The Cold Water Thread



  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    I've recently increased the amount of time I spend in quite cold water and have found something strange is happening to my feet. I have no idea if there's a link. Last weekend I managed just over 20 minutes in 5.7C, about 10 minutes longer than previously at that sort of temperature. My feet tend to go numb quite early in a cold swim and take about an hour to thaw out afterwards.....but now my big toe on my right foot is randomly going numb during dog walks, shopping trips fact during any sort of walking. It goes off after about 15 minutes but it's a phenomenon I've only observed since increasing my exposure to very low water temps. Any ideas what may be causing it?
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    Temporary or long lasting nerve impacts/damage are a possibility of extreme cold water, what's essentially frostnip. It's one of the things that doesn't get mentioned as much as it should when discussing potential hazards. I'm don't know if there's a predictive tool for who will suffer it, nor at what temperature, nor how long the effects last. Can't say for certain obviously if that's it, but it certainly seems possible.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    Thanks, loneswimmer. If there are already lingering side effects, I think after Chillswim Windermere I might just return to the sea and only swim in lakes when it's slightly warmer. Ice miles and such are obviously not for me! I hope the next 6 weeks don't leave me with any unwanted reminders of the training. Are there any ice milers here who have noticed long term effects?
  • emkhowleyemkhowley Boston, MACharter Member
    Hi @KatieBun- we run an annual ice swim here in Boston and one of our swimmers from last year reported significant nerve damage in his fingers and toes after his swim. He's still dealing with it a year later, though the severity has diminished somewhat. So yes, it is possible to have lasting issues as a result of an ice swim. We do what we can to manage that and swimmers' expectations of what might happen if they attempt an ice mile. However, the human body is a fascinating machine and it's hard to know exactly how you will react to cold stress on any particular day. Bottom line- Be safe and swim carefully with experienced help.

    Stop me if you've heard this one...
    A grasshopper walks into a bar...

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member
    Thanks @emkhowley- all useful info. I have no ambition to do an ice mile and will be abandoning the sub 6C stuff once Chillswim is over. Fingertips are a little sensitive after 20 minutes this weekend in 4.9C but the sensitivity seems to fade after a few days. After this I'm sticking to long swims as opposed to cold ones. Thanks for the advice, folks.
  • FrancoFranco Chestertown, MDCharter Member
    It is more like wading but you got love this guy for his ice swim.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    Based on the study that Iron Mike posted above, I think the appropriate response to someone saying "I get cold just watching you do that!" is "you're welcome".

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    They did this for charity, which is the only reason I'm not mocking them for their "courage." ;)

    Just here troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries...

  • JenAJenA Charter Member

    Recently found on my hard drive... this was part of an advertisment by Mountain Equipment Coop many years ago. I thought it might be timely given the transition into winter (for some of us). :-) Now get out there and earn your badges, kids! :-)

    glacial dip

  • DuganaddyDuganaddy Needham, MAMember

    Sorry If I missed this above or in another thread, but I thought I'd paste it in here.

    Where do you actually measure the water temperature? Is there a guideline for that?
    The water temperature just at the shore of a lake is likely warmer than farther out. And the on a sunny day the water temp at the surface is a lot higher than at 12" or 24" down - especially in the spring and fall as night temperatures are low.

  • JaimieJaimie NYCCharter Member

    @duganaddy The only guideline I've seen is by IISA for their ice mile rules which say thermometer should be "at a depth of between 5 (five) to 20 (twenty) inches below the water surface (12.7 to 50.8 centimetres below the water surface)."

    I would personally think it's most accurate to have the thermometer about 20 inches down since that is where we are actually swimming. Similarly probably best to take from somewhere in the line you're swimming, but that's not always possible with a digital thermometer as most aren't waterproof.

    But unless you are doing some sort of official attempt it doesn't matter too much. If it's for your own reference I would just take it in the same place each time to best cross-compare.

  • miklcctmiklcct Kowloon, Hong KongMem​ber
    edited February 8

    I always memorise this moment, which I can only dream of it now. If I started swim training at that season, I would already be swimming the channel now :'(

    The exact same pool hasn't drop below 19°C this season due to exceptional warm weather.

  • PasqualePasquale Antwerp (Belgium)Member
    edited April 1

    Hi All,

    I am considering to subscribe to a race near Amsterdam in a lake in 3 weeks, distance is only 3Km, water temp is expected around 10 degree...

    Distance is not an issue at all, and I expect to finish in around 53min or so...
    I don't think I can ever do it without a wet-suit since I am lacking cold water training, but the suite is anyway mandatory (to the horror of most accomplished cold water swimming in this forum) so have no choice or regret...

    I mainly want to do this to start the OW season a bit earlier then usual for longer swim i plan this summer... The coldest I have swam is around 15 degree and always with wet-suite so I see 10 degree is going to be challenging anyway (my suite is not very tick anyway, is more suited for 15-20 degree indeed).

    I have following question

    1) will my hands and feet loose sensitivity in ~1h at 10 degree ? ( I have no gloves and socks)
    2) Should I do a warmup before entering in water (like running or jumping a bit)
    3) I tend to have cramps in my feet quite easily, Will cold make it worst, how to deal with that in case it happens.. Anything I can do to prevent?
    4) Should I start strong to warmup faster or start easy?
    5) I am also scared my googles will get foggy with cold, any idea to cope with that...

