Keeping out the cold

Sounds like a few of us on the Helvellyn thread have some nerves about cold water swimming. Given we’ve left it too late to actually any do any OW swimming, anyone any useful tips for avoiding a DNF?

My thoughts:

  • cold showers between now and then
  • getting in on Sunday morning pre-race
  • thermal hat, gloves, boots if you have/need them
  • Trying to keep as warm as possible pre-swim, but at same time ensuring no sudden cold water shock reflex at start of race if its a sudden entry start
  • keep in mind core temp will continue to drop for around 30 minutes after exiting the swim, so air on side of caution if in 2 minds on bike kit
  • take the bit of extra time in T1 to dry self bit more thoroughly.
  • think warm thoughts.
  • obligatory pre-race wetsuit pee
  • swim faster, get out quicker. Simples.

Any of these wrong/not much benefit, and any other useful techniques that are free and useful in final week/race day?


I always think a swim warm up is the best but a lot of races don’t allow it. Failing that, get your wetsuit wet if you can, that way you don’t get that constricted feeling on top of cold water shock.


Thanks, should have stressed I thought that was the most important one (after a few sessions of acclimatisation where possible.)
Also not too late for those who can get to an open water venue to see benefit, even from just 1 or 2 exposures.

I honestly think you’ll be fine after getting in the lake for 10 or so minutes pre race.

They did say in the email that we could do that. Wouldn’t want to be hanging around for too long for your race start once wet though.

I swam at one of the Edinburgh beaches the other day for half an hour and honestly after the initial shock of the cold I was fine after a few minutes


The worst thing you can do is jump in with seconds to go and only put your head in as the gun goes. Try and get some cold water into the wetsuit before (even outing some in via a drinks bottle).

Other tips, couple of cold baths prior (also good for the legs), don’t piss in your suit (it’s grim) and don’t over think it!

1 Like

Piss in your wetsuit. Job jobbed.


I would focus on a good dry land warm up for at least 10-20 mins whilst your muscles warm up then enter the water for your swim warm up. I am a swimmer who suffers from the cold and has had the panic attacks in the past. Mainly due to getting in the biff and getting pummelled by breast stroking feet but a good warm up reduces the initial shock for me


I’ve managed 30 or so OW swims this year & have found it very cold a handful of times.

The first thing I get is the classic ice cream head which although worrying & painful will always go. Taking the opportunity to having a pre-swim swim will probably mean you dont get this during the race.

My next problem is trying to swim too fast/not breathe enough, I’ve found it important to ease into my swim.

In all my colder swims my times have slowed. Although I’m not too happy about this I’ve accepted that my cold arms/hands just aren’t going to function as they normally would.

In T1 I’ll have toe-warmers on my shoes, arm-warmers on my clip-ons & possibly a light gilet & buff which I could pull off on the go.


I’d suggest changing into the wetsuit indoors if possible so you don’t have to do it outside and basically have to get naked in the early morning cold and wind etc. Also buy a cheap pair of flip flops that you can kick off literally just before you get in the water so bare feet aren’t standing on cold wet early morning ground. And three thick swim hats! Might be no harm also swimming with only tri shorts under the wetsuit and spending 30 seconds in transition towelling off, then putting on a tri top and tri shoes so at least your core (and feet) are dry (ie go from transition area to bike while wearing bike shoes rather than having the tri shoes mounted on the bike)

1 Like

Nothing like the feeling when you’re suited up and have the pre-race/pre-swim pee! I got suited up in the highlands recently to swim in a loch. Had my pre-swim pee. Waded in up to my shins. It was so painfully cold I nearly threw up (I am bad in any sort of cold). Bailed out on swimming. Wished I hadn’t had the pre-swim pee!


remember that gloves and boots are not allowed in the swim unless it’s allowed as a rule exception (organiser needs to apply for this at least 30 days in advance) or it’s allowed on the day by the TO in conjunction with the organiser/swim safety if the water is either very cold or there are underfoot hazards (for boots). medical exceptions are allowed but again need approval in advance and with a doctor’s certificate.

that’s the bad news - the good news is that neoprene hats are OK under the rules. if you don’t have one/cant’t get one wear 2 or 3 latex caps (race hat must go on outside) - that might help.

if in doubt check in advance with the organiser what is allowed, and if still unsure, check on the day.


On the subject of pre-race pees in the wet suit …

I did Grafman, last year I think, and the start was very foggy. Anyway due to the fog the swim start was postponed and then postponed again. Whilst waiting, that pre-race sports drink was filling up my bladder quite rapidly and I was getting desperate. The loos were not near and I didn’t fancy getting out of the suit; so I let it all out, confident in the knowledge that a swim would sort everything out.

Literally 2 minutes later they announced that due to the fog the swim was cancelled, we should immediately get out of our wet suits and prepare for a wave bike start. My tri suit was soaked and the smell was something else. I then had to wait 20 mins in the wind for the bike start. My wife found my shivering and general discomfort hilarious.

I’m still an advocate of the pre-swim wee though, and yes wearing three caps is a good idea :slightly_smiling_face:


On the subject of pre-race poos in the wet suit…

well, that’s another story best served over a few beers!

and no - it wasn’t me, but a good friend of mine



I don’t think any had mentioned the subject of poos in the wetsuit, but thanks for that :roll_eyes:


1 Like

Friend of mine did a :poop: in his wetsuit during the swim of a double IM


You’ve looked into my soul and found my worst nightmare.

Ideally you want to get in the water before the start, get the cold water inside your suit then get out and allow your skin/suit to do the job of warming that thin layer of water up

I hope, for his sake, it was fairly high on the Bristol Stool scale.

1 Like

:joy: :joy:

1 Like