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ICE MILE 

 

Haydn Welch Ice Mile Swim 
 
The day it counted 
 
Lake Bled, Slovenia 
 
23 February 2013 
 
 
 
 
 

Image: Strel Swimming Adventures 
 
It was a real shock as the aircraft approached Ljubljana airport in Slovenia. On final approach I peered through the dark night sky to see the sparkling lights of small villages and towns and traffic heading off to cozy homes with warm beds. Looking more closely, my heart skipped a beat before rapidly accelerating as a rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins..........I realised the country was covered in snow. I can't explain why I had not considered this to be a probability. Suddenly I realised the water would be barely above freezing. 
 
For an official Ice Mile to count, the water has to be 5 degrees Celsius (41 F) or less along with various other requirements laid down by the International Ice Swimming Association. In particular, the swim must be completed 'au naturel' , standard swimsuit, no neoprene allowed. 
 
In one moment I went from being afraid the water might be too warm, to worrying it may be too tough. Despite my training and the associated confidence that I could 'happily' swim in 5c, I was untested in lower temperatures beyond 30 minutes. I started to panic and considered the pain. As my wife and I settled in to land I gave myself a good talking to and agreed with myself, I was more worried about the swim not counting, than being it being too tough. 
 
Indeed, the swim had to be tough to be worth it. I recognised how disappointed I would be in achieving my goal , if my swim turned out to be a simple swim. How 'less worth it' the swim would be if the water was 4.99c a marginal difference in a small number (when compared tothe temperature of Windermere and ChillSwim). 
 
Walking from the plane, the still, fresh mountain air filled my lungs and I smiled to myself, the swim would count, this time. 
 
I awoke nervously, way before breakfast and tried to summon the resolve to get up, knowing within twenty minutes, I would be stepping into the frigid waters of a wintry Lake Bled. I gave myself time to heat up with anticipation. I started to sweat. Walking from the hotel, wearing three layers of everything, I felt the chill air immediately penetrate through to my skin. My resolve wavered. 
 
Stripping off my clothes on the snow covered pontoon, was simply a matter of business. I wanted to do it slowly and neatly fold my clothes into my bag, in the precise reverse order that I would hurriedly put them back on, in thirty minutes. But it was too cold to dawdle. I dropped into the water and all tension disappeared. 
 
OK, let me say right here, the water was freezing, but I couldn't care less. It's amazing how the human body can acclimatise. The initial shock of entering cold water was now just a matter of getting wet, and staying wet. I put my face down and headed off along the promenade to a house half a mile away along the lake shore. 
 
I knew it was cold, yet was happy to realise my face did not burn, much. My hands and feet did not freeze and the penetrating frost did not immediately commence it's creeping cold journey into every pore. After three minutes, the worst was over and I excitedly swam waiting for by body to let me know how long I had left to swim. 
 
Sure enough, I felt the initial freeze melt away into a semi comfortable cold chill and looked at my watch for the ten minute marker. I now had about five minutes before the cold would commence its creep. The blood in my veins would turn to ice and I would start the countdown towards a rapid exit. 
 
The effort to simply stay swimming begins and the finish marker is anxiously sought. My hands and feet are now frozen, I hadn't noticed. The cold penetrates and I stop swimming. I try to raise my goggles and find the quickest line back to the pontoon. It is still too far away to see my bag. Yet the minutes pass quickly enough and I struggle to climb out of the water. For the sake of a few more minutes, it would have been an Ice Mile and I wished it had counted. It didn't count afterall it was just a training swim. 
 
Getting dressed is a fumble, and walking the hundred or so steps back up to the hotel is uncoordinated. I sit in the dining room, shivering over a few cups of hot chocolate, worrying the other guests. Then I am warm and the swim is over. 
 
Three more morning swims and the CoppaFeel Ice Mile swim will count. Each morning, I repeat the 30 minute session. Each time it feels different, depending on my attitude. 'Attitude is Altitude'. I am pre-occupied about the temperature. It makes me nervous. It's 3.9c. The forecast is snow. Goodness, it has hardly stopped snowing already. 
 
I am grateful for Borut and Martin Strel at www.strel-swimming.com for inviting me to Lake Bled and for them organising my official Ice Mile attempt. Borut promised me 3 degrees and he appears to have delivered with exactness. It was lovely to consider I would make this attempt in the beautiful waters and stunning location of Lake Bled . I was happy to be in such a lovely place. Somehow an Ice Mile swim should have loveliness, space and beauty , not just cold water.........oh, and ice and snow and mountains. Suddenly the swim was not just about water. This was my Ice Mile Swim and it was going to be done right. 
 
 
The marker buoys were set at 202 meters apart and the course was agreed to run parallel to the promenade about 20 meters off shore. I would swim four circuits and the extra few meters back to the pontoon. All I needed was a good night sleep.  
 
I slept fitfully, excited, nervous and full of anxiety, again worrying. Would the temperature be too warm to count. How would it be if I were to fail? Certainly a failure would suggest a rescue too, as I had no intention of giving up. Despite hours of training in zeroing temperatures and the past few days of encouragement in the Lake, my previous swims, the English Channel and the continued journey of the task ahead, I was still worried about failing. How stupid is that? 
 
