Ice man Turner turns up heat for Channel record

by James Hendicott

ICE swimmer Conor Turner took on a new challenge earlier this month, as part of the first team ever to swim from the Isle of the Man to Ireland, a step away from his usual challenges in terms of distance, environment and practical difficulties.
Turner came to the fore in the rarefied world of ice swimming this winter, when he came second in the world championship in Germany, and very much focuses his swimming career on the winter event these days.
Having been invited to participate in the international team crossing the distance of just under 70km in the Irish Sea, Turner arrived somewhat blind.
“Every other member of the team has been involved in an [English] channel crossing,” Turner told the Gazette. “I got the invite from Infinity Channel Swimming, whose baby it is, and pretty much just turned up and swam. They did the research, organisation, worked out the detail and all that.”
Turner’s team are the first ever to complete the distance, taking 18 hours, eight minutes and 32 seconds. the six members rotated on hour-long stints and Turner set off from the Isle of Man end. The finishing time enabled the Dubliner to personally complete the swim in Ardglass, County Down. His team consisted of Turner himself, Carole Laport (France), Anna Carin Nordin (Sweden), Rory Fitzgerald (GB/Ireland), and Elina Makïnen (Finland).
“We swam alongside a rig,” Turner explained. “People gave us instructions and direction, and we swam for an hour each time. It was daylight for all but three or four hours but the first parts were very rough.
“I tried to treat my section of the swim like a 5km, which takes about an hour, and is a distance I’d be quite used to. I swam at about 85% to account for it being an hour of effort. Then you change over which means one swimmer dropping back and the next getting in the water and swimming past them.”
The toughest stages for Turner were actually in the boat, however, though he admitted the best bit of each hour was “getting back out”.
“I got quite seasick, which isn’t something I’ve had to worry about before,” he said. “The second shift, I was getting into the water between 1 and 2am, and because I’d been sick, I was running on fumes. That was pretty difficult.
“There was plenty of wildlife, lots of jellyfish stings. But I didn’t find the temperature particularly difficult, at 12-13 degrees. That’s tropical compared to the ice swimming.”
The swim ended with some modest drama, as fog descended and the team struggled with navigation into the planned finish in Ardglass harbour. “We ended up a kilometre or so off course,” Turner recalled.
“But we just went in to the shore, stood up on the rocks and marked the finish. Then got back in the boat to go to the harbour. You couldn’t see 20 metres in front of you face; the fog just came in from nowhere in the last hour and a half.
“I’m not sure I’d do something like this again, though I probably will. You learn from this, and I prefer to learn my own lessons, as something that works for someone else might not work for me, and vice versa.
“There’s definitely big adaptions necessary in the preparation: how to eat, how to rest, that kind of thing if I’m going to do something like this again. It’s a different kind of thing to the swimming I’ve done before and I’m not sure I understand the motivation behind it, if I’m honest.
“It’s very tough and not always that enjoyable.
“But it was some feeling standing at the end knowing that your team is the first to ever do that swim.”
Turner’s main goals this season remain with the ice swimming championship, with his training ramping up in Autumn for next year’s event in Estonia, though he is a little concerned by the reduced distance – 450 metres instead of 1,000.
In the meantime, he’ll be competing in a range of sea swims, ramping up to five and 10km towards the end of the summer. “For fun,” as you do.

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