Ice Swimming came to Andark Lake near Southampton - the venue for the first International Ice Swimming Association Great Britain (IISA GB) National 1K Open event on 20th February. IISA rules stipulate that swims can only be ratified when the water is below 5ºC so it was a relief to find it was cold enough on the day. The event was brilliantly organised with the competitors racing in nine heats. Each 1K race started at approximately 45 minute intervals allowing time between each heat for the preliminary safety briefing and to allow competitors ample time to warm up in the sauna after their heat.
The Ice Mile and Ice Kilometre
The International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) was formed in 2009 to formalise the sport of swimming in icy water and introduced the "Ice Mile" as the ultimate achievement of cold water swimming - a mile swum in water of 5ºC or less. No wetsuits are allowed - only a standard swimming costume, hat and goggles. In 2014 IISA introduced the "Ice Kilometre, an event which is regulated and documented and which it is lobbying to be included in the Winter Olympic Games. By 2015 IISA had grown globally so country associations were introduced to promote Ice Swimming more effectively through the member nations and so IISA GB was created, "The British Ice Lions".
In order to enter the event I'd already had to have a medical and on arrival I registered and headed off for an ECG. I've been training hard, swimming up to 25km a week in the pool throughout the winter, as well as cold water acclimatisation training at least once a week so was happy to find that my ECG trace was looking good. Having had the all clear from the medical staff it just remained to wait for my heat. I was in the last heat of the day so had a while to wait but this wasn't a problem as there was very much a carnival atmosphere with music, food and friends to catch up with.
The time flew by as I waited for my heat and the day was spent socialising and exchanging views with other swimmers. Many of the people attending were also long distance swimmers and events like these are a great opportunity to exchange views on many aspects of swimming, ranging from the intricacies of nutrition, to stroke technique to the art of peeing whilst swimming (that's in the sea by the way, not the pool - that's a no no ☹️ ). Cold Wet Wife was also attending the event as a spectator and supporter. I'm often concerned that she'll get bored by all the swim talk but this never seems to be an issue as open water and cold water swimmers tend to be a very friendly and agreeable bunch of people.
The time for my event arrived and I attended the safety briefing before making my way to the start. When you're just in a pair of budgy smugglers you don't want to be kept hanging around for too long and we weren't - soon we were in the water and at our marks. Goggles adjusted, shoulders under, Get set, GO!
I find that starting a cold water race is different from a normal cold water swim and the adrenaline carries you though the first 100m or so without too much temperature information registering. That's followed by a period of sometimes extreme pain as your body has an argument with your brain over why the heck it's being subjected to such treatment. It always feels to me like you're being jabbed repeatedly by a million needles. Eventually, your brain wins out and you can settle into a regular rhythm. The key to cold water swimming for me is to get into a regular breathing pattern as soon as possible. Then it's just a matter of finishing as fast as you can!
In any distance race, pace and consistency are all important. I aim to settle into a stable rhythm as soon as I can then slowly ramp up the pace. The aim is to do the second half of the distance quicker than the first. Many inexperienced racers start too quickly and fly through the first few hundred metres before running out of steam for the finish. When I train in the pool I work endlessly with a beeper under my swim cap practicing my pacing and this always pays off in race. Mind you that's not the to say that I finished first either! I was happy my last 50m were probably my fastest, but in retrospect I think I probably could have pushed things a little harder and left myself too much to do to catch up with the leader. Mind you there was no shame in being beaten by the heat winner, Rory Fitzgerald. Rory represented GB at the International championships in Murmansk, Russia, last year where he managed to complete a 1K swim in 14:22 - and that was in 0.8ºC water! So overall I was happy enough to come in as 5th man overall.