How to do an Ice Mile
Michelle Lane completed an ice mile in February 2023. Here she shares her experience and top tips
In February 2023, I completed an Ice Mile in Parliament Hill Lido, in London. Achieving this didn’t just happen. It was the culmination of several years of hard work but it’s been such a fabulous journey that I want to document it, and share what I’ve learned to help others.
Your swimming background, and why it matters
I am a competitive masters swimmer and have been for a number of years now. I absolutely love swimming. But while I took part in occasional open water swims, I wouldn’t have described myself as an open water swimmer. Like many others, that changed when Covid hit. I turned to open water to get my swimming fix.
Then, at the end of that summer, my good friend Nicki Murch asked if I wanted to train and do an ice mile with her. Obviously, I had no idea what an ice mile was, nor did I bother looking it up. I just said YES! Only later did I learn that an ice mile is 1609m swam in still water at 5 degrees Celsius or below in a standard swimming costume, hat and goggles. Gulp!
The point about swimming background is that everyone is different. While I was relatively fast and fit, my ideas of open water swimming included using a wetsuit to avoid getting cold. My focus needed to be on learning to cope with the temperature. Depending on your current swimming experience, you might need to work on speed or the fitness to sustain your speed through the mile.
At 12 degrees I was already struggling both in the water and recovering after. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be able to swim in the temperatures required for the ice mile. Still, I continued to train and continued to hate it, but I didn’t want to let Nicki down. It’s hard enough to do as a pair, let alone on your own.
Training, and coping with disappointment
You need to be opportunistic with open water training. As winter rolled on, we tried rivers, reservoirs, organised lake swims and unheated outdoor endless pools – whenever and wherever, until we thought we were ready to complete our ice mile that first winter. But whether I was will forever remain unknown as covid’s resurgence cancelled any attempt at a verified ice mile.
After that first setback, we set our targets on the following winter (2021/22) but couldn’t find a venue with support and logistics in the relatively small window of it being cold enough that year. Nevertheless, we continued with the training.
Winter rolled around again, and it was with great excitement in February 2023 that we headed north for what we thought would finally be our chance to complete the ice mile – but then, at the last moment, the temperature tipped up to 5.1 degrees. No ice mile. Two very grumpy wannabe ice milers.
Seize the moment
We thought we may have lost our chance for another year but then noticed the weather forecast was for freezing overnight temperatures for a week. Our friend and IISA GB Board member Nick Hungerford suggested we may still be able to get an ice mile in at Parliament Hill Lido if we could get everything in place. Cue: lots of nerves, phone calls and anxious hours praying to the ice gods.
Friday came around, Nick measured the temperature and sent us a message: “Cozzies on Team.”
It was finally happening.
Nicki swam first to allow her husband Nick (another Nick – sorry about the name confusion) and Nicki to be able to second for each other, as he was also planning an ice mile that day.
Nicki successfully finished her ice mile and went to recover, supported by husband Nick.
My time had come. And I was nervous. Stretch (my husband) and Nick H led me to the deep end of the pool, wished me luck and set me off.
Parliament Hill Lido is 61m long. I had to swim 27 lengths to cover the mile. The mathematically inclined will note that comes to 1647m, but it’s better to finish at the end of a length rather than the middle of the pool.
It felt good, at the start. I thought my pace was OK. The idea of 27 lengths was a little overwhelming but I could see Stretch pacing the poolside alongside me, giving me the occasional thumbs up. Nick H was watching and cheering, along with other swimmers from the lido who were interested in what was going on. There is such a beautiful community of swimmers at Parliament Hill Lido.
I focused on maintaining my pace and keeping going. My hands and arms were getting numb but the sun was out and shining, which was a huge mental boost. At the halfway point, my support team showed me a large sign telling me how much further I needed to go. I signalled that I understood and was OK by raising my thumb. Nicki had recovered sufficiently from her ice mile to join the supporters, and this gave me a further boost as she could have stayed warm and cosy in the recovery room yet she chose to come out and cheer me on.
I tried to keep up the pace. I even tried to speed up for the last length but I don’t suppose I did. As I swam into the end, I could hear people cheering. I climbed out and Stretch draped my jacket over my shoulders and steered me to the heated medical room to change and start getting warm. The first challenge was getting my cozzie off! I had forgotten I had a tow float belt around my waist (we wear belts from tow floats as a safety device, to make it easier for the lifeguards to haul us out of the water if necessary). I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t roll my costume down past my waist.
Stretch dressed me as if I was a small child, directing me and talking to me. You really need someone to help you with this. Afterdrop was coming. I stayed in the warm recovery room, wrapped in layers, hugging hot water bottles and sipping tea, until the worst had passed. As soon as I felt ready, I headed outside to see Nick M complete his ice mile. He works close to the lido and is a well-known face there. The atmosphere was magical as friends cheered him on. What a day!
Did I make it sound too easy?
After three years of training, and the stress of several cancelled attempts, it was a relief to get this swim done. And I suppose, doing the swim was relatively straightforward – but only because of the training, preparation and amazing support. And that training and preparation was hard.
I know that without Nicki, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. There were many times, especially on cold, dark, frosty mornings, standing at the edge of the water that I didn’t want to do it, and there were days when Nicki didn’t want to either. But we knew if we wanted to complete our ice miles we had to practise and so we would push each other on to do it.
I think what I take most from this ice mile is that you can push yourself to do more than you realise. I have found out what I’m capable of and I’m still learning and pushing to see what more I can do. Just take it one step at a time and you never know where it will take you.
My final tips for potential ice milers
- Find a friend or group of people to train in the cold with.
- Don’t be put off by the cold. I never used to like the cold and arguably I still don’t but it’s not as bad as you think and after you’ve done it you really are ecstatic. There’s such a sense of accomplishment for putting yourself through something so hard.
- Finally, don’t rush into an ice mile. Nicki and I wanted to complete ours during the first winter of our acclimatisation. It is only on reflection now that I’m glad we weren’t able to. That first winter, swimming in the temperatures for the times required felt so much harder and recovery was much more difficult. Because of the delay, I think I enjoyed my ice mile rather than endured it.
Winter swimming is addictive and has become part of my swimming life.