I was about to commence the swim that was the result of many weeks ice specific training. Diving into the vitality of youth, despite my ever increasing age and a Peter Pan enthusiasm where growing up simply happens to other people. I considered the many times (almost every time) where I had to find the resolve to get into my ever colder pool, and stay in for thirty minutes, lashed to my elastic cord. Forever swimming and never reaching the end. Thirty six training hours and eight unofficial Ice Miles. Breaking the ice, swimming with ice. My Ice Mile swim would not be endured, it would be enjoyed. Every stroke would be an adventure. I wondered how it was that I had never done an ice swim before. 
 
I have swam alone around piers before I was old enough to go to school. I have raced, lost and won , I have adventured, I have swam Channels and coasts. Breath held dives to depths doctors once thought impossible. Now I swim an Ice Mile and doctors once thought it impossible. Impossible, is just someone else's opinion. 
 
If I were an artist. I ask my friend "What is your favourite colour?" he says it is blue. I reply "What is blue? I have been an artist all my life and have never heard of it." My friend opens his palette and shows me blue. It is beautiful. I wonder how it is I had never noticed it before. 
 
And I am a swimmer and soon I will be an Ice Mile Swimmer and it will be beautiful, why had I not seen it before? 
 
 
 
It is early and I wander down to the lake, before breakfast. A sheet of ice has formed across my course, it is bigger than a football pitch. Today it will count. 
 
The sun shines and within four hours, the ice sheet has melted. I meet up with Martin Strel (Big River Man and Amazon swimmer). Camera crews record me telling Martin to "take off your wetsuit, stop being a girl and get into the ice". He laughs and agrees. It is broadcast all over Slovenia. Did I really tell the nation that Martin was a girl? The great Martin Strel. The inspirer of inspirations. The man who tells the world that age is no barrier, where adventures are revealed to the dreamer of dreams. 
 
I am on the pontoon and care for nothing. All I have to do today is swim a mile. Borut has measured the temperature it averages 3.5 degrees C. Not a single puff of wind and the Lake invites me in without a ripple. The medic and diver are on the boat, Martin and Borut too. 
 
Deepest Bear, soon to be Deepest (coldest) Bear takes his place next to Martin. I remind myself I am swimming for CoppaFeel., it isn't precisely true. I am swimming to fulfil a dream, to continue a journey, to inspire myself to better things and to find a cause. A swimmer without a cause. I borrowed the cause from Sarah Outen and Dave Cornthwaite. 
 
Sarah, who rowed the Indian Ocean and now continues her life's journey, London to London via the World. Who kayaks from Tower Bridge to France, cycles to Japan, rows the Pacific, gets shipwrecked within weeks and returns again to row the Pacific, so she can cycle America, row the North Atlantic, returning to Tower Bridge. 
 
Dave, who skateboards across Australia and now continues his 25 human powered 1000 mile journeys. Having swam 1000 miles down the Missouri. Seven journeys down, he continues, just because life is worth it and we should all 'Say Yes More'. 
 
And Kirsten at CoppaFeel, because life is still worth it, even when it deals you a lousy hand. 
 
I gently lower myself into the water. It is freezing, but I ignore it. Water temperature is not relevant today. I swim, a little too strongly, on purpose, to take my mind off the cold. I know it won't take long until I puff myself out and will also be past the cold water shock at about the same time. Gradually, I relax my stroke and pull less strongly. Now the cold invigorates me and I seek to find a pace and a place to rest my spirit whilst my body swims. Just short of staying puffed, I find a pace. It feels strong but not fast. An 'all day' pace on steroids but without the steroids. A slow stroke rate, but long and steady and strong. I could swim like this forever. I am breathing to my right and watch the snow covered banks of the lake slip by, the trees with boughs heavily burdened. I smile , I am swimming an Ice Mile. 
 
It is a real nuisance feeling it time to spot the turning buoy. I raise my head and adjust my course. It wakes me up from my efforts to settle down. I slowly round the buoy and swim on. I now breath to face the escort boat. Martin tries to signal to me details of my split times. I can't see the written messages, and actually, I don't really care. But it shows he cares, and that matters. I am fortunate to have him and his son Borut and that matters too. 
 
My pace settles and it is time to work. I concentrate on maintaining an even stroke and try to ensure my reach and pull are not hurried. I try to increase my pace to play on the edge of too fast. It keeps my mind off the cold. My fingers are not fizzing, my feet do not hurt. My body is invigorated. I am amazed how in training, in much warmer temperatures, how my hands and feet felt like frozen blocks of ice. Today, when it counts, the training takes full affect and I stay warm, in a cold sort of way. 
 
I approach the second turn (back at the pontoon), again I have to drag my mind into spotting the buoy. I hear cheering. And it is back to work. I just keep swimming. I maintain the effort. It is here that I can gain a minute or two, whilst I can still swim unencumbered by the ever creeping cold. I try to work harder. Again watching the snow go by. I am doing it tough and will be the first person ever to swim an Ice Mile in Slovenia. I will also be the coldest UK Ice Miler at 3.5c. I wonder how the Personal Best statistics apply. Generally, it is simply a matter of going faster next time. But an Ice Mile is different, it is more a matter of going colder next time. Will there be a next time? Where will that be and when? 
 
