Breaking Distance in the Ice

Breaking Distance in the Ice

Courtesy of Ram Barkai, International Ice Swimming Association.

Cape Townian Ram Barkai has pushed the envelope of human resiliency and potential in profound ways. Not only has the 63-year-old from South Africa has officially completed 11 ratified Ice Miles and 17 ratified Ice Kilometers, but he is also the founder of the International Ice Swimming Association. He explains how distance swimming in the ICE started with exploring physiological and psychological boundaries rather than breaking records.

I had no doubt in my mind, following my first Ice Mile swimming 2.3 km in Lake Zurich in Switzerland, that I had just scratched the surface of the ICE. My target was 3 km and was thinking that 5 km should be possible,” he recalled about his 43-minute swim in January 2009 in the 4°C open water and 0°C air.

Currently, the record distance stands at 3.5 km by Paul Georgescu of Romania (shown above after his 3.5 km swim in 57 minutes 56 seconds in a 4.43°C lake). The 2 km mark has become part of the Extreme Ice Mile records – distances and times have changed.

Conditions on the day certainly play a significant part: water temperature, wind chill, sun, and water conditions. However, like any record, as records get more difficult, swimmers will look for the best conditions to break the record.

Regardless of records breaking anyone who swam an IISA® Ice Mile in sub-5°C is a record-breaker. It is a mammoth challenge that must never be taken lightly, regardless of records being broken.

I often heard swimmers say after an Ice Mile, ‘It is, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done in my sporting career.’ This is from swimmers who swam the English Channel or completed an Ironman triathlon, or a few other ultra-achievements. It is not as hard for all, but I think that none of the other challenges take you to the place the Ice Mile takes you in a short extremely condensed experience. It is also followed by a hard recovery which for many, is as hard and scary as the swim itself.

Human nature is competitive; many focus on breaking records, or else, we would all be sitting in our caves, drawing charcoal on the walls. Getting out of the caves, exploring, seeking new records, and breaking them, this doesn’t come without a price. It is dangerous and no success is guaranteed. In ice swimming, failure can be more dangerous than other sports.

Safety in the Ice is not just common-sense caution, it is imperative. It is the same as the climbing Mount Everest. Heroes end up staying on the mountain forever. Extreme challenges such as this require training, planning, and preparation where swimmers must explore every possible eventuality and prepare protocols for such cases.

Many ask the question, ‘When do you know it’s time to pull a swimmer out?’ It is certainly not the swimmer’s decision. In Paul’s record swim case, we used several triggers such as:

  1. Body language
  2. Stroke (technique)
  3. Stopping too much
  4. Mental coherence

The harder triggers include:

  1. Pace – distance per km
  2. Stroke rate (stroke count)
  3. Kick
  4. Body position

Paul started his swim at a pace of 57 strokes/minute for the first kilometer in a time of 13 minutes 30 seconds. Most elite or top competitive swimmers start faster than others in the Ice. I noticed that many times. Not all can maintain this pace. Paul dropped his stroke rate to 47 strokes/minute by the 2 km mark. His pace dropped significantly to 16 minutes 10 seconds per km.

The third kilometer was certainly the testing one. Paul reached the 3 km mark at a stroke rate of 48 strokes/minute in time of around 16 minutes 50 seconds. That was the deciding factor of his attempt. Everyone slows down significantly, but Paul managed to maintain his pace of the 2nd kilometer in his 3rd kilometer. How he has managed to do that, I suppose, that what made him able to break the world record.

The next 500 meters was very tough. He was coherent and he knew he is almost there, he also started to get sight of the finish mark. Yet, he started to take water as his mouth muscles froze and water found their way in – that is certainly a dangerous place. But I have experienced it and seen it happening in shorter swims too. He stopped a lot trying to regain control of his breathing. That was certainly a time where pull him out or letting him continue was debated. The deciding factor to allow him to continue was the fact that every time he continued to swim, his stroke was good, controlled and his pace was ok to allow him to finish his swim. He finished his 3.50 km at 57 minutes 56 seconds.

A very good indication of one’s swim is the swimmer’s recovery. In the case of Paul’s swim, his recovery was a swift 20 minutes with all his vitals in order.

