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Antartic Circle Ice One Mile Swim adventure, courtesy of 'H2O Open Water Swimming'Open Water Swimming on 1Vigor
Ralph Teller

South Africans first to Swim the Antartic Circle Ice Challenge One Mile Swim

Ralph Teller, Ironman Triathlete

“ . . . venture into the deep unknown where only the significant risks are a certainty . . .” Ryan Stramrood

Tribute to Shackleton's 1914 Trans-Artic Expedition

The first Antartic Circle Ice Challenge one mile swim is the 100 year anniversary tribute to Sir Ernest Shackleton's famous 1914-1916 British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aboard the Endurance - the epic story of incredible hardship, perserverance against extreme physical and natural obstacles, selflessness, leadership and survival.

Fitting that these six rugged South African adventure distance and cold water swimmers: Ram Barkai, Ryan Stramrood, Andrew Chin, Toks Viviers, Kieron Palframan and Gavin Pike, set out to be the first to swim a mile within the Antartic Circle.

This is the first one mile swim within the Antartic Circle! Lynne Cox and Lewis Pugh have completed swims in Antartica before, but not as far south or within the Antartic Circle and not for a one mile distance.

The Place, Environment and Rules. The race took place in the frozen waters off Port Lockroy, dotted with icebergs and surrounded by giant glaciers. Port Lockroy is on Goudier Island in the Antartic Peninsula and was first discovered by French explorer Edouard LaCroix in 1903.

An ice mile is an officially recognised swim under the following rules: The swimmer can only wear a Speedo-type costume, one neoprene cap and goggles. The swim must be in an outdoor venue. The swimmer must complete an ice mile (1,650 m) in water temperatures at 5 degrees Celsius or below.

At Port Lockroy the weather is notoriously unpredictable and rapidly changing. Water temperatures during the race were about -1C or 30F.

For the safety of the swimmers, the medical team cut-off time for emersion in these cold waters during the swim was an agreed 35 minutes.

The Risks, Preparation and Swim. To take on such a challenge, it was important for the team to maintain a high level of fitness and an acclimation to swimming in cold water. Swim training occurred in the cold waters in Table Bay off South Africa or swimming the distance between Robben Island and Blouberg Beach in Cape Town. They also regularly took ice baths, where the water temperature is brought down to 0 degrees Celsius. For more information on acclimating to cold water swimming See Stramrood How to Acclimate to Cold Water Swimming.

Equally important to the physical training is the mental training and focus needed to train and complete this type of swim. "This is how we trained - to be very physically fit and conditioned, thereby needing only to concentrate on the mental aspect of the ice mile.", adds Stramrood.

The swimmers diet during training and leading up to the swim also played a key role in the success of their effort. Each swimmer maintained a high quality diet rich in nutrients, carbohydrates and healthy fats, in a quantity to (i) add extra quality weight to act as an insulator against the frigid waters and (ii) begin the swim with high body glucose stores to help maintain core body temperatures and power the swim.

The water off Port Lockroy was "crystal clear, mirror-like water"and "surrounded by a brilliant white, glacial perimeter. Large icebergs and millions of smaller ice chunks quietly floating around." These waters harbor large populations of Leopard Seals and several varieties of whales, including Killer Whales.

After several false starts cancelled due to adverse weather conditions, the team got notice of their chance to take on this challenge on 5:30am March 2, 2014. There was a steady breeze that morning. The water temperature measured -1C and the ambient temperature was 0C. The team was supported by 5 Zodiacs, 2 kayaks, 2 doctors, Leopard Seal and Orca Whales spotters and GPS handlers.

The swimmers were anxious, excited and "absolutely focused". At the ship horn bellow, the swimmers took their last deep breadth and dived head first into the dark Antartica water. The adrenalin was so heavy the swimmers barely noticed the intense bite and initial shock of handling the dive. The kayakers worked to sweep ice from swimmers path.

Early on the swimmers encountered a strong current that they were swimming against. Due to the current, the swimmers made it to the halfway point in 17 minutes plus, instead of the expected 12-13 minutes and where fighting the 35 minute cut-off point. At the half way point, the swimmers stroke mechanics began to deteriorate requiring a single minded focus to keep the arms moving at a stroke rate to maintain forward motion.

Not all the swimmers completed the swim. Stramrood (who finished the 1650m race in 31 minutes 50 seconds), Viviers and Pike completed the mile race. Chin swam 1 kilometer.

The Recovery.

“Within the haze of my mind, I know I am out of the water. But I know I have only completed 50% of the challenge.” Ryan Stramrood

The recovery process is hard, frightening, painful and confusing. During this time, it is important for the swimmer to stay mentally strong. Initially the swimmers minds are in a haze as the body's defense mechanisms are designed to direct blood to protect the core. The period of time between exiting the water to just before the shivering starts, is the real danger zone. Clenched jaw shivering begins. The swimmers are placed on a table and are showered with warm water from a hand held shower. Attended by a doctor, the swimmers are required to be still for at least 30 minutes to avoid placing further stress on the cardiovascular system. Gradually the body's core temperature begins to recover and the swimmers can begin movement again.

South African swimmers after the first Antartic Circle Ice Challenge One Mile Swim, courtesy of Daily News of Open Water Swimming

The Causes. By participating in this race, the team also sought to bring attention to two causes. WWF's South Africa Sustainable Seafood Initiative - SASSI. SASSI champions the plight of all ocean life under threat of depletion due to over harvesting. SEAL Open Water Swim Trust - SEAL. The SEAL Trust identifies disadvantaged swimmers and swimming programmes and provides sustainable support in an attempt to nurture and promote new talent and to help bring swimming to disadvantaged communities.

The Book. Endurance is an excellent book on the very moving events of the Shackleton Expedition and is a highly recommended read!

More about Ralph Teller. See Ralph's 1Vigor Log Calendar.

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