I have rounded the 600m buoy and am again approaching the 800m buoy at the pontoon, I can hear the crowd and start to spot the buoy, but the crowd......well they don't seem to get my attention, I forget to listen to them.  
 
My mind is concerned with the swimming and I am ignoring everything else. I can't breath and am swallowing water. It goes on for a while and I have to turn my head further out of the water. I drink the lake, or splutter and cough under water. It takes a while to realise the cold has numbed my face, and it's muscles no longer work. My mouth has no control and I can't maintain a small opening for air. I have to open my mouth wide to breath or I can't tell whether I have opened it at all. It lets more water in. My fingers are splayed and my hands are frozen into a claw. I hadn't noticed it coming, but now the cold is here to stay. The Ice Swimmers Death Zone. 
 
I should have been paying more attention. I await the next signal (if I haven't missed it already). I swim, it's cold but I am scheduled to smile and enjoy it. I smile. It won't be long now. Then I feel it. Just for a moment I get a warm flush. It always seems to happen, but I have never discussed it , so haven't got a clue what it signifies. It is over in about 30 seconds and seems to end the 'comfortably numb' stage. Now it is simply a time to think about getting out of the water as everything I do is hounded by the cold and now it feels freezing. 
 
My arms are heavy, if I work them too hard now I expect the muscles to fail and the electrical pathways to mis- fire.Electric shocks like hitting my funny bone but in other places deep within my arms and legs. Perhaps not so intense but always concerning. I relax my stroke. It becomes sloppy. I keep swimming, I know it's just a few minutes more . I have been working hard throughout. 
 
I am bothered, I feel strong but also feel I might just stop swimming. Not that I would choose to stop swimming, but that in any moment my body will just stop swimming and I will have had nothing to do about it. I think about Jack Bright who had a similar experience in Windermere. I cannot allow that to happen. I slow down in order to concentrate simply on swimming, ensuring I do not make sudden cramp inducing movements . I spare muscle energy and begin to prepare my mind to get out. I look ahead, its not far now. I have enjoyed my Ice Mile thus far but now I simply endure the last few minutes. Then I know I will make it. It's over. 
 
I swim over to the pontoon, the steps and slowly climb out. I am frog marched back to get dressed. It happens in a daze. I have Nicola to get me dressed, I can't be bothered to do it myself. Although I think I would have done so easily enough had I been alone. I sit fully dressed in the sauna, shivering for thirty minutes but breathing the deep warm air. I do not get hot or sweaty, yet I warm up quickly. Now it really is over. 
 
My Ice Mile swim is soon to become listed as a previous swim. That bothers me. 
I am also bothered by my time. I thought I swam hard throughout, yet the time is so slow. In Windermere I did a similar time but swam more gently. I had expected to be three minutes faster, even seven minutes faster. I don't understand. Twenty years ago, I swam a mile in 22 minutes something, today it took a little over 37. I don't believe in getting old. 
 
Ratification now pending with The International Ice Swimming Association. 
 
200 meter & accumulated split times: 
200........... 3:47 
400...........4.23 ............8:10 
600............4:15............12:25 
800............4:26...........16:51 
1000..........4:17.............21:08 
1200..........5:02...........26:10 
1400..........5:40...........31:50 
1609..........5:43...........37:23 
In the Summer of 2012, Haydn lent Dave Cornthwaite his swimming raft for Dave's 1000 swim down the lower Mississippi. The raft 'Nicola' was built to Haydn's brief, by Jamie Fabrizio of Global Boat Works. The raft needed to carry two weeks food, water and equipment to sustain extended periods of coastal swimming. It also needed to be carried like a rucksack. "Having seen Dave's plan for a swim and there being no other alternative in the world, it was obvious Dave needed my raft............I just lent it to him, knowing it served me well and would be perfect"  
 
 
 
Ice Chrono rrp £150 
 
Sarah Outen rows the Indian Ocean and on her return to England immediatly begins to work on her next journey. London to London via the World, Kayaking to France, Cycle to Japan, Row the Pacific to USA, Cycle across USA, Row back to London across North Atlantic. A total inspiration, so I made her a silver logo pendant. Also 50 matching metal pendants / keyrings which are for sale £20 all profits going back to Sarah ready for her homecoming and next journey.  
 
 
 
Lake Bled, Slovenia 
19 February 2013 
 
Maybe it is simply a matter of climate change, but for me, British waters were just not cold enough this winter for an Ice Mile swim to count. Although a handful of intrepid swimmers did manage to locate some water and arrange their swims to be ratified. Jackie Cobell was the first, Colin Hill the next, then followed Ned Dennison from Ireland and three others. I was left high and dry and the winter fast turning into spring. 
 
Then came the last hope: a message from Borut Strel (son of the great Martin Strel, Big River Man and Amazon swimmer). I am invited to meet with them at Lake Bled in Slovenia where water temperatures should be 3 degrees. 
 
The Strels organise swim trek holidays at strel swimming adventures and training camps. As well as an annual winter swimming competition . Their version of the ChillSwim , to be held on 23rd February. I am welcome to attempt my ICE MILE swim during their event. They will provide support boats, observers and the full facility of the event , including a medic and not accept any payment, whatever. 
 