    PS, this is in Gaasperplas, Driemondseweg 25, Amsterdam SE, anyone else in this forum going there?


  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    @Pasquale -- Happy April, and I wish I could be in Amsterdam again for a swim. . . I haven't been in about thirty years. Sigh.

    10C with a wetsuit should be ok, and you sound fast, which will help. For under an hour, or even an hour, your hands and feet should be ok, but have warm stuff ready for after- wool mittens, thick extra large socks or leg warmers from the 1980s to let hang off your feet. :smile: VERY stylish. The last time I tried a wetsuit in cold water, I found that my feet felt extra cold- they floated more, broke the surface more, and my kick got lazy, so they were colder than usual. I have gotten a few leg and foot cramps while swimming, and in cold water, I sacrifice form for warm, and do a goofy floppy footed wiggly toe kick now and then as needed. I eat bananas ahead of time. It may partially be a placebo effect, but I don't care, it makes me feel like I feel better.

    I start a cold swim in a slow, controlled manner- I give myself a few strokes to feel functional, make sure I'm breathing, see if my face hurts from the cold (it rarely does anymore), and stay calm. I don't do warmups ahead of time, but DO stay bundled and warm until I am ready to get into the water. I have not done a race at quite that level of cold, but would sacrifice a minute or two to get wet slowly if I felt the need. I don't find my goggles fog any more than usual. At 10C, I would likely save any running for after- but again, I've not done an event like this. At my home beach, I dry and dress quickly, then go for a brisk walk or jog, and try to get myself warmed that way- maybe with hot cocoa. In a wetsuit, you may be happier to stay in the suit, let it keep you warm and protect you from any wind, and just pile up something warm over it?? But shift from the swim cap to a wool hat. Now, the most I have done in that temperature is a bit over a mile, in about 40 minutes- but I am slow anyway.

    Have a WONDERFUL swim! If you have a chance to be in open water between now and then, try it out, and get your hands and feet ready. My first ice free water time in my lake was a few weeks ago- just stepping down a ladder a few rungs off the end of a dock, and standing there for five minutes, kicking one leg at a time. I did my first real swim last Friday. Even wading seems to have helped.

  • PasqualePasquale Antwerp (Belgium)Member
    edited April 4

    @Bridget Thanks so much for your precious tips.. I think you replied to all my questions and more... I feel now more motivated and less scared. I am looking forward to the race.. Actually I don't think is a very competitive event and I expect to have swimmers at different levels.. I hope I can complete in my estimated time but I will follow your suggestion to start a bit easy and pay attention to the kick to avoid cramps.. I agree to better sacrifice some speed to avoid bad surprises. I will try to get in a lake before the race at least once.. Unfortunately in Belgium (where I live now) it is forbidden to swim in local lakes unless you have a licence (which I have) a swimsuit (even in summer) and at least one partner (difficult to find now). Sometime police pass by and can give big fines for that.. :(. That's one of the reason why I cannot train swimming in cold waters easily).. Good thing is that I live next to the border with Netherlands where such rules do not exist..

    If you ever decide to visit Belgium or Netherlands you are always welcome to PM me.. :smile:

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member

    I’ve self diagnosed with Raynauds and am planning to swim the width of Tahoe in 3 weeks...probably an 7-8 hour swim in 65 degrees. Today my fingertips were numb after 2.5 hours in 63 degrees so this isn’t looking great. Besides limiting caffeine before the swim is there anything else I can do to increase my odds of completion? Thanks!

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    @j9swim said:
    I’ve self diagnosed with Raynauds and am planning to swim the width of Tahoe in 3 weeks...probably an 7-8 hour swim in 65 degrees. Today my fingertips were numb after 2.5 hours in 63 degrees so this isn’t looking great. Besides limiting caffeine before the swim is there anything else I can do to increase my odds of completion? Thanks!

    I find my 6 hour qualifiers in 58-60c tough @j9swim. (I just can't manage that long in anything colder and never have. ) I keep loads of layers on until the last minute, even if I'm really warm, have a hot drink before I start and alternate my hot feeds on the hour with hot tea or hot fruit cordial on the half hour. The other thing I do is constantly flex my fingers in stroke recovery. It helps a lot.

  • EllisEllis Baltimore, MarylandMember

    @evmo said:
    GarbageBarge wrote:

    I'll be in fresh water. 50° fresh is different than 50° salt?

    Fresh has the reputation of "feeling" about 3°F colder than salt. The mechanism for this is, as far as I know, unknown (but I haven't really looked).

    My intuition is that while fresh may "feel" colder than salt, the effect on core temp is equivalent.

    While I'm late to this thread, I'll comment anyway. Heat transfer is a function of temperature difference and specific heat. Since the specific heat of salt water is less than fresh water, heat transfer from your warm body to cold water is higher in fresh water. Another factor may be the difference in density causes you to float lower in fresh water, subjecting slightly more surface area to the cold fresh water. Therefore, fresh water feels colder because the heat transfer rate is greater in fresh water so it is, essentially, "colder".

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