Gold Coast

The Braveheart Ben Nevis Triathlon brings with it many challenges and the key to enjoying the day is to be prepared. Fiona Bugler speaks to the experts about preparing for the swim – and the cold


For many of those taking on the challenge of Braveheart, the cold water swim is an area of concern – but if you’re prepared you can make sure that you start the race well. The last thing you want is to be put out of action, or to get too cold and miserable for a race that for most is likely to last seven hours or more.


If you’ve been training in the open water of summer (where the water can be a balmy 19 degrees) then 11 to 13 degrees can be a shock to the system. “In the race you’ll be able to see the sea bed, however, Loch Linnhe is the deepest loch in the UK further out, which does mean it’s cold,” says Fraser Copeland, race director from No Fuss Events. It’s safe and doable but of course the better prepared you are the better the experience will be.


Cold is good for you!

Research has found that the only way to cope with the cold is acclimatization. “Cold water training causes brown fat tissue to be stored which is much healthier than the white fat that is stored around the hips and stomach,” says Mark Klenanthous. “Brown fat creates heat in the body and elminates the need for shivering and it burns calories only when you need to warm up,” he adds.


And, as well as helping prepare you for the race, Mark Kleanthous points out that hydrotherapy (cold immersion) is used to help with a number of health issues including stress, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome and so it’s a positive addition to your training!


The Six-week acclimatization plan

“Cold treatment on a regular basis helps the body to produce internal body heat (thermogenesis). Raising internal body temperatures helps avoid shivering which causes unnecessary heat loss (peripheral heat loss),” says Mark Kleanthous. “You can benefit from cold showers considerably in just two weeks,” he adds. Mark recommends taking an ice cold bath every week, building up as shown in the plan below. “Add ice cubes or ice packs to make water colder than tap water. Sit in the bath up to waist first then immerse up to neck. It’s okay to wear warm beanie hat. Build up by 90 seconds week”. He also recommends the 3, 2, 1 feet immersion formula, again in an ice bucket as many of the previous participants have suffered with cold feet on the bike. Finally, try to immerse yourself into the water wetsuit-free, following the plan below.


Week one:

Open water swim: 30 minutes in open water; then add on 10 to 15 mins wetsuit-free.

Ice bath: 90 seconds.

Cold feet: 30 seconds in the ice 30 seconds out; 20 seconds in, 20 seconds out; 10 seconds in, 10 seconds out


Week two:

Open water swim: 30 minutes in open water; then add on 15 to 20 mins wetsuit-free.

Ice bath: 3 minutes.

Cold feet: 1 minute in the ice, 1 minute out; 45 seconds in, 45 seconds out; 30 seconds in, 30 seconds out.


Week three:

Open water swim: 30 minutes in open water; then add on 25 mins wetsui -free; swim two, for 30 mins wetsuit free.

Ice bath: 4 minutes 30 seconds.

Cold feet: 2 minutes in the ice, 2 minutes out; 90 seconds in, 90 seconds out; 1 minute in, 1 minute out.


Week four:

Open water swim: Swim three times wetsuit-free: 45, 35, and 30-minute swims.

Ice bath: 6 minutes.

Cold feet: 3 minutes in the ice, 3 minutes out; 2 minutes in, 2 minutes out; 1 minute in 1 minute out.


Week five:

Open water swim: 1.2 miles/1900M without a wetsuit and two 30 minute swims.

Ice bath: 7 minutes 30 seconds.

Cold feet: 3 minutes in the ice, 3 minutes out; 2 minutes in, 2 minutes out; 1 minute in 1 minute out.


Week six: RACE WEEK!

Open water swim: Swim wetsuit free and if you can swim in the loch the day before the race.

Ice bath: Early in the week 8 to 9 minutes.

Cold feet: 5 minutes in, out for 2 minutes, then back in again for up to 5 minutes out.


On the day tips

*Wear neoprene hat, gloves, booties; and neoprene shorts and vest under your wetsuit if you’re particularly susceptible to the cold.

*“Instead or Vaseline use coconut oil to help slip your wetsuit on and off, it’s much better for the skin. Consider putting it on your head under swim cap. You must practise this as some people find the swim cap comes off,” recommends Mark Kleanthous.

*Do a warm up, first on land: arm circles, a little jog about, twists, stretch out you back; then get into the water and acclimatize with some short bursts and hard kicking. Go waist deep into the water and submerge your face to blow bubbles. This helps alleviate the shock of the cold water.

*“Learn to relax and control breathing because the loss of control of your breathing causes a reflex action and triggers a deep involuntary gasp of air which draws water into the lungs. Gasping lasts 30-seconds to three minutes then improves considerably,” explains Mark Kleanthous. “Engage in deep abdominal breathing to slow down your heart rate,” he adds.



“Symptoms of hypothermia progress slowly,” says Mark Kleanthous. “Usually in this order:

  • Shivering
  • Impaired judgment
  • Clumsiness
  • Loss of Dexterity
  • Slurred Speech
  • Inward Behaviour
  • Shivering Stops
  • Muscle Rigidity
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death



A Note about transition

But it’s not just the water that’s cold! When you come out of the water you should prepare for a further temperature drop. “The water temperature for this year should be okay,” says Fraser Copeland, race director from No Fuss Events.” The biggest deal is transition and making sure you get dried and warmed up before starting the cycle. It’s a long day and if you don’t get recovered from the swim it will sap energy all day. Some people are spending up to 10 minutes in transition taking a warm drink etc, some even have a bowl of soup. There’s a modesty tent for anyone who wants a complete change. Getting yourself covered up and dry is vital. This is an event where you can be fighting the cold all day,” he adds.