Sunday, January 23, 2011

1K swim in icewater

In 8th of January 2011, the second winter swimming festival Pirita Open 2011 was held in Pirita river, Tallinn, Estonia. About 150 winter swimmers from Estonia, Finland, Russia, Latvia and Germany gathered to swim in freezing waters of Pirita river. 25m pool with 2 lanes was cut in almost 60cm-thick ice. The weather was relatively mild with -1C air temperature and slight breeze but water temperature at 0,4C was just what one could expect.

The day started with show perfomance from finnish ice swimmers and continued with the first competitive event - 25m heads-up breaststroke. 112 swimmers started (and finished) this distance and the fastest man was Bruno Nopponen (16,30 seconds) and fastest woman Epp Kruusmaa (19,42 seconds).

Then there was time for fresh penguins to take their first dip ever in icewater. About 20 newcomers used the chance and the day continued with 50m freestyle competition. 64 men and women competed and the fastest were respectively Bruno Nopponen (27,67 seconds) and Kristiina Arusoo (36,55 seconds). Note that there are several differences in winter swimming compared to regular pool swimming - start is from the water, diving is prohibited at any time, flip turns are not allowed and as the bottom of the pool cannot be seen, holding the straight line during swimming is impeded.

Next event was 4x25 meter freestyle relay. Again, all the starts were from the water and according to the rules of International Winter Swimming Federation, both sexes should be represented in a team. Participation was numerous with 12 teams competing each other. The fastest finish time of 55,74 seconds was recorded for Viimsi Veeklubi Polar Bears, the team in which I was lucky to swim. The pool was fast as the result of relay team was faster than our gold medal time from last year's world championships in Bled.

I quickly changed clothes after short sauna and start preparing for the last competitive event of the day - endurance swim. Usual distance of endurance swim in winter swimming is 450 meters. As the fastest swimmers cover this distance in about 6 minutes, it is probably one of the shortest 'endurance' events in sport. However, as it takes 15-20 minutes for some winter swimming enthusiasts to cover this distance, one can say that 'endurance' is the right word here. As I have swam 450m already in 4 winter swimming seasons, I started to wonder few months ago, which distance I could cover in 15 minutes. 1000 meters seemed to be the right answer and appropriate goal for Pirita Open. So keeping this in mind, I prepared myself in preceding months and weeks by swimming couple of endurance swims of 200-600m every week.

I warmed myself thoroughly in sauna and dressed warmly. I wanted my whole body from toes to fingers to be warm before entering 0 degree water. Head was protected from the cold by 2 swimming caps and slicone earplugs. Meanwhile, Toomas Haggi posted fast time of 6 minutes and 21 seconds 2 heats before my swim. So I had 2 goals now - to swim 450 meters under 6.20 and to finish 1000 meters.
 9 swimmers, which was pleasently many, started endurance swim. I was in the last heat and swam alone.
The start was quick and easy. Even so quick that I didn't believe my ears afterwards that I started first 100 meters in 1.08. That's rather quick for me even in warm pool with flip turns. I kept the steady pace and didn't accelerated as 450 meters approached - my primary goal was 1K here and it seemed that I'm beating Toomas Haggi's time.

Most of the people who had stayed there in the end of a long day had no idea, I was going to swim 1K, so there's little surprise for them. As I continued swimming after 450 meters, the rescuers got little confused and waved to me from the side of the pool. "Don't worry, I got everything under control", I thought. Most important was not to swim 1000 meters but to stop before hurting myself. Hands and feet got numb as time passed but that was familiar feeling and nothing alarmingly new. Body adapts to the cold quickly after the first sprint and in some moment after 10 minutes of swimming it felt like almost normal swim during an August night. In the same time, I rationally realised that the minutes I am allowed to have fun here are numbered. At 800 meters I felt still strong and reasonably quick and then it was sure, I am going to finish 1000 meters.

No need to sprint to the finish line - my last 50 meter lap was the slowest, but feeling was good and certainly I didn't reach my limit today. Finish time 14 minutes and 58 seconds was nicely just below 15 minutes. Friends hurried to help me out of the water although without direct need and I headed directly to the sauna. 
Celebrating and handshaking can wait, right now I have to take care of my core temperature. In sauna, of course I stayed in dressing room as sudden heating of a cold body can be dangerous and cause a shock. Heating up occurred through the help of blankets and warm drink. Winter swimmers, remember: drink must be sweet, not too hot and not coffee or black tea as these take water out of the body. Body temperature measured from mouth was 32C which is lower limit of mild hypothermia. Shivering was as usual after long swimming but lasted for a longer time. Probably after 30 minutes of warming I was out of the sauna.

As far as I know, it was the first 1K swim in icewater in the history of Estonian swimming. If you do know about long distance swims in cold water in Estonia or elsewhere, please let me know here or mail
Thanks for everyone who supported me during or after the swim.

Good luck, winter swimmers!
Henri Kaarma

Split times of 1000m, 50 meter splits in last column.
50         0.31   31
100       1.08   37
150       1.48   40
200       2.30   42
250       3.13   43
300       3.56   43
350       4.40   44
400       5.24   44
450       6.09   45
500       6.54   45
550       7.39   45
600       8.25   46
650       9.11   46
700       9.59   48
750     10.47   48
800     11.36   49
850     12.26   50
900     13.16   50
950     14.06   50
1000   14.58   52

photo by Tiit Mõtus.  "Take the clothes off" is unique command in winter swimming sport.

photo by Tiit Mõtus. Goggles on.

photo by Tiit Mõtus. Right after start.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. After 350 meters.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 5 minutes of swim, almost 400 meters.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 450 meters, no plans of stopping.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. After 450 meter turn.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. Rescuers realize that this swim continues for a while.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 500 meters, half the distance.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 600 meters, a little more than half the time.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 650 meters.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 850 meters
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 900 meters
photo by Tiit Mõtus. 900 meters.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. Yes, I did it!
photo by Tiit Mõtus. Yes, I can see the ladder here.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. Climbing out.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. My companions were very helpful.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. More helping hands.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. Out of the sauna.
photo by Tiit Mõtus.
photo by Tiit Mõtus.
photo by Tiit Mõtus.
photo by Tiit Mõtus. I received my medal and diploma during afterparty as I was in sauna during medal ceremony :)
photo by Tiit Mõtus.