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A GAME OF TWO HALVES

Alexandre Fuzeau (AKA the Ice Doctor) explains what happens to your body on long cold swims

Few sports test the body and mind so rigorously as winter swimming. Whether we’re talking about the extreme “Ice Mile” of the International Ice Swimming Association or the more accessible 450m endurance swim of the International Winter Swimming Association, swimming in cold water represents one of the purest challenges for the human body: almost naked and without help or special equipment, you depend totally on your physical and mental capabilities to succeed.

But what exactly does your mind and body go through to complete an endurance cold water challenge?

According to FINA, swimming’s international governing body, the minimum water temperature for events under their rules is 16 degrees Celsius. The drop from 16 to close to zero might not sound much but, from a swimming perspective, it is extremely difficult to handle. In addition to the sudden immersion in near-freezing water, the body must cope with rapid cooling while retaining optimal muscle and brain functions, and then has to re-warm once you leave the water.

Winter and ice swimming (the latter usually defined as swimming in water of less than 5 degrees but often involving pools cut out of frozen lakes or rivers) are becoming increasingly popular. For example, in March 2016, 1275 swimmers from 36 countries gathered in Tyumen, Siberia, for the tenth bi-annual Winter Swimming World Championships. The water temperature was minus 0.6 degrees and had to be constantly agitated to prevent it from freezing.

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About Outdoor Swimmer

Outdoor swimming is not just about sport. It is about being part of a community, about fun and challenge, travel and escape from the day-to-day grind. It is about the thrill of feeling alive. It is being sat at your desk and dreaming of next weekend’s swimming adventure. If you find it hard to keep the thrill going through the dark days of winter, we’ve got 12 ways to help keep you motivated, including six top tips for cold water swimming. If you need something to look forward to, check out our Travel and Events sections for races and holiday destinations for summer 2017. Elsewhere in the magazine we hear from the Wild Swimming Brothers about their trip to Norway to tackle the world’s biggest whirlpools, and the truly inspirational Sarah Thomas talks to us about her mammoth 80-mile swim in Lake Powell. Enjoy the magazine and happy swimming.
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