On Friday morning, 1 February, Fergal Sommerville received a phone call from Lough Dan. “Sorry,” they said. “The roads to Lough Dan are impassable. You won’t be able to get here tomorrow for your swim.”
Fergal is the organiser, promoter and one of the swimmers of the Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Swim. This was supposed to be the seventh outing of the event at Lough Dan. With swimmers flying in from around the world, Fergal now had less than 24 hours to come up with a new venue. He decided on the newly refurbished Clontarf Baths on Dublin’s Northside.
“I had a lot of help from a lot of people and over the course of the eight hours transferred the event, along with the insurance, equipment, medics, ambulances and whole entourage to the new venue,” says Fergal. “We got a water temperature of 2.4C and a beautiful sunny day. Thirteen swimmers took to the water in three stages to attempt the Ice Mile and 10 completed the swim to bring the total of Eastern Bay International Ice Miles to 57. I am pretty sure that makes us the longest running, biggest and best Ice Mile event in the world – not boasting or anything.”
We asked two of those swimmers to tell us about their Ice Mile experience.
Lukasz is a double English Channel swimmer and completed an Ice Mile in Lough Dan in 2015.
Heavy snow made roads to Lough Dan impassable but I didn't really complain as I now had less driving to do. However, I missed that iconic view over the lough and mountains of Co. Wicklow.
I arrived at Clontarf Baths at 10am and, after signing in, I was ready for the swim at 10.30 – straight to the business. I have to say that I was amazed with the new venue complex of the bar and restaurant with a 40m open air pool overlooking Dublin Bay.
The Ice Mile is an extreme event that tests the body to its limits. This time we were facing very cold water of 2.4 degrees Celsius. I was swimming in a first heat and we had to complete 40 lengths of the pool. I started really well and felt quite comfortable after initial shock to the body caused by huge temperature difference.
After 10 lengths my body started to respond to the icy water and my hands and feet were getting numb. I was trying to keep my speed going but after 20 lengths my body didn't fully listen to the orders coming from the head and after 30 lengths the body was slowly shutting down with less blood flow to the arms and legs. I was trying to swim as fast as I could to reach my goal and get out of that water to get warm, but progress was slow. I counted down: four lengths to go, then two, and then the joy of reaching the wall.
Ice mile completed!
At that stage my balance wasn't great. After assistance getting out of the pool and getting changed, I ended up in the ambulance where I was well looked after until I was ready to slowly bring myself round to a more communicative stage. When all the shivering finished I was able to get a hot soup and I was a happy camper. Mission completed.
After that I went to support other swimmers and we had a closing ceremony presentation where everyone was in a better mood and we had time to relax. Despite very cold water it was a beautiful day with the sun nearly splitting the trees. Overall, it was a great day with fantastic people sharing an amazing experience. I have to mention the people who helped with the event to ensure it ran smoothly and the ambulance service. A big thank you!
Kellie is an open water swimmer and an Ice Miler from the US.
Last year’s 6th Eastern Bay International Ice Mile was one of the most challenging swims I’ve ever completed. An Ice Mile is a tremendous challenge in calm water, and the day of this swim was windy, rainy and cold. Conditions in Lough Dan on the day of the swim were 4.2C and rough – many times I lifted my head to sight the buoy and saw only a wall of water in front of me. It was raw, and awesome, and cold. The camaraderie and hospitality of the Irish open water swimming community was so great that I returned to Dublin to swim the Liffey in September. When I received an invitation to return for the 7th edition of the Ice Mile I said yes, eager to see my new swimming friends and to see what else that lake could throw at us.
However, the weather had different plans. I left Boston when the temperature was -16C and the harbour was full of ice, and I expected Ireland to be like a tropical destination. While I was in the air over the Atlantic, snow was falling in the Wicklow mountains, slowly turning the roads to Lough Dan icy and impassable. I landed in Dublin the day before the swim and was with Fergal when he received the call that we weren’t going to be able to make it to the lake the next day. The next few hours were an incredible effort of coordination that demonstrated the strength and support of the open water swimming community in Dublin. The historic Clontarf Baths have recently been revived and reopened with a 40m seawater pool. Fergal was able to secure access to the pool for our swim and coordinate the many volunteers and medical support necessary to run an Ice Mile to assemble at the Baths the following morning.
The day of the swim was cold but sunny, and the water temperature in the baths overlooking the harbour was 2.4 degrees. In the northern US, unheated pools open in winter are unheard of and there are very few seawater pools, so it was a treat for me to see the lane lines stretching across the cold water. I was in the first wave of swimmers, so I had little time to dwell on how cold it was actually going to be. I got in the pool and allowed the frigid water to quickly numb my arms and legs, and waited for the start signal. I love the way calm, cold water feels as you cut through it. It seems thicker and more solid than warm water, and you feel like you can actually grab onto it and pull yourself forward. I felt strong and elated, and very safe under the watchful eyes of the volunteers and spectators. That feeling lasted about 800m, and then the cold set in. I’ve completed two Ice Miles before, and I’ve trained to pick up on the little signals my body gives me as it gets cold. This day, the signals said a mile wasn’t going to happen. I pulled myself from the swim at 1km and retreated to the changing room to get dry and warm. I returned to the sun of the pool deck to cheer on the remaining swimmers and soak up the atmosphere.
After the swim we gathered for presentation of awards, and to celebrate the achievement that everyone was in and out of the water safely. This gathering, and the gathering later that night at the pub, is one of the reasons I love travelling to swimming events. We exchanged stories, swim hats, team badges and email addresses, and extended to each other invitations to come swim in our home towns. I can’t speak highly enough of the open water swimming community in Dublin, and I look forward to my next visit.