Ice Swimming – A New Challenge!

I have to confess, I never thought I would be writing a blog about swimming an ice mile but then again 10 years ago I never would have believed that I would have swam 7 channel swims!

Why did I do it?

I have the ocean swimming to thank for giving me the confidence to take on such a challenge and made the decision to go for swimming an official ice mile after being the key-note speaker at a global conference on climate change in London.
As well as talking about swimming the Oceans Seven at the event, I discussed my passion for conservation, marine life,  protecting the oceans and my passion for open water swimming.
I felt privileged to be invited to a further conference in Washington DC by the CEO of Global Commons along with some of the top scientists from around the world, conservation charities and key influential people including the ex Prime Minister of New Zealand.
We covered a number of issues from CO2 emissions, over fishing, pollution etc. It was clear spreading awareness is absolute key and I felt I wanted to support in any way that I could. I decided that I should undertake a number of swims in order to create awareness of some of these critical issues.  The first one being an ice swim in an area of key environmental importance. I will then follow on with different swims which highlight other key issues linked with the ocean. Therefore an ice mile seemed like a good place to start and so I decided to do it with a bunch of like-minded crazy people at the 5th Eastern Bay Ice Mile in Lough Dan with organiser Fergal Somerville.

Training for an Ice Mile

I had my first open water swim at the end of October 2016 in a lake near to where I live. The temperature was 12 degrees and I completed one mile.  I must confess having not been in this temperature for a little while, I did feel it ‘wasn’t as warm as I would like!’
I realised there was a long way to go to get me ready for the task in hand.

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Throughout November I did a number of 2k swims from 6.5-7.5 degrees, after which normally took me around 15 minutes to calm the shivering. It wasn’t until December when the temperature dropped under 5 degrees and that I swam my first unofficial ice mile in 4.9 degrees. I then did a further two at 4.7 and 3.5 degrees. Every time the temperature dropped I was pleased as I tasked myself with swimming the 1 mile distance and it gave me another incentive in training. Each swim took around 15-20 minutes to recover from shivering so I knew I was in a good place for the ice mile in Lough Dan.

During training Gemma my partner would walk around the lake with me each time with my clothes in case I needed to come out early. The way the lake is allows me to easily get out after 1300 metres if I felt that was my limit, however I felt fine so carried on for the mile.

Taking the plunge!

The time soon came around for the ice mile on the 4th February 2017.
The trip from Dublin took about 1 hour and we were all very kindly taken in cars by volunteer supporters to Lough Dan. When we arrived I was taken back by what a beautiful spot it was. The temperature was taken prior to the swim on a number of different thermometers, the lowest showing 3.8 degree water temperature, all showing under the 5 degrees which constitutes an official ice mile.

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The swim was very well organised with two waves taking a maximum of 8 people in the water at a time.

We had helpers assigned to us although I was sorted as Gemma was there. There were doctors and ambulances on standby as well as a marquee to warm up in afterwards. It was great to see some familiar faces including the only man in open water taller than me Ned Denison!
The first wave went just after 10.30am which included myself. We walked in to the water all with tow floats attached. I tried to get on to my front too early to start swimming and realised I was in 6 inches of water and immediately stood back up. I could hear the laughs from behind. After 20 seconds or so it was deep enough to swim and off we went.

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The course was 4 laps totaling the one mile. 4 clearly visible buoys had been set-up for us to swim around. The first three laps I didn’t really notice the temperature at all, it was only the 4th lap that I was aware of a very slight dizziness which slowed my last lap down a little. Finally touching the last buoy, I found that I was the first in, clocking my swim time at 25 mins 26 seconds.

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mvi_0624-00_02_43_05-still003Out of the water it is like a military operation to get my clothes on with help from Gemma (or your allocated assistants).

Towel dry
Robie on
swim trunks off
socks & undies on
two jackets, two hats and footwear – done!

Now dressed, I went for a run around the field with the aim of producing heat and regulating my temperature. It seemed to be effective and after 15 minutes and the help of a warm hot chocolate the shivering subsided, leaving me a little lukewarm. I think the adrenaline of the event and doing it with similar like-minded swimmers really helped to enhance the enjoyment of the swim and I wasn’t too temperature aware as I was so focused on the job in hand.

I would personally like to thank Fergal Somerville, volunteers, helpers, swimmers and everyone who contributed in making this a magic day.
A great event with brilliant company!!

Here are some tips based on my experiences, I hope you find them useful:

My Top 5 Ice Swimming Tips

  1. Convincing myself I am happy to do the swim, that it is no big deal, it’s only a mile, remembering the other tough swims I had overcome all served as a basis to play the swim down in my mind.
  2. Trusting I am capable physically, it’s important to respect the swim, but not to fear it.
  3. Doing the dips each week, learning from the training swims, gradually increasing the distances.
  4. Reviewing how I feel and my recovery afterwards. Knowledge in this sport is very powerful.
  5. Preparation of equipment for the swim and for recovery. These include: spare pair of goggles, hat and the recovery kit.

dsc_0073aMy Recovery Kit:
‘Robie Event Jacket’ is my number one piece of kit as I warm up fast putting this on first against my skin.
I then follow-up with a thinner ski jacket and then my thicker jacket which has a cold heat warming system. I have also recently purchased some trousers with the same system.
Extra thick socks, two woolly hats to be worn over the swim hat until I heat up sufficiently to take it off and gloves.
I’d also recommend camping slippers. Designed for maximum comfort and heat for use outdoors. (Immediately feel amazing to warm up your feet).
With clothing go for a size bigger than normal, as it makes it easier to get them on over your damp skin.
Finally a warm drink and then when you are no longer shivering a warm bath, just feels amazing!

Which is tougher…
Channel swimming or an Ice mile?
 

In my view they cannot be compared, they are two completely separate tough challenges and both require dedication to training, being mentally strong and a big desire to succeed.

Ice swimming is very intense with the temperature being the main factor for most experienced open water swimmers. Your feet will most probably go numb and depending on how low the temperature to the level of intensity. For instance at 4 degrees my feet are numb for sure, however every half degree lower the level of discomfort increases. At 3 degrees the face hurts just a little bit more and I start to feel the sensation of pins and needles on the base of the foot. Also the discomfort in the hands increase and clawing starts. However, I know it is only for a short period of time and I will start to recover.

Channel swimming although warmer in water temperature is over a much longer period of time when your core temperature can drop and the challenge is to keep going – in some cases for hours. You may also be faced with currents pushing you sideways and rough seas that sap your fitness and demand you to keep going.  Dangerous marine life and the physical stamina required is arguably greater due to swimming all day and more.

I think they are both great sports in their own right for different reasons and offer a separate challenge. Conquering an ice mile or an ocean swim in my opinion are two very tough but achievable goals. If you are thinking of doing either or both, know it is possible with the right training, support, safety, discipline and desire.

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