Friday, February 19, 2016

Swimming farther

Last week's experiment in body temperature helped me see that I can increase my time in the water. And if I do regular temperature checks, I'll be able to push my limits and see where the threshold for too long is.  I'm sure the time to temp drop is not a linear scale, as the act of swimming generates body heat.  The harder I swim the more heat I generate.  So bigger waves or stronger current might actually help keep me warmer.

This did let me swim further this time.  I matched my "furthest" swim at Alki!  Last time I did that distance I was wearing a wetsuit. So this became my furthest swim in skin!  How far? To the third set of stairs!! How far is that? Well, a half mile.  I hope to keep pushing further.

Here's the map:

The red arrow marks the bath house where we start.  The blue arrows point out two sets of stairs, and the green arrow marks the third set, where I turned around this time.  The stairs are .1 mile, .2 mile, and .25 miles from the bath house respectively.  Making this a net .5 mile swim.

The eventual goal is to swim to the light house!

Again, the red arrow marks the bath house. The green arrow is the light house, .6 miles away from the bath house for a 1.2 mile round trip.  Since that is more than double what I'm swimming now, I will need to work up to it, not so much for distance, but for time in the water.  I was easily doing 1.5 miles or 2 miles prior to my injury last July. I don't think it would take me long to build that distance if I weren't so worried about the cold.  So I'll build slowly and see how my cold tolerance builds.

Monday, February 8, 2016

How Cold Is It?

After a few months of swimming from Alki with the Notorious Alki Swimmers, I've become fascinated by the issues around getting cold and warming up again. I've watched other swimmers spend 15-20 min post swim in a teeth-chattering shiver, which can't be good.  My goal has been to avoid ever getting THAT cold.

I've been reading up on hypothermia and cold water, to try to get a sense of where the limits are, how long I can stay in the water and be ok.  One thing I've noticed is that all the writing is about people ACCIDENTALLY ending up in cold water. Not those who intentionally do so!

My initial reading on hypothermia took me to the Mayo Clinic site and their list of symptoms.  What became clear, as I was reading, was that it can be hard for the person with hypothermia to recognize it, because one of the symptoms is fuzzy headedness or confusion. This is scary, so I can get this thing, and not even know I have it!

All this made me slightly anxious that I was taking a foolish risk with my swimming.  At the same time, I'm one of about 20 people who do it weekly, and many of the others stay in the water a LOT longer than I do.

So where is the line?  How will I know if I'm getting too cold?  Can I know when I'm IN the water, or will I only know with hindsight? Most websites on the topic says that hypothermia sets in when the body temperature is 95* (F) or lower. (There is mild, moderate and severe hypothermia, but I'll talk about those some other time.

My research took me to the LoneSwimmer blog, where the author has asked these questions and attempted to answer them with science.   The chart below is from that blog and provided me some comfort.

Alki is usually around 10* C. So this gives me a safe zone of just under an hour in the water, and a marginal zone of three hours.  That would expand my swim range significantly, from the current 20-25 min.

The author of LoneSwimmer also pointed me to research that shows that there is no long-term negative effect of MILD hypothermia (the author has an in depth discussion of this topic as well). This may give me permission to push a bit further.

But the question remains, am I getting hypothermia on my current swims?

So I took a thermometer with me to Alki last week.  Here's what I learned:

Before the swim (at home) temp 97.3 (yes, this is normal for me, I'm always a bit low)
Before the swim (at the beach) temp 96.8. 
After the swim (at the beach) temp 95.3.
After the swim (at home, about 45 min later) temp 97.3.

What does this all mean?  

First, I lost about a degree and a half in the water for 20 min or so (I swam to the second set of stairs, and there was little to no current). With a low "normal" body temperature, I'm not sure hypothermia, for me, will be at the precise 95 degrees. I'm guessing that it has more to do with lowering the body temp 3.6 degrees (from 98.6 to 95) then a set 95. But this is just a guess, I'd love to find research that supports it. If I could lose up to 3.5 (for rounding sake) degrees and still be ok, then a body temp as low as 93.8 would put me into the hypothermic zone. 

Second, I'm losing a half a degree just between home and the beach.  We often spend a bit of time hanging out waiting for people to gather and working up the nerve to get cold.  My body is cooling in that time. I may want to work even harder to stay warm in that phase.

Lastly, I rewarmed by the time I finished the drive home.  With no adverse effect.

For this to go from anecdote to data, I'll need to add some data points. Will continue doing the temp checks, before and after swimming for a few weeks. Stay tuned for updates.