I spend maybe a vain attempt to suggest that maybe Martin should swim too, and by so doing, he would be the first Ice Mile swimmer to make the swim in Slovenia. Somehow that is the way it should be. I fear though, Martin will be content for me to swim..............while he observes. Perhaps he knows something I do not. Or maybe it is simply Martin now lives in Arizona and has got used to sun burn not frost bite. 
 
Maybe this is the last real opportunity I have to make my Ice Mile swim count. I can't keep chasing ice bergs around the frozen oceans of the world. 
 
ICE MILE SWIM versus NICE MILE SWIM  
2nd February 2013 
 
Having spent the past few months training in my pool, alone, it was exciting to consider swimming with companions at the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido. I was entered into the 450 meter endurance race. The day was calm and bright and the water temperature a rather chilly 1 degree above freezing. Perfect. 
 
Getting in was as simple as normal, no fancy dive, just a gentle slip in over the side, control the breathing and wait a few seconds for the start. Normally, during the first couple of minutes, I fret with the cold. But this time everything changed. This was supposed to be a race and (although I had no plans at all to race), my mind immediately went into racing mode. I spent the next few minutes swimming fairly strongly, concentrating on swimming and forgot completely about the cold. Even though I was aware my fingers and feet were frozen and my hands had begun to 'claw' , I paid no attention to it. My only concern was swimming as hard as was needed to not get puffed. 
 
In considering the experience more, I find it most interesting to have been able to forget the cold. And make no mistake, 1C is very cold. Of course the weather helped, with little wind chill and the distance was short . Changes in either of those two components might have had a different effect. 
 
And so it was a week later, and I stood on the shore of Lake Windermere for my official attempt at the Ice Mile. I had been invited to join three other swimmers to demonstrate an Ice Mile during the first Big chillswim event organised by Colin Hill. My training had prepared me for as much as it seemed I would encounter. The weather was mild and the water temperature was 5.1 degrees centigrade (too warm by 2/10ths C to count), the distance one mile. 
 
This would be a great Ice Mile training swim, in the easiest combination of elements possible. Twenty lengths of the marina. The water was flat, the temperature warm (5C used to be freezing, but compared to zero and breaking ice, it is nothing other than balmy), the shine shining. To top it all, three other swimmers sharing the moment. 
 
Swimming is so much easier with other swimmers. This one observation was the immediate experience I noticed, it made me smile. The occasion too, made the swim more interesting. The water (OK it is cold) was positively forgettable and within moments I had forgotten about the temperature. All that mattered was I had a mile to swim and had decided to swim gently throughout and not to have any prolonged period of being puffed out. 
 
Luckily, from the start of the swim, the other swimmers were scattered throughout the course and I was never tempted to race. Ram Barkai, the founder of the International Ice Swimming Association was out in front (had I been on his toes, he would have forced me to race) . I reckon I disturbed him as we stood side by side on the pontoon just before the start. He looked pensive and I asked if he planned to dive in. He replied that he was, and I felt as though I had just interrupted his three second countdown. The horn sounded and I immediately slipped into the water, whilst Ram took a good racing dive and was away. Stroking at a strong rate from the start, he immediately took a 50 yard lead. As I slipped in, I took a mouth full of water along with an involuntary breath and took a couple breaststrokes to recompose. Jack Bright, the producer of the DVD ' Winter Swimming' documentary, extreme winter swimming entered next and got away ahead of me, and I followed immediately after him. Within a few strokes I had passed him and was swimming in clear water. Then there was Jackie Cobell . She claims the fame of being the Worlds slowest successful English Channel swimmer. At 56 years old, she spends 28 hours in the Straits and I wonder if 'super shark' Trent Grimsey, the Worlds fastest Channel swimmer, would cry just thinking of having to stay wet that long. Jackie is also the only person in the UK to have already accomplished an Ice Mile swim. Well, Jackie was left standing on the pontoon waiting for Jack and I to clear the first few meters and she followed with a glorious belly flop . (I wish I had thought of that). 
 
With Ram in front , Jack Bright and Jackie Cobell behind, there was nobody to race but myself. I just swam. At first paying only a little attention to direction as I was required to swim towards the turning buoys . As the swim progressed I realised it was too difficult to spot the buoys, it was easier to just guess where they were and not bother looking. This did cause some concern as I swam off at wrong angles in each turn, requiring greater distance to be swam to get around the buoys when they did eventually get into my line of sight. But I didn't care and it seemed neither did Ram as we collided head on, twice, and made a nifty pass on one occasion (just as if we were Red Arrows), as we passed each other within inches and failed to touch. 
 
After five minutes I realised it was time to pay attention to the swimming, so I would be to be aware when my hands began to claw, my feet freeze and to control the efficiency of the stroke. Most of all to be patient as I wait for the next twenty minutes to pass. Soon enough I had swam a further ten lengths of the marina, with only five to go. I noticed my hands had clawed but had not noticed when that had commenced, I was not cold, nor puffed. I could therefore increase the effort a little and started to do so.I really should have paid more attention to working harder from the start. I recognised the smooth stroking was a little more hurried and less exact as my splayed fingers failed to catch the water and my arms slapped in . Nothing really mattered as I switched my thoughts to maintaining a little more effort which needed only to be maintained for another five minutes. 
 
