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Monday, March 11, 2013

Anticipating And Dealing With The Cold

In the Mediterranean climate of Southern California where hundreds of outdoor pools dot the landscape, there are tens of thousands of swimmers who train daily under professional well-paid coaches.

Under the nearly constant California sunshine, athletes enjoy beautiful aquatic facilities and miles and miles of white sandy beaches. Well-appointed locker room facilities with plush carpeting, health food markets, physical therapy clinics, sports medicine physicians, and weekly competitions are numerous among a population of over 12 million.

Framed by San Diego in the south to Santa Barbara in the north, and Pasadena in the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, not only are the swimming pools in nearly every Southern California community open from early morning to late at night, but the water that comes from the showers along the public beaches is warm. Lifeguards roam the beaches year-round and the many piers are crowded by multitudes on weekends.

The region has produced many Olympians, world champions and open water swimming stalwarts from Lynne Cox to Penny Dean, Forrest Nelson to John York. The land of aquatic abundance is quite dissimilar to the basics that the members of the Serpentine Swimming Club have.

While the Californians exercise with expensive weight-training equipment, the men of the Serps do push-ups and sit-ups on the hard pavement of Hyde Park. While the Californians deal with afterdrop in saunas after workouts, the Serps cold showers in a post-swim rinse from an outdoor spigot outside a spartan dressing room.

While shivering is the post-swim norm in California when the water drops down to 12-14ºC, the Serps do not even shiver after swimming in 34ºF (1ºC) water for up to 15 minutes. Their skin barely turns pink, although their epidermis is as cold as ice.

It as if the Californians and Serps are two different species of aquatic mammals. How did this split in the human DNA occur? Why does the physiological response to cold water differ so greatly between the American Left Coasters and the hardened Londoners? When the water temperature is 34ºF (1ºC), Toes In The Water is exactly what the Californians do while the Serps simply get on with it and do not even hesitate or hyperventilate as they walk into water that borders on turning solid.

The Californians talk of diets and nutrition, while the Serps are generally lean physical specimens whose physiques are the envy of society. The physiological ability for the Serps to not get hypothermic and not shiver after 1ºC workouts is naturally related to a gradual acclimatization to the cold, but our observation is that this stoic calmness in freezing water exhibited by the Serps must be related to their mindset of just get on with it. "Just get on with it" is a slogan and phrase that seemed to ooze from the very walls of the Serps locker room. Like sugar and milk, "just get on with it" seems to be an integral part of the tea enjoyed by the Serps.

"Just get on with it" sets high expectations that everyone is expected to take part. No questions asked, or excuses granted.

"Just get on with it" establishes a mindset that the elements simply do not present an obstacle to swimming. The phrase feels like the layman's hint of anticipatory thermogenesis. This scientific term was first described by Professor Tim Noakes of the University of Cape Town when he recorded Lewis Pugh's ability to raise his core body temperature by nearly 2°C in anticipation of entering the freezing water during his swims in Antarctica. Anticipatory thermogenesis or the creation of heat before an event is a phenomenon that had been frequently noted by several recent ice swimmers.

"Just get on with it" creates an ambiance that every member is part of a community with a commonly shared camaraderie.

With those high expectations and that stoic mindset buoyed by a friendly ambiance of heart-to-heart camaraderie, the cold-water toughness of the Serps is the result.

But the mindset of the Serps is augmented by the gradual cold water immersion they do from summer to fall to mid-winter. As Dr. Sakura Hingley explains, "They shiver less as they 'lose' their shivering response."

As International Ice Swimming Association founder Ram Barkai concurs, "The issue of raising body temp pre-swim has been found in most of our regular swimmers. I had my core body temp rising by 1ºC before [my] two Norway ice swims. It was measured using a capsule and a tracker. [But] we have swimmers that shiver more than others. We have noticed that experience helps a lot in controlling our shivers. We try and teach everyone to control their shivers, else it becomes an uncountable one and wastes a lot of energy. In our experience, if you keep focused after a very cold swim, try and breathe deep and remain calm, you can build up some control of shivering. I hardly ever shiver anymore regardless of cold, icy or other swims."

Similar to the Russians who recover from ice swims by rubbing snow on the skin, John Tierney takes an icy shower after getting out of the 1ºC water in the Serpentine (shown above in Hyde Park). This experience is what Barkai is currently exploring. "I am even more interested in the recovery phase than the ability to swim in ice water. The Russian experience [at the Russian Winter Swimming Championships in Tyumen, Siberia] taught us a lot. Wet recovery rather than dry recovery is important."

Swimming in freezing water is both a mind and body game and, from our observations, the Serps and the South Africans have perfected it.

But as Nick Adams, a recent inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, explains, "There are hubs like this in various places in the world, where normal people regularly do what outsiders believe is superhuman and unique. Hundreds of swimmers from the Serpentine Swimming Club have been swimming large distances and times in near frozen water since the club was formed almost 150 years ago. We don’t think of it as a unique skill. I believe there are millions of people that could do these swims.

What the SSC is, is a collection of people swimming in very cold water because they enjoy it and want to do it. There’s no PR. There’s no publicising what they’re up to. There’s no ego. There’s no competition. There’s no prizes and recognition given or sought. They do it for the love of it. This is the sport of ice swimming in its most natural and pure form

Editor's Note: There are undoubtedly some Left Coasters who are as acclimated to the cold as the Serps are.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.


The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

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