This weekend in Boise I chalked up the first, and hopefully last, DNF of my triathlon career.    I also may have set some sort of record for the earliest drop out in a race, since the problem came about 10 strokes into the swim. . .apparently, this is about as far as I’m comfortable swimming at race pace without oxygen, which was the scenario I found myself in on Sunday in the snow-melt filled Lucky Peak reservoir.     

All week we had been hearing reports of how cold the water would be.  I’d heard everything from 47 degrees, and speculation that race organizers would change it to a duathlon, to an “almost 60” at the pre-race meeting.  The real water temp was probably somewhere in between. I knew it would be chilly, but was more worried about being cold on the bike than any impact it might have on the swim. 

Yet, within a few seconds of the start cannon, I was stopped dead in the water, head up, gasping for air that wouldn’t come–it was as though I had an elephant on my chest and bronchioles superglued shut.  My lungs simply would not expand.  Trying again, I put my head down and attempted to swim.  Three strokes later, same thing.  After what seemed like an eternity of hyperventilating, while treading water in place, and surrounded by an army of concerned sea kayakers, I got things under control and set out after the pack.   “Even with a bad swim, I can make something out of this,” I reasoned.  No dice.  Every two minutes or so, I’d experience a repeat occurence, prompting the kayaker (who at this point had become my personal escort as I limped around the course) to ask if I wanted a ride into shore.   

The only thing keeping me in the frigid water was the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t be allowed to get my bike if I accepted a ride.  Besides, my appendages were all frozen by this point, anyway.  I finished the swim, but handed in my chip.  Although I’m used to racing from behind, Lance Armstrong would have had a hard time making up this defecit.  With an Ironman on the horizon, I knew the best thing I could do at this point was to make a good training day of it, which I accomplished with a hard bike ride, followed by my own 2.5 hour run back out along the bike course to cheer on the other competitors. 

Although I didn’t necessarily need to travel all the way to Boise for this sort of training day, I appreciated the opportunity to get to know so many friendly Boisians and other athletes–including my awesome homestay family–the Markleys, as well as Jody, Tom, and Bart, Dan, Poppa Regensburg, Joe, and many others.  Congrats to all of you who DID manage to brave the cold water! 

After a little research, here are a few tips on cold water swimming:

1.  Do whatever you can to warm up your core temp before getting in the water.  A pre-race jog and/or warm clothes.

2.  Neoprene caps.  These are more thermal than double capping, but that also helps (a little).

3.  Ear plugs and vaseline on the back of hands and other exposed surfaces (feet & face)

3.  Get in gradually, if possible.  The cold water shock symptoms (hyperventilation, increased blood pressure) improves after 3-5 minutes, so use the warm up.

4.  Relax.  Anticipate some shortness of breath at first, If it continues to happen during a race, try some backstroke. 

5.  Acclimation does occur, so swim in water of similar temperatures when possible.

If your bored, a little more info on cold water shock. . .It’s from a kayaking magazine, but still interesting.


9 Responses to “Boise”

  1. Mike Says:

    In Chicago, we have lake Michigan which is at it’s warmest in the low 70s….so we feel your pain. Best of luck, I am a huge fan.

  2. Bree Says:

    I am so sorry… BUT no biggie… IM France is so soon. I have to confess, I LOVE your attitude, I didn’t even get to start my race thanks so some dorky virus I caught from some airplane between here and some island! Thanks for being positive, you got me positive…

    BEST to you as you head into your miles and taper for France!

  3. E Swanson Says:

    Hey Kat,
    I totally freaked out too. It was super cold and choppy! Sorry that you had a rough day, but I am sure you are well on your way to an awesome race in France! Oops, forgot to call you on Sunday night. I was pretty beat and Kristin wanted to eat. How was the party? Hope you had fun! See you in a month!

  4. AC Says:


    I’m bummed your day in Boise didn’t go as planned. Still, thanks for taking some time to meet and pal around with the local folk. You’re good people and we are now big fans! I know you will hammer at IM France. Good luck and fast racing!

    L8R SK8R

  5. B. Hendricks Says:

    Unfortunate about your race here in Boise. I can certainly dig your competitive attitude to want to finish though. I also appreciate your advice on cold water swims as I will be attempting one in the next couple of weeks in an area known as one of the coldest in Idaho.
    More importantly I am happy to read that you met some of the good people in Boise. Thanks for the shout out in your blog as well.
    Best of times with the rest of your races. I will certainly keep tabs on your efforts as well as the other athletes I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with in my town.

  6. AJ Foster Says:

    It’s a shame to read about the DNF Katya, but the decision you made was probably the best one you could make for yourself as well as your chances in France. Being as competitive as you are, it just makes that decision even harder! Keep the chin up and keep training hard… good things will come for you!!!

    Oh yeah, great KSwiss add in this months Triathlete mag 🙂

  7. Patrick Says:

    Aloha Katja from Hawaii…I got your link through Bree’s page. Just wanted to say I feel your pain with cold water swimming. Sorry about the race but keep focused on France and the task at hand. I’m sure France will be an awesome race for ya! Bon Jour!

    Patrick – Dolphin Boy!

  8. Lisa M Says:

    Hey katya!

    Good luck this weekend! I’m sure the water will be warmer this time!! You’ve trained hard, just give ‘er!

  9. rachel ross Says:

    Katya, I’m sorry you had a rough swim – I did the same exact thing at Oceanside this year. I couldn’t handle the cold (my first time swimming in CA, I’m a HI girl) and hyperventilated every time I put my face in. Way to make a good day out of it anyway and keep positive, good luck in Nice manana!


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