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Friday, May 10, 2013

Is North-to-South Easier Than South-to-North?

With an increasingly migrantory open water swimming community, multitudes of open water swimmers are following in the giant footsteps of Ireland's Ned Denison.

Denison's journey from an ice swimmer to a desert swimmer is a story that was chronicled by Owen O'Keefe here.

From Canadians traveling to the Caribbean and Americans traveling to Asia, open water swimmers are traveling from the colder reaches of the Earth to the warmer realms around the globe.

Well-heeled in their ability to withstand frigid waters, cold-water swimmers like Denison and Liz Fry are physically and mentally able to handle all kinds of conditions; the colder and the rougher, the better and easier their skills become apparent. But even more challenging than swimming in water nearing its freezing point is swimming in water than is closer to their own core body temperatures.

In other words, while these swimmers from the north consider water under 10ºC (50ºF) to be reasonably enjoyable, they consider water over 25ºC (77ºF) to be downright blistering hot. But they make it through swims come hell or high water. They clearly have the right stuff. They just don't get out. They work on the 1-2-3 strategy: 1. Get in, 2. Swim across, and 3. Walk out.

But the reverse seems so much more difficult to achieve. That is, when swimmers from the warmer, southern realms around the globe travel to the colder, northern reaches of the Earth, they face an occasional insurmountable obstacle: cold water.

"The water was blistering hot," is not their issue. Their issue is completely opposite: "The water is freezing cold," is their response to cold water.

But why is it that cold-water swimmers can withstand warm water, but the reverse is largely not the case? When swimmers go from cold to warm, this transition only seems to elicit some mild complaints of overheating and a bit greater need for hydration. However, when swimmers go from warm to cold, this transition seems to create real potential for high-risk hypothermia.

On land, this phenomena seems to be in reverse. That is, runners of all ages and backgrounds generally seem to be able to run easier in colder weather than they are able to run well in extreme heat.

This leads us to ask several questions:

1. Do swimmers who train in relatively colder conditions train themselves better to adapt to extreme temperatures, both cold and warm, than swimmers who train in relatively warmer conditions?
2. Are swimmers who train in relatively colder conditions inherently mentally tougher than those who train in relatively warmer conditions? Or do they actually develop a mental toughness and physical abilities over time? 3. Why is it easier to swim in warm-water conditions than cold-water conditions for most people, but the reverse is true on land with runners?
4. If you had to swim in both cold-water and warm-colder conditions in races over the course of a year, at what temperatures would you ideally train?
5. Why is it that cold-water acclimatization takes so much longer than warm-water acclimatization?

Suggested answers from knowledgeable individuals are greatly appreciated. Please email Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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