A day before thousands of marathoners took to our city’s streets, dozens of athletes put themselves through an icy hell in an obscure event known as the Cold Half this past weekend. A total of 39 swimmers, some in teams and others going it alone, spent more than five hours braving Hong Kong’s frigid waters, some in little more than a Speedo.
Local swimmers were joined by an international troupe of fellow masochists to battle 15-20knot winds and 17C water temperatures. Of seven solo starters, only two finished the 14km course.
The UK’s James Penrose flew in for the race and said that his previous swim across the English Channel paled in comparison to the harsh conditions of the Cold Half.
In addition to the soloists, 16 teams of two swimmers began the race at Tai Tam Bay and rounded the satellites off of Stanley, where winds picked up, challenging their bodies and minds after the half-way point was reached.
The wall of wind that hit the swimmers pushed many off course, forcing them to swim wider than usual race director Doug Woodring tells Localiiz. Thankfully, technology assisted with tracking the swimmers.
“This was the first race in the world where every swimmer and team was tracked with a GPS device,” Woodring says.
Rob Hart flew in from Singapore and took home the solo win, managing to beat his time of last year by one minute, completing the course in 4 hours, 46 minutes and 19 seconds.
Jemima Ridley and Aneekah Styles, two local up-and-coming superstars and both 14-years-old, took home the relay win, beating all of the men’s teams, and breaking the course women’s relay record with a time of 3 hours, 37 minutes, and 30 seconds.
The men’s team record for swimming sans wetsuits was also broken, by Shane Davis and Jeff Faiola, with a time of 4 hours, 28 minutes, and 49 seconds.
Video courtesy of Open Water Asia
Taking the punishment a step further, Harry Wright and Katrin Buchta both attempted the “Cold Standard” race, a harrowing combination of running the Standard Chartered Marathon the day after the swim. Wright successfully completed his goal of swimming 10km in under three hours, with a time of 2 hours 49 minutes, and 20 seconds, and followed that amazing feat with a running time of 3 hours and 20 minutes, falling just shy of joining the “Sub 3 Squared” Club.
“The tougher conditions in the water made the race epically different, and much harder than last year,” Wright tells Localiiz. “I was happy with the swim result, but the run was slower than I had expected. I am happy knowing that I could not have pushed myself any harder though.”
Buchta, a German citizen living in Guangzhou, was told at a young age that she could never do sports. Proving her naysayers wrong she completed 6km of the gruelling swim, pulling out due to the cold, and bested her previous marathon time by five minutes with a 4 hour, 20 minute, and 33 second run.
“The Cold Half swim was the toughest ever, and since I did not finish, I now have ‘un-finished business’ and will return to do it again,” Buchta tells us. “I am very excited about my personal best time for the marathon, and what a weekend of racing that was!”
Swimmers James Riley and Andrew Au also raised over $500,000 for the Hong Kong Cancer Fund for their Cold Half swim. A portion of the proceeds from the event will also be donated to Ocean Recovery Alliance, a Hong Kong based charity focused on reducing plastic pollution in the ocean, and bringing general improved health for the ocean.