Then the mile was up, the swim was over. I didn't bother to look for the steps to exit the water, but thought it easier to just keep swimming until I reached the end of the marina, rather than maintain a look out to spot the forth set of steps. I swam a gentle few breast strokes back to the steps and clambered out. 
 
People often ask what I think about when I swim, they also wonder why I swim the swims I do. It's strange really, but during this swim, my thoughts were sidetracked as I considered how it would be if I were an accomplished artist. As such, I ask my friend to tell me his favourite colour. He says it is blue. I am amazed, I have never heard of blue and wonder what it looks like. My friend opens his palate and shows me blue . It is beautiful and I wonder how it is that I haven't noticed blue before (after all I have been an artist forever). I start using blue in the rest of my work. For a swimmer, Ice Swimming is like the colour blue. Every arm stroke is an adventure, even 100 meters is a new challenge. I wonder how it is that I have been swimming for so long and have never encountered it before. It has always been there. 
 
Nobody had pointed out to me, the exit steps were onto a floating pontoon. As soon as I stood up, the whole world seemed dizzy as the pontoon rocked. I had no idea I was on a floating pontoon, and simply felt I was about to tumble back in and had to hold on for support. I reached out to grab a metal beam which I nearly missed as I swayed away from it.Thinking I was in trouble, the feeling was odd as I thought I was about to collapse and the universe wobbled. I accepted all the help offered to assist me, and was 'frog marched' back to get dressed. 
 
I realised I was cold once I had climbed out and was less able to dress myself, still feeling dizzy from the walk along the floating pontoon. Then sitting in the medical tent to await the after drop and later recovery. I felt strangely worse then ever before. I had no stones to move or planned exercise to keep me working. My normal routine for recovery is to shovel stones into a wheelbarrow and dump the stones a few yards away. Carrying on for about twenty minutes like this causes me never to shiver uncontrollably. I maintain a similar effort and work rate as the swimming had previously enabled. Now, all I had to do was to sit and shiver, next to Jackie, as the after drop caused my core temperature to plummet. My thigh muscles were solid as if they were lifting weights and could not relax. My arms shaking so much, the hot drink in my cup spilled out. This would last thirty minutes and become bearable at such a slow rate you couldn't notice. Then within a few minutes, its over and again, you recognise a cold swim is never finished until you are warm. Ram was already warm and Jack........well Jack is rather a skinny little chap (especially compared to my carefully stored blubber belly).....Jack swam virtually a full mile, then just stopped swimming. He was pulled out semi conscious and stretchered into the medics tent for a rather more closely observed recovery, leaving him shivering well after we were all warm and toasty. 
 
I now wonder how difficult an Ice Mile swim can be. This swim had certainly all the hallmarks of a Nice Mile and would have been a successful Ice Mile had the water temperature been 2/10ths of one degree colder. The difficulty of course reduces largely upon those aspects of the swim that are controllable, the success or otherwise of the training and conditioning. This is certainly where the brutality of Ice swimming is most often experienced. Many times, I have trained at temperatures far colder than the 5 degrees upper limit, in as much that 5 degrees now seems warm. Although a 4.9 C swim in a howling gale with minus wind-chills would be a different matter all together. 
 
I have realised that, having spent the past few months swimming alone, tethered to my pool,my swimming has become lazy. I can easily swim a gentle mile in calm conditions at the highest end of the allowable limits of an ice swim. The thing is this: My swim did not count and I have to do it all over again. Next time, the water might be 3 degrees (not 5), that's a whole different matter. Maybe the air temperature will also be freezing, maybe the water will be unsheltered and battered by a fierce wind, the sky may be gray, it might be raining even snowing. My training must therefore dig deeper. One thing is certain, when the suffering is accomplished during the training swims, the day will come when the actual attempt counts and a successful ice mile can also be a nice mile. Another thing is this, I can swim a mile gently , it's time to work a little harder. You know, I was surprised to notice how long the recovery took, how deeply cold I was. The reason was made clear a few hours later. My swim time. For months I had been expecting a thirty minute swim and (in training alone) would not exceed this time below 5C. My actual mile swim time was a very slow 36 minutes 48 seconds. A full 20 percent longer immersion than any training swim. No wonder the recovery was so much more prolonged and intense. Whilst I had acclimatised to feel warm, nevertheless I was freezing. 
 
So I am now both encouraged, knowing I can do this swim and also nervous. Next time will be tougher (conditions simply cannot be easier). I know I can swim with far greater effort and must do so. I must swim as if I am racing in order to decrease the immersion time in an attempt to ensure the recovery is speedy and safe. 
 
So I look forward to next week and maybe the last chance to find water cold enough to count. 
 
Ice Swimming......The Day the Pool Froze Over.....Again 
18 January 2013 
 
The day had to come, as training progressed, that the water temperature would gradually reduce towards zero. This was the plan. Acclimatising to such temperatures demanded a gradual reduction in temperature whilst retaining a high quality thirty minute swimming session. Since I started training at the end of the summer, the temperature has gone from a balmy 15C to a wintry frozen, and I have followed this temperature down. 
 
