Cold water swimming advice from an Ice Mile expert

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In a few weeks, Outdoor Swimmer's very own English channel soloist and ice kilometre challenger, Joanne, will be heading to Cheltenham to swim what she hopes will be her first ice kilometre swim at the Great British IISA Championships. She’s been chatting with Kate Steels throughout the winter and recently visited her at Andark lake.

Kate is the GB chair of the International Ice Swimming Association, event director of the championships at Cheltenham and an accomplished ice and marathon swimmer. Kate is one swim away from becoming the first British person, and third person ever, to complete Ice Sevens – completing an ice mile swim in every continent – with just a swim in South America needed to complete what will be an incredible feat. She's swimming in memory of her son Dan.

Here’s what Jo took away from her time with Kate.

There’s always time to help others

One of the things which always amazes me within the swimming community is the readiness to help others, share expertise, and encourage others, but for some it just seems to be effortless and integral to who they are. Kate exemplifies this. Without hesitation she was always ready to share advice and help if asked or if needed. Heading into the water for our swim, she paused to watch a lady who’d just swum 1500m in 6 degrees get out to check she was ok. Additionally, throughout the morning she shared stories of those she’s mentoring and swimming with to support on their swim challenges as well as working towards her own.

Check the temperature

Prior to our swim, Kate got a few thermometers and checked the water. I usually go by what the venue says - so to watch someone check and to see that there was 0.5 degree variation between the thermometers made me realise the importance of checking it yourself! (I’ve just ordered a thermometer).

Keep training

While finding cold enough water has been difficult this year in some places, keep swimming in as cold water as you can, use ice baths/cold showers if necessary, keep training even beyond your qualifier, and even if you’re used to doing training in a pool too, keep going!

I can be in danger of counting a cold water swim as my only swim that day. I’d actually neglected club training, but was humbled to hear that Kate had put in a 4.8k session in the pool before meeting me!

Consider your swimwear

I’d never really put much thought into which swimsuits were better suited to winter, or summer, or distance training. I normally just pick up one that’s dry and then go for a swim.

But after 1km in under 6 degrees, I struggled with numb hands and clammy cold skin, whereas others had no problem getting changed.

From chatting, they’ve all learned that it’s important to think about your suit if you aim to get your swimwear off unaided post ice swim.

Don’t forget your admin!

Ice swimming - similar to marathon swimming - requires some paperwork. While it’s easy to focus on the swimming - the fun bit - it’s important not to leave the administrative bits behind. Get your documentation in order so you can take what you need to the swims as well as prepare in the water.

From event organiser perspective, it’s also important to read associated emails. Events are logistical feats and the info shared helps things run smoothly.

Have fun!

A big part of swimming - particularly cold swimming - is the joy after discomfort and the appeal of the challenge. But if you don’t enjoy it, or something doesn’t feel right, then don’t feel like you ‘must’.

You can follow Kate's Ice Sevens challenge on her Facebook page.

01 Cover June

Issue 39 June 2020

  • Return to the Open Water - 8-week training plan
  • Skinny Dipping - Swim Wild and Free!
  • Beginners' Guide to Wetsuits
  • A Different Channel - Lockdown Resolutions
  • UK Wild Swimming Spots

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