I had planned to do an Ice Mile (a mile swim in water of less than 5 degrees) last season but unfortunately conditions went against me and I had to wait until February 2013 and the fabulous first year of the Big Chill Swim for an attempt at the current holy grail of endurance winter swimming. Unfortunately, the conditions again went against us as the water temperature rose from 4.6c in the morning to 5.1c in the afternoon. While 0.1 degree doesn’t sound like much, and swimming in 5.1 degree water compared to 4.9 degree water doesn’t feel hugely different, once we set standards for records we should stick to them. We agreed our swim would be a ‘Nice Mile’ rather than an official ‘Ice Mile’. However, with two turn buoys to be negotiated 20 times and a low sun this was never going to be easy but of course that is part of the thrill of open water swimming.
I thought I had prepared well and was in good condition. I know my limits and while I knew the swim would be difficult but I expected to finish due to my previous experience of 1km still water swims in lower temperatures.
I got in and felt fine. The water wasn’t too cold; it felt as 5 degree water should when you have recently been swimming in lower temperatures. Still, we all know that 5 degrees isn’t “warmer”, it’s just “less cold”.
I started swimming well, although the low sun was messing up my rhythm as I had to sight more often than usual and perhaps this altered my breathing. Then, after around 800m I got cramp in my legs, which is unusual for me during winter swimming. Still, I’ve dealt with cramp before and know how to swim with it. I dropped my legs a bit and kicked less, which obviously slowed me down., but I don’t blame this for my failure to finish.
I think on the 8th lap I switched to breaststroke permanently. I was still planning to finish and wasn’t worried, although I was perhaps getting groggy. Eventually I rounded the turn buoy to start the final lap and was pleased I was nearly done. I still was planning to finish and thought I could.
Then somewhere in the middle of the course I took a stroke and nothing happened. I seemed to sink a little in the water. I stopped and looked around and I could hear a lot of shouting. At that split second I immediately decided I had to get out, which was very strange as just a moment before I was happy to be on the final circuit with the finish in sight.
A diver came in and touched me, at which point my swim was obviously over, although somehow I made it to the steps unaided, swimming smoothly. I believe I was at my limit and needed to end the swim with regards to the immersion time. On exiting I was of course very groggy and I think I made a great decision to end the swim and get out. With hindsight, the tipping point was probably the girl screaming in the crowd, it took my focus and then I paused and stopped swimming. Interesting
The medical team took over and although it was against my wishes I wasn’t really in a position to argue. Plus, of course, it felt good to have blankets thrown over me! The next 30 minutes are blurred as I was groggy although aware of what was going on and able to talk. I believe I was with the medical team for almost an hour. I can tell you they managed my recovery very well .
By the time I left them I felt fine again. I went back to my hotel, had some tea and biscuits and decided to go to the sauna. As usual after an endurance winter swim I was extremely hungry and had no problem in eating an enormous plate of food from the carvery later that evening.
My thoughts after the swim are not much different to before it except that I now have even more respect for ice swimmers and also I believe that Ram Barkai has set the bar at a great level with the Ice Mile concept. It certainly isn’t easy, but mediocre endurance winter swimmers like me can probably attain it with the right training and preparation. The faster, more “elite” endurance winter swimmers will still find it a huge challenge but ultimately the extra speed means less time in the water and therefore less of the exponential difficulty that the increased immersion time brings. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I will get an Ice Mile under my belt in the future!
Well done to Ram, Haydn and Jackie on finishing the “Nice Mile”. I hope the sight of me coming out before the finish doesn’t put too many people off endurance winter swimming. On the other hand, let’s face it, Ice Swimming is an extreme sport and it’s important that people recognise that and approach it appropriately.
I like journeys and this was an incredible one.