2-time Ice Miler Ned Denison talks with Paul Georgescu on WOWSA Live

IISA® Ice Mile swim Distance Records – Chronological History

  1. Ram Barkai (63, South Africa) 2.3 km in 43 minutes in January 2009 in 4.00°C open water and 0.00°C air
  2. Paul Duffield (51, Canada) 2.32 km in 54 minutes 2 seconds in March 2013 in 4.00°C open water and 0°C air
  3. Henri Kaarma (46, Estonia) 2.4 km in 41 minutes 57 seconds in March 2013 in 0.01°C open water and 0.00°C air
  4. Andrew Allum (46, Great Britain) 2.99 km in 47 minutes 25 seconds in February 2015 in 4.60°C open water and 7.00°C air
  5. Jack Boyle (25, Ireland) 3.3 km in 54 minutes 59 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water
  6. Carmel Collins (41, Ireland) 3.3 km in 57 minutes 45 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water and 8.00°C air
  7. Hamza Bakircioglu (48, Turkey) 3.44 km in 1 hour 8 minutes in February 2018 in 4.13°C sea water and 0.00°C air
  8. Paul Georgescu (42, Romania) 3.5 km in 57 minutes 56 seconds in February 2021 in 4.43°C lake water and 15.00°C air

IISA® Ice Mile swim top 10 Distance Records – Female Ice Swimmers

  1. Carmel Collins (41, Ireland) 3.3 km in 57 minutes 45 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water and 8.00°C air
  2. Colleen Mallon (35, Ireland) 2.32 km in 32 minutes 49 seconds in August 2020 in 4.27°C lake water and 1.00°C air
  3. Bhakti Sharma (31, India) 2.28 km in 41 minutes 14 seconds in January 2015 in 1.00°C open water and 4.00°C air
  4. Charmian Frend (51, Australia) 2.01 km in 37 minutes 4 seconds in August 2020 in 4.07°C lake water and 4.80°C air
  5. Amanda Bell (49, Great Britain) 2.0 km in 44 minutes 4 seconds in February 2014 in 4.70°C open water and 0.0°C air
  6. Claire Ryan (42, Ireland) 2.0 km in 56 minutes 19 seconds in January 2021 in 4.70°C lake water and 1.00°C air
  7. Susannah Green (43, Great Britain) 1.9 km in 54 minutes 49 seconds in March 2020 in 4.43°C lake water and 5.80°C air
  8. Charlotte J Brynn (54, New Zealand) 1.93 in 30 minutes 38 seconds in April 2013 in 4.85°C open water and 0.00°C air
  9. Nadine Bennett (48, Canada) 1.9 km in 41 minutes 31 seconds in November 2018 in 4.53°C lake water and -8.00°C air
  10. Sarah Poll (40, Great Britain) 1.88 km in 34 minutes 21 seconds in March 2020 in 4.83°C lake water and 7.00°C air

IISA® Ice Mile swim top 10 Distance Records – Male Ice Swimmers

  1. Paul Georgescu (42, Romania) 3.5 km in 57 minutes 56 seconds in February 2021 in 4.43°C lake water and 15.00°C air
  2. Hamza Bakircioglu (48, Turkey) 3.44 km in 1 hour 8 minutes in February 2018 in 4.13°C sea water and 0.00°C air
  3. Jack Boyle (25, Ireland) 3.3 km in 54 minutes 59 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water
  4. Andrew Allum (46, Great Britain) 2.99 km in 47 minutes 25 seconds in February 2015 in 4.60°C open water and 7.00°C air
  5. Henri Kaarma (46, Estonia) 2.4 km in 41 minutes 57 seconds in March 2013 in 0.01°C open water and 0.00°C air
  6. Paul Duffield (51, Canada) 2.32 km in 54 minutes 2 seconds in March 2013 in 4.00°C open water and 0°C air
  7. Ram Barkai (63, South Africa) 2.3 km in 43 minutes in January 2009 in 4.00°C open water and 0.00°C air
  8. Aleksandr Brylin (44, Russia) 2.2 km in 1 hour 5 minutes 6 seconds in December 2012 in 0.03°C open water and -33.00°C air
  9. Andrey Sychyovv (54, Russia) 2.2 km in 1 hour 6 minutes 30 seconds in December 2012 in 0.03°C open water and -33.00°C air
  10. Paul Bieber (37, Germany) 2.2 km in 43 minutes 3 seconds in January 2021 in 4.90°C lake water and 6.20°C air

Top Extreme Ice Mile Swimmers:

