If you’d had asked me a year ago if I’d ever be in waters under 5 degrees I would have laughed at you, but here we are a year on from my chilly Boxing Day sea dip, and I’ve finally tried swimming in colder waters, I have finally been ice swimming. Yes ice swimming, sledgehammer and everything! Let me tell you about my experience.
What is ice swimming?
Ice swimming is as it sounds, it’s cold, and not just ‘a wee bit chilly’ cold, it’s seriously cold. We’re talking anything that is 5 degrees and under. Winter swimming is extreme anyway but when the temperatures begin to significantly drop, and you still want to swim, you’re often going to have to deal with ice. Ice swimming has become such a hit, that there are numerous events that happen in cold waters, including those hosted by the International Ice Swimming Association, like the Ice Mile.
Why I wanted to try ice swimming
When I went to the Keswick Mountain Festival in 2019 I went to a talk about open water swimming. It was here I met Gilly McAurthur, a keen ice swimmer. I loved swimming especially open water swimming anyway, but after seeing her video and hearing about her journey to ice swimming, I remember thinking, I want to do this one day. It took me a bit of time, but during lockdown I wanted to go for it.
Preparing for the cold
I decided to be safe and gradually build up to cold water swimming, I spent the summer of 2020, whenever I could, being in the open water. I gradually began to do swims with a wetsuit first, then a quick swimsuit dip afterwards, as time progressed I was able to be in my swimsuit from the start of my swim session. Soon the temperature began to plummet, and I was finally greeted with waters in their signal digits. Again, I started off in a wetsuit then went for a swim in my swimsuit, until I was confident to start off in just my swimwear.
Lockdown and lack of swimming
As you all know, lockdown numero 3, all open water swim venues were closed. No swimming for me. After working so hard on my way to an ice swim, I was, like everyone else disappointed. I didn’t really know what to do at this stage, and wild swimming around this time of year was significantly more dangerous. I’m not about risking myself, or others just for a swim, so my swims became quiet.
Ice Ice Baby
The snow came and something inside me clicked. I needed to get the hammer and visit the ice. After carefully investigating the safest local wild swim spots to visit, we took a visit to a quiet area so I could get my first ice dip in. We didn’t have a sledgehammer, so I grabbed one of the hammers from the garage. Stepping onto the snow, in just my swimsuit, I started to make my way to the water.
The big freeze
I couldn’t even step on the water because it was completely frozen over. I had to smash through the ice to make a water entrance. This was super cold, in fact the water was the lowest I had ever stepped foot in, at 1.5 degrees. I continued to smash my way in, gradually getting into deeper water. Funny thing is, the cold wasn’t bothering me at all, granted my legs were probably numb, but I was more caught up in the activity of smashing the ice! Boy, it was an arm workout… especially with my pure excuse of a hammer!
After the ice dip
I wasn’t in for too long because I’d not been in cold water for well over a month and I wanted to be as safe as possible, but I loved it. Thing is when you do a cold swim, the swimmers high is next level. You are so happy and excitable because you’ve just done what you did! However, you need to get changed and warm as quick as possible. I’ve managed to get the ‘get dressed’ quick thing down pretty well now! Having everything laid out ready is key with open water swimming, but essential after an ice swim.
Often you can get a chill after swimming so it is important keep warm. A lot of people think you need to take a warm shower, but much like cold water acclimatisation, you need to do it all gradually.
What’s next for my ice swimming?
Just like my initial cold water training, I intend to keep going until I can manage a good amount of swim time in below 5 degree waters. I would love to do one of the big Ice Swimming Association challenges… watch this space!