Cold Water Swimming Part I (Day 17)

Lately, I’ve been swimming “skins” (bathing suit rather than a wetsuit). My wetsuit is a thin (2mm) shorty (shorts/no sleeves) so the difference between my skins and my suit isn’t too dramatic, though it’s still noticeable. I did buy a warm, full-body wetsuit for this year of swimming, but it’s still in the box unopened, waiting for me to decide whether or not to return it. 

The thing is, I like the cold. The initial feeling of being in the cold water is wild; a whole-body emergency. This first stage of cold water immersion is called cold shock. The lungs contract and the heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket. When I first started swimming in the bay last winter, this cold shock stage felt like fear. I’d have to make a concerted effort to breathe deeply, remind myself that I was okay. According to some research on cold water swimming in the UK, it takes six immersions to halve your cold water response. I’m well past that now, which must be why I no longer feel the panicky breathlessness of cold shock. All thought still flies from my head and I am nothing but the sensation of cold, but it isn’t stressful. It just is. 

After a couple of minutes in the water, the shock of cold gives way to vivid well-being. My skin tingles, my senses are attuned, a warmth infuses my core. It’s for this feeling that I prefer to swim skins. For the next 20-25 minutes, I cruise through the water in a state of near-euphoria. Whatever is wrong in my world doesn’t penetrate in this half-hour.

Today, I enjoyed these blissful minutes gliding through cold water with Arwen and Angie at the Albany Bulb. It started raining lightly and a rainbow appeared above us. I tried to capture it with my GoPro, but it was too faint for the picture. Not for our enjoyment, though; I swam under the rainbow and thought about nothing. 

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