  1. Paul Georgescu (42, Romania) 3.5 km in 57 minutes 56 seconds in February 2021 in 4.43°C lake water
  2. Hamza Bakircioglu (48, Turkey) 3.44 km in 1 hour 8 minutes in February 2018 in 4.13°C sea water and 0.00°C air
  3. Jack Boyle (25,) Ireland 3.3 km in 54 minutes 59 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water
  4. Carmel Collins (41, Ireland) 3.3 km in 57 minutes 45 seconds in February 2016 in 4.63°C pool water and 8.00°C air
  5. Andrew Allum (46, Great Britain) 2.99 km in 47 minutes 25 seconds in February 2015 in 4.60°C open water and 7.00°C air
  6. Henri Kaarma (46, Estonia) 2.4 km in 41 minutes 57 seconds in March 2013 in 0.01°C open water and 0.00°C air
  7. Paul Duffield (51, Canada) 2.32 km in 54 minutes 2 seconds in March 2013 in 4.00°C open water and 0°C air
  8. Colleen Mallon (35, Ireland) 2.32 km in 32 minutes 49 seconds in August 2020 in 4.27°C lake water and 1.00°C air
  9. Ram Barkai (63, South Africa) 2.3 km in 43 minutes in January 2009 in 4.00°C open water and 0.00°C air
  10. Bhakti Sharma (31, India) 2.28 km in 41 minutes 14 seconds in January 2015 in 1.00°C open water and 4.00°C air
  11. Aleksandr Brylin (44, Russia) 2.2 km in 1 hour 5 minutes 6 seconds in December 2012 in 0.03°C open water and -33.00°C air
  12. Andrey Sychyovv (54, Russia) 2.2 km in 1 hour 6 minutes 30 seconds in December 2012 in 0.03°C open water and -33.00°C air
  13. Paul Bieber (37, Germany) 2.2 km in 43 minutes 3 seconds in January 2021 in 4.90°C lake water and 6.20°C air
  14. Henri Kaarma (46, Estonia) 2.16 km in 33 minutes in March 2013 in 0.01°C open water and 0.00°C air
  15. Jochen Aumüller (43, Germany) 2.14 km in 39 minutes 33 seconds in February 2015 in 4.57°C open water
  16. James Brown (Great Britain) 2.12 km in 54 minutes 27 seconds in November 2013 in 3.90°C open water and 2.50°C air
  17. Mark Dempsey (45, Ireland) 2.12 km in 45 minutes 21 seconds in January 2021 in 4.93°C river water and 5.20°C air
  18. Jonty Warneken (48, Great Britain) 2.11 km in 58 minutes 54 minutes in January 2014 in 4.87°C open water and 7.50°C air
  19. Ger Kennedy (51, Ireland) 2.09 km in 51 minutes 10 seconds in March 2014 in 3.30°C open water and 2.50°C air
  20. Zdeněk Tlamicha (48, Czech Republic) 2.01 km in January 2014 in 42 minutes 15 seconds in 3.80°C open water and 3.0°C air
  21. Jaroslav Chytil (45, Czech Republic) in 2.01 km in 57 minutes 50 seconds in March 2016 4.33°C lake water and 3.80°C air
  22. Ger Kennedy (51, Ireland) 2.01 km in 43 minutes 10 seconds in December 2017 in 0.50°C pool water and -15.0°C air
  23. Michael Pranckl (47, Austria) 2.01 km in 34 minutes 11 seconds in August 2020 in 3.90°C lake water and 3.30°C air
  24. Charmian Frend (51, Australia) 2.01 km in 37 minutes 4 seconds in August 2020 in 4.07°C lake water and 4.80°C air
  25. Amanda Bell (49, Great Britain) 2.0 km in 44 minutes 4 seconds in February 2014 in 4.70°C open water and 0.0°C air
  26. Theo Pearson (35, Great Britain) 2.0 km in 38 minutes 38 seconds in November 2016 in 4.00°C lake water and -2.20°C air
  27. Claire Ryan (42, Ireland) 2.0 km in 56 minutes 19 seconds in January 2021 in 4.70°C lake water and 1.00°C air

An Extreme Ice Mile (EIS) is a recognized Ice Mile by the International Ice Swimming Association with at least one of the following factors: (i) water temperature is at 2ºC or below, (ii) air temperature / wind chill is below -10ºC, (iii) distant attempted is longer than 2 km, and (iv) swim time is greater than 45 minutes.

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