Ice Swimming Safety and the IISA

evmoevmo VermontAdmin
edited June 2014 in General Discussion
Forum co-founder @loneswimmer was recently featured in an article on ice swimming for Outside Online:

Nice ink, Donal!

Perhaps more importantly, he has been concurrently writing a series of blog posts examining some disturbing issues that have arisen as the sport of winter swimming/ice swimming grows. The blogs have caused quite a stir, mostly behind the scenes in private emails.

True to my past policies, I see no good reason to limit the discussion to backroom gossip. So I am posting this thread as an invitation for comments from the community.

Do you agree that there are serious issues with the current state of ice swimming and its sanctioning process? All viewpoints welcome.


  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited June 2014
    In writing this series I spoke with a lot of people including almost 20 Ice Mile swimmers, (global total at time I started writing about 80), organisers, doctors, and other experienced cold water swimmers. Many are forum members and I thank everyone for the time they took to respond. The symbiosis between marathon swimming and Ice Mileing is obvious also. I have also spoken with the IISA and I put my opinions and questions directly. In case (shockingly), someone doesn't want to wade through the 15,000 word 9 part series, my most important arguments and central contentions are pretty straightforward:

    By promoting Ice Mile swimming widely but without ensuring sufficient guidelines are in place, especially experience and medical criteria, I believe a tragedy is inevitable and the IISA is being both careless and reckless.

    Ice Mile swimming seems currently based on two over-arching implicit assumptions by the IISA, neither of which are actually required by the IISA.

    1: Only experienced cold water swimmers will attempt an Ice Mile.
    2: Local organisers will police safety and assign the criteria that the IISA hasn't bothered to even discuss.

    In the responses from EVERYONE except the IISA to whom I've spoken, there are two universals: Every single person fears a inevitable tragedy, and at the very least experience criteria from the IISA are essential.

    Reading the IISA rules repeatedly I found a coterie of omissions and contradictions. E.g. The rules say a medical is necessary. But there are no medical guidelines or form such as used by MIMS. And there's no requirement to submit any relevant documentation. The rules also require a certain level of proof, but I and others saw a subsequently-approved Ice Mile swim in Ireland of which the IISA has been repeatedly informed of a host of problems (including the swimmer not actually swimming the required distance) but the IISA has repeatedly refused to seriously address this (and other problems).

    I think the IISA should immediately suspend Ice Mile applications (essentially suspending Ice Mile swimming) until it has completely overhauled its rules and put safety as the centre. I do not accept the IISA excuse that they are a new organisation.

    I'm (mostly) not tied to specific safety improvements, but improvements must be made, and made by a wide group of experienced expert people with the aim of improving safety for all aspirants.

  • evmoevmo VermontAdmin
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    Yes, that's exactly the kind of vague response I've already seen from the IISA privately.

    They mention a one-sided debate, that's only because they haven't addressed any of the specifics I raised.

    They "can't win"? Unfortunately I continue find this attitude very disturbing. It might be sport, but when safety and lives are on the line, the debate and everyone's desire to see improvements isn't a game to be won or lost.

    The usual bullshit about "all our experience" isn't something to proudly wave, when they refuse to address the IISA safety deficits.

  • It's obvious that that guy's second language is English. I don't hold that against him, and I will gladly correct a line in his response... to wit:

    "We rather focus our energy on growing, learning and getting better."

    Should read,

    "We focus our energy on growing, rather than learning and getting better."

    Good on you, Loneswimmer. For when the inevitable does occur, your warnings will be evidence in the lawsuit that brings the end to IISA. God help them all.
  • A preface to my comment: I believe in personal responsibility and assumption of the risk. If Johnny jumps off a cliff and you want to follow, well, fine by me.

    But, after reading Donal's blog, I wonder if Ice Mile swimming is simply too dangerous to sanction.

