Lars Mack - Ice swimmer and Iron Ice Man aka The Swimming Policeman from Bavaria
I always get asked how did my love of ice swimming come about. At the end of 2016 I was asked by a swimmer if I was interested in taking part in an ice swimming competition. Before I knew it, I had registered 50m breaststroke and 50m freestyle at the World Championships in Ice Swimming that took place in January 2017.
Just for your information there are two international cold water swimming associations. One is the IWSA (the International Winter Swimming Association). Competitions take place at temperatures of 10 degrees and colder. A sophisticated point system provides different scores, depending on the placement and the water and air temperature.
The other is the IISA (the International Ice Swimming Association). Ice swimming is swimming in water temperatures below 5 degrees. Distances of between 25m and 1000m are swum in various competitions through the year. Points are only awarded here in the World Cup competitions for distances of between 500m and 1000m.
The lowest temperature I have competed at was 0.3 ° degree water temperature and around -15 to -20 degrees air temperature at the IISA world championship in Murmansk in Russia, not far from the Arctic Circle. There I competed for the first time and in the most challenging race of 1000m freestyle. The time achieved under these conditions was 16:55 minutes (my record time is 15:15 minutes). Over the distance of 100m breast stroke I even became world champion in my age group.
The successes achieved in the 2018/2019 season spurred me on to do more. During the summer of 2019 I took part in various open water swimming in Germany and Austria and also trained as often as possible in rivers, streams and lakes, especially in Bavaria, or on vacation in the sea.
Among other swims, in September 2019 I swam through the widest part of each of the largest lakes in Scotland, England and Wales in just one day, together with 4 other swimmers (including Great Britain's fastest ice swimmer Caroline Saxon).
During the training sessions I always use my Swim Secure tow float for safety, which gives you security if you need help or support. It also makes it more obvious to bystanders that the person in the water hasn’t just fallen in! It is always best to swim with another person or have someone on-shore to support and observe you. Safety comes first. This also applies to the competitions. Alcohol, for example, is absolutely taboo.
My most successful season so far was 2019/2020. The beginning was in November 2019 with the first stage of the IISA World Cup in Jelgava in Latvia, where the points collected meant I ranked highest in the men’s category.
The second stage took place in Tyumen / Siberia from 04.12.2019 to 08.12.2019 at water temperatures of around 1.5 degrees to 2.3 degrees, with more points collected.
With a good cushion of points and a 2½-week break from competitions, I went to the next ice swimming competition in Amsterdam on the Amstel river at the end of December 2019. The competition has its own charm, as it takes place in the middle of the city and is very popular with the population. Like many other ice swimming competitions, this one was very well organised.
Only a few days later the second ice swimming World Cup competition took place in Veitsbronn, Germany. The so-called German Open, an ice swim organised d by the multiple world record holder Christof Wandratsch. On such a weekend it is quite normal to leap into the freezing cold water up to 12 times. Mobile saunas, hot tubs, heated tents and plenty of warm drinks are available for “recovery”, i.e. the warm-up phase afterwards. For distances over 500m and 1000m, it is essential to undergo a medical test beforehand, which includes a resting ECG and cardiac sonography. At the competition itself you have to have a "second" who comes to the start as a personal supervisor and takes care of the swimmer and should also know him well in order to recognise any irregularities in and out of the water in case of danger.
After the competition in Veitsbronn, I went back to Munich, where after 2 days of work I continued on my way to the third part of the ice swimming World Cup in Jinan / Shandong Province / People's Republic of China. (Note: Shandong has been the partner province of the Free State of Bavaria for over 30 years).
I flew from Munich via Doha to Beijing on January 8 2020 in the evening, in order to travel on from there by high-speed train to Jinan. After a relaxing day, the next two days competitions continued in a park in the middle of the historic part of the city.
The competition was sometimes very strictly “Chinese” with the Military and Police help but always friendly and courteous. The event went very well for me, despite very strong competition from Russia and China. Rather unusual in this sport, prize money was awarded for the placements, which could be picked up by means of fingerprints, presentation of the identification document and signature.
