Jennifer Dillahunty and Chanda Spies wear knit caps to keep warm when they swim at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

The anticipation kills.

Just before I plunge into Barton Springs this time of year, I question my sanity. Surely that icy water will numb my fingers and freeze my toes. The shivers wonít stop until noon; the chill will drive so deep that no one will hear me scream.

The first step is the hardest. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Then I just do it. And you know what? Itís always warmer than I think. Always.

I swim at Barton Springs almost every Wednesday morning, slipping into its chilly waters just as the sun rises. The first lap or so, I can barely see through the dark. Sometimes, thatís a problem. Today, I smashed face-first into another swimmer. (Iím sporting a nice bruise and a small cut on the side of my nose to prove it. Whatever.)

It sounds weird, but the pool feels warmer when itís cold out. I think thatís because thereís less difference between the water temperature and air temperature. In the summer, that gap can stretch to 30 degrees or more. Itís a shock to the system to jump in.

This morning, though, the water felt warmer than the air. Getting in felt a little bit like taking a dive under the blankets on my bed.

A shortie wetsuit helps, too.

I never used to wear a wetsuit at Barton Springs. My buddy Brian Vance and I swam there year-round, and the cold didnít bother me so much. Then I lost a little weight Ė and got older. The cold affects me more.

But if I wear a wetsuit and keep moving, Iím fine. Now itís almost December and Iím still going strong.

Steam rises from the surface of Barton Springs Pool on Wednesday morning. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Itís getting out thatís tough. A cold breeze over wet skin turns me blue. I keep a thick deck jacket at hand, and make a beeline to the dressing room to change into dry clothes when I finish.

Today, though, I took my time.

I saw two women kicking across the pool, wearing knit caps on their heads to stay warm.

ďIt makes a huge difference,Ē Jennifer Dillahunty told me as she and Chanda Spies cruised toward the deep end of the pool.

Whatever it takes.