Beyond Limits in Open – and Cold – Water
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 13th, 2009

This article was contributed by TOMAS VOJTECHOVSKY, the TI representative in the Czech Republic. About himself, Tomas says:

“I began practicing TI 13 years ago when I decided to try a triathlon. I’d been a very poor swimmer, but when I found TI, swimming become my passion. Since then I’ve swum nearly every day. Five years ago I started teaching swimming. I love seeing people progress dramatically after a couple of hours of TI practice.”

I love swimming. I really do. I love even more that it just keeps getting better. The more I practice TI, the more I want to swim. But I always preferred pools to open water. Though I did some open water swimming to prepare for triathlons, I favored the unchanging environment of the pool with walls, lines and waves that came only from (non-TI) swimmers.

The Outside The Box DVD changed all that. Each time I watched it I felt an urge to escape the pool . . . so I did. This past summer I swam as often as possible in open water. Each time I emerged I felt more refreshed than I ever had after a pool swim. Freedom, fresh air, blue sky and natural greenery seem the perfect complement to TI practice.

In early September I went to Croatia for a 2-week holiday, where I experienced something even better than the 600-meter reservoir where I’d been swimming in Chomutov, the Czech Republic. The beauty was compelling – clear sea, warm water, sometimes waves, sometimes calm water. I swam several times a day and watched the underwater life – something not visible in the reservoir. My two weeks passed far too quickly and I was sorry that my open water season seemed to have ended. Back home in Chomutov, though the days were still warm, the nights were turning cold and, with them, the reservoir.

Tomas in synch with Jana Smejkalova

Tomas in synch with Jana Smejkalova

But Terry’s chapter on acclimating to colder water in the OTB E-book inspired me to test my own capacity for adaptation. On the first day of fall, after running around the reservoir, I tested the water and it seemed quite warm. So I decided to try swimming the following day, even if for just five minutes.

For the first 30 strokes I felt as if thousands of small needles were piercing my skin. But within a minute, though I could still feel the water’s icy touch outside, inside I felt a surprising warmth. It was an amazing sensation, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I continued for 20 minutes, keeping my strokes relaxed and unhurried, while focusing on my outbreath as Terry recommended. Afterward I changed into running clothes and ran for 15 minutes which may have kept me from shivering afterwards. In Terry’s phrase, I felt “irrationally exuberant” and couldn’t wait to do it again.

Since then I’ve returned to the reservoir three times a week and enjoyed each swim. In early October, the weather turned cold and the water temperature dropped to 13C (55F). On Oct 5, I could stay in only five minutes. I felt as my lower rib cage was tightly bound and I found it  difficult to draw a  full breath. A day later, I managed 10 minutes but still felt my breathing restricted. However, on Oct 8 I enjoyed nearly 20 minutes of relaxed, uninterrupted and refreshing strokes with no tightness. What bliss.

I would have never even dreamed about swimming in water colder than 20C (68F) if I had not read the OTB E-book. But having done so I’m grateful for the inspiration and the sense of self-discovery — even adventure — it has brought.

One insight I’ve gained about cold water swimming is the importance of a proper warm up. Terry writes about trail biking to his mountain lake. Before my morning swim, I practice power yoga (guided by Beryl Bender Birch’s book – another tip from Terry) then run 2 km to the reservoir. After swimming, I run back home. The day I lasted only five minutes, I had driven to the reservoir. Lesson learned — from now on I work up a sweat before I take the plunge.

Happy Laps,


Tomas emerging from the sea in Croatia

Tomas emerging from the sea in Croatia

Want to escape the pool for the freedom of open water. Join us at a TI Open Water Experience this winter. Next session: Nov 15-21 in St. Lucia in the Caribbean.

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