2nd Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice swim

2014 Ice Mile Report

Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice SwimLough Dan, Co. Wicklow, 22 February 2014Proudly supported by Eastern Bay and Swim Ireland

Nine Swimmers Attempted the International Ice Mile

On Saturday, 22 February 2014, nine individuals gathered at the edge of icy Lough Dan in Co. Wicklow; a captivatingly beautiful piece of heaven on earth which provided the panoramic backdrop to the Boorman film ‘Excalibur’. The photo shows nine brave swimmers who started the Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Swim in Lough Dan. Also included are friends, family and shorter distance swimmers. Great praise to the seven swimmers who successfully completed the one mile swim in 3.3 degrees of the glacial Lough Dan. Greater praise to two swimmers who retired from the swim for safety reasons.

International Ice Mile Swim

An international ice mile is a one mile swim in water temperature of 5 degrees Celsius or less. Swimmers adhere to English Channel swim rules which permit one pair of togs, silicone hat and goggles. The International Ice Swimming Association (IISA), founded in 2009 by Ram Barkai, is an organization officiating Ice Swims around the world. The IISA aims to establish Ice Swimming as a recognised sport and has a primary goal to include an Ice Swim race in the Winter Olympics….one day! Ice milers form an exclusive club. To the end of January 2014 73 swimmers successfully completed an ice mile swim; 12 of whom are Irish.  Swimmers must undergo a medical and ECG within one month of taking on the swim.
Eastern Bay Swim Team

Eastern Bay is one of the best known swim teams in Leinster. A proud home to Liffey Swim Champions, English & North Channel Swimmers and several Channel aspirants. This year Eastern Bay proudly supported the second Invitational International Ice Mile. Invitations are hard to come by. Only swimmers who demonstrate a passion for cold water swimming are eligible to be invited. All swimmers selected for this year’s challenge demonstrated that through weekly submersion in the sea / lakes of Ireland (and Switzerland). All were swimming for 20-40 minutes every weekend and training in pools throughout the week. The elite field was populated by seasoned long distance swimmers, including successes in the English Channel, North Channel and Manhattan Island to name but a few.

Safety, Safety, Safety

Nichola, Declan, Robbie and Tom

Swim Director Declan Proctor, a founding member of Eastern Bay and former Liffey Swim champion, arrived ahead of the swimmers. He was joined by Barry O’Shaughnessy, Lough Dan Scout Leader and his team of kayakers. John Daly (English Channel and Ice Miler) surveyed the site and took the temperature of the lake on three separate thermometers which read 3.4, 3.4 and 3.2 degrees; the average temperature a near balmy 3.3 degrees Celsius. All that was needed was the swimmers. Swim organiser, Mark Lynch, pitched a tent to provide changing facilities. It was stocked with bottles of hot water wrapped in towels in readiness for icicle coated swim finishers. Overseeing the safety of the swimmers was GP Nichola Gilliland with paramedics Tom Healy and Rachel Lee. (Tom and Rachel are long serving members of Dublin Fire Brigade and have accumulated more swim records than any other couple in Ireland).
At the appointed 10:00 am swimmers started to congregate at the lakeside to mumble regrets for thinking of ever taking on the challenge of an ice mile. Pensively they toed small stones at the edge of the lake. The swimmers were accompanied by family, friends, additional kayakers and support teams. Preparations picked up and start time, provisionally set for 10:30 am, approached. Marker buoys were strategically located on the lake to create a 400 metre lap. Four laps to complete the magical mile lay ahead. As the sun rose over the amphiteatre that is Lough Dan the level of anxiety rose and the distance stones were toed increased from inches to yards. The moment of truth was on us; time for the final pre-swim briefing.

Swimmers and kayakers were called together and circled by others. Declan, Tom and Barry gave a final briefing which culminated in the sage advice; ‘You have trained long and hard for this day and we are hoping you will all be successful. Remember, it’s only a swim and you are never more than 200 metres from the exit. ‘You can always swim tomorrow’; (an appropriate mantra for all open water swimmers). With circuitous looks over shoulders to the beckoning lake swimmers hurried to the tent to quickly change out of tracksuits and re-emerge in their swim ensembles.

The Swim

At 11:15 kayakers were positioned in the water along with the Lough Dan Scout RIB and under the keen eye of Barry and team. Leinster Swim Committee Treasurer and two times English Channel hero Eoin Gaffney took up position as Chief Timekeeper on the pontoon. The swimmers, called from the relative comfort of the tent gathered for a quick group photo. National flags of Ireland, Moldova, and Switzerland fluttered alongside the International Ice Swim Association flag and county flags of Dublin and Cork.

With the least ‘to do’ the swimmers were called to the water’s edge and Eoin Gaffney signalled the start. Swimmers waded into the icy cold water to a sufficient depth to plunge and start their one mile odyssey. Not a race; definitely not a race. This is a challenge for each individual. Notwithstanding this the field started to spread out into a line which splashed eagerly towards the buoy marking the first 200 metres. At the front from the start was Swiss swimming sensation Sabrina Wiedmer; a graduate of DCU from 2013 and avid open water swimmer. She was followed by Colm Breathnach, Waterford’s favourite English Channel hero and 2013 Ice Miler. In close company behind were Dubs Fergal Somerville and Patrick Corkery and Cork’s favourite son Finbar Hederman (all three seasoned sea swimmers and 2013 Ice Milers). They were followed in close proximity by ice mile debutantes Donal Buckley, Donal Jacob, Eastern Bay’s own Paraic Brady and Moldova’s Ion Lazarenco; bidding to be the first Moldovan to conquer the ice mile.

