Swim Report – November 22, 2014 – Welcome to the Sub-40F Zone!

A hardcore crew of seven swimmers met out at L1 for our first unofficial winter swim this morning. I say unofficial because winter technically doesn’t begin for another 29 days. But if you were out there today, you would have had a hard time convincing anyone it was anywhere near autumn!

After a ridiculously frigid week, Ma Nature gave us a break today with a balmy 35F air temperature. However, this did very little to assuage the impact of the bone chilling 37F lake.

We all got in the water as quickly and efficiency as possible, but it was still a real shock right from the start. I had on my full winter gear this time, and I managed to get in a half mile before my fingers started to get numb. Not a big deal – more annoying than anything.

The only real glitch, though, was a leak in the right lens of my goggle which ensured that one eye was always soaking in ice water – not fun at all. But I figured out that the edge of my the lens was overlapping my swim cap. After several tries, I finally fixed it and could go back to enjoying the swim.

Thanks to all the extra layers of neoprene, I didn’t really have an afterdrop to contend with once I got out of the water. So as much as I try to be stubborn and go sans wetsuit for as long as possible, I have to confess a renewed appreciation for being able to swim in calm and comfort!

As always, it was another amazing morning out at L1. Good luck to Emily and Andy as they relocate to Denver – and hopefully start another OWC (Open Water Colorado)!

Foggy morning


Cold start


Water-level shots



Post-swim recovery


Today’s video!

Swim Report – November 15, 2014 – Happily Ever Afterdrop

The hourly forecast for today showed clear and sunny skies from 7:00am to 9:00am – and for once the meteorologists were spot on!

Five of us gathered out at L1 at 7:30am. The sun had risen 30 minutes prior, but I wanted to make sure it was in full blaze once we entered the water given the outside weather conditions.

Despite the abundant sunshine, we had to contend with a 21F air temperature and a lake that read 42.7F. The latter was the surface temp – I’m estimating that the in-swim water was around 40F tops!

I went with almost full body neoprene – a wetsuit top along with gloves, cap, and foot covers – with only my lower legs and neck exposed. It was a bit of a painful first five minutes, but I was able to acclimate by that point thanks to the perfectly calm water and absence of any wind.

Since I felt like I was “cheating” with all that neoprene, I decided to swim the full out-and-back mile this time. While it was certainly doable, I was completely spent by the time I returned to L1. I haven’t been swimming that distance regularly – so I was a bit out of shape! Plus, even with the extra layers, the cold really sank into one’s bones.

Post-swim was a real challenge. Since I was moving really slowly, I opted to keep on my wetsuit top and jammers and just put on layer after layer in an effort to stave off the inevitable afterdrop. And that turned out to be the best idea since it hit me with full force once I got back to my car!

Once I started the engine, I cranked the heat to full blast and rode out the worst part of the shivering. All in all, it was a good half hour until I “broke through” to the calm at the end of the storm (ugh).

But even with this temporary discomfort, it was well worth getting out to the beach on one of our very rare sunny mornings this time of year!

Long shadows


Crazy sunshine


Our own private skating rink!


Pre-swim scene


This morning’s video

Swim Report – November 8, 2014 – Fall Turnover Edition

Six of us met out at L1 just after 7:00am, and what a difference a week makes! Unlike the chaos of last week, we had a mirror flat lake with a very slight wind that really didn’t impact the water conditions at all.

The lake temp came in at 48F (surface) which was just slightly warmer than the 43F air temperature. However, Nick pointed out another key change from last week – namely, that the water now had a murkiness that we typically only see during the winter months. So for better or worse, it looks like the Fall turnover has finally arrived!

Given the colder lake temperature, many of us opted for full or partial neoprene. Since I only did 1/2 mile this time, I took a chance with just my jammers and a dual silicone/neoprene cap. And while the first two minutes were predictably terrifying, it actually became quite pleasant once I had fully acclimated.

As soon as we all got back and exited the water, we wasted little time getting into dry clothes in a valiant but futile effort to stave off the inevitable afterdrop. But even with numb hands and chattering teeth, none of us would have traded this morning for a boring ole’ pool swim!

Lake Monsters pre swim!


Swim Report – November 1, 2014 – All Saints’ Day Swim

The saints sure were with us in the lake this morning!

Five of us met out at L1 at 7:30am and looked out at very dire swimming conditions. The waves and chops had subsided very little from the night before, and they were cresting at around 12-14 feet. In addition, we had 15mph sustained winds along with a 40F air temperature. After much deliberation, we decided to do a limited swim in the area just around L1 – and even that proved to be a massive challenge!

Because of these unprecedented conditions, I went with a full wetsuit to preserve heat and maintain buoyancy. And with the official water temperature coming in at 49.2F, that proved to be the wise thing to do!

Getting in by L1 was tricky since you had to time the swells or otherwise risk getting slammed back. But the real challenge, however, was exiting the lake.

