Swim Story

An interview with Donna Livingstone – Ice Swimmer

Last weekend saw Donna Livingstone, one of our Hatfield swimmers attempt her first Ice Mile swim.  Donna has been swimming with us and training for her Ice Mile over the last summer and winter season.  In an interview with Leon Fryer, one of our lead open water swimming coaches, she tells the story of her journey so far…

LF: What made you think about doing an ice mile?

DL: I am not sure what made me want to do it really, to be honest, I didn’t even think I would even be considered for training as I am a breast stroke swimmer. I have loved swimming in open water in a wetsuit last summer, but in reality it was more giggles & splashing around with friends rather than serious swimming!  I just saw your post on FaceBook and wondered if I could manage something like that!

LF: So how did you start?

DL:  I’ve been swimming for years in open water, but like I’ve said, that was just splashing around with friends.  So, I got in touch with you and Alistair, and talked to you about what ice swimming was all about.  From there it was all about getting myself used to being in cold water and acclimatising.

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

You guys said that I should just keep swimming as the temperature dropped – so that’s what I did.  I ditched my wetsuit during summer, and then just kept swimming.  I found acclimatising to the cold water ok, enjoyable even until the temperature dropped below 5ºC. However, below 5 even a drop of half a degree is really noticeable – so that was interesting!

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

DL: As the water temperature has dropped I actually stopped my other forms of exercise including swimming in the pool, as I wanted to focus on acclimatising to the cold water. Over Christmas I had a couple of weeks off all swimming, and I think that may have weakened my acclimatisation a bit.

LF: What food did you eat before your swim?

DF: I eat porridge a couple of hours before a swim but I have to force myself.

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

DL: When I attempted my ice mile the water temperature was 4.7ºC.

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

DL: Mentally I think I was ok. I have always considered the greatest risk for me not completing was the length of time in the water. But also I think I have good tolerance for the cold so that helped me mentally. Physically I now realise that I should have been swimming in the pool, perhaps doing 2000m at a time. And really pushing it in the warm water! During the swim, I felt fine until I was coming to the bottom corner on the second loop. [This was approximately 1400m. Ed.] I felt fine but then very quickly, perhaps over 3 or 4 minutes, my breathing became laboured! On the video you can see that I started to retch repeatedly and it would not stop. At this point I swam with my head up for a few strokes and then tried to carry on. As soon as my head was in the water I couldn’t stop the retching reflex. I could hear my husband shouting for me to keep swimming but I knew instantly that I had to touch the boat or things would get worse! I don’t remember much from getting in the support boat until I was walking up the steps into the building and answering the questions from the support team. In recovery, I was very disappointed and my initial reaction was never again and a feeling of complete failure.

LF: How did you cope with the recovery process?

DL: The recovery part of the swim is always fine because I completely trust everyone and feel safe even when I feel woozy from the cold.

LF: What was the reaction of your friends and supporters that were there on the day?

DL: I chatted with a friend today who showed me a video of my swim from the moments before I started retching and I looked to be swimming at a good steady pace. She really thought I had it in the bag and was incredibly shocked at how quickly my swim changed. My friends and family are so disappointed for me because from thinking I could never do something like this, I nearly managed it. For me I still feel like an absolute failure. I recovered physically within a couple of hours but mentally I am still depleted. I have decided that I will try again but I am going to be swimming in the pool 3 times a week to improve my speed. I was worried that swimming in warm water would make the tolerance of the cold harder, but I was wrong. Speed and stamina are far more important than tolerance of the cold.

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

DL: My Crocs & my woolly hat! For me being warm & snuggly when not swimming has become really important. Normally I wander around in winter & never bother about being cold. Now I love wrapping up!


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

Advice to others would be….. swim in cool & cold water – it is amazing! I haven’t had a cold since last summer and every time I get in the water I know I am alive. When I swim I feel a heightened sense of my surrounding and myself. When I am sitting at work or driving or shopping I feel ok – but just ok! After a cold swim, I feel invigorated and energetic. In addition, the great people and the encouragement and support mean I always leave happy… Apart from last Saturday when I was unhappy with myself. What I would say to any aspiring Ice Miler is that sometimes trying for the Ice Mile can overtake the joy of swimming – try not to let that happen.

LF:  S0, what’s next for you… will you give it another go?

After giving myself a talking to and getting advice from you wonderful people at Swimyourswim, I will try again. I am off to the pool now to get some warm metres in!

LF: Being involved in the safety for any Ice Mile attempt is such a responsibility and honour, but with Donna we had a greater privilege in that she involved us with her journey from the very start.  Watching her week after week acclimatising and developing her tolerance to the colder temperatures and seeing her determination to train hard for this extreme swim, showed us that she was mentally and physically prepared for the task.  It is always disappointing when someone doesn’t hit THE target, but Ice Mile swimming isn’t just about the goal – it’s a journey and extreme adventure, and sometimes it’s just not your day!  For us at Swimyourswim, a successful swimmer is one who trains hard, gives their all, and is prepared to get back in the water no matter what the outcome is on a given day.  Donna did not fail.  She swam to swim another day.  We are all so proud of you Donna… and we’ll be there for your next attempt!


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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