I have been looking forward to the Winter Mile for a few weeks now and it didn’t disappoint. The Brighton Baths put on a great event kicking off with a history of the baths as well as a few words about Harry Raisbeck who the mile swim is named after.
The conditions were about as good as you can get at this time of year. It was a cool morning but luckily no wind and the water was dead flat.
The course is 6 laps of the baths around four buoys placed at the end and about half way down, with a short swim out and back to finish it off. I was sceptical about the distance however one of the other swimmers with a GPS watch measured it at 1.55km so pretty close to the advertised 1.6km.
After a short briefing, it was off with the Ice Cube Dash. A group of around 10 swimmers got proceeding started with a dive off the end deck of the baths and a sprint to the beach.
Following that was the half mile, 3 laps of the bath for those wanting a little more than the Ice Cube Dash but not the full mile.
Then it was time for the main event. The complimentary swim cap provided by the baths with your entry fee was pretty good (apart from the pink colour) but to try to minimise the “ice cream” headache that I have been getting lately, I decided to run with another cap underneath it to keep my head warm. From previous swims, I knew that the water temperature would take my breath away making breathing difficult. This is compounded further by the fact I still suffer from mild asthma so when the 2 minute call came, I decided to go into the water and get the cold fright over and done with. It seemed to work as once the head went under the water and the body reacted by closing off my wind pipe for a few seconds, everything seemed OK.
A large group gathered at the start line – not sure how many however I overheard someone say there were 70 swimmers which is incredible given the swim. I made my way to the front alongside John Van Wisse who I knew would take it out hard and be trying to win his 19th title (out of 22 events ever held – I suspect he was unable to attend the ones he didn’t win? Also present in the front row was my coach Chloe McCardel who I knew would be right on the pace given some great results in her pool training recently.
There was some confusion at the start with a couple of guys semi false starting but then a mad rush in. I have done heaps of open water racing in recent times and this was not like anything I have seen before. Not sure whether it was the narrow width of the channel to the first buoy or the fact that everyone was sprinting to stay warm but it felt like we reached the first buoy in a large pack. I found myself on the inside of the buoy – a location you don’t want to be in – so I stopped for a second, only to have the guys behind crash into me and the guy in front kick me in the stomach. That took my breath away and I have so say I never really recovered. In the space of half a lap, John pulled a big lead on Chloe and I. I tried to sit on her feet but she was on fire and just pulled away. That is pretty much how we finished although I am told Chloe made up much of the ground lost early on to emerge from the water only a few seconds behind John. I started to feel good on about lap 4 but it was way to late to have any sort of impact. It was interesting to start lapping people on lap 3 and I am pretty sure I even lapped a couple of people twice?
As Dave Anderson said in his blog from last year, there is always a feeling of unease when its time to swim in. Have I counted the laps correctly, what it I havnt and I run up the beach only to be sent back in or labelled a cheat…. Anyway thankfully I had counted correctly and popped up over a minute behind John and Chloe. From there it was straight into the steam room to warm up and catch my breath.
Was great to meet some new people and place behind two of the legends of cold water swimming in John and Chloe. Not sure if I will be back next year as I may still be over in the UK hopefully after a successful channel crossing but if I am, I will definitely be giving it another go. Experience definitely counts in races like this, especially in the first few laps….
Also ran in to Campbell Brown after the swim who is attempting the channel a month or so after me next year. He looked pretty cold but very fit! Great photo of Chloe and a couple of her other swimmers post race (Ash, Don, Chloe and me).