Swim Story

An interview with Campbell Watt – Hatfield’s First Ice Miler

Ice Mile swimmers are thermometer watchers.  As soon as the glorious colours of autumn have fallen by the wayside we are checking the water temperature eagerly watching for it to drop to the icy mark of 5ºC.  And, as we’re watching the training begins in earnest; continuing to enter the water as the temperature drops, knowing that as the mercury gets lower that our acclimatisation will be better, and our ability to swim for longer at lower temperatures will increase.

There are several temperature markers that we point out to new Ice Swimmers – getting under 10ºC, then getting below 7ºC, and then the icy 5ºC and below.  We explain that the drop of each degree in that single figure zone can make the swim and recovery harder, and that’s why it’s important to train well, learn about your limitations and personal recovery, and have an experienced team around you that will tell you the truth…

Campbell Watt, became one of those thermometer watchers, as he started to swim with the Swimyourswim team at Hatfield, near Doncaster in the UK.  In actual fact, he wasn’t really a thermometer watcher – but he did become obsessed with the temperature.  There wasn’t a day between October 2016 and January 2017 that he didn’t ask one of us, by email, Facebook, or text ‘What’s the temp today?’ or ‘Will we be down to Ice Mile temp this Saturday?’…  We laugh about it now, and it was a bit exasperating at the time (It really was EVERY day!!! Ed.) – it’s even become known as ‘doing a Campbell’ amongst our other swimmers…  but you know what, Campbell’s commitment to train and be focussed on his swim, and the challenge he’d set himself to complete an Ice Mile, echoes through in his constant questioning.  Campbell is nothing if not determined!

At Hatfield, the winter season begins as soon as the summer swimmers move indoors and people like Campbell continue to swim as the temperature goes down.  Campbell joined us at Hatfield in late October 2016, and his Ice Mile journey began.  In this interview, he tells his story about the build-up to 7th January 2017, when he stepped into the water to complete his Ice Mile… the first ever Ice Mile at Hatfield Outdoor Activity Centre!

Swimyourswim (SYS): What made you think about doing an ice mile?

CW: I have done many challenges over the years and my last major challenge was swimming the length of Lake Windermere in September 2016.  This was such an achievement for me, especially considering that in the previous April I was facing having my right lower leg amputated and only began swimming properly in November 2015 as part of my recovery!  I remember my first swim I was so ill I struggled with 20 lengths. Once I had gone from that to Windermere I felt I needed to push myself further in order to feel I had put behind me my ankle problems which had consumed me since 2009, and involved 11 operations. The Ice Mile to me, was the ultimate swimming challenge and proved to be mentally the hardest thing I have ever done

SYS: How difficult was it to acclimatise to cold water?

CW: The first time I took off my wetsuit was in October 2016, and it was 16 degrees. That was the only time I really struggled in getting to grips with the cold. (That’s not the impression we got from bank-side! Ed.).  From then it was just a case of swimming twice a week in cold water. Just before Christmas though,  I struggled with a chest infection.  Having a Christmas lay off was good for me and, when I returned, even the 2.5º drop in water wasn’t noticeable.

SYS: How often did you train? (both pool and open water)

CW: I swam twice a week in cold water until the option was removed in November due to my chest infection, then it was once a week. I avoided pools completely. I did not wish to experience water that was not uncomfortable.

SYS: What food did you eat before your swim?

CW: Predictably 1.5 hours before swimming I ate porridge, with full milk and honey, and drank warm tea right up until I entered the water.

SYS: So, lets talk about your Ice Mile attempt.  What temperature was the water when you swam?

CW: Oooo – it feels weird you asking ME what the temperature was!!!!!  On the day of my swim it was 4.8ºC

SYS: What was the swim like? Were you prepared for it mentally and physically? 

CW: I was totally prepared for the swim – but like everything, you always wonder if you could have done more. Physically I didn’t find the swim difficult but mentally was a real challenge. Although, once I’d entered the water all my anxieties left me and I just kept singing my favourite song to myself repeatedly. (Aparently, we believe the song was ‘I’m A Barbie Girl’ by Aqua????  Ed.)

SYS: How did you cope with the recovery process? 

CW: The recovery process was strange because until the water hit 8ºC I didn’t really have a recovery process to consider. Once it went to 8ºC and below then I was totally in the hands of the amazing recovery team who took the thought process away from me. It was tricky being out of total control of yourself though, however, the team really did know how to support me.

SYS: What was the reaction of your friends and supporters that were there on your attempts?

CW: My family and friends were delighted for me because they knew how much this challenge meant to me. I had the support of a close friend on my qualifier also. You can’t underestimate the the importance of having people in your corner. When I was swimming, I thought about how my little boy’s face would be like if I finished my challenge. I wasn’t dissapointed.

SYS:  What was the best piece of kit you had that you couldn’t have done without?

CW: Easy question – my Dryrobe. Such a versatile piece of equipment.

SYS: What’s the best advice you could give to an aspiring ice miler ?

CW: I’d recommend that from the second you decide to do an Ice Mile that you keep getting into cold water and learn to be in that uncomfortable environment as much as possible.

SYS:  So what’s next for you then Campbell?

I really want to do an Ice Mile at zero degrees!  However, on the advice of Al and Leon, I’m going to have to improve my swimming technique and speed, and spend a massive amount of time in the cold water, which just isn’t possible in this winter season.  This Ice Mile sport really is a journey… so, maybe if I can keep on swimming through the rest of this winter, and get some technique training done through the summer, maybe next winter, hopefully, I can see if 0ºC calls… I may be a bit wiser then too!

Campbell’s Ice Mile is the first one done at Hatfield, so it will always be a special one to us and the recovery team at Swimyourswim.  Like all coaches, we are extremely proud of our all our swimmers.  Like all of them, Campbell has put in the hard work, the acclimatisation and the hours in the water.  His swim was ratified by the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) and he is now Ice Miler #184 (or Hatfield Ice Miler #1).

If you would like to get involved in Ice Swimming – why not get in touch with us by emailing info@swimyourswim.com


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