Camlough Lake to host Ireland Ice Swimming Championships

What do you do if four girls with no cold water experience turn up at your lake and say they want to swim an ice mile? For Padraig Mallon, it was the start of a chain of events that led to hosting next weekend’s Ireland Ice Swimming Championships.

The lake committee’s initial answer to the girls’ request was “no way”, says Championships race director Mallon. “But I argued that they were going to swim anyway so we should look after them to make sure they did it safely.”
The four novices became a group of 48 and an innovative programme was set up to train the swimmers to complete 1km in water below 5 degrees Celsius. The programme started in November with tips and talks on psychological training to deal with the cold. The participants had to submit training logs for their acclimatisation swims and undergo a full ECG and doctor’s check up.
All the swimmers were taught the physiological effects of cold water and the proper procedures for recovery. “It is not so scary if you know the medical reasons behind what is happening to your body,” says Mallon. The programme also benefited from the expertise of Russian doctors, who were able to give detailed answers to any questions the participants had. But the swimmers were also able to teach the doctors a few things, explains Mallon: “One of the swimmers has diabetes and we have found that cold water swimming actually stabilises their sugar levels.”
Fifteen of those novice swimmers will compete in the Ireland Ice Swimming Championships next weekend, joining experienced ice swimmers from around the world, including Henri Kaarma from Estonia, 2014 World Open Water Swimming Association Man of the Year and current world record holder (2.4km in 0.8 degree water in 41mins 57secs) and former record holder Alexander Brylin from Russia.
Mallon, who completed an ice mile in 2013 and competed at Tyumen in 2012, says the involvement of Russia is important for promoting ice swimming: “It is a growing sport in Europe, so it is good to have their support. The Russian sport minister will also be attending the event, although I am not sure if he will also be swimming.”
The event takes place at Camlough Lake on 7 February 2015. Twenty-five swimmers will take part, swimming eight laps of a 125m course. The event is approved by the International Ice Swimming Association and will follow strict safety guidelines.
“The programme has actually helped us put safety procedures in place,” says Mallon. Only two swimmers will be in the water at any one time, and each swimmer will be accompanied by a boat with two crew members and a kayak. They will be assessed constantly for stroke rate and must wear clear goggles so their eyes are visible.
The water temperature at Camlough Lake is currently 1.7 degrees. “The lake froze two weeks ago,” says Mallon, “and we have just had a dump of snow so we expect the water to remain between 1 and 2 degrees.” But despite the tough conditions, Mallon is hoping that the Championships will see ice swimming world records broken in the male, female and junior categories. 
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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.