This winter, there were days the temperature of the Salish Sea off Washington state hovered just above 40 degrees, but that didn’t deter Jim Falconer from going for a swim. “I made myself one pandemic promise,” he says. “Weather would never interfere with my workouts.”
At 76, he is in the best shape of his life after embracing an Ironman-worthy workout routine last year. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, he and his wife, Birte Falconer, decamped from their home in Seattle to their vacation home on Lopez Island, Wash. “It was cold and drizzly most days, but there wasn’t much to do except explore the outdoors,” he says.
Mr. Falconer, who works part time in private investment, began to run the trails and bike the back roads but he missed his pre-pandemic pool routine. He had dabbled in open-water swimming in his 40s when he did triathlons but never in water so cold. After a bit of research, he invested in a full wetsuit, persuaded his wife to be his lifeguard and dove in. “I immediately thought, ‘Well, I just wasted $700,’ ” he says. “It was so unbearable I could barely last 10 strokes.”
He stuck with it and after one month of twice-a-week swims he acclimated to the chilly temperature. “I now feel exuberant when I get out of the water,” he says. “It’s like a runner’s high.” His mix of bike, run and swim workouts helped him lose 15 pounds last year. He now weighs 135 pounds, a weight his scale hasn’t seen since his 40s. He has also rediscovered a childlike joy in his workouts. “I float on my back at the end of a swim and when no one is looking, I pretend I’m galloping on a horse on my runs as if I were an eight-year-old kid,” he says. “And on my bike I imagine that I am Greg LeMond in the Alps.”
Mr. Falconer exercises five days a week and slots in two recovery days. He alternates between cycling 15 to 20 miles on a hybrid bike, running for 50 to 75 minutes and swimming one mile. Admittedly competitive, he has also learned to accept his limits to avoid injury. “I now start my runs very slow, otherwise I am short of breath early on,” he says. “If I can run an hour without stopping, I am a happy guy, regardless of speed.” He sprinkles his cycling workouts with “some good out of the saddle hill climbs” and tacks on casual bike rides with his wife. “It’s good for our relationship,” he says.