Hypothermia is medically defined as the point at which your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit; hypothermia can result in mental disorientation, physical fatigue and even drowning in extreme cases.
Wetsuits are a great solution to prevent hypothermia and can result in a much more pleasant and long-lasting swim. It's best to practice wearing a wetsuit during your open water training sessions.
The most important thing to remember when starting a race in cold water is to stay calm and prepare yourself for the shock of the water temperature. We recommend a warm-up swim on the day of the event. Get in the cold water before the start, you can stand still and slowly control your breathing and relax your arms, shoulders and back muscles. When you stop feeling shocked, do a few strokes with your face in the water and exit.
When you return to the water for your swim, you will know what to expect and your body will have already dropped in temperature slightly as a result of your recent dip. You will be better prepared to avoid hypothermia.
Most hypothermia occurs in waters cooler than 60 degrees. Contrary to popular belief, increased strenuous activity (like sprinting) does not warm up your body temperature and help deter the onset of hypothermia. The best way to condition your body to cold water is to train in it.
Here are a few ways you can tell if you, or your swimmer, is suffering from hypothermia:
Mild hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering and numbness, loss of simple coordination, muscle pain.
Moderate hypothermia: confusion and strange inebriated-like behavior, slurred speech, muscles stiffen.
Severe hypothermia: blue-gray skin, slow or halted breathing, loss of consciousness.
During an ocean or open water swim, if you begin to feel the effects of mild hypothermia, one trick is to count to 10 and then back to one, over and over again. If you lose your train of thought or lose count, it is time to exit the water and get help. This is a sign you are slowly losing your mental capacity, which can lead to an emergency.
If you choose to do an open water swim for our virtual event, we recommend you have a kayaker or spotter join you. If you are feeling onset of hypothermia, let your spotter or kayaker know.
Once you exit the water, immediately dry off and swaddle yourself in towels, sweats and a hat if possible. A severely hypothermic swimmer may need medical attention, but should be dried and warmed up as quickly as possible, concentrating on the extremities. Make sure the victim stays conscious and communicative, at least until medical attention arrives.
Remember, as frightening as hypothermia sounds, the most important thing to do is to pay attention to how your body feels in the water and be prepared in case you need to act. If you begin to feel cold, take time to make a rational decision as to what your next move should be. In many instances, slight hypothermia has been known to pass during a race and disappear without further hindering an athlete’s performance.
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