Ice Swimming is an extreme sport, a dangerous sport, but one Irish woman, Claire Ryan, is throwing caution to the wind and leading the field having completed an unprecedented six Ice Miles, four of which qualifying as Extreme Ice Miles, recently adding to her tally in water with a bone chilling temperature of 2.5°c, during the 7th Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Event held at Clontarf Baths in North Dublin on Saturday 2nd February She was among 13 athletes who attempted to swim an Ice Mile at the international event which featured swimmers from UK, Ireland & USA and was the only woman to successfully complete the arduous task.
Ice Swimming is a relatively new sport with the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) being formed as recently as 2009. The Ice Mile is the IISA’s ultimate achievement where each swimmer has to complete an endurance swim over a distance of one mile in very cold water with a temperature of 5°c or less. The swim must be unassisted with the swimmer wearing only a standard swimming costume, pair of goggles and swim cap.
6-time Ice Miler Claire Ryan has the additional distinction of being the only woman to have swam an Ice Mile in the Irish Sea, she completed this feat on International Women’s Day 8th March 2018. It is hard to imagine or understand what drives these athletes to take on such extreme challenges and how they can cope with being immersed in near freezing temperatures over relatively long periods of time, so why does Claire do it? “Yes I suppose it sounds a little mad doesn’t it?” Claire laughs “Your whole body is screaming “get me out of here” whenever you get into water that cold, but that is part of the challenge for me, overcoming that fear and the pain that your body is going through, it’s difficult to describe – your body and mind are in turmoil yet you have to keep your focus and stay in control, its one of the most difficult challenges i have taken on, you can hardly walk when you get out of the water and we couldn’t do it without the help of the support and medical volunteers.”
Claire, is unusual among Ice Swimming athletes in that she chooses to swim the ice mile using a breaststroke rather than the faster and more energetic crawl-stroke that the vast majority of ice swimmers use, this means she can spend up to 50% longer in the icy cold water compared to a crawl-stroke swimmer greatly increasing the difficulty and risk, this has lead to four of her endurance swims meeting the qualifying standard of “Extreme Ice Mile” having spent in excess of 45 minutes in the water, her coldest and longest swim having taken place at the Wild Water Swimming Facility in Armagh in January 2017 spending over 49 minutes in nearly freezing water at 2.03°c. – An ice mile is given the higher risk classification of “Extreme Ice Mile” if one of the following factors occurs: the water has a temperature of 2°c or less, the swim takes over 45 minutes to complete, there is -15°c wind chill or the swim takes place at a high altitude of 2440m or above.
Ireland is at the forefront of this fledgling sport, second out of 35 countries in the number of IISA ratified Ice Mile Swims completed and well ahead of the rest of the field, as well as the Ice Mile, there are Ice Kilometres and distances as short as 50m at competitive national and international events, the next IISA World Championships are taking place from 14th -18th March in Murmansk, Russia with a strong Irish team taking part.
This exciting new sport is growing in popularity all the time drawing new members from the swimming and Triathlete communites, if you are interested in finding out more about the sport there is an Irish wing of the association IISA-Ireland website: www.iisaireland.ie
The event – Claire Ryan took part in The 7th Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Event took place on Saturday 2nd February, due to bad weather the venue was changed from Lough Dan, Wicklow Mountains to The Clontarf Baths Open Swimming Facility in Clontarf Dublin, according to organiser Fergal Somerville the Eastern Bay Invitational is the world’s largest and longest running Ice Mile Event.
Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Event facebook page:
RTE coverage of Ice Swimming training at Lough Dan and the Eastern Bay Ice Swim Event:
International Ice Swimming Association