Ice Swimming – and especially Ice Mile swimming – requires a steely determination and Fiona Woods definitely has that! In fact, she’s so determined that sometimes she’s a coach’s nightmare because she is so focussed she ‘forgets’ to listen! [I think we’re ‘dead men walking’ now! Ed.]
Fiona’s journey into Ice Swimming, as you’ll see from her story below, is one that started in the pool, moved to the open water in summer and continued, out of her wetsuit, throughout the winter months as she ‘endured’ (her word) her ice training. At Swimyourswim, we consider ourselves privileged to have such passionate, dedicated and determined swimmers as part of our team. It really was an honour to coach Fiona, and be at Hatfield, Doncaster, when she accomplished her Ice Mile. Here’s her story…
Swimyourswim (SYS): What made you think about doing an ice mile?
FW: Well, in 2015, I was tricked in to doing a 5k sponsored pool swim. As I got back into the pool to train after years of not swimming, I quickly re-discovered my love for the sport and looked for a new challenge after completing the sponsored swim. I pushed myself by entering the Great North Swim – a 5k swim in Windermere and then suddenly thought ‘oh dear, I’d best learn how to transition from pool to open water’. Using good old Google, I found ‘SwimYourSwim’ and these two guys who looked daft enough to deal with coaching me. I will never forget one of my first pool sessions with the SYS. A guy called Cerys [Cerys Thomas Ice Miler#152] walked in wearing a red jacket and everyone cheered. I asked what the fuss was all about, and when they told me I remember saying ‘WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT? IS HE CRAZY??’ So when Al and Leon had got me through the GNS 5k, Coniston 8k, Grimsby Dock 4 mile and I asked ‘What else can I do?’…… Yes, you’ve guessed it – Ice Mile came up in conversation, and I love a challenge!
SYS: How difficult was it to acclimatise to cold water?
FW: I did not like it one bit!! Every time I got in I got out questioning why I was taking this challenge on. But, this is where the SYS coaches really make the difference. I spent a lot of time reflecting on each swim with Al, and assessing each part of my preparation, swim and recovery. It took me a while to get it right, for various reasons, but I learnt that preparation really is key – you see, I do listen eventually guys! [We’re not wholly convinced yet. Ed.]
SYS: How often did you train? (both pool and open water)
FW: I was in the pool at least twice a week to keep my technique at its best – for me anyway. I struggled to get into open water more than once a week, especially with the Christmas break and being away on holiday too. So, much to the great amusement of my family, I had at least 3 ice baths a week. Granted, it wasn’t the same as being in real ice water, but it did help me get used to the feeling of numbness.
FW: Urmmmm…… I know this was my weakest area. I have been on a diet from the day I was born, so re-educating myself to ‘carb up’ was difficult. Eventually though, I settled on brown pasta the night before the swim, porridge in the morning, and hot drinks until I stepped in the water. On the morning of my mile attempt I was hanging around waiting for my turn a while, so I also had chocolate about an hour before I got in.
SYS: So, lets talk about your Ice Mile attempt. What temperature was the water when you swam?
FW: My mile was at 4.6ºC, the qualifier the week before was 4.9ºC. Before that I hadn’t been in open water for 3 weeks at which point it had been 7.2ºC – so getting over that drop was the hardest bit.
FW: I had an amazing crew with me who knew my swim, and my limits, so the only thing I had to do, and I quote Leon here is ‘keep your arms turning until I tell you to stop’. I remember taking a good 30 minutes away from everyone else before the swim to focus, and I got in knowing I would finish, I just didn’t know in what state! I felt really strong for the first 800m, then I had a distraction which seemed to knock my focus and I became aware I was cold! The following 500m I spent with my head going around a shopping centre imagining all the rewards I would buy myself for finishing….then I ran out of shops… then the sun got in my eyes and I realised I was freezing! With just 200m to go I found it hard to regulate my breathing and to keep my face in the water properly, but I could hear Leon telling me to keep turning my arms, and I could hear my cheerleaders in the background (thanks troops!). The last 100m I was solely focused on Al’s voice guiding me in to shore.
SYS: How did you cope with the recovery process?
FW: Again this was a learning curve, but after reflecting on my earlier swims I had learnt the importance of having someone dedicated to looking after my recovery for me, so that I could focus on my swim. Hence my hubby becoming my dedicated recovery person. He learnt quickly that he needed the support of the SYS recovery team too. Apparently, I am known as the SYS Wailer! They tell me there is a direct link between the loudness of my wailing and the coolness of the lake temperature!!!
My mile recovery…… to be honest, this was like an out of body experience. As I got out of the water I was aware my whimpering had started. I couldn’t feel one thing, and that scared me a bit. As the team got me in to the recovery room, got my clothes on and began throwing hot drinks down me, my feeling was beginning to return to me, which really hurt, so my whimpering turned into screams. Then for some reason I started to panic because I felt like I wasn’t coming around quickly enough, so my screams turned to crying and wailing! The strange thing is, that I was also aware I had Beth Harris looking after me – and Beth is complete star and is in total charge the SYS recovery area. With her and the team there I knew I’d be ok, but I also knew that if I was at least making some form of noise she wouldn’t be shouting at me!!!
It took for a swimming buddy, Campbell Watt (Ice Miler #184), to come in and tell me I had missed my birthday as I had been recovering so long, to bring me round enough to say ‘thanks’ (although in slightly different words!).
I started to focus then, and my fabulous hubby managed to get my breathing under control and get me thinking straight. Recovery was hard – but with the team around me I knew I’d be fine – and I was!
SYS: What was the reaction of your friends and supporters that were there on your attempts?
FW: I purposely only had my husband with me, apart from the abundance of SYS friends. My hubby was very proud and, once I was able to, I rang the remaining friends and family who were very chuffed for me. My good old Dad couldn’t wait to buy me my red jacket, bless him!
SYS: What was the best piece of kit you had that you couldn’t have done without?
FW: The Dryrobe is too obvious…… But for me, I found the best thing was something I could get on me as quickly as possible once I was in recovery. The SYS squad may have taken the p*** out of it, but my blue onesie with pink polka-dots is my winning bit of kit! Everyone needs one!
SYS: What’s the best advice you could give to an aspiring ice miler ?
FW: Take advice on YOUR swim from experienced coaches. Every Ice Mile is an individual experience, so focus on your swim and no one else’s. I have been through some tough things in my time; the Ice Mile is right up there. But the red jacket is well worth it!
The coveted ‘jacket of redness’ (as it’s known amongst the Yorkshire Ice Milers), is something that all Ice Milers wear with real pride. The red jacket is part of our ‘family’ uniform or insignia, and there is nothing better than when there’s a group of Ice Milers standing around the side of a lake in their jackets of redness, encouraging another Ice Swimmer to keep their arms turning in the icy waters. The week after her swim was ratified by the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) making her Ice Miler #191 – Fiona was stood by the lake in Doncaster in her brand new jacket of redness! Thanks Dad!
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