The 6th Eastern Bay Ice Mile welcomed 16 swimmers to Lough Dan on a cold, wet, windy Saturday morning on 3 February 2018. With the exception of one year, the temperature of the lake has been below the required 5 degrees Celsius for every running of this invite-only event. This year the temperature was 4.4 and the air, a moderate 7 degrees. However, a harsh 24Kph north-westerly brought that down to around -2 degrees with wind chill factored in and swept biting rain, torrential at times, down through the valley. The conditions were harsh!
The swimmers were supported by experienced swim organisers from Dublin’s Eastern Bay Swim Team and a team of 50+ volunteers made up of doctors, paramedics, ambulances, kayakers, boats and numerous family and friends. A mini-event village was established with tents, ambulances, heated bus and supplies for accommodating swimmers and officials.
Rob Hamilton was guest of honour and official starter for the swim. Rob had planned to swim in the event but was laid low by a bug and sensibly took the safe option of not swimming in the conditions that can safely be described as not conducive to relieving flu symptoms.
To be honest, quite a number of the swimmers could be allocated ‘guest of honour’ status. The group was composed of multiple Channel swimmers, Ironmen and existing international Ice Milers. Swimmers are invited to participate in the event only if they agree to complete a rigid regime of swimming at least one mile in open water every week between October and January. In addition, participants took pre-set medical tests (including ECG) and consulted with their own medical doctors to assess their preparation to swim in icy water.
Swimmers came to Dublin from California, Boston, Jersey, Guernsey, Glasgow and all over Ireland. All aged over 18 and all year-round outdoor swimmers they came prepared for 30-45 minutes of gruelling effort in freezing conditions and wearing only togs, hat and goggles. Swimmers start their ordeal by wading into the uninviting water before swimming four laps of the 400m square course. Safety is paramount. Each swimmer is accompanied by an experienced kayaker and, importantly, all must wear a flotation device that makes them visible from any point on the lakeshore. It’s fair to say that every swimmer struggled against the turbulent lake and in the intermittent downpours.
Each lap was difficult and increasingly challenging. It was readily conceded that this year presented the most arduous conditions for swimmers and the support personnel were prepared for a rise in the number of early retirements. Eastern Bay present a number of caveats designed to protect the swimmers; namely cut-off times for each lap and a total time in the water of 45 minutes. Even without these markers swimmers are monitored throughout the swim to ensure that their effort is sustained and hypothermia is avoided.
The first of two swims started with eight men taking to the lake. Colm O’Neill (NAC Masters, Dublin) led out the swimmers. Colm is a veteran of the English Channel and North Channel (where he holds the record for swimming from Scotland to Ireland in a time of 11:24). The seven following swimmers strung out around the course in a rosary of bobbing flotation devices and kayaks. Kayakers had to work harder than ever before as they were in danger of being blown on top of the swimmers. At points on the course the swimmers were crashing into waves blown up by the strong wind and at other parts waves were washing over them. Swimmers were missing breaths, swallowing copious amounts of water and missing valuable strokes; all of which slowed progress. The most difficultly was presented by the strength of the icy wind which strips the body of heat and drives the core temperature dangerously low. Each swimmer was aware of this before entering the water and through months of endurance training had prepared for this test. An international Ice Mile is a sprint, not a race, and the quicker it can be completed the sooner swimmers can start their recovery from the cold.
After 27.5 minutes, Colm O’Neill, the only swimmer to break 30 minutes, emerged from the icy water, fresh and freezing. He was followed by Portrush’s Gary Knox four minutes later and the remaining six swimmers over the next 11 minutes. A second wave of five women and three men started when the last of the swimmers from the first wave finished in a time of 42 minutes. Conditions, bad initially, deteriorated over the two swims and the cold became increasingly challenging. Kellie Joyce Latimer, from Boston, led the swim around the four laps and completed in a time of 35 minutes and 31 seconds. Her co-swimmers struggled in the harsh conditions and, even with a number of retirements, the final swimmer and newest ice miler, Mark Hannigan (Limerick), completed the course in an amazing 47 minutes and 42 seconds; a feat that was threatened with extraction but Mark endured and followed up on his 1 Kilometre swim in Armagh the previous week.
Of note in Ice Mile swims is the courage in all swimmers. But courage is insufficient. Ranie Pearce’s 41 minutes was an amazing swim. Her usual swim training zone is along the Californian coast where water temperature remains stubbornly above 10C throughout the year. Her weekly training regime involved six-hour round trips to Lake Tahoe to find 5C water. Wendy Trehiou, from the beautiful Channel Isle of Jersey, was accompanied by two fellow Channel swimmers, Adrian Sarchet and Graeme Lowe. Wendy has swum the English Channel five times. In 2012 she swam a two-way from England to France and back to England in a time of 39 hours – and that was after recovering from breast cancer. For this outstanding lady courage cannot be questioned. Unluckily, Wendy’s ice mile attempt ended 100 metres from the finish line when, after 38 minutes and 11 seconds she retired and called for the RIB to bring her back to lakeshore. In retiring Wendy demonstrated another amazing characteristic of swimming wisdom – to withdraw from the effort that the International Ice Mile imposes. We look forward to welcoming Wendy back for another attempt at some point in the future.
In truth, each of the swimmers could be credited with outstanding comments on their individual efforts.