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Swimming the ice mile

COLD water swimming is good for you – provided you know what you’re doing, says Kate Hartwright.

She should know as she has been doing it for years and in January became one of only 600 people to complete the “ice mile swim”.

The 51-year-old mother of three swam one mile in water with a temperature of less than -5C while wearing only a swimming costume, goggles and a silicone swim hat. It took her 41 minutes and 30 seconds to complete the endurance challenge, which was ratified by the International Ice Swimming Association.

“It was truly the hardest thing I have ever done,” says Kate, who is a member of the Henley Open Water Swimming Club and lives in Goring.

“I struggled to swim the last 400m, which is known as ‘the death zone’. All the blood from your arms and legs goes to your core to keep your vital organs warm so it’s like swimming with heavy limbs.”

After finishing the challenge, she had to be helped out of the water. Kate recalls: “I had to be physically dragged out and into the drying room. I was incoherent and unable to move and they had to dress me as quickly as possible.

“I struggled with my recovery — it took me more than an hour to be able to walk and talk properly again.”

She was one of nine people who attempted the challenge, which took place at Hatfield Lake, near Doncaster,. Three had to pull out mid-swim. “I did not realise it would be quite such an extreme threat to my health and my sanity,” says Kate. “It’s an extreme test of mental and physical endurance. I’m an experienced cold water swimmer so people shouldn’t go into it halfheartedly as the consequences for beginners can be dangerous.

“But done properly it has great benefits for health and wellbeing.”

Kate, who lives with her partner Ben Ward, 49, and her children Eoin, 25, Nico, 12, and Lola, 11, took up open water swimming in 2018. She said: “I’d aways wanted to give it a go as I’ve always been a swimmer and swam my first mile when I was nine. “I wasn’t able to do it when I was a single mum but when I met Ben four years ago I was able to get back into it.

“I wanted to try open water rather than going back to the pool and I started going to local lakes and rivers and meeting people there. I didn’t take to it straight away as I struggled at first, especially with the breathing.

“Now I introduce other people to it and help them learn from my experience.” She joined the club and in 2020 swam the Channel in 19 hours and raised £6,500 for the MS Society. She joined the Henley club and in 2020 swam the Channel in 19 hours and raised £6,500 for the MS Society.

Kate says: “My Aunty Dale, 64, is housebound with MS and unable to enjoy the life she had imagined. “I know if she had not been diagnosed with MS she would have come swimming with me in cold water at least once as she loved the outdoor life.”

You can follow Kate’s story on Instagram at @Kateschannelswim

For more information about the Henley Open Water Swimming Club, visit

This Month's Issue

Henley Life April 2022