The line strung out through the arduous four laps. Donal Jacob and Colm Breathnach both retired from the swim on safety grounds. Colm had led the 2013 ice mile field home in 2013 in a blisteringly fast 25 minutes and 52 seconds. Both indicated that they just didn’t feel right on the day. A hugely brave decision.
For myself, the signal to start initiated a kiss for Mags and I turned to stroll briskly into the very cold water. No bother, I didn’t mind. This was my second year. I knew I could cope. I waded out to water almost one metre deep. I splashed the water with my hands and brought scoopfuls up to my face and chest (just to let the body know what was coming). I plunged into the water and commenced swimming. After an initial breathless minute I settled into a comfortable stroke and watched as Sabrina sculled past me effortlessly. I knew I was watching the first home take up position. I set my sights on the buoy and rounded it with regular swimming partners, Patrick Corkery and Colm Breathnach. As we turned the sun shone blindingly at us and I wondered how would I navigate back to complete the lap. Colm took off to the left and I called him several times. He didn’t hear me but I saw Skipper Barry move the RIB to offer required redirection. As I approached the pontoon Colm had overtaken me for the second time and Sabrina was way out in front. The briefing had told swimmers to swim anti-clockwise around the buoys to maintain a circuit that could be marshalled by Barry and crew. With the exception of Sabrina every swimmer I noticed was swimming clockwise on the course; probably one reason why the Swiss are better at making clocks than the Irish. I chased after Colm. I know him many years now and he is consistently faster than me. Its not a race. I pulled out to his left and maintained closer proximity to him than I would have expected. We rounded the buoy to head toward the pontoon to complete the half mile. I was losing ground, but not heart. Last year he was more than two minutes faster than me. We turned and started our third lap. On the next approach to the pontoon I realised that I had passed Colm. I breathe to the right when I swim and when I looked up there was no sign of Colm being in front. I pushed on and turned at the pontoon and I started my final lap I saw Colm raise his hand and call me. He told me today he didn’t feel right and he was getting out. We shook hands and he headed for the exit (50 metres from the pontoon). I put the head down and picked up the pace. I felt really sorry for Colm. I had looked forward to doing this ice mile with him again this year and we had spoken about it so many times. As he had told me he was leaving I didn’t have to worry about where he was. I pushed on and on. We have a rule on our ice miles that swimmers may not stop, thread water or breaststroke. I rounded the next buoy and pushed even harder for the final time to reach the pontoon.

On 25 minutes and 51 seconds Sabrina Wiedmer touched the pontoon for her fourth time to complete her first ice mile and is the first Swiss national to complete the ice mile. She was followed by six more swimmers. Ion Lazarenco emerged from the freezing waters of Lough Dan to be acknowledged by friends and family as Moldova’s first ice miler (pending verification). Donal Buckley completed his first ice mile; as did an elated Paraic Brady. Patrick Corkery and Finbarr Hederman and myself very proudly collected our second ‘ice miles’. (We mightn’t be the best clock makers in the world but we have more ice milers).

Each swimmer finished their swim exiting the lake to tumultuous cheering and clapping from a very appreciative audience. Swimmers were met initially by Medics Nichola Gilliland and Tom Healy. On assessment they were escorted to the tent to be assisted in drying, dressing and reheating. An hour after the swims were completed and last group photos taken the area was cleared and the swimmers departed.

Another successful international ice mile swim organised by Eastern Bay Swim Team. The results remain to be ratified by the IISA. The ratification process involves the submission of a solemn affidavit attesting to the honesty of the swim and the participants. The affidavit will confirm that nine brave individuals took to the icy water of Lough Dan and that seven of their number successfully completed the swim.  We anticipate that the IISA role of honour will host the following list of swimmers and their times to bring the number of International Ice Mile Swimmers to 80; 20% of whom are Irish.

Fully recovered and jubilant ice milers (provisional result) on the shore of Lough Dan after the Swim.

The Dangers of Ice Swimming

It is worth emphasising that our swimmers took between 26 and 38 minutes to complete the ice mile. Though the swimmers trained for months in water that was colder by the week few were ever previously in water this cold before. An ice swim is an exhausting exercise. No one should assume that ice swims are easily achieved. Months and months of acclimitisation matched by hundreds of kilometres of training in pool, sea and lake navigate towards the big challenge. You might think that such athletes can cope with what amounts to less than ¾ of an hour, ½ an hour for some. However, for each swimmer an ice mile is a race against time. Swimming in the coldest water the body has ever encountered. A strong pace must be set and maintained throughout the swim. From the time a swimmer enters the water the capacity for sustained physical effort deteriorates. The initial adrenalin rush of the start is accompanied by shortness of breath and a racing heartbeat. There is no time to relax in the swim; the quicker the swim is completed the quicker the recovery. Correspondingly, the longer the swim the greater the level of exhaustion through physical effort and the colder the body will be from hypothermic reaction. Our adjudicators and medics were acutely aware of this and monitored the pace and performance of each swimmer throughout the swim. This is why I acknowledge the bravery of Colm and Donal who exited the swim for safety reasons; they took the safety of all other participants into consideration. For their courageous actions the rest of us were securely marshalled on our four (increasingly gruelling) laps. Open water swimming is a sport based on pure honesty. Those of us in Lough Dan (this year and last) are aware of our achievements and that we owe those achievements to all who turned up to ensure our safety and success under the rules of the International Ice Swim Association.

If you wish to undertake an ice mile challenge in the future you are welcome to contact myself or (I’m sure) any of my co-ice swimmers/adjudicators above. Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations or grandiose claims. Ice swims are not for the feint hearted or untrained.