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January 8th, 2019:

Winter Swimming is for Masochists

I’ve never doubted that I’m a masochist. Between being a gymnast, going to law school, getting 14 piercings, and now being a triathlete, I’ve put a lot of time and money into torturing myself for fun.

Winter swimming is definitely in the category of being an act of masochism.

This is my pool – steam coming off the water at 6am.

I live in the desert. Compared to the rest of the U.S., it usually doesn’t get that cold here in the winter. As a result, my blood has thinned since I lived in the Pacific Northwest. When it gets cold here, I feel extra cold. When I walk my dog on these chilly mornings, I’m bundled in running tights, jeans, socks, long sleeves, a sweatshirt, and a hat. I don’t wear that many layers to the pool, instead opting for sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and a hat over my swim suit, and only flip flops on my feet.

When it’s 45 degrees outside, going to the outdoor pool is chilly experience. When the temperature is in the low 30s, it’s almost painful. It’s basically a reverse polar plunge to strip off my outer layers and jump in the water.

Recently, I went to the pool when it was 36 degrees outside. As I waited for the staff to open the door at 6am, I shot a quick video to send to my coach:

It’s 36 degrees outside.

I’m wearing flip flops.

My lips are blue.

I’m going swimming.

Fuck you, David.

Don’t worry it’s not offensive. My coach has a not-so-secret goal of making his athletes curse his name. I enjoy the challenge of training, so it’s rare that he gets me to curse. I’m sure a giant grin spread across his face when he saw this. (Every masochist needs a sadist.)

Coach David and Athlete, Post Swim at the Atlantic Ocean (July 2018)

The pool itself is heated, but it’s not hot. Typically, when it’s this cold, it takes about a lap before I can fully feel my hands and get used to the temperature. The other day, a fellow masochistic swimmer jumped in the water before me.

“Is it warm?” I asked.

“It’s refreshing,” he responded.

That means “No.” I put on my goggles and jumped in, submerging my whole body. When I resurfaced, I looked him and said, “It’s infuriating.”

By the time I finished my first two laps, the water felt fine, but the experience of getting to that level of comfort shows how much we really want to be there.

Of course, getting out of the pool is the reverse experience – going from the comfortable heated water back onto the freezing cold pool deck, this time soaking wet. I stay outside only long enough to step into my flip flop, throw my towel around myself, and head inside to the family bathroom.

In the summer, when I get out of the water, I pull on my short over my wet bathing suit and sit on my towel to drive home. That is not happening in the winter. I want to get out of that wet swim suit and dry as soon as possible. I usually peel of my swim suit and throw it across the room to the sink before toweling off and pulling on my warm sweats. I wrap my wet suit in my towel and drive home with the heat blowing through the vents.

Why do I go swimming outside in the winter (besides being a masochist)? I’m training for my first Half Ironman, and training doesn’t take a day off because it’s cold. Seeing consistent improvement in my time and technique makes it all worth it.