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Surviving the Cold Water Swim
Brakken Kraker  |  09/24/2017

One of the easiest ways to move up through the field in Tahoe will be to avoid crumbling and falling apart after the lake swim. The swim has been present each of the past two years, and it has been located in the same spot both times. Water is cold in the mountains. It is even colder at 11,000’. We’re going to talk about everything you need to know in order to power through the cold water swim.

Exposure Therapy

Get accustomed to being submerged in really cold water. Your body will react with shock the first few times you enter frigid waters. Get this reaction out of the way in training and you will benefit come race day. I recommend at least 2-3 cold water sessions leading up to race day. And don’t think that you have to spend a ton of time in the water. 5-15 minutes is plenty to build up your tolerance. If you don’t have a lake or pond, fill your tub with cold water and sprinkle in some ice. Hop in, splash around, go run.   

Find the Right Gear

Having the correct gear to survive the cold swim is paramount. If you are someone who can get out of the water, drop the hammer, and use hard work to warm yourself up, then you probably don’t need this article. For the rest of us, we need to tip the odds in our favor. Start with what you are wearing on your body. You don’t want to be cold throughout the race, but you also don’t want to wear anything that will retain a lot of water once you exit the swim. Those thermal sleeves and long tights suddenly aren’t so warm when they are waterlogged, clinging to you, and the winds are whipping your body heat away.

Once you figure out what clothes you’ll wear, decide if you will need some head protection for the swim. Many people experience nausea, headaches, dizziness, or even vertigo due to cold water submersion. This can be solved by one of two items: earplugs and cold weather swim caps. The ear plugs alone can eliminate most issues for many people. Others will prefer a neoprene swim cap. The cap allows you to put your head in the water without feeling like your head is turning into an ice cube. Neither object is large or heavy. They can be easily tucked into your hydration pack, pulled out for the swim, and then tucked back in and forgotten about. The process takes practically no time if you practice it.

Finally, decide if you need some extra warmth when exiting the water. Most people will be able to warm themselves up just fine, other than their hands and head. If you need some extra help in that department, take a pair of fleece mittens or a hat and put it in a ziploc bag. Suck the air out of the bag, and it turns into a tiny little ball. Stuff that in your pack. Again, it takes up practically no space, but can be a huge difference maker. Climbing out of that lake and putting on some warm fleece mittens is downright beautiful. Also, hand warmers are a great thing to stuff in a plastic bag. They do exactly what they’re supposed to do, and warm hands will be the difference between no burpees and lots of burpees. I, for one, choose no burpees.


Your natural instinct is to hold your breath when in cold water. You must breathe! Keeping a steady stream of bubbles going while underwater will ensure you are breathing properly. Your lungs and ribcage want to contract in the cold water. Keep breathing smoothly and they can’t. 

Don’t fear the cold water this year. Use these tips and dominate the swim!


Hallvard Borsheim TUESDAY, SEP 26TH
I hate cold water.....
Taylor McClenny TUESDAY, SEP 26TH
Get ready! :)
Alison Perry TUESDAY, SEP 26TH
I had vertigo in Vermont after the swim during the Beast. It was NO JOKE. I asked someone if it was tequila in there, instead of water. Holy crap. I couldn't figure out what happened to me and why it took me so long to recover. This is so helpful to understand what my body went through!
Ryan Roanhorse WEDNESDAY, SEP 27TH
Thinking about bringing a beanie with me!
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