Cold Water Swims
With Spring trying to emerge these days, it was with "pleasure" that I measured a 55º degree water temp this past Tuesday when I swam in the St. Croix River on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. The "pleasure" aspect was due to having swum through this past Winter at least once a week in the Atlantic at Asbury Park, NJ, where the water temperatures had come "all the way up" to 49º as of last week, just before leaving for my trip to Minnesota. Although many of my swims were only 100-150 yards, I did manage several 1/4-milers and one 1/3-mile distance between Jan 1st and Apr 15th.
The challenge of doing this has been a very interesting and rewarding mental exercise as well as an eye-opening realization of what the human body is capable of doing that is far out of the normal range of experience and comfort levels. Up to two Summers ago, I wouldn't even swim at the Jersey Shore until around the 1st of August each year, when the water temp would get into the 70's.
Caronis - The one item that turned out to be key for me was a "Barracuda" brand insulated swim cap that I found online. Without it, I get excruciating "brain freeze" from the cold water after only a minute or two. With it, I can let the rest of my body (no wet suit) deal with the cold until the hands and feet start going numb. The cap has a velcro chin strap which seals it fairly well around the ears, keeping most of the water out, eliminating the additional need for ear plugs.
As Terry mentions, the exhilaration of dealing with the cold water seems very positive - I feel totally charged up and alert for most of the rest of each day after each swim. I don't know any of the physiology that may be going on, but I personally feel that the body's immune and/or defense mechanisms must be getting stimulated in some positive way.