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.