Even with just swimming around the L1 area, we were forced to get out at L3 several times due to the high volume waves pushing us south and not allowing us to get close enough to L1 or L2 to make an effective exit. Given all this chaos, I got out of the lake and retrieved my rescue buoy before getting back in. This was a welcome addition back out in the lake, and it helped us conserve our energy and better time our exits.

We all managed to get out intact – although a bit cold and battered. And we received a well-deserved chastisement from some highly respectable CPD officers who were very concerned about our well being given the fact that the conditions were so bad that even the police boats could not navigate the lake.

So the next time we get these conditions, we will definitely not be “giving it a shot.”







In the drink


Left to right – Marton and new Lake Monsters Andrew (339) and John (340)


Swim Report – October 25, 2014 – As good as it gets!

As I have repeatedly opined in the past, the October sunrises – and accompanying swims – are often some of the best of the year…

A quite sizable crew of intrepid swimmers met up at L1 at 7:00am. Fortunately, the lakefront was nothing like last week! Conversely, we had mirror flat water, 62F air temperature, super clear skies, and no wind at all – about as good as it gets.

The initial lake temperature reading came in at 56.2F (surface). However, the in swim reading was a bit more crisp at 55.4F. Still, with the overabundance of sunshine and calm lake conditions, it was a pretty easy out-and-back to the beach.

Since it’s a perfect day outside, I’m keeping this report short so I can enjoy it. And if you’re thinking about possibly getting in one last swim of the year, I would definitely check out the lakefront today!

First shot of the morning crew





Late October sunrise


Swim start!



Post-swim sunshine



Autumn leaves


New Lake Monsters [left to right] – Tracy (335), Margaret (336), Judit (337), Ali (338) – congrats!


Pre-swim selfie!


Sunrise video

Swim Report – October 18, 2014 – Storm Surge Edition

I caught up with Nick on the walk out to L1 from Clark Street, and we knew we were in for a very different kind of swim this morning. A strong and steady wind was already hitting us while we were still 1/4 mile from the lakefront – not a good sign! And when we got to L1, it was a ferocious scene.

The aforementioned wind had created some rather massive swells – anywhere from 6 to 8 feet tall – and they had completely saturated the L1 area all the way to the bike path. We thought last week’s swim was bad, but this one was WAY worse.

Despite the raging lake, the cutting wind, and the total absence of sunshine, we had quite a few people show up. Given the circumstances, however, I strongly encouraged everyone to consider opting out if they had even the slightest of reservations about getting in the water. As it was, only a few of us got in, and most of just just swam around the L1 area where we more than got a workout in the chaotic lake.

The lake temperature came in at a surprisingly comfortable 57F. But given the strong, sustained winds and the lack of any sunshine, I opted to don my neoprene top for the first time this year – and I was glad I did! The extra buoyancy made a big difference in the water, and I didn’t lose much heat at all while in swim.

Also, a funny side story to recount – Jason and I swam out to the 1/8 mile mark and met up with Obed who had found a running shoe in the water. I didn’t think anything of it, although it did look passingly familiar. As it turns out, it was MY shoe that had been washed into the lake by a rogue wave about 15 minutes earlier! But for Obed’s vigilance, I would have had to have walked back to my car barefoot!

Kudos to all who came out on such a yucky morning. We definitely got to see Ma Nature in one of her more tempestuous moods!

Angry lakefront


Step into liquid


The view at water level


Lake Monsters in their element



Retrieving my shoe!


Tenuous approach and exit



Looking back


Haiko, Lake Monster 334


Today’s video footage:

Swim Report – October 11, 2014 – Autumn Chops!

Nine of us made it out to L1 just before sunrise. The lake temperature came in at 58F (surface) with a 56.7F reading taken in swim. In a pleasant contrast to last week, we had a rather tolerable 49F air temperature. But the lake itself was a bit of a mess.

We had some heavy chops and 2-4 foot swells to contend with throughout the swim. But even though we had to do a more rigorous workout this morning, it was well worth the effort given yet another spectacular October sunrise.

Congrats to all the Chicago marathoners!

Dawn colors




Waning moon


Taking the plunge


At the beach


Michael, Lake Monster 333 (congrats!)


Sunrise Video

Swim Report – October 4, 2014 – Deep Freeze!

Ma Nature threw us a curve ball with a 38F air temperature reading at 6:45am. Fortunately for us, the lake temperature came in at a fiery 61.8F. So getting in the water was easy. Getting out, however, was a painfully cold ordeal!

Ten of us met out at L1 just before sunrise. We waited a bit for the sun to peek out over the cloud bank. But none of us wanted to hang out very long in the frigid air. So we got suited up and hustled into the lake just as the sun was starting to emerge.

The lake was almost completely flat and uniformly warm throughout the swim. The sun came out in full just before we hit Oak Street Beach and accompanied us for part of the way back. However, by the time we returned to L1, we had to contend with a drizzly cloud cover that eradicated any evidence of our short window of sunshine.

