Most triathletes welcome cold weather as a guilt-free excuse to scale back in the offseason, but it really shouldn’t hold you back from training. It’s important to maintain consistency with open water swimming in order to improve, and that means training in the cold weather months, too.
Sure, crawling out of bed to confront frigid waves will serve as an exercise in dedication, and yes, your friends will definitely think you’re crazy. But the confidence you’ll take away from each cold water swim will effectively bleed into other facets of your daily life. What once seemed like punishment will soon be a healthy addiction, pushing your mental and physical thresholds to new levels.
Dress for the Occasion
Pay close attention to the temperature of your local body of water so you can plan your outfit accordingly. For ocean swimmers, surfline.com or Magic Seaweed are great apps that forecast and detail the water conditions. For fresh water swimmers, check your local lake/river’s website for info.
The first thing you’ll need is a good swimming wetsuit that is 3 to 5 mm in thickness, providing sufficient insulation and buoyancy. Additionally, a pair of neoprene swim booties and gloves can be nice to have when water temps dip below the low 60s. It’s always better to be over prepared, with the ability to stay warm, as opposed to needing more insulation.
Triathletes certainly are no strangers to pain. The mental toughness and endurance gained from the long hours you’ve logged in training add a lot of value to approaching cold water swimming. Still, physical adaptation is necessary. Expect the cold to feel cold at first. Coming to terms with this early on will help you mentally accept the conditions at hand and approach the water with more purpose and confidence.
An easy intro to getting comfortable with the uncomfortably cold water should begin at home. After your regular routine in your daily shower, gradually turn the dial to cold while standing under the water. This slow transition takes away the initial shock and allows your body and mind to acclimate.
As the water gets colder, be sure to focus exclusively on your breath, noticing if you tense up, hold your breath or breathe more rapidly or more shallow when the water gets colder. Smoothly breathe in 1-2-3, with a relaxed exhale of 1-2-3 out. It’s remarkable how the simple focus of breath can distract the mind and keep your heart rate and body tension in check.