Swam! Lake Michigan? October! Why?

Freedom !


In recent years I have managed to swim in Lake Michigan through end of Oct without a wetsuit (though in 1 situation I.e. day after the 2016 election I got in Lake Michigan in Nov for some shock therapy) . Anyway, I know how the work questions will go on Monday.

Did you swim this weekend?

The pool?

Lake Michigan?


So let me first start with I don’t consider myself a cold water swimmer compared to many swimmers I know who take part in ice mile swims and winter swimming championships (I know some special people)

However let me attempt to describe what I get from it, for what many non open water swim people describe as cold water.

Firstly freedom, the sport I enjoy and the state I live in generally forces me indoors 6 months a year. While I love my pool swimming, the hours and hours I spend looking at the lines in the square box do become repetitive. Being outdoors with the sky above me, waves around me and very few if not no people around me, for me this is liberating from the lives we all live.

Then there are the endorphins, swimming in marginally chilly water releases endorphins to the body for various reasons but this comes through the various behaviors the body goes through in dealing with the chill.

So let me describe today, the air temp was high 40s Fahrenheit or 8-9c. The water was 59f or 15c, to put in perspective pools are usual between 78-84f or 25-28c depending on what they are being used for.

Today being probably my first open water below 60f swim since June, I expected certain bodily reactions. Firstly from experience I generally try to acclimatize my feet and hands, I have the most difficulty with these parts for some reason, (some swimmers I know have more issues with core which generally I am fine with) they tingle and give a slight ache when I first get in. I hunch in the water with my feet and hands in, after a minute or two i begin the inch in. There is the initial shock for the crotch, then the waist then the chest but not in the same way as my hands and feet.

At this point I do some breast strokes and eventually discuss with the person with me where we are swimming to first. As I put my face in I get the ice cream brain I.e. just a little shooting pain to the brain. I keep my head in the water and it passes.

We make it to the first agreed spot and we chat, I am aware that my mouth does not feel quite right, my brain and mouth are not communicating at quite the right speed, not in a way I consider worrying or dangerous at this point but in a way I know will pass with a little more warm up. I do note during this chat my swim companion today moves a little closer, I don’t know if this was concern or she just couldn’t hear me over wind and water but I should ask.

During this stop something familiar happens, I get a fizzy, effervescent feeling around my core, this is usually a good sign for me, I associate it with my body acclimatizing and warming and usually after, I begin to feel better in the water. We agree to swim to the next set of rocks and as expected I do feel better. In total this has taken about the first 15 mins in the water.

By the time we hit the rocks, I feel fine. However this is our agreed turn around point, we chat again and start swimming back. This time our faces into the sun. It feels nice., though every now and again there is a brutal breeze that blows across, pocking the water top, we keep swimming. In total we have swam about 35 mins.

We make it back to the entry and exit point. This is the next challenge, the air is high 40s the water high 50s, we need to avoid any shock here. So we make a fast walk for our towels and in my case hoodie, hat and shorts, though I keep my swim hat on for now. The feeling of the towel rubbing against my cold skin is not great, a little grating to be honest. I rub fast though and throw on my hoodie. My core and feet feel fine but my hands will need a little time. I blow on them, take out my phone for some photos and we keep chatting but not for too long and we both head to our cars.

Once in my car I turn up the heat and turn on the heated seats. The feeling in my skin is best described as a numbness where my body is not absorbing the heat. However I do not get any shakes (this has happened before on swims of 50f and below), so I sit for a couple of mins until i feel comfortable and then drive to the gym.

At the gym, I get in the sauna for 10 mins, at no point do I feel what I would describe as warm but I do feel good.

I then take a shower and drive home.

I feel refreshed and invigorated from this swim. I feel more awake and I feel better for having done this today.

The next swim will feel better from the beginning, it’s all in the acclimatizing. I realize some of the above may worry people but I am pretty good at knowing what my body can absorb and enjoy but I did want to explain what occurs for me both at the beginning of open water swim season and towards the end when the water starts to drop but the key here for me is I feel better, physically and mentally by doing this swim.


The somewhat adequate swimmer

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