    I ask this after thinking about other human "endeavors" which appear to me to be more about challenging the body's ability to survive than they are about sport. Examples of this would be high altitude mountain climbing and running the Badwater, the 135 mile foot race held in Death Valley, typically in July (think 120 degrees fahrenheit). I haven't Ice Miled but, again based on Donal's comments, I would put the Ice Miling (is that a word?) in this category of endeavor.

    However, I see a critical difference between my two examples and Ice Miling: self-qualification. No people think they can climb 8,000 meter mountains or run in Death Valley for 24 hours in the summer without a terrific amount of training and organizational support. But some people will think they can swim a mile in near-freezing water without the same sort of commitment. ("Yeah, it's cold, but it's only a mile and I'll be done 30 minutes or so...") These people do not, and will not, read the fine print, no matter how big you print it.

    So, to restate my question: Is it possible for an organization, even with the best intentions and the strictest rules and qualifications, to adequately weed out the poseurs?
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited June 2014
    But some people will think they can swim a mile in near-freezing water without the same sort of commitment. ("Yeah, it's cold, but it's only a mile and I'll be done 30 minutes or so...") These people do not, and will not, read the fine print, no matter how big you print it

    I agree. That's why I say Ice Mile attempts should only be done with prior approval and proof of experience and require aspirants to be IISA members.

    The get-out excuse of some people will never read the fine print doesn't mean you shouldn't put it in ... because some people will read it. And if it stops even one senseless accident, then it would be worthwhile.

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    At least three ratified Ice Mile swims are now suspect. One of those was seen directly by myself and members of the forum, and I've been told of two more. Contrary to IISA assertions, the Irish swim was *not* investigated. All three swims (there may be more) occurred when less than 100 people had been verified.

    Not saying a whole lot for the integrity of the IISA records, is it?

  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member
    Not saying a whole lot for the integrity of the IISA records, is it?

    What's the fun of integrity when you can make hard to substantiate claims? Not like we've ever seen anything like that off the southern coast of the US...

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    The IISA depends on the integrity of the swimmer and the observers. I'm not sure how the IISA can effectively investigate a claim that involves both the swimmer and the observers/official witnesses lying about the accomplishment.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    @Gregoc in the case of the Irish swim, it's easy. Ask one of the many witnesses outside the swim group who have repeatedly volunteered information. In the other two cases outside Ireland, they were investigated but nothing could be proven. However that those two other swims are widely known about in the UK, (I initially heard about them from two different people, who don't know each other) demonstrates the lack of credibility of records in the wider marathon swimming community.

  • evmoevmo VermontAdmin
    IISA posted an interesting announcement to their FB page a few days ago. Surprised nobody has mentioned it here.

    Emphasis added by me.

    Dear frozen ones,
    So much is happening at IISA recently – very exciting.

    We had a long and hard look at our rules, safety and the new events. We have made some changes and improvements as our sport continues to evolve and learn form its experiences. It is great to have Jonty and Ned on the board and thanks to those of you who joined our debates and contributed greatly.

    We are busy upgrading our website. The new website should be up and running Sep this year. We are looking to automate the application process online. Every swim will receive some space to describe the swim, pics and videos. This will create a wonderful wealth of knowledge and experience of Ice Swimming. We are also setting up a forum where we will all be able to debate and share our experiences.

    We have revisited some of the rules. We will publish the final version in the next few days. That will be reviewed again in 6 months time.

