My expectation, based on years; no, decades! of experience was that the water in the Western Hills Athletic Club outdoor pool would be at or near 80 degrees when I arrived for swim practice at 8:15 on Saturday morning. The club consistently chills the water in the Summer or heats it in the Winter in order to try to hit a range of between 78 (on the cool side) and 82 degrees at all times; rain or shine, heat wave or frosty cold front. Someone got lazy last week and decided that Austin's rare cold snap would be short lived and inconsequential. They decided to wait on firing up the heaters for another time...
When I got to the pool there was a sign just inside the main entrance to the facility letting everyone know that the heaters had not been on and that the water temperature had dropped to about 70 degrees. That's cold. At least for thin blooded Texans that's cold.
Quite a few swimmers looked at the sign, grumbled, trudged back to their cars and drove away. A smaller crew stayed and decided to give it a shot. I was expecting entry into the water to be shocking. An instant, whole body awakening. But it really wasn't bad at all. The aversion to the 10 degree drop is more a matter of state of mind than dangerous reality. I stood on the deck in my swim gear for about five minutes before I jumped in and started the warm-up (and, really, it was a warm up). The cold air on my skin caused the water to feel much less cold on first contact, and by the time I finished the first, fast 400 yards I found myself acclimating just fine.
The interesting thing about the cold water is that we all rested less between sets, swam the sets harder and faster to stay warm, and actually put in more yardage than normal. At the end of the workout (10 am) we'd knocked out 4500 yards, or close to three miles of fast, engaged swimming. Our expectation of comfort was replaced with the reality of bracing cold. Our expectation that it would be a routine workout was replaced by a need to get in more yardage to stay warm and to keep our toes from turning blue.
When I left the pool and headed for coffee my arms were already feeling the increased effort. I wasn't quite "sore" so much as feeling muscle tight and muscle fatigue. It was such a psychologically pleasant feeling that I went back again Sunday, knowing the pool was still not heated, to do it all over again.
If you had told me before I got in my car to head to the pool on Saturday morning that the water was 70 degrees I probably would have saved myself the five minute drive and decided to substitute my swims this past weekend for a few leisurely runs. But, in retrospect, I learned I could swim fast and well in water that was different. It's nice to know that we are, in a narrow band, able to be flexible and to still perform.
Beats the hell out of watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating donuts.