Having the wettest June since records began in 1910 has meant that temperatures in some of the lakes I swim in has been cooler than is usually expected at this time of year. Cooler? Who am I kidding? It's really bloody cold!
This is not helping with my training one bit. I am a fair weather swimmer (I do not mind admitting), as I really feel the cold and with the Windermere swim less than 2 months away I don't have the luxury of cherry picking the warmest days (of which there are none at the moment). I have to stick to my training plan, whatever the weather, and that currently means cold and wet.
Last week, after another difficult and frustrating swim, I realised the my usual routine when open water swimming (get suited and booted, get in, get swimming, get out, get to the cafe) was not proving very effective. For the first mile of a two mile swim I was really cold, my shoulders were uncomfortable and I just wasn't managing to get any rhythm. I got out feeling bone cold, sore and miserable. I then spent the next hour in the cafe scoffing cake and having a moan about it. It was at this point as I looked out at the swimmers, clearly with more good sense than I have, lining the bank in various states of dress and undress, stretching, jogging on the spot and doing windmill arms (some more vigorously than others), all looking rather smug and more importantly - warm. Finally the penny dropped ... In my previous two swimming seasons the water was a lot warmer, and although my routing was definitely not great, as the water temperature had been higher, I hadn't felt any effects that the cold water had presented, and (in my limited experience) had been unaware of.
Once I got home (and after a long, hot soak), I began reflecting on my swim. I realised that almost half of it had been affected by the fact that I was cold and I had actually deprived myself of a really enjoyable swim. One thing was for sure though, the wet weather was forecast to stay, and so I needed to reconsider my pre-swim routine sooner rather than later.
So how do I better prepare myself for swimming in cold water? I hit Google search to find out! (just to let you know, all the information in this bit (and more) is what I've read and can be found in the links I've added in a bibliography at the bottom). I was astonished to learn that when you swim in cold water the heat loss from your skin can be far, far greater than in air of equal temperature, some claim 25% faster (and some say even more than that) (water is a much better heat conductor than air), and also that doing an activity in cold water, like swimming, actually then increases the heat loss further, so there's little wonder I was so cold and so quickly ...
"When water temperatures fall between 20oC to 16oC, there is very pronounced vasoconstriction, a decrease in oxygen consumption, a decrease in peripheral and central temperatures, pronounced phenomena of hypothermia, and a minimisation of performance." (Serafeim Alexiou 2014).
The body just doesn't respond well to cold water, and sudden emersion into it can even lead to thermal shock and hypothermia, so I'm thinking now that actually a pre swim warm up is far more important than I realised. It won't only to make sure that I'm limiting my chances of injury, increasing my performance and just generally having an enjoyable, and warm swim, it's actually potentially life saving!
On the back of my new found knowledge I set to work thinking about my own warm up. With my limitations I needed one that took this into account (being hyper mobile is so annoying!), which realistically means mainly a passive, and waterless warm up. I began by thinking about my earlier people watching and their different warm up routines and how I could incorporate this into my own.
Firstly- there appeared to be no uniform lake side when it came to warm ups. Some were in costumes/Speedos flexing their stuff. One man should have been dressed in more for when he attempted some very challenging (and interesting) stretches, as it what turned out to be a very revealing (please not deliberate). My eyes were scratchy for some time afterwards! And others chose to wear warm looking swimming coats/parkas/jackets, and either were doing various stretches or drank warm drinks. I'm thinking the latter looks far more appealing, and much, much warmer.
Secondly- I recognised lots of the stretches as ones I do diligently before I swim in the 32oC pool, but don't do for open water?!? Makes no sense why I don't do it for both, perhaps because I'm already cold and just want to get on with it? There were some very impressive, yet tricky, looking yoga style stretches which looked far beyond anything that should be attempted by my very inflexible self without having the emergency services on speed dial! In fact one man really had the 'rest in corpse' pose to perfection, although he could just have been exhausted. I couldn't tell, but was afraid to leave until I saw movement...
Thirdly- shoeless jogging on a river bank. Where lots of geese reside? I think, for me (being clumsy and all), that would be foolhardy (and slimy I imagine), and on this occasion I thank my lucky stars that I am officially not allowed to run/jog/go faster than a standard walk (doctors orders). I can see why they would (I probably would too if I'm being honest, even with the goose poo!), what could be more perfect when it's not practical to do a swim warm up to raise your body temperature, elevate your heart rate and get your circulation going? However in my case it's just not an option.
As I've said before, I'm a 100% non-expert, but I don't think you need to be one to see that all three types of warm up work, and most people (with the good sense I seem to be lacking) have adapted their pre-swim warm up to suit their own needs and preferences. I just need to fathom out what's best for me. I can do the limited stretches that I do at the pool (and should really already be doing here), and a few windmill arms, but that's really as much as I can do, and as I'm not moving around, my main concern is that I need to be able to raise my body temperature without the exertion ... A coat it is then (and coffee)!
I had considered buying a swim jacket earlier this season (also around Mother's day, birthday and even Christmas last year) I left my family enough hints around the house, you know the usual - changed the screen saver on the computer, open magazines with highlighter on them, that kind of subliminal thing, although I perhaps should have taken a more direct and more obvious approach being that I was still coatless (not counting the several every day coats I have already)!
Anyhow, now that there is actually a genuine reason to buy one, it's not just to fit in with the crowd (never done that before anyway), or to just keep the rain off. It's not just "another coat" it's an essential part of my warm up routing, and is completely justifiable.
As always I hit the internet first to see what was available, but really I needed to be tactile - how am I going to know if it's right unless I wear it? And so literally accosted some fellow swimmers (I know them all), and by way of research, tried their various coats/parkas/jackets on. Cost me a fortune in promises of cake, but eventually came across a jacket (a Swimzi XK) that covered all on my tick list, which was in a nut shell to get me warm and keep me warm. (And incidentally I since found out was designed for the GB Farallon Swim Team (Escape from Alcatraz in on my bucket list) good enough for them and all that ... )
|My new jacket shortly after it arrived!|
|And then lakeside before I warmed up.|