It’s 10 Degrees Outside, and He’s Still Swimming!

“I’m toasty warm in my wetsuit, but I freeze when I run.”  This is what my coached athlete George Desmond, of John Desmond Builders, told me back in October when he was still swimming in the Long Island Sound. At that time, the water temperature was dropping down through the low 60s.  It’s now February, and he has swum through the winter blizzards and with air temps below zero.  We thought you’d enjoy hearing about this intrepid swimmer.

Wearing a full bodysuit that has a neck and hood, along with gloves and booties and a face mask, the only part of his body exposed to the water and air is his mouth and lower face.  He says it is beautiful, it is peaceful, and he can go right off his dock.  How glorious it sounds indeed, but in 40 degree water and 10 degree air temps? George said that he’s often cold running outdoors as he layers, but then gets hot.  It is hard to know how to dress when the winds in January and February can be 25 mph and it’s always coming at you, against you, or pushing you and it’s hard to hide from the wind along the coast.  Therefore, he’s focused on maintaining his swim where he’s warm.

How does he keep warm? Wetsuits fill with water, and then our body heat keeps that water warm as we swim.  However, unlike usual when we go to the open water and let it seep into our wetsuits to fill up and get that short but quick chill of the fill of the suit, George came up with a great plan.  “I usually take about a 10’ shower beforehand and fill up my wetsuit, gloves and boots with warm water.  That way, I’m ready to go and already warm when I get in the water.” Of the full-body wetsuit that only leaves his mouth and lower face exposed, he says “It hurts for about 10 minutes, and then my face gets used to it”. 

Fans of the Wimhof Method have been using some of his strategies for cold water immersion to take the 20 day cold shower challenge, and others have used the pandemic to start cold water swimming and slowly build up their tolerance as the seasons have changed. In the article “Swimming in Very Cold Water Keeps Me Sane”, from the Jan. 1, 2021 edition of the New York Times,  writer and cold-water-no-wetsuit swimmer Sarah Miller says, “For the first minute in very cold water, your brain just goes on a vacation. (Cue several million people Googling “cold water near me.”) You are nothing except a body experiencing itself. I laugh at this stage, I laugh like my guts are going to fall out of my body, then scream. It’s so cold, and yes, that is hard. But it doesn’t last that long, and you can feel the unpleasantness of the cold melding with the pleasantness of it until it is all pleasantness, until all you feel is bliss.”

So maybe George, Wim and Sarah are on to something.  Peace, serenity, and a clear mind are all stated benefits and those seem like worthwhile pursuits. However, for this midwest coach who is used to 85+ degree (F) water, I think I’d better stick with a cold blast for a few seconds at the end of a long, hot shower, post 84 degree (F) pool swim this winter.