    Some of the changes:

    1. Diving
    a. For safety reasons we decided to forbid diving into the icy waters.
    b. Every swim must start in the water at chest height.
    2. Jammers – after long consideration we decided to progress with the rest of the world and allow Jammers. They must be from the same material allowed by FINA in open water events.
    3. 1km Events
    a. We are aiming to have national races around the world on an annual basis within two years. We will hold a world championship every two years on odd years. 2015, 2017, …
    4. Ice Mile events – we allow for collective organised Ice Mile attempts.
    5. Pre Approvals:
    a. Individual swims will continue as per current rules, with applications to IISA for ratification post swim.
    b. 1km events will require submitting comprehensive plan to IISA and will include IISA officials.
    c. 1 Mile Event – will require a notification to IISA and approval of Safety plan.
    6. Qualifying:
    a. An attempt for an Ice Mile must have a previous record of cold water swimming and at least 600m in water under 5C.
    b. Qualifying for 1km event require at least 450m in water under 5C or 1km in water of 6C
    7. Swimmers per event
    a. We follow the 4:1 ratio Swimmer : Doctor.
    b. The Doctors will be required to have relevant experience in cold water immersion

    8. Our First world champ will be held in Murmansk mid march 2015. A formal announcement will be made soon.
    9. Entries for the 1km swim will be open soon
    10. FINA and the Olympic committee will be present at the Championship
    We hope to see you all in Scotland for the Conference in Sep. Don’t forget your red jacket!!!
  • MvGMvG MauritiusCharter Member
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    @evmo Thanks for the update, I didn't know about this, (I was both busy and incommunicado having screwed up my phone on Finbarr's North Channel swim).

    I'm delighted with and congratulate the IISA on listening to what many of us have thought and said, and on these improvements to IISA rule, particularly and most importantly the addition of pre-approval for Ice Miles attempts.

    I look forward to further improvements, particularly the addition of clear medical guidelines, especially the preclusion of people with a history of cardiac problems, fixing the application process & documentation, the raising of the minimum age limit and a clear process to address those already ratified "suspect" swims of which the IISA is aware and which taint its credibility.

    I'd particularly like to thank those who have both publicly and privately supported my calls for changes, changes that can only improve safety and benefit both Ice Mile Aspirants and the IISA.

  • I swam in the 1st Ice mile group in Fraserburg in 2010 with Ram and 4 others. I had my medical data analysed after. Bottom line - even with excellent medical intervention immediately after , in terms of the extreme drop in my core temp , In medical terms I was technically dead for a period during the afterdrop. Suffice it to say , this is an exceptionally dangerous endeavour that I will not be repeating.
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    edited August 2014
    So my question is in two parts? Improving safety protocols versus whether even with such improvements should ice miles continue? A couple of generations ago, doctors thought freedivers would die if they went below 50 meters......the world record is now approaching 300 meters and most freedivers exceed 50 meters within a year or so of taking up the sport.

    My ice mile experience had me train over 60 x 30 minute swims from 12c to 3.5c. within four months. I would say the first few swims below 10 degrees felt very cold, but by the time I was down to 7, 10 degrees felt warm and 7 felt very cold. By the time I was down to 5, 7 felt warm. I am certain the danger is not the temperature of the water for a prepared swimmer.

    I see dangers as: Associated weather. Remote location. Training alone. Insufficient training etc but even these are not the combining factors that will cause the fatality, and certainly not in poor registration protocols.

    Many of the dangers can be reduced, some eliminated. I believe the IISA is well aware of the learning process, evolving good standards into better standards into best standards.

    My fear looks more closely at the experienced ice swimmers not the aspirants or protocols. We already see that an ice mile is insufficient as swimmers consider ice two miles. We see swimmers looking for longer durations.

    I have asked a few ice swimmers how they look at personal bests. Is it a colder ice mile or a faster ice mile? Most say colder and accept colder will probably mean slower. Here we approach the danger area which I believe is most likely to produce a fatality. Nothing wrong with colder, if its quicker. But I see no badge of honour in slower. How can slower ever be regarded as a personal best?

    There may well be a fatality as the boundaries are pushed beyond a mile, beyond an hour, but I do not see the boundaries are reached at one mile or 45 minutes at 5 degrees. Maybe 0 degrees ? But then, I do not believe any untrained swimmer will ever have the resolve to even swim 10 minutes in zero. The danger is aimed at experienced swimmers looking for new boundaries.

