IISA (International Ice Swimming Association) GB Championships – The Road to Romania
Posted by Lydia Burdett
Welcome to the extreme world of ice swimming.
To kickstart the new year we joined over 90 swimmers on the chilly poolside of Cheltenham Lido to present them with their branded EVO robes and watch the action unfold at the 8th IISA GB Ice Swimming Championships. We are super excited to be the robe of choice for such a hardy group of swimmers and the main sponsor for the IISA GB team. It’s a fantastic testament to the performance and technical design of our award-winning Pro Change Robe EVO as these guys really put the product through its paces.
Like many of us, you may not have heard of competitive ice swimming before. While cold water swimming, wild swimming and ice dipping have been gaining in popularity over the past few years, ice swimming takes things further - a lot further - and is not for the faint hearted!
The concept sees elite swimmers, wearing just a swimming costume and cap, take to ice freezing waters and break world records over a variety of distances. With distances of between 50 metres to 1km, ice swimming requires fitness, stamina and an iron determination to keep going when submerged in such an extreme environment. Standing on the sidelines you may easily mistake this for a traditional swimming gala but be under no illusion, to be an ice swimmer you must pass rigorous medicals and be monitored throughout to ensure you are safe to swim.
The rules for competitive swimming run under the auspices of the IISA (International Ice Swimming Association). To qualify as an Ice Swim the rules necessitate that swimmers take to the water of 5°C or under, wearing only a regular swimming costume, a pair of goggles and a swim hat. Nothing more.
The whole experience is markedly harsh on the human body and as we witnessed on the day, the safety and recovery of every swimmer is paramount. Red Ambassador and Ice Swimming royalty Kate Steels is the Chair of the IISA and oversaw the running event at the weekend. Kate explained how essential the health and safety aspect of this sport is when it comes to participation and organising…
"Here in England, we've got the largest number of people who've completed Ice Miles, even though we're not the coldest nation in the world by a long way. The GB event sold out in 72 hours - no other IISA event anywhere around the world has sold out that quick!
As we're growing, it has become much more competitive – but we always ensure everyone ice swimming safely while competing. We of course acknowledge the health benefits of people dipping – more and more are people getting into those local lakes, rivers, pools where they can just enjoy a cold water environment. But for this weekend, the focus is on the competition, it's about speed and having everything in place to make sure it is done as safely as possible."
– Kate Steels
It’s not often you hear a group of people complaining that the weather isn’t cold enough, yet this was exactly the case as we joined the race judicators and judges to measure the temperature on day two of the Championships. The previous day saw competitors swimming at 7.9 degrees, sadly just not quite cold enough to qualify as Ice Swimming.
While it was a markedly colder morning for us mere mortals, when the temperature gauge registered an arguably chilly 6.7 degrees a collective sigh was heard confirming that once again, Sunday’s races would once again not be Ice Swimming. Rather, it was the perfect temperature for Team GB to get some PBs clocked up and practice in a competitive environment ahead of the European Champs.
The lack of ice-cold temperatures also didn't affect the community atmosphere with swimmers taking the opportunity to bond as a team ahead of the first ever IISA European Championships in Romania.
The wintry conditions both inside and out of the water make going fast harder than ever. Dan Wallace, who competed in the Rio Olympics, is an exciting addition to the GB team yet as a relative newcomer to Ice Swimming. He is still learning the skills required to swim at speed in freezing conditions…
“It is a lot harder both physically and mentally. You know you are going to be uncomfortable. It is not something you have to think about when you are racing in an indoor pool, and with this, the cold has an enormous impact on your performance in the water, so it is all about building experience and stamina in the cold. The GB Champs is a great place for me to build up that experience – this is only my second race ice swimming – and get to know the team ahead of Romania.”
– Dan Wallace
Red Ambassador and cold-water expert, Fenwick Ridley, is also on the GB team and has been coaching Dan to help him better understand how the cold affects performance and the impact it has on the body.
"We've got quite a few new swimmers on the team this year and one of them I’ve quite proudly been helping get into the sport - that's Dan. Dan used to be an Olympic swimmer and he's very fast – He's got a good engine on him that’s for sure!
It is a great privilege to actually do a bit of coaching with him and help him understand and experience the cold because it's a huge transition for him. I'm pretty excited to be alongside and watching him go through and become a completely different swimmer.
I met him at the Scottish championships, and it is amazing that he went from that to now joining Team GB in Romania. It is nice to be able to give that support to him. We're going to do a little bit more coaching together and I'll help him with this process and get into that mindset of being able to cope with what he's going to be going up against."
– Fenwick Ridley
The Red team will be joining the GB team in Romania to see how they fair against the European teams. To be the robe of choice for such a hardy group of swimmers is a testament to the performance and technical design of our award-winning Pro Change Robe EVO. We can’t wait to follow the team throughout the year as they train and work hard for the world championships this time next year.
All image credits to Emma Dingley.