19 mins at -1.8 degrees Celsius for ex-lawyer

Londoner Lewis Pugh, 36, made the record books this weekend as the first person ever to swim at the North Pole. The former lawyer spent 19 minutes in the coldest water a human has ever swum, a bone chilling -1.8 Celsius, as he swam a kilometre.

Pugh carried out the expedition to highlight how global warming has melted the Arctic ice-caps. He traveled to the North Pole with a team of 29, including a mind coach to help him with the psychological skills he employs to keep him alive in water temperatures that would turn most hypothermic within seconds. ‘It was like jumping into a dark black hole,’ he said. ‘The pain was immediate and felt like my body was on fire. I was in excruciating pain from beginning to end and I nearly quit on a few occasions. It was without doubt the hardest swim of my life.’

To develop his cold sea swimming technique Pugh, who has broken over 20 endurance swimming records, practised in a pool filled every day with a ton and a half of ice. Before he dives into the water, he spends 15 minutes listening to aggressive rap music and focusing his mind to heat his body. Without moving, he can propel his pulse rate to 160 beats per minute and raise his temperature from 37 degrees Celsius to 38.4 degrees. ‘Before I get in, my body feels like a furnace. I become very aggressive, and my surroundings seem to slow down. Then I hurl myself in,’ he said.

On leaving the water yesterday, his core body temperature had fallen to 36.5 degrees and it dropped further to 35 degrees 20 minutes later but a warm shower enabled him to return to normal. Pugh carries out his swims to Channel Swimming Club rules – which outlaw wetsuits, flippers or snorkels. He chooses not to cover himself in goose grease as he does not want to be too slippery for his team to fish him out of the water in case he develops hypothermia.

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Picture Credit: Jason Roberts