    I believe the most valuable safety protocol the IISA can implement is : Nothing over one mile. Nothing over 45 minutes at 5 degrees, reducing durations by maybe three minutes per degree. Therefore nothing over 30 minutes at 0 degrees.

    This may protect the IISA and the swimmer. But it won't stop the handful prepared to push boundaries, nor the swimmer who thinks he can just get in and swim in a frozen lake.

    But lets not stop the sport emerging. Lets ask interesting questions and talk about solutions.
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    edited August 2014
    It occurred to me that Ice Swimming might well be much less dangerous than swimming the English Channel. Approx 5 deaths per thousand successes in the EC, or 1 in 200. So far no deaths in approx 100 Ice Mile successes, therefore if there are no deaths in the next 100 Ice Miles, Swimming the EC becomes more dangerous.......despite 150 years of regulation rules and red tape. So I guess the next year will answer that question.

    Do we see law suits for the EC fatalities ? Do we try to convince the governing bodies to suspend EC swimming ? Of course protocols can be introduced and I guess the swimmers will be the ones to seek or remove them.

    For me, limiting immersion time would be a safety factor, (assuming the ice swimmers were limited to say 45 minutes max). But we would then be seeing who can get the greatest distance in 45 minutes. ie sprinting an ice mile or two inside 45 minutes. I wonder whether sprinting in ice might be more dangerous than swimming at traditional ice swimming pace.......which is nowhere near sprinting. Does a fast heart rate with cold blood increase the risks, or reduce them?

    The thing is Ice Miling doesn't know the answers to the above and similar questions and has suffered no fatalities. EC swimming knows the answers, has much experience, and still has significant fatality rate.
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    @Haydn, you should be calculating the number of fatalities to the number of total attempts (not the successes). I know this may not be tracked for EC and I know it isn't for the ice mile (yet), but it would create a more accurate comparator.
  • HaydnHaydn Member
    edited August 2014
    Yes gregoc, but in that case we should also compare ice swims regardless of whether the swimmer stays in for the distance of one mile too. EC attempts are known numbers (even if the attempt only lasts a couple hours).

    So 5 fatalities in maybe 5000 swims (even where 4000 of those swims may have only lasted from a couple hours to maybe 15 hours) . Ice miles unknown fatalities in maybe 50,000 ice water swims (even where 49,900 of those swims may have only lasted a couple minutes to 20 minutes).

    The only number that really counts is 5 killed compared to zero, so far.

    Its horrid contemplating such things and that is why protocols must always be evolving, but stopping the sport is not the answer. Crumbs, they haven't stopped No Limits Freediving which has killed 2 out of 6 world record attempts and seriously injured 2 others, leaving only 2 unscathed. In other words 4 out of 6 people are either dead or seriously injured. Now that makes Everest look like a kitten.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    I agree (ursurprisingly) with @gregoc but I don't think that guessing that one is more dangerous is particularly useful.

    I have always said that I don't want to stop anything, but we do want better controls and even better information for everyone involved. As you say, to improve the protocols is precisely what I've been arguing for.

    E.g. we actually don't know with certainty what the fatality rate for ice mile swims is, since the IISA has to now only accepted successful attempts. We don't even have figures for cold water swimming fatalities and accidents. An example I have from my related correspondence is of one heart attack and one stroke in early 2014 from the Czech cold water swimming championships, one occurring in-water, one afterward, in line with the associated dangers of extreme cold water that I've highlighted.

    I asked for at least that Ice Mile attempts be recognised and counted by having aspirants register with the IISA. Afterall it's the IISA who has said it wishes to promote extreme cold water safety and increase medical knowledge of such as two of its core principles. But by not having collating accurate figures such isn't possible. As for the comparison with free Diving, it's interesting that you mention it. I spoke with one leading (recognised globally in the area of cold water hypothermia) expert who used that direct comparison, and said that "even free diving is now better regulated" than Ice Mile swimming.

