For swimmers in open water, there are a few arbitrary but significant numbers to get excited about. Ironman triathletes tremble when the water temperature creeps above 24 degrees Celsius as that’s when they are no longer allowed to wear wetsuits. Many triathletes are relieved if it drops below 11 degrees, as their rules no longer allow swimming at that temperature, even with a wetsuit.
For Ice Swimmers, the significant number is 5 degrees. The 16 swimmers who signed up for Vigour Events’ Thrilled to be Chilled event in Bardowie Loch on 4 February 2017 were therefore happy to see the mercury (or at least its modern day digital equivalent) registering 4.5 degrees.
For most people, swimming in water at these temperatures is inconceivable, but these swimmers have spent the winter swimming outdoors to acclimatise, physically and mentally, to the icy waters and physical toll of the post swim recovery, which includes anything from a few minutes to many hours of shivering. The training involves adaptation to resist both water induced hypothermia and the cold-water shock reflex.
The problem with hyperthermia is that you don’t realise you have it until it is too late. As warm blood is drawn away from the extremities to the vital organs to keep them functioning, you first lose co-ordination, then consciousness, then you die.
That is, if you are not dead after the two minutes. The biggest risk to cold-water immersion for the unprepared is cold-water shock, which can trigger panic, water inhalation or even a heart attack. Either way, few people would last longer than half an hour.
At Bardowie swimmers completed distances of 450m, 750m, 1 km and a mile. The latter is recognised as an “Ice Mile” if the conditions set by the International Ice Swimming Association are met. These include wearing nothing but standard swimming togs, a single swim cap, goggles and earplugs and fulfilling certain medical requirements. Swimmers in the shorter events could either swim under the same rules or choose to wear a wetsuit.
Swimming a mile in water of less than 5 degrees is an extreme sporting achievement and should not be undertaken without training and steady acclimatisation. Every swimmer had to submit a swim log, a medical report and an ECG before starting their swims.
On the water safety procedures were just as strict. Each swimmer was accompanied by a dedicated kayaker and there were two inflatable safety boats to ensure that if required a swimmer could be extracted quickly to the shore. A team of four paramedics supported by a local doctor were on standby as well as an on-site ambulance. That these were not needed, except to monitor the re-warming and recovery of three swimmers, shows how well the participants had prepared.
Ice swimmers say that the swim is not over until you have recovered. Due to a phenomenon known as after-drop, the core body temperature continues to drop after you leave the water as cold blood is returned from the extremities. This can push a swimmer into hypothermia even if he wasn’t hypothermic on exit. It is important to dress quickly, in multiple layers, and then rewarm the body with gentle exercise and a warm drink. It is as important to feed the shivers as it is to fuel the body before the swim.
Four swimmers completed the one mile swim. South African Phia Steyn led the way in a time of 30m44s, looking comfortable all the way through, while Julie Lloyd coped with the temperature for an impressive 46m23s. These are all Ice Miles, subject to ratification from the IISA.
A further 12 swimmers completed swims of other distances, some with and some without wetsuits. See below for details.
Vigour Events are to announce the date for the second ice swimming Thrilled to be Chilled event next year soon. The IISA (International Ice Swimming Association) was established in South Africa in 2009 with the aim of introducing a 1km swim event into the Winter Olympics.
Bryn Dymott was the Event Director. He’s also an IISA Ice Miler and first British breaststroke Ice Miler.
Position Name Distance Time
1 Phia Steyn 1 Mile - Skins 30:44
2 Jenny Waring 1 Mile - Skins 31:51
3 David Stewart 1 Mile - Skins 33:11
4 Julie Lloyd 1 Mile - Skins 46:23
1 Caroline Connor 1k 18:20
2 Mark Majury 1k 22:54
3 Sharon Blackwell 1k 31:13
4 Hannah Grigor 1k 32:24
5 Nicola McCallum 1k 32:27
n/a Paul Freeman 805m - Skins 25:29
1 Robbie Kennedy 450m 08:47
2 Kate Pearson 450m 08:55
3 Ann Divers 450m - Skins 10:54
4 Laura Ormiston 450m 12:49
5 David Barlow 450m - Skins 13:46
6 Alasdair Crawford 450m 15:48
Find out more: http://www.vigourevents.com/thrilled-to-be-chilled-results