The problem though, is this. Here I am training to swim in dangerously extreme temperatures, this demands quality work and substantial miles. However, as temperatures plummet, water time reduces. It becomes impossible to swim for long enough to gain sufficient fitness in speed. And it is speed which reduces immersion time for the mile. 
 
One thing is certain, at zero degrees, it is unlikely the water temperature can become lower. So it was, with some trepidation, I noticed the weather reports forecasting to drop temperatures like a stone. In preparation I removed the solar cover from my pool, to enable the water to freeze without freezing to the cover. It only needed one overnight spell and a few days of snow. Then the time came when daylight occurred at the same time as I had time off from work. Snow was deep on the ground. I was surprised it had not settled on the sheet ice. 
 
I prepared the pool for my first swim in ice, by smashing through a channel of ice. This would offer the space to swim in the frigid water. The temperature 31 F (minus 0.5C) was the coldest I had ever encountered (the lowest by by 6F or 3C). A huge drop in temperature and one that had not been anticipated or trained for. It frightened me. I took heart from the few swimmers who had already accomplished an ice swim. Strange as it seems, but people do it all the time. Yes it hurts but you will see these swimmers (whilst complete nutters) are after all, quite ordinary. 
 
Once the channel was clear of ice, I retired into my house to get warm and prepare my resolve to see this swim through. Having no real idea how it would be, I knew it best if I persuaded myself not to do it. In the words of Lewis Gordon Pugh, there are hundreds of reasons why I shouldn' t do it and I needed to find just one reason why I had to. I reasoned this day, might be the only day the ice survived and once the opportunity is gone, I would never know. 
 
This swim is all about the vitality and enthusiasms of high adventure and today was in reality, the first (and maybe only) day I would experience such a swim. After a lifetime of swimming, I was about to swim in zero degrees. 
 
Strangely, dropping into the water was not such a surprise, hardly colder than my last swim a few days ago. Maybe the adrenaline was doing its job. Nevertheless within seconds I knew this time it was different. Instantly my fingers were on fire. How could that be? I was in freezing water and my fingers were burning. My feet too, had instantly turned into blocks of ice. Slowly I lowered my shoulders into the water as I tried to remember and notice. My breathing was (as usual) a matter of controlling the exhallations. 
 
I started a slow front crawl, waiting for the pain to hit and burn into every pore. I was surprised to note, that whilst my fingers and hands were suffering with an intensity never before experienced, the rest of my body was feeling simply a greater level of cold. I had felt it all before and it was nothing new, just colder. Within a minute, my fingers and hands were frozen, my breathing was cautious and I was tense awaiting the next level of intensity of pain. 
 
I was aware of more and more ice breaking away from the sheet ice covering the rest of the pool. It floated into my path and my hands slapped the ice, pushing it underwater though the catch and recovery of the arm stroke. My fingers were so sensitive to touch, even the slightest impact onto the fozen floating ice stung. My resolve was unable to maintain the strokes and I stopped. After a few moments to clear away some ice, I started swimming, only to stop again. 
 
My fingers were now really hurting but was it the immersion or the handling of ice? I couldn't tell. After a few more minutes of swimming and stopping and clearing ice, I was aware the pain and subdued. My body was numb and anesthetised. I felt ready to swim further. 
 
Frozen water deserves respect. Whilst the experience was new for me, I am aware any swim is never over until it is over and I am warm and alive. I had experienced the freezing cold and today was not the day to add more new experiences. I did not want to enter into a hypothermic state of 'After Drop' whilst warming up. This would wait until my next swim when the ice has gone, when I can concentrate on a real and undisturbed session. Maybe twenty minutes at 35F. And hoping the Ice Mile will be at a similar temperature. 
 
An Ice Mile swim, demands open water and temperatures under 5C (41F). My training is preparing me well for it. But one thing is certain, a mile in zero is more than I ever dreamed would be required of me, and with temperatures plummeting, I am getting scared. 
 
Christmas Day Swim 
25 December 2012 
 
What could be better, after a long nights hard work, for Santa to cool off during a gentle thirty minute Ice Swim on Christmas Day. 
 
41 F. Strange though, a few weeks ago, this was a freezing experience. Now it's simply a matter of choosing to get cold for a while. My training appears to be working as I no longer fret over thinking about what is to come. Yes, it's still very cold and warming up afterwards still takes some time, but the one factor (that of resolve) no longer rears it's pessimistic head. The one factor that could spoil everything, is a lack of any resolve to get wet. Such a lack would result in less confidence and less swim training, as sessions reduce from eveyday or so, to everyweek or so. 
 
Considering the Ice Mile swim is now barely five weeks away, resolve will determine whether I swim twenty or thirty more sessions or only five more sessions. The trouble is of course, that each session is determined to be a thirty minute swim (to more closely relate to the duration of the Ice Mile swim). Whilst I have resolve to get wet, it is increasingly difficult as the temperature drops into the mid 30s. As each session attempts to produce a meaningful swim, or simply a struggle against the cold. I find it difficult to resolve to increase the effort of the swim by swimming a full on and fast thirty minutes. Rather, I choose to suffer the cold and not include into the session, a suffering of hard effort. This must change, as I determine one further critical factor. 
 