  • DublinSwimmerDublinSwimmer Member
    edited November 2016

    Hope it's ok to comment on an old thread.

    I am a doctor and a swimmer and I've been getting in to cold water swimming. Now, I obviously believe in minimising harm, that's literally my job, but I also believe in balance. Ice swimming is dangerous, yes, but I am unconvinced by the IISA rules for several reasons.

    They have a detailed medical form which asks for a full medical history and an ECG. Seems like a good idea, right?

    Well, what happens to this form and ECG? They don't tell us. Is anyone going to look at it? Who are they? Are they a doctor? What will they look for on the form and ECG and how will it matter? What will be done with the data? What privacy protection is there?

    Let's look at the form which says:

    "I authorise my crew to disclose any detail of my past or present medical history if requested to do
    so by an IISA Official. I agree that relevant information about my health may be disclosed to the
    persons directly concerned with my Ice Kilometer swim."

    Are you comfortable with this wording? I am not. You ask me to authorise my medical history to be shared with anyone at all for any reason? You must be joking.

    "But it's for safety!" they will protest. Well, these days, saying it's for safety or insurance apparently allows any kind of intrusion in to privacy but does it make us any safer?

    And how does this form make me safer? Is a doctor looking at it? They won't tell us. If it's not a doctor, how am I any safer? Maybe the organiser is 'safer' if there's a lawsuit, but not me. Such shoddy procedures tell me they are making it up as they go and I am not reassured in the slightest about real 'safety'.

    Now, I am an adult and I can take responsibility. Very few sporting events ask for such information and certainly not without telling us what they will do with it. I checked and the medical forms for the English Channel Swim are not even as intrusive as this.

    It should be sufficient for me to sign a disclaimer and take my own responsibility. At most, a certificate of fitness from a doctor should be required, not all our personal details. I have no problem if they require a record of proper preparation also, that makes sense, something like at least 10 swims in a certain temperature.

    At a stretch, I might be ok with providing my full medical history to an event doctor privately, who would then authorise or not whether I can swim, but would not disclose the specific details.

    I just looked at an Ice Kilometer event coming up. The medical officer is listed as an 18 year old which is pretty young to be a fully qualified doctor. Are these people for real?

  • JSwimJSwim western Maryland, USSenior Member

    A Weather Channel video about the Ice Kilometer and IISA went up on YouTube on Thursday.

    @loneswimmer : since the Ice Mile was rejected by the Olympic Committee, is the IISA trying again but with the Ice Kilometer instead?

    Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. --Neale Donald Walsch

  • Well this has been a very interesting thread to read. I live in the far North East coast of England. I swim in our sea all year round and in our local lake too. For our sea to get to 12'C in the height of Summer is a treat for us. By now our lake is well below 5'C , this probably sounds crippling cold to those from warmer climates but if like I and my fellows swimmers ,we go in every week, gradually getting used to the dropping temperature, then it's not a shock to the system. We look out for each other, swim close to shore/ lakeside and as the temperature drops we wear tow floats for safety. I haven't swam an official ice mile but I've swam not far from one. As soon as the cold starts to claw my fingers I get out and get into multiple layers of clothing.
    To get into cold water and try and swim any substantial distance would be irresponsible but if trained and used to the cold I can't see there being a problem. Earlier this year I swam in Siberia and I've survived to write this post.
    Happy swimming in what ever temperature suits us all.

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    edited December 2016

    Sometimes I wonder why I bother being one of the few who seems to care about stupid this thing is.

    Then I get an email like this:

    I am swimming 5-10 minutes in a 0C degrees river a few times a week, but after about 3 minutes my fingertips become totally numb and takes sometimes an hour to come back to life. The nerve in my fingertips become sensitive for days, sometimes for a week. Because of that, I wear a neoprene glove in the river now, but I have started to train my hands at home in ice bath several times a day, starting with 30 seconds than going up 30 sec at the time, now I am up to 3 minutes. The fingertips now come back to life after 15 minutes of the ice bath, but the nerves are still feel weird for several days.