As noted above, the real challenge of today’s swim was not the lake, but rather the air temperature upon exiting the water. We had to towel off and don warm layers really quickly in the winter-like air. And this proved to be quite a chore since our hands were painfully numb as soon as we got out of the lake.

Still, we had another amazing swim and got to experience the only sunshine of the day – and it was as spectacular as always!

Calm waters


Warming up in the lake!


Lake Monsters migrating south


The sun finally comes out!


Bright and sunny morning at the beach!


A squadron of geese providing directions back to L1


Beth, Lake Monster 331 and Brit, Lake Monster 332 (congrats!)


Pre-swim video:

Chicago’s Lake Michigan Water Temperatures (2008 – 2014)

Okay, I admit it. I’m somewhat of a data junkie. I guess that’s an unintended consequence of my day job as an intelligence analyst (long story). So bottom line, I’m always looking for patterns and trends in large or small data sets that might provide insights that people can use to better their performance or to “one up” their competitors.

With this in mind, I figured I’d apply this to OWC – with all of you as the beneficiaries of this “lake intelligence.”

Here’s the skinny – I took all of water temperature readings that I, Dave, and others have secured since 2008, and I plotted them out to see if there was anything interesting in the results. To do this, I had to go back through all of the OWC swim reports and Facebook postings – a rather monumental task given that there were a TON of lake temperature postings. But the results are really quite fascinating.

So let’s take a look…

First, here is a scatter plot of the all of the lake temperature readings we took from April 2008 to the present:

[Click on the image to view a larger size file]

OWC graph_1F_small

You can see that the temperature ranges were fairly consistent throughout the year. However, there were some rather surprising outliers in 2009 and 2014 – especially in the months of July, August and September. Also, 2012 had unusually warmer overall water temperatures – which we certainly exploited in attempting to extend our “non-wetsuit” streak that year!

But let’s refine this a bit further. If we were to take the average of the days where we had readings from multiple years, we’d get this:

[Click on the image to view a larger size file]

OWC graph_2F_small

That’s a bit more polished, but we still have those outliers on days where we have no comparable data in the other years. So if we add a moving average trend line to this graph, we get this:

[Click on the image to view a larger size file]

OWC graph_3F_small

While water temperatures can be quite dynamic, I believe this trend line is a pretty good predictor of what you are likely to experience while swimming out at the lake (within a certain range, of course).

And it’s worth noting that these are actual lake temperature readings taken at the swim sites with most of these being recorded in-swim. In other words, these are not offshore buoy readings or temperature forecasts that you get on most of the Lake Michigan news and weather sites!

So there you have it. Now you have some good insights you can use to hopefully better your Chicago Lake Michigan swim experience!


P.S. For those of you who do not use the Fahrenheit temperature scale, I have not forsaken you! Here is that last graph in Centigrade:

[Click on the image to view a larger size file]

OWC graph_4C_small

P.P.S BONUS GRAPH!  Same as the one above, but with shaded areas indicating when the Spring and Fall turnovers take place (time period is the same for both the Fahrenheit and Centigrade graphs):

[Click on the image to view a larger size file]

OWC graph_3F_turnover_small

OWC System – Water Quality Swim Hacks

New FREE content from the OWC System for Mastering Outdoor Swimming!

As much as I enjoy swimming outdoors, I have to admit that it’s not always a pleasant experience. Unlike a swimming pool (well, unlike MOST swimming pools at least), the lake is not a sterile and antiseptic environment.

So at any given time, you might find some or all of these niceties in the water:

– Algae
– Pollen
– Bacteria (especially E. Coli)
– Viruses
– Parasites
– Fungi
– Mold spores
– Sewage effluent
– Heavy metals
– Pesticides
– Runoff from agriculture and urbanization
– Air pollution particulates

These water contaminants – whether naturally occurring or artificially created – unfortunately wreak havoc on our bodies if they’re allowed to remain in our systems for extended periods of time. When left unchecked, they can cause allergies, mild to severe ear infections (i.e. swimmer’s ear), sinus infections, and flu-like illnesses due to water-borne contaminants.

So while many of us do what we can to keep our beaches and swim areas clean and contaminant-free, we have to accept the reality that it’s impossible to completely eliminate these health risks whenever we swim in the lake.

But what we can do is mitigate their impact on our personal health.

Be sure to check out the recent videos I produced on this subject. I’ve placed links to them below. FYI – If you’ve been out to any of our recent meetups and listened to me grumble incessantly about ragweed, you can probably skip the first two!

OWC System for Mastering Outdoor Swimming – Water Quality – Introduction

OWC System for Mastering Outdoor Swimming – Water Quality – Overview

OWC System for Mastering Outdoor Swimming – Water Quality – Swim Hack 1

OWC System for Mastering Outdoor Swimming – Water Quality – Swim Hack 2