The Ice Mile swim on 2 February might well have a temperature of 2 or 3 degrees C. Such a low temperature will doubtless increase mmersion time, which could easily be longer than thirty minutes. Obviuously it would be better to reduce the swim time to twenty five minutes. This therefore means greater effort must be given in working harder , to suffer both cold and effort, at the same time as retaining form and peace. 
 
One thing is certain, resolve is tested as temperatures drop, as the wind blows and the skies darken. Another thing is certain, five more sessions is not nearly enough. 
 
The day the pool froze over 
12 minutes past 12. 12/12/12 
 
So, I watch the thermometer waiting for the pool to reach 32 F (or at least , just a touch over freezing). I find it plummets and half inch of slab ice freezes my solar cover to the surface of frozen water. I can't get in without breaking the cover, so I must now await until the thaw. Or maybe I can cut a hole in the ice, if I can peel back the cover. It just goes to show how difficult an ice mile swim will be, too cold and the water is solid pack ice, 5 degrees warmer (still very cold) and it's too warm to count. The problem is, I cannnot train when the pool freezes over, and right now I need to get wet and work the muscles, even if I have to swim in a chlorine flavour slush puppy. 
 
 
Two is such a big numbrrrrrrrrre 
31 November 2012 
 
I would never have thought that the number 2 was soooo big. But it really knows how to make a splash when it comes to temperature. These last few weeks have seen my pool hover around 6 and 7 degrees C. Then the weatherman says a cold spell is coming and I become like a schoolchild again, waiting for the first snow. More than twice a day, I check the temperature of the pool as it drops, and drops again. Then, I know it is going to happen........the temperature will fall below 5 (inside the Ice Mile swim parameters) for the first time. I go to bed excited, knowing in the morning I get to swim in really cold water. 
 
I wake up. I am warm and cozy, realising my resolve is soon to be tested. I lay in for a short while as the adrenaline flows and I begin to sweat in anticipation. Then it's time, I get out of bed and straight into the pool. I walk across grass that crunches under foot, frost glistens on the steps of the pool. I run my finger through it, it's cold. I slip into the pool. Yep, it's freezing. My Iphone shuffles some tunes and I settle into the temperature. I pay attention to how long it is taking for my face to stop hurting whilst my hands turn to ice. Nothing much new here, it just hurts more and takes the whole of a Grand Funk record before my mind goes some where else, rather than concentrating on the pain. Then it's just a matter of swimming, always aware of ice in the fingers which has now spread as far as the wrists. But this time it's different. 
 
I look at my watch but can't tell if it says eight or eighteen minutes. I am intrigued. I am freezing and if it's only eight minutes then this spells trouble, but if it really is eighteen, then I have been someplace else for quite a while. I stop swimming, raise my goggles and look again at my watch. It's been 18 minutes. My training appears to be working. But now, I cannot get back in the zone. The last 12 minutes take forever and I have no resolve to swim past 30 minutes whilst the last song plays out. 
 
I climb out, it's been 3.9 degrees C ( 39.1 degrees F). A new personal best and 1 degree colder than it needs to be for the Ice Mile. Of course the Ice Mile must be swam in open water and there are no guarantees the tempearture will be as high as 4.9, it could just as easily be 1.9, and that would spell trouble, wouldn't it ? 
 
The day continues , a bright blue sky, freezing night and in the morning I have to work. The temperature drops like a stone. It is dark when I get home. And the pool says 2.44C (36.4F), over 2 degrees colder than my last 30 minute swim. 
 
So, just how big a number is two ? 
 
I just can't help myself, I strip off and jump in. I swim. It's odd really, getting in was much as usual, cold of course. My hands freeze almost instantly, my forehead freezes, my toes too. I swim. It's been a minute and the pain turns into numbness . That happened fast. It still hurts but the numbness acts like an anaesthetic. But that's when you notice the cold. I keep swimming, the pain would normally last two or three minutes, but this time it burns into my mind, I can't think of anything else. It doesn't go away. I feel the frost in my veins, my arms are numb, but they keep swimming, as the shoulders work their magic and the arms slap the water . I feel my legs freeze from the toes and feet into my thighs, inch by inch. They drop lower under the water. I kick harder but it doesn't help much. Time passes slowly. It all hurts. I must get out . I look at my watch, 7 minutes. My resolve melts. But I keep swimming, I decide 3 more minutes and try to retain some style. I count every second and it takes ages. Bits of me hurt they are so cold, but inside I feel warm enough. Times up. I get out , dressed and warm with no time spent shivering. That really is interesting. 
 
Ten minutes in 2.4C hurts and the pain makes you get out before hypothermia gets you out. Yet 1.5 degrees warmer is sufficently 'warm' that you can stay in for 30 minutes and stay happy. Yet the cost is a couple hours to get warm. How long will it take to warm up if I spent 30 minutes in 2.4C ? 
 
Two degrees turns cold into pain and the challenge to turn a 10 minute swim into 30 must not be avoided. I like to think it is all in the mind and I can swim the next time for 15 minutes. 
 
Right now the pool is still 2.4C. It may be colder for tomorrow mornings swim, we will soon find out. 
 