    I would like to push up my river swim to 30 minutes (to be able to swim an ice-km), and I feel, my body may be able to handle it, but I am not sure that my fingertips ever can.

    My questions are:

    :- What is the chance, that this temporary fingertip nerve damage becomes permanent (by significantly extending the current 3 minutes exposure to 30 minutes)?

    :- What can I do to minimize the nerve damage, or how can I train differently to adapt better?

    :- As I understand, ice bath training allows eventually open up a valve in the fingertip to allow the blood to flow to resume. When I train my hand in ice water, how do I recognize that the fingertip blood valve opened up?

    In case you are wondering about the answers:

    First question: High.
    Second Question: Nothing
    Third Question : Wrong

    You cannot spot acclimatise specific body parts.

    This is the dangerous lunacy Ice Mile swimming is encouraging.


  • Good lord. @loneswimmer that is lunacy on so many levels.
    You can also tell them that I have permanent damage in one of my fingers from an 8 min swim in 35F water and I was not only superbly acclimatised but superbly "bio -insulated".
    Spot acclimatising is like "spot reducing",utter farce.

  • DublinSwimmerDublinSwimmer Member
    edited December 2016

    There are valves in fingers now, eh?

    Technical point: frostbite is indeed when the liquid in the cells freezes and damages the cell. But swimming in in 0 to 5 degrees should not cause ice to form in anyone's fingers (edit: normally at least, extreme wind chill and evaporation might do it, maybe). You would need to be in temperatures lower than that for that to happen. You could still get damage to the nerves but it's not from ice crystals forming.

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember
    edited December 2016

    There are valves in fingers now, eh?

    Sort of, yes. He's thinking of cold induced vasodilation. It's a cyclic vasodilation and vasoconstriction that kicks in to protect the extremities with prolonged exposure to cold. It only works if the core temperature is normal and maintaining so wouldn't be a lot of help in a cold water swim.

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember

    You can't train it either

    The effects of local cold acclimation is recently reviewed. It was concluded that systematic improvements in finger and hand blood flow in the cold are neither guaranteed nor predictable, and individuals should not rely on improving peripheral cold tolerance through repeated cold exposure. The work of Nelms and Soper in which it was shown that fish filleters have better hand blood flow than controls, led to the long lasting misunderstanding that this was due to acclimation. The possibility that only people with warm hands take up the challenge to become fish filleter was not considered. Recent research in which 16 subjects immersed one hand and one foot in 8°C water for 15 d showed that pain became less every day (similar to the reduced discomfort observed in whole body cold immersions) but finger temperatures did not increase.

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member

    Yes, cold water acclimation is psychological, not physiological. It won't slow the onset of hypothermia, but it will make it "seem" more tolerable and less painful.

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member

    Thanks @DublinSwimmer , corrected. I figured I was wrong even as I was writing it. Can you tell me what is the mechanism that causes nerve damage, in the fingers and toes? It's one of the aspects I am most concerned about. It's come three times in the last week for me again. I have also gone out to one of the medical specialists in the area who advised on my blog series.

    A lot of swimmers have reported this problem to me, at various times and temperatures, but always under 5C, with the durations of the problems lasting up to a couple of years.

    But the IISA does not do any check for it, does not acknowledge the problem exists and despite their claim that they want to increase safety and education in extreme cold water swimming, (as I pointed out to the NYT), I can see no evidence of them acting as an educational or scientific resource in the area.


  • DublinSwimmerDublinSwimmer Member
    edited December 2016

    Simple poor blood supply will cause peripheral nerve damage, just like diabetes causes neuropathy. Diabetes causes blood vessels to be leaky, leading to poor circulation and perfusion. Cold have much the same end result, presumably due to vasoconstriction causing reduced blood supply for a time.

