Had a friend ask for “cold water swimming” advice for the upcoming Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Here are my tips:
- Neoprene swim cap. Makes a huge difference retaining your body heat. You can fit your race cap over top of it on race day. Others bought footies from the race expo that week. I eschewed them because I hadn’t trained in them.
- Swim every AM before the race. Even if you only do 500 yards, it will get you used to the water.
- Practice T1. You’re going to be wet and cold. Figure out how to dress and hop on your bike efficiently. Practice clipping in while your legs are shaking. It’s as hard as it sounds.
- Ignore the conversation. Everyone will be talking about the cold water. Yes, it’s cold. There’s nothing you can do about it. It amazes me how so many Ironman athletes can be so negative. You’re about to travel 140.6 miles in under 17 hours and you’ve been training for 6 months. Suck it up. If you want hot weather, race in Cozumel. Besides, think of the buoyancy advantage of a wetsuit in 55 degree water versus swimming naked in 80 degree weather.
- Focus on your race. Once the cannon blasts, focus on picking a line and avoiding kicks to the face. After the first buoy, you’ll forget all about the water temperature.
- Control your breathing. It will still feel cold even after practicing the days up to the race. Stay calm. Trust your training and preparation.
- Prepare for after the swim. T1 is a chilly event. You’re stripped of your wet suit then running across cold, dewy grass into a shaded tent in 60 degree weather. I started shivering so much that I couldn’t put on my arm warmer and needed a volunteer to help me.
- Plan your T1 strategy. When you get to the tent, run all the way through to the exit and find a place there to sit. Everyone piles into the seats near the entrance which overloads the transition volunteers there. Go to the back and you’ll find lots of space and open volunteers. I used arm warmers for the bike. You can always shed them later.
- Changing in T1. Have a strategy and tell the volunteers exactly what help you want. They are unbelievably awesome and will be very active if you tell them what you need. Ask for a hug if you need it. Seriously.
- Get the hell out of T1. You’ll be cold and shivering. Where are you going to warm up faster – in a shady tent or moving 17 mph on your bike? But see #3 above. You need to practice riding while you’re still shivering. The first 15 miles are mostly shady along the lake. You will be cold. Simply prepare for it.
- Control your heart rate out of T1. There are a couple of small hills along Lake Blvd. Don’t deviate from your race plan and start powering up and down the hills. Coming out of the cold water, your heart will be racing more than usual so focus on bringing down your HR to wherever you planned to ride. I was at 180+bpm out of the water and had to really focus to pull back down to 130-135bpm. This took a good 10 miles to acheive.
- Follow your race plan and hydrate. You’re cold and shivering and you won’t feel like hydrating and eating. Follow your plan. My plan was a bite of Clif bar every 15 minutes, a drink of Perpetuem every fifteen minutes, and a liter of water every hour.