After completing the competitions in China, I led the World Cup in winter swimming. Unfortunately, a long weekend for China is simply too short to get to know the Country and people better.
On the weekend of January 17 2020 to January 19 2020 I had my "baptism of fire". I had registered for my highlight, the Ice Mile, as part of the city ice swimming championships in the Wöhrsee in city of Burghausen.
Here, according to a strict protocol, you swim 1609m in water below 5 degrees. With water temperatures of approx. 4.4 degrees on the day of the competition I completed my first Ice Mile in a fantastic time of 25 minutes and 30 seconds.
Due successfully completing an Ironman in August 2019 at the OstseeMan in Glücksburg and now the Ice Mile, I qualified to be an "IRON ICE MAN", joining a small group of people who have completed both their Iron Man and Ice Mile.
The highlight of the season followed with the IWSA world championships in winter swimming in Bled / Slovenia from 02/03/2020 to 02/09/2020. In Lake Bled, with rather spring-like weather, the competitions of 450m and 1000m were held in the open water on a circular course and the shorter distances in a specially constructed pool in the lake.
An event like this feels like a very big family gathering with everyone looking forward to swimming and catching up with ice and winter swimming friends from all over the world. Many of them spare no effort or expense to travel to the competitions from the most remote corners of the world. (Hong Kong, China, USA, New Zealand, Finland, Russia, Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland etc.). This may be one of the reasons why this sport has become more and more popular in recent years.
After a very eventful week in Bled with great experiences and results, the season finale was within reach. A stage in the World Cup in ice swimming in Stanford / GB and the finale of the ice swimming World Cup in winter swimming in Petrozadovsk / Russia should have followed. Sadly, the finale of the World Cup was cancelled due to the Corona Pandemic. I therefore didn't have the opportunity to collect more points in the last competition and finished the season in winter swimming 2019/2020 third (overall) and first in the 45-49 age group. The award was safely received January 2021.
I missed the Standford/ GB World Cup stage due to a swimming event in Lofoten / Northern Norway. In this remote area I had the opportunity to spend time in the water with prominent surfers in Unstad (known as the so-called Artic Surf Spot) and in Flakstad and in Henningsvaer. Its a bit strange to swim in the open sea knowing orcas might be sharing your water, but the enjoyment of swimming in such a wonderful wild place won out. Jet skis and rubber boats in the water, as well as medical care on land, provided perfect care and support.
After 10 days we went back to Germany, which was already in springtime.
Before all borders closed and the pandemic spread everywhere, the Scottish Winter Swimming Championships took place in Kenmore in Loch Tay. A small competition, but no less professionally organised than the big events. Above all there was a warm welcome and a breathtaking landscape.
Unfortunately this was only a weekend trip.
Since I started at ice swimming competitions at home and abroad representing my Police Unit, I am now regularly introduced by the commentators as the "Swimming Policeman from Bavaria". This unique introduction has led to friendships with other international swimming police officers, including an IPA member from Siberia.
What other plans do I have: Well, the two International Associations are trying to make the sport Olympic. The chances are good to at least make it into the preliminary program of the next Olympic Winter Games to present the sport and demonstrate its feasibility.
A swim around a Scottish island together with a Scottish ice swimmer and the help of the local population is on the plan for 2021 as a “Guinness Book Of Records” attempt.
There is also the so-called Ice 7's for ice swimmers.
To do this, you have to swim an Ice Mile in the following parts of the world: -Africa / Asia (including Russia) / Europe (excluding Russia) / North America / Oceania / South America / as well as one in a polar region (south of 60 ° S or 70 ° N), in addition, one of the routes with a water temperature below 1 ° degrees Celsius must be swum.
I would love to do this, but to date it’s not been possible due to cost. As in many sports, everything needs to be self-financed, unless you receive help from a sponsor. So far sponsorship has only been given to a couple of people in our ice swimming sport.
But dreams are goals!
Lars Mack has become a Swim Secure Ambassador to help us spread the message of #BeSaferBeSeen and he does this brilliantly when going to all the open water swim events. Thanks Lars.