A few times a week, Prairie Village resident Larry Long throws open the taps on his bathtub and trains his eyes on a thermometer. The cold tap is open wide. If he touches the warm tap, it’s only just a little.
“If you fill a bathtub up with only cold water, that’s about 52 degree,” he said. “I try to get it up to about 58. Then I hop in and try to get to a zen place and sit there for half an hour.”
The purpose is to get his body acclimated to extremely cold water in preparation for an intense swimming challenge he’ll undertake next month. The S.C.A.R. Swim Arizona Challenge has participants slog their way through 41 miles of open water swimming over four days. The four connected lakes inside Arizona’s Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix hover around 61 degrees. Swimmers aren’t permitted to wear neoprene wetsuits.
“The most daunting part is the cold,” he said. “You lose heat in several ways when you’re in the water. When the temperature is 61 or 62 degrees, it makes it a little harder on the body to work.”
It’s not the first time Long has undertaken such a double-take inducing endurance challenge. He has completed Ironman-distance triathlons and 100-mile trail races. But when he suffered an Achilles injury in 2015 that hampered his ability to run and bike, he set his sights on big swims. He signed up for the 2016 Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET) race, which challenges swimmers to traverse the 36 miles of the Red River between Grand Forks, N.D., and Climax, Minn.
He was no stranger to the pool. As a student at SM East in the mid-1980s, he’d won a state title in the 100M breaststroke, and went on to swim in college at Texas Christian University. But prior to training for the END-WET, he hadn’t swum more than about 10,000 meters continuously. END-WET was about six times that distance — and to successfully complete the challenge, swimmers had to cover the miles continuously. No touching the bottom of the river. No resting on the bank. No placing a hand on the support kayaks that followed them downstream.
“It took me about 13 hours,” he said. “There were some challenging spots in there.”
With the S.C.A.R. Swim, his longest swim will be a 17 mile traverse across lake Apache Lake on day three. He’ll travel about six miles each on days one and two, and finish with a relatively light load of about six miles on the fourth day.
Despite the fact that the mileage is broken up over several days, Long said S.C.A.R. seems more foreboding than END-WET because of the cold.
“Originally I was a little too aggressive with the cold baths, trying to do them in sub-50 degree water,” he said. “But you just try to do whatever you can to get your body used to the feeling of being that cold.”
The S.C.A.R. Swim starts April 26 at Saguaro Lake.