do that in costume for Halloween, and have treats on the beach afterwards. A blood donation or donation to the Red Cross is traditional.

All that means riding the temperature down will be tough this year. Cold water swimming is fun, but it can be miserable when your body isn’t used to it or when there is a sudden drop in water temperature. In past years, I tried to get into the water at least once a week in the fall and early winter, giving up only in late February if I couldn’t find open water for a swim.

There is a lot less incentive to go without my buddies, and it is also more dangerous should something go wrong. We are very careful about not going past about waist deep, having hot drinks on hand afterwards, and changing quickly into warm dry clothes (we even bring a changing tent so we’ll be out of the wind).

Not everyone sees this crazy sport the same way, though. On Thanksgiving Monday I hopped on my bike and rode to the local pond. The water was about 15C, which is definitely cool, so I did a lot of head’s up breast stoke until I felt I could put my face in the water. I did my usual three loops in just under 40 minutes and got out to a small crowd of people applauding – quite possibly the weirdest reaction ever to one of my swims!

Me in a blue bathing cap, with the pond and autumn trees in the background. Ignore the time info – Strava records the distance accurately but gets very confused about swimming speeds.

I then made the rookie mistake of standing around in my wet bathing suit and bare feet, talking to people who had questions about cold water swimming. I didn’t feel particularly cold, but after I biked home I felt quite sleepy for the rest of the day; I had forgotten just how much energy it takes to keep your body from suffering hypothermia.

How about you, readers? Have you ever considered swimming in cold water? If you tried it, how did it make you feel?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

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