June 24, 2024
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June 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How cold is cold? 32 degrees? Zero degrees? Absolute Kelvin?

(What is Absolute Kelvin?)

It is –273 degrees or as Miles Ehrenkranz calls it, “springtime in Nebraska.”

(Why –273?)

Well, it is the interval between absolute zero and the triple point of water. Meaning, the exact temperature at which the liquid, solid and gas forms of water can all coexist at the same time.

Actually, it’s –459.67 in Fahrenheit. The Fahrenheit system was introduced in 1724 and it was Daniel Fahrenheit who picked 32 degrees, not zero because he liked the mathematical ratio between water freezing and human body temp, which he thought was 96 degrees. A few years later, Anders Celsius came up with his scale and about 100 years later, Lord Kelvin “theorized” when water would reach absolute zero. Mind you, Lord Kelvin didn’t actually have a way to measure this, since he didn’t live on Pluto where temperatures go that low.

I mean, we could have gone with the metric system here in the U.S., but when Thomas Jefferson requested metric standards from France that could be used to adopt the system in the United States, the ship was blown off course by a storm and captured by pirates.

(Why are you telling us this?)

Unless you are conducting scientific research or baking, all temperatures are relative to how you experience them.

When people ask me, “Aren’t you cold running in shorts, in winter, in a snowstorm?” they trigger this conversation.

(I bet they are sorry they ask.)

We all grew up hearing about “that guy” in our neighborhood who ran in all types of weather…I just never imagined I would grow up to be him.

I’ve already spoken about the emotions I experience when I run in snow and how it transports me back to time spent with my grandparents, but there is the physical experience that I kinda feel like I need to explain.

I used to run during the winter in pants because I let others tell me when to stop wearing shorts.

(How about after Labor Day pal?)

Then it dawned on me, “Why am I letting others dictate my behavior?”

(Because for the rest of the human race, cold hurts.)

I decided to keep wearing shorts and let my body tell me when it was “too cold.” Well, it didn’t.

So, I extended that to outdoor biking. Now, biking in snow is dangerous since road bikes have no traction, so I set my bike up on the driveway and cycled for an hour, in the snow.

(Before or after you shoveled your driveway?)

Before…while it was still snowing.

(Isn’t that bad for your bike?)

No, racing bikes are built to be ridden in the rain and snow is nothing more than the rain that has been converted from liquid to solid.

(I think there is a little bit more to it than that.)

I finally “found” cold when I went swimming in a snowstorm.

(Now, stop and listen to the words you just said; Does this sound sane?)

Probably not, but I have been Polar Bear plunging for years, on New Year’s with Yoni Bak and Doni Barenholtz.

(All of this sounds dangerous.)

I swim where I can stand. If I get a cramp or feel too cold to continue, I simply stand up, walk onto the beach and head for my car.

I had never tried to do a real 30-minute open water swim workout, in winter, until this year.

(Because that would be crazy.)

In January, the water temp is still in the 50s, but by March the water temps can drop into the

40s…and that hurts.

For that, I needed a wetsuit.

(A wetsuit keeps you dry?)

No, that is a dry suit. A wetsuit keeps you warm.

(But not dry?)


(So, what is the use?)

A wetsuit traps the water between the neoprene and your flesh…

(Please say skin.)

….your skin, creating a bond that traps heat in.

(Neoprene is the rubber suit?)


Neoprene was invented by the DuPont company in the 1930s as a synthetic substitute for rubber and was first used by the U.S. Navy Frogman in WWII to stay warm in frigid waters.

I usually wait until May to start ocean swimming, since the water temp in May is…

(72 degrees?)

Try 50 degrees.

(Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.)

Remember that 50-degree water is what you drink when you pull a pitcher of water from your fridge. Imagine dunking your head into a sink of that.


Yeah, it’d be quite a shock, but then you adjust.

(Your face goes numb?)

No, it acclimates as your body warms up from the swimming.

(How about your fingers? Your toes?)

Neoprene gloves and boots.

David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected]

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