    Or it could be a direct effect of cold on the nerves themselves causing necrosis of the nerve tissue. Presumably small nerves would be most affected which means the sensory nerves. The larger motor nerves would be less affected. This is indeed the pattern seen in diabetes.

    For ice crystals to form, you need temperatures below freezing. And given that the body is a heat source, you'd need prolonged temperatures well below freezing for actual ice crystals to form.

    Just one thing, you probably can't be sure what you feel as pain is 'nerve damage'. It could be muscle damage, blood vessel damage, or perhaps a reperfusion injury or maybe even something else. Have you actually been diagnosed with nerve damage?

    [Side note: Reperfusion injury can be quite serious. If blood supply is restricted for a while to a part of the body, it can actually be the RETURN of blood flow that can cause the damage.
    It can be very serious in trauma or in surgery for example, though cold temperatures do tend to protect to some extent from it so it may be less relevant here.]

    I'm not claiming to be an expert though, just spouting some general medical knowledge.

    I would be careful here. I personally would wear neoprene gloves and shoes and not be macho about this. My own feet suffer badly in the cold water too. There are no prizes for damaging feet and hands.

  • rosemarymintrosemarymint Charleston, SCCharter Member

    Thank you @DublinSwimmer and @loneswimmer for talking about the peripheral nerve damage so openly. I've done winter and ice swimming for the past few years and I've been quite disturbed by how dismissive people are regarding these lasting to permanent effects. My fingers and several toes have never been the same since spending 3 minutes in water that was -0.5C. Perhaps I am more susceptible to it since I talk to others who say they've never had problems. But this effect is one of the reasons I am reconsidering winter swimming when the water is sub 3c to 4c. I am OK with very temporary effects, but most certainly NOT OK with permanent or very long-lasting effects. Numbness that lasted three days was frightening. Numbness that lasted more than a month and decreased sensation more than 9 months later? NOT OK. I really wish people would get over themselves and talk about this more.

  • From the age of approximately 20 until 5 years ago I suffered from Raynaurds Syndrome, the tiny capillaries in the extremities go into spasm in cold conditions causing short term tissue necrosis then just before complete tissue death the blood vessels re dilate and send a flood of fresh blood to the tissue, this is extremely painful but prevents frost bite. However since winter swimming I have had never suffered it once. I can't explain why but I'm happy to swim in <5'C regularly if it prevents the pain and chilblains I used to suffer

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember

    A write up on cold injury here, pertinent excerpts below.

    Non-freezing cold injury (NFCI) is much more subtle. It is related to the “dose” of cold rather than any specific temperature. Non-freezing cold injury can be observed with people who have exposed their extremities in environments as warm as 12°C, so it does not necessarily occur in a freezing environment. Cold, wet environments increase the likelihood of this condition. People can suffer from it within an hour in very cold environments or over one or two days in slightly warmer, wetter environments.

    People suffering from non-freezing cold injury become cold sensitive. When they become cold, the blood flow to their skin shuts down very quickly and for a long period of time. The injured part produces sweat, because the vasculature and the nerves are damaged. These two responses increase cooling on exposure to cold. People with a moderate non-freezing cold injury are prone to get a more severe cold injury because of this double-effect. Another problematic aspect of NFCI is intractable pain. Sufferers feel pain in the affected areas, and the pain is not treatable by normal painkillers.

    We do not really know the pathophysiology of non-freezing cold injury. We do not have definitive tests on whether people have it or how severe it is. We do not know the best way to treat it, either.

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember

    Excerpt from another paper

    The principal factor in the development of NFCI is thought to be the persisting vasoconstriction (5). If the nerves are cooled to under 10 °C, they suffer relevant damage (17). Large myelinated fibers are
    more susceptible than small and unmyelinated fibers (17, e1–e5). The precise pathophysiological foundations of the neural damage have not yet been un-covered (18, 19, e1, e6). Hypothermia of the nerves is held to be responsible for the ensuing damage

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member

    Superb referencing @danswims, much appreciated. Keep it coming! I'm going to be using much of this in a blog post I have in mind, if not two!

