Winter Swimming World Champs

Friday 23 March 2018

Think it’s still too cold for open water? Read on for Melanie’s experience at the IWSA Winter Swimming World Championships.

Tallinn, Estonia 2018

Well what can I say except that this clearly is THE event of the season if you’re completely mad and crazy and think that competing in water that is 0.2 degrees with air temp ranging from -7 to -3 degrees in just a normal cossie is, well, normal!

Anyways, that’s me. I took up winter swimming over 2016/2017 as part of my acclimatisation training for my English Channel solo attempt (later this year) in the hope it would make 16 degrees feel warm. But what I didn’t expect was how much I would love swimming in extreme temperatures, and more so, competing in it. So I set my sights on World Champs in Tallinn this year, especially having looked at the World Records for my age group and thinking that if no one faster than me turned up, I was definitely in with a chance for the 100m and 200m free events.

Besides jumping in to cold water every 3-4 weeks, including some starts and turns practice, and giggling that the temperature would probably be less than 1 degree, that was about all the preparation I did. It was a bit of a shock, when hubby and I got on the plane and the captain announced that the air temp was currently -17 in Tallinn, we weren’t sure we’d actually make it off the plane! But we did, and I got a “warm up swim” in the 25m fly the next day, where I placed an unexpected 3rd. I’m always asked “how do you get in when it’s that cold?” but you’d be surprised just how much your racing brain takes over. That and the technique of breathing out as you enter the water to stop your lungs tightening up.

Next was the 100m free event where after the 25m fly I now had 3 big Russians eyeing me up. But thankfully it turned out to be my day as I employed my favourite race tactics of sitting on their shoulders until it was time to sprint on the last lap (totally against what you’d do in a normal pool, but cold water drains you a lot more quickly and you can easily be out of puff after 15m if you’re not careful). And thankfully my sprint was quicker than the other competitors and I won! Even though that’s what I went for, I still don’t quite believe that I can now call myself a World Champion and that I now hold a World Record.

After that I competed in the 200m free and came second knocking 35 seconds off the current record, only to have a faster lady beat me by 4 seconds. And also got 4th’s in 25m and 50m free, proving I’m not a sprinter.

Next, I’m considering going off to the IISA World Champs (yes there are 2 world champ organisations….) in Murmansk next year where’ll they’ll probably cut the pool out of thick ice. There’s rumours of IOC selectors being in attendance as it’s on the table of bringing Winter Swimming to the Winter Olympics. Anyone want to come with me??



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