Stuart Macleod, Stewart Bailey and John Dargie give advice on cold water swims

Over the past week lots and lots of you have be chatting on social media about how to cope with the cold water in Loch Lomond. So I have asked 3 stalwarts of the Scottish Triathlon scene to give you their advice.

Stuart Macleod is a bit of an extreme / endurance mentalist. A lover of all things Swim Run and cold. Alongside the wonderfully gobby Alan Cardwell, last year he completed the Celtman course on the WINTER Solstice. See the video below.

If you have ever done Ayrodynamic’s OW race at Doonfoot you will have seen Stewart Bailey crawling along the river bed setting the lane ropes out. His latest quest is to swim a mile in Scotland’s 104 largest lochs – The man has invented Lochbagging!!!

Finally Fusion Triathlon Club’s John Dargie give us his take.

But before all that… The water temperature yesterday hit 12c late afternoon. It is looking more and more likely that we will get a swim in excess of 1km. We are fully aware that most of you have not had many opportunities to for open water swims this year, so no matter what the temperature, you will be allowed neoprene gloves, socks and hat. Compulsory if it somehow drops below 11c.

Also there has been some rumour of people talking about not doing the swim at all, but taking the slowest swim time + 2mins penalty. Any one who does not complete the swim under their own power (e.g. gets pulled out by safety crew) will get an adjusted time, but you will not get an official placing.

Stuart Macleod


Swimming in cold water requires you to adapt the body to getting used to colder water and air temperatures. The adaptation process should be done well in advance of the event. You will soon become physically and mentally ready for the colder temperatures.

On the day:

Raising the core temperature ahead of a cold water swim can help. To do this I sometimes like to run immediately before the swim. The most challenging part of cold water swimming is often that first few seconds in the water, after which your body adjusts and it becomes easier. I typically use a neoprene vest under my wetsuit in additional to a neoprene cap for insulation. It’s essential to ensure you keep yourself warm.

 Stewart Bailey

stewart bailey

Ready for a Cold Water Race?

Don’t panic, use “Stewarty Boy’s five point plan”

You have an open water race and the predicted water temperature is less than cold. On social media, you read chat about how cold the water is going to be and how bad it will be. You may have entered a world of negativity.

You could say something like “no worries” and think positive. Alternatively, you could opt to concentrate on the immediate task and act positive. Being prepared, warming up and staying warm.

How we approach a race is individual, my favoured approach faced with an open water race where water temperatures are cold or even less than cold, is always the same. You can call it “Stewarty Boy’s five point plan”. Warm up, wetsuit on, stay warm, warm up, stay dry, smile and rock n roll.

Here it is in more detail.

[1] Warm Up: Start with some dynamic stretching, about five minutes. If you are not sure about dynamic stretching, fake it. If you have seen swimmers rotating their arms in different ways on poolside, just imitate. That will get the job done.

Then it is time to go for an easy run, 10-15 minutes. Make sure you are wearing plenty of clothes, it’s important not to get cold. In fact, at this point it would be good to be too hot. You could include three to five sprints, no more than 10 seconds hard effort, followed by an easy jog back for recovery.

[2] Wetsuit On: Without allowing yourself to cool down get your wetsuit on, no “faffing”.

[3] Stay Warm: If conditions are cold, windy or you may be hanging around for a while, put an old jumper, hoodie or coat and an old pair of socks. Especially old clothes you plan to throw away, you can walk to the water’s edge wearing them.

[4] More Warm Up: Once you have, your wetsuit on you can continue with some more dynamic stretching, use swim cords if you have them, a short run or even some star jumps. Apart from warming up, if these activities build up a layer of sweat in your wetsuit you are going to be a lot more comfortable when you immerse yourself in the water.

[5] Stay Dry: Do not get into the water until you need to. If it is a beach or pontoon start, wet you face before the start, nothing else. If it is a deep-water start, hang back so that you get to the start line just in time.

Now, this does not all happen by magic. You will have had to bring all the kit you need to warm up and stay warm. You will also need to have set aside enough time. I make that 25-30 minutes. Do not forget you might also have a race briefing. So check the race details, make a plan, and maybe you will update that social media, “I’m feeling good about this” #triathlon #awesome.

Now, go rock your race !

John Dargie

Bishopbriggs Triathlon 2010_5382


The following is a guide to help participants deal as best possible with cold water conditions for swimming.


Your wetsuit should fit well – baggy wetsuits fill with cold water and don’t work at all!!  V tight wetsuits don’t allow water to enter and so are also cold.  If wearing hats, cloves or socks / booties try to ensure that these fit well also.  Socks / booties should be placed underneath the leg of your wetsuit or they will probably drag and continually fill with cold water!!  Wearing a couple of silicon swim hats or hats on top of a neoprene swim hat is the best option.


Entering cold water can be a real shock physically and mentally – practice in advance at a coached session if possible.  If that’s not possible practice cold water immersion in a shower or bath or even just placing your face into a bowl of iced water – it will familiarise you with the physical and emotional response and allow you to remain calmer.


Your wetsuit works by allowing a small layer of water to enter the suit and your body temperature warming it.  DO NOT BE COLD GETTING INTO THE WATER!!  If you are cold, shivering and have cold skin entering the water you are liable to not warm up!!  Stay warm whilst getting into your wetsuit – do this after a small jog with plenty of clothes on to ensure you are warm before you start.  Keep warm socks and gloves on as you get into your suit.  When in the suit keep a hat and gloves and trainers on if possible to stay warm – a waterproof jacket on top of the wetsuit helps also if exposed to cold air or wind.  KEEP MOVING.  Do a land based warm up with press ups, butterfly arm circles, calf raises and squats etc. to stay warm.  Keep an eye on the clock for your start time – don’t be late but don’t be ages early hanging around getting cold.


Don’t rush but definetely don’t wait!!  The slower you do this the greater the chance of getting cold.  But a swan dive into cold water is likely to be a huge physical shock!!!   Try to enter the water smoothly and calmly without stopping and swim soon after entering.  Walk till thigh deep then gently squat down and put face in the water.  Progress to a few strokes of breastroke, putting your face in the water a few times.  Stop and gather your thoughts and ensure you are controlling your breathing.  Then attempt to swim!!  Remember that physical activity produces heat from the working muscles.  If you don’t swim you will get cold quickly!!!  If racing try to time water entry so it’s done 3-4 mins before the start so that any initial breathlessness is past before you start.  At all times concentrate on maintaining smooth rhythmical breathing and maintaining physical effort.

Always be familiar with the event’s safety policy / advice – if you need assistance roll onto your back and lift an arm in the air.

Finally the weather.

It is looking like a windy day with a wee bit of rain.

With the predicted westerly winds it is likely that there will be strong cross winds on the fast descents of the Haul Rd. Deep sectioned wheels are not advised.


Enjoy the sun for the next few days and make sure you have yourself wrapped up nice and warm for Sunday.



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