    @Sylvia I would not be in favour of extrapolating from your experience of Reynaud's to using it as a recommendation for either extreme cold water swimming, and especially not as a recommendation for other people with Reynaud's. In fact, I have always said that people suffering Reynaud's are one of the excluded groups of people I have in mind when I say most people can learn to adapt to cold water. One data point (i.e. you) does not amount to a treatment and it would be foolish to suggest that extreme cold is a treatment for someone with a syndrome which causes them to suffer from cold more than others.

  • kejoycekejoyce New EnglandSenior Member

    Great article @danswims, thanks for passing that along!

    The NFCI bit is especially interesting, especially the 'dose' concept. I'd love to see that explore more in-depth...I'm in the wrong field of science! Last winter I swam a 100 free in -0.5C water and had no problem at all (aside from the implied mental deficiencies). The next day I swam a 200 free in the same water and experienced a burning and loss of sensation 50 meters in. It's a single anecdote, but combined with other personal instances where the magnitude of the cold or duration of swim don't correlate with the loss of sensation... I have so many science-y questions.

    That being said, after a few bouts with tingly fingertips I also share the sentiments @rosemarymint ... I find it very interesting so many of us just kind of shrug it off like it's no big deal. Mine always have come back after a couple days, but I don't know that when it happens! And yet, I keep going back.

    This is a weird sport.

  • danswimsdanswims Portland, ORMember
    edited December 2016

    A couple of more here. Googling "non freezing cold injury" brings up quite a few, the first two were the best I could find that had any reference to the kind of nerve damage that was being described. Mostly Chilbains and Immersion Foot.

    This would be pretty definitive but requires a subscription

    Raynaud's is strange. I get it at times but for me it's unpredictable and not always related to how cold it is. Have never had a problem with swimming in coldish water (64F/18C) but have never tried truly cold water and agree that caution would be wise.

  • rosemarymintrosemarymint Charleston, SCCharter Member

    @kejoyce I thought it had all come back, but then I did a minute in 32f (salt water) and the dullness is back and has lasted a week. I'm now done with sub 35f swimming without protection on my fingers and feet. I suspect I am just one of those that is highly susceptible to non-freezing cold injury and the nerve issues are not a risk I am willing to take.

    Lots of sciencey questions to ask and lots of things to learn. I would love it if we could start compiling this somewhere so those of us in the sport can document what happens and when and then those of us with a better stats background can attempt to do some analysis. I'd be happy to start a google sheet!

  • This non freezing business swimming at temps marginally above zero. How does wind chill affect instant freezing as the hands speed through the air, and then instant thaw as they pass through the water. This may be an unusual phenomena only seen in ice swimmming.

  • JaimieJaimie NYCMem​ber

    @rosemarymint and @kejoyce I think you guys both know my feelings on this but for the record I do NOT think that doing longer distances in the cold water is worth any long term damage to your body. We do this for fun, a personal challenge, and for our health. If you are pushing yourself to a point where you have nerve damage (and/or don't remember parts of your swim and/or recovery!) that is not fun or healthy.

    Everyone is different and you need to be hyper-aware of your own body at all times during a cold swim. Even the same person will have different limits on different days/times based on how hydrated you are, if you're tired, or if you flew/had alcohol recently, and probably 100 other factors.

    The difficult thing is getting the experience under your belt gradually enough to know what feels "right" or "off." And of course battling with your own ego. I have much more respect for the swimmers who pull themselves when they're not feeling it than the people who push on to complete a certain distance or time in the water. The margin for error is smaller than we think. I've heard and seen too many stupid things already and really hope people take this more seriously.

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