I Thought it was cold, but now it's Freezing. 
28 October 2012 
 
It's rather odd really. A month ago the water was cold (hovering around 12 c) but after getting in and swimming it soon became comfortable. Then slowly, the mind settles and the swim is beautiful. Almost without awareness, you get chilly and simply have to put up with the cold and finish the swim. After a couple hours it's time to get out. The difficulty of the swim is being cold for a couple of hours and yet remain invigorated, determined, patient and peaceful. 
 
But now everything changes. The temperature has fallen to 7 c. Getting in hurts and after a few seconds it gets worse. It's shocking. I gasp to breathe, but immediatly control the reaction. I breathe deep and slow and commence swimming without fussing. That's when you realise just how cold, cold could be. Keeping my my head down, the cold freezes my forehead like ice cream on a sensitive tooth. The bones in my face turn to frozen concrete. My feet numb within moments. The cold water penetrates every pore like millions of fiery needles. It's freezing. I wonder how much more pain it will take before I am forced to raise my head, even stop swimming. Three minutes have passed and I have spent them all struggling to stay head down. Then something happens. The numbness in my face, hands and feet has spread throughout my whole body, the cold has numbed the pain. My attention is drawn away from the places that hurt to the unsettling awareness that my whole body is really cold, and there is nothing I can do to warm up. I swim harder, it doesn't help. 
 
Those first few minutes count, as an icy fire burns every inch and destroys all resolve . 'Enjoying' the next 10 minutes as the body becomes comfortably numb. Then suffering the last 10 minutes as the cold commences to rob you of life. But you still have a quarter mile still to swim. 
 
I know pain is temporary, but failure lasts forever. Climbing out is never an option. I settle into a routine of effort. The swim will not be long, so the effort must be intense. Swimming is automatic as I turn on the auto pilot and try to put my mind somewhere lovely. It works. But always, always the cold penetrates. My fingers splay open, my feet are blocks of ice. I stop dreaming. I concentrate. Halfway through, there is nothing I can do to ignore the cold. Whilst the body is numb, the cold steals my core heat. Life slowly seeps away, but I am in control. I decide when to climb out. I stay in. 
 
Ten more minutes and I choose. In fact I chose before I started. Thirty minutes. My resolve questions me throughout, get out early, even stay in longer. Then the game begins. Music from my Iphone shuffles and I stay swimming past thirty until the last bar of the playing song. Then the hard bit, swim out the next song. 
 
Then it's over. I clamber out , I stumble across the lawn like a drunk man, my body a palid pink. The towel is warm, yet it hurts to rub dry. I am damp as I get dressed. 
 
An ice mile will be as long but much colder, and now it's only three degrees away. I wonder how big a number like three can be. 
 
 
 
How cold is cold? 
24 September 2012 
 
So it begins. After a summer of delightful swimming, the countdown towards zero has begun. In around 15 weeks (mid January) I expect to commence a one mile swim in waters of less than 5 degrees C (41 degrees F). Classified as an ICE MILE SWIM. No fins, no wetsuit, no grease. Just a silicon cap, goggles and Speedos. 
 
I am grateful to ICE WATCHES who have sponsored the full costs of this swim. Their generous support enables me now to seek further contributions. 100% of which will be donated to CoppaFeel. 
 
So, how cold is cold? Let me tell you this, last week I was on holiday swimming in the lakes of the Dordoigne. The waters were 20 degrees and I came out sweating. Back home in my unheated pool, the temperature had fallen to 15 degrees. These five degrees made all the difference between a cozy swim to one requiring competitive effort to maintain warmth after a couple of hours. Today after a few days of grey skies, the water temperature had fallen another five degrees. You may think five degrees is nothing, a little like five inches or five miles. The number is so small. 
 
It was the first time this year when jumping in made me gasp. But I know I will acclimatise. I remind myself this is training not play. 
 
Then the sun came out from behind a cloud. The journey had begun. A sixty minute swim to set a benchmark and a determination that I will maintain this daily one hour swim until eight degrees. Thereafter, for every degree lower, I will reduce the immersion time by ten minutes. 
 
These training swims will not be sprints. Indeed, working too hard would force cold blood back into the arms and legs . There the blood will be chilled further. Cold water causes the extremities, arms and legs to shut down. The blood is concentrated to the core. Cold water swimming requires concentrating on breathing (not gasping or hyperventilating). Cold water swimming also requires concentrating on form and listening to the body. Even enjoying the swim. Getting past the first 10 minutes of pain as an icy fire burns every inch and destroys all resolve . 'Enjoying' the next 10 minutes as the body becomes comfortably numb. Then suffering the last 10 minutes as the cold commences to rob you of life. But you still have a quarter mile still to swim. 
 
And getting out of the water. You think it's all over. The next hour will decide. As the effort of swimming ceases, the blood will gradually commence it's warm up. The capillaries open, the blood rushes back through the arms, legs, fingers. But these places are still frozen. The blood chills further as it returns back to the core., to commence another round trip of the body, but a little colder this time around. The inner core temperature may drop 2 more degrees. The 'After drop'.........it's dangerous. An Ice Mile is not about the swimming. It is all about getting warm afterwards. 
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