With an icy wind tearing off the snow-covered mountains, climbing down the steps into the water was almost an inviting prospect, especially with the knowledge that, at 5.8 degrees Celsius, the lake was warmer than the surroundings.
However, any relief from the bitter wind was short lived. Within a few seconds, the cold starts to bite. Still, they press on. For relay swimmers, it was a quick 30m dash across the marina. Solo swimmers tackled 60m, 120m or 450m with the latter being a tough test of cold water endurance.
The third Big Chill Swim at the Low Wood Bay Hotel and Marina on Windermere over the weekend of 31 January proved more popular than ever with around 800 swimmers taking part. Fortunately the snow stayed on the mountains and the sun shone, treating visitors to spectacular lake-land views but leaving the roads clear – something of a relief given the heavy snow warnings from a few days earlier. Participants included Christof Wandratsch, a former English Channel world record holder, teams from Russia and Finland, and the East German Ladies Swimming Team whose members are neither German nor female. A few of the medals were hotly contested but the majority turned up for the personal challenge, to have fun (including wearing some interesting costumes!) and to catch up with old friends.
The atmosphere changed noticeably for the second day of the event, which featured the challenging 1000m cold water swim, a distance that needs to be – and was – taken seriously. Competitors had to prove their abilities before being allowed to take part and were required to bring along a supporter to help them rewarm and dress post swim. The water temperature had dropped by about half a degree overnight and the wind was blowing harder, leaving even warmly wrapped spectators shivering.
For this second day the organisers removed the lane ropes from the day before and marked out a 250m loop around the marina with four bright yellow buoys. Out in the lake, the wind was kicking up whitecaps and even in the shelter of the marina it was choppy. Blue Peter’s Radzi Chinyanganya, who took part in last year’s event, provided the commentary.
While for most swimmers the aim is primarily to complete the distance, some were there to compete. Wandratsch of Germany was the man to beat and Andrew Allum decided to take the race to him with a quick start that put him into the lead on the first lap. However, Wandratsch fought his way to the front during the second lap and opened up a five metre gap. His win wasn’t a foregone conclusion however as Allum stayed within touching distance throughout the rest of the swim and finished just five seconds behind. Wandratsh’s time was an impressive 12:30.5. Third place swimmer, Paul Smith, swimming in the 50-60 year age group, was another minute back.
In the women’s race, Wendy Figures won by a convincing 45 seconds, with Alexia O’Mara coming second and Andrea Startin in third.